By: Metalist NY Magazine
With: Iver Bjornson
It’s only about 20 short days before Viking Metal/Progressive Black Metal giants Enslaved make their way here to Israel. It’s been a few good years since a band exciting for Black Metal fans has made its way to Israel, and especially one as innovative and on a winning stride such as Enslaved. A few months ago I had the pleasure of interviewing the vocalist and bassist Grutle, but now I get the missing part of duo, and the chance to present to you my interview with cofounder Ivar Bjørnson. Results ensue.
Benek-Hello Ivar! I had the chance to speak to Grutle once to the new album was out, how are you?
Ivar- good, thanks, how are you?
Benek- Good, Where am I catching you?
Ivar- Right now? Just doing some office work, actually with Enslaved in between the gigs you have to go and catch up a little bit. That’s what I normally do normally paperwork during the day and music during the evening. It’s a welcome break after doing spreadsheets.
Benek- So, lets cut to the steak, RIITIIR has been out since September of last year which is quite a while now, how do you feel about it?
Ivar- It has been quite overwhelming I have to say, it’s just now that we are seeing the real reach of the album. it came out and we immediately started doing a lot of playing with some touring in Norway some US appearances, some promotional events Now, and still we’ve been reaching new territories, still new reviews from people all over the world. And we’re still going all over the world like Israel. We’re realizing “wow that’s how far it went. “
Benek- What is the meaning of RIITIIR? What are some of the lyrical themes on the album?
Ivar- We are looking at man, the ritualistic being, physical and spiritual. From both historical and archeological perspectives. With sites, buildings and physical remnants of a common past of all people, and also a psychological point of view where a man seems to always gravitate towards ritualistic behavior in terms of achieving something higher or better than where he is as a person. Dealing with this kind of topic, you’re dipping your toe into the metaphysical, the supposed the outcome of being ritualistic is achieving something that cannot be achieved through normal action. So yeah, it all sums up into the ritual, the way. Since it had the global universal context we wanted to remove it from a specific language, we took the core of the word, “rite” which is common to a lot of language and Enslavedify it.
Benek- How was the making of RIITIIR different than any other Enslaved album? Do you feel it to be a special baby? Especially with all the praise it’s gotten?
Ivar- The main thing of the album, we had the same starting point but we had a bigger ambition for it, some came from experience and some came from confidence that we should have even more control of the process. We’re lucky that between us in the band we have two studios, one big and a smaller home version that I have, us having produced a lot of albums and having been part of the production in the past, and now we took the reigns to ourselves. With the album turning out that good, it showed us we were capable but also that it’s good we waited and didn’t start doing that many years ago before we had the technical knowledge.
Benek- but Ivar, do you personally produce other bands? will that one day become a part of your
Ivar- Me personally, it’s just for my own projects, Enslaved and Trinacria, the keyboardist Herbrand Larsen produces other recordings and he specialized in mixing and mastering stuff. He’s going to be doing a lot of bands in years to come, a lot of people are noticing him, and Herbrand has a strong knowledge of mixing and mastering, personally I’d like to do some of it in the future, it’s more for me wanting to do something with the song and the sound, and not so much in the technical sense, when a band comes up and wants to do something like that I’ll definitely give it a shot.
Benek- how was the work process? Did you feel the pressure to beat the equally as critically acclaimed Axioma Ethica Odini album?
Ivar- There’s not any pressure, that’s not how we perceive it, when the feedback is positive it’s more like a confidence boost, you feel that a lot of people have enjoyed the previous work and you feel motivated to see where you can go in the next one. It comes from having a band for 22 years, and having ups and downs, sometimes you do something you’re happy with and nobody gets it. Like Eld, which was butchered when, it first came out. Then you have something you weren’t that happy with yourself, you’ve seen all variations, you just have to focus on the inner processes of the band. I write the music and present a whole sketch, sometimes something more crude like a recording, and sometimes just guitars on top of programmed drums just to show the framework, then I’ll spend more time on it and present it to the guys. The next step is the vocalists, Grutle and Herbrand, wrap their heads around the subject of particularly well working vocal arrangements, a particular part of the song they want to expand on or what not. They both think about combining both vocals, it’s just about getting a balance. It’s also great they both play instruments so that in the live setting none of them are ever sitting around idle, so they don’t have to push for more vocal parts to stand out. That’s why it worked so well. When they feel the song is right for vocals, we start working on it with the rest of the guys. There’ll be a little stop with Arve Isdal (lead guitarist) and Cato (Bekkevold, drums) and then we work all together. And after we’ve rehearsed enough, we go to the studio. We actually like having it mostly done before we set foot in the studio.
