KAMPFAR – Til Klovers Takt (2022)REVIEW

In the valley of rest, to the pulse of the clover sprouting underfoot, they reel in celebration as life returns to their thawing valley. Yet they do not stop there, in fact we find eastern Norwegian pagan black metal quartet Kampfar reacting not only to seasonal emergence in rhythmic guidance through a year’s worth of songcraft but also a broader depiction of the “seasons” of a complete lifetime, collecting points of great inspiration from their nearly three decade history in pursuit of the best render, a most complete examined self. ‘Til Klovers Takt‘ is not a compendium of past feats so much as the continuum wielded in hand, a potency which can only come from a consistently stoic yet left-field body of work enabled by ever-wisened minds. A ninth full-length should very well reek of wisdom’s mirror in this sense, shine some manner of balanced reflection back upon the diviner, else it should not exist. Expect a fevered, dreaming sort of experience full of intricate mid-paced rhythmic treatments and the bands signature flair for sprawling folk-cinematic ebb championed throughout.

After reviewing ‘Ofidians Manifest‘ in 2019 I’d definitely felt like I’d written about the band, about their history and the return for a third chapter the album’d represented yet I’m not sure I’d written anything worthwhile about the record and eh, how it’d actually sounded. A stymied set of symptoms not uncommonly experienced on my part when it comes to considering the complete work of a band which has been around for three decades, having gone through many artistic revelations and matured into a professional force, as is the case with Kampfar. It’d been important to contextualize the group’s historical and contemporary value to Norwegian black metal culture and pagan black metal as a whole first and foremost, giving good enough reason to be stoked that they’d entered a point of great revivification after a short break… and of course, as the fates would serve it, they couldn’t tour on that record. The year in between seems to have served them well in terms of time spent reflecting on life, family, community and craft, ultimately manifesting an inspired and thoughtful ninth full-length album.

Variously compared to any number of bands over the last twenty eight years without much thought, it’d be fair today to prepare folks for the modern sound of Kampfar with the contextual implication of at least the pagan and progressive side of black metal in Bergen’s greater evolutionary stages over the last three decades (Helheim, Taake, Enslaved, et al.) though they’ve never lost the folken (just short of vikingr) touch of their sound. ‘Til Klovers Takt‘ in particular wears this scaffolding for the sake of dramatic peaks within their more involved 7-8 minute pieces, as it seems all of this time on their hands has lent a certain cinematic value to much of the album. This much will be obvious in approach of the numerous singles released in promotion of this album, with two specific videos (“Urkraft” and “Rekviem“) acting as prime examples of the ‘epic’ statements and imaginative rhythmic threads the album leads with. The videos themselves likewise provide some insight into their surroundings, the environment where they’d worked on this album for roughly a year and the beautiful valley in the traditional region of Norway which inspires their work.

Jangling, ragged chords and distant keyboard hits steep the mind in miasma to start, awakening with grit in the eyes to a blurred midnight sun as opener “Lausdans under stjernene” presents a mood of dread as much as it does wonder as Kampfar step into scene at dew-wet dawn, finally kicking away at the piece ~2:15 minutes in. The use of piano on this piece is especially effective for its simplicity, recreating the motif that’d first broken into the first set of blasting black metal verses ’til punching back into to action at ~5:19 minutes. The lyrics set a scene of ritual beneath the moonlight, a dark place to start which is immediately felt and perhaps not the most “metal” way to kick off an album in terms of tone yet it all becomes a bit more fantastic when considering the story told and the larger scene set. This might be one of the longest pieces on the album but this exact amount of nuanced meaning and measured use of bounding, bombastic performative breaks persists throughout the album. The previously mentioned “Urkraft” is, by my measure, a fairly classic example of what these folks have done best since the revelation that’d come with ‘Mare‘ (2011) yet it elevates the moment created with its clean sung folk-metered verses and brutally aggressive breaks, perhaps the moment the drumming really comes into play on the album catching my ear consistently around ~3:58 minutes but impressing throughout. At this point it seems the lyrics are telling separate yet related stories, or relaying imagery which the reader can infer, these pertaining to primordial natural forces and the lair of the predator all of which has some spiritual meaning if one chooses to read that far into it.

My favorite song on the album by a slim margin, “Flammen Fra Nord”, is of course staged in defiance of the foul Christian invasion of all native lands and the murderous plague that it continues to be upon the nature of man. Because of certain vocal effects used and a sombre feeling on this song ‘Farsotstider‘-era Thyrfing comes to mind briefly, a bit of extra credit earned in a small way, but I’d otherwise felt like this was the point of bloom for the full listen and the remainder of Side B not only speaks this musical language but wields it with some considerable command. “Rekviem” rises up in fervor to start, some solidarity achieved in group-sung chorales and battered-forth movement which steers with exciting narrative push. Of course the song hasn’t impressed me solely for the prideful aggression it brings so much as the eerie keyboards they eventually layer in, what sounds like a stringed instrument weaving an unusual warp at the peak of the moment which continues to build into something like a Norsk Primordial-esque stamp and crow event. With the momentum of the full listen built to a fevered peak over the course of the second half there’d really been no backing down from a grand finale and “Dødens aperitiff” instead chooses to ride the wave on the almost ‘Nordland‘ feeling mythos explored as the lynx is encountered, sacrificed and devoured out of spiritual desperation. The gist of the experience is that I’d been thrilled by the first half of the record being a longtime fan of the band but most impressed by the momentum built within the finer points of the second half, this twilight is where the passion arguably arrives most notably, though the experience is cumulative in effect.

It wouldn’t make much sense to consider what a completely unindoctrinated fan might think of the ninth Kampfar album as it stands, though I’d have to concede that ‘Til Klovers Takt‘ isn’t obvious or accessible in the usual sense up front it does however run the gamut of the soul the entity has long carried. There are too many highlights in their discography to say all ground is covered here, of course, and I wouldn’t want to suggest any self-respecting pagan black metal fan take a pass on ‘Fra underverdenen‘ or ‘Mare‘ at all, though I admire the nature of the band being consistently conveyed then and now, this being one of their most personal works wherein meaning is prime yet performative value is still high. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (80/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
TITLE:Til Klovers Takt
LABEL(S):Indie Recordings
RELEASE DATE:November 11th, 2022

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