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ENSLAVED: We still feel very vital as a band

ENSLAVED: We still feel very vital as a band
BANDS : Enslaved

The discussions which I had, along the way, with bands from the far and cold Norway, have always been extensive and extremely interesting, and the discussion partners were open-minded and intelligent.
This time, I had the opportunity of speaking with the two founding members of Enslaved, Ivar Bjornson si Grutle Kjellson, who accepted Metalfan’s challenge of speaking about their band’s story, the evolution of their music, the metal scene and the things they enjoy.
The discussion resulted more into a biography rather than in an interview, a story told by the actors themselves, so I hope you’ll understand the logical arrangement of this material into chapters and find the patience and curiosity to read it in full. It’s worth it!

Metalfan: Hello and welcome to How are you today?
Grutle: Hi! I’m fine. Sitting here drinking coffee, answering interviews, listening to good music and watching the first snowfall this winter!

Photo by Mirjam Vikingstad

I. The Past

Metalfan: I am not going to ask you provide us with an Enslaved history, but I am interested in how do you feel after an almost 20 year’s activity.
Grutle: We still feel very vital as a band, if not as persons…hehe. We started at the age of 17 and 13 almost 20 years ago, so we are still not that old! I think that we have achieved and experienced a lot together over the years, and I think we have released some really good music and lyrics. But, the best thing is that we are still very hungry and eager to make music and the creative force is stronger than ever!

Metalfan: You started as a classic black metal band and, as time passed, turned towards a more complex, progressive approach. Was it a natural progress or you have deliberately chosen this path?

Ivar: I would say that very few things we have ever done has been overly deliberate in any way; we have a strongly ingrown philosophy of “going with the flow” if I can use such a cliché. We have had the simple ambition at the front of our vision: making the music we want to listen to ourselves. So as our musical tastes have broadened and our musical abilities have improved; so has our music changed and hopefully developed into something better.

Metalfan:  Looking back at the beginning of your musical activity and by that I mean your first studio products (Hordanes Land, Vikingligr Veldi and Frost), can you tell me if there is something you would do differently about them?
Grutle: All our albums represent were we stood there and then musically and lyrically, and we really did our best on all our albums. I’m still very proud of each and every one of them. Although there are tons of things to put the finger on, I think it is silly to regret things you’ve done. You can’t re-do the past anyway, and the main focus has always been to look forward. Rather like use the former mistakes as inspiration for taking the next steps.

Metalfan: Since you are one of the oldest black metal bands, could you please tell me why, in your opinion, did black metal appear in the first place?
Grutle: Since we consider Black Metal to be metal with satanic lyrics, we’ve never considered Enslaved to be a Black Metal band. But the whole Extreme Metal movement in Norway came as a result of that we all thought that the Death metal were becoming to commercial and common with MTV, Bermuda shorts and Hawaii shirts and all that shit. We wanted the music to be real, more primitive, more spiritual, more occult. It started out almost like the punk did in the 70´s, very underground. Then it blew completely out of proportions some years later, and we all know the rest of that story….

II. The Change

Metalfan: Starting with Eld, your music became more epic and monumental, but still linked to your national historic and cultural heritage. Are you still feeling somewhat responsible, as Norwegian artists, with promoting your country’s cultural values?
Ivar: I wouldn’t say that we feel a responsibility – today’s Norway with its mix of cultural relativism and Lutheranism isn’t exactly anything I would want to impose on the world hehe. Of course it could be worse and we’re in a very privileged position to live here; but that doesn’t oblige us citizens to agree with the state ideologies. But we ARE very proud of our cultural past, the art, philosophy, mysticism and mythology from the pre-Christian times – this is something I feel proud to be promoting both to my countrymen and universally – it is about common human values and culture in a particular geographical variant.

Metalfan: Later on, you chose to change the way the name of the band looked on the album’s booklets, and your lyrical concepts took a more complex, cryptic, even philosophical turn. Is it wrong if we think of this as a new Enslaved? What did really happen?
Ivar: Again we are back to the “go-with-the-flow” principle – these things more or less “happened”. I think a lot of this “deepening” coincided with the consolidation of our line-up: after “Monumension” I and Grutle decided to consolidate Enslaved – to return to the core principles of the band. That is; we hadn’t really strayed too far away, but I think it is evident on “Monumension” that for instance R. Kronheim’s lyrical and musical contributions weren’t remotely in sync with the core of Enslaved. So I think that when we went back to being only the two founding members and re-build the line-up again, we were more focused on maintaining a unified concept – and aligning our different lyrical and musical contributions. So yes, I think “new Enslaved” is quite a good description!

