With a career spanning a near lifetime (20-years to be exact), Kampfar refuse to sit squarely in any one particular niche. They shamelessly delivered their self-titled EP, Mellom Skogkledde Aaser and Fra Underverdenen as part of their first creative wave, hitting you up with old school black metal with the typical raw traditionalism you’ve come to expect of a two-man Norwegian act. When that didn’t translate into a particularly nifty live performance, more members were added and the band forged ahead with their second creative wave delivering Kvass and Heimgang, which I’ve not heard.
Mare, with its journey into the world of witches of the past and present, kicked off their third creative wave paving the way forward for today’s concept that digs in the gunk of the underworld where and I quote “rats feed on the blackest souls and false choirs have no power.” Mare showcased a refocussed, modernised Kampfar with a dynamic vibrancy that’s wholly created for live performance. three years on the heels of Mare, Kampfar are back with Djevelmakt, an album adorned by Polish artist Zdzisław Beksiński and robed in the claim that it makes a leap forward in their steadfast path – will them be fightin words?
Djevelmakt kicks off with “Mylder,” which has an almost hall of mirrors trickery about it, just when you think you know where it’s going it does a little about turn on you. The track starts off with sobering intro delivered by a grim set of keys and just as you’re settling into the starkness, you’re bombarded with the kind of black metal sound that could be a merging of Taake and Vreid – accessible and melodic, yet with hints of the raw and raspy side of Norway. Around the mid-point of the track a charmingly light and mesmerizing Windir-sounding flute solo carries you away with its breathiness before the effect is stolen and you’re knee-deep back in the black guided only by Dolk and Ask Ty’s mix of blackened ghostly rasps and invigorating cleans that contrast each other pretty damn well.
Moving on from “Mylder,” “Kujon” and “Blod Eder og Galle” don’t bring anything particularly new to this supposed grim little gun fight and for the most part they feel bloated and corpse-like and just end up stinking up the joint. My waning attention only kicked back in around the mid-point of the album with “Swarm Norvegicus,” “Fortapelse” and “De Dødes Fane.” “Swarm Norvegicus” delivering a palatable taster reminiscent of bygone Triptykon days, “Fortapelse” showing off Ole’s skill at masterfully working the keys and guitar riffs to add an enticing touch of accessible melodic tragedy and “De Dødes Fane” taking a stab at combining the folky unexpectedness Taake laid out on “Myr” with a weirdly Ex Deo “Caligula” call for attention. Ole (guitars and keys), Jon (bass) and Ask Ty (drums) provide a strong instrumental backbone for the band that’s very consistent with what they’ve delivered on past albums.
Production-wise, Kampfar chose to work with Jonas Kjellgren, owner and operator of Black Lounge Studios in Sweden, with Peter Tägtgren undertaking mixing duties. The quality is top-notch as with Mare, with the album having a very melodically accessible modern Swedish sound, more-so than one wants or expects from their Norwegian black metal. With the lengthier tracks mostly hogging the front part of the album, Djevekmakt feels a little draggy to begin, and I found the back-end of the album much more enticing with the quicker track changes.
Outside of overly accessible nature of the album, and the aforementioned dragginess, Djevelmakt successfully feels like the next logical and natural progression from Mare and for the most part it’s a gratifying listen. The album still keeps in touch with elements of the bands early works spanning their 20 years. And while I wouldn’t say that the album leaps ahead with anything that Mare hasn’t already delivered, it is indeed a steadfast offering and if you enjoyed Mare, you’ll enjoy Djevelmakt.