Keep of Kalessin

Keep of Kalessin

Persistence is a feature of the great, because even going against the tide, some bands never give up. One of them is KEEP OF KALESSIN, of Norway. After some commercial praise with "Armada", "Kolossus" and "Reptilian", extensive touring, the band had some changes in its music on "Epistemology". Now, after seven years, the Dragon is back once more with "Katharsis", their new album that is about to be released. Metal Temple writer "Metal Mark" Marcos Garcia recently had the chance to interview the band.
March 8, 2023
KEEP OF KALESSIN: "People sometimes think of us as a "softer" band than many Norwegian Black Metal bands
Before we start, I'd like to thank you a lot for this opportunity. The first question is simple: after years, Vyl left the band. What happened for him to leave? And how did you meet Wanja "Nechtan" Gröger? And how things are going with him on the drums?

Hello. I think Vyl left partly because he didn't feel "at home" in the band anymore and the fact that we were not really active in that time. It had come to a point where the effort of being the drummer for this band cost more than it gave him, which is kinda always the core of it all when people leave. After Vyl left, it took some time for us to find a new drummer. This was because I wasn't really focused on the band so when Vyl left, I actually didn't care that much. I didn't even know if I was going to continue the band at that point.

But when we got an offer to do a tour in 2019 we had to find a replacement so we did this "online audition" where we asked drummers to send us videos of them playing our songs. We got a lot of response to this and many great drummers from all around the world sent us their videos. Even though we got a lot of videos sent to us, I was also asking drummers if they knew anyone who would want to participate. And when I was talking to Euguene Ryabchenko who since then have become very well known, he tipped me of Wanja Groeger.

So I sent Wanja a message, but he never responded. But after a while I came in contact with him and then he said that he had actually been busy rehearsing and recording the audition videos for Keep Of Kalessin. So whe was actually prepared to apply for the job even without me sending him a message. After the auditions we nailed it down to 4 drummers that we had interviews with on Zoom and from those interviews it was very easy to see that Wanja was the best fit for us, not only musically, but also personally. He kinda comes from the same school as us and has very similar taste in music as well as interests outside of music. So now Keep Of Kalessin is for sure stronger than ever!

In 2016, KoK released the EP "Heaven of Sin", with 3 songs that were supposed to be on "Epistemology". The reasons for them being out of the album are clear, but it's common for some bands to keep songs in this way for future albums, but it wasn't your choice. So what made you chose to release them on an EP instead of keeping them?

Because they were recorded and produced during the Epistemology era. They wouldn't have matched a new album anyway. They are very different and are not so much album-material, I would say. So we decided to release them as an EP instead, which worked out nicely.

On "Epistemology", KoK became a trio, and the impression when hearing the album is that musicality of the band showed a tiny change: the epic and even progressive side of your music became evident, what means that the natural aggressiveness of the band decreased a little. Was this impression clear or maybe it happened in a spontaneous way that you never think about it?

I guess it's a natural evolution for the band. We have grown more and more melodic and epic throughout the years, but I still think there's a lot of black and thrash metal in the band. People sometimes think of us as a "softer" band than many Norwegian Black Metal bands, but truth is that we play faster and more intense than any of them. The black n roll is not for us. Epic Extreme Metal is though….

Talking about "Katharsis": from where the idea of the title came? What I mean, what's the reason for such a name?

Well, the last few years have been very challenging for me and throughout the album I reflect a lot on these thoughts and emotions. So it was a great title to use because it means to release yourself from the negative thoughts and emotions that is holding you back. And I think a lot of people are feeling this in the times we are living. Katharsis is the purification process and the first step in leaving the old and looking towards the future.

The time between "Katharsis" and "Epistemology" is the longest between two KoK's albums. Why did you take so long? And can I ask if the COVID-19 pandemic has something to do with it?

