Enslaved - 03/09/2008

ENSLAVED is about to unleash their new album 'Vertebrae' on us. As a special promotional action, the record label gave away promotion t-shirts especially designed for the listening session at the Wacken festival. We also got a chance to interview the band. So after being tucked away in a nice and comfortable camper, we started the interview with Ivar, guitarist and main composer of the band.



I just received an Enslaved promotion-tshirt, are you happy with the promotion that Indie Recordings is doing at the festival?


Oh yes, very much so. I think it reflects the enthusiasm of the label. And yes, it's great. You know, we're pretty confident in what we're doing ourselves, and having a team around us at this level of enthusiasm is great.


So I assume that with all the metal press around, Wacken was a deliberate choice as a promo place for the new album?


There are different reasons behind it, I think it's a good choice for Indie. They're are a new label, and I think that the whole spirit of the label, and Enslaved for that matter, is pretty in parallel with the whole Wacken thing.


Would you be happy to do a gig here now and promote te new album? Seeing as you were here last year.


It's very rare, it never really happens in the metal world that they have the same band twice in a year. Some popular music festivals do it. I think it's good though, because many people are loyal and go to the same festival every year. Since you have so many bands in the world, it would be a bit strange to have the same band play two years in a row. But as for our Wacken show last year, we have played close to a thousand gigs in our career and the Wacken gig is definitely in the top 5 of the band. It’s a confidence-builder to promote the new album here after so many good memories.


Now to the new album. First question that came up is: why the album title 'Vertebrae'?


It has a pretty bizarre story behind it. I was starting to work on the new album and I was thinking about the concepts, you know, where can we go from here. And we were talking about the evolution of the concepts and the lyrics of the band, which has gone along with the music I think. There has been a change, gradually. Or perhaps not a change, but a development, a broadening. From the early albums where it was very external in a way. We would read about mythology, runes, and mysticism, nature's mysticism, and basically just reflect that. And gradually we would internalise it more. And on 'ISA' and 'Ruun' there was some more personal input, they were more contemporary. I don't know if it's a positive or a negative thing, but objectively speaking I think Enslaved is maybe the most contemporary pagan-inspired band. We have a lot of personal and present influences. Not only the revivalism and role-playing aspect of it. So how can we take it even more into reality? Not only through the metaphors, we keep on working with the metaphors and the mythology and we bring them into this world now. And then I read this small piece in a magazine where they talked to Tom Waits, an eccentric artist that I really like. So I thought 'Oh, Tom Waits, I have to read what he says' and they asked him: what are you thinking of right now? And he said: I'm thinking about the vertebrae that is similar in the mouse and the giraffe. They come from the same family and it blew his mind to think of evolution in that aspect and how everything is tightly knit together. Not in a religious aspect but in a very physical way. At least, that is how I interpreted it. And I looked at the word 'Vertebrae' and I started thinking about how symbolic that is. Talked to some friends, English speaking, Norwegians. In every language when you say something about the vertebrae, the backbone, it gives you very strong associations. Physically, because it's something that creatures around us and humans have in common. But it also has a very symbolic meaning all around the world. If you say: that guy has a strong backbone, you might think 'Oh he can lift a lot of weight'. But it also says something about how he reacts on a psychological level.



Do you also see it as a good album title in how it reflects the whole package of the Enslaved-music and how it has evolved?


Yes, that happened after the title. I talked to Grutle and me and Grutle are always developing the concepts together. And we put that on the table, and decided to have that as a way to describe our lyrics and music. And that's what happened after a while. This also symbolizes Enslaved I think. It has changed a lot from the first album to now, but you can still identify the backbone. And the third thing that we discovered is that it is another metaphor for the connection between the mind and the body. This is where the information travels, how your body makes you feel your ideas. So it's like an instrument, an artistic part of the body.


When I tried to describe Enslaved to friends, especially the last two albums, I'd say it's like black metal meets Pink Floyd. Now on the back of the promo Pink Floyd is actually cited as a reference. Is this a logical comparison for you?


The text on the back of the album was written by the record label, I think. But we asked Joe Baressi who mixed the album if he could maybe give us a few lines on the back because we thought that if people would Google his name (as he did the production), maybe they would come across Enslaved and wonder what this band is like. And he said: it's very serious. It's a mix of darkness, evil and Pink Floyd. And I was thinking that he was making fun of us, being ironic. Because darkness and evil now have a bit of an ironic edge. But he said 'No, I'm dead serious'. It's very sinister and dark, it's got an evil energy like in horror movies. And at the same time you’ve got the Pink Floyd quality. It's beautiful but you don't know if it's horrific beautiful or nice beautiful. As you can see, I have a Pink Floyd tattoo on my arm. It's the first band that I ever related to. I know a few riffs, but I can't play anything for example. But for my 10th birthday my father gave me all his Pink Floyd albums. And he said 'I don't know if you're going to like it, it's a start and you should enjoy listening to it. It's an important part of life'. He would go away to work on some weekends and I would have some evenings and nights to myself. What to do? I’d put on the albums and something happened. It's been following me, so for me it's natural to sink into the music. I din't want to sink into the music because that would be too obvious with all my enthusiasm and my collection, but it's impossible to avoid. I have listened to 'Dark Side Of The Moon' a couple of 100 times a year since I was ten.


