‘It’s riding, it’s riding… the Devil in Red…‘
I’ll be honest with you – these words were stuck in my mind after I first gave Kampfar’s newest record a spin. So much so, that I’ve even put it into the second episode of my online radio show which you can listen to here. Yet at the same time, I was curious – the devil, the huldre, mare (a creature that causes nightmares in Nordic folklore), the blitzwitch – what did it all add up to?
So it was a stroke of luck for me, when the chance to ask lyricist and frontman Dolk had arrived.
Though there was another thing I wanted to discuss, first of all.
I’ve noticed that you’ve recorded with Peter Tägtgren, who seems to be connected to this whole debate about plastic v organic sound production
Well, the whole idea was to work with him from the very beginning. When you go on tour and play at festivals, you meet a lot of people; Peter was one of those whom I’ve been talking to a lot, these past years. The main thing though, was that I knew he wanted to do this album – we didn’t just choose him because of what he had previously done, but because he had almost the same ideas as we did when it comes to the outcome of the sound.
For all of us, it’s been a struggle to do old school sound with a modern sound – that’s been our ultimate task, and if we succeeded then I’m not the one to answer that.
We’ve taken a huge risk with this album – from the cover to the songs, the whole outcome has been a huge risk! With our previous release ‘Heimgang’, though I really like it, when I hear it again I feel that it’s a little bit too “safe”. We had taken the music a bit further, but nothing really brought out any new dimensions; on ‘Mare’ we’ve tried to make this actually happen.
When we recorded this record, we did it without triggers or drum effects – everything that you hear is the old, organic way with microphones, which for us is of huge importance.
Another thing about this album is that Kampfar have dedicated it to ‘women who chose to walk their own path’, which was later explained as meaning witches.
What led to this choice for the album?
It came naturally to us, as Kampfar has always been interested in historical roots and events which we still have with ‘Mare'; the main difference between this and our previous works being a red, thick line throughout the music here; it somehow deals with what the high priest or church really thought or claimed to be witchery. In a way, that’s the “red line” throughout the record and why we wrote it – it’s a sort of dedication to history and what was really done by the church because they didn’t understand it!
The theme here reminds me of the song ‘Antvort’ from ‘Heimgang’, about a priest who – with official backing from the church and state – practices black magic and snares victims for his “work”.
That can maybe be the truth, actually, and what lit the fire in me when we did ‘Heimgang’! I’ve always been very aware of Nordic history and when it comes to folkloric stuff in Norway; I’ve maybe started it all to move further in that direction.
In a way, ‘Mare’ also seems to be a concept album – though some might read too much into it as a “feminist” album of sorts!
(laughs) Yeah, I totally understand that, but in the end it’s all about being an artist. When I started the band in 1993, I had a vision of making black metal with folkloric roots without putting on all this corpsepaint to hide myself. I think I had a lot of fuss going on over that, since back in ’93/94, people didn’t really like it if you went about things your own way with your own visions in mind. Everything had to be following one direction, and I think that in metal (and black metal generally) this has become even worse over the last years; the result is that nothing moves forward.
Moving forward is what we’re trying to do with ‘Mare’ – a lot of bands talk about this, but to me they don’t actually do it. We’ve tried to be artists and make this album, though people will still think “yeah, King Diamond [or any other renowned name] is the shit“, which is what we have nothing to do with.
It’s not a concept album in that way, but more about where we come from, our roots and what’s wrong and right in my opinion.
One song which stood out to me in particular, was ‘Huldreland’. Knowing of the huldre creature’s place in Norwegian folklore, I’d like to ask about how else this ties in with the concept of the witch as an evil woman.
‘Huldreland’ is based on that, but it’s also something which has existed in Norwegian folklore for ages. People still talk about it, even if it’s more “hidden” in a way.