Metalfan: When a band chooses to abandon the way it sounded at the very beginning (and I’m not strictly referring to the quality of the sound, but also to the musical approach), isn’t there a pretty major risk to lose its diehard fans? I mean, this could be like an old friend that comes to you and tells you: I really don’t know you anymore! Did losing some of your old fan base along the way affect you in any way or was it a risk you took from the beginning?
Ivar: That is a logical consequence of change, you are absolutely right. But it is also a cause-and-effect relationship that can only go one way! If a band avoids change to avoid losing old fans, they will certainly die as a creative band anyways. If they stay the same because it is natural for the band; like Motörhead, AC/DC or Iron Maiden, then there is no conflict – but when an artist gets a genuine impulse to change, I personally believe the artist must follow that impulse or prepare to die as an artistic entity. I am not too worried about this, I think it is totally ok if people only like one album: it is great that they found at least one album they like! When I met a few “true” Black Metal people who came to me out on the town in Bergen and said that “Below the Lights” was a horrible album and they would never listen to Enslaved’s new albums I felt a sense of relief: I had created something that where causing a catharsis with those who listen with their social antennas, not their ears and hearts.

Photo by Emilie Coltrane

III. The Present

Metalfan:  Coming to our present day, since you have a new studio album, Axioma Ethica Odini, could you please tell us how was the press and public feedback so far?

Grutle: It has been totally overwhelming! A lot better than I feared, since “Vertebrae” was so well received we had our thoughts… Axioma Ethica Odini became the album of the month in Terrorizer, Metal Hammer and Rock Hard as well as loads of other magazines! Even the newspapers here in Norway went bananas over it and gave us really good reviews. So, yeah! It has been absolutely amazing!

Metalfan: Looking at the booklet, the lyrics and listening to the music, one could easily notice that your latest album is definitely the more complex and courageous effort in your entire discography. How did you come to such an impressive outcome?

Grutle: Well, thanks a lot for the compliments!! How we did it? Difficult to pinpoint exactly, but I think time is the keyword here. We had a tour that got cancelled last autumn, and suddenly we had several months extra to focus on songwriting, lyrics, concept etc. So, basically we were able to focus much more on details and trying out different solutions on the arrangements. That gave us a lot more confidence prior to the actual recordings. We are much more comfortable and dynamic as a band on this album than ever before!

Metalfan: Can you tell us something about Axioma Ethica Odini’s lyrical concept?

Grutle: The album name comes from the Latin translation of “Haavamaal”, an old Norse poem from the 800-900. When it was translated into Latin in 1665, it was called “Ethica Odini”. This poem consists of 164 small verses that deal about old wisdom and ethics. F.ex how a person shall act towards other human beings, towards nature and towards spirituality. These verses are great advices and here one can find a lot of common sense things that have been lost after centuries of extreme monotheism, but they are still very transformable to modern day life. To us, “Ethica Odini” is the biggest philosophical axiom, therefore “Axioma Ethica Odini”. The lyrics are spunned around interpretations of various verses in this poem.

Metalfan: Your album had a very positive review in our magazine and our readers seemed to be very fond of it (it was reflected in their votes and rates). Would you be so kind to make a brief presentation of each track of the album?

Grutle: I’ll try! Here it is:

Ethica Odini:
When I first heard Ivar’s sketches for this song, the first thing that struck me was; wow! Master’s Hammer! It does not necessarily sound like our old Czech heroes, but the nerve
and the atmosphere reminded me of some reason straight away. It has got only three riffs/themes really, and it is perhaps our most repetitive song in 15 years, but still I think
it is something really strong and outstanding about this song. I enjoyed it instantly, and I
still do after been listening to it 1018 times!
The title and lyrics of this song is actually something I have had in mind for several years, and turned out to be very fitting and suitable for this album. As the title strongly indicates it deals with the ethics of Odin, at least the why I see them. The first Latin translation of the Norse poem”Haavamaal” (the tale of Odin in his hall, Haavahall) was actually called ”Ethica Odini”. The lyrics are inspired by some of the verses in this poem.
Feel free to find out which…hehe.