I was wondering, why did you pick a different mixing/mastering duo for the new album? Because both Joe Baressi and George Marino were not on 'Ruun'.


We've been wanting and hoping in a way to find somebody else to work with. For the band, we found out that working with visual artists is important. And to work with people that really know what they're doing. We discovered how much positive stuff we can get from working with somebody that is exceptionally good in their area and have them interpret your work. The problem with our genre is that there is a lack of producers/mixers/mastering people that have knowledge of the kind of music the bands play. I think that some of the bands that play black- or deathmetal that used external producers have done theirselves a bad favor. Because they pull in a guy that is really, really good with thrashmetal. And then he takes their whole blackmetal sound and changes it into thrashmetal. So when we got to know Joe, we discovered that he has a deep understanding of our music. He had a vision of what he would do in the mix. Basically, he told us that he loved the album, he really liked it. With George Marino we just struck gold. He only works with a select group of labels. Through a Greek friend who has a personal link with him, he was daring enough to ask: You know, here I have my friends from Enslaved, and would you perhaps master their new albums. And he said to us: Check out his website. So I went online and saw what he did: AC/DC, Metallica, Iron Maiden. And I was like: wow, is this happening?



So I assume you're really happy with the mixing and mastering?




A very notable difference with the previous albums is the enormous amount of clean vocals by Herbrand. Was this a conscious choice or did this slip in during the writing process?


It think it just happened because of the way we write our music. I write the structures of the songs. And then we work in a sort of democratic way, everyone works on their own field. My role in the band is to provide the blueprints, the main structure of the songs and then everybody does their handywork on top of that. So Grutle and Herbrand, they worked something like 6 months developing all the vocals. And they tried so many variations and they worked so hard. I think it just happened in the end, when we looked back we also said 'hey, there are a lot of clean vocals'. But it's basically a question of timing and the right solution. And coincidentally that meant a lot of clean vocals.     


The song 'Ground' and especially the solo in it was extremely Pink Floyd-ish. Also a coincidence?


'Ground' is one of the special moments of songwriting history of this band. When I gave the structure of the song to the band, I knew it had some Pink Floyd references, but not very obvious as there were just guitars and drums on it. The vocalists worked on the vocals, and Ice Dale worked on the lead guitars. They didn't know about each other, and I didn't know what they were doing. They both gave their ideas back and I put them on the song and listened to it and for me it was like: what the fuck! It sounds so Pink Floyd. And that just happened. And that just told me that there is something like group dynamics or mass consciousness, something like that, and that tells me that the work of Enslaved is something bigger than just five people working together.


And you're going on tour this fall. What will you be doing afterwards? More touring in the US for example?


Yes. We just signed a contract with Nuclear Blast to release 'Vertebrae' there. they were definitely the partner we preferred. We've seen the work they have done for other bands, like Dimmu Borgir and we know the people personally. We’ll go there and support the album. But I have to admit: I haven't told the other guys yet because it would make them nervous, but I want to start writing a new album. Because how 'Vertebrae' turned out really inspired me. Perhaps they will scream 'Oh no! No mass production' but I don't think so, as we usually write with 100% inspiration.


Some time ago, I saw a video of you and Grutle 'downloading' a sheep. Got some response on that?


It was fantastic. It was not our idea, somebody asked us: do you think it is a good idea, and we said yes. It was especially appreciated in the US, where there is almost no discussion about the whole piracy issue. I think what we did with this video is to make the distinction: There is no problem with Internet, there is no problem with file-sharing, there is a problem with stealing property. People should be able to work it like in the old days with tape-trading, where me and Grutle come from. It was so beautiful. You write to this guy and he encloses a list: 'these are the albums I have' and some words to describe them. This is how I first heard Beherit, or like Master's Hammer. And the guy wrote behind it: symphonic, in the vein of Norwegian black metal but very different, classically trained musicians. And I am like 'what the fuck, sounds great'. So I send him an empty tape, he sends me back the album. It just blew my mind. I ran to the store, bought all their albums. And this is how internet works too, it's great. People download everything they want and go to Myspace and things like that.  But what we want to make a statement about is people who make a system out of all of this and almost make a business about stealing music. Then it's not about sharing anymore. It's about saying: musicians should work for free. We still want it but we are not going to pay money for it. For me it's no problem to sell music on I-tunes or download it. Because people download a song, and then get the album. And I can understand if you send a friend an MP3 to say: check out this new song from Darkthrone. And if you like it, you go buy. And then there’s people who don’t do this, for example Grutle, who has never downloaded anything in his life. And to be honest, if a friend of mine says: I download everything illegally, he's still a friend of mine. A guy I lived with once asked: what's the deal with downloading? Is it a principle? It's more like, when we record an album we have to work 3 months on it. And then it is impossible for me to do any other work and I can't make any money. And I also have to do promotion and stuff. So some musicians end up having to quit their band, because they have to keep their family alive and stuff. In Enslaved we have an advantage, nobody has children, but I can imagine how hard it is to do this when you have children. I told the guy that and he was like: oops, never thought about it like that.



