ENSLAVED – Mardraums I
Enslaved is a band I’ve known for a pretty long time. Actually, I have their "Yggdrasil" demo somewhere (one of the first copies if I’m right). I haven’t gone mad about all their releases, like "Vikingr Veldr" became a bit too monotonous to me, and "Eld" had a sound I didn’t get really into. But "Frost", "Blodhemn" and now "Mardraum – Beyond The Within" Enslaved turned me on. I went to Stavanger in Autumn ’00, and two days before "Mardraum" was released Grutle Kjellson and I had a pretty long conversation about Enslaved, Christianity, touring and more. Have yourself a beer and enjoy!
Grutle Kjellson and Roy Kristensen go Beyond The Within
Well, Grutle, Enslaved has been a major part of your life the last 10 years. If we look apart from the latest album, "Mardraum – Beyond The Within", how do you regard your albums these days, looking back at them?
"We must naturally begin with "Hordanes Land". It was our first release (except for the demos), and obviously very special to us. It was really great to see this on vinyl. It felt just magnificent. Well, the songs have some pretty good ideas, and they are rather good tracks. The album was fresh at the time, and we were of course enthusiastic. Looking at the arrangements, we were pretty much on the far side, but I’m in no way embarrassed about it. I haven’t heard it for some time now, but we still play one song from the album, "Slaget". I still like the album a lot, though you have to put it in perspective.
The same can be said about "Vikingr Veldr". I think it’s the album which was most successful soundwise, having the recording place in mind. The songs are very good, though the arrangements do not make justice to the songs. You could say we had material for more or less a mini-album, but the album became one hour in the end. But there are a lot of people who like that, the length. To me personally, well, I don’t really know but somehow I think I like this album more than the next album, "Frost".
The songs are better, and more progressive compared to the two former album. We began to expand our horizon and experiment more. As said, the songs are good and the length are fine. But, I’m not too pleased with the sound, and that spoils the whole. The sound was way more trigged (Grutle tries to explain by says ‘tick – tack, tick – tack, but to me as a non-musician this sounds more like a watch – non-understanding Roy)."
This album had the slow song at the end of the album, "Isöders Dronning", which was a major surprise.
"Yes, you’re right. The album is definitely good, and in fact the album which has sold most copies. So, I guess it’s time we overdo "Frost".
Then we have "Eld", which is a special album thinking of the circumstances. Especially the drumming was different, as we got a new drummer."
The album has a magnificent cover, don’t you think? We laugh and Grutle continues:
"It was more or less made in a rush. The album had to get out on the streets, and we had only three weeks until we went touring. The songs are very good, and live we choose more songs from this album compared to "Blodhemn". The sound, however, is thin. Some think it’s superior, while others find it too thin. It’s a kind of love/hate towards "Eld". When we did the album, we weren’t exactly extremely sober. The drummer and I were more or less totally drunk all the time, and Ivar did extremely much drugs. So, looking back at it the album turned out better than we should expect."
I guess there’re the reasons the album is as different?
"Yeah, I guess so. It’s pretty much way out.
Then we have "Blodhemn". We had just got two new members, and due to that the album became very different from "Eld". Among other things, we did solos for the first time in Enslaved. And I think the album is even more progressive than the others, though it’s not that easy to hear. The album is pretty fast, and the songs are good, but the sound is too thin.
The period after "Eld" was heavy, and we had to work hard to get back in business. In a way we had to begin Enslaved once again, for the third time. We didn’t rehearse much and Roy lived in England (not you, he says to me and we laughs just a tiny little bit – Roy). In fact, we could rehearse as a band only one week before we went into the studio. Anyway, I’m very pleased with the album."
The album is pretty technical, but the sound may be a bit too one-dimensional, I suggest.
"Yes, there are some heavier parts on the album you can’t hear due to this. The problem was the bass- and the guitar-sound, for the drum-sound is OK. We were very pleased with the sound when we heard it in the studio and quite some time later on, but then we found out that it wasn’t the sound we wanted after all.