A signature Ivar-song. Full of cool riffs, both straight forward and those a little bit weird
too! A bit complex, still very enjoyable song to arrange vocals on. This was the first song me and Herbrand did the vocal arrangements for on ”Axioma Ethica Odini”, and one of the first we recorded. (I remember ”Giants” being the very first.)
This song turned out to be one of the most brutal songs on the album, and probably the one containing most harsh vocals. Love this one, and are really looking forward to play it

This was one of the songs that took the longest time to get into. It also turned out to be the biggest surprise and among the songs I enjoy the most on this album. This was among
me and Herbrand’s biggest diffeculties when figuring out what to sing over things, and one of the last we recorded. It became quite experimental on all layers, but at the same time weirdly catchy! The best of those to worlds, one might say! A killer song, in my maybe not too humble, opinion.

The Beacon:
Seemingly a straight forward song by listening to the opening, but becomes a bit ”progressive” after a while. A very energetic song with crystal clear live song potency, it’s intense, brutal, desperate and yet also groovy at times. The title was inspired by a movie I saw. In old times they would lit beacons to summon their allies to aid. The lyrics deal about watching out for certain signals within your own mind and body, and ”run to aid when the beacons are lit.

A little psychedelic Island in the middle of the ocean of great riffs? Hehe…I like this little synth/vocal piece. It works out as a nice break right in the middle of the record.
Me and Ivar wrote the lyrics together for this one and it deals in general of how one shall ignore everything but mere true sayings, i.e. axioms.

A wonderful doom/death piece that I also instantly liked. This one was also among the easiest to arrange, and the first one we recorded vocals for. Perhaps the heaviest Enslaved
song ever, and for the first time in many years we even dug up our old SH-1 to add some psychedelic 70-sounds! A really cool song to play, a monster!
The lyrics deals as the title insinuate, about the giants! Meaning the chaos inside each and every one of us, and in our surroundings. The giants are the opposite of the aesir in the Norse mythology, and symbolizes the outer consciousness, female forces and disorder. Always in conflict with the masculine, inner conscious order of the aesir.

This was definitely the song we spent the longest time working with. It was hard to come up with ideas for arrangements, and we tried out a lot of different stuff. In this process however, we enjoyed the song more and more. When we finally finished writing the arrangements, it was a real pleasure to record it! A fantastic song, full of surprises and changes. Without doubt the most progressive song this time, gotta love it!

Night Sight:
Another one of the songs that kicked in right away! As far as I remember, this was the 2nd or the 3rd sketch Ivar sent me. He did the pre-prod sketch for this at their holiday cottage in Sweden last summer. The recorded version however, differs a lot from that early version. Actually this is probably the song that changed the most. On this one we even changed into a different drum kit for the intro. We set up an old kit from the 70´s, quite minimalistic, to get that extra jazz-rock feeling…hehe. It actually turned out to be a very wise move, and it resulted in a very dynamic and great song. Perhaps our most retro song ever, but it’s nicely balanced with some rather harsh extreme metal parts.

This is the last song Ivar came up with, and also the last one I did the lyrics for on this album. Another ”love at first sight” story for me, enjoyed it straight away and had a really good time working on it. I really have to mention Ice’s huge impact on this song to, he really does some magic here and the beginning of the song had been remarkable different
without his genius!
I remember that I wrote the lyrics while listening to the pre prod on repeat, and the words just came out instantly. It was just like the words were already there and I was merely a medium…strange but cool. I won’t say too much about them other than they describe certain forces inside you, written in mythological metaphors. The title should provide a pretty good hint. Enjoy!

IV. The Spirit

Metalfan: Pagan deities are often invoked in your lyrics. How do you really feel about religion? Do you believe in the existence of good and evil, god and satan?

Ivar: I do strongly believe in good and evil, but not necessarily on the petty human scale. I think what we conceive as “evil” is slightly grey on a cosmic scale, the same with “good”. The greater cosmic forces of evil and good are far greater and deals in contractions and expansions on fathomless scales. Also there is the issue of causality: sometimes evil do good, sometimes good do evil and so on infinitely.
I detest monotheism to the point where I am convinced I would go to war to fight it off in the final consequence. I think limiting deities to one god (or one Satan hehe) and so on is much of the root of humanities’ problems today. Spiritualism, mysticism, mythology, philosophy, metaphysics, quantum physics and the ability to change the physical with the psychical is something else – but that is something for each and everyone’s inner dialogue.

