Previous Enslaved Interviews
The Gauntlet: Alright. I know it's rather early in the tour, but how has it been going so far?
Ivar Bjørnson: It's been going really good. Today is, I think, is gig number seven? Six? Seven? (Checks tag around neck) Wow. Number seven. Well, it's been going really well. The stateside shows have been great, Canada has been really, really great, and I think we have a lot of good shows ahead of us, also. There's a good atmosphere on the bus—all good bands.
The Gauntlet: And you've been to the states a few times, haven't you?
Ivar Bjørnson: Yeah, the first time we toured was in '95. We've been over a couple times after that. They've been mostly very short tours, festival appearances, that kind of stuff, so I think you can actually say that this is the second proper tour, headlining tour, we've been on.
Gauntlet: Aye, a friend of mine saw you back in '99 or 2000, I think, right after 'Blodhemn' came out—said it was excellent. I saw that you had some upcoming dates over in India…?
Gauntlet: Have you ever played there or anywhere in Asia before? Or will this be your first time there?
Ivar: First time in Asia. It was just one of those really great flukes, you know? We were playing at the Norwegian pop/rock festival, which had a couple of—you know, I think we were the only extreme metal band there—and some scout from that great Indian rock festival was just hanging out. He had a look and thought, you know, 'Why not bring this band in?' So, we're really looking forward to that.
Gauntlet: And you just were able to get together the funding for that, or—?
Ivar: They're bringing us over. They have a program, that's the lucky thing, with the Norwegian—I don't know the translation for it—in the cultural department, you have a section that's working with exporting Norwegian art, and they have set up sort of a corporation with the Indian government.
Gauntlet: Sort of an ambassador's relationship, almost?
Ivar: Stuff like that, yeah. So, basically, we're not getting paid, but we don't have to pay for it, either, so it's really good.
Gauntlet: Do you have any idea what sort of fanbase you have in Asia?
Ivar: No idea. I know that we're going to have, when all this happens, 'Ruun' is going to be released in India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. So, I have no idea how it's going to go.
Gauntlet: Have you seen a good response from 'Ruun' so far? I bought the album, think it's fantastic—
Gauntlet: Yeah, my pleasure. But how's the response been for that so far?
Ivar: It's been really good. When 'Isa' came out, that really gave us a lift, both in terms of sales and response, and all that. And, that was a little bit more immediate, I think. 'Ruun' sort of had a softer start, with the explosion coming afterwards. We're seeing that now, a half-year into the release of the album, things are really starting to branch out. We've never had such a wide and positive response before, so it's very good.
Gauntlet: The delayed response would make sense. I remember the first five or six times I listened to it, it didn't click immediately, like 'Isa' or 'Below the Lights', but then slowly I realized, 'Wow, this is maybe the best album they've made so far.' So I'm glad to see it's doing well.
Ivar: That's good. I think it gets in there, that first little bit. It sort of creeps into the mind, and then starts working on it.
Gauntlet: Mm-hmm. So, as you've changed styles over the years, do you see your fanbase changing, or do you see people growing with you?
Ivar: We have been extremely lucky. We haven't had that, even though we've changed quite a bit. I think you can compare the fanbase to the music. It's a question of adding rather than changing. So we're really lucky to see a lot of the guys who've been sticking since the early days. And I think a lot of extreme metal or black metal bands are going through the same sort of development that we are, as musicians. That is, getting stronger, drawing inspiration from other musical areas. You know, extreme metal has a lot in common with progressive rock or the 'post-core' or whatever they call it, you know: Neurosis and all that stuff. All these different genres have this obscure, dramatic, and aggressive thing in common, so I think it's a very natural thing that fans from all these different genres start mixing up.
Gauntlet: Yeah. That was actually another one of the questions I had. It seems like Norway, in particular, has become a central location for extreme metal groups that branch out later in their career, like Ulver, Enslaved, Burzum, Manes—or Manes (i.e. Mah-ness vs. Mainz), I'm not sure which way he intended it to be pronounced.
Ivar: I think he says Manes (Mah-ness)
Gauntlet: Yeah, as I thought. So, is there a reason for all that, or…?
