Progressive, avant-garde black metal experimentalists DER WEG EINER FREIHEIT
have never stopped smashing through the boundaries of the genre they’ve called home since forming in early 2009. And with 2021 welcoming the release of fifth album, Noktvrn, the Germans are looking to expand the minds and perspectives of their ever-increasing fanbase, similar to how they pushed themselves in every element of the new album’s creation. Ironically, supporters being able to pay witness to the leaps and bounds the band has made over the course of 12 years, five albums and one EP and live recordings should count themselves lucky for being able to do so.
DER WEG EINER FREIHEIT may have existed and thrived over the course of that time, but forging on beyond its self-titled debut wasn’t part of guitarist/vocalist/mastermind Nikita Kamprad’s original plan.
Formed out of the ashes of black metal quartet FROSTGRIM and good time-lovin’ melodic deathcore posse, FUCK YOUR SHADOW FROM BEHIND, Kamprad and original vocalist Tobias Jaschinsky founded DER WEG EINER FREIHEIT as an expression of both their love of black metal and the search for liberation through art, as evidenced by taking the idea of their moniker — which translates to ‘The Way of Freedom’ — to heart.
“FROSTGRIM could be seen as the direct predecessor to DER WEG EINER FREIHEIT,” says Kamprad, from his studio in Würzburg, in the state of Bavaria, “because it was Tobias, our former singer, and I. We had this black metal band together when we also had FUCK YOUR SHADOW FROM BEHIND. We were a part of both bands and when they split up, there was nothing left. For me, black metal was always the most important musical genre where I could see myself doing music. So, I created songs for myself and basically they became the first DER WEG EINER FREIHEIT album. It is officially self-titled, but it actually doesn’t have a title. It’s just Der Weg einer Freiheit because initially after I wrote and released that first album, the band was supposed to be over. But the feedback from friends, fans and the press was so immense and so many people wanted to see the band live and to see it continue, in the end, I was like ‘why not?’ There was no reason why I couldn’t go on with new stuff.”
Originally self-released, the debut was picked up by Viva Hate Records who then issued follow-ups in the form of the Agonie EP and second full-length, Unstille which were supported via appearances at name festivals such as Summer Breeze Open Air and Wolfszeit Festival as well as on European tours opening for the likes of WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM, THE BLACK DAHLIA MURDER, NEAERA. 2014 had DER WEG EINER FREIHEIT joining forces with Season of Mist for third album, Stellar which was issued a few months later in March of 2015.
With the label and a groundswell of support behind them, the band’s star continued to rise in Stellar’s shadow with showings at Wacken Open Air, Hellfest and Roadburn, a tour in support of MOONSPELL and their first headlining runs. 2017 saw the release of album number four, Finisterre, which continued the steady growth of the band’s profile. In addition to drawing bigger crowds at festivals and on tours, they ventured overseas for the first time, playing in Japan and Iceland.
“I was doing music for six or seven years when I started DER WEG EINER FREIHEIT and I was always in bands that would meet up and write in a rehearsal space, but I always wanted to have my own band. I had the opportunity to do my own thing and that’s why this band is called DER WEG EINER FREIHEIT because it’s basically about my way of achieving my own freedom. For some people that way is through sport or cooking or writing; for me, it was about writing music and lyrics.”
Twelve years on, Kamprad is taking advantage of the freedoms afforded to him as he strives to personify the band’s titular expression. Being joined by drummer Tobias Schuler, bassist Nicolas Ziska and guitarist Nicolas Rausch has made DER WEG EINER FREIHEIT more a unit than ever and allowed Kamprad to feel comfortable relinquishing his steely grip on the band’s creative reins during the writing process which began in late 2019 and was completed by September of 2020. This has allowed for vast differences in Noktvrn’s creation that have expanded the album’s overall breadth beyond black metal and extreme music to incorporate the influence and inspiration of classical composer Frédéric Chopin’s Nocturnes, his series of 21 so-called “night pieces.” This, in turn, birthed the album’s artistic mandate requiring that material only be created during the wee hours.
“I always wanted to do an album about the night and dreams and I’m really, really big fan of Chopin and his night pieces in general. For me, it made sense that this album should have a title that connects with this theme. To the left of me right now is a piano and some of Chopin’s sheet music for the Nocturnes. One day I probably looked at it and wanted to pay tribute to this great composer. That’s why we chose to write the title a little bit differently with the ‘k’ instead of a ‘c’ and a ‘v’ instead of a ‘u’ to make it more special. We also chose the ‘v’ in particular because it’s our fifth album and that’s the Roman numeral for five. It’s just something special we did with the name, even though we weren’t sure at first about the lettering because it can be seen as generic, especially in black metal. We have reasons that are deeper than what you see on the surface; not because we want to be ‘true’ — or ‘trve’ — or something,” he explains with a laugh.
