Gosh, how long has it been since I last spoke to Dolk, frontman and mastermind of Kampfar?
Drummer Ask Ty got to chip in with his two cents, to boot!
How has the tour been, so far?
The tour has been really good! It’s down to earth again, in a way; we’re playing small clubs again, which we used to do ten years ago. So we’re back to scratch! It feels really good to do this; we have a lot of big festivals coming up this summer, so we decided to do an underground tour (again).
It’s where we belong.
How does playing big festivals compare with playing smaller shows?
It’s a completely different thing… I mean, for me to be here [at the Underworld] is much more real, and the excitement, pressure – everything – is much higher in clubs than with festivals. There, you can easily feel like ants in really big rooms or fields; it’s great, but different.
In the very beginning, I didn’t enjoy playing festivals too much, because the edge wasn’t there. But now, I’ve learned to appreciate it in a way, and maybe also learn how to handle it.
Though playing at clubs is much more real for me, and what I have always wanted to do.
I understand that you’re also sporting new designer gear on stage, courtesy of Kylla Custom Rock Wear!
Yeah, I am; hahaha! It feels strange, but in a good way. We’re not this kind of “fashion” band; we just wanted to add some expressions to ourselves. Kampfar will never be this huge, fashion thing; we will always be down to earth, though it’s nice to add new elements into what we do.
An issue that I brought up with Aage of Iskald, which I want to bring up again, is how black metal has become something of a “mainstream fashion” in Norway.
Hah! Personally, that hasn’t been an issue for me, though I have a good laugh about that kind of thing, sometimes.
It’s never really been important, because Kampfar’s own changes have been a natural development in a way, so I try not to – it may sound silly, but I try not to focus too much on what others are doing.
Of course, it’s funny to see fashion things on television which involve black metal. I don’t think that this is ever going to happen with us, to be honest.
There’s also the example of Keep of Kalessin trying to get into Eurovision – first time by themselves, second time with previous Norwegian contestant Alexander Rybak.
That will also never happen with Kampfar, I can tell you; one hundred per cent sure!
I think it’s weird! I don’t understand it, but they have their own visions…
You’ve previously said that new album ‘Djevelmakt‘ is going into a new direction, which is anti-theist without being anti-human.
At the same time, there seems to be a lyrical link between this one and your last album, ‘Mare‘. What can you tell me about this?
Yes, you’re completely right [about the connection]! We wanted to continue the path that we had begun with ‘Mare‘, though we made it even more dark and “gritty” in a way.
Today, you have this thing going on where – well, not only religion but society in general – you have to follow certain rules or else be condemned to go to hell or whatever. It’s very easy to say that! With this album, we wanted to take another step, where we encourage people to go in their own direction and think for themselves.
In that sense, you can say that it is a follow-up to ‘Mare‘, yet more twisted and darker in nature.
One thing that came out to me was the motif of rats – there were rats on ‘Mare‘, and now there are rats on ‘Djevelmakt‘.
It’s just more like an image, as people always seem to catch up on them. Rats are a good image to try and explain the message of people in a swarm, where they’re going in one direction just like vermin do.
Some people prefer to say, “sheep”!
Yes, of course! Though rats are more connected to the plague and dark side of human history, in general. They were blamed for the “black death” and other diseases (which isn’t true), and they’re not seen as a good thing in human society. So it’s easier to use the image of rats, rather than sheep!
Sheep are like, ‘yeah, whatever’ on the field, while rats are something which you don’t want to touch. People are afraid of them, so that’s why we used this so strongly.
People are a bit afraid to reach out, like what you’re doing right now; you’re asking me about specific things in the lyrics, and others seem to be scared of that, because they don’t really want to know the truth. They don’t really want to know if we’re satanic or what we mean by such and such.
In the end, it’s just the image of people going in the same direction due to being afraid of touching the dark side of life.
What about the imagery of kings?
That’s the same thing, because it’s more the image of how everyone behaves like they’re kings, when they’re actually rats! Haha!
They’re simply following what others do, while still wanting to be on top of the world. They want to be kings, in a way.
‘Djevelmakt‘ also shows a much bigger departure from your previous themes of Norwegian heritage, namely vikings and old norse texts.
When I started Kampfar back in 1994, I wanted to make some honest music, and I wanted to create metal which had a cultural connection for me, as well as the essence of where I’m coming from. My grandmother told me about Nordic myths and forces of nature when I was a kid, which was where I started from as my basis.
I’ve kind of developed my head and my skills twenty years on, so now what I create is more based on (at least European) society as a whole. In that regard, it’s been a natural progression in both my mind and my musical expression, though it still more or less comes from the same roots.
It’s still all culturally connected, but not so much now about vikings, Odin or Thor; it’s rather more about the world we live in, today. That’s the main difference!
