ENSLAVED – Genesis
I met Ivar in Hamar the day after they played in Oslo. To witness their show in Oslo was pretty strange, and as Ivar tells me in the interview, it was a one off tour. You see, they played the new album in its full length, and ended the show with three older songs, amongst them “Hordanes Land”. I had listened well to the album prior to the concert, so I got the new tracks without any problems. I guess it had to be rather strange for those who hadn’t heard the album yet. However, it seemed like everybody had a good time with high quality Enslaved-Metal.
Enslaved is a band that develops all the time, something that made me ask Ivar about the self-confidence within the band these days?
“It’s very good. If you look upon it as a curve, these days are definitely showing the highest point so far. It has been high for quite some time now, and to be honest we feel like we felt in the first period of the band. Kinda like, we’re ready to conquer the world.
Despite the fact that we are busier than ever, there are elements concerning Enslaved that make us feel great. We have a fine line-up, we have singed a new deal with a new label. Everything works really smooth”
Do you have a management that arrange and organize events and different things regarding Enslaved?
“This is divided into three parts. Tabu, the label being one, and we have two booking companies. One is Tic-Tac from Bergen, which deals with Scandinavia, and Bureau Storm from Oslo that deals with Europe. The third is Grutle and me, being the band-management.”
So, you’re getting bigger (not necessarily physcially speaking) and you don’t have to work full time, or…?
“Yes, we have reduced the time we work [doing normal jobs]. I used to work night shifts, but I don’t have to do that as much nowadays. I give some guitar-lessons as well every now and then. I do some work with Hole In The Sky and other festivals, but I don’t regard this as working as long as it is connected to music.”
I’m sure it feels great after all these years of hard work with Enslaved, to finally be rewarded? Ivar confirms this without hesitation.
“Absolutely. Especially in connection with the release of a new album. It’s easy to forget all the hard work, and put all our focus on the present happenings.”
I noticed “ISA” was the album of the month in Terrorizer. You’ve been interviewed by them, right?
“Yes, a phoner if I’m not mistaken. Grutle and I share on the interviewing part, though he’s a couple of percent ahead of me at the moment. You know, we work closely with the concepts and the development of the music, so…”
“Blodhemn” was Enslaved’s Black Metal album, the way I see it. After this album you began to include more progressive elements, bringing our thoughts closer to the 70’s. Besides that it felt right and natural, what was it that made you decide to develop the way you’ve done the last four albums?
“I have a special relationship to that kind of music. I love Pink Floyd and King Crimson. I’ve heard rumours about a reunion tour with Pink Floyd, so being the fanatic I am I guess I have to rent a car and follow the band throughout Europe. There’s something magical about these bands, and I think it has to do with the way they developed styles of music that they actually invented. They had to work hard and with enthusiasm to create they music they wanted. One thing is the way they made something symphonic only by using the guitar, or the bass. Yes has made some insane symphonic parts.
They changed guitars, exchanged instruments, so often it was a question about logistics.”
Is this the way you try to think when you make music for Enslaved? I mean, it can not all be acid…
“I try to be dynamic. And as a band we try to develop our songs by be able to do everything ourselves. There are some parts where our keyboardist plays a third guitar on stage, as one example. We try to use the resources that are present within the band itself.
We try to think in a 70’s way when we compose some of our parts. We can make something big by doing simple stuff. But when all of us combine the simple stuff each is doing, it becomes big and complex. To me the older prog is better compared to the new prog, where each thing is complex in itself and then combined it gets too complex in my opinion. The overview is lost, and the music looses some of its expression and power.
It’s always interesting to listen carefully to Dream Theater from a musicwise point of view, but they don’t manage to bring forth the atmosphere, the melancholy and the variation of emotions in general that the older prog bands managed to create.”
You’ve got three new members, and I am sure this has to affect your music despite the fact that it is you who makes most of the music and the lyrics in Enslaved?
“The cool thing about this is that all three of them have their own personal style. You know, Cato did his first live-performance in the early 80’s, so I doubt he could change his style completely, not that it is wanted either. Thinking about it, the guitarists in Enslaved were doing our time in kindergarten, you know.
So, I make the simple basis of a song, and then Cato develops the drums, Arve searches for the harmonies (being the solo-guitarist) while I develop the rhythms. Then Herman and Grutle on the other hand do their own thing with the vocal harmonies.
In the end everything is put together into the final expression. It’s a fantastic feeling, both the process and the final result.”
To me “ISA” is a more whole expression compared to the former “Below The Lights”. It seems like you have put more emphasis into the atmosphere, while “Below…” was more of a riff-based album, though including atmospheres as well. “ISA” floats more… How would you describe the main difference(s) between “ISA” and “Below The Lights”?
“We have spent more time to isolate the energy in each track, each track is more an expression of its own. On “Below…”, which is as you say more riff-based, we tried to make each track fit into a whole expression.
