By: Metalist NY Magazine
With: Kjetil "Grutle Kjellson" Grutlel
“"Dei for ifra nord
Mot ei anna tid
Bak låg brende ord
Framfor dei ei ny strid”
Starts off Havenless by Enslaved, one of my first ever Black Metal songs and a good mark of the band’s sound. A perfect example of what Viking Metal is to me, Havenless shows just one of Enslaved’s many tricks. Enslaved is one of those few bands that started at one point, ended up in another completely, and had many fans follow their transition without halt. Masterminds Kjetil “Grutle Kjellson” Grutle and Ivar Bjørnson not only managed to make old school Black Metal masterpieces such as Eld, Frost and Mardraum: Beyond the Within, but also to innovate and push boundaries for Progressive Black Metal with albums such as Axioma Ethica Odini and their new opus (plus, 50% of my two albums of the year,) RIITIIR. You can call Enslaved what you will, but calling them a one trick pony is simply asinine. Luckily, I had the very interesting chance to sit down and interview front man Grutle. Results ensue
Hello Grutle! How are you?
I’M PRETTY GOOD, pretty much
So, RIITIIR was just released a month and a few days ago to rave reviews, how do you feel about it?
Well, it’s early to say of course, but we felt confident while recording, mixing and the release. We used our time this time around and its fantastic. No problems. We just started to play new songs live, we did shows here in Norway and we got a good response. Social things, like on Facebook fans seem to have adapted, the magazines have been ecstatic. Looks good, now it really starts, we get going early next year, looks good, we’ll see.
many fans say that RIITIIR is somewhat of a mix between the raw heaviness of Axioma and the softer Vertebrae, how would you describe it in relation to the other albums ?
You never take any consideration how the other albums sound when you do the new albums, what’s done is done and its up to everyone else to judge. We just wanna go ahead and create something new but I mean it was released by Enslaved and it could remind you of things we did previously. We don’t want to repeat ourselves. But its maybe due to the project, its more due to production. It was a bit more metallic, now it’s a bit more organic. In some ways, the production, it’s a middle thing between the aggressive and the organic.
how was the writing process for it? what inspired you on this album?
Well, not anything in particular. We’re kind of, inspiration can come from anything absolutely everything and nothing. Not anything specific but kind of a natural process going on. We have developed certain skills as to accumulate inspirations. Were inspired as we were years ag. It’s not anything very specific, not musically.
What is the meaning behind the name RIITIIR? I read somewhere about Ivar saying its not exactly correct Norse
It’s not Norwegian at all, it’s a made up word, it’s by an old norse word Riit. It’s a universal Enslavedish word, it somewhat stands for the primal rituals of mankind.
Also, I don’t tend to ask about artwork as the answer is usually “its fucking cool!” but, does the RIITIIR artwork have any meaning behind it? I mean we all like hands going upwards, but I am guessing there’s more behind it
Absolutely, the whole thing, the painting really is, it stands very close to each other. The art has a connection with the lyrics. The art is a projection of the lyrics, the music is the soundtrack to the artwork, you can found a lot of elements reflected in the painting, they are connected. It is related to the name, it deals with certain forces that all human beings share and/or have in common. More relevant in ancient times than modern times, we’ve moved away from human instincts to a certain extent. We have looked at all the mythology, the Indian, Egyptian and Norse. You can find loads of the same ways of looking at life, approaching life, taking the first steps so to speak. We shared more or less the same philosophy, the same approach to life. Didn’t matter where it came from, didn’t matter who you talk to. There’s a lot of common deities, the basics of the first primal steps, the first primal rituals of man, of civilizations. And these civilizations didn’t have any contact at all, it’s very interesting how humans come to think the same way, we share some instincts.
How do you feel in general about the evolution of Enslaved? I think there are three major phases- Black, Viking, and now the fusion of the two with Prog, how would you describe your music? I’m the type of guy who’s very picky with his Progressive elements, yet Enslaved takes the whole space, and never lets go.
