By “Jay Rollins”
Like their Viking forefathers of yore, Enslaved utilizes meticulously crafted instruments of metal to spread Norse culture into new terrain. Concepts rooted in early European polytheology developed over a millennium ago are adapted into contemporary extreme music and spread globally. Sincere respect for Norse heritage is exuberated through the coupling of lyrics and musical arrangements in addition to the imagery chosen to represent Enslaved. From the 1994 debut Vikingligr Veldi up to 2015’s release, In Time, there is a thread of thematic consistency that ties the catalogue together as the band progresses.
Founding members Ivar Bjørnson and Grutle Kjellson set out in their early teens to create something unique with their music. In the last 25 years they have come a long way from playing in a Mexican brothel and getting ripped off on impromptu tours. Despite the sporadic lineup changes, alongside the hardships that every band goes through, they persevered to become one of the more notable Norwegian metal bands. Now Ivar and Grutle have settled into a band dynamic with a consistent lineup since 2003 and the guys plan to celebrate a lengthy 25 year career with their By Norse concert series. London was the first city to host the event back in March and since it was such a success, Oslo and New York have been scheduled for upcoming dates. At the London show the band played roughly a staggering 45 songs which represented the entirety of their career. Likewise at the future events fans will be able to experience in person an extensive sample of how the band progressed over the years.
Check out my conversation with Ivar; He was able to take my call while on the road in France and filled me in on everything happening with Enslaved:
Ivar from the Norwegian metal band Enslaved has taken time out while on the road celebrating 25 years of music to chat with Metalheads Forever. Thanks for answering a few questions for us.
Cool man, Thanks for having me.
Through your music Norwegian culture, history, and folklore are reimagined in an aggressive adrenaline inducing performance. Were you interested in Viking tales as a child or did you develop a liking for the sea voyage stories later in life?
It was there pretty early on actually, I would say that I had a fascination for what I now have learned to describe as pre-monotheistic belief systems. Or, mythologies, more like a global thing I guess. Both me and the singer, Grutle Kjellson my partner in the band from the beginning, come from homes where we’ve had parents who had been teaching in school so there was a bunch of books, not only on the Viking religion but from the Indians of North America, the Indians of South America, different pre-Christian cultures, it’s really interesting and fascinating. I guess around the age of 11, 12, that’s when the specific interest in the Viking mythology started to become a lot stronger which coincided with starting the band shortly after.
Metal and Vikings go hand in hand. Newfoundland’s connection to Norse history is strong and we also have a vigorous metal scene as well. At the most Northerly tip of the island there is the only confirmed UNESCO Viking site in North America. The site is thought to possibly be Straumfjörð, the launching point of Leif Erikson’s exploration of Vinland which he mentions in his Saga. Do you think there is a logical connection between Norse heritage and extreme music?
I think there’s a strong connection between music and the heritage. I’m not entirely sure if you can pinpoint one specific kind of music because there’s so many musical traditions inspired by that era. You have things (???) which is more like traditional world music, more meditative, more down. You have vocal traditions, more strict percussive, traditional songs. But yes I do think there’s a logical connection in the sense that this culture’s mythology and worldview was quite energetic I would say, it was based on a lot of myths and beliefs about things hailing from nature which has quite a potent expression in these areas, with thunder and lightning and extreme weather and all that. Lots of colour and shade in the mythology that you can incorporate into the music.
Exactly. That’s what I think.
Coming up in December you are playing Oslo By Norse where you will play 3 different sets, each dedicated to a different period of your career. A fitting plan to commemorate your 25th anniversary. Is each night a completely different set? How hard was it to decide which songs to leave out?
Yeah each night is a completely different set, so the first night we do songs that were made between 1991 and ’98 and then we go on from ’98 to 2005 and then the final night is 2006 to present date. So it’s a collection of nearly 40 different songs that are being played over these three nights. We did get some help, we’ve been touring a lot and we’re in pretty close contact with our fans so we’ve gotten a pretty good overview of what people want to hear and also we want to surprise them with a few things they don’t expect to hear. So it’s a good mix of our own wishing list and what we think people will appreciate hearing. The hard part was rehearsing a lot of the old stuff that we haven’t played for 20 years, but it came together really well.