Ivar: I think you can trace it back to the pioneers, those being Darkthrone and Mayhem. Because if you look at those bands now, they're regarded as prototypes, you know, and a lot of young bands these bands, they say they want to remain true to the original black metal sound. But if you rewind and you look back at what happened in the early 90's, those bands were actually mutating their inspirations. They were influenced by Celtic Frost and Bathory, and what Darkthrone and Mayhem did was unheard of, when they did it. So, I think that basically just set the whole tone in the scene, that you are allowed to try and invent things. And that when you do something new that's applauded—and you know, we have bands that stick to the formula, like Darkthrone and Immortal, and they are immensely respected for that—but at the same time you have to give way for some bands to try something new. Like Ulver, what they did was totally unexpected, and I think they got respect from the other bands, you know. It's a good thing that some bands branch out: sometimes they fall on their face and sometimes they have great success. but the basic thing is you need to develop it, because, as I said, what Darkthrone and Mayhem were doing in 1990 was something, and you have to have bands like that to start something new, or else it all falls in on itself at some point.
Gauntlet: Do you have a relationship with those other bands, do you talk to them?
Ivar: I think the two closest bands for Enslaved would be Immortal—geographically close, we come from a small town, and there's basically one pub (laughs), so we've been within the same four walls a lot, and 'Ice Dale', our other guitar player has been working with Abbath on his 'I' project. But, artistically speaking, and that's sort of a paradox, I think Darkthrone has always been our brother band. And we've stayed in touch over the years. We just have the opposite thing. I think the guys in Darkthrone, they give us good feedback and they really like us mutating, they like the…heresy of what we're doing with the music, while we really admire them for giving it the finger, you know? So it's paradoxical relationship there, but we stay in touch with them all the time. Nocturno came over and sang on 'Isa', which was a great moment for us; Grutle went over and did some vocals on their last piece, so… And there's guys in both bands that enjoy fishing, so—(laughs)
Gauntlet: Yeah, I was looking for pictures of the band and I kept seeing pictures of Cato holding up all these huge fish. Was kind of strange to see guys in these metal bands out of that context, and doing things from everyday life.
Ivar: Cato, before he joined Enslaved, I knew he was a fisher before I knew he was a drummer. He's really famous in Norway and Sweden—he goes for big bait, you know? Has all his charts and stuff like that, I thought it was pretty cool. And then, when he turned out to be a drummer—
(Someone enters, looking for lighter. Brief exchange. Man says, "Anything else before I…?" Ivar replies, "No. Some champagne would be fine. Maybe later." (laughter, man exits)
Gauntlet: Yeah, I was curious about that. You've gone through your fair share of drummers, maybe more. Is there a reason for that or is that just coincidence?
Ivar: I don't know. I think the whole thing with us changing has a lot to do with that. Basically, the change of drummers has been: after 'Frost' with Trym, me and Grutle wanted to go a little away from that black metal sound that we had on the first album, and I think Trym really loved the fast drummer, the death/extreme/black metal thing. And it was pretty obvious that we weren't going in the same direction. At the same time, we've always kept a very open mind. I think we're a band where instead of people being dissatisfied, immediately when there's dissatisfaction we just get down and say, 'You know, wouldn't it be better to go separate ways.' With us, it's never defeat to change people in the band. Defeat is the point where you enter the studio or the stage and the member is not into it. That's the downfall of a band, I think. And Trym agreed. Two days later Samoth called up and said, 'I hear your drummer's quitting—would you mind if we asked him to join Emperor?' And he just preferred it. And what a career move! (laughs)
Gauntlet: (laughs) Yeah.
Ivar: And I think the same happened with Harald Helgeson on 'Eld'. He was just experimenting, I think. He's a classical heavy metal drummer, likes Dream Theater and that stuff, and for him it was interesting for one album, but I don't think he saw a place for himself in the extreme metal scene at that time, so he went. And then we had Dirge Rep, who basically came to the conclusion that he wanted to work in a more secluded, underground black metal scene. He set out, that's what he wanted to do, and that was the exact time that we started to include more of the influences from the '70's and stuff, so we saw three years down the road, 'You're going to hate what we're doing, so why not quit now?'
So, the good thing about that, is that we meet the guys at festivals, we meet them on tours, we meet them socially, and everything's fine, you know. There's never been an ugly break, so to speak. But, of course, it has a sort of Spinal Tap vibe to it. But I hope this lineup is going to last forever.
Gauntlet: And it seems as well, bringing in Isdal for 'Below the Lights', is he really attuned to your direction as well?
Ivar: Absolutely. It was scary the first time we sat down and played together. He just picked up the riffs as I was playing them. He has a natural talent for that, and also, yeah, he adds a lot of personality to the music. And he is a lead guitarist, something I have never been and something I will never be. And I think that really adds a good dimension to the music.
