Kampfar - Kvass
Napalm Records
Black Metal
6 songs (46'00")
Release year: 2006
Napalm Records
Reviewed by Alex

High expectations are a bitch to overcome. Back in high school I remember staging with classmates an impersonation of the most rebel rock opera in Soviet Union at the time. We lip-sinced, but we put our hearts into acting. For years afterwards I dreamed of seeing that performance live, with real actors and all, but was only able to catch that theater while on tour in some obscure city with the fill-ins playing the parts. Man, was I disappointed …

The term “high expectations” certainly applies to Norwegians Kampfar. It has been a while since we heard from this black metal team, due to some personal and legal problems. First off, when you release an album like Mellom Skogkledde Aaser you set the bar not only for yourself, but for the whole genre. More importantly Kampfar represent the bastards of the dying breed. With Enslaved turning progressive, with Old Man’s Child turning pink, with Host leaving Taake on hiatus after Hordaland Doedskvad, with Windir forever gone because of Valfar untimely demise, who is left to continue proudly waving the flag of the truly Norse 90s black metal? With Kvass, seven years removed from its predecessor, Kampfar had big shoes to fill – their own.

There is no question Kvass did well on two fronts. It completely avoided the Norsecore trappings, Kampfar never falling for the brutally blunt turbo death metal of Zyklon. It also should fly in the face of many who still claim that black metal can’t be melodic, and the whole genre is a bunch of warbled noise. Kampfar stuck to their roots, and held on to the Nordic spirit, blackened thrash riffs of Lyktemenn and Gaman Av Drommer being the purest examples. For the latter, the band, almost intentionally ratcheted down the production compared to the rest of the album, the rawness oozing in from every chord. Just about every song on Kvass is a long journey of repeating parts, the riffs being latched onto, and repeated on and on, with slight arrangement variations. Blasting and Thomas’ tremolo picking outline the melodies, and I would be lying to you if I wasn’t humming those for days now. Droning away, the melodies from Kvass possess an uncanny ability to crawl into your brain, occupy a corner and not let go of it. The album cover showing the snowy road to nowhere, and all the raw edges, I did not actually feel the freezing cold emanating from Kvass. Folk influenced polka beats of Hat Og Avind with its dimmed choirs is definitely not so depressing in its liveliness, and Ildverden in parts is turning into an epic heroic tune.

So why did I bring the word “expectations” out? Because it felt that with Kvass Kampfar played it a little close to the vest, almost being too safe. Dolk has always been very distinct with his vocals, his shriek is raspy, but never over the top, almost audible in Til Siste Mann (of course, if you understand Norwegian). But on Kvass he mainly safely follows the melodic lines, step to the right, step to the left not considered. He is further hampered by the rhythmic foundation of the album being overly simplistic. The new drummer (II)13 is simply happy to lay the rhythmic foundation, be it the aforementioned polka beats on Hat Og Avind, or more standard blasting in Lyktemenn and Ildverden. With such monotone approach it is almost a blessing when the band slows down on Ildverden to allow the acoustic epic part sneak in, before the blasting begins again. No drum fills or rolls of any kind exist on Kvass. Folk influences also seem to be intentionally purged, this is definitely no Windir’s 1184 and keyboards are allowed only to clearly outline the riff on Ravenheart (which is a hell of riff, making the latter a hell of a song).

Let’s just hope now that Kampfar is back from the dead and Kvass is only the first step on the way back into Norwegian black metal pantheon. I am for one glad to have these six long tracks composing one enjoyable well-flowing album of raw, but very melodic, and quite professional Norwegian black metal to grace us in ‘06.

Killing Songs :
Lyktemenn, Ravenheart, Ildverden
Alex quoted 82 / 100
Kayla quoted 84 / 100
Other albums by Kampfar that we have reviewed:
Kampfar - Mare reviewed by Alex and quoted 85 / 100
Kampfar - Heimgang reviewed by Alex and quoted 85 / 100
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