Interviews : Enslaved
With Ivar Bjørnson
Enslaved is nothing if not unique. Driven for over 15 years by the vocals of Grutle Kjellson and the songwriting abilities of Ivar Bjørnson, the band has branched out from its solid base and grown into a towering tree of complex and inimitable music. After their spectacular live performance, I had the privilege of being able to sit down and talk with Ivar, an insightful man with imposing physical stature. Sitting with the utmost composure, he awaited my questions...
So what's it like to tour with these bands?
Fun. It's great. We have a long history with Dark Funeral. They're not really that close, they're Swedish, but the first gig that we played with these guys was in '94, in Norway. It's like a friendly war that's going on the whole time; it's good for us to be on tour with these guys. They represent a very different direction in black metal than we do, but we really respect them, and we feel that we are being respected. Abigail Williams is something new, but I think it's a good package.
A friend of mine, (deadtide's very own Rahn) in a discussion that we were having about viking metal, when asked about the differences between you and Amon Amarth- the other big viking metal guys- said this "Amon Amarth has become an almost sagely war-chief, regaling his troops with stories of past battles to temper their eagerness and sharpen their sense; while Enslaved has become the wise old man, like a shaman casting the runes and foreseeing the events to come, communicating them cryptically and with uncertain diction. What's your reaction to that?
That's great man. I love that. I think that we kinda separated ourselves from a lot of these pagan bands by sort of... yeah, casting the dice and leaving it up to the listener or the reader to put meaning into it. I think that fits it. We're definitely a band that enjoys exploring the metal vision. That's fucking great, man.
How much of the Viking philosophy is ingrained into your everyday life?
I think that playing is everything for us. It's everything for me, it's everything I've loved in my so-called grownup life. I started in the band when I was 13, so it's impossible for me to tell where it begins from where it ends. It's everything, everything we do in the lyrics, in the music, affects everything we do. It's what we live by.
What elements of the viking mindset are there?
To begin, we throw in the mythology, the tales, for the historical side of things. Then we started to tap into the rune mysticism, and that's when things started to evolve. It's like a neverending theory, a question. That's all you get. Every time you find a new question, you're searching for an answer, and that will give you ten new questions. So I think you could say that we're more confused than we've ever been, but that's the right state of mind, I think. That's how I want to go out at the end, a big question mark. (smiles)
(laughing) Just drop off of the face of the planet, break up and don't tell anyone?
Ideally! It's all worthwhile, because in the beginning, we were trapped inside the old things, the mythological things, longing back to the old days and stuff. That's very safe and everything, but I think that the right way to live is searching, and every time you think you have an answer, you should have 100 new questions. I think it provides a very good fuel.
What would you characterize as the defining moral and active traits of the vikings?
My interpretation is sort of an exploration theory. You want to find new things, and you want to explore, while at the same time having tremendous respect for your neighbors. For everybody else to have the freedom to do the same. It's very closely related to Crowleyism, in "Do what thou wilt." But I think there's a significant difference from anarchy. "Doing what thou wilt" is not about puking in your neighbor's shoes. It's more like, if you want to puke in some shoes, puke in your own, if you wanna explore that concept. Whatever you want to do, and follow any kind of curiosity that you have. But (with a tone of conviction) make sure that you're leaving everybody else's paths open. It's like the planets, they don't crash into each other because they're not concerned about each other. That's modern life, Christianity, or Islam, or whatever, they keep crashing into each other because they're so fucking concerned with what the next guy is doing, so nobody gets anywhere.
The downfall of modern society.
Yeah, it's spiraling man.
Well, I don't know if I'd say that it's spiraling, like if you look at the middle ages and contrast it to now, it's more that the moderates are taking over. Buddhism is growing into the west..
That's a good thing! Buddhism is a good example of doing exactly that. Taking care of your own affairs, and explore your own mind, and if you want to put a stick through your body, you do that! But you don't do it to someone else...
The first thing that struck me about Ruun was the complexity and variation in sound. What were the influences for that?
Before this album, we had a good talk in the band about what we wanted to do. On Isa, we used a lot of triggers, a lot of classical metal tricks to get that sound, and this time we're saying "Fuck it. Let's try and reproduce how it sounds." Especially the drumming. Nowadays, my feeling is that on a lot of metal albums, drums sound all alike. They're all really fast, really precise, like everything's there, they're like machines. And we thought, "Let's record this guy, and if he misses a snare beat, if there's something uneven, it's probably good. It's like a '70's album, like Led Zeppelin, John Bonham, he fucked up at times, maybe one stroke was a little weaker, and that's what we went for. We went to a rock studio, to a guy that had never produced metal before, and we said "This is what we want to go for, let's produce that."