Like I mentioned, the last few years have been very challenging. I have been battling challenges in business, relationships as well as both mental and physical health problems. So yeah, I would say that the pandemic was not the cause of it, but everything kinda compounded to levels that almost destroyed me during the pandemic. So I never planned for it to take 8 years since the last full-length, but when your focus and motivation is not where it is supposed to be time just flies by so quickly that it's really scary. But I learned a lot and one of the lessons is to never again neglect the band and let it slide off the tracks so much as it did. Then again, seeing all these bands that just put out albums without focus on quality is not where I want to go. I always want to keep the quality at the highest possible level and I will not compromise just to have an album out.

When listening to "Katharsis", the idea that I had was that it's a continuity of what is heard on "Epistemology", but at the same time, it's a bit more aggressive, like something that was heard on "Armada", "Kolossus" and "Reptilian" was present again. Am I right, or is your perception different? And how did you compare "Katharsis" with its predecessors?

I think you might be right, but it's not something I did deliberately actually. It's a natural evolution from Epistemology, but at the same time goes a little back to the roots in regards to how harsh and "black" it is. So yeah, it's a fine mix between the new and the old. Most people who heard it says it's more reminicent of the Armada era than anything since. A lot of people like that album so I guess that's a good thing. But I also still don't think people gave especially Reptilian and Epistemology enough time because I think those two are actually much stronger than Armada and Kolossus.

Still about "Katharsis": on it, for the first time, one song that is really deeper in all aspects, "Journey's End". It contrasts a lot with the other songs, what means that it's amazing, and shows an unexpected side of KoK's music. How it was conceived, and what's the main lyrical theme of it? Can I presume that KoK's is, once more transcending the limits of its own music? And let me tell: it seems to my ears that this song keeps some remnants of IRON MAIDEN's influence, am I right?

We have done similar things before, if you listen to "Dark as moonless night" or "Heaven of sin". But yeah, we decided to go "all in" on this one and not do it half way. At first I was thinking to bring another singer on the track, but because of the very personal lyrics etc. I decided to step up and just get it done. But I also knew that it had to come across as real and not be too cheezy. But I've always been a sucker for power-ballads and I think that what separates Keep Of Kalessin from a lot of other extreme metal bands is that we actually dare to do stuff like this. We dare to expose ourselves and challenge the perception people have of us. We don't fit into any box. This is a challenge in itself because people seem to understand it easier if it's something they know from before, but on the other hand we've always been the outsider. We've always been the one's that don't sound like others and do stuff other bands won't….or maybe even can't.

KoK's lyrics on the past dealt a lot with the dragon figure (a logical thing, once Kalessinis a dragon and character of Ursula K. Le Guin's "Earthsea" trilogy) and some mythological/epic matters as well. But since "Epistemology", the lyrics of the band seem to be deeper, reflexive and more introspective. What cause such change? And can we assume that you kept such approach on "Katharsis"?

Katharsis is by far the most personal and reflective album we have done. So yeah, we kinda moved past the "dragon thing", but at the same time we keep it epic. But if you read the lyrics on all our previous albums you can also see that we use a lot of metaphors etc. so it has a lot of introspective and thoughtful lyrics even though they are based around more fantasy oriented imagery. The same is for Katharsis. Even though it's very personal and introspective, it is still very epic and talks about universal contemplation all set in truly otherworldly surroundings. Again, I think it's just a natural evolution of the band that brought us to this point and that as you grow older you think more about these things and it is easier to put these thoughts into lyrics that has more meaning for us and hopefully also for the listener.

After years on other labels, KoK released "Katharsis" on Back on Black. What caused such change? And how is their support to "Katharsis" and to you?

All digital release is handled by Morningstar Music, which is my company. This means that we control 100% of all digital ourselves, cutting out all middle-men and keeping all control ourselves. But when it came to physical release we wanted to partner up with someone who where not only willing (most labels would not be willing to give away 100% of digital), but also very capable. And even though Back On Black is not the most known label, it is a very strong force behind it. Because Plastichead is one of the worlds top distribution companies when it comes to metal music and the owner of Plastichead is actually the owner of Back On Black label. So we kinda get the best of both worlds. We keep 100% of digital, but Back On Black have exclusive rights to physical products on license from Morningstar Music! This way we get BoB and Plastichead to support us with printing, shipping & handling as well as promotion work. I am really happy with the setup and they have already proven to be a very good partner for us. And you know, they LOVE the band and the album which has been our biggest challenge on the last releases. Because if someone is going to sell something, they should like it themselves and unfortunately we have felt that the people working in promoting Keep Of Kalessin in the last years didn't really like the band. So let's hope that this new setup works well for us!

