The history of heavy music is littered with the corpses of bands that had neither the stamina nor the creativity to stay the course. Over the course of more than 25 years, Enslaved have proved themselves to be among the most prodigious and original artists of the modern age.
Formed in Bergen, Norway, in 1991, Enslaved followed their own singular path from the very start. As they emerged from the nascent Norwegian Black Metal scene of the early ‘90s, guitarist Ivar Bjornson and vocalist/bassist Grutle Kjellson exhibited a uniquely eccentric approach to making extreme music. Adventurous and progressive where many of their peers were insular and restrained, Enslaved’s reputation grew rapidly in the wake of extraordinary, epic albums like their debut Vikingligr Veldi and its strident follow-up Frost (both 1994). By the late ‘90s, the band had morphed into a much more ingenious and ground-breaking beast: always retaining that essential link to their extremist roots but fearless in their pursuit of new ways to express their wildest ideas.
Routinely acclaimed as a powerful and ferocious live band, Enslaved entered the 21st century by flexing new muscles on the acclaimed likes of 2003’s Below The Lights and its groundbreaking successor, Isa (2004) – for which the band won a Norwegian Grammy award. Increasingly admired in the Prog-Rock world while never losing that all-important bedrock of metalhead support, Bergen’s finest hit a rich vein of form as the years passed, with albums like 2008’s Post-Rock-fuelled Vertebrae and 2010’s elegant and grandiloquent Axioma Ethica Odini gleefully redesigned the Enslaved musical universe.
In 2015, Enslaved released their 13th studio album, In Times. A tour-de-force of hypnotic Prog intensity and scabrous, Blackened pomp, it exuded an air of completion and finality that led perfectly into 2016’s extravagant celebrations, as Enslaved marked their 25th anniversary with some truly life-changing shows that explored all shadows and hidden corners in the band’s colossal catalogue. Two years later, they released the universally praised E: a typically bold and fearless statement from this most inventive of modern metal bands and a thrilling sideways step that harnessed the spirit of old and set it loose in a whirlwind of stormy imagination. Universally praised, it duly earned Enslaved their fifth Norwegian Grammy win.
Since the release of E, Enslaved have been dedicated to spreading their gospel of musical fearlessness around the world. They once again conquered Europe and North America during late 2017 and early 2018, and will be performing at festivals throughout the summer, including appearances at CopenHell, Wacken Open Air, Hellfest, Beyond The Gates and Psycho Las Vegas. In 2020, Enslaved released Utgard, their latest offer so far.
This Is Black Metal Webzine had a Skype chat with Ivar Bjornson about Utgard release, the present and their future plans!
This is black metal: Hello everyone, we’re here with Ivar Bjornson of Enslaved. How are you, sir?
Ivar: Very good, thank you. Good to be here.
TIBM: Let’s go to the new album called Utgard, which is in Norse mythology. Why did you choose this name?
Ivar: We chose it because it was an exciting direction to go for us we have been doing several albums that has a focal point mythological folk focal point in the home of the gods Asgard and the last album E, was conceptually centered around the Great Wall, that they built around Asgard to protect them against these gods. And so now it is natural for us to move the focus out into these outer regions of the mythology and go more into the origins and sort of the unknown landscape, which we find very exciting and then, full of inspiration and things to explore.
TIBM: Oh, all right. Nice. Well, the album released was postponed for four to five months. During that time, did you consider changing anything?
Ivar: We’ve been very busy all year it’s, I think we made for us it was important to find ways to be active and finally ways to reach the people who are interested in. in the music that we make, and the concepts that we create even more important now, because we knew, like us that our listeners, friends and fans that they, you really need these things, the meaningful things when. And we are already in a world that is being less and less meaningful I think for us as people, and then you add this COVID, and you take away what we have, which I think is there the community of the Metal scene and concert activity and so on. So that it became really important for us. So yeah, we find new ways out of nowhere and into the homes and speakers of people all around the world. So for us, there has been a focus on how to make these live streams that we’ve done, we’ve been rehearsing to become a better band. That’s what we want to do when we emerge from the COVID period, we want to really show. Yes, we’ve been, we’re not we’re not been sitting around crying. We’ve been living we’ve been working.
TIBM: You have chosen Homebound as the first single. Why did you pick this over the other songs?