How would the current religious diversity of modern Norway have had an impact on the new album?
A lot, actually. To be honest, that wasn’t my intention, yet it’s become more natural to use it. Most of us have families now, with kids growing up, and I can see that everyday, they have to adapt to a certain path in the “modern Norway”. This is getting to me more as a person living in the here and now, so it’s more natural to focus on the society we’re living in, rather than trying to go back in time.
It’s the same thing with black metal in general; I met some friends here today, whom I haven’t seen today in twenty years but are still around. Whenever we catch up, we always tend to focus on the “old days”, which makes it harder to stay in the present.
With ‘Djevelmakt‘, we tried to challenge ourselves and take the step to talk about our lives and society right now.
I understand that Kampfar has recently moved from Fredrikstad to Bergen?
I’m not living there, but [our drummer] Ask is!
Ask: [Guitarist] Ole and I live in Bergen; that’s where we rehearse and record all our pre-production demos and everything.
How would you compare the Bergen metal scene with that of Oslo?
Ask: The one big difference between Bergen and Oslo is that the former is a community, while Oslo has a history of being more competitive.
So in Bergen, people are more willing to help each other out, being a small place with a small metal community where everyone knows one another. But it’s not really that different, to be honest.
So the blackpackers [black metal tourist] phenomenon is in Bergen, too!
Ask: Hahaha! I spend a lot of time out in the forest, doing my job, and we meet many people sweating profusely in the mountains with cameras and Darkthrone t-shirts on. The blackpacker phenomenon is alive and well!
Dolk: It’s weird sometimes, but it’s also a good thing. For example, I have nothing left from the earlier days of Kampfar, like demo tapes and so on. People ask me why I don’t have them; I gave them away.
One day, there was suddenly this Polish guy knocking on my door, after taking a plane to Norway and finding out where I lived.
That’s called “stalking”!
Yeah, it is! But in a way, it’s not really stalking. People like that just deserve to get some stuff, so I just gave him (the demo tapes). Then he left!
I have the old Kampfar stuff in my head anyway, so I don’t need a physical form. It can be fun, though it can also be a pain in the ass.
Ten years ago, where I live (in Fredrikstad) there was a lot of it, but today there’s not that much of it, anymore.
Kampfar is also contributing to Season of Mist’s upcoming folk music compilation, ‘One and All, Together, For Home‘.
Ask: It’s a project that Roman from Drudkh put together and contacted us for; the basic idea is to interpret your musical culture in as honest a way as possible.
Some have chosen to do folk music versions of old songs, while we’ve opted for our own way: Edvard Grieg is the key Norwegian composer for Kampfar over the years, and our previous guitar player Thomas was also a good pianist, who took his melodies and adapted them for guitar.
“Bådnsull” is an old melody that Grieg had found, from the “budeie” [milkmaids, in Norwegian] who would sing it to children to help them sleep. We took that and made it our own.
“En Hyme Til Urd“, meanwhile, is based on the song ‘Hymne‘, which was not only the first song that Dolk and Thomas wrote together, but also lyrically comes from the Völuspá [in the Nordic Poetic Edda]. So we took this and reinterpreted it for the project in a more organic and simple form.
Dolk: What’s interesting about this, is that we always get offers for these kind of compilations, ever since we started the band. Each time we’ve said “no”, but this is the first time in twenty years that we’ve actually said, “yes”, as we found it unique as a cultural thing.
How do you feel that this could introduce your audiences to older traditions of Norwegian culture?
Dolk: It’s hard to tell. I don’t know how to answer that, but at least we got the opportunity to try and explain our roots.
When it comes to folk music in general, people think about happy tunes all the time. In Nordic folk music however, that hasn’t been the case.
While people today like to call black metal “the devil’s music”, in those days, it was folk music. Musicians were even hunted down for it! It’s always been there, and for us, it’s a great thing to return to our roots and play non-metal music.
[Fanitullen – “The Devil’s Tune”]
Do you guys have any Norwegian folk tunes, to recommend to anyone reading this interview?
Ask: I think that we all have folk tunes in our minds that don’t really have titles… that’s the problem with Norwegian folk music; there aren’t any real titles. Like the song, “Bådnsull“? That just means “lullaby”, and there are hundreds of songs with that name, which are different lullabies.
It’s hard to actually recommend something that doesn’t really have a title! But there are some great musicians in Norway, who explore the older folk music.
Dolk: You have to go in the non-metal direction, I think. A personal favourite for me, is Annbjørg Lien; she does a lot of stuff which people used to connect to “the devil’s music”, as she simply expresses it through voice chords and the (Hardanger) fiddle.
For me, it’s magic!
Above photo © Pete Woods, 2014
K. Ann Sulaiman would like to thank Dolk, Ask Ty and Indie Recordings for this interview.