The Norwegian black metal band Kampfar was formed in 1994 by vocalist Dolk (formerly of Mock) and guitarist Thomas, with their debut album, Mellom Skogkledde Aaser, appearing in 1996. From the beginning, Kampfar’s lyrics and presentation expressed a strong interest in Norse mythology, heathenism and folklore, in contrast to the Satanism espoused by many Norwegian black metal bands at that time, with Dolk coining the phrase ‘Norse Pagan Folklore Metal’ to describe Kampfar’s music. The band’s second album, Fra Underverdenen, appeared in 1999, and was followed by a period of inactivity due to personal issues. The band resumed activities in 2005, with a new bass player, Jon, and a new drummer, II13. Kampfar signed to Austrian label Napalm Records to release their third album, the widely acclaimed Kvass, in 2006, along with re-releases of the first two albums. A fourth album, Heimgang, followed in 2008. In February 2009, Kampfar undertook a European tour, co-headlining with fellow Norwegians Vreid and supported by Iskald.
Heathen Harvest: OK, so I think this is your first time playing in the UK – are you looking forward to it?
Yeah, of course. We’ve been looking forward to that for a long time, really, but the opportunity hasn’t been there before. So it’s really good to be here. I know that there are also a lot of people coming that I know. We have around 35 people on the guest list tonight, so it’s kind of hectic really.
HH: So you have a lot of friends and supporters here?
Yeah, it seems like it’s always like that, around Europe at least
HH: Is there a lot of interest in Kampfar here in the UK?
Yes, it’s always been like that, but you know, as a band, we’ve maybe been focusing a bit too much on the other countries in Europe, because that’s been a more natural thing for us, because of having three or four different record labels in the centre of Europe, you know. So we haven’t been so able to come here before now, but during our time in the band, especially in the beginning, it was a different time, and there were a lot of letters going around. The mailbox was the thing, you know? No internet! And during that time, I made a lot of friends here in the UK, for sure.
HH: How is the tour going this time around? I think you had some problems with the tour last year.
Yes, we had some problems with our old agency. We were supposed to do a 30-date tour, but we ended up in a broken bus in the Alps in Austria, and it was a really shitty thing, because the next day we were heading for a festival where we were headlining. We had to cancel that gig and go back to Norway. We were supposed to do 15 more dates on that tour, but we refused to do so. Then came our new agency, and we just hooked up with them for this tour. So that’s why we’re doing this tour now, really, because of the losses from the last tour.
HH: So there’ve been no serious problems on this tour?
No, not at all. It’s a completely different thing. We have a really nice bus, and the agency have been really nice guys to travel with. And also, the audience, the crowds, have been great. So far, every night, it’s been like 150 people more than on the last tour. So this time, everything’s good.
HH: I was wondering about your voice, Dolk, because you have one of the most distinctive voices in extreme metal. Is it hard to maintain your voice on tour, when you’re using it night after night?
Yes, sometimes. Normally when we go on tour, we do four nights and then I have a rest day, and after that I can keep going forever. But this is the first time I’m doing ten shows in a row, so it’s going to be interesting to see how that works out, and if I can maintain my voice. So far, it’s no problem. But over the years, you kind of learn some techniques, how to use your voice instead of just destroying it. You sing from your stomach, really, and if you don’t do that, you’re basically fucked after one gig.
HH: I know you’ve been asked about this before, but because Heathen Harvest is an American website, I'm sure its readers would like me to ask you whether you have any plans yet to play live in North America.
You know, that’s a really hard question to answer, because we could have been there already. We got an offer to go on the Rock and Roadshow, but we turned it down, because we already had some plans for another tour. So that was pretty shit, really, because that would have been cool to do. But we’ve now signed a deal with the ICS agency, so I think that will lead to some new opportunities to do that. But you know, that’s what it’s like with Kampfar. We just take what’s coming up, we’re not this band that plans everything, we just see what happens. But for us, it would be a great thing to go to America, of course.
HH: Let’s talk about the new album, Heimgang. How did the recording process for that go?
It went very well, actually. That was the second time we’d used that studio, Silvertone Studio. We used that studio for the Kvass album, and we know the owner Rune Jørgensen very well. He’s not really a producer, because we do it together, but he helps with the production, he owns the studio and he knows us very well. It’s more like a collaboration between us.
HH: Is Rune Jørgensen essential to the kind of sound you want Kampfar to have? What kind of input did he have to the way the album turned out?
The good thing about Rune is that he’s this kind of rock’n’roll guy really, he’s not really into metal at all. So the mixture of our rawness with his influence really produces something special, I think. And the album is more analogue, instead of this digital stuff all the time. We tried to do it stripped down, in an analogue way, and I’m really happy with the results.
