Inheritance of Fire, Inheritance of Frost: The Mighty ENSLAVED Speak
Kim Kelly for Hails & Horns Magazine
Kim Kelly for Hails & Horns Magazine
This story has been months in the making, and were it not for the diligent efforts of Nuclear Blast’s intrepid press guru (hi Loana!), it probably would have never happened at all. It’s easy to forget that our heroes are human – that after those larger-than-life rockstars, dazzling divas, and snarling wildmen take their final bows for the night, they lay down their instruments and head backstage to peel off their sweaty clothes, shower, grab a beer and call their kids to say goodnight. At the end of the day, band dudes are still just dudes; they’ve got lives outside of music, and their schedules don’t always allow time for pesky journalist types like yours truly to pick their brains. Thankfully, a little bit of patience and a lot of good luck resulted in this interview finding its way back to me in time for us to squeeze it in this issue – just in time to remind you all about how awesome Enslaved’s new record, Vertebrae, is, and how stoked you should be for their upcoming tour with Opeth!
Enslaved are one of the most influential and highly-respected bands to ever emerge from Norway’s frozen core, and remain a powerful force within the extreme metal scene and beyond. I was lucky enough to exchange words with not one, but three of the bands’ members –Ivar Bjørnson,, Herbrand Larsen, and enigmatic frontman Grutle Kjellson – about their stellar new album, their black metal roots, and the future of Enslaved.
First off, I must say that it’s an absolute honor to speak with you and have the chance to pick your brain about your astonishing new record, Vertebrae. I can’t wait to hear all about the creation of the record. First off, what is the significance of the title, and how does it correspond to the cover art?
Grutle: The title symbolizes the building stones in humanity, both physical and mentally, psychologically and biologically. Everything is closely tied together. You can say that the physics are the individual consciousness while the psychics are the outer consciousness. Micro/Macro-cosmos. Explained within mythological terms as the struggle (and also unity) between the Aesir and the giants. The lyrics on Vertebrae deals a whole lot about the human potential that so very often drowns in greed, stupidity and hypocritical thoughts and actions.
On the cover you see the Vertebrae in the center, symbolizing the physical building stone. It stands alone to indicate both pride and that it is yet fragile. The blood veins that form the rune symbol (Mannar/Mannaz/Man) can be seen as the unity between mind and flesh.
2.Vertebrae seems like both a logical progression from Ruun, and at the same time, something entirely different. The 80’s prog-tinged keyboard intro was the first hint that this was not going to be Ruun Part II, and certain elements you used throughout the new album cemented that fact. Clean vocals, dreamy atmospheres, and an expansive, well-thought-out sense of space all contribute to a solid foray into uncharted territory for the band. You’ve used those elements before, but never in such large doses. How did the writing process for Vertebrae differ from that of your previous records?
Ivar: I agree with your views on Vertebrae’s relation to Ruun. How it became like that is not easy to trace to be honest. The whole Enslaved development is very gradual and seamless. We never really sit down and discuss where to go next and so on, it more or less just “happens”. The songwriting process for Vertebrae was much like the previous; since Below the Lights we have used much of the same pattern; I make the music and produce crude demos and preproduction, then the rest of the guys make their parts – especially the vocal arrangements coming from Herbrand and Grutle can bring about quite big changes in the songs. Then we place everything together in the rehearsal studio and with further demos and preproduction until the song feels 100% right to us.
3. How much of an effect did the enlistment of Joe Baresi and Greg Marino have on the final product?
Herbrand: I have to say that both of them did their share. Especially Joe Barresi. Greg Marino did a great mastering job, and managed to keep the sound dynamic and “analog”. Loud but not over-compressed. Joe Barresi understood what kind of sound and production we wanted this album to have and just did it. The man is a master when it comes to mixing! We produced the album ourselves but Joe did the last finish!
4.How do you feel about the album, now that it’s finished and has been getting rave reviews from all over the world? How do you feel it fits into your catalog?
Ivar: It feels incredible to see how well received the album has been from both media and fans – I have honestly never before seen response like this; the album seems to really hit people on a very personal level, which is the greatest honor a songwriter can have I think. I think Vertebrae fits perfectly into the entire catalogue. It is the one album, I think, that best link the roots of Enslaved with our newer influences. It makes the darkness and melody meet without one of them “killing” the other.
5. How would you personally chart the band’s progression from its early days (back to the Nema and Yggdrasill demos in 1991-92) up ‘til now? Did you ever think back then that you’d end up moving so far past your black metal roots and gaining this sort of international acclaim and awards? Would you consider Enslaved to be a black metal band at all anymore?
Grutle: You have to remember that we started 17 years ago, and that we of course have developed a lot since then. It would have been rather strange if we had not, hehe. On the other hand, there has been a natural progression all the way, and no album sounds the same as the former one. We´ve always had the urge to change and develop our sound. That has always been the essence in Enslaved. I don´t think the world needs ANOTHER band that sounds exactly the same on all albums, and I think our fans really appreciate that we change and develop! We´ve never considered ourselves as a black metal band, as our definition of black metal is any kind of metal with a satanic concept.
6.Do you follow the current black metal scene at all? Do you have any thoughts on the current state of the genre?
Ivar: Yeah, I try to stay a little updated, absolutely. It is quite interesting to see where it is going and the new directions the scene is taking. I am particularly interested in the “experimental” parts of the scene – bands like Virus, Negura Bunget, Ihsahn that break conventions are really interesting I think. Then again, some of the more traditionalist stuff like Taake and so on can be great to listen to too.
7.I know Vertebrae is described as a concept album; at a glance, the lyrics seem very dark and emotional, with a strong undercurrent of mortality. Could you explain some of the concepts behind the individual songs?
Grutle: As I mentioned, the lyrics deal with human strength and weakness. They describe how extremely fragile we are when it comes to matters such as materialism, religion, propaganda etc. Humans are extremely weak when it comes to individual behaviour, but we yet have a huge potential. This potential is often obscured somehow and the lyrics deals about different aspects of these matters, mine being the metaphorical/mythological while Ivar´s the Psycho-surreal ones.
8.The album was released by Indie Recordings, who have released records from a host of quality Norwegian acts like Iskald, Keep of Kalessin, Borknagar, and Audrey Horne. Why did you decide to work with Indie?
Herbrand: We knew all the guys from earlier on, and we knew that they would give 100% for us. They know their stuff and we know ours! Good combination!! He, he..
9.Speaking of Audrey Horne, the current members of Enslaved split their time between this band and numerous other projects. How do you guys manage to juggle your other bands and personal lives while still devoting time to Enslaved and being as productive as you’ve been over these past 17 years? Where do you see Enslaved and yourself personally in ten years? In twenty?
Herbrand: I had to quit Audrey Horne. That was not an easy decision but at that time I didn't see any other options. We're the best of friends and I played keys and mixed the latest album Le Fol. Icedale does both and is very happy with that. He is a working machine and is capable of giving both 100%. Not bad!
Enslaved in ten or twenty years? Hmmm....I really don't know. Hopefully we are still making the music that we want to and still playing shows all over the world. Musically I really don’t have a clue. He, he...
10.What was your goal for the band when you first brought it into being? How has that aim changed over the years, if at all?
Ivar: The goal was to put together a band that would make exactly the music we wanted to listen to ourselves… That is still the goal – and I think that is only “tangible” and defined goal we have had – the rest is intuition, cause and effect.