Ivar: Ah it’s a good question, with the albums for a band like Enslaved, how we build an album. There’s a lot of the album’s DNA in each of the songs and all the songs are needed to make a complete album. So it’s virtually impossible to choose the song that represents everything. So for us, it was… it became the choice because it was the song that we felt could show some of them, the viable album from energy, that it will show this cross-section of both.
Looking back to the roots and really be inspired by our own old days, but also that we are continuing this exploration of new avenues. And also, it was important to immediately give a presentation of what you could call a new band in a sense in the new lineup, you know, especially with Iver on drums and the singing. Because Homebound is definitely the song that he is the most like really represented on the album. So yeah, we just had to take one in and this was the one.
ENSLAVED – Homebound (OFFICIAL MUSIC VIDEO)
TIBM: Well, you have worked before with Iver Sandoy, but this is the first time as a full member. You gave him a great amount of interest, not only for his drumming skills, but also as a settling vocalist, a keyboard player, and as a producer! Can we say that this new blood pushed the band a little further?
Ivar: (Chuckles) Absolutely. And I think there’s freedom, as we call it, and it was a natural consequence. When Cato left the band was very important for where we have gotten now. He really made the band take a huge step forward when he joined for the Isa album. And it’s been very important all this. So he quit, it was also a very big thing socially because it’s, I am lucky to – it’s always been like that – I’ve been in a band with my closest friends and brothers are the ones that I’m playing with. And that’s what we said you know we’re maybe not the old but not the youngest ones, more anymore when we’ve been playing together, then it was 27 years when Cato quit. So, when we get the new drummer it cannot be like we have an audition and then anyone can – just, it’s not enough to have the skills for the drums.
And if we are honest with ourselves, even is probably the only one that fits all I can think of all the categories knows and Enslaved very well on social on the social aspect. He’s a very skilled drummer. And also, of course, his understanding of not just in Enslaved songs on the surface but this sort of production and thoughts and everything that is is learned from working with us. So he was the one name on the list and we were honest with him who said, we’re going to ask you, and if you don’t feel that you want to take this opportunity, we will take a break and then until we can get to find another idea but right now you are the only idea, we have so. But if you join, of course, we will make sure that you are given some space to. Yeah, to develop and grow as a musician. He said yes and then of course we want to keep our promise. And it’s not something we did just, you know, be nice to get the new drama because we wanted him. But if I really wanted that artistic aspect instead. And I’m really glad we did that because it’s been very inspirational. He is also very good with group dynamics, you know, one thing is to be creative and great on your own.
But to be part of a team where you have people have roles and people have certain ideas. Me and Grutle, pretty much…Yeah, it’s a long time with three decades. So there’s a lot of. We have certain, certain ideas on how things should be and we can even though that we’re quite experimental and open-minded, still have a very clear. Very clear law that enslaved has to be Enslaved.
TIBM: I guess he fits perfectly into the band!
ENSLAVED – Jettegryta (OFFICIAL MUSIC VIDEO)
TIBM: It’s something that I really enjoyed about the new album, is the diversity of it. We have, for example, Jettegryta which is in my opinion, one of the heaviest and Enslaved songs and on the other hand, we have also Urjotun, which is more electronic-based. Taken the fact, that you always try to push yourself in every album, which is the point that you need to draw a line as musicians for the creation of a song, or even an album?
Ivar: A good question. I’m not really sure. I think it’s… For us, it has, there’s still an organic element. I think that’s the keyword, if you mentioned, Urjotun it’s electronic yes but we’re still, still in the world of analog electronics. It’s sequencer mode. Mother 32 was running it’s quite a big fan of these modular synthesizers and sequences that emerged from the 60s and 70s because they are truly instruments, you know, even though of course they have this electronic sound. It has to be.
There are no limits to that, I think, for me, it’s no problem to integrate electronic instruments into it but it has to be in an organic context at the same. We’re doing a sort of a single or probably or some more. Follow-up stuff after New Years’ songs that are not on the album, but are connected to Utgard, which has more of a folk element of course not traditional.
It has to be the Enslaved way so of course, it’s a little bit of the, of the normal folk but, so there’s not really a limit I think the limitation is that it will never be conventional, I think that’s pretty much not conventional for the sake of being commercial sometimes we do something like the opening on Homebound, it’s a seven by eight, a seven by four sorry. So okay, it’s not.