I think it’s not that complicated, we’re 5 guys who are very into it. In music, you’re constantly exploring new music for ourselves, we never make invitations as far as what to listen to. Good music with a certain vibe, a feeling to it. You’ll limit yourself if you listen to specific genres instead of digging ahead into music itself. People are so concerned about tagging music, if it’s not under a certain tag their not familiar with, we’ve never thought that way. We’ve become used to change, we sound very different from where we started. It’s all about daring to be original, daring to use the inspiration, taking inspiration from the things you listen to. It’s really pretty simple, the music we make is colored by what we’re listening to. If we listen to Slayer 365 days a year, it’d sound that way. It’s about trying to absorb and use it in your own creative process. It’s easier and more fun to make music now because we have a lot of references you know, so that’s nice.
what inspires you now? Also, how does it contrast with the past? Both thematically and musically
What’s your writing process ? How does your collaboration with Ivar work? I mean, writing 10 minute tracks with a lot of riffs, vocals, and parts must not be easy, especially keeping it air tight as you do.
It’s the same as we ‘ve always been doing. He makes the riffs, we record some guitars, program drums, some additional drums, maybe keyboard, we send it to Herbrand (Larsen) and figure out how to make the vocal arrangements. Make little adjustemnts here and there, straighten the vocals , the guitar and drum beat, there’s a little back and forth. It usually takes around a year to make, a whole year to make an album back and forth. We have vocal demos, Ivar, Cato Bekkevold and I have oldschool rehearsals prior to the recording. While we record the guitar bass and drums in the studio. Little vibe from the 70’s live in the studio. A little. We tried to do, the funny thing is we go and more and more back to what we started to do. Instead of recording individually and going back. Back to recording stuff live,like when we didn’t have money at all. A lot more back to basics, which is fun.
Also, being such a “different” Black Metal band, what’s your opinion about modern Black Metal? Any bands in particular your interested in what their doing? Any old compatriots you feel still have their game?
I like bands that actually develop somehow, if it beings developing away from BM so be it. I like bands that challenge themselves and try to create something new and interesting, musically it’s very subtle. So it doesn’t stay the same . I like some of the old bands and the way they have developed. If I have to give you an example, Ulver have developed into something really interesting. Totally different from 1993, 1994 for example. I like bands that actually take the challenge of creating.
Now! Lets dig into your past, lets start at the most basic- how did you get into the whole Black Metal scene?
I didn’t get into it, the first BM band I was into was probably Venom, everything from starting to listen to KISS in the late 70’s, listening to Maiden and Mercyful State and Bathory and Defrost. I was lost, back then it was always about finding the most extreme band, it started with Venom and when I was at Bathory I was totally blown away. I’ve been there as well; I like the music as well. Extreme Metal bands. Bathory is the most important band in the metal scene.
How did Enslaved form?
We formed back in 1991, Me and Ivar used to be in a DM band. Most guys started in a DM band in late 90’s, we were in a band called Phobia in 1991 , we got a little tired of the DM scene, and we decided to have afresh start, make a new band to sound more unique . When we made Phobia. We started creating and developing something , and that’s it. May 1991
how was the mindset different back then? how did you work differently?
The underground in Norway was really really small, especially in the area where we grew up and started (Haugesund,) the whole scene consisted of 3 people and that’s the guys in the band, it was a very minor thing, the first gigs we had, was around 30-40 people. When we started playing, it was that. Everything was really really small, it didn’t really evolve into anything particular, attendance before mid 90’s, when we started record albums and tour Europe. And started playing pretty big gigs in Norway.. Wasn’t until 96 when we took off here in Norway on an underground basis. Speaking of more commercial, not until 2000. Now a days the gigs are pretty good, Extreme Metal is a really big segment in Norwegian music in general. Things have really changed it’s a good scene, we’re doing collaborations. We have a big respect for the music genre in Norway, nobody’s looking down on Metal anymore. Not there at least.
how do you feel about your earlier works?
We still play some old songs, and try to make justice to them playing live. I still like some of the old stuff I don’t listen to it at home but I don’t mind playing those songs, keep in mind since 20 years ago, tried to evolve and develope. We always tried to , I don’t say I absolute love all of them. Felt really great when we released them, I still find them enjoyable.
how do the lyrics differ now from what they were earlier? I feel a lot of your newer lyrics incorporate the old motifs into a newer surrounding
Absolutely, the lyrical concept is pretty much the same, it’s been very very much developed of course, now a days its like, instead of looking outside looking in, its more complex. Inside looking out, find parallels between Norse mythology and modern day life instead of just writing romantic stuff about helmets and sword. The initial meaning of the writer, the poems, stuff like that. Analyze them in a modern set of mind. They have become a little bit metaphysical of course, in general thinking I guess. Their more or less based on the same themes, just very much developed.
how does it feel now to a be part of such an important scene? Do you still stay in touch with the other big bands? what does that time period represent for you ?
