April 25, 2019 Interview – Dolk of Kampfar
Consistency is a difficult attribute to attain in the over-saturated world of modern Heavy Metal music. Consistent quality is another matter entirely. This elusive trait, seen even less frequently, is something that has come very easily to the Norse Pagan Black Metal institution known as Kampfar. Yet, the life of a touring musician can take a toll, as Per-Joar “Dolk” Spydevold knows only too well.
That all in mind, Cryptic Rock recently caught up with the man, who aside from providing one of the most important sparks in the first fires of the Norwegian Black Metal scene, has managed to steer his band through every era since. With their 8th studio album, Ofidians Manifest, due out May 3rd, Dolk talks about inspiration, album covers, and the fire to keep on going…
Cryptic Rock – Kampfar began life in 1994 at the height of the explosion of Black Metal as we know it. Did you realize when you began the band that you and Thomas (Andreassen; guitars – 1994-2010) would be spearheading a whole new sub-genre of Black Metal, what is commonly referred to as Pagan or Folk Black Metal. Did you realize that was happening at the time? Did it surprise you that Kampfar became your life’s work?
Dolk – Yes, back then it would have surprised me. When we started Kampfar in ’94 it was absolutely the start for me creating Black Metal music. Even back then, of course, I had really deep thoughts about Kampfar being something unique, about creating something unique. I didn’t have a clue about where it was going, not at all. I have always been into this Black Metal thing with Kampfar, for sure, but we have always kind of bent the rules. I have never cared so much about the rules in Black Metal.
In 1994, breaking the rules of the genre was a scary thing to do, for sure. In those days, it was something that you shouldn’t do, and we got death threats and almost beaten up at times. Nowadays, it’s the total opposite, and you are being praised for being so original in a way. The Black Metal genre has been turned upside down in my opinion. It’s quite weird for me to see. The essence of Black Metal was to stick to the rules and now it’s totally the opposite. For Kampfar, this is nothing new, however, it’s new for us to be praised about something that we have been doing for 25 years.
Cryptic Rock – Going outside the rules is one of the things that makes Kampfar special. You look at bands like In The Woods or Enslaved, all bands rooted in Black Metal that went their own way. I think that did make them better. Turning our attention to Ofidians Manifest, your 8th studio album. From what I’ve read, it appears that it very nearly did not happen. At what point did you know that Kampfar was going to go on, and what renewed your hunger to create?
Dolk – That is a very good question. It’s a long story, but we have to take the short version. Back in 2016, we were doing all these shows, too many for us, actually. Three hundred shows over 3 years was too much for Kampfar in the last situation that we had. Anyway, we were doing a lot of big festivals, and playing for 20,000 people or something and all of a sudden it didn’t mean shit anymore, because it was more like a normal job for us. Luckily, we’re four individuals that saw that very early. We didn’t have the same essence that we used to have anymore because this had become more like a job now. It’s nothing in your heart anymore. So, for us, it was natural to stop.
I had to stop too, because of several reasons. Because of mental reasons, because of health reasons, and many other things. It was so natural that we didn’t speak to each other for 1 year. We didn’t have any plans. No one knew what was going to happen.
All of a sudden, one day, I got a phone call from Ole the guitar player. He told me that he had been having some interesting thoughts. He wondered if we could meet again, so we did. That’s where the process started. All of a sudden, we’re back together. Even though we didn’t talk to each other for 1 year, Kampfar is a lifestyle, it’s a big part of all of our lives. It was very natural for us to get together again. We kind of got our spark or a little fire again. It was not a hocus pocus thing. It just happened when we finally got together again. All of a sudden, we had a new album.
CrypticRock – Right, because when you’re apart it fosters the desire to create together again. Let’s talk about the symbolism of Ophidian, which refers to serpents and snakes, the archetypal enemies of Christianity, being symbols of the Devil. That seems too simplistic an approach, especially for a band with a far deeper approach to old Norse mythology than the Christian mythos. Perhaps it is none of these things?
Dolk – Almost 3 years ago I hit the wall, definitely the mental wall. I was really in a dark place to be honest. You know when you have a family, like I do, and then you make everything so that you can disappear somehow. Then you are at rock bottom, for sure. That’s the state I was in. Luckily, I have been working myself up again with mental training and also physical training, everything. I kind of used those years to rise again. That was when we got together. When we did, we had to create music. It was very natural for us to go more in depth personally than we have ever done.
Ofidians Manifest is actually the manifest of a snake, which is far more personal than Christianity in a way. It’s the voice of a snake that has been talking to me in my head, or the devil talking at my shoulder, for two and a half years. Trying to get me over to the wrong side, you know? If you start the album, the first song is sort of like the creation of Earth in a way. Like a book. When you come to the end of the song you have to let go and death will take you. You know at the end of the album, it’s the end of life. It’s also much more personal when it come to the lyrics too. The snake is more a pictorial of the voices talking in my head.