Gauntlet: I remember hearing some of the guitarwork he'd done on 'Between Two Worlds' and thinking, 'Wow, sounds a lot like Enslaved', and then realizing, 'Wait, he wasn't even in Enslaved for a really long time…'. Was an interesting thought. But I also really like what Cato's been doing—the song 'Bounded By Allegiance', the drumwork that he does there is really just outstanding.
Gauntlet: So it's nice to hear—
Ivar: We're playing that tonight.
Gauntlet: Oh, really? Good. One of my favorites on that album. So, what sort of impact do the drummers, or any member outside you and Grutle (brief exchange as I fail to pronounce the name just right). So what sort of impact do these periphery members have on the songwriting?
Ivar: I think if I had to point out one significant entry into the band, it would be Cato. He really stabilized, he became the core, the musical core, that made everything fall into place. I think Enslaved would have reached, so to speak, a broader audience earlier on if Cato had joined earlier on also. I think we have a lot of experimental, sometimes chaotic ideas that need to be formalized in a way that hadn't been done before. Because Cato, he started playing drums in 1982—I was probably just getting out of my diapers—
Gauntlet: Yeah, before I was born. (laughs)
Ivar: Yeah, so he's got that understanding of the music, and he's got this understanding of what the drums are supposed to do in a band. And I think that exceeds just extreme metal, he's got that musical understanding. So I started writing songs in a really different way when Cato joined the band. Before Cato, it was a lot more guitar oriented: the guitar would be up front, doing the tempos, changes, you know, the bass, drums would be somewhere behind. And he just gave us a much broader understanding of the sound picture we are looking for. So, him coming in just lifted everything I think. The bass, the vocals.
Gauntlet: Mm-hmm. And Herbrand is also a permanent member now?
Gauntlet: Has his inclusion changed things?
Ivar: That's added to what happened after Cato came. Because Herbrand had a very different way of perceiving…he's never done any sort of extreme vocals, just clean vocals, coming from a rock and classic heavy background. So that also gave some feedback to the songwriting, sometimes pulling the distorted guitars a bit back, and try to build a sort of platform where the vocals could work, instead of maybe on the other albums where the vocals are sort of in constant conflict with the guitar. So it adds some depth, I think.
Gauntlet: Going back a bit to the setlist. Do you find that there's a particular era that you like to play songs from the most? Or do you just survey all of them, are there some that you feel like you have to play for crowd-pleasers?
Ivar: Well, no. 'Crowd-pleasers'—that sounds kind of negative.
Ivar: It's like 'selling out', but at the same time we want to include… This tour, I think is the most difficult tour we've been on in our career, when it comes to set lists, because we did six or seven shows in 2003, really small shows, plus an appearance in Milwaukee, where we were able to present just one or two tracks from 'Below the Lights', then. But coming back now, with 'Below the Lights', 'Isa', and 'Ruun', the three best-selling albums in the US, or North America, in that order. And it is a problem to fit it into 70 minutes. Because normally in Europe and Norway, we usually do a full tour for each album, and now we have to do three albums. And at the same time, we've had a good following from the early days, and we want to give them some of that, too. So we do change a little bit from night to night, and we just hope for understanding. Maybe a couple people like 'Eld' or 'Frost' or that stuff and feel that they're being a little short-handed or whatever, but I think it's a good mix.
We like to play everything. We used to, again, before Cato, prefer the new stuff. But he entered and gave the old songs a new bearing, so, now we enjoy playing everything. After this tour, we hope to come back again soon so we can make up for and maybe do a little bit more of the old stuff the next time around.
Gauntlet: Good. I'll certainly be there. So, do you practice the older songs with the full, new band that you have now and adapt them, or…?
Ivar: Actually, we try to go the other way. We try to take what we have now and adapt our expression, or our sound now to the old sounds. It's very important. A lot of, well, not a lot, but I've noticed when I've seen a couple of extreme metal bands, they sort of 'tune up' the old songs. Maybe they add some tempo, because they feel that maybe now they're more technically skilled, or they've put in some fancy work there, because they think maybe the old stuff is too boring or simple. For me, it's very important to sort of preserve it as it was. Because those old songs from '92, '93, they have these kinds of, maybe you could say naïve arrangements, but that has purpose also. It was so pure, so unaffected back then.
