It makes for a pretty vivid scene: In the waiting room of a maternity ward in a Norwegian hospital there sits a man with long hair and a big beard. The room, like most places in a hospital where they let the public go, it smells sterile and is brightly lit, even at night — and it’s Norway in December, right between Christmas and New Year’s, so it’s night a lot — and like most men in maternity ward waiting rooms, the man looks worried. But he doesn’t bite his nails, or tap his fingers, or scratch his head, or jerk his legs. He’s got his phone out and he’s using it to write music.
The man is Ivar Bjørnson. He’s the guitarist and one of two founding members remaining in progressive black metal progenitors Enslaved, and the piece of music he’s writing will not only serve as his daughter’s introduction to the world, but also the resoundingly triumphant final stretch of the song “Roots of the Mountain,” one of many highlight moments spread throughout the eight component tracks of Enslaved‘s 12th full-length and third for Nuclear Blast, Riitiir (review here). Fitting that such a part should be composed in that situation — the thematic tying together the diverse music and lyrics of Riitiir is man’s need for and reliance on ritual for comfort, and one imagines that having been in Enslaved since he was a teenager a good deal of his personal rituals are wrapped up in it. Indeed, the guitarist acknowledges this about himself and his fellow founder, bassist/vocalist Grutle Kjellson, with whom he started the band in 1991, when he says, “It’s impossible to say where Enslaved stops and our personalities start.”
Appropriate too, then, that Enslaved should have handled the basic engineering job for Riitiir on their own, with work split between Bjørnson‘s home studio and the professional studio run by guitarist Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal and keyboardist/clean vocalist Herbrand Larsen, since the farther inward their songs look, the more intimate and personal they become, no matter what kind of cosmic largesse may emerge in their layers. Once Bjørnson, Kjellson, Isdal, Larsen and drummer Cato Bekkevold had put their tracks to tape, the band returned to Sweden to mix with Jens Bogren at Fascination Street studios as they did with 2010′s Axioma Ethica Odini (review here), which was a stunning progression particularly in its second half from the more stripped down direction they seemed to be taking on 2008′s Joe Barresi-helmed Vertebrae. Perhaps their collaboration with the Opeth, Katatonia and Amon Amarth mixer is becoming a bit of a ritual as well. All the better, since if Riitiir proves anything, it’s that there’s strength to be gained from familiarity, from comfort and repetition.
And yet, Riitiir is also inarguably the farthest out Enslaved have pushed themselves in their progression, so while some of the elements are recognizable and the final output is definitively their own, they’re continuing to reshape what that means. Along with new sounds , experiments in structure and an enduring lack of limitation by genre or doing what’s expected of them — I don’t even know what that would be at this point, except perhaps to step forward from where they were last time out — Enslaved have begun to further highlight the dynamics involved in repetition, introducing a part and then reintroducing it later, somewhat changed, or, as in the case of “Roots of the Mountain,” not being afraid to make the most of a genuinely approachable hook. As a result, the songs have gotten longer in general and more pointed in their development. While ritual may factor in thematically and in terms of process, Enslaved are by no means going through the motions.
Because it’s less a reflection on me than the conversation itself — that is, because it feels less like I’m puffing up my own ego — I don’t mind saying what follows is one of the best interviews I’ve ever conducted. Open, honest and thoughtful, Bjørnson generously gives insight into the Enslaved‘s workings, both in terms of the day-to-day banalities and the more abstract creativity driving the material, while also offering his opinions on the future of the music industry in the age of pay-to-stream, the shift toward more extended material (which is actually a return to earlier days, but in a much different stylistic context), tour plans in support of Riitiir, their Roadburn experience, the state of Norwegian microbrewing and much, much more.
All told, it’s a little over 6,700 words, so if you read it in pieces, I get it. However you take it on, please keep in mind Riitiir is out Oct. 9 in the US (Sept. 28 in Europe), and please, as always, enjoy.
The complete Q&A with Ivar Bjørnson is after the jump.
The release of the previous one, Axioma, was September/October, somewhere in 2010, and then we started quite immediately touring for a couple months. I remember the first things were being recorded in January 2011. Pretty much just after we got home from a European and American and Indian tour. Some ideas started popping up during those travels and came together surprisingly fast as whole ideas, whole songs. It was something pushing its way to the surface there from the start, January-February, 2011, it was more or less nonstop writing between there and when we entered the studio, early March this year. We had some periods that we went touring, festivals and stuff, and pretty much every minute in between those travels were either spent writing or working on the new material. So more or less a year. I guess it’s the most compact period we’ve had, more or less.
Reading through the recording info and