For promotion of "Katharsis", a lyric video for "Katharsis" was released. How this song was chosen to be a promotional single of the album? And is there an official video coming this way soon?

We decided to do Katharsis first. It is the opening track and the title track for the album. The song is also short enough for a video and single and it is typical fast, but melodic Keep Of Kalessin track. We wanted to push this one out first and then we are planning more lyric videos and yes, also a official video, in the weeks to come.

By the way, Back on Black released "Anthology - 25 Years of Epic Extreme Metal", a box set with all KoK albums, from "Through Times of War" to "Epistemology". How things are going with it? But a question torments me: why the EP "Reclaim" isn't on the pack? By the way, thank you for that, because "Agnen - A Journey Through the Dark" is hard to find today.

It is going great and it was really nice to see the collaboration with Back On Black in action before we made the deal with Katharsis. We wanted to put the EPs on there as well, but it's a 6 CD boxset and it can't hold more than 6 discs. So if the EPs should have been part of it, then we would need a different type of product. So for now we decided on the 6 CD boxset which is an amazing way for new people to discover our entire catalog or for any old fan as a collectible! But with this new setup together with Back On Black we do have the option to create a lot of cool products for the future so we'll see if we can do something also with the Eps.

About your show at 70000 Tons of Metal this year, you presented some new songs of "Katharsis" for the fans, as "The War of the Wyrm". How was the reaction of the public to them? And how was the reception of the public to KoK's show? Hope it was a massive success!

70 000 Tons Of Metal was a huge success for us! The world premiere for Katharsis live was amazing to do on the main stage at 70k! Great reception from the crowd and a truly unique way to play these songs for the first time. We played 5 songs from Katharsis as well as a couple of songs from Epistemology so it was epic as fuck!

Another one: as said above, KoK completed 25 years of activity What are your impressions after taking so long with the band? Is there a great remembrance that you keep about all these years and that you can share with us? And by the way, don't you think that such date isn't the right one for releasing a live album of the band?

It is crazy to think back to those times when we started the band, now 25 years ago. On one hand I see that we actually have done a lot. It's been a lot of ups and downs, but I never felt that we really put our mark in the metalscene as I wanted to. And I always come back to the feeling that the band still has something to offer and that there must be more people who would like Keep Of Kalessin music if they took the time to really check it out. So this is what's driving me still. I listen to our catalog and I almost feel a little sad that we never got any attention for what we did. Don't get me wrong, the albums had always great reviews and we've "almost made it". But on the other hand we never truly became an established band and if I'm totally honest, I had hoped for more, especially since I believe that our music is truly unique and has the potential for a lot more.

And about some shows? As "Katharsis" is almost released, so it means that an agenda is ongoing, isn't it? What are the next dates to come? And hope you can come to my country again, for I met you at 2012 at São Paulo, in Brazil. And let me tell you: KoK's show is one of the best shows I saw on my life! I put a piece of "Against the Gods" on my Master's Degree dissertation for that!

We are doing some festivals in Europe this summer, but we will focus more on doing more exclusive shows and festivals and not so much small tours. But we would love to go back to Brazil and South America! One of the most memorable tours we have done is over there!

Well, that's it. I want to thank you again for this interview, and please, leave your message to your fans and our readers.

Thank you so much for the interview! And we hope to be back in Brazil soon! The easiest way to make that happen is to show that you truly want us there by streaming our music, engaging online, buying the album etc. Simply support us so we can prove to promoters that it's worth it! Thanks for the support!

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