Benek- Also, I know that it is with this album that you signed into Nuclear Blast, how did that occur? How do you feel about the collaboration?
Ivar- We’ve known the guys, we have known the US department for a long, long time because they’d come to our concerts long before we worked with them, a small group of people that were really into our music since way back and socially we started knowing the guys from the European Nuclear Blast, and they went to a lot of festivals, so we met them all over the place. We’ve always known it’s a big serious label and now we know them personally also. For us, a record label, we have to know them on a personal level. Doesn’t matter if it’s big or small, as long as there’s personal relationship, we’re still in good relations with our old company. We did two albums on a Norwegian label Indie Recordings and had NB release in US, and that was the Nuclear Blast test run, and when our deal finished with Indie, we went to Nuclear Blast and it’s been only positive.
Benek- How are the new songs live? How do they mix in with the old stuff?
Ivar- They blend in pretty amazingly, that has to do with how we set up the setlist, that’s how we work with the huge back catalogue, then we set up a live set around a selection of new material, with things back in the catalogue. We sorted it in the US and Europe, it’s a lot stronger now that the new stuff is getting a big reaction, it has to do with both arrangements and production on the album. They translate easily off the records into the live setting, it was a part of the ambition that the songs should be strong by themselves, the album should be some kind of vessel for conveying the songs so they should work equally as good in the studio as on the stage.
where do you see yourself going form here,, although the album is mighty recent, where do you see yourself progressing musically?
I think maybe, it’s hard to say before writing something new, if I had to guess I’d say we’d expand on what we started on in RIITIIR. But then again that’s a bit of a joke because we started on so many things, both on the mellow and really harsh stuff. Vertebrae and Axioma were opposing forces that harrowed the road ahead to put it quite simply. They were marking the outer limit, Axioma is as Metal as it’s gonna get, and Verebrae was, the softest moment. Wherever it takes us. I don’t think we’re gonna end up being an extremely Metal band, or an extremely Proggy band, it wouldn’t fit, we can’t stand still for that long (laughs)
Benek- Speaking about your guitar work specifically, what inspires you to write? What musicians are you inspired by? Could you give a top 5 guitarists of all time?
Ivar- There’s the classics of course from the Prog Rock, Steve Hackett, Steve Gilmore Genesis, King Crimson, if you’re looking for inspiration there’s weird stuff Fripp’s been doing ,his more rocky stuff or more proggy stuff, he always has some weird new approach. There’s the straight out weird stuff like Allan Holdsworth, Adam Jones, you can tell from the list shredding isn’t doing it for me, it gets really boring really fast. Those kind of musicians where there’s a signature, accidental by breaking rules or more by self thought style, doesn’t really matter. It’s those musicians that have their own thing. When it comes to Metal, Mayhem with De Mysterius and Bathory , with Hammerheart and Twilight of the Gods, kind of big epic Metal, I mentioned a lot of source material. But their all playing on some related level I guess.
As far as my top 5 guitarists goes…
1. Fripp (King Crimson)
2. Gilmour (Pink Floyd)
3. Steve Hackett (Genesis)
4. Allan Holdsworth
5. Adam Jones (Tool)
Benek- funny, I’d imagine Euronymous would somemwhere in there, at least from the early days
Ivar- (laughs) Actually funny enough, he gave me a guitar lesson once. He showed me new ways of going from power chords, power note riffing to building scales and using minors sevenths and nines, and most other guitars basics, evident in early Enslaved songs. Ways of using more chords than single notes in Black Metal, which influenced us, a lot.
Benek- Also, speaking about modern time before we delve into the beginning of Enslaved, how do you feel about the modern music industry dynamics? About file sharing and about the rising popularity of vinyl?