Gauntlet: Mm-hmm. Primal.
Ivar: And we want to reproduce that now.
Gauntlet: Yes, I was going to say. The older Enslaved work doesn't seem like the sort of music that would benefit from all sorts of strange arpeggios or extra riffs.
Ivar: Oh, no, no. Like rhythm changes, twists, and such. (laughs)
Gauntlet: Yeah. (laughs)
Ivar: Yeah, no way.
Gauntlet: Now, I know you've probably been asked about this many, many times. But as far as the transition that you've made: was that really a conscious decision or did it come naturally from what you felt like practicing or what you were listening to…?
Ivar: It came as a result of…Grutle—he's been following the '70's stuff all the way, before he even got into extreme metal. My first albums, when I started collecting, I went directly for Bathory, Venom—that was the first stuff I did. So, after the mid-'90's, '97, '98, around 'Eld', that was when I started to, and also the other guys in the band, started to check out some of his '70's stuff. And we just felt that we'd struck gold, you know? We found another genre of music that had the drama. It wasn't afraid of being pompous, it had the big stories, the concepts, everything that you could find in black and extreme metal. And we just collected like crazy. And it had all these branches, you know, family trees. So you find one album from Rush or Genesis or whatever, and one of the guys would be playing on another album… So the drummer from this band and the singer from that band…
Gauntlet: Right, tossing members about.
Ivar: And you can just follow it around eternally. And I think that's what happened. We didn't even think about it. Just, stuff from King Crimson and all those bands started sneaking into the songs.
Gauntlet: I was going to mention King Crimson. I remember finding them by watching a Frank Zappa DVD and seeing Adrian Belew playing with them on that tour, and then branching off and finding the King Crimson discography, starting in '69 or something like that. And they've become a favorite of mine, who have really changed the way I listen to things like new Enslaved and have helped give me that new perspective.
Gauntlet: Very helpful. So, I read that you were nominated for a Spellemann?
Ivar: Thank you.
Gauntlet: How big are the Spellemann Awards?
Ivar: It's…it's like the national Grammy, the national show. Yeah, I guess you could say it's the same as the Grammy's. The difference is, Norway being a lot smaller both in actual numbers and in international importance, so to speak, for a Norwegian band, a Norwegian popular band, you could be nominated for it. But then again, with the extreme metal scene, I think all the extreme metal scene sort of look at it from the side. It's not like a real, genuine…do you get my drift?
Ivar: Like a pat on the back, or a 'Good work, guys,' from the music industry. At the same time everyone's thing, 'What kind of criteria are these guys using?' But it's definitely been good for the home market. And with 'Isa' winning the 'Grammy' the last time around in 2004, we really saw a rise in both sales and festival appearances. So it's not hurting us. It's good.
Gauntlet: In the states, the underground metal fans are often rather skeptical of bands that get nominated for Grammies. For example, this band Lamb of God got nominated this time around, and back in the day when they were 'underground', people had more respect for them, but now when people are falling off their bandwagon, that's when they get nominated. So it's sometimes kind of a disappointment here, but it seems like in Norway it'd be hard to ignore, especially considering how vast the metal community is in all of Scandinavia, Norway especially.
Ivar: Yeah. Well, we just hope the fans understand what we are thinking. Sometimes it's difficult to differentiate between the message and the messenger. I just hope the fans realize that the band is not nominating itself, some kind of committee is doing it, for whatever reason. So, I think it's jumping to conclusions…I don't know Lamb of God, I don't think I've heard a single tune, ever, but it seems a bit hasty to think that they've had anything to do with it, so to speak. People should be skeptical of the actual music industry, not the band.
Gauntlet: Yeah. I think with Enslaved, keeping in mind how unique a group it is, I don't think people will perceive this as bad thing.
Ivar: No, hopefully not. At least with the Norwegian Grammy's, the metal category is sort of different, I guess. This time around it's us, Gorgoroth, Keep of Kalessin, Benea Reach. So, yeah, it's all extreme metal.
Gauntlet: Some stiff competition.
Ivar: Yeah, it's really stiff.
Gauntlet: As far as classifying Enslaved's music. It's…difficult. (laughs)
Gauntlet: It's clear that the Viking tradition is of great significance to you, but from what I've read you are sensitive to how people interpret that. So, what influence has that been on you, and do you see yourself fitting into that scene with bands like Amon Amarth and so forth?