Where did you go to get that recorded?
We went to Oslo, and the guy had been recording a lot of popular Norwegian rock music. It was a lot of fun, he got into it. About the first 10 minutes he was like "Yeah!" It was a lot of fun for him too, since we're doing some non-traditional stuff.
Doing this for so long, could you imagine doing anything other than Enslaved for a living?
No. I have no idea. I thought in '98, I had some family issues and stuff like that, and I told the guys, "I need a break to think about stuff," and they respected that. I said "You guys go on without me, and maybe I'll come back." I think it was maybe two weeks when I told the guys, "There's no fucking chance." There's nothing else to do. Looking around, watching the telly, there's nothing to do. Music is the only thing for a musician to do.
You don't want to be a stockbroker, or an accountant, or something like that?
Actually, I am an accountant. For a little bit, when I'm not on tour. For me it's the opposite, I guess; some people, music is a hobby, and for me, accounting is a hobby. Just to get away from music, but the main focus has to be music, there's nothing else for me.
That and philosophy, eh?
Yeah! It's all intertwined, I think. Those, I think, are topics that you can never fully grasp. You can never sit down and write music by numbers, you can never do the right one thing. There's a thing we have when someone says "This IS good music," we all go "Bzzt, wrong! How the fuck can you say that?"
That's the only wrong answer!
You can say "I think it's good music, but that's where it ends!"
How would you describe your musical progression from your raw early days to now?
I think we're sort of rooted in what we were when we started, an extreme metal band, with no real belonging, with influences from Nordic mythology and mysticism. Most people say we're part of the black metal movement. We're still sort of there, but we've added so much more. We've learned from classical heavy music, we've learned a lot from progressive music. We're basically an extreme metal band, and we've forced our ears to open and take as much as possible from any kind of genre.
What won't you draw from?
I think some of the.. (motioning to the room across the hall where the venue was hosting a rap show simultaneously). Yeah. Some of that. The R&B stuff, and the hip-hop, where the music is actually second. I find that sort of disrespectful. Music is not where it's the price of your jacket that's the main focus. But to be honest, that's not limited to hip-hop or R&B, you can find that in a lot of black metal, where the philosophy comes first and they have no regard for the music. Everything is real when there's someone that's sacrificing some part of himself to make it.
Of all the musicians that have been in the band, which one made the biggest impact when they came or left?
Cato, the drummer. He became the stabilizing force that we had been waiting for. He joined the band in 2002, and everything just fell into place. Everything justgot better. Enslaved has always had that chaotic lineup, searching, and coming, and going, and swinging back and forth, until the point that Cato came in, and he became the ice block in the middle. He's kept everything together. Definitely Cato.
With such a prolific career behind you, what's left for you to do?
Oh man, everything. We've just have to keep on playing shows, where it's a little bit better than the previous one. Gotta explore the visual thing or the new album, always. There's no time for playing around. we never do that. Well, we do it from time to time when we get really sentimental, we give a pat on the shoulder, like "great work man," and at that moment, fear comes. That feeling that you have will go on the whole time. One thing that I thought was special, which I didn't think was special before we hung out with other bands, is that there's a lot of bands that sit around and listen to their stuff, and go like "Yeah!" We never do that. When the album is done, and we listen to it, we're like "Oh, we should have done this a little bit better," we owe that.
What could possibly lead to the end of Enslaved?
That would be, I think, if Grutle left the band. It would depend, you know, if I asked him "Do you want us to keep on doing this?" If he gave some sort of a half-assed answer, I'd just drop it. If he was really concerned for us to keep on going, then we might do it. But I don't think that it would be possible without him.
Any final thoughts?
Yeah, we've done like 6 shows, and it's better than anything we've done in the states. We did the first one in '95, and this time around, it's a bigger venue, with a lot more turnout. It's a great feeling when fans have been following the album, so right now what I feel is appreciation.
There you have it, what else needs to be said? A founding member of one of the most prolific metal bands in history, and a laid back, insightful man.
The same night, I also got to interview Lord Ahriman from Dark Funeral, and vocalist Ken Sorceron of Abigail Williams. Keep your eyes peeled, and take it easy.