Ivar- I think, a few years ago, I became pretty invested in the business itself, when we started out, we were a part of the industry quote unquote and it was the peak of the physical format around the year 2000, and now we see the decline now. We’re reaching a new place with streaming and digital music services. Norway and Sweden have seen the biggest increase in terms of legal internet sale of music, there’s big discussion on how to use streaming, should it be viewed like being played on the radio, maybe a part of the licensing, an individual license, but we moved from an era where people were saying there’s not gonna be labels anymore but talented people on super advanced websites, it’s still a transition, the label is gonna be there in a hundred years, and the musician is going to be there in a hundred years too. I never thought about it in being all the way optimistic or pessimistic, just interested in seeing. Kids probably don’t like paying 20 EU for a cd with a 2 page notebook, it wouldn’t be uplifting to buy it, but at the time it was the only option. People used to think of Pirate Bay as some sort of Robin Hood stealing from the rich record labels, Pirate Bay sold advertisement for millions and millions so no Robin Hood business here. Then next month in Norway their launching lossless music, streamed straight to your computer, CD quality is also getting better so the streaming and so is the hi fi, and bass acoustic frequency that they get from LPs at home. I’m just along for the ride, sometimes you make more money than others and sometimes you don’t make money at all. From the first few years of Spotify, we made 20 EU from 30-40 K streaming, but that’s gonna get better obviously.
Benek- how was Enslaved formed? what did you feel about it at the time?
Ivar- We formed in 91, to be precise, we formed in the 2nd of May because Grutle and I were already playing in a Norwegian DM band (Phobia,) inspired by Autopsy and we felt a bit tired of the world Death Metal scene and sound, the whole thing, and we were listening to what was going on in the Norwegian underground like Darkthrone demoes, and the Mayhem pre production tapes for DDM, we were like “ this is something more interesting!” bands from Eastern Europe that were influencing the scene, like the Czech Root and Master’s Hammer and Rotting Christ from Greece, bands who said lets try something new, lets build a band from the bottom up, really inspired us. The whole DM thing was getting claustrophobic, there’s only so many things you could do with that sound. It felt liberating, it was very intense, this was before the circle , we we’re too removed to be involved in the political aspects. We would see these things unfold in the media and just not be aware because we were more related on the musical level, for us, it was a musical, musically very intense period. You got the advanced tapes, the prevalence of the demo tapes, you’d get the Emperor mini Lps or from Ulver, and you could hear what directions all these new bands, every new album you’d feel you’ve never heard something like that before. The opposite of today, wherein you can be certain that an album will reference something you’ve heard about. … Mentality changed at some point from new is exciting to revival is the constable thing, they wanna hear stuff that reminds them of high school or their first girlfriend, the seventies and 90s were more similar in the sense in things that were completely unheard of were exciting. Now people are looking for things that sound like the 70’s and 90’s, it goes in circles, it’ll get better with times.
Benek- What did Enslaved mean to you at the time? Does it reflect in its current importance?
Ivar- It’s been pretty consistent, when I started the band I was 13 or something, and then it was, the biggest part of my life, my identity, and took up most of my time, now I’m, going on 36 and it’s still the biggest part of my life and takes up most of my time. The rest of my life became slightly more, bigger in a sense. Now we’ve got a family, and more stuff going on in and around music, you think about riffs when you wake up, and when you go to bed. It’s the most consistent thing in my life, being a full time Enslaved guy.
Benek- do you ever feel that being so devoted to Enslaved has taken from your chance of being a family man? Sorry if the question is intruding
Ivar- It’s impossible to separate the two, I’m very lucky to have met a wife and everything with who it’s possible to combine, it’s impossible to say where Enslaved starts and the ordinary life begins. If I had any illusions that you could have the two existing side by side there’d be trouble at some point. It’s me having a realistic relation to it, there was never any chance to develop any parallel existinences. Some time the family will come visit on tour or come along to a festival. It’s not like we sit around and listen to Enslaved all day, everything that happens in the ordinary life goes into Enslaved and what happens in Enslaved goes into ordinary life.
Benek- How did Enslaved break apart from the group musically? Why do you feel Enslaved turned out so different?
