Beginning life in 1994, Kampfar have always stood somewhat apart from their Norwegian peers, both in terms of music and personality. With only marginal connection to the Oslo and Bergen scenes, the band formed their distinctive identity in relative isolation, their music manifesting through the idiosyncratic partnership of vocalist and drummer Dolk and guitarist/bassist Thomas Andreassen. Unlike Dolk, who had previously played in early 90s Black Metal act Mock, Thomas had little connection to the scene and instead mostly channelled folk and classical influences, and this combination would profoundly shape classic early albums such as Mellom Skogkledde Aaser, Fra Underverdenen and Kvass.
In 2010 Thomas would depart, an event that would radically change the character of the band as a whole. Yet the group managed to maintain a unique voice, upping the aggression and intensity within their music and continuing to make a name for themselves as a devastating live act. 2011’s Mare, 2014’s Djevelmakt and 2015’s Profan all proved to be remarkably strong records, and after a wait of almost four years, the band have released the equally powerful and stirring opus Ofidians Manifest.
Having caught up with the band in person at the new Norwegian festival Imperium, an event they headlined on the second night together with Taake, I spoke on the phone with Dolk to discuss the various hardships and triumphs of Kampfar in recent times.
This Is Black Metal: Ofidians Manifest has been out for a few months now and you played a number of respected festivals during that time including Imperium, Brutal Assault, Karmøygeddonand Warhorns. How are things for you would you say? Do you feel in a good place?
Dolk: “It has been some rough years, but I am better than ever recently actually. It finally seems like this is not just work again, but rather [driven by] the deep feelings we have for the music. That was gone for me after Profan, after all the touring and festivals we did for that. Kampfar became more like a normal job to me and we had to sort of stop, because there was no energy or heart left in it for us. Now it is so delightful to get the key back to be able to do this music with heart and soul.”
TIBM: Was it relatively easy to find that inspiration again or was this a difficult album to make?
Dolk: “This album was written in a very short period of time. After we did the last show in 2017, we didn’t speak to each other for a whole year actually, because we needed to just focus on ourselves. Then, all of a sudden in 2018, I got a call at work from Ole [Hartvigsen] the guitar player, asking me if we could talk, as he had some new ideas. And then the album was done in five months. In that sense we got some very interesting stuff happening.”
TIBM: The critical response to Profan was very positive, with some even claiming it to be the strongest release in your discography thus far – did that create extra pressure when it came to creating Ofidians Manifest? How do you feel the album has been received?
Dolk: “The response for this album has been insane, it’s the most strong I have experienced in 25 years of Kampfar, that’s for sure. When we finally got together and started to write new material again, it was very clear, very early, that this album had to be very personal, otherwise we couldn’t do it. It’s maybe a cliché, since it is the newest album, but this is the most personal album ever in Kampfar’s history, and it had to be that, and because of that we had to take new steps with the music and with everything else as well. We had to kind of skip…the ‘rules of Black Metal’ so to speak, to do what we wanted to do. In that sense, the album is the darkest one, both in terms of lyrics and music, but at the same time it was also maybe the easiest album to make because it became personal and the road became so clear for us.”
Kampfar – Ophidian (Official Music Video)
TIBM: So you would say the spontaneity of the album’s creation arose from the fact that you were openly seeking to make this very personal album? How did that colour the writing of the songs?
Dolk: “I have been in a very dark period of my life… I have talked openly about this so I am not afraid of it, but when you are in the state of life where you are putting everything in order for your family – the insurance, the money in the bank, the house, everything – just in case you disappear from this earth, then you are at rock bottom, and that’s the place I was. And that definitely drove the music on this album – it is very personal and maybe for the first time we were allowing it to be very personal.”
“Actually when we were in the mountains writing we got a phone call from Ole’s mum to say that his father had just a couple of days left. But we couldn’t go anywhere, we had to stay at least one more night, and the only thing we were able to do was to continue, continue writing music. And I can feel that, I can feel that in the music – in that sense there is no comparison in terms of how personal this album is to our previous albums. The thing that we are doing on this album is not a gimmick, it is a natural thing because we were right in it, there and then.”
TIBM: You mention that you needed to ignore some of the rules of the genre to make this record – were there any particular Black Metal conventions you felt the need to disregard in order to create Ofidians Manifest?
Dolk: “There are many. We started that process earlier, with Djevelmakt then Profan, but with the new album it is even more visible in a way. You can definitely see the difference now with Kampfar, just the way that we create music is so different, it’s not bound in any rules at all. If we want to include some female vocals or guitar solos we can do that if it feels right for us, we don’t think anymore about what Black Metal is supposed to sound like, we are in a position where we decide what Black Metal sounds like, in a way. I cannot say it more strongly than that, we are in a position where we feel where we can push the limits of Black Metal, because that feels natural, to develop.”
Kampfar – Tornekratt (Official Video)
TIBM: I think that sort of approach is very valid, even within a Black Metal context. Black metal of course has a strong element of tradition, but at the same time there have been bands pushing at the perceived boundaries of the genre – while still remaining very much of the genre – since the very beginning.
Dolk: “People seem to forget about this, but in the early 90s that was the big thing in Black Metal; No bands sounded like each other. So you would have Ulver, Emperor, Satyricon, Kampfar and all these other bands that went in different directions but shared some essence, and that is true still for Kampfar, we share this essence of Black Metal but we go in new directions. For me Black Metal for the last 10 years has not been like that. Black metal has been walking the same path over and over and not doing anything new.”
