Before their exclusive UK appearance in London in support of new album 'Djevelmakt', guitarist Ole Hartvigsen and bassist Jon Bakker of Norwegian black metal titans Kampfar put aside some time to talk to eGigs about their latest ambitious full-length, the positive addition of Hartvigsen and a reflect on the band's twentieth anniversary this year.
How are you two?
Ole Hartvigsen: Good
Jon Bakker: Excellent
How has the tour been so far?
OH: It has been challenging in a way that we have lots of new stuff, lots of new songs, doing things a little bit differently than before. For the last few years now, we've been doing not the same all the time but we've been on safe ground. Now we're doing it a little bit differently and it takes a little while to get used to it. We are probably our own worst critics. I don't think people really notice but you have to think a lot more and be more focused, more sharp but it's been good. It's been good to see things coming together really well.
How has the response been for your new album 'Djevelmakt' from fans and critics?
JB: Overwhelming. I'm really happy. We were hoping or it of course and we were pretty certain we were on the right direction but you never know. We were spot on.
This sounds like the most ambitious Kampfar album to date. There's a lot of variation, every song sounds completely different and there are plenty of new bits in there as well as the traditional Kampfar sound. I think you blew everyone away with this.
OH: Like you said, it's a very ambitious album. We put a lot of effort and thought into everything. You know that you've done a good job but you have no idea how everyone's going to respond to it. It's almost overwhelming, the great feedback that we've had. It's a relief in a way to see that we're not just for crazy people who think we're doing our own stuff and it's great but that it really works.
JB: It's dangerous ground; four individuals can sit there and play together your own little theory of what can work and want won't, but it could go wrong.
JB: We hit it, I think.
OH: I think so.
Well done! Why does this album sound so different?
JB: The main difference of course is that Thomas quit and he stood for the main melodies and riff making. Now there's another person with us with his own ideas and other influences so that's the biggest difference. Where we are today, we said: "Fuck it all and give everything."
What are some of these new influences?
OH: I think Thomas had a different opinion on what Kampfar was supposed to sound like and be like. He and Dolk [frontman] have been doing this for ages and when I came in, I had this mind-set that I wanted to take it into somewhere much darker and sharper. These three other guys bonded very positively to that and that's something that has been in their mind of a few years actually. When you have this common idea all of us then you can really start working on something new, maybe a little bit unsafe and explore things that you haven't dared to explore before. I think we benefited from that.
Definitely and I think a lot of these songs have been written to sound particularly great in the live environment.
OH: Absolutely. When I came into the band, I was just a live musician in the beginning so I've experienced all the old songs through a live setting more than an album setting. It's always been in our minds that this was supposed to work live as well because we are primarily a live band I think, even though we put a lot of effort in making the albums stand out and be good albums in themselves so that in maybe ten or twenty years people will think they're good but you have to make songs that are good for your live show.
The only live appearance that you made last year was Hellfest to concentrate on this album so there's a lot of dedication and time spent.
OH: You see a lot of bands who are just putting records out there nowadays when the record label says so they have a reason to go on tour again and stay active. We definitely don't want to go into that track at all. When we make an album, there's a purpose behind it. If we don't have a purpose, there won't be an album so that was very important; that's why we said no to almost every idea. We just took Hellfest because it's a little bit special. It was a good boost for everybody as well to play a show like that. This year, we have a lot more touring to do and a lot more stuff to do.
Sounds good. The album's title translates as 'devil power'. Could you explain further why you choose this title and its impact on the lyrical themes?
OH: I guess it's a slight continuation of 'Mare', which touched on witchery and stuff like that. This time it's more into the depth of things, not necessarily religion but society as well the way society tries to set certain rules around your life and condemns you in every way if you're not following the rules. You have the same things in religion and in companies so we play around a lot with that kind of stuff because I guess all of us are very strong-minded individuals; we know where we want to go, what we want to do. It's a really interesting theme to explore because there is so much of it throughout history.
JB: Your whole life is based around it. It's really nice when you know it, how the record is built up; it's starting with the good side condemning you when you don't follow them and it ends up with the dark side that do the same actually, condemn you the same way if you don't follow them. You'll see that in our live shows as well.
You said lyrically it references the witchcraft theme explored on 'Mare'. Is that why the album cover has the red cloth again?
JB: One of the reasons. It fits with the red that was a happy coincidence.
It was the work of ZdzisławBeksiński and John Charles Dollman that you combined.