Ivar- I think it’s cool sometimes to look for the simple answers, it could be one, in the blueprints of all these bands, if you could use that metaphor, there’s one principle that is saying being unique or original or innovative is, the value of the band. That’s why when they speak of “tr00” this or that, it’s this cliché that you imagine four or five hooligans or people draped in corpsepaint with a hammer, but in the original sense back then it was a lot more nerdy than you’d think. If you called yourself a part of the Norwegian scene, you had an obligation to make something, to take things a step ahead. That was the kind of peer pressure, that whole thing is being rewritten that the pressure is to commit certain acts, or be a part of church burnings or violence, but on the level above the petty crime, they were brilliant musicians actually, it was about creating something unique and musically noteworthy. I actually talked about it early, some stuff people called it revolutionary, most guitarist on YouTube, they come up with nothing, the graphical side of things, that began with the music, that’s why they developed differently, small things, you could see what way the line was going. Now after 20-30 years the bands have gone in very different directions, Enslaved and Darkthrone ideologically resemble each other the most I think, because in the musical sense why we’re making the music we are, the result is very different but there’s the same idea behind it.
Benek- how do you feel about fans that constantly want you to play old stuff, or to record more oldschool Black Metal oriented materials?
Ivar- That whole thing, the last few really optimistic people seem to have given up that, the few times it still does happen, that people ask us to make another Frost it’s more charming than anything else. That people still have that sort of faith in us and in themselves that we could still do it. Live it’s no problem, we want to play the old stuff, that’s what we talked about, you need context. If you go to a new place like Israel we want to present where the band is now, that’s the core of the live set, but also what the band is about, the same thing on stage, present the history, the context of the band. It explains where the band is coming from, it also contrasts the new songs and makes sort of a history, it’s brilliant if people like both, that’s the best audience we can have. Or A mix of people who recently gotten interested and those old die hard fans, it presents a challenge for us, it’s “the shit “ to phrase it like the kids phrase it these days . That the new stuff is interesting, there shouldn’t be a contradiction between enjoying RIITIIR and enjoying Frost, it works for us so it should work for other people.
Benek- what are some of your modern favorite Norwegian bands?
Ivar- we have a bit of a division turning up again, we’re approaching one of those moments again we were approaching in the early 90’s. We have some new stuff, band like Krakow, who I don’t know why named themselves after a Polish city (because Krakow f@#king rules!- Benek) , you have Man The Machetes, She Said Destroy are also doing interesting things, there’s a lot of stuff bordering on the Hardcore side of things, there’s some proggy stuff that’s coming up as well. I’m on a bit of a break from the whole Metal scene because of being overwhelmed by so much things that are going on, which contradict why I started playing music doing it to begin with. I really wanna be watching what’s going on and being interested in new bands, it’s not about that, it’s about the mechanisms being used now. You see so much marketing, so much ingenious PR people being behind campaigns, marketing strategies seeping into what people are saying, market strategies into how music is being made and it’s making me a little bit nauseous.I catch up around every two years, next year I’ll catch up again.
Benek- what has been in your recent playlist?
Ivar- Stuff that, a lot of Master’s Hammer’s Ritual album, King Crimson, Yes, Rush, the classic stuff, old Maiden, stuff like that. If we do another interview in two years and update I’ll have something more interesting.
Benek- How do you feel about playing in Israel? A new place finally huh?
Ivar- It’s super exciting, it’s not like every day we get to go somewhere, we’re not the most traveled band in the world, but we’ve been around a few times but to go there where there’s a vibrant metal scene. There most be something clever going on in the scene as the bands who have been there are very good at selling the place, and they say you have to visit. Usually when you hear about a place it’s “if you have any sense in your head, we just came from wherever, don’t go it’s fucking horrible,” but we were waiting for the invitation, and we’re really excited to go there.
Benek- Are there any surprises planned?
Ivar- Yes, but they wouldn’t be surprises if we told.
Benek- What’s in Enslaved’s close future?
Ivar- After the festivals we’ll be doing Australia at Autumn, more touring and then writing a new album not too far into the future, been too long already. There might be a live DVD sometime during this year. I should say that.
Benek- Any Eps planned like Thorn or The Sleeping Gods planned?
Ivar- it could happen, extras pop up and we do it, nothing completely planned for the moment but it might happen.
Benek- Any last words to the Israeli crowd?!
Ivar- Really looking forward to seeing all of them, a little bit worried when you said it was really hot but we’ll sweat our way through that I guess, it’ll be a nice change from the rainy climate, really looking forward to going down there ,meeting people, playing the show and tasting samples of the local cousin.