A ‘funny’ think is that "Blodhemn" didn’t sell as much as "Eld"."
I suggest it was due the review in Scream Magazine (Norway), where the album got 2 out of 6 point?
"Heh, I don’t think that was the main reason. When were speaking about reviews, there were like 3 or 4 magazines who didn’t like the album, while we got several high scores in most other magazines. Strange, but not that strange after all.
If you read any review in a major American or British magazine, it focuses on the actual music. A band which are technically bad, or make bad songs, they get bad reviews, while the opposite happens for the good bands. In Scream Magazine it’s more or less like they play dices. There is this German band, which I’ve seen live. Nobody can tell me it’s good, or contains any sign of quality. It’s a bad band, but it gets 5 out of 6 points in Scream. Then a good album may gets a lousy score. Where’s the logic?"
One thing is taste. Another is the angle which the reviewer reviews from. Like me, I don’t know music by techniques, but I know what kind of atmosphere I like, and what kind of drumming I like. And after a few years of experience, and am in some ways able do differ something good from something bad, also technically speaking – at least I like to think so.
"You make a fanzine, right? Scream, however, is a magazine, thus you should know music. Some of the reviews are nothing but bullshit, full of clichés and repetitions. Beautiful atmospheres, wonderful keyboards – this doesn’t mean shit."
My taste, well, it’s a subjective as it could be and should be. At the same time, I try to write something more objective about an album where I can. Grutle has something to say about one of the reviewers in Scream, namely my friend….
"There was one review he wrote for Imhotep, if I’m not wrong. It was an album from Nile, where he wrote that the album was OK, but it would’ve been way better if there was more synth. C’mon, don’t tell me they can’t play, or that their music ain’t good!"
We laughs, and I ask him if he has heard the new album? He says that he really likes it. Enslaved was touring with Nile, and Grutle says that they were equal to Morbid Angel if we’re speaking about techniques.
"In the mentioned reviews, there was nothing about that. Just that there should be a bit more synth".
In a way I understand the Scream reviews, as you must know that they receives a lot of albums, and they have dead-lines. Thus it is a bit harder for them to come up with the brilliant reviews all the time. Grutle says that this is no excuse, and I agree to that. It’s more like an explanation.
"But they don’t mention the co-operation between let’s say the guitar and the bass. Nor do they mention the drumming, and how the drums are played in connection with the guitars. The reviews are filled with boring clichés. If you look at Terrorizer Magazine, they do write about the music itself instead of everything else" ends Grutle.
Well, let’s not speak more about this now. I have noticed that "Yggdrasil" (the demo) has ended up on split-vinyl with Satyricon’s second demo. Was this due to the demand, or were you still pleased with the demo?
"We are pleased with it, if you take it for what it is. I mean, it was like eight years since we did it. It’s charming, I’m still found of it. After all, that was the demo which gained us a contract with DSP (Deathlike Silence Productions). The reason for this release was that we wanted more people to know what we did from the beginning. And it is released on CD as well."
I have never regarded Enslaved as black metal, so how did you end up being black metal from the beginning, and later Viking metal of course?
"It came from the early days of Norse black metal, and that we were a part of the milieu back then. Our music was fast, and we used shrieky vocals. Well, uh…, people didn’t really read the lyrics I guess, and maybe they still don’t. But, when they hear something which is musically related to black metal they call it black metal, no matter if it is not black metal. Heh, I’ve been trying to explain this for like 10 years by now."
Enslaved has never counted as black metal in my book. That’s why you didn’t find the supposed to be interview in Imhotep #6, named "Black Metal". Some has called Enslaved Viking metal. Well, it doesn’t tell me much besides that Enslaved has written some lyrics about Vikings, or topics closely related to the Viking-soga.
"Viking and Viking…" Grutle says. Here we go: "Several years ago, when we were defined as black metal, we tried to change this by using a different moniker, if only to tell the difference. We created ‘Viking metal’, but only as a term. So, other bands began to claim their music as Viking metal, and there you go. I guess it’s not necessary to say that I don’t agree with this at all. I found this childish, and well, if someone wants to call it Viking metal, please do. But don’t put Enslaved in the same hat. We’re not Viking metal."