Photo by Mirjam Vikingstad

Metalfan: If there were something you could change about humanity, what would it be?
Ivar: Rid it of monotheism, dogmatism and its passion for reality-TV and craving fame and status above talent and hard work. One could say enlightenment, not in the sense that I feel smart and everybody else is stupid – but rather that I have made a sacrifice in recognizing that I do not have all the answers but am willing to search for them, and I think it is only fair to protest the common self-righteousness and informed ignorance (again, I don’t think the problem is stupidity) that makes the world such a quagmire.

V. The Life

Metalfan: Do you manage to make a living out of music or do you still have to keep your regular jobs? If you do, how do you convince your employers (providing you are not your own bosses) to let you leave your jobs when going out on a long promoting tour?
Grutle: In periods of the year, we are able to just go touring and play festivals. But for the rest of the year we need to have part time jobs. We work mostly part time in the music business here in Bergen, with various duties connected to big concert productions. This year me and Ivar have worked for Mark Knopfler, Guns N’Roses and Iron Maiden etc. I wish I could be able to just live on what I earn in Enslaved, but that is very hard. Luckily, we are not in this to get rich…hehe.

Metalfan: You are a band very active on the internet (you have your own webpage, MySpace page and Facebook page). How do you feel about piracy and the free circulation of the mp3 files?
Ivar: I think there is a distinct difference between sharing files with friends through e-mails and private spaces; much like we shared and traded cassettes in our early days, on one hand – and plain stealing on the other hand. During the Pirate Bay court trial it was revealed that the founders were making themselves millionaires (!) through selling ads on this so-called “idealistic” site. Just look at how many bands that quit now because they can’t handle the new reality. So circulate the files you own all you want, listen to the mp3s from friends and buy the album if you like them – but I will never be bullied into saying that it is ok to take something for free when the owner says he or she wants to be paid. Then I will rather not have the product, whether it is music, food or philosophical texts.

Metalfan How do you feel about the actual metal scene in general and the black metal scene in special?

Ivar: I think it is quite healthy in general; with both the traditional Metal going strong but also there is room for more experimental Metal – Enslaved could be said to benefit greatly from both those facts hehe! I am not sure if the Black Metal scene itself is doing that great in particular; there seems to be less genuine atmosphere and dedication and more calculated posing and positioning than there used to be – it is supposed to be a frame of mind, not a line of work hehe. Then again I am an outsider, Enslaved has never been Black Metal; so you better ask the people in the Black Metal scene if you want a more qualified answer.

Metalfan: Do you still consider yourself a black metal band?
Grutle: Never had done such! See the answer nr.5!

Photo by Emilie Coltrane

VI. The Actors

Metalfan: Do you feel accomplished as a musician and as a human being?
Ivar: Quite so actually, but FAR from all the way. Let’s say I have purpose, love to work and find existence quite amusing and enjoyable in general – that is a great starting point for the rest of my life.

Metalfan: In the end, before saying goodbye, I would like to propose a little game to you. Here we go:


• Last book you read – “The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the road to 9/11” by Lawrence Wright
• Last movie you went to – “Valhalla Rising”
• Favorite food – Salted lamb ribs
• Favorite drink – Indian Pale Ale
• The 3 metal albums you’d take on a deserted island – Pink Floyd “Dark Side of the Moon”, Bathory “Twilight of the Gods”, Arvo Pärt “Litany”
• Favorite band – Pink Floyd
• The country you’d like to visit – Japan
• What do you hate the most – Oppression
• What do you love the most – My wife
• 3 words about Enslaved – Honest, consistent, undiscovered


• Last book you read – “The circle of witches: Short stories” by Gunnar Staalesen.
• Last movie you went to – “Valhalla Rising”
• Favorite food – Crab meat with mayonnaise
• Favorite drink – Imperial stout
• The 3 metal albums you’d take on a deserted island – Rush “Hemispheres,
Mayhem “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas”, Earth “The Bees Made Honey in the
Lion’s skull”
• Favorite band – Rush
• The country you’d like to visit – New Zealand
• What do you hate the most – Piety
• What do you love the most – My woman
• 3 words about Enslaved – Timeless, Resistant, Nuts!

Metalfan: Thank you very much for your time and kindness in making this interview happen. The final words are yours.
Ivar: Thank you very much for this very nice interview. Thanks to you and the Romanian fans – we can’t wait to play there one day. Check out the new album!!!

Autor: Sake
Vezi galeriile trupelor: Enslaved

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