We’re still around, still friends with many of them. We hang out with the Immortal guys, we meet the Darkthrone guys, the Emperor guys. Back then the scene wasn’t big so everyone knew each other, we meet everyone from back then every once in a while. Everybody is in a good mood, everybody is proud of what they’ve participated to create. Some aren’t involved anymore or have evolved into other music genres, everybody looks back into the creation of the Norwegian Metal scene with good pride and good memories. Yeah, bottom line we’re still hanging around with one back then. Those still alive.
what do you think in Bergen in particular makes the Norwegian scene so fruitful and special?
I’m not kidding, the weather, it’s a biggest impact. Its dark all winter, its light all summer. Makes you a little dim I guess. We have very distinctive weather. Its very summer, its very spring, its very winter. Very effected by the gulf, rains all the time. In the North its dark all night, dark all day, snow and cold. It fucks up your mind for good and for bad. Its very good for creativity, everything is always emotional, the weather is always in motion. Its not a lie, if we lived in a place where its sunshine all year, I’ll probably play in extreme stagnation. A place where everything is the same all the way around. Its not for me, its not for any Norwegian, we need rain every once a while ago. Oh its cold, oh its not fun, but you can find a little projection of that in the music.
Now for a bit of a different question, how does it compare live? How do you feel Enslaved’s live show has change in 20 years? Other than longer hair
Longer hair back then, my beard has grown I guess haha. We’re more confident now, we’re better musicians, we’re can take bigger chances, we can give more back to the audience, we can actually create, we don’t have to just look at the guitar .There’s more between the audience and the band, and we make it like a performance really. More secure presence now a days than 20 years ago. Now a days we have the best line up we ever had, and we had changes over 20 years. We enjoy playing live much more than we did earlier, I think that’s key. That we’ve playing for a long time together, and that we enjoy off and on stage. Which is important .
Speaking of gigs, what are some of the most memorable moments for Enslaved live?
All of the wackens we done, the dynamo 98 was the first good outside gig, Vienna 95. A lot of good gigs now, it’s a little unfair to compare them, if I was choose one gig, it’d be 2007 Wacken .
Now lets delve into your other band, Trinacria, what is that? How did that come about?
That was actually an idea, that was initiated by the culture department in Norway. They wanted a collaboration between a noise band and an art rock band and an extreme metal band. They ended up asking Ivar and two girls in a band called Fe-Mail. If they’d be interested in writing something together and if they’d put a festival band for a festival in Norway. Ivar called me and asked me to do the vocals and its really cool. Its something different, so then we gathered a couple of more musicians and started a band, we don’t know what’s going to happen with that. Its loads of instruments and production, its much more theater than music. Its kind of expensive to put up and tour with, when we have time to do so, we really want to make another album, when we have time to configure and consider writing some new stuff , . I think Ivar actually wrote some stuff, probably not in the next 2 though years. Maybe 10 or 5. I hope we can release a new album at all hahaha.
Do you feel it is music you couldn’t make with Enslaved?
Yeah, the feel as in the band, its kind of a different side of the personalities. Its more ecstatic, more insane, more theatrical, more hostile, all the way out. It’s a little, if you compare to a human mind its more in the outer consciences its more in the little dream, more than the darker side of personalities I would say.
Even more evil than Enslaved , just kidding.
now! Back to Enslaved for the last couple of questions, please sum up for me your definition of Enslaved in as few words as possible. Like, how would you describe you guys? Because fuck knows every magazine tried
a Heavy Metal space collective.
Someone call Metal archives and punch that in. Thank you so much for this interview, it’s been a great pleasure, any last words to the falafel eating Israeli fans?
Well, I guess, keep it real. Come to our shows, buy our albums, vinyls, steal them if you like. Enjoy your music as we enjoy making it and play heavy. And goodbye