If you look apart from the music, which album has meant most to you? Grutle hesitates a bit before he says:
"There’s always been a development in our band. When you create the songs, you have aims. And these aims are something you reach for when you shape an album. It means a lot to reach our aims. When we did "Mardraum", it meant a lot to us to reach our aims. It felt great to listen to the pre-recordings of the album, as these were something we worked hard for. So, you can say that each and every album means a lot in their own way. It means a lot to release an album.
It is not the album which I consider as the best till now, but "Frost" probably means most. It was our little breakthrough, we began to sell more albums, we began touring and gained a name outside Norway. As said, not musically speaking but more the epoch we went through.
Of course all our epochs have their sides, and the first one ("Hordanes Land") is special in the way that we got to release something more than a demo. That was truly major to us. But, as said, "Frost" was our breakthrough."
Grutle tells me that Osmose Productions has been a superb label for Enslaved. They are practically free to do as they wish, and surprises me by saying that the label has not liked every album from the band. Well, that is surely something, and I respect Osmose for that. Enslaved are free to do music the way they want it to be. Great.
Then, what about all those bands which more or less sucks and shouldn’t be allowed to release an album. Strangest thing, but a couple have release more than one album. Let me name Mäctatus, Odes Of Ecstacy, Andras, Carpe Tenebrum and several others which I don’t waste space for. Says Grutle:
"Well, let me put it this way. When we got our first contract we weren’t the best musicians around, but it felt right at the moment nonetheless. We got our contract with DSP, and Øystein had experience enough to differ the good from the bad (or ‘skille Clinton fra Bush’ as Grutle says in Norwegian). So, I think you could trust his taste back then, thus we released our debut album on DSP."
Something mysterious happened back in ’93/94. All these labels and bands spawned out from every corner of the world. The black metal revolution – or something. Grutle remembers:
"You had the true underground, where people traded tapes, and there was this huge network of people who wrote letters and spread the information. There were a lot of demos everywhere. And if a band release an album, it was really something special. Merciless’ debut album was big, if you know what I mean. Everybody bought the album. So, in that sense it was major to get a contract. Two years later, and we probably wouldn’t work too hard to sign. I don’t know, but to the new bands it can’t be that special to get signed. There are few challenges, and the result is all the garbage that is out on the streets."
I have this law that labels should care about; ‘IT IS NOT ALLOWED TO RELEASE MORE THAN THREE ALBUMS A YEAR, and you can’t create a sub-label for the fourth’!
"The demos are more or less out of date. Like, if I get a demo in my hands today I don’t care that much, but ten years ago I would’ve played it at once. You get a CD… …so? Tell me about bands which don’t release a CD these days. It’s a pity with all these new CDs. You don’t bother anymore, and due to this you may overlook a treasure."
And then you have the bigger labels with all the money and promotion. The mentioned album from Merciless, well, I bet you didn’t see all the full-page (censored? – see back page of Terrorizer #87, the super-idiotic Dummu Borgir ad – ED) advertisements all over. There were flyers! Grutle agrees and says:
"I remember I loved the Merciless album (vinyl). And the debut from Entombed. You know, there were like 8-10 albums released, and all of them were good (enough). And now, you have like 8-10 albums a day."
Does this result into a more critical perspective towards music these days, while earlier you had few albums you played over and over again, thus they became good in the end. Or, did you have to work way harder to gain a contract, thus you simply were better? Grutle definitely goes for the latter suggestion.
"Of course they had to work harder. Just look at the 70’s, which bands didn’t know how to play? None! I think we got bands that couldn’t play this good from the mid-80’s, naming such as Re-Animator and other thrash metal bands."
I think the quality has increased the last 2-3 years, since it ain’t enough anymore to sell like 5.000 copies. If you want a band to sell more than 20.000, the band has to possess certain skills.
