Kampfar – Mare (Napalm Records)

Thursday, 21st March 2013
Rating: 6/10

It might be a bit surprising that Kampfar has been around since 1994, seeing as though these Norwegian black/pagan metallers aren’t usually mentioned in the same breath as such old school brethren Emperor, Immortal, Marduk, Dissection, etc. But they’ve been around the block for quite some time and in the process have released two EP’s and four full-lengths until this point. Enter studio long player number five, Mare, and it’s pretty much more of the same Kampar, though the blackened hell brought fourth from their instruments is shrouded in a thin, polished and clean production.

One thing Kampfar has always had going for them is they’ve traditionally altered their sound from album to album. Over the years they’ve grown more furbished in terms of delivery and each passing record has been glossier than the last. With that said, and this being a positive and not a negative, their trademark style of a more mid-paced, mid-tempo delivery of their brand of Norwegian black metal has remained intact.

However, Kampfar hasn’t yet created a collection of sheer brilliance unlike the previously mentioned bands. Most of what Kampfar has delivered over the years has been steady and solid; nothing more, nothing less. With Mare, they continue that trend but the crystal clear production actually weakens the material considerably. The drums are thinner than ever before and the typically buzz saw-sounding guitars are veiled underneath a sound that seems to emphasize the clarity of the notes being played, rather than injecting them with bestial hatred.

Listening to their debut opus Mellom Skogkledde Aaser and that almost perfect black metal sound – that eerie, haunted, frozen guitar buzz and frigid, whitened drum barrage – and it’s arguable that that was Kampfar at their zenith. Mare shares nothing with that record in terms of overall ambience and feel, a massive setback that has slowly crept into the band’s catalogue album by album.

Overall, Mare is a decent record that was held back tremendously by a production that is too clean, too glistening. The might and strength of the songs has been hampered considerably by the mastering and in the end it leaves the listener feeling underwhelmed. Kampfar has always been a stalwart of a black/pagan metal band, but in a time when production can kill or catapult a record, it’s a shame that a collection of songs that are otherwise sturdy have been taken out at the legs in the studio.

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(This content originally appeared on Blistering.com)