Without a shadow of a doubt Kampfar are one of the leading Scandinavian pagan black metal bands with a hugely respected output of releases going back to 1995. Perhaps we had been taking them for granted just a little too much and revelling in solid album after album and some fantastic live performances which have included many memorable visits to the UK. Sometimes though you take your finger off the ball and don’t realise that a band you love have been silent for an inordinate amount of time and then the years go by and they return and it’s business as usual. Since last album Profan in 2015 and a show supporting Gorgoroth here a year later things have been silent though and I doubt anyone gave that a huge amount of attention, simply expecting the band to be working on things in their own time. However behind the scenes things have been rather dark for Kampfar, apparently health issues have been troubling them and in 2017 they decided to concentrate on personal lives and take a complete break from even seeing each other. At the time it was apparently even uncertain the band would return, thankfully they did though. No doubt the drive and the passion that they have always shown shone through and newest member Ole Hartvigsen despite losing his father at the time began shaping new demo material. Finally the result is with us and Ofidians Manifest the first album since their last conceptual trilogy has been borne. Deeper meanings into the narrative behind the 8th album are partly open to interpretation and do illustrate the struggles and no doubt long contemplations on whether to continue the band the players encountered. On a simpler matter though it takes just one play-through to realise this is musically a belter and just what us fans have been waiting for.
With Dolk’s craggy rasp and drums banging in we are off in a whiplashing fashion through the fury of Syndefall. Bristling with energy and with distaste and hateful fury dogging us every step of the way it’s a mighty statement complete with a fetid death belch, and a clamouring ever-rising tempo it sticks right in the head with determination and grit at its heart. The Norse language is as ever expressive and clean harmonies, huge bloodthirsty yells pepper the musical battlefield like a mighty war is taking place. First taster of the album came via a very striking video (see below) for the track Ophidian which saw the band travelling to Poland to make. If you have heard the track you will know just how powerful it is in all its reptilian, hydra-headed fury. With the visuals behind it things are even more lethal. Stalking guitar lines, slithering riffs, battering drumming see this one uncoil like a snake and strike before slowing to a delicious and dark opus with a huge chorus complete with a massive vocal performance backed subtly by underlying choral parts. Seriously this one has it all; the most memorable number since Ravenheart? Time will tell.
‘Dominans’ brings a real surprise to proceedings with vocalist Agnete Kjølsrud of Djerv joining the party. Listeners may remember her from vocal parts on Dimmu Borgir’s Abrahadabra but things are much more natural here and listening to her you can imagine the voice of Medusa as you look at the album cover. I doubt Dolk is here to slay her like Perseus particularly as they sinuously joust alongside the musicians it’s obvious that although unexpected what sweet music they make together. Turbulence and frenzy follow alongside some great sounding Viking croons as Natt brings the night and ramps up the pace. This is a blistering number, possibly the fastest on the album and one has to think listening to it that along with Helheim and Arstidir Lifsins recent albums lovers of this style of music are really being spoilt of late. It’s a track of differing moods however slowing in the mid-section to allow some of Kampfar’s much loved grand piano work. Well I’m not sure a didgeridoo would have worked but wouldn’t be surprised if they tried one out. ‘Eremitt’ vocally sounds like a curse is being uttered, I guess seeing a translation of lyrics would help but not following them makes this all the more mysterious. Experimental near jazz like piano gives it further distinction and the song has plenty of bravado and vibes of triumph about it as chorus parts rise in a crooning feast and then it all swaggers off cleaving and stabbing away. Each and every one of these 7 tracks has its own epic distinction, the heaving quake of Skamløs brings quaking turbulence and a true Norse feel from its guitar twists and tones that are up there with anything heard from the likes of Taake. As for the finale Det sorte with another guest on vocals this time Marianne Maria Moen well it’s like opening a real Pandora’s box of treasure each time you come back and give it another spin. Over in 40 minutes and the perfect length to really indulge yourself it’s a relief that Kampfar have survived as Ofidians Manifest is another fantastic album in their ever evolving armoury. The unlikely setting of Rotherham is up for a treat when the band swing into headlining action for Warhorns Festival in August this year. Can’t wait!
(9/10 Pete Woods)