CrypticRock – Those struggles are real. There’s a lot of pressure on you just to be an adult, let alone a father and a full-time musician. You don’t realize it when you are young. It’s fitting that the first song on the album, “Syndefall,” begins with screams as if descending out of the chaos you were describing.
Kampfar has achieved a great deal of success for such an extreme act. For example, the band won a Spellman Grammy in your home country of Norway. What’s rather unique about Kampfar is something quite elusive in the world of Black Metal, even in these more evolved times. When most Black Metal acts attain popularity, such as Watain, Satyricon, or Behemoth, a lot of people in the underground lose respect for those bands. Kampfar, especially here in The States, where we don’t get to see you very much, has never lost an ounce of respect. The name, in fact, is revered. Why do you suppose Kampfar has retained that sterling reputation?
Dolk – That’s a very hard question for me to answer. To be honest, Kampfar has never been a thing about becoming a big Rock star, creating hits to get me into all kind of levels or lists. There was a reason why we ended now in 2017. The reason why we ended it was like we didn’t feel anything anymore. It was like a machinery. It was like getting the money and get out of there. We’re not built like that. We didn’t start this thing because of that. It’s a thing that speaks so much deeper than that, to be honest.
I also have to say that, some of these bands have a reputation for “uh we don’t support them anymore, because of this and that.” I think that is also bullshit because, I mean, I know Nergal, for instance, for many many years with Behemoth. And, what he has done. He wants to do. And we don’t necessarily want to do the same thing with Kampfar but, the thing that he wants to do, it doesn’t make him one less true because of that, and that’s my opinion.
Also, we’ve played at several festivals like Hell Fest in France back in the earlier days. There I finally got to meet the band called Watain, I had never even heard about them. They played after us back then. They literally played the shit out of us, you know. They were so fucking good. I mean it was embarrassing to play before them, sort of. So, I think they’re all there for a reason, to be honest. I mean, I’m happy as long as we get the respect anyway.
Cryptic Rock – Agreed. Sometimes bands get ostracized simply for being successful. Let’s talk about the uniquely gorgeous album covers of Kampfar. They were always themed on the nature of your homeland. You had extremes of quite lush, green covers of summer as well as the stark white, wintry scenes of mountains and glaciers. Then beginning with the Mare album, it changed to more of a horror or a human verses inhuman theme. You seem to be sticking with that general direction. Was that deliberate? Is the nature of your homeland still very important and relevant to the music?
Dolk – The nature of our homeland is of course very important for us and remains so. Still, we are going up to my place in the mountains. My family has had a cabin there since I was 6 years old. My family built it, and we have been creating music there from the very beginning of Kampfar, actually. Especially the last 10 years. For this new album, we wrote the whole thing up there. It’s still very important to us. It must be this way, because every time we go there we have some kind of wider mental thing going on I think. We create so much better up there to be honest. Back on the Mare album, we definitely tried to make a different statement.
I think a lot of the reason for that was because we were always being compared with all these Folk bands, especially the Finnish Hummpa thing, that was not our thing. Still, we were compared all the time with these bands. I think we came to a point where we got tired of that. That was maybe why we distanced ourselves a little bit from everything and also with the colors. That is at least my rough idea. I mean we’re still connected to that in a way. Now, this is who we are in a way. It’s perfect.
Cryptic Rock – Many listeners prefer the way a band like Einherjer did the Folk stuff versus that Finnish sound you mentioned. That stuff is fun, but it definitely does not strike at the heart the way Kampfar’s music does. How do you guys decide whether to compose the lyrics of a song in Norwegian or English? To me, is seems as if certain songs must “speak to you” in your native tongue, and are more private. Whereas others, such as “Ravenheart,” are meant to be anthems that reach more people.
Dolk – In a way, yes. On our new album, we have one song in English. That is maybe because we write music, as I said, not to become Rock stars or to be creating hits or something. For me we write an album, its like a book. You open the first page, listen to the first song, and you read through the book. This is the same kind of idea we have with our music.
On this album, for instance, you have “Ophidian” is written in English and that’s because that song is somewhere in the middle of the album and it kind of gets the whole idea of the album together. If you create a movie, you probably create a trailer to that movie. This song is sort of like the trailer to the album. It’s the song that sticks to the right, the left, and connects the album the best way. So that’s why we decided to do it in English so everyone understands.
Cryptic Rock – That’s pretty cool. Last question, Cryptic Rock also covers movies, particularly Horror and Sci-Fi. If you are a fan, what are some of your favorites in these genres?
Dolk – Well I was really into classical stuff like Hellraiser (1987). I’m getting a bit tired of the genre now. I’m an old grumpy guy, so what do I know? Luckily, I have a son now that has been growing up to be this kind of huge maniac when it comes to all these Horror movies. So, I actually see a lot of new movies too. Still, I’m really a big fan of all the Sam Raimi stuff. The Evil Dead (1981) movies, I still love that.