Like I said, I’ve known Rune for many years. We work very naturally together, there are no problems there. That’s why we chose to use him a second time, you know? But in the end, we’re musicians, and we don’t want to be stuck anywhere, so although Rune has been of great importance to our sound up to now, maybe he won’t be so much in the future. That’s not because we don’t like what he’s done, but we don’t want to be stuck with one sound. Maybe we’ll do something else next time, but nothing’s been decided.
HH: How were the songs put together? Did you start with the lyrics, or just jam in the studio, or what happened?
Well, it varies from song to song, but to take this album, for example, we had maybe half of the album done before we went into the studio, but then things happen all the time that you can’t really plan. Like the first track on Heimgang, ‘Inferno’, that was jammed together in the studio, and the drums for that were recorded on the first take. What you hear on the album was the first time ever that that song was played. For Heimgang, we wanted to have a little bit more of an honest album, if you know what I mean. There’s a lot of different stuff going on there, some of it planned and some not planned.
When it comes to the lyrics, I usually do them after the songs, but I have a general idea of what direction we want to go in. For this album, I actually went out to a cabin that I have in the mountains, and I stayed there in solitude for a week, getting everything written, and then I cam back to the studio and recorded all the vocals in four days. That really worked for me, but it was a new way of doing it.
HH: Were Jon and II13 more involved in writing the songs this time around?
Oh definitely, they were much, much more involved this time. They were also involved in writing Kvass, but this is the first album where we were four equal units, I would say. And it’s turned out to be really good. In the beginning, they had to really adapt to me and Thomas, but now, during all this live experience, the band’s turned into a complete unit. With Heimgang, it’s the first time, in my opinion at least, that you can really hear the complete Kampfar.
HH: Unlike Kvass, Heimgang has no songs in English. Was this a deliberate decision? ‘Ravenheart’ was one of the most popular songs on Kvass, so it must have been tempting to try to do something like that again.
Of course! That’s maybe the biggest reason why we didn’t do it this time around. People have to understand that, with Kvass, we’d been away for a long time, and we wanted to sketch out the highway again, and tell people that this is what Kampfar is doing, you know? We wanted to do the same thing that we did with ‘Norse’, which is our other song in English. We wanted to make a song that really told people outside of Norway what Kampfar is all about, and to me, ‘Ravenheart’ does that. But with Heimgang, we wanted to go back a bit and find the atmosphere we had in the beginning. It was natural for me to do that in Norwegian, and just not think about anything like making a statement, just do what was natural for us to do. So this time it was totally Norwegian. Next time, it may not be. Things are happening all the time.
HH: All the songs on Heimgang are shorter than the songs on Kvass. Again, was this deliberate, or was that just the way things worked out?
Both, really. It was deliberate, but then some songs, like ‘Inferno’, were just jammed in the studio, so it was just the length that it turned out to be. So some songs just happen to be shorter, but other songs are shorter because we wanted them to be shorter, yes.
HH: What are your favourite tracks on the album?
That’s a tricky one. It’s a good question, because the great thing about Heimgang, I think, is that we are four individuals in this band, and none of use has the same favourite tracks. We all have different feelings towards different songs, but I think that’s a good sign, because we’ve made a diverse album, that’s one whole unit, but very different songs. For me though, it’s like, how can you choose between your favourite children?
HH: What are the fans liking best? What gets the best reaction at the gigs?
We have good reactions to ‘Inferno’, and also ‘Dødens Vee’, and also a song we’ve just started to play live, which is ‘Vettekult’. So maybe those three stand out a bit.
HH: The title of Heimgang refers to the path to the underworld or the afterlife – and here we are in the Camden Underworld talking about it! Can you tell me something more about the inspirations for the song lyrics? I heard that there are a lot of references to Norwegian folklore – can you give me some examples?
The thing with Heimgang was that, when we started Kampfar and released the first album, it was a lot about typical Nordic topics, Thor and Odin and all this stuff, but over time, it’s been more natural for me to really write from my own heart, and Heimgang deals more with what I have always been interested in, historical events that happened close to where I live, stuff which is much more connected to me as a person instead of just stories, you know?
HH: You mean more folklore than mythology?
Yes, exactly, it’s really much more folklore, and it’s really much truer to myself. Take a song like ‘Antvort’, for example. It’s about a black priest – a priest supported by the Norwegian government, but a priest with other skills too, put it that way. The church that he practised black magic in about 200 years ago was just 600 metres from my house. The song describes what he was doing and all this stuff, and it feels much more connected to me as a historical event. There’s a lot of local stuff like that going on in Heimgang.
HH: The closing track ‘Vandring’ sounds very different to the rest of the album. Were there special recording or production techniques used for this song?
