Enslaved Beyond Rituals

By: Dorien
Photography: Dorien

When we did the request for an interview, the answer was that Enslaved probably doesn’t belong on our website since it’s not folk-metal. But together with Bathory you are seen as one of the founders of the Viking metal. Then why don’t you belong on the website?
Oh well that’s a big generalization. It’s just more for the magazine reader than for us. I would say that what we have in common with Bathory is the use of Norse mythology or the folk element is more in the philosophy and the lyrics and not so much in the music. While today the folk scene is, you don’t need to have a relation to what’s going on behind it. It’s not about culture and history, nowadays it’s about the music, the humpa the party thing. If people want to know about that they normally get disappointed when they get enslaved.

You started in 1991 as teenagers. How do you look back on that time now?
It was extremely exciting when we started the band we knew what we wanted to do since we came from other bands. We played before, me and Grutle (the singer) decided to start a new band. With focus on mythology, runes and philosophy. All kinds of association with this part of the northern history. We didn’t have any long term perspectives like we have now. Now we are thinking about next year and touring next album. Then it was all about going to a recording room as quick as possible and collect money to record a demo tape. Go to the post office to send your stuff. Really exciting time. So many things going on around us with the other bands.

The Norwegian/American/Dutch became such a big scene. Every time you got a new album in your mailbox it would be something you had never heard before. Really special. All we wanted to do was play in a band and all of a sudden we were in contact with such large parts of the world every day was something new.

Do you think nowadays it’s easier to breakthrough because of the social media. Or back then since there weren’t that much bands?
To be honest, I don’t know which one was easier. I think one point is, there were few bands, so you don’t have to compete so much. Maybe today with young bands you need to have an extreme quality. Back in the days you could have a good idea and even if you weren’t such a good musician you could still sort of being an interesting band. People get the idea behind it. It was more about concepts, an abstract in relation to the music I think. While now there is so much high quality with computers and everything new, every first album sounds totally professional. So now you can reach the world with Facebook and whatever but the problem is that too many other people are doing the exact same thing at the same day. So I think the advantage is by both but if you really know what you want to do it’s maybe easier today.

Nowadays you also use the social media. Do you see it as an advantage for you?
It’s cool, you can communicate with people who listen to the band. We can see where people listen to it, you even get the feeling when planning the tours. It’s interesting to be in connection when you release the album or, like we did last week one song of the new album, you get immediately feedback from the fans. I think we are lucky with the people who follow us. They seem to be really interested in our music and have a sort of nice relationship to it. If people don’t like it they stay away. We’re not the kind of band, you see sometimes, that try something new, their facebook is full of horrible things people say about it. I don’t understand why people spend their time being negative.

The name Enslaved was inspired on a demo of Immortal. Do you still see Immortal as an inspiration.
Yeah. It’s not really in the music any more but they have always been an inspiration in the sense how we play in a band, being professional. That is still with us, we got the name. They have been a great inspiration for us. They had a record deal, have been touring before us and playing all the big festivals. We know them closely, the band but also the people behind the band. Some bands have been more musical guides for us like other Norwegian bands but Immortal has definitely been an inspiration for the career.

With Monumention you started in English. Was that a conscious choice?

I guess that was a realization for us at that time, the late nineties, when we started to tour more extensively. And we met a lot of people who were following the band and both on European and American continent and we realized we have some albums, our lyrical universe and people are getting into that, studying it and asking us about it. We realized people not only listened to the music but also reading the translations. It felt like something was lost on the way people were listening to the songs, hearing the vocals and then they had to read the translation. So you want to take away that extra step. Because the Norwegians they can read English so let’s change to English and see how that works. Luckily for us that worked quite good.

Did you get any negative reactions? Since it’s the Norwegian heritage you sing about and that you now sing in English which is not the native language.
It’s important I think in music, not only in metal, that people also use the language in music. But enslaved is such a global band, even though our starting point is very local and very geographic narrow with a particular culture. I guess we already do so many Norwegian things that it doesn’t matter if we sing in English.

And the fans accepted it.
Yeah, maybe some fans prefer our old albums but that is also fine of course.