In Norway, there have always been deep folkloric roots being followed from generation to generation; if you don’t live in Oslo or other capital cities, even more available for people. In fact, “Huldreland” is what the fisherman still talks about! (laughs) When someone disappears at high sea and no one knows what happened; it’s always been assumed that it was the huldreland, which rises out of the water to catch you.
The thing is, all these stories are really connected to the female side, in Nordic history. I don’t know why, though I think that it could that it was written by men who put in their own fears about women, like their beauty and magic.
Again, this is connected down to what the Christians don’t understand, so they dismiss it as “devilish”, “satanic”, and so on.
When I looked at the lyrics, I was also curious about the bergkongen (or “rock king”) as he features more than once throughout the album. It seems that he’s another prominent figure here, aside from the Devil.
Well, he was chosen for several reasons but again; I think it was a natural choice, because of the development of the songs. It’s not of big importance to me that we mention him several times, but in Norwegian history he’s another main character in many stories with historical and pagan roots.
It’s again something connected to Huldreland, though as Huldreland is when you’re at sea, the bergkongen is when you’re in the woods and can’t be found. When you disappeared there, people thought you actually disappeared into the walls of stone in the mountains.
This brings me back to the second character I’ve mentioned – the Devil. Often in European history, witches were seen as women who were his lovers or wives. In what ways did you choose to bring in the Devil, for ‘Mare’?
The “Devil in red” that I refer to in the lyrics is actually one of the three female figures on the album cover, which connects with the Mare itself. It’s an old, ancient thing in history about three witches who became three “Mare” – the colourful theme itself again draws from Christianity, since the colour red was always in one way or another connected to the Devil itself.
I don’t think that the story of the Devil however means that it’s female or male, but more so tied in with the story of these three witches (on the record’s cover).
Compared to a number of Norwegian bands with black metal roots, it’s been noted that Kampfar have shifted in focus from the Norse gods and Valhalla. Though you’ve said that the recent album is a dedication to history, it looks that folklore is the main point of interest. Why stories based on history, rather than actual history itself?
Another natural thing for me! When we started in 1994, I had this idea in my head because I’ve always been interested in the roots of history and pagan values. Ever since I was a little child at six years old, my grandma had a huge impact on my life since she’d tell me stories about our culture and the natural world around us – it lit the fire in me to study all of this later on and consider it very important even today. I did study history at school, but mainly on my own so that I could get closer towards the other side of it. It felt right to tie them together, and it’s a huge part of my life in a way just like Kampfar is.
What do you think of the current “viking metal” that’s so in vogue? Even many new bands outside of the Nordic countries are getting in on this!
You know, in the very beginning after my old band ‘Mock’ split up and I then formed Kampfar, what I really wanted to name our music back then was “Norse folklore pagan metal”. For me, that’s still relevant but all this viking and pagan stuff going on in the current scene has destroyed the whole outcome of it! If I say that we play pagan metal, that immediately puts us in the same category as these bands.
For me, it feels more accurate to connect our music with black metal though I honestly think that that genre should be satanic. Obviously we’re more tied in with pagan themes, but it feels more true to myself to go with what I know and where I come from.
We also can’t be connected to this “viking metal” fad, since it’s so far away from what I want to be associated with. Right now it’s pretty hard for us to be Kampfar, since we’re neither “viking” nor black metal. Though if I could add more to that, I’d say that we’re also more drawn to black metal’s values!
Now there’s a whole debate on whether black metal is or isn’t satanic, considering the rise of so many post-black metal acts on the radar! Even bands like Wolves in the Throne Room refer to themselves as “grey metal”.
I see why people need to put metal in a box in order to sell it, but to me if you play black metal it should be satanic. That’s where the name’s coming from in the first place, but people have to think for themselves here! For me, it’s really hard to answer that, also because I see the point of bands coming up with new ideas trying to figure out new names for their music. But in the end, if you don’t play with satanic values, you’re not playing black metal.
K. Ann Sulaiman would like to thank Napalm Records, Dolk and his family for arranging this interview.
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