posted on 4/2011 By:
Longstanding Norwegian pagan/black metallers Kampfar seem perpetually and uncomfortably wedged between the general ignorance of the greater metal populace and the constant fawning of a small but very dedicated fanbase. In that way they’re simultaneously underrated and overrated. Their consistent quality is certainly deserving of more than the meager attention it garners, but they’re also not quite the elite group that their dedicated followers like to claim (see also: Benighted, Equilibrium, Kalmah, Origin, et al). What they are is simple, pure blackened heavy metal goodness that doesn’t necessarily try to be more than it is. Easy as (homemade) pie to enjoy, easy as (frozen) pie to forget. Mare, their fifth, changes none of that, but it probably won’t change their standing in the sales rankings either.
Kampfar’s music contains equal parts of Immortal’s frozen persona (minus the thrash), Moonsorrow’s heathen pride (minus the proggy bombast), and the soothing wash of textures heard in so much Eastern European black metal (minus the unorthodox song structures). Eschewing the blasting rage, their songs largely take a mid-paced and methodic form, drawing the listener in with musical hooks that develop over a full phrase of pulsating guitar progressions and soft, understated Baroque-ish keyboards. The harsh vocals and overall tone show that the band still means serious blackened business, but instead of conjuring the cacophonous din of battle the songs on Mare more resemble the slower work on Between Two Worlds or a moody and less in-your-face Vreid or Windir. Quality mid-album tracks “Bergtatt” and “Trolldomspakt” show that Kampfar is most effective here when fully indulging these atmospheric qualities as opposed to flirting with aggression as they do on the chorus of “Blitzwitch.”
The latter is one of the few times that Kampfar really cranks things up, as Mare maintains a fairly consistent mood, tempo, and dynamic pace throughout. This unity of mood is both the album’s greatest strength and its most obvious limitation. Every note is perfectly enjoyable, but after 5 or 6 tracks it becomes apparent that the album has very little arc, and the impression changes from a feeling of musical unity to one of everything sounding largely the same, making this 45 minute journey seem about 25 percent longer.
But complaining about a metal album not having an arc is as useless as tossing the same criticism at a Woody Allen film. So if you liked what you read in the second paragraph of this review, feel no guilt in giving Mare a chance. Kampfar is the type of band that deserves to have an album on the shelf of every big pagan or black metal fan, but one is probably enough. As it is, Mare makes its case about as well as the rest of their catalog.
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