(Andy Synn has a lot to say about Til Klovers Takt, the new album from Black Metal icons Kampfar, set for release by Indie Recordings on November 11th.)
It is often true, in Black Metal as much as any other genre, that the “best” bands don’t always become the “biggest” bands (and vice versa).
That’s not necessarily an attempt to belittle those acts and artists who – whether by luck, graft, or demonic intervention – have risen to the top, but it’s patently obvious (to me, anyway) that quality and popularity aren’t always correlated.
Case in point, having seen Kampfar perform multiple live shows which, in a just world, would long since have qualified them as festival headliners, and having lavished well-deserved praise on their recorded output for years now, it still galls me – as a fan of the band, and a fan of good music in general – to continually see them overlooked and ignored in favour of (arguably) lesser acts who are simply better at “playing the game”.
Let’s face it, seemingly ageless frontman (and veritable force of nature) Dolk, both live and on record, possesses the sort of natural charisma that other, more attention-hungry figures (naming no names) have clearly had to practice and rehearse very hard to achieve (or, at least, to fake), while the entire band have continually, and consistently, demonstrated themselves to be undisputed masters at crafting epic, instantly-infectious Black Metal anthems whose intensity, and integrity, is beyond reproach.
But, for whatever reasons, it still feels like the Norwegian quarter don’t get anywhere near the respect, or the acclaim, that they deserve.
Let’s hope that Til Klovers Takt will change that. Because it’s about damn time.
In many ways the band’s ninth(!) album is both a perfect jumping on point for new fans and a perfect reward for their long-time faithful, as much of Til Klovers Takt reads like an attempt – a very successful attempt, to be clear – at fusing the bigger, more bombastic sound of the band’s post-Mare career with a touch of their classic, Kvass-era songwriting.
In practice, this means that the songs themselves are a little bit longer on average, with more room set aside for their more atmospheric (dare I say, cinematic?) inclinations (most notably in “Lausdans Under Stjernene”, “Fandens Trall”, and especially “Dødens Aperitiff”), while still possessing that same hellishly hooky, audaciously anthemic character which characterised so much of Djevelmakt, et al.
It’s a subtle shift, certainly (after all, Kampfar are not the sort of band anyone would ever accuse of “losing touch with their roots”) but one which has clearly helped the quartet revitalise themselves, and their sound, as each and every one of this album’s six tracks unequivocally has its own clear identity – whether that’s the prowling, predatory presence and mythic aspirations of “Urkraft”, or the seething, blackened fury and moody majesty of “Rekviem” (whose tumultuous tremolo lines and soaring synths offer far more than mere nostalgia-bait) – yet also contributes to a greater and more grandiose whole.
The same could equally be said about each of the band’s members, whose individual contributions – from Dolk’s dramatic, dynamic, and devilishly diverse vocals to Ole Hartvigsen’s absolutely massive guitar work (which incorporates just as much old-school heart as it does modern-day heft) and Jon Bakker’s brooding, bowel-shaking bass-lines – and collective, collaborative mindset, all play a significant role in helping each song to achieve its full potential.
Drummer Ask in particular delivers what is perhaps a career-best performance across the full forty-four (and a half) minutes of this album, to the point where I honestly don’t remember the last time I heard him cut loose like this (especially during the devastating mid-album duo of “Fandens Trall” and “Flammen Fra Nord” where it often feels as though the songs themselves are only just able to contain him).
Make no mistake about it, Til Klovers Takt is easily on par with the band’s very best work, as well as being one of the most vital and vibrant Black Metal albums of the year, and it’s high time we all started to give these Norwegian devils their due.