"Yes, you’re right about that. But still I think too many bands sounds more or less the same. Another point, when somebody starts to experiment (and gain success), then you can safely place your bets that at least 100 other bands begin to do the same."
There are several black metal bands who includes more and more death metal into their music (Gehenna, Behemoth, Aeternus). Grutle responds at once:
"We have some death metal in new album, so thank you very much for that shit (laughs)."
I tell him to be silent, as we’ll speak more about this later in the ‘view. Besides, Enslaved has never been black metal!
I think there was less humour in metal in the beginning of the new black and extreme metal scene. Grutle disagrees, but I say that I think this ‘no fun, no most…’-thing could be one reason for this. Grutle says that they had a lot of fun at the time, though not officially. He asks me if there’s more fun today?
"Well, you have Cradle Of Filth doing the dishes in make-up and Santa-costumes, or something."
"Cradle Of Filth? C’mon, be serious" Grutle more or less spits out. "They’ve been a bit on the side in our scene. However, earlier, before the ‘has to be as evil as possible’ trend begun, there was a lot of humour in the scene. Just look back at the fanzines at the time, and I think this has returned a bit. To me, well, it’s OK if you’re serious about your music. I don’t fancy these fun-metal bands, like these thrash metal albums released by bands with this ‘German metal’ (not ‘metl, but me’tal Grutle says) attitude. This is too stupid, if you ask me."
Some said that in black metal the image should be more important that the actual music. Grutle comments:
"It’s a mistake. No matter how smart your corpse-paint is made, you ain’t nothing if your music sucks. I have never bothered to listen to bands with a cool image."
During the years Grieghallen (and Pytten) became synonymous to Norse black metal, and also Enslaved. But you changed to Abyss? I guess Grieghallen wasn’t big enough for you?
"Well, there were all these other bands at the same time. When we did "Eld" we had like two hours on Friday, and then the coming three on Tuesday, while the seven next were on the next Monday. In addition, our shape weren’t exactly excellent back then. You know, Pytten worked like eight hours before he began with out material. In the end, it was all too chaotic.
We knew Peter, so we thought about trying Abyss. We were one of the first bands to records there."
"Blodhemn" was the first album you recorded in Abyss. Not only is the sound different from your earlier albums, but also the songs are different. So, why did you change/develop from these more epic tracks into the style of "Blodhemn"?
"Well, tell me about it. It was just what we wanted to play at the actual time, and this goes for the other albums as well. Concerning "Blodhemn", we got two new members but this didn’t mean they are all to blame, we were heading for such music before they came in. We just did what felt natural."
Right! And now I’m much wiser. Seriously, could you try to explain to us who ain’t you, what this ‘natural’ is? Grutle thinks a minute before saying:
"We are inspired by various elements, though it’s hard to define exactly what these are. I mean, if I listen three weeks in a row on my Rush-albums, I’ll probably make something similar in a way or another."
What about your personal state of mind?
"Of course, that’s a part of the whole. Everything is, actually."
Couldn’t agree more. By the way, do you start to plan your next album as soon as one is finished?
"Well, we write music all along. So, we’re in a constant evolution. I guess that’s the main reason the albums, and especially the new, are pretty varied in themselves."
It’s time to show my incompetence, so be prepared for the next question: Can we interpret this like a band who sounds similar from album to album do not develop (as humans)? An example can be Motörhead…
"Nah, you’re not right there. About Motörhead, I don’t think you can compare "Not A Perfect Day" to "Orgasmatron" in example."
Well, I admit it was a bad example, as I don’t know the band at all, it was just my main impression from the few songs I’ve heard. Besides, I don’t like their punk-influences, or whatsoever…
And now, back to Scream once again and Nøsterud. He gave 2 points to "Blodhemn", and then he did the interview. I’ll never do an interview with a band whose music I don’t like. Oh well, but more interesting is something he said in the review, if I remember correctly; he expected another sound-picture?