Yes, it was supposed to be like that, and the meaning behind that is that it is the beginning of the end, really. It was supposed to be linked to where we are heading, you know?
HH: It’s the transition to the afterlife or the next plane of existence?
HH: I understand that Thomas has a background in classical music. Has this been a very important influence on Kampfar?
Yes. Whether you want it or not, it has of course been a big influence in how Kampfar sounds. Thomas originally played piano, that’s what he normally does, but in ’94 when I started up Kampfar after my old band Mock, I really needed a guitar player, and luckily I was seeing a girl at that time, and that girl was Thomas’ sister. So I brought Thomas into the band, and it happened there and then, you know? We really liked each other, there was such a great connection. Maybe the mixture of me and him, as a classical piano player, has been the most important thing for the sound of Kampfar, yes.
HH: How about Scandinavian folk music? Are there a lot of traditional tunes used in Kampfar songs?
Yes, there are. Over time, we’ve tried to distance ourselves a little bit from that, but you can still hear a lot of this Norwegian stuff going on, because we’ve been listening to that for many, many years, even before we got together as a band. But what we try to do now is that… I think a lot of bands just add some folk music parts into their music, and they don’t adapt it into their guitar riffs. They just play metal, and then it’s like turning off a switch, and here comes the folk music, and then the switch is turned on again, and there’s metal. With Kampfar, we try to adapt this into our own style, and if we do a guitar riff, you hear the folk stuff in it, not separately.
HH: Yes, Heimgang has none of the classical or folk instrument interludes you had on earlier albums – it’s a very stripped-down metal sound. Did you consciously decide to keep it simple this time around?
No doubt about that – that was the main idea behind it.
HH: Also on the subject of non-metal influences, are any of you into punk or hardcore at all? The reason I ask is because the last song on Kvass, ‘Gaman Av Drømmer’, reminded me very much of the American hardcore band Hüsker Dü.
Really? I've never heard of Hüsker Dü. I've never thought about hardcore influences, to be honest.
HH: Is it difficult for the band having a drummer who lives in another country? It must make it hard to get together to rehearse.
Not really. That situation has been maybe even better for us as a band, because when we first started to rehearse together, we all lived in the same place, and we saw each other five days a week. And that’s a good thing – you get to know each other and you have to play – but the ideas maybe disappear, I think. I have also moved to a small place now, and so Kampfar lives in three different places. And Norway is a really long country, and so it’s as far for me to drive to the rehearsal place as it is for II13 to fly to Norway. I spend as much time going by car to meet the other guys! But my point is that we’re much better off now, economically speaking, so we can afford to rent a rehearsal space about once every six weeks, and then we really lock ourselves in for three days. We don’t even taste any alcohol for three days, we just do what we are supposed to do for three days, and then leave again. And that’s been working out really, really well for us, even better than before, I think, so it’s not a problem.
HH: I was also curious about II13’s name – where does that come from? Is there a story behind that?
To be honest with you, I don’t even know the answer to that myself. It’s a very personal thing!
HH: The Kampfar logo has always been very distinctive and unusual for a black metal band – no gothic letters, no obsessive symmetry, no spikes or arabesques around the letters. And you’ve kept the same logo right from the very beginning of Kampfar. What was the message you wanted your logo to project?
When I started up Kampfar in ’94, I wanted to distance myself a little bit from the whole thing that was going on in Norway. I had deep roots in the black metal scene, of course, because I'd been there doing that for a long time, and I had a lot of friends all over, but when I started Kampfar, I wanted to do something that really took things a bit further, if you know what I mean, and that means everything. I remember when we did the first photo shoot. People seem to forget that now, but at that time, it was really a strange thing, because people didn’t understand the concept of black metal without corpse-paint, you know? That was the first thing that was different with Kampfar, and we did that also with the logo, because we wanted to be a bit different from the others. So yes, the idea of the logo, the photos, the artwork, the music, everything was planned, and it was planned to be Kampfar and Kampfar only.
HH: Do you have any thoughts about why black metal became such a big thing in Norway, and also why the scene became so crazy and violent?
You hear so many stories about those days. For us, who have been involved for so many years in this, it’s really funny to see sometimes, the way that things have been blown out of proportion, and made much bigger than they really were. But in the beginning, it was a special time, of course. There was a special feeling towards each other, a special brotherhood. The thing we had in common was that it was supposed to be some kind of war, you know, against everything. It didn’t start out as a war against Christianity, it started as a war against death metal bands and all these bands popping up with Bermuda shorts, and that whole attitude.
That was the first thing that lit the fire, really. But then it started to develop, and it got really out of hand. The Church became the worst enemy. People saw also that it was very, very effective to attack the churches. I mean, it had never happened before that Norwegian metal people were on the front cover of Kerrang!
, but that happened at that time, and so people saw what they could do, and that things were really developing into a mass movement.
But when I look back upon it now, I was really a lucky guy, because I lived a little bit outside the centre of Oslo, so I could really distance myself a little bit from all this. But in the end, you knew all these people, of course, because Norway is a small country, and the metal scene is even smaller. But the thing that really annoyed me, towards the end of that period, was that people seemed to say the things they were supposed to say, without thinking for themselves.
HH: It became just another trendy scene?
Exactly, and in that way, I must say that I prefer the metal scene these days, even if I must admit that some of the atmosphere has gone.
HH: When you were starting out with Kampfar, which bands really influenced and inspired you?
I've always been a metal kind of guy, ever since I was five years old, really, when I heard KISS
for the first time. But I had to listen to more and more extreme music all the time, I could never get enough. When I heard Bathory
for the first time, things were really happening for me. I really thought, ‘What the fuck? You can do this?’ So if I could name one influence that has pointed me in this direction, it was Bathory, for sure.
HH: Can you remember which album?
Yeah, it really happened when I heard Blood Fire Death
in 1988. That was the album that really did it for me.
HH: How does the Norwegian scene today compare to the old days? Are there many contemporary Norwegian bands that you really like?
Not really, to be honest. But you know, I know a lot of people and a lot of bands, and so, what’s the English word, you’re not really comprehending to say what you really feel. Like for instance, I know Hellhammer
really well, so for me, Mayhem will always be something special. So it’s hard for me to answer that, I may be not the right guy to answer that.
HH: I know Kampfar has always spoken out strongly against Nazism in black metal, but is it sometimes hard to disentangle the music from the politics? Like, are there bands whose music you like but whose political views you hate? The obvious example is Burzum. Musically, the band has been massively influential, but hardly anyone takes Varg Vikernes’ political views seriously.
That’s for sure! It has been very important for me to distance ourselves and distance Kampfar from that scene. We don’t want to be associated with Nazism at all – that has nothing to do with us. In the beginning, I didn’t care too much about it, people could call me whatever they want, but over the years, I got more and more pissed at people who dared to call me something like that. I know a lot of people all over the world, due to the music. I have friends all over, and it doesn’t matter if you’re this or that, it’s the person you are that matters. So for me, it’s become like a personal war against these lousy things. It’s so easy to call someone a Nazi, you know? It’s so easy to make accusations against people without any reason. It’s like I said in a Finnish magazine just a couple of weeks ago, ‘OK, to make it very, very clear – I'm not a fucking Nazi!’ How much more clearly can I say this? I hate this. For me, it’s started to become a personal vendetta against this. It’s really stupid.
HH: What do you think the essence of black metal is? Is it about an ideology, a particular sound, an attitude, or all of these, or something else?
To me, black metal has always been about Satanic stuff. That’s why I've also said that Kampfar don’t play black metal! We play Norse pagan folklore metal – that’s what we do. But the thing that has been hard to understand recently is that the folklore thing has become so big, you know? There are all these bands who do this humppa
, Finnish thing, and that’s called folk metal, and we don’t do that. In that way, I can see that we’re maybe more like black metal.
HH: The intro on Heimgang has a little bit of a humppa feel to it
Sure, it has, but we played a festival in Germany last year together with Turisas
, and I standing out in the crowd watching Korpiklaani, and this German guy came up to me and said, ‘You know, we Germans are just happy if we have a beer and we can jump up and down!’ And that is something that we don’t want to be part of. So if that’s folk metal, then let it be. But we’re still not black metal in a Satanic way, and for me, black metal has always been about Satanic things, and if it’s not, it’s not black metal
HH: So, what’s next for Kampfar after this tour? Do you have any plans for more live dates later in the year? Are you thinking about another album yet?
Yes, we’re thinking about a new album, but before that, we have some live dates. Like I said, with the old agency, we were supposed to do 30 dates, but we ended up with a broken bus and everything went to hell. So we decided not to finish that tour, so we’re doing this tour now, only ten dates, and we’re doing Wacken
and the Inferno Festival
later. And after that, we’re planning to do the work that has to be done for the next album. We’re going home to do nothing except making music.
HH: How about a DVD?
That’s been talked about, but we won’t release anything before it’s totally 100% finished, in our own opinion. We won’t release anything we’re not totally satisfied with, so it may take some more time.
HH: Well, that’s all the questions I have. Anything else you want to add?
No, I don’t want to add anything, really, just that it’s really good to be finally in the UK after all these years. I'm really looking forward to the gig tonight.
This interview with Dolk of Kampfar took place face to face at the Camden Underworld, London on February 16 2009.
PHOTOGRAPHS FROM THE SHOW