Part 2: ENSLAVED
Norway’s Enslaved played several high profile showcases at SXSW. I attended the two most notable showcases, first, the band’s fifteen minute supporting slot on a bill featuring Mixhell, Napalm Death, High On Fire and of course the legendary Motorhead, and secondly, headlining the "It’s Grim Up North" showcase where the band enjoyed a lengthy forty five minute set.
Enslaved has a very strong and supportive fan base in Austin, Texas and really seemed to feel at home in the Lone Star state. I have to say, seeing them again was a highlight of the SXSW conference for me. Enslaved focused on selections from Ruun and Isa, but did play some of the band’s earlier material as well. Immediately after performing at SXSW the band departed Texas to return back to Norway, as guitar player Ice Dale would be performing at the "Inferno" festival with his side band SAHG who also feature within their ranks one Tom Cato, also know as King Ov Hell, from Gorgoroth.
Helping them out as "Special Guest Roadie" was B-War the former bass player for Marduk who diligently wrapped cables and made sure the band had enough bottled water at all times. These days B-War has a gruff ZZ Top-esque beard and could be seen at Enslaved’s showcases sporting a Black Label Society hooded sweatshirt. He really seemed proud of his comrades looking on from the side of the stage, yet it wasn’t that long ago that Enslaved invited him onstage to join them on a number in San Antonio.
Also of note, was the presence of Anthrax guitar player Rob Caggiano, and comedian and metal fanatic Brian Posehn during Enslaved’s final SXSW headlining set Friday night.
Speaking with guitarist Ivar Bjornson and keyboardist Herbrand Larsen we covered the spectrum of all things Enslaved, sheep abductions, illegal music downloading and more….
ENSLAVED – interview with Ivar Bjornson and Herbrand Larsen
MR: First off, how are you guys doing and what brings you to the SXSW festival?
IB (Ivar Bjornson): I’m doing fine thanks. We got invited to do a Norwegian metal showcase which is going down tomorrow night. When Vice Records heard we were coming over to do that they invited us to open this show today with High On Fire, Napalm Death and Motorhead. Also, we are doing another Vice show tomorrow afternoon.
Basically we are here to play Enslaved in front of people who know Enslaved and maybe people who haven’t heard it before.
HL (Herbrand Larsen): Well we are playing here at Stubb’s and tomorrow two more shows…one short, but longer than this I hope and one long show for 75 minutes. So, it’s just to say “We’re here!”
This is kind of promotional I guess to show ourselves here in the states, we’ve been touring here for some time, but this is like new people listening to our music that maybe wouldn’t (normally) listen….
MR: Ivar, with you being one of the organizers for the Hole In the Sky festival, as well as a huge fan of Possessed, is it a possibility that you might get up and play a few numbers with Jeff Beccerra and company?
IB: I don’t know man, Possessed is like mythology to me when I was a kid. I guess I’m still a kid, but you know when I was really young and started Enslaved I was listening to Beyond The Gates and all that stuff.
So I think maybe our singer, maybe he can do something. That’d be fucking great. I’d love to something. Anytime.
MR: Besides a performance from the reassembled Possessed, what else can headbangers expect at this years Hole In The Sky festival?
IB: There’s quite a lot published already. I know Meshugga’s coming, At The Gates they’ve reformed. We’re having Carcass over…There’s Exodus, Municipal Waste who I haven’t heard yet but is supposedly up and coming thrash band.
MR: In retaliation to politician Lars Sponheim’s proposed legalization of illegal downloading, Enslaved recently kidnapped some sheep belonging to the politician. What can you tell us of this daredevil feat and are you tempted to spray paint Sponheim Squarepants on the side of Lars’ automobile?
IB: We probably should do that. What we reacted towards was his suggestion to legalize illegal downloading. We are not against the concept of downloading at all. To be honest I fucking love downloading myself, but I think, if a band wants to give stuff away…fine. If a band wants to sort of compensate, sell the songs. That’s fine too. I buy songs for two dollars, one dollar whatever, an album for fifteen bucks…I think it’s a great deal.
What we’re saying is that what Lars Sponheim is suggesting is to make all kinds of illegal downloading legal to save work for the law enforcement, and we say that’s wrong because musicians deserve the same protection against theft as everyone. It’s a product.
HL: We’ve tried to live from making music and we have to get paid to do so. It’s expensive going into studios and stuff, everything costs money. When a politician says something stupid like that we just had to make a point out of it, and downloading one of his sheep was kinda our way of saying it’s not ok to download stuff.
MR: How did that turn out, did you get a lot of media coverage surrounding the incident?
HL: Yeah…television and lots of newspapers covered the story so I think we got our point.
MR: Did he respond to that?
HL: No not really he got kinda pissed, but we don’t care about that. Actually last time we played here in the U.S. there was some people with posters about downloading the sheep so it spread from Norway all over here, so that’s very good.
MR: Ivar, both you and Grutle were very young when Enslaved was first formed (Ivar was 13 and Grutle was 17) how did the two of you first become friends and who were your metal influences at the time Enslaved was first conceived?
IB: Yeah, it was pretty weird, both me and Grutle when we started Enslaved we didn’t really know each other, back in eighty nine….ninety. We both come from very small communities, and we have this one city that was right between where we come from and we would go there and see metal shows.
I was…I don’t know…I was about twelve and he was sixteen, seventeen and we saw a band called Witchhammer, and he was in the moshpit, you know he was one of the guys drinking….I was, you know a kid having a soda in the back.
I went up to see what all the moshing was all about it was pretty fascinating. He went on stage and stage dived over…it was very few people there….stage dived over (and) crashed into my head. So I passed out and I woke up…slapping my face…that’s the first time I met him.