"Yes, we spoke about that in the ‘view. He said something about ‘den norrøne sjelen’. What the fuck is that? (Grutle hums this great folk-melody I can’t transmit into words) If you want that, you better check out Einherjer or something. We don’t do this kind of music at all, and I told him. What more is there to say?"
Bjørn is nice. However, Grutle was more impressed with him concerning the "Mardraum". He explains:
"He seemed to like the new album. I heard something he had said, or written; he could hear from the bass-sound that we liked Yes. And he’s right about that. Impressive, but still I find this strange if you think of what he wrote about "Blodhemn"."
As they say in the end of Top Secret (the movie), ‘people changes, hairstyle changes’ (or something like this). Subject changes.
You wrote "Eit Auga Til Mimir (An Eye For Mimir)". What do you think of this song today? I mean, it’s rather different from the other Enslaved songs…
"I like this song very much (no Modesty Blaise here – Roy). This track contains various and different parts, inspired by different sources. The epic part had a bit of 70’s to it. (Grutle starts humming a melody, but suddenly realises it was from the new album. I promised to let you know about this mistake, and we laughs – RoyED). Well, it was something of the same, having a Sabbath-groove, if you see. It reflects a mirror of me."
So, why does a song become as different from the others, if you think of the whole album?
"The track in question is made by myself. Another is made by Roy, yet another is made by Ivar. You see! And we choose different paths to the final result. In addition, the members of Enslaved do not listen to exactly the same music."
But still, it’s all Enslaved. Grutle agrees, obviously:
"Yes, it is. We do all agree on the music. If there’s a riff one of us has made the others do not like at all, well, then we don’t use. We use another riff."
But mainly it’s Ivar who creates the music, right?
"Nah, both Roy and I make music. I have made music for all the albums, and on this new album I’ve made one full song, "Krigaren Eg Ikkje Kjende (Warrior Unknown)"."
We’ll dive deeper into that later, but doesn’t leave the subject. Grutle, how does it feel to be a creator?
"It’s the law of Maslow, it’s about self-realization. To create something is the meaning of a musician’s life. And it’s great to get to hear something positive about your creation."
There are several of those who do not get feedback of such kind, but still continue. Grutle says:
"Yes, but still they get positive feedback from some sources. If not, well, I can’t imagine how they continue. On the other hand, if you like it yourself you’ll probably continue no matter. Hmm, I don’t really know."
My point is, there are several musicians who’ve said they make music for themselves.
"Of course they do" interrupts Grutle. But why do they release their music then? Grutle laughs.
"You have a point there. But, I think the main point is the self-realization. Then, you’d like others to see or hear your ‘art’, or creation if you will. You know, you can’t make a living if you paint pictures only you could see? So, you have to release your creation on a market to make your money. Thus, you can also listen to Enslaved."
So, why do somebody even bother to critizise Dimmu Borgir or, ahem…, Cradle Of Filth? What is being commercial? To me it’s not to sell a lot of albums, but to make something you can’t stand behind in full. Do you, Grutle, know any band or persons in our scene who do not create fully from their own will?
"Of course there are. Let’s say that someone from Nuclear Blast calls up a technician from a certain studio and asks him to be the producer for ‘band X’, and order him to do as the label says no matter what the band tries to do. This has happened, no doubt. And not only with Nuclear Blast, but also with other labels and bands. You know, when a band has reached this far and got a ‘superb’ contract, in the end of the day they probably find themselves in situation where they have to, well, leave some self-realization behind. This sucks big time I guess, and luckily I haven’t been into this kind of prostitution myself."
Not any other kind I assume. I know that certain labels tell magazines that they have to feature ‘band Y’ if they want the advertising money. My message to all labels around: If You Ever Try To Do Something Like This With Imhotep, We’ll Have A Good Laugh! About Osmose, I have huge respect for this label.
"Osmose Productions is an underground label, though not that small. They have an ideology I can agree with, like their view on artistic freedom. We’re pleased with Osmose." ends Grutle before he has to take a piss.