Interview: Ivar Bjørnson and Grutle Kjellson of Enslaved

The members of Enslaved don’t seem to believe in vacations.

The band — which was one of the first members of Norway’s black metal scene — spent much of 2007 on the road, playing festivals and doing two tours of the United States in support of their spaced-out, psychedelic Viking epic, “Ruun.” Since then, the band has played festivals and showcases in the U.S. and Europe, members Ivar Bjørnson, Grutle Kjellson and Arve Isdal (aka Ice Dale) worked on the side project Trinacria and Bjørnson even took time away from metal to play jazz.

Ivar Bjornson, Cato Baekkevold, Ice Dale, Grutle Kjellson and Herbrand Larsen. Photo by Karoline Bruland Moen.

From left: Ivar Bjørnson, Cato Baekkevold, Ice Dale, Grutle Kjellson and Herbrand Larsen. Photo by Karoline Bruland Moen.

Somehow, the band found time to write and record their latest opus “Vertebrae,” which will be released next month in the United States by Nuclear Blast USA. The band’s fall schedule is already filling up with tour dates, with more to follow in 2009.

With Bjørnson also writing or sharing songwriting duties with Kjellson on all of Enslaved’s music, he seems almost too busy to sleep or take a break.

“I like down time. I enjoy reading and being outside,” Bjørnson said. “But the most important thing is music, so I’m going to grab every opportunity I have to get it out there.”

Musically, Enslaved is a study in contrasts. Born out the early Norwegian black metal movement that also spawned Emperor and Mayhem, Enslaved has evolved over the years into the most progressive member of Norway’s ecclectic metal scene.

The band’s influences range from metal pioneers like Bathory, Kreator, Sodom and Celtic Frost to Deep Purple, Rush, King Crimson and Pink Floyd — groups usually not considered ‘metal’ at all.

The ‘black metal’ label never fit easily with Enslaved. While the black metal influences are evident, Enslaved’s albums are almost trance-inducing in their psychedlic power, and “Vertebrae” is yet another step well outside the boundaries of what is traditionally considered extreme metal. Musically, “Vertebrae” is aggressive yet oddly lovely, with some songs dominated by “clean vocals” from keyboardist Herbrand Larsen.

With Kjellson’s mythology-laced lyrics and roaring black metal vocals, the end result is both aggressive and expansive – a Viking long ship acid trip to the “Dark Side of the Moon.”

When asked if the band tries to create a vibe or atmospheric feel with each new album, Kjellson says the ambiance happens on its own.

“The funny thing is, we’ve never had any such goal,” Kjellson said. “It’s all about getting into the songs and letting the songs get you into the mood. We’ve never had an conscious goals of making it sound like this or that.”

“These things never happen in a conscious or logical way,” Bjørnson said. “It’s one of those inspired things, where if you tried to verbalize it, it loses its magic.”

The band began following its progressive tendencies almost from the beginning, incorporating keyboards, sound effects, and classical and folk arrangements into early songs like the epic “793 (The Battle of Lindisfarne).” Although the band rose to rock star status in Europe, they were largely overlooked in the United States (mostly due to poor record distribution), until finally breaking through with “Below The Lights,” a Floydian-black metal hybrid that swung effortlessly between extreme power and flowing psychedelica.

Since then, the band’s name has only continued to grow in the States. They’ve won over many U.S. fans on the strength of their brutally intense live shows, and have blown away listeners and critics with their follow-up albums, “Isa” and “Ruun.”

For a band with such diverse musical influences, the widespread pollination of musical styles came naturally, Bjørnson said.

“It’s a cross-genre thing for me, and it’s true for the rest of the band,” Bjørnson said. While the band does not sit down to write with a specific vibe in mind, the goal is to create music with its own natural energy, Bjørnson said.

“It’s all about movement and expansion,” Bjørnson said. “(With) all those contrasting elements, I think we’re trying to create an organic pattern.”

In the beginning, the band focused on tales of Norse history and myth, Kjellson said. As Kjellson and Bjørnson grew as songwriters, they began using those legends and stories as launching pads to discuss broader, more universal themes.

“The concept we started with (centers) around Norse imagery and nature,” Kjellson said. “In the early days, it was a retelling (of myths and histories). After a while, it was swallowed up in my mind, and now it’s looking outwards, taking inspiration from everything and putting it in mythological (contexts).”

While the songs are often dark, they are not without hope.

“It’s mostly about describing human failure and finding solutions,” Kjellson said. “It’s all about idealism and growing as a person.”

Lyrically, the band can find inspiration almost anywhere, Bjørnson said.

“All that searching (takes place) even outside music, in movies and books,” he said. “All these things deal with mind expansion — (pushing) at a higher potential, yet remaining outside the religious side of things. ”


1 Comment

  1. […] can hear full tracks from Enslaved’s latest album “Vertebrae,” here. Also, here you can find a previous Noise Pollution interview with Bjørnson and vocalist/bassist Grutle […]

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