With the change of language you also got a change with the artwork of the covers. The logo disappeared and the artwork became more mysterious, more art. Was that also with a reason?
To take the logo first. We still use that old logo. We have it on lots of merchandise and sometimes it’s hidden in the artwork. It’s still an important part. But we discovered around 2000, the change of millennium, these new people listening to metal, they didn’t care about the old arts of reading logo’s. we got so much feedback from people who were looking for Enslaved in a record shop or so ever, but couldn’t find it because they couldn’t read it.
Back in the nineties one of the hobbies we had when we got a new magazine in the mail and there was a new band, was what do you think this logo says? Really cool but no idea what it says. You got the wrong name and that was funny but at some point we realized we had an issue on it for the people who was not interested in following the underground culture. So that was a very practical reason.

When it comes to the artwork, I think we realized after Mardraum that we simply didn’t have the artistic visual inside. We have been asking for people to make these covers to be honest, a lot of them looked much crappier then when we did it. We ‘re good at playing music but we’re not visual very talented people. So then we talked to some friends we knew were into the art scene if they could help us. A friend said she knew some guy who liked metal and was a good artist. So we talked to him and since then he does the artwork.

Do you tell him what you want in the artwork?
Yes we tell him about the album. It’s me and Grutle who develop the concept. We have the lyrics but there is so much more around the album. We have all these stories and a little world we develop in the year before doing an album. And when we see that we have some points we can visualize. He comes to our town, we walk around and talk about the art. He has a little sketchbook and some things we say give him an association and he draws. Not in exact symbols but makes a frame and puts everything in it. When we think we understand each other he goes home and we don’t see him for two months. He comes back with a big oil painting. It’s a little bit of a risk of course but so far we are happy.

The last album was in 2010. You already released one song of the new album. Axioma was quite progressive, will the new album also be progressive or back to the roots. Will you ever go back to the roots?
I think we are sort of carry the roots with us, I guess. The new one might be, the stuff that’s black metal inspired is more obvious. The aggressive parts in the album are even more aggressive. But we also go the other way with the proggy and the melodic stuff. I was a little bit surprised, maybe for the first time in a long time that we use more of the Scandinavian folk. Not in the instruments but in the scenes and concepts. The funny thing of us is that we never know exactly what we are doing but there were some people who recognized it as classical Swedish folk and that was nice. Why not. It was a bit surprising for us how the album came out. It’s a long one, almost 70 minutes, it’s got to work.

Can you tell a bit more about the new album, about the themes?
Whole album is called Riitir, the make of the world. In English it’s rituals. Probably the same in Dutch. We took the core of the word and made it an Enslaved word. It’s dealing with the human attraction to ritualistic behaviour. Both on a mundane level and small level. From before we go to stage up to life changing big scale things.

The last album was called Axioma Ethica Odini. Axioma is known from mathematics. Was it because of something mathematical that you named the album like this?

It was a discussion me and Grutle had. A lot of times we have debates and discussions around. He would take the more humanistic sort of sciences, history, mythology, more story like. While my interest is more to psychology or like the alternative thinking, alchemists. We were discussing the theme of having metaphysical advice and sort of looking what would happen if you regard something abstract and a spiritual truth. That is what an axioma means. That it is undisputable, you agreed that it is indisputable. And we were discussing that applying in modern society where religion is gone. Everything is so relative. When you look at Ethica Odini, in the pre Christian societies, it was more about knowing what is right and wrong. Now it is more formulated. Everywhere is written what you should do and what not to do. And still people do horrible things as long as they don’t get caught. Because nobody’s these things as absolute any more. I mean you should be nice to people as long as somebody is around. When you’re alone you can do whatever you want.

For a lot of starting bands you are a kind of ‘idol’. Do you feel a pioneer?
Well, we’ve been doing this for quite a long time and we done a lot of things the right way. I think this maybe can be seen as a good way to build a career. That people focus on the music and working hard and all that. I think we are ordinary people that have done some pretty good music. I don’t see a point in idolizing people. It’s the same with me. I’ve been very fascinated by what some people can do. Not only in music but by all kinds of art, just because they do it so good. We’re still the same.
If they want to look at how we do things, they should look at how we build the band and the way we do music and the things around it.
We started without knowing how to do anything. I know people who have musical talent but don’t want to sacrifice everything.

How do you see the future. Still playing when you’re old and in a wheelchair?
Definitely! I can’t really imagine life without playing in a band. I started my first band when I was ten or eleven and played since then. It is the biggest part of my life. Also family is involved in music and everything we do is related to it.

Do you have some final word to fans?
I hope they take the time to check out the new album we’re happy with it and hope others are too. There should be something in it for everybody.