Ivar: I think we're pretty much on our own, and we like to define it as 'Extreme Metal'. I think other bands like Zyklon do the same. They have a death metal connection, we have a black metal connection, but none of our bands is really one or the other. The black metal sound is what influenced us when we started, and is still the scene that we're the most related to, I think. Black metal on one side and progressive metal on the other side. For us, that's how we want to be labeled. And then you can go into discussions about—
(Tour manager Erin enters, introduces Ahriman, updates Ivar on photo shoot status, exits)
Ivar: Yeah, so as far as the Viking Metal scene, I don't feel a real need to distance ourselves from that, but I think we're in a different, so to speak, business, than bands like that. We're not revivalists, you know? We have, you could call it a philosophical or a mystical, whatever, usage of that history, but that's basically it. It's the language that we're using to interpret what I think is are general and more psychological ideas. For me, the Viking metal scene seems a little more related to the whole, let's say, concept of role-playing—
Gauntlet: Romanticizing it, almost?
Ivar: Yeah. A historical sort of angle. While, for us it's taken a more personal and mystical direction, and we're using that as a lyrical canvas, or whatever.
Gauntlet: Philosophy as opposed to religion.
Ivar: Probably, yeah. A lot of pseudo-psychology.
Ivar: We have no shame in being revealed as charlatans from time to time. We meet some guys who are educated, or archeologists, whatever, and they point out, 'This rune means something different!' and we're like, 'Yeah. Good.' It's all about how you perceive it. You just churn it all together, mix it up, and make your own perspective. I think we're more related to the chaotic way of thinking—we're more urban shamanists than we are Vikings.
Gauntlet: Makes me curious. (gestures to Below the Lights T-shirt on floor) I have this, and always wondered what the runes across the top meant. I've been able to decipher them, but as far as what the aim was, with them…
Ivar: It's a reference to a verse, verse 69, in the Völuspá, which is a speech, a very long speech, written down by the Nordic people. It's supposed to be a speech directly from Odin himself. And you can look up that verse, verse 69, and have a look and see if that makes any sense. That's basically what we're doing. If people want to look into that and find that verse and read the lyrics and listen to the album and see if they can make associations, that's great.
Gauntlet: So, do you have an opinion on this 'neo-pagan' revival going on, with people trying to 'cast the runes' and determine the future and all that?
Ivar: I think, as long as it's doing good, that's all fine. That's our opinion, if people want to use whatever religion or science, as long as it betters themselves, and diminishes the gap between where you are now and what kind of potential you can reach. I don't care if they're playing blackjack or if they're casting runes. For me, it seems to be a healthy thing to experiment with different mindsets. But on the other hand, if it makes you socially secluded—I know that a lot of kids, when experiment with occultism, or runes, or whatever, it can do some damage, so I think you need to look at the overall situation. And it's different from person to person. It's the same with the runes, I guess. For some people it can be a door opener, it can reveal the universe. For others it can be the first step towards…hell.
Gauntlet: And as far as realizing potential, where do you see Enslaved going in a few years?
Ivar: That's always difficult to say. Onwards, is all I know, you know? If that's going to take us places or if that's going to set us ten years back, it's impossible to say. But I think we're going to do our best to do our thing, and make better songs, and better live appearances, better albums.
Gauntlet: So the creative fires are still burning?
Ivar: Oh, yeah. Very much. It's starting to itch real bad now, because we released 'Ruun' in May, and after that it's been all about touring. We have almost 100 gigs set up for the coming year, and it's starting to itch, we need to start working on the new album.
Ivar: Yeah, most definitely. We want to release that sometime early in 2008.
Gauntlet: Do you have any ideas that you've already put down? Or is it more of just wanting to actually get to the work?
Ivar: Just a few sketches, that's all we need. We need a starting point, and then it's all about shutting the doors, down with the drapes, and just work it out. It just comes naturally.
Gauntlet: Well, As far as formal questions, I'm out, but do you have any additional comments, observations?
Ivar: Right now, as we're on this tour, that's really what we're thinking about, but we feel a very profound and deep appreciation for the metal fans over here. Now it's 12 years since we were here the first time, and the feedback we're getting from the gigs, the guys are on Myspace every day, checking out the feedback there. It's overwhelming. It really proves to us that people have been following the band, and even though we've had some trouble with distribution, and it's been difficult getting over here for tours, it just shows that North American metal people have been really patient. And we really appreciate that.
Gauntlet: As do we appreciate you.
Ivar: Thank you.