Most people tend to forget that metal musicians can't live on their music alone and need jobs on the side..


I know stories, but I'm not going to pinpoint bands. In Enslaved we all work in the music industry outside the band which makes it easier to get by. But I know bands who have had to cancel headlining shows because they couldn't get time off from their work. Which they try to hide from the outside world, but it happens. I'm not saying that anybody should feel sorry for musicians, not at all, never! You know, everyone who plays in a band and is able to go on stage is living their dream from when they were kids. There is never any reason to complain. I'm just saying that if everybody would be advocating piracy sites and making constructions for it, there would only be shitty bands. They are constructing a cynical music business. Because they are forcing the bands to go out and do very expensive live shows, and very expensive merchandise and so the bands become very cynical.


And with the prices rising you have to consider: shall I buy a t-shirt, or save it for the next concert.


Or when you see a Rolling Stones show in Norway, where you pay like 150 Euros for the ticket. And you have to pay around 60 Euros for a t-shirt.


Or 100 euros for an Iron Maiden shirt here at Wacken


I think somebody is fooling somebody. When people try to give it away for free on internet they think they are saving money. But they only make the music business more expensive. And there's always somebody better with calculators and spreadsheets than musicians.


And in the end, they screw the real fans because everything gets more expensive.


Let's conclude that, but I'd like to say though that it's not really the fans’ fault. They are only seeking ways, it's just natural. The real problem is that the record business recognized the problem 15 years too late. It's because they're old people. I'm not talking about the independent labels, or even the metal labels like Nuclear Blast. I'm talking about the big ones: Warner, EMI, Sony. Those were like the fat cats. Sixty old men with fat bank accounts with no touch of reality whatsoever.


You also performed at the Roadburn Festival, how did you enjoy it? It's a bit of a different crowd than what you’re used to.


Another one of the top 5 shows! It was a bit strange to go on stage, to have all of our songs with 100 bpm's, faster than all the bands on the festival. But Walter, the chief of the festival, he had a vision of the band when he booked us to replace Celtic Frost. He had a vision of the atmosphere of the band, perhaps because of the Pink Floyd influence, he had a vision that the psychedelic or the extreme mental energy of the band would fit into the festival. And that happened. It was very strange to see in the first song, second song, third song, how people would transform from sceptic, to curious, to very much enjoying it. And it was a bit strange as we came from some very hardcore extreme black metal festival, and then we faced a still standing crowd smoking all kinds of stuff there. It was very different. But the reaction was so generous and positive. And it was a milestone for us because we had an unspoken relation with that scene for so many years. And the festival guys told us that the Neurosis guys, who were also performing, were really eager to see the Enslaved show. And halfway through the first song I see Scott Kelly on the left side, first row. And I felt a little bit dizzy, as we are all big fans of them. But all in all it was great.


You are here at Wacken to play with Dream of an Opium Eater. Could you tell us something more about the coming to existence of this group?


Yes, it is another bizarre story. My management told me at the Roskilde festival that they wanted a final piece to close the festival. So they wanted to show horror movies, and then have metal musicians play along with them. A bit like the old piano-guy idea. And they asked if I could be a part of it. And I got introduced to the other guy, Reuben Gotto, and we decided: ok, let's try it. The Enslaved management has also worked with the Norwegian film industry. And exactly at that time there was a project in Norway to make short horror movies that were one hour long, and that was a bizarre coincidence. And we called them up and said: could we use those movies for our movies, and they said: yes, of course. So we played there, and now we were asked to play here at Wacken too. I think it's a good thing to have something different on the programme. And we're also showing the videos here.


That's actually a question I forgot. I saw you perform with visuals and without visuals. Are you also going on tour with them?


Yes. We did a tour with no visuals. And then we did the 'Isa' and 'Ruun' tour with loads of visuals. We have now arrived at some synthesis where we are gonna use some parts of the shows without visuals, and then at some shows there will be a real focus on visuals.  


Any last statement before we end this interview?


I hope a lot of people give the album a listen. I think they will enjoy it. I'm gonna be arrogant but most people are going to find things that they like on the album. And I look forward to presenting them live again.


Ok, we’ll see you on tour. Thank you very much for the interview!




Current members :

Ivar Bjørnson - guitar, keyboards (1991-)

Grutle Kjellson - bass, vocals (1991-)

Arve Isdal - guitar (2002-)

Cato Bekkevold - drums (2003-)

Herbrand Larsen - keyboards, vocals (2004-)


Former members :

Trym Torson (Kai Johnny Mosaker) - drums (1991-1995)

Harald Helgeson - drums (1995-1997)

Per Husebø (also known as Dirge Rep) - drums (1997-2002)

Richard Kronheim - guitar (1997-2002)


Albums :

Vikingligr Veldi (1994)

Frost (1994)

Eld (1997)

Blodhemn (1998)

Mardraum - Beyond the Within (2000)

Monumension (2001)

Below the Lights (2003)

Isa (2004)

Ruun (2006)

Vertebrae (2008)