“Return To Yggdrasil” versus “Lunar Force” are very different tracks, but they are developed the same way. I guess that’s one reason the album floats. Another difference from “Below…” is that we wanted to use less guitars and more vocals. We felt that the guitars did some of the ‘vocal parts’ (like they told the story of the song). Thinking of your first question concerning self-confidence, the vocalists thought and wanted to do more with their expressions. This felt great to me, because I had to develop and try to write the songs in a different way than before. This is one of the advantages, that we are five persons who have thoughts about the music.”
The new album needs several listenings, and the listener needs time to move behind the wall of sound. So, the first couple of times the album feels less varied than it actually is. When you’ve done one song and feel that it is finished, do you think that the next song has to be different? Or, does it just happen by coincidence?
“It evolves into things by coincidence, no doubt about it, but far from always. Like, when we work intensely with a song, we develop it through a process. “Return To Yggdrasil” is such an example. We wanted to create a certain atmosphere, so we had to work with it very consciously. The lyric is our most norrøne song, and the making of this song was combined with the tragic death of Quorthon. So, in a way you can regard this our tribute to “Hammerheart” and “Twilight Of The Gods”-era. I mean, play “Hammerheart” again and you can feel the atmosphere.
So, working intensely with this track making it sound the way we want, feels great. And when we’re finished we feel refreshed since we’re kinda done with that exact expression. We’re ready to work with the next track, that could be more or less anything.”
When you listen to the album, it is, as already said, a whole album. It floats. And the change from song to song seems to be done in a conscious way. I even had to listen two times and check carefully with the index to see when “ISA” begun and “Lunar Force” ended. Why did you choose to let songs float into each other here and there?
“When we had decided the order of the songs, and begun the mastering, we tried different things and found our way of doing this. We noticed that this would work well, and add to it that Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side Of The Moon” is done this way.
Imagine the album as a house. You go from room to room, but also the small passages from room to room are important. It combines the variation of the different colours (songs).”
You have done something special with your live-performances, using multi-media to make your concerts a visual experience as well as audible…
“We want to add colours to the songs, songs that already have colours. We want to add spice to the songs, and of course make it more interesting for the audience. These four shows we do now will never be done again, we will never play this set-list again. I go to a lot of concerts, and normally I place myself somewhere back in the room instead of being into the pit. I like to view the concerts, and it’s always cool where there’s something extra going on up on the stage. We try to develop our thing, and we’re always trying to improve. So, our videos will be better, our stage-performances will improve, the way we incorporate the keyboards will improve.
It’s not a big thing in itself, that we use a projector during our shows. I mean, every band can do that. But we try to make it a part of Enslaved, and we want the audience to feel that it’s one expression in the end, that there’s a whole to it.”
How many metres guitar-strings have you exchanged?
“Oh, throughout my who career? Hmm, I guess we’re talking about quite many strings. We have tuned down three tunes earlier, and you can’t change strings all the time when you do that. So, for the new album we tuned back into a more normal position, and it’s easier to get back to the right tune then, so some metres I’d say.”
Writing thousands and thousands of reviews each months, I find it hard to write from different angles, to come up with new way of describing the same music. I guess it’s the same thing with writing song after song. Ivar, you do most of the basics for Enslaved, so how do you find inspiration to write new songs all the time? Insane in the brain, perhaps…
“Well, it’s not exactly that, I guess. In fact, I work in a methodical way. You see, the difference between me and someone who would like to write, is that I have opened my mind and keeps it opened. I don’t think that my life is so goddamn exiting, it’s more that I am capable of transforming my ideas into songs.
If we cut it down to a minimum, it’s always a question of satisfying your ego. You know, to think that your ideas are good enough to make the rest of the world for them, people pay for my feelings and what I desire to tell.
We have worked with Enslaved for half our lives, and it has become a part of our lives now. We don’t think Enslaved or us anymore, Enslaved are us and we are Enslaved.
I have discovered throughout the years that the intensity I bring into Enslaved, I bring into other situations, like relationships, and vice versa. One thing is when a longer relationship with a girlfriend is over, the devil inside makes me write even better songs. That’s sick, you know, because I could easily be heart-broken. So, whatever my emotional status is the music becomes good I think. The point is to be conscious and in constant development, while at the same time be aware of your present feelings.”
Enslaved has always had a development, every album is Enslaved despite the differences from album to album. And with the mentioned multi-media you use on stage you have brought your development even further. How has the response been to this?
“Well, we’ve got more or less only positive response. There’s been one I remember who said he didn’t like it, simply because he didn’t think that it fit. The videos were great, but the concept didn’t work. We’ve had people that have fainted during our shows.
That we’re using a projector doesn’t mean we’re just standing up there, we’re still rocking as hell, doing our thing.
Hmm, could’ve been cool to learn about the percentage who focused on one thing, the other or even both. Well, take a look at Tool, and the way they combine the visual and the audible expressions.”