But it’s still pretty straightforward thrash metal I would say that the opening riff there… so everything doesn’t have to be weird or Progressive or whatever. But there will never be a song that is made with the intention of fitting into something – sometimes it will just fit because it does. By coincidence but, yeah, there are no limits, but it has to sound like it’s late for us. And then okay maybe we get to a point where we disagree, maybe I’ll do an interview with you and in five years and you say, this new on this new album, and it’s a few songs that don’t sound like instead for me. And then we can disagree and discuss that, but I promise you that. I will only release songs that feel like Enslaved me.
TIBM: Nice. Well, Ivar the artwork was created by Truls Espedal you’re working with him since Monumension. So can you say that he is, in a way, a hidden member of Enslaved?
Ivar: Yes! He is definitely, it’s all we have some expression, we have Inge Rypdal as a guitarist to play down Below the Lights back in the day and also on Below the Lights stream he is the nickname of used to be a number seven, and Iver number six and now he is in the band so Iver is number six. Truls is not a musician.
So, but he has a very deep spiritual connection to the band so I would say in the best possible meaning, maybe he’s member number zero, that he’s got this mystical place in the number, roll. He really, I think he’s probably the one person.
If we talk about the concepts that we’ll about suppose we want to do. He’s probably the one, besides me and my wife the deepest insight and into what Enslaved is really about, absolutely, even more than. Then, let’s say the newest he’s been in the band for longer than a few of the band members he’s really on the inside of that and he has a very unique mind. I don’t know anyone else who is in this part of the art world, the professional art painter, which is a very different way of thinking about things, and a very different way of working, and it’s really fascinating.
TIBM: Personally, I really enjoyed his work.
TIBM: Now, you play some streaming shows during the quarantine, who had this idea, and I want you to tell me your highlights from them?
Ivar: What happened was that we got just two weeks into the dynamics. One week actually the first Saturday of something got a phone call in Bergen about from a friend of mine and my wife, who was part of arranging this online festival, who would be actually the, I think it was the first professional one. And there was international after things happened, 12 days in Bergen and they wanted to have a metal band, and they invited us. And I didn’t know exactly what it would be, you know, a streaming concert. Okay, didn’t notice and, but in tradition with, the Enslaved spirit they said yes, we will cry. And then we (chuckles) close our eyes and hope, hope to survive. And we worked very intensely on getting in shape for that and. And we went and did it.
On April 1, It was really strange it first five minutes, was really disorienting, you’re in that big empty room, and a couple of camera guys running around, and we’d made sure that we had a really good sound for the band, like the rehearsal room. And then after five minutes, we really started enjoying it because we all had the same experience.
It was almost, (chuckles) at the same at the physical or magical that we all got the same feeling that there would be people on the other side of the all these internet cables going around in the world, having the same vibe as us and like this, this is pretty good. You know, not speaking of Enslaved particularly but just experienced this is close. We are now communicating. And then we went backstage, turn on the phones and laptops and everything and just saw the response online and we got text messages from our friends all over the world. Spain, Australia, America… You know, everywhere people were giving the same feedback that this is awesome one hour off of sort of our normal existence.
Thank you. And we, the next day, I wrote an email to the band and to our team with the management said, This is what we should do for the rest of the year, we should. It’s not going to be concerts. People are saying maybe, but I don’t think so. So what we should do is take everything that we have resources to promote it Utgard. We were planning to do on tour and move it and try and do these streaming concerts. And that turned out to be quite a good idea actually.
ENSLAVED – Fenris – Cinematic Tour 2020 (OFFICIAL LIVE VIDEO)
TIBM: Well, some days ago you played your first live concert for a long time ago How did you felt about this, it
Ivar: It was fantastic. And first, we did pre-shows in Norway. We were in cities whether it was a possibility to do with 200 audiences. We’re very lucky today after we did the last one. Even those places close down to fewer people. So now it’s 50 and 20 arounds in Norway and if you’re allowed to, which makes it very hard, but we’re always working to find solutions, and it was five minutes with a lot of technical problems on the first show for me I have to admit, I was so out of the loop that there really hadn’t prepared enough with doing checks of all the equipment and power and all that stuff, but when I, when I remembered exactly how to do that. And the audience was very forgiving that we’re glad to see a show. And it was just fantastic. It didn’t matter if they were sitting on chairs and distance in a big room with few people, not at all. After having done those streaming concerts, I think we’ve achieved sort of a deeper understanding of what it is. This concert thing doesn’t really easy to get too caught up individuals you know that everything has to look like rockin mainstage because you see it on social media, I wouldn’t bounce around toward the post every night, and I guess we do the same thing, you post with the band in front of the crowd and then you have a good angle so it looks like it’s a million people and everything’s fantastic, what it’s really about this is you, and that one person, one of the time and events, who are experiencing music and you connecting through that on a completely different level. So having the room with those people, and they were so focused.
