Before their show in London in support of new behemoth 'In Times', eGigs steal twenty minutes from frontman Grutle Kjellson and guitarist Ivar Bjørnson of Norwegian black metallers turned progressive masters Enslaved to discuss the new release's meaning, modern progressive music and the secret of the original Norwegian black metal scene that time forgot.
How are you two?
Ivar Bjørnson: Pretty awesome.
Grutle Kjellson: Good, getting there.
IB: Yeah, we're awesome, borderline fantastic – somewhere in between.
GK: It's almost time to get into character.
When you get on stage, you adopt a character?
GK: Well, people say I am a character already [laughs]!
How has the tour been so far?
IB: Short [laughs]. We know the guys from Grand Magus from before, super atmosphere on the bus and everything. I think yesterday went even better than we could have expected, the way that we're working together, the crews and general atmosphere on the bus.
GK: It's very easy going with Norwegians and Swedes together. It's the same thing, it's super.
How have fans and critics been responding to your new album 'In Times'?
IB: It has been amazing from day one. I think that people really appreciate it. It was sort of one of the first times we really did what people…they didn't know what to expect but I think it delivered something that a lot of people were hoping for. In the case of good timing, I think we really stretched it quite far with experimenting and adding progressive melodic elements and so on. It's not an outspoken wish from our fans but both from us and them there has been this underlining growing anticipation that we would really include some more of the early stuff.
Yes, the aggressiveness of the earlier material. You can really hear that.
GK: It just happened.
IB: We kind of discovered it about half way through the song writing. “Holy mackerel!”
GK: “This is pretty heavy!”
You've merged it with the progressive elements extremely well. It's similar to how you did 'Eld', although more refined, atmospheric and melodic.
GK: It's pretty funny because we started off the tour in the States a few days before the actual release of the album. I think we actually put some songs out on Youtube or something. We were very surprised at the first gig in San Diego where there were already singalongs of some of the songs. Singalongs are pretty rare to begin with, with music such as this [laughs].I was like “What the fuck?! Really?!”
IB: I think the combination of that youthful…it's not only about progressive but it's a way of approaching music, I guess. Thinking about it now, a lot of the things we did musically – of course socially, when you're 13, you're not developed enough to have any, you know, proper…
IB: Yeah, exactly. You do all kinds of weird stuff that we did and that's how we actually got into the music industry. It hadn't gotten to the point where we thought you can't do that, you can't do this, that's embarrassing; we just marched in wherever and slammed our demo tape on the counter and said: “This is the best stuff you'll ever hear. Check it out.”
GK: “Sign me! Sign me! Sign me!”[laughs]Show business!
IB: Now we're like: “Oh, we can't bother the nice people!” We've become socially aware and that fucks up a lot of creativity and impulsiveness, I guess. Having that element in our music now drives the progressive things.
GK: It is the underground approach – do whatever you want.
IB: It keeps the focus in the right place. It keeps us from losing track of what we're doing.
GK: The only rule we have is not to repeat ourselves. If it reminds us too much of another song we've done before we're like: “Nah, we can't do that.” There has got to be some kind of development. I guess going backwards can be a development too if the blend is right.
You 've always gone forwards. You've never revisited something before so that's new in itself.
GK: Just a little bit! [laughs]One step backwards, two steps forwards.
In more detail, how would you say 'In Times' compares or contrasts with other Enslaved material? Where does it sit in your musical canon?
IB: That's a very good question. It sort of represents both of these screens of development in Enslaved, I would say. It represents the progressiveness going forward. It's sort of a combination of I think you said 'Eld' and 'Vertebrae' as two albums that are particularly focused on melody and prog rock influences and lacking some of the metal ideas. It's finishing that weird trilogy there and at the same time, it's also finishing 'Axioma' and 'Isa' for us maybe. Maybe those are lines that are more metal albums. Those albums are like the legs and this album is like the torso or something.
Like with all Enslaved albums, you've got to give this album many repeated listens to catch everything. There's a lot of weird stuff going on there too.
GK: There is. There are a lot of layers going on there. Some headset candy of course, we like to add that stuff. That's for the die-hard fans of course. Lots of footsteps, rain.
IB: Do you think that's why they call that headset brand Skullcandy?
IB:You should ask them. Send an email. “We're two boys from Norway and we have a question.”[laughs]
GK: I think that's nice, you know? Something you can't listen to on the radio. It requires full concentration. I think there's some elements on this album but actually are designed for the die-hard fans and that's the way it should be. It's there for everybody.
The name 'In Times' and the album art are quite evocative. What do they mean?
IB: Yeah, we've taken the fogginess and abstraction to quite a new level there [laughs]. Sometimes I feel like I have a good grasp on it then sometimes it feels quite elusive. I know where it came from, this synchronicity of time cropping up in a lot of themes that interest me and us when we're discussing popular science like Stephen Hawking kind of stuff and paradoxes and trying to bend your mind around the whole thing that nature has its limits – the speed of light, you can't go faster than that so if you try to fool nature in a sense into ways of going faster, time will slow down so that's also flexible, that whole idea. University people have that idea too but for us or for me being a sort of…what do you call it? What's a non-academic person? A normal person. Just having that perspective-
GK: [laughs]Self-learned butter!
