Kampfar – Ofidians Manifest

Rating: 4/5
Distributor/label: Indie Recordings
Released: 2019
Buy Album: Indie Recordings Webstore
Band Website: Bandcamp / Facebook / Website / Instagram

Band Line-up:

Dolk – Vocals
Ask – Drums / Vocals
Jon Bakker – Bass
Ole Hartvigsen – Guitars

Tracklisting:

1. Syndefall
2. Ophidian
3. Dominans
4. Natt
5. Eremitt
6. Skamløs!
7. Det Sorte

Review:

Despite a successful career spanning a quarter of a century and earning them a Norwegian “Spellemann” grammy for their Profan album, Kampfar’s future appeared uncertain two years ago.

Health issues within the band had slowed progress to a point where the decision to bring things to an end had been made. Avoiding any further specifics, the band have stated that they could only continue if radical changes occurred. They took the opportunity to spend a year apart; not talking, not maintaining contact. Just getting on with their own personal lives. Vocalist, Dolk describes this by saying:.“It was time to heal, to not cause any more damage, to just see if one could get back to a point of strength again.”

The fact that we now have Ofidians Manifest to enjoy is evidence that the band have turned that experience into something positive and creative.

Demos were written by Ole (shaped massively by him losing his father during this period). The main song writing was done over the course of two months in the fall of 2018, with another month spent recording the album in Bergen, Oslo and Pärlby, Sweden.

The band spent intense weeks together in their creative home of Hemsedal, molding and shaping the songs: “Surrounded by mountains and forest that turned from summer green to autumn yellow to winter white.” They worked extensively on what was to become this testament to the band themselves.

There is an assured confidence to opening track Syndefall as it emerges from a brief, yet horrific soundscape of screaming, suffering humans. It is a bleak beginning that mirrors and manifests the dark period Kampfar described in their latter career. That being said, it is no less significant that the band sound as assured as they do when the music advances. There is no doubt that this is the sound of a band who are confident they have a lot to offer.

The vocals are an early highlight for me. Defiant, powerful and, of note, convincingly rousing on second track, Ophidian.

Building on this, the band bring in second vocalist, Agnete Kjølsrud to duet on Dominans. The third track is the album’s game changer. Brooding and atmospheric, it lifts Ofidians Manifest from what has so far been a solidly enjoyable effort into the realms of inclusion on my end of year list. It also begins an inspired series of arrangements that sit on the latter two-thirds of the album.

Natt, increases the pace and features some of the albums more strident riffs alongside the recurrence of Dolk’s full throated roar. A simple piano refrain sets a moment of calm among the blackened pulse. This instrument is also used to good effect on Eremitt, where it is momentarily set behind a frantic attack on the drum kit. 

Energy levels are high on Skamløs! A track that begins with a deceptive pulse before racing towards an uplifting second half via some of the album’s most idiosyncratic guitar playing. It highlights Ole Hartvigsen as a creative musician. Much of his skill is understated but increasingly impressive on repeated listens.

In fact, all of the musicians on Ofidians Manifest are playing with complete commitment to the song. There are no “showy” moments of unnecessary flamboyance, instead, the songs are built on dense layers of blackened ambience, driven by a relentless, percussive grind. Moments of melody emerge and there are hooks in these songs, but like many good things, they are often only revealed to the more committed listener.

As a climactic moment of intrigue, while the final moments of closing song (Det Sorte) are full of melancholy, they are also infused with an optimism that was completely missing from the first, terrifying moments of the album. Whether this should be read as a positive omen for a troubled band is up to you, but it is difficult not to acknowledge this subtle yet significant arc.

My sincere hope is Ofidians Manifest represents a new era for Kampfar.

Recommended.

Review by Beandog
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