And it was great, of course, a little bit funny to see people do windmill headbanging and playing guitar sitting on a chair.
But after this year it’s like you really see what, what, what is the important stuff, and that was is making some very emotional. Quite drained afterward because it felt so important. It was more important than I think our biggest gig. On the festival before.
And yeah, very inspirational. So, now we are working on finding ways. If there is a way we can do more. We can’t get out of the country but we can maybe do some more in Norway. If it’s 20 people or 50 people okay. It’s a financial challenge but let’s see what we can do.
TIBM: I can’t imagine someone sitting on Enslaved show, because i’ve seen you in Athens when you played. And It was amazing, i could not think of sitting!
TIBM: In August of 2004, several members of the Norwegian Black Metal scene gathered to perform Bathory songs in a set titled A Tribute to Quorthon on Hole in the Sky festival in Bergen. You and Grutle were there, and I want you to tell me what memories, do you have that day?
Ivar: It was an amazing day… It was very hectic in the middle of the festival, but it was such a, such a boost. With all these great friends and during this rehearsal in the morning and I was lucky to be part of that, quote-unquote house band playing all the songs.
It was… it was truly magical all the fingers did a fantastic job. And, yeah, one of my best, best memories as a musician laughs to say.
TIBM: Bands such as Rotting Christ had many problems in playing in various places. For example, they faced prison, concert cancellations, and other stuff. Did you have any problems after all these years?
Ivar: No, actually not. We, on our first tour in 95 and there was because we were touring with Marduk, and as well. Who were and are good friends of ours. They have a principle that they don’t comment on politics which they didn’t do.
And still don’t, which I respect I don’t think they’ve ever done anything wrong okay to have the imagery and everything but that doesn’t mean that they have these opinions that they have any particular opinion as people. So when we did the first tour and said being bad with this and also mythology, there were a few… few magazines or something, who was saying things like that they were suspecting this and that. So what we did is that we hit it very hard. We wrote the very hard, press statement and letting people know that that this will not be accepted. It’s not only for us but it’s, they cannot be allowed. One thing is that you have people misusing North northern mythology and North imagery, for their own political benefits like the Nazi movement and so on, that we cannot do something about, but we will not tolerate that. People try to censor us for using it because it is ours it’s everybody’s, you know, it’s common. It’s not even just Norwegian so Norse people it’s every – It’s a part of the world history that anyone should be able to use for art and exactly how they want. And these people tried to do that, we would follow up very seriously on that. And I still mean that I would go to legal action if someone tried to stop us with the reason that we are using a part of…
Yeah, world cultural history in our art, and to stand. No, no trouble. I think people realize that we are very serious about what we do, we do not mix politics in it, neither left right center, whatever they call it, it’s not interesting for art and also that we are… we not people who would you know we were happy to go lucky lots of humor. But, if people tried to mess with that aspect of Enslaved it would be repercussions.
TIBM: Okay. Now, Ivar for the last question, I want to tell us your future plans.
Ivar: Yes, our future plans, are now it’s really crazy time, we are working with the future plans from minute to minute, as I said, we’re working not to find out, can we do more shows how can we do it. Can we find a way that you know we’re watching on government and within government are providing some financial support for cultural events in connection with Christmas. So what we’re doing now is looking if it’s possible, we think they should also if they do that for normal mainstream culture is to travel around and like Christmas concerts for people we should be allowed to go around and play, and not Christmas but Yule know the Viking the Norse version original and have chosen to present that for people who are not interested in a mainstream version. And if we get that in place, then we would do a tour before, before the holidays in Norway. And then, of course, every day checking our people. When can we travel? And the minute we can, we will go. And also, as I said, mentioned, there will be some more music probably coming from sort of an addendum to the young Utgard album.
Ivar: (Chuckles) It’s a big universe, so we have to make some more music out of it.
TIBM: Okay, Ivar I would thank you for this interview, It was a great honor talking with you.
Ivar: It’s a great thing! thank you so much man.
Enslaved – Utgard (Full Album)