MR: Enslaved has received both the Norwegian Grammy and the Alarm Price award, how does it feel to be among the first of the Scandinavian black metal bands to receive this mainstream appreciation of your music?
IB: It’s pretty cool. It’s, you know, an honor, any kind of appreciation is always an honor because when you’re making your music it’s just like putting your own thoughts and instincts and all that out there, so, getting positive feedback is always fine. For us it will always be more important what the metal community thinks.
I guess the Norwegian Grammy committee and all that have been taking things serious…they actually have metal people in the jury, but it could be us, it could be anyone else….you know it’s fun but that’s not what life is about.
HL: I think it’s cool. It’s like appreciation I guess…its appreciation and that other people appreciate what we do, so it’s a nice thing. It does not mean anything big, but it’s good to be appreciated I guess that’s the point.
MR: How does the band enjoy touring in America? Have you developed a taste for certain American fast food restaurants or American beer, and please tell me your favorite American metal bands….
HL: Touring in the states, we like it a lot. We’ve been here twice in the year now, it’s getting better all the time. More and more people are coming to the shows. Especially the big cities are best for us like New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago…also other place are getting better all the time.
We really try to stay away from the burgers actually, that’s impossible some times. I know. Grutle and Cato the drummer they like Red Lobster because they are into seafood. Denny’s for breakfast maybe I like the American breakfast with pancakes and syrup…that’s very good.
There’s lots of American metal bands…I don’t know where to begin because I grew up listening to American bands all the time. I started kind of with KISS that was my first big band ever and I don’t know, lot’s of bands really.
MR: Does it bother you that the majority of the international press Norwegian metal bands receive usually gravitate towards the underground criminal activity that was happening in the early 90′s rather than focusing on music, or do you feel like all of the press attention regarding the church burnings and murders (Euronymous, some guy during the winter Olympics) has resulted in drawing more attention than these bands would’ve garnered on their own?
IB: I think it’s natural because it’s fascinating. I think people have a tendency when there’s an accident, people go over and they wanna look. Many times people actually wanna take pictures and look at the accident before they think of helping the people that’s been in the accident.
You know in psychology if you have a certain amount of people watching somebody about to commit suicide the crowd will eventually start to try to convince the person to make the suicide because they want entertainment.
I think it’s instinctive, we have an instinctive desire for dark, bloody, murderous business. So, again, I think some of the press should get over it at some time. But I totally acknowledge that some people find that fascinating and that they get into the music afterwards. It’s only human.
MR: Enslaved has quite a year of exciting concerts coming up, you recently played some dates with Overkill in Russiaand the Ukraine, how did that go?
IB: It was fucking amazing the Ukraine and Russia, we’ve never been that far east and to play Ukraine and Moscow was amazing and of course being in a package with a band like Overkill is special for us. That’s a band we would listen to even before we started playing.
HL: That was really cool…in Kiev the Ukraine and Moscow. Very good audience, lots of people. It was strange it was like we come to a different world. But I guess the metal people the metalheads are the same all over actually. It was a really good turnout and really good for us to play there, both in Kiev and Moscow.
MR: I heard people just go crazy for metal over there.
HL: Yes, they do. Lot’s of stagediving and screaming and shouting. Really good turnouts.
MR: And also coming up you will take part in the Gods of Metal festival in Italy with Judas Priest and Iron Maiden headlining not to mention two German appearances with the Festung Open Air and the Rock Hard Festival. Will any of these high profile appearances be filmed for possible use on an upcoming DVD?
IB: None of these no. We are planning to record for next year I think we are gonna start jamming material for the next DVD.
MR: Enslaved is difficult to peg within a specific sub genre of metal, but it could be said that Enslaved has become as progressive of a band as you are extreme. Considering it has been a good two years since Ruun was released, are their currently any plans in the works to release a new album, and will it continue down the same musical path as the last album? What can people expect?
IB: There will be a new album in October this year, but it’s too hard to describe it to be honest. I think to make a qualified guess I’d say yes it’s going to continue in the same direction, not only from Ruun it would consist of three parts, it would have a lot of the old history of the band, very heavily connected to our roots, it will be from Isa to Ruun, I think those are two different albums representing two different aspects of new development, so I think yeah…it’s gonna be good. That’s all I know.
HL: It will be a path. If it’s the same path I don’t know. We just finished recording the album and we’re going to mix it in the start of April so it will be finished in a month actually, and I guess the release will be in the autumn sometime. I guess the material is as always when making a new album, some is the same but something is completely different. I’m excited to see how the audience will take it. It’s always hard to say with us.
MR: And are you working on any side projects besides Enslaved?
IB: Yeah, we have a project called Trinacria, it’s three of the guys from Enslaved, it’s me, the singer Grutle, and the guitar player Ice Dale. We are working together with two women from a noise band called Fe-Mail.
It’s basically extreme metal and noise mixed together but surprisingly melodic in a very disturbing way I think. It’s definitely something else.
MR: I’d like to thank you for taking the time to chat with me today, I really appreciate it. Is there anything else you’d like to let the diehard followers of Enslaved know before we wrap up this interview?
IB: I’d never be able to express that in words, the feelings we have for the people that’s been following the band, the people that we met in Austin today, the people that traveled to Austin to see our fifteen minutes here, the media we’re talking to, you know we’ve been at it seventeen years and Enslaved has been a band that’s always been working from our own principles, but having that kind of appreciation from our fans…that’s what, you know, drives us when things get tough and they do from time to time when you work hard.
HL: Come to our next show. We really appreciate that you come watch us.
More live pics of ENSLAVED from SXSW!