The way I see it, “Lunar Force” can be seen as a tribute to Valfar, it can be words related to a close friend that has passed away, or it can be seen as words in honour to the old Vikings funeral. No matter what, it seems like your lyrics can be interpreted in various way. In general, how do you regard, from a subjective point of view of course, the connection between your lyrics and your music?
“When it comes to “Lunar Force”, it is Grutle that wrote it. In general, music and lyrics are created separately. And, the music is always done before the lyric, so it’s natural that the music affects the lyric in the end. Of course some words occur in a unconscious way during the process of making the music.
When we wrote , “Violet Dawn”, something special took place. The basic was done, and the words were written while the music was played. So, the music triggered the words, so to speak. In general I’d say the music kinda decides the theme of the songs.
Finally Grutle and Herman do the work with the vocal arrangements. When we write the lyrics we don’t follow any rules, we just write what we feel is natural. Then we work with the float of the lyrics, we cut words or sentences that doesn’t fit or we add something to make it perfect [in our opinion]. It has happened that Grutle has added a whole verse.”
I guess that journalists mainly focus on the music, leaving the lyrics behind. How do you feel when somebody actually tries to pay attention to the lyrics as well, during an interview?
“That’s really cool. Some said something when we were interviewed for “Below The Lights”, but for the new album it seems like the interest is growing. I don’t know why, it can be the titles of the songs that draw some attention…
A specific example is (institute… hmmm) is when you give like three different possible interpretations of Grutle’s “Lunar Force”. Then we feel we’ve done something right. Add to this that others may have their own opinion and interpretation, which means that the actual song(s) represents something (different) to various people.”
You’ve one track that is pretty long, in fact the longest but one track you’ve written so far. “Neogenesis” is a hypnotic track that spellbinds the listener… How does it feel to be there on stage, performing this amazing track that goes on and on?
“We have only performed it twice, and it was actually the only track we weren’t sure would fit on stage. So, we became positively surprised that it worked this well. It’s a different track, that’s for sure. Imagine that you walk, and while you walk the landscape changes all the time. But still it’s you that walks. What I’m trying to say is that despite the variation within the track, from the calm beginning to the Thrash-part into something calm again, you feel that it’s the same track. In a way there are several songs in one song, but still it’s one song only.
So I’m really pleased with the track. In fact, the one thing that I’m most pleased with concerning “Neogenesis” is the solo.”
Funny thing that you mention the solo, because a lot of the various solos in the metal world sound like improvisations. I wonder if Slayer’s solos are improvised, and Ivar guess they are. Anyway, I think it was Lord Ahriman of Dark Funeral who said that a solo should lift a song, if not there was no point in doing a solo. So, what is it with the solo in “Neogenesis” that makes you say it’s the one thing you’re most pleased with?
“It’s a sad thing to admit this, but it is Arve who does the solo, not I. I wasn’t in the studio when he did it, so when I heard it in Klokkerhaugen I was caught off guard. I sent Arve a SMS where I said that I had to renew my top-10-guitar-solos-list, and that for the first time in five years somebody else than Robert Fripp (King Crimson) was a part of this list. It’s an absurd feeling to play together with one of my favourite guitarists. It’s not that he’s the best technical guitarist, but he surely captures a certain magical feeling. He’s our rock-alibi. You know, Cato is our fishing-alibi, while Grutle is our tough-guy-alibi.”
The solo feels perfect, and it appears exactly when it should.
“Yes, it does. It’s cool as well that it shows up at the end of the album. Despite Arve’s lack of interest regarding the lyrics, I still feel that this solo captures the atmosphere, and kinda is a lyrical verse of its own in the way it is played. It has some small breaks, and this makes it sound like a conversation in a twisted way.”
In my opinion, I think “Neogenesis” is the best track Enslaved has done so far. Ivar says “åh, takk” (oh, thank you) in an enthusiastic way and I tell him that “Neogenesis” is a perfect ending of the album. It’s a fantastic track in itself, it’s a summary of the album and it lifts the otherwise good album even further. Ivar tells me this is the track he has listened most to, while I with my dry sense of humour comments that it’s natural since it is the longest track. Joke apart, how do you view life these days? New album, new haircut (at least for Ivar), new label and Ivar adds new girl-friend…
“It’s only looking good these days. Though, before this short tour I thought that it would be great to do only four shows, get home again without being totally exhausted. And now, on the last day it’s like ‘damn, we should’ve done this for one more week’. But, we’re really pleased this days, the atmosphere in the band is amazing and everything feels great.”
Finally we need some ending words concerning the video you just have recorded.
“It was recorded in Eidsfjord, and it’s a strange mix of surrealism, Mother Nature and Metal. In a way it’s a wicked, almost like David Lynch-ish view upon a Metal band with a Northern heritage such as us. Asle Birkeland has done a great job, and it will soon be available, on the website I guess.”
So, is there anything else you wonder about?
“Nah, I don’t think so. I guess I’ve got all answers by now.”
And Ivar Bjørnson has left the building.