TIBM: It seems odd to me that you of all bands ever felt limited musically by genre convention. For the first half of your career, you stood apart from other bands in both the Norwegian and international scene thanks to the Heavy Folk and Classical influences that Thomas brought to the table. I mean, that was almost a defining element of Kampfar, the fact that you were mixing Black Metal influences with the songwriting of a guy that didn’t really listen to Black Metal.
Dolk: “[Laughing] In that sense you are right, we never felt limited in that regard, but the way we felt limited was maybe our own fault in a way, because we felt we had to do this folklore stuff and in that sense you can say we were limited. Because we were kind of trapped in our own boundaries that we made for ourselves. Djevelmakt was a big step for us, because we took a really new direction with the music, as we didn’t want to feel limited anymore to what people would feel we would be doing. You create your own prison in a way. It was not Black Metal, Kampfar itself created the limitations. But with 2014 and Djevelmakt we broke out of that prison. That’s how I see it.”
Kampfar – Mylder (Official Music Video)
TIBM: Once again, the lyrics on this album are a mix of Norwegian and English, but this time you’ve only used English on one song, namely ‘Ophidian’. Is there any particular significance in this decision?
Dolk: “Again we mostly used Norwegian because that is natural but when it comes to ‘Ophidian’ we decided to use English because even though it comes early in the album it is a sort of ‘break’ in the album and ‘Ophidian’ kind of reflects the album as a whole well with its lyrics. ‘Ofidians Manifest’ translates to ‘manifest of the snake’, and the album is kind of the story of the snake that has been talking to me personally, and some other members. The dark voice of the snake is talking throughout the whole album and on ‘Ophidian’ it is very clear and touches upon the whole essence of the album – if we could explain to the English speaking people about the album’s concept, it would be on that song. We could easily have done more songs in English, it would maybe have helped it to be bigger you know, but this is what is natural for us.”
TIBM: The cover obviously features the severed head of Medusa – was this purely metaphorical and connected to the aforementioned snake concept, or were you interested in the specific Greek mythology behind it?
Dolk: “It’s both actually but it was all about the snake talking and ‘losing your head’ in this society, so it seemed very correct to connect this painting to this album. In Kampfar we have always been very interested in art, and it was maybe time to move along with that too, the previous albums having used the Zdzisław Beksiński paintings. It felt very right to use those of course, but it was time to move on.”
TIBM: You mentioned that you were working on part of Ofidians Manifest in the mountains, was that the base for all your writing this time around?
Dolk: “For us it’s become more and more important actually, we don’t talk about it but it feels more natural for us to go up the mountains where I have a cabin when we want to write. That was the process again this time, we went to the cabin and stayed there for days, then went back to civilisation, went up the mountains again to write, and we carried on doing that the whole winter actually. That has been the process for this album – we did that on Profan too, but it is even more important now I think. It feels very natural to go there and create for everyone in the band it seems. It’s very nice to see, because it used to be just me that had this specific bond with this place – you know I went there since I was a child, I lived there for several periods of my life, – but now it seems like it’s a big importance for everyone in the band. It seems like we must go to the roots, to the birthplace of this band, to create something unique. Is that just a mind fuck up or not? [Laughing] I don’t know, but it works very well for us.”
TIBM: Going back to something you said earlier, why do you think it was that the band began to feel like work to you after all these years? As I understand it, the band has never been a full-time proposition for any of you?
Dolk: “In Kampfar we could have easily said,‘Fuck off’ to everyone, and just went with the band, just do Kampfar and not do normal jobs, not have families… we could tour forever to be honest, because the opportunity is there, there are plenty of offers. But with the band it has been very natural to say, ‘We need Kampfar to be some sort of ‘positive energy project’ almost, even though it is not a project of course, it is my life. But still, it has never been our idea for the band to be a job, but it became more like a job, because the offers were there and we said ‘yes’ to more and more stuff, to more and more festivals, more and more shows, and in the end it became too much for us because we do have jobs and lives beside of this.”
TIBM: Would that be a bad thing though, to have the band as your main focus?
Dolk: “This is an agreement we made several years ago and we stick to that still. In 2019 we have been going slowly, very slowly, and people are saying, ‘Now you are doing lots of festivals again’. No we don’t. We do some very small festivals, we say ‘no’ to festivals every week in fact, we haven’t stepped on the gas at all.”
TIBM: Has that affected the band’s profile at all? You still seem to be getting plenty of attention and you played very high on the billing at Warhorns in the UK and Imperium and Karmøygeddonback at home…
Dolk: “In Europe and the States it’s always been the same kind of audience all the time, it’s been quite good all the time. In Norway it’s different, we never focused on Norway and were never on Norwegian labels until we signed to Indie Recordings. Since then things have really been happening for us in Norway, there has been much more interest in Kampfarin the last three or four years and this album has grown to a different level to be honest. It’s quite a change for us to be able to do shows in Norway which are good, because that has not always been the case for Kampfar[laughs]. After all these years it seems like the media is paying more attention. I’m not sure why but it may be because we won this Norwegian Grammy, as well as the fact we are with Indie. It’s strange to see that people in Norway have discovered Kampfar after 25 years.”
TIBM: Any last words for our readers, and what are your plans for the near future?
Dolk: “We really don’t know. We have kept a low profile for 2019. But it seems like 2020 can be a bit different. We are dealing with 3-4 offers for different festivals and tours every week now in fact. So we’ll see where to go.”
Kampfar – Ofidians Manifest (Full Album)