IB: We always have this idea of time being fixed but we can maybe fuse...you know, if you smoked a lot of crack one day, you could allow yourself to – not that I've ever tried that-
GK: Yeah right [laughs]
IB: I'm imagining [laughs] – you could actually accept the premise that there are ghosts in your house or if you're really fucked up but even those people are really fixed on the idea that you can't fuck with time; it's always going to move at the same rate. Seeing that, it's actually totally plastic too. It's all bendable and you could actually manipulate it if you had enough energy, getting pretty close to stopping it or whatever and then going back to the mythological archetypes and mixing that up. We started this whole new thought process and ended up with 'In Times'.
That combination of concepts is very unusual.
IB: Yeah, because it's really big! It's a really big game, mythology, the concept of time.
GK: The creation after Ragnarok, the shaping of the new mind or the shaping of a new world and a portal between the physical world and the metaphysical world.
You mentioned the new album has these heavier elements but at the same time there are more of Herbrand Larsen's clean vocals coming into the fold. Was this a natural occurrence?
GK: It really is [laughs]. It's more or less just going with the flow.
IB: Or as Timothy Leary said, grow with the flow. [laughs] That's the work process when the songs are composed and made up, Grutle and Herbrand work together on the vocal plan but I don't think you guys are sitting with a calculator going: “Now you've had two minutes, I'm gonna have two minutes.”
GK: It was almost like that because we never had a sit down on this one. I just mailed him parts. “Let's figure something out here. I'll figure out the melody, you do the rest.” [laughs]
IB: Did you use the Norwegian Social Democratic model?
GK: Pretty much!
What's the Norwegian Social Democratic model?
IB: Everything's equal. It's like my mother - I have three siblings and when we were getting candy or popcorn or whatever, she would measure the same for everyone.
How sweet! You've stated before how much you're fans of classic '70s prog rock. Do you listen to any modern progressive bands? Metal, rock or otherwise?
IB: There's a band from Bergen on the rise called Seven Impale.
GK: They remind you a lot of early Shining.
GK: Yeah, [laughs]not the Swedish Shining although I like Niklas.
IB: Yeah, he's actually so crazy.
GK: He's actually a nice guy.
IB: Yes, he is. Yeah, and then there's the Swedish. They have a pretty good scene. What's the one that played at Roadburn?
GK: New Keepers of the Water Towers.
IB: They're some kind of post-metal thing. Then there's that one that begins with 'A'. There's a bunch of new progressive stuff that's interesting. What appeals to me is the stuff that's a mix between the folk and the prog. Also we have a tour coming up with these guys Between the Buried and Me and that's a style of progressive metal that I wasn't really aware of before I checked them out. It's faster but then again, I've been really into stuff like Meshuggah for many years so it wasn't that far off. It's sort of prog but in a totally surreal tempo, kind of. That's going to be very interesting to see how it works live.
GK: In a way, that's real prog – doing something different. What pisses me off is people talking about prog rock as being something connected to a certain formula. If you sound like Jethro Tull in 2015, that's not prog. It's regressive music. I like a couple of regressive bands – I think they're great and they're entertaining to watch – but that's not prog. Not at all. I mean, Darkthrone is more prog, for fuck's sake!
Norway seems to have a mix of musicians who are black metallers who have been in prog-related projects like Borknagar, Arcturus and Green Carnation. Why is this? Generally black metal fans are not interested in progressive music. Why is there that overlap between black metal, which is quite simple and raw, and prog metal, which is more in-depth and technical?
IB: I don't know but maybe, a little known fact it seems is that the focus in the early days of the Norwegian black metal scene was so intensely on artistic musical focus. It was nerdy to the point of being ridiculous where people would really study albums and exchange albums.
GK: Yeah, in the early days of the scene, we had parties and stuff like that. Of course there was Sodom, Kreator, Celtic Frost, Bathory…of course but we also listened to a lot of Pink Floyd, Diamanda Galas, Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schultze, electronica, King Crimson and old school metal King Diamond, Merciful Fate, Iron Maiden.
Was this everyone in the scene?
GK: Yeah, yeah.
That's not something you hear much about.
IB: No, it kind of got lost in the whole arson, Nazi thing that took over.
GK: It was not a homogenic scene at all. Every band back then sounded very different individually with their own musical background. Everybody in the scene was a music lover and not hooked up in any specific genre. People seem to forget about that. Things didn't start with 'A Blaze in the Northern Sky', you know? [laughs] People even forget that the first Darkthrone album is technical death metal. It's one of the best extreme metal albums ever but it's plain technical death metal.
That's the end of the questions. Do you guys have any final words for the readers of eGigs?
IB: Are we gonna die now?
It wouldn't be a surprise if I told you.
IB: It sounds like it…'final words'. It's been a great journey! Love you all! Final words? We're looking forward to playing London, that's for sure.
GK: It's kind of, in many ways, our second home town. With the audience, we can say whatever we want. It's great.
Thank you guys for the interview.
GK: Thank you so much.