There really is nothing like putting together an annual top-ten list. Critiquing, organizing, selecting, re-selecting, and rearranging right up to the deadline, like creating a haphazard grocery list as you suffer through a 48-hour fasting. As is the case with many of my colleagues, I pretty much had my list nailed down at the beginning of November with everything listed in an order I was 99% confident with. Well, that was until Kampfar‘s Profan hit my inbox a week ago. Not that it’s a band thing that Kampfar (much like Mors Principium Est before it) upset my 2015 order, but they single-handedly fucked everything up. So for those of you who think you’ve heard all there is to hear this year, I offer you another for your listening pleasure.
Ever since the departure of Thomas (Kampfar‘s longtime guitarist/bassist) in 2010, the Kampfar kamp has seen some separation in their fanbase. Personally, I’m a Thomas-era fan of the band. Albums like Mellom skogkledde aaser and Kvass still stand as a couple of my favorites for the entire genre. However, as the band honed in on their recent “accessible” black metal period (beginning with 2011’s Mare), theres been a steady increase in impact and staying power. This resulted in albums that retain that Kampfar sound and emotion, but deliver it with a fresh new twist. Last year’s Djevelmakt expanded upon the sound of Mare, but Profan showed up to solidify it. Profan represents another slab of solid black metal from a band that’s not only one of the most consistent, but also one of the more progressively successful.
Opener “Gloria Ablaze” and closer “Tornekratt” are not only the best tracks on the album, but proof of the aforementioned honing. Kicking off with powerful, blackened riffs and a holistic sense of emotion and atmosphere, they build to deep-breathing, orgasmic relief when their respective “choruses” finally arrive. The aggressive, emotion-stricken “cleans” that lurch and belt forth are so good that latter may have trumped all contenders for Song o’ the Year. It’s the kind of power and emotion I long for and when it’s achieved almost as perfectly as on “Tornekratt,” I can’t help but be swept up and away by it. It’s the equivalent to the crippling emotions on last year’s Behemoth outing. I can’t fully explain or comprehend the feelings I get from these songs but they are real, and to resist them is not only stupid, but futile.
Thankfully, these two songs aren’t the only good ones. Each of the seven links on Profan stands with their own individuality. However, when chained together, Profan weaves a concise theme from beginning to end. Within that chain you’ll find a straight-forward black assault like “Icons,” the epic seven-and-a-half minute “Skavank,” and the slow, creeping “Daimon.” While “Icons” pairs with “Profanum” as the “weaker” songs on the album, its simple approach helps to provide variety in this mix of highly melodic numbers. One such number would be “Skavank;” providing the kind of melody and emotion that makes Profan an auditory weapon. Chugging along as only a crushing black metal song can, it takes a turn to create an ending itching with desperation and the ripping-from-one’s-skin moments found in Profan‘s alpha and omega. “Daimon” drops a mind-fucking ditty in the middle of the album that includes a didgeridoo, piano, and a slow-churning riffage complete with low-end vocals reminiscent of The Vision Bleak. As with most of Kampfar‘s catalog, Profan is not in any danger of settling into a groove or boring the listener.
Profan spends its entire forty-minute length building up to something. That “something” finally bursts from the soothing, yet unsettling synths in the closing minute of “Pole in the Ground.” Profan is a great album and a natural progression from Djevelmakt. The production is rich and clean, though it suffers from high compression (which is not surprising for a Jonas Kjellgren mix). And to wrap it all up, you get that stunning artwork that’s worthy of not only a vinyl print, but a hook on your wall. So, for all you list-makers out there, be sure to free up a spot. Just in case.