You’re also a part of the North American counterpart to the event, New York By Norse taking place from December 9th – 10th where Enslaved will perform a double set on the 10th. Considering the performance is titled “Now and Then” I assume once again you’ll play songs from different times in your career. What else can fans expect from Enslaved at the show?
We have some very cool guest performances. We’re gonna have Einar Selvik of who is coming with us across the Atlantic so he’s going to be doing some songs with us as a guest artist. We’re also gonna do a song from our common project Skuggsjá, that we released an album with earlier this year. And, yeah, it’s gonna be a selection that’s a little bit different from Oslo By Norse so we made it extra tricky for ourselves to have even more songs. It’s gonna be a celebration, we really thought that the for 25th anniversary year, it also needed to land in the US because that’s such an important place for us throughout our career. Absolutely and it seems like you are really going to show off what you’ve done in the whole span of your career, and it’s ambitious to do everything that you’re doing in such a short period and keep it all straight, I’m sure it will be an interesting experience. Absolutely, can’t wait to do that.
Another aspect you are involved with in the New York event is your ambient project Bardspec where you strip music down into core sounds. Subtle manipulations of the reverberation creates a captivating sonic depth which you then accompany with a video of obscure imagery for your live show. For the December 9th gig in New York Bardspec will feature Kevin [Hufnagel] of Gorguts. I believe there is a workshop and performance. What does the workshop aspect involve? How will Kevin be incorporated into the music?
The workshop part is actually being handled by Einar from Wardruna in connection with his solo performance. So what he’s gonna do is talk about the instrumentation from this Old Norse period, introduce the instruments that he’s brought with him that he’s going to use. He’s gonna talk about musical traditions and how he’s building songs and lyrics from the runic tradition. I’ve seen a few of his workshops and it’s really, really interesting, I would recommend everybody to go and see that. When it comes to Kevin it was, I would say a strike of luck. Because I had been working with some guys up in Canada, the guys behind the Grimposium concept in there with Bardspec, and so it was them that recommended I should reach out to Kevin who’s living around New York, and ask him to join me for the set. I’m a great admirer of Gorguts especially the two guitarists, Hufnagel and Luc, what they’re doing, their technique, and their way of writing music is something very different than what we do but is something that I really admire and respect. So what we’ve done is basically just sent demos back and forth on the internet. And it’s gonna be like, first off, there’s no time to find for rehearsals, so we’re pretty much going to meet on stage, both as people and musicians and see what comes out of it. It’s a good mix of pre-meditated plans and what happens on the spot. Yeah the improvisational and on the spot will add a sense of genuineness that might have otherwise not been there, that’s interesting.
Even though you’ve been around two and a half decades Enslaved is still expanding and growing as an entity. In October you played Loud Park and shared the stage with Dark Funeral. I saw the clip of the show and a video of the lineup at the autograph booth where everyone was enthusiastic to meet you. A warm welcome for your first time in Japan. What was the Loud Park experience like for you?
It was just amazing, it was something that we wanted to do since we started touring, in the mid-nineties. Japan has always been a huge market for metal, it’s one of the places right up there with the US and Germany, people are very loyal to the genre. It’s really cool there, that while the industry is struggling with physical sales going on and streaming taking over, in Japan they’re still very supportive of physical format, of the fandom supporting bands and so on. So when we finally got the chance it was a dream come true. Being there, they’re so professional, so courteous towards their visitors, their hospitality is just fantastic, and their audience was mindblowing during that concert for the Japanese fans. We’re hoping we’re coming back very soon.
Speaking of a new touring experience, in September you were a part of an initiative to help the youth in Norway learn and connect with their culture where you played a concert at different schools. How many schools did you play and did the kids respond positively?
Over the span of two weeks we did something like 20 – 25 different schools. Some places we went we played at their schools and some gigs we did at a venue where they bussed in the kids. It was simply fantastic to be given that chance. Ya know, it’s the first time a band with this kind of music has had a presentation like that for younger people, school kids, and it was really amazing.
