ENSLAVED was never a part of the chaotic 90’s “Satanic” black metal scene, but sometimes you still get conflated with those groups – does that get annoying over time, and is there anything you can say that would disassociate ENSLAVED from that nonsense?
Ivar: We have since back then kept answering when people asked; we’re not a Black Metal band – we have a lot of common musical inspirations and share esthetics to a certain extent – but we have never been Black Metal. A Black Metal band should base their philosophy and concepts on Satanism – and that has never been for us. I don’t feel the need to disassociate ourselves more than we are doing through our music and lyrics – and the interviews we do, where we get the chance to talk about what we are, which is far more important than what we are not. So thanks! We are a band that are rooted in Norse history, mysticism and mythology, with an avantgarde edge to music and lyrics!
ENSLAVED and extreme metal music has been around for 25+ years. Over time, have you seen it gain more acceptability from the global mainstream like is has in Norway?
Ivar: Oh absolutely! I remember when they had Dimmu Borgir do a musical number during the Norwegian Grammies – reportedly a fight broke out where classical musicians were furious “people like that” was part of the show. Dimmu is perhaps not the most extreme band, but the first part of the 90s was a bit like that; first everyone hated it, then most people eventually had to admit there was a professionalism and artistic integrity that could not be ignored. These days it is pretty much accepted as long as there is a degree of actual musicianship and artistry involved. If you’re just an extremist with a guitar and a drum machine you tend to be ignored, which I guess is good. I pretty much the international development being like the Norwegian history, just a lot slower and later. I guess most of the world is still in Norway mid-90s where they are just starting to realize there might some talent in there. I guess classical musicians still scoff at us here though, those people can’t be turned haha.
ENSLAVED is on the road a lot – what’s the hardest thing about being away from home so often?
Ivar: There’s not much hardship at all; except from being away from family – my kids and wife. Bands that complain about being on the road I will never be able to relate to. Like these young bands moaning about how they quit their “great jobs” to be on the road. Come on, we all have something we “could have been” – but being a musician is something you do for art itself, not a chore you take on and then have the world kiss your feet for your enormous sacrifice. I’ve done it all; sleep on the floor of cargo vans for four weeks in the US (through freezing temperatures and heat-waves on the same run), to fly-in shows with nice hotel rooms and every type of tour bus. Nowadays you have a fresh support band with you and decide to share your meal with them because the promoter don’t want to pay for support’s food – and they’ll wrinkle their nose and ask if they can have a different sauce with it. Well, to be precise; US and European bands are normally great to tour with; I just think Norwegian bands are rock stars now from the time they buy their first string sets, because they’ve grown up hearing too many nice things about Norwegian Metal and Norway.
In America (and perhaps globally,) there’s been a sudden surge of interest in Norse/Viking history and mythology from things like the “Vikings” & “American Gods” TV shows, various Marvel Comics movies featuring Thor, and of course, Scandinavian metal. How does the average Norwegian feel about this? Are there any egregious things we’re getting wrong or misrepresenting about the culture?
Ivar: The average Norwegian is a little late to the party, but seem to enjoy it as well! On the surface it is a sudden surge, but it has been building for a while. Through my side project with Einar Selvik (Wardruna); “Ivar Bjørnson & Einar Selvik” (original name, I know), we have worked a lot with researches on these topics; as our music and lyrics are rooted in Norwegian history. Turns out a search term like “Viking” is the most popular when it comes to international travels searches for instance. So what I meant is that the average Norwegian started becoming very interested also when they saw the massive interest from the international society. Typical Norwegian; if you want to have attention as an artist here – you have to point to the interest internationally. We’re eternal farmers haha. And no, I don’t think there’s any “right” or “wrong” – of course there’s “too much” focus on the short period of time between 793 and 1050 known as the “Viking age”; there’s ten thousand years before that that is also rich with culture and mysticism. Of course there’s too much focus on the “macho” aspects and Conan-like imagery. But that’s not the point – whatever the access point, I think it is really great and valuable that people explore this culture – no matter why they are drawn to it. It is not “ours” per se; it is part of the human history.
What was the concept behind the “Storm Son” music video? In the era of YouTube, is the music video still important?
Ivar: The beauty of the “Storm Son” video for me is that the artist has interpreted our lyrics without any literal discussion what anything “means” directly. I really like lyrics, and consequently, videos to be open for interpretation. I simply gave Josh (Graham) a few of the images and shapes that I associate with the lyrics and music, then he took it from there. For me the video is still highly relevant artistically, but I am honestly not sure if it matters in a “commercial” context for a band like us. I am not saying it does not matter, I am saying I have no clue haha. Also Nuclear Blast is a very cool label to be on; I cannot imagine them signing Enslaved with the intention of securing their pensions – it is more about having a band they are proud of. So they might have indulged us with a 10 minute abstract video without expecting humongous sales from it.
“Hiindsiight” features a really cool solo saxophone part – do you see a growing role for wind and horn instruments in future ENSLAVED records, or metal as a whole?
Ivar: I see Metal as expanding, and including more impulses from other genres, and sure – also wind/ horn instruments. I think the sax is having a particular surge (got to use that word again!) in “Extreme” metal these days, but I don’t see it as becoming a permanent feature or anything. It will still be based in the classic instrumentation and then avantgarde bands like us and Ihsahn, and even more conventional/ conservative bands like Satyricon will experiment from time to time.
What are you listening to these days?
Ivar: Popular stuff these days are Ulver’s “The Assassination of Julius Caesar”, Type O Negative “October Rust”, YOB “Clearing the Path to Ascend”, Rammstein “Reise, Reise”, Dissection “Storm of the Light’s Bane”, ISIS “Panopticon” and a bunch of psychedelic Electronic Music and Techno no one has ever heard of.
What are some newer musical influences that inspired you whilst writing songs for “E”?
Ivar: Well, there’s still exciting new stuff happening – even though I tend to get pumped on classics when starting to write; Bathory, Darkthrone, “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas”, Master’s Hammer, Motorhead, Genesis, Yes, King Crimson, Rush and all those goodies – but yeah there are also new things happening that sneaks in there: Bölzer’s “Hero” impressed me a lot, the same with Ulver and I guess the YOB album is also fairly new. Also Solstafir does great stuff as we speak. There’s not a lot to squeeze out of Black Metal these days; I’ll be honest. At some point music took the backseat and image took the wheel – I am not particularly interested in being neither sexy nor dangerous, so I don’t feel a lot of need to look for inspiration in that direction. There’s luckily a few freaks still that does things on the road not taken.
What do you see ENSLAVED doing in ten years?
Ivar: Playing bigger shows, touring like madmen, recording more complex and atmospheric albums and answering interviews! Never surrender!
When can we expect a new ENSLAVED album?
Ivar: I have no idea, but experience dictates it won’t be that long. I just have to figure out how to attack the difficult 15th album… hmm.