The Chopin and classical music influences on Noktvrn are much more than surface cosmetics. Lilting acoustic guitar piece ‘Finisterre II’ opens the album. Jericho-like horns are the bleating accent to the proggy black metal of ‘Monument.’ Baroque arpeggiation familiar to the tuxedo-and-coat tails crowd are spiralled around Oslo’s Helvete shop in ‘Morgen.’ There are also tendrils of folk, shoegaze and indie rock that make brief and appropriate appearances, but it’s the night-time theme that runs deep as Kamprad discovered early on in the writing process.
“‘Immortal’ was one of the first songs I wrote for the album and it was really, really weird because I wrote the song when it was very, very late when I fell into a night-time rhythm that was not my usual rhythm. Here, I felt I was having different kinds of dreams and thoughts. Sometimes I’d be half-awake, half-asleep and not really aware of what my real state of mind was. That was an experience that made me think about giving the entire album the nocturnal or night theme. I’m a very passionate sleeper; I love sleeping and dreaming and dreams are important to me because there’s a freedom in them. In this night rhythm, my head was in a different state and I wanted to create in this state because it was something different for me.”
Lyrically, Noktvrn has Kamprad taking enormous steps outside what has become his regular modus operandi since he took over the mic following Jaschinsky’s departure in 2012. The new album has him expanding his reach beyond not only his usual collection of personal thoughts and mother tongue, but also the style and texture with which he would previously deliver his meanings, ideas, and recollections.
“Usually, the lyrics have mainly been about myself, but on this album there were two events in the last two or three years connected to anxiety attacks. I haven’t experienced them myself, but a couple people who are very close to me have. The lyrics for the song ‘Am Rande der Dunkelheit’ are based around these people’s experiences and them telling me how they felt in a situation where they think they can’t breathe, that they think they’re dying and their life is coming to an end. I tried to imagine through the lyrics how they might have felt. I was trying to find my own words to describe the experience while trying to describe it if I had lived it myself.
“Another completely new thing on this album are the songs ‘Immortal’ and ‘Haven’ which are in English, which we’ve never done before. I always wanted to sing in English ever since I took over the vocals. Singing is the most direct musical expression I feel. Playing guitar is cool, but singing is even more my thing and I always want to push the boundaries so I implemented clean singing as well but, for me, doing clean vocals is very uncomfortable and difficult in German. I think singing clean vocals in English sounds nicer because German is a hard language which fits the harsh vocals perfectly. I wanted to try it out to see how it felt, and surprise, surprise, it felt great! I really like it and imagine there will be more English lyrics in the future.”
Barring a pair of live albums, all previous DER WEG EINER FREIHEIT releases were created almost entirely from the ground up by Kamprad. He would write the songs on his own and do the bass, guitar and vocal tracks himself with Schuler playing drums while engineering, producing and mixing along the way. Kamprad may still be the songwriter-in-chief who produced and mixed Noktvrn (with assistance from Jan Kerscher), but this album makes a significant developmental step as it not only welcomes song writing contributions from the other members, but has the band ably demonstrating their ability by recording live off the floor.
“The new album is the most natural sounding DER WEG EINER FREIHEIT album,” he says excitedly, “not only the sound, but the riffing and because we recorded the songs live. Music today, especially metal, can be too difficult and technical for bands to even play and record their own songs from start to finish. For me it was very important during the song writing to focus on playing the songs all the way through without stopping. That created a very natural flow through the songs and throughout the whole album. Also, it was a new thing that the whole band was involved in the whole recording process and the last stages of the song writing. Writing and recording mainly by myself was a very exhausting and streamlined process that I liked at some points, but after Finisterre I couldn’t do that anymore and had to change something.
“I still wrote the songs here in my studio then showed them to the others,” he explains. “Then, we met up for rehearsal and pre-production and played through the songs, recorded them and really analysed all the small details, the iteration of parts, the transitions, the guitar sound, the drum beats and everything, even the cymbal hits! What came out were still my songs, but with all kinds of input from the guys. They’re the same songs, but going over all the details brings them to another level. When we entered the studio all we had to do was focus on playing and nothing else because everything was settled already. That was a new and very good experience for us as a band.”
All of the above makes Noktvrn a beacon of musical forward thought, drastic jumps and transformative risks. In his soft-spoken humble manner, Kamprad laughs at the idea that DER WEG EINER FREIHEIT is little more than a personal expression vehicle; instead, he refers to the band as “a very professional hobby,” while downplaying what makes these black metal mavericks entirely special.
“Maybe what is the special thing about us is that we never stopped. Since the beginning, we haven’t taken a break and we’ve always tried to be present with tours and shows and festivals, so there was never a break.”