I’ve never heard of anything like it anywhere and it’s fitting that it happened first in Norway, with metal.
Ha ha yeah, I think so. It was really, really cool.
Enslaved’s thirteenth album In Times was released March of last year on Nuclear Blast and hit the charts in several countries including Canada. Are there any plans for an extensive North American tour in the future, maybe a couple Canadian dates?
There is definitely going to be a tour but I’m guessing it is going to happen after the release of the next album. I think we’re more looking at late 2017 early 2018 at the present time, then it’s gonna be a big one. Of course if we go to North America then Canada has to be on there. Always has to be.
Maybe you’ll get to play L’anse aux Meadows, the Viking site.
It would be an isolated show but it would be an interesting one.
You make the effort to carry quality merchandise with unique designs for fans to purchase online but you also have many limited run designs exclusively available on tour. Why do you think it is important for a band to have shirt designs and other merchandise only available on tour?
I think some of what people are looking for, the good thing with the new business model or whatever, the new reality in the music industry, is that it’s more consumer oriented I guess. I guess that the power now that the internet makes it so easy, everything is pretty much accessible so you have to make something with concrete value for the fans. I think some of the fans that spend hours driving and all their money on tickets with these shows going on, I think they appreciate that special stops are being pulled out for them also; that they get something back from this. Because you know they really differ from the passive listener, classical, stereotypical kid of the day just going online looking at stuff on youtube and not really supporting the scene and I think for us it’s essential to show some kind of gratitude back to the people who make the trip out to these shows and stand outside and wait, go in, sometimes have to endure less than fantastic venues and so on, because it’s a rat race and everyone has to make money from everything. A little bit of a squeeze on the consumers, I would say, and listeners. So whatever we can do to make it feel more worthwhile to them we will definitely do it. They put forth the effort so you do the same for them.
Even at the age of 15 you had a vision for Enslaved that most mature bands still lack. This is exemplified in the 1994 debut Vikingligr Veldi which is written and vocalized in Icelandic, thereby imparting an authenticity into the Old Norse imagery that would have otherwise been lost if the album was composed in English. While you were creating the album were you ever concerned about being too ambitious? Possibly narrowing the amount of people that would listen to your music based on a language barrier?
No, not really, we didn’t think about that at all at that time. The only thing was to make a cohesive, coherent album that was sort of glued together from beginning to end, that was the important thing. We were like, if people like the music, the atmosphere of what we’re doing, the lyrics will speak to them in the same way as they spoke to us. You know, the first album was in Icelandic, and we can’t really speak Icelandic ourselves either, we can read it and get some of it but it definitely felt like that was a part of the concept that made it to be clear like that. The whole language thing, we didn’t really think too much about that before a few years later when we switched to English.
You are currently on the road with Neobiliviscaris and Oceans of Slumber. The touring life is always interesting, what has this tour experience been like thus far?
It’s been a lot of fun man, it’s been so much fun. We’ve been out now for two and a half weeks, there’s one and a half weeks left with these guys, and they’re great hardworking people. They’re from slightly different scenes, like the band Neobiliviscaris from the more melodic or technical death metal side of things, and Oceans of Slumber more the doom territory, we all have that commonality in the liking of the melodic side and being a little more experimental I think, all of us, so we really connect on that level. We’re a bunch of guys who’ve been on the road for many years, we may have been out a decade or two longer than the other ones but we all know what the deal is and we’re really enjoying this.
Before I let you get back to your life on the road are there any other upcoming plans you’d like share with us?
Good question. I hope people will also check out, not only New York by Norse, but a release that’s coming out now in a week or two, the 11th of November, The Sleeping Gods – Thorn which is a compilation of material that’s been recorded throughout the last half decade. It contains material that may be considered a little bit odd on the regular lengths but they really show important parts of Enslaved and the way now that they’re compiled on this LP really makes it come out. So I hope people will check it out, we’ve got plenty of stuff happening within the next few years so stay tuned.
Thanks for taking time out to speak with Metalheads Forever Magazine.
Thanks a lot, thank you man, appreciate it.
Jay Rollins / Metalheads Forever Magazine