It has been a tumultuous time for the Norwegian pagan black metal band Kampfar, but they righted the ship and just released their latest album Ofidians Manifest. Guitarist Ole Hartvigsen gives us the scoop on what kept the band together, the new album, his all-time favorite Norwegian metal bands and other topics.
Chad Bowar: What led to the band nearly disbanding, and what brought things back together again?
Ole Hartvigsen: We were burning out, really. Playing in Kampfar became increasingly demanding and at the same time we all had various issues going on in our personal lives, so something had to give. This was back in 2017, but the troubles had been going on for some time and we could all feel it. We just had to make a decision, either keep going until we crash completely or say “stop!” and make no future plans. In hindsight, this feels like the best decision we’ve ever made. After some time, the urge to make a new album came creeping back. I started making some demos and eventually reached out to the other guys. We could all feel that the energy was back again, and the result is Ofidians Manifest.
Describe the songwriting process for Ofidians Manifest.
The songwriting usually starts with me making some demos, sometimes complete songs, sometimes just unconnected ideas. Then we start discussing the ideas and figure out what works and what should be thrown away. Even before that we discuss vague ideas about how the album should “feel” and the tricky part is to capture abstract moods into actual songs. Once the rough ideas start to get shaped into songs we meet up in our mountain cabin in Hemsedal to work out the details. For Ofidians Manifest we went up there several times during the last part of 2018. The surrounding nature was changing its colors and mood every time and that really helped to inspire us.
What will be your strongest memory of the recording of the album?
For me personally it’s writing the song “Det Sorte.” I wrote that song during the week after my father passed away. It’s a song that has captured a lot of emotions, not only for me but for the rest of the band as well, and even the people we worked with in the studio. When Dolk did the vocals for that song in the studio I chose not to be there because it was just too emotional, and even now I have problems listening to it because the emotions connected to it are so strong. I think that’s what truly great music is all about.
What inspired the album title?
It’s the manifest of the snake. The snake can mean several things, but first and foremost it represents personal struggles, the voices that draw you into a mental dark side, the battle with reality, if you will. This album is the manifestation of the struggles we’ve all been through, and the title seemed to fit well.
How did Agnete Kjolsrud and Marianne Maria Moen’s guest appearances come about, and what did they add to the album?
These appearances came about as a natural part of the creative process. We needed a touch of human beauty and sorrow towards the end of “Det Sorte” and Marianne provided that. She’s actually Ask’s (drums) sister. We also got a cello player to play on that part to add another human element. It’s one of those things where we just needed something that cannot be re-created by synthetic sound libraries. As for Agnete, we felt that the song “Dominans” needed something completely different from what we’ve done before. We needed some “madness,” in a way, something that could provide a sense of chaotic struggle. We presented her with the ideas and she was into it from the first moment. She really did a great job on that song, I think.
How has the band’s sound evolved from Profan?
When we started making this new album we felt that it was going to be more dark and personal than the previous one. So we wanted a sound that would match that. Jonas Kjellgren, who did the mix, really understood what we wanted, and the result is a sound that sits much closer to the listener. The sound is darker, more raw and in your face. The vocals are more dry and direct than before and the drums and bass have more oomph, for lack of a better word.
What are your goals and expectations for the album?
I think that after the last few years we have stopped making huge long-term plans. You can spend all the time in the world making all kinds of plans but in reality every album and every gig could be the last. Having said that, we’re extremely eager to go out and spread this album to all corners of the globe now! We focus on what we can control and try not to worry about the rest. Right now we’re working on our new live setup and getting back into shape as a stage band again, more powerful than ever.
How much attention do you pay to reviews?
I think maybe we paid attention to it before, but with this album we don’t really care too much. This album means too much for all of us to really care about reviews. I also think that reviews played a much bigger role before online streaming services became a common thing. People can just check out bands and albums virtually for free now, so the main reason for reviews is gone.
What are your upcoming tour plans?
We have somewhere around 8-10 festivals lined up for 2019 and are currently negotiating tours. That’s pretty much all we can say right now. Europe will probably be first priority, but we’re looking into the possibilities of touring other continents as well.
What has been your most memorable Kampfar show or tour?
That’s a tough one! Shows and tours blend together over the years, and there have been so many good memories. The funny thing is that the ones that stick to the mind the most are usually the shitty ones, when buses break down or you arrive at venues with no PA, etc. You really need a good dose of gallows humor in those situations. But one memorable show I can think of is actually the last show on the last European tour we did, back in 2016. The show was in Oslo and ended what had been a great headliner tour for us. The venue was completely package, the atmosphere was amazing, the show was perfect. It really felt like coming home.
How did you come to play with Gaahl’s Wyrd?
It came about because I didn’t have anything planned with Kampfar and Gaahl’s Wyrd needed to replace their rhythm guitar player until they could get a full-time replacement. I already knew Eld (the bass player) from before and Lust Kilman (the lead guitarist) is actually my neighbor, so we agreed that I would join as a session member. It was a great experience for me, but now I need to focus 100 percent on Kampfar.
How does his image compare to how he really is?
Gaahl is a very talented, serious and creative man. He has an artistic vision about everything he does. I think Wyrd will be a great success and really wish them the best. Their new album is truly amazing!
Did you see the recently released Lords Of Chaos movie?
No, I haven’t seen it. I’ll probably see it at some point, but it’s definitely not something I’m rushing to see.
What are some of your non-musical interests and hobbies?
I like travelling, seeing new places, learning about history, culture, etc. I also enjoy spending some time hiking in the mountains, even though I’m not a kind of crazy wilderness guy who goes trekking to the North Pole or whatever! Most of all I like learning about stuff, either through reading or documentaries. I like good wine and good food, and I try to spend more time doing things that I find interesting than things that bore me. I’m not much of a people person, to be honest. I enjoy my own company.
Who are your all-time top 5 Norwegian metal bands?
I’ll have to put Burzum there, purely for the music. It was a major factor in getting me interested in music in the first place. I’ll also have to put Windir on that list, because Valfar really inspired me during the early years. I grew up not very far from him and he was the first guy to put me on a stage. Emperor has played a big part in my musical education, and got me interested in the more technical and advanced ways of creating black metal. Immortal is also a band that needs to be mentioned, as they showed ways to re-invent their sound and style into something powerful while still keeping the essence and feeling of the band. And the fifth band I’d put on this list is Seigmen, which isn’t really a metal band and probably not well known outside Norway, but they made a powerful impact in the ’90s with a sort of blend between rock, metal, goth, etc.
What’s currently in your heavy musical rotation?
Not much, to be honest. I don’t really pay much attention to what’s going on in the metal scene, and especially now with all the work surrounding Kampfar and the new release and live shows – it’s just too much. I mostly just listen to stuff that comes from bands that we have worked or toured with, so for instance the new Helrunar album, which I really enjoyed.
(interview published May 7, 2019)
Watch Kampfar – “Ophidian” Video