OH: Yeah but also it has something to do with phases in Kampfar. Ask [drummer] been talking about it in other interviews. There are certain phases in this band: you have the first two albums that came way back in the nineties that have that certain idea and feel, then you have the second wave where you had new members coming in and a band on 'Kvass' and 'Heimgang' and a third phase has started with 'Mare' with a different sound and more hi-fi or more powerful, more bass-y. We wanted to build on that and make a continuation. These small links show that continuation as well. You had the reed drapes and everything that fit really well.
It's a really beautiful looking album cover.
JB: It is.
OH: Everything really fit the part. When you start looking at[Beksiński's], not just the detail in the cover but his life and what happened to him is fitting.
JB: Dramatic guy, he really lived the drama. He was painting his nightmares actually.
This is your first album with Indie Records. How have you found working with them?
OH: It's great, really great to have somebody so close to you. Obviously, they have the main office in Oslo so we can speak to them all the time. They will never stand in the way of what we want to do or ask questions about our artistic expressions. We do what we do and we have this mutual respect that as long as we keep working and keep doing what we're good at, they'll keep doing what they're good at and that's so important. They've been super supportive. Obviously, they have a good track record of taking bands to a new level.
JB: We have good co-operation with them. We're coming home and we're speaking the same language and the main base of Indie is Norwegian bands. It's a really nice thing going home.
Kampfar has been going for twenty years now. What have been your personal highlights since you both joined the band?
OH: For me, I've only been in the band for three years so the personal highlight for me must be to make 'Djevelmakt' and see that whole process live from start to end, the reception afterwards and the first tour after this. There have been some moments in between with good festivals, tours, the Barge to Hell and all those surreal things that are highlights. For me, it will always come down to the artistic thing and the whole process of 'Djevelmakt' is my highlight.
When you joined Kampfar, were you expecting this level of ambition?
OH: In the beginning, I didn't really know what to expect because I didn't know any of the guys from before.
So you auditioned externally?
OH: Yeah, I knew the guys from Vreid. Some of those guys have toured with Kampfar before so we just exchanged phone numbers and tried it out. Everything clicked from the first moment. I didn't know what to expect in terms of ambition and stuff like that but it was quite clear to me from early on that this was the right band because you have three other people who know what they want to do and how to operate. They were productive and not destructive. It was a very good thing.
And Jon, what has been your personal highlight since you joined Kampfar?
JB: I've been in Kampfar for ten years. [My highlight has been] playing live for the first time I'm a live person. I love records but it's really on stage I can do my thing so playing Wacken, big festivals with pyro and everything, building this thing up and the last one is Ole coming into the band.
That's nice! So what are your future plans after this tour?
JB: We have more tours, nothing specific.
OH: I think we have almost ten festivals after the tour, up until September or something. We want to do North America at some point. We've been there once before and we want to go back with this new album. We're not really sure how we want to do it, if we want to do it as a headlining tour or maybe as a support for another band. We still have to figure out those details and that's basically it. We don't have long term plans, we don't have two or three year plans. There are things that we want to cover and as it naturally progresses, we'll start thinking about future albums and things for new things but it's a little bit early right now. Going on tour with a new album is part of the process and we're still in that process, I think.
JB: We talk about everything when we would like to have our next record out but now, it's touring.
OH: We have things that we want to cover. North America is one thing but it would be really cool to go to South America because we know we have a lot of fans not only in South America but also in Central America. Japan and Australia would also be cool things but it's a long shot because it's more difficult to arrange all that stuff. We want to play in as many areas of the world that's possible.
JB: We've never been as happy as we are now releasing an album. It's really an album that we should really pay attention to now, not just puke out another album. It deserves it, really.
OH: Yeah, we will take our time, definitely.
You deserve it. That's the end of my questions. Do you have any final words for the readers of eGigs.co.uk?
JB: Glad to be back in the UK!
OH: Only that we're glad to be back here again, yeah!
You didn't come to the UK on your last tour. Why was that?
OH: Yeah, that's true. It's a shame.
JB: We were booked in on another tour really so not in our hands.
It's good that you're back because I was thinking you just didn't like the UK and would never return!
OH: [laughs] No, we definitely want to do more in the UK actually. We've been thinking about doing some smaller just UK orientated festivals or something like that. You never know. We always have all these ideas but it comes down to the details. It's always a difficult thing to make everything come together.
JB: We're waiting for the invitation to Bloodstock of course [laughs]!
That would be amazing! It's a shame we don't really have many outdoor metal festivals in the UK.
OH: Right. It's very easy for us to end up on the German festivals instead.
Yeah, Bloodstock doesn't usually take risks and book smaller bands but who knows!
JB: Who knows? Hopefully with this new album maybe! Next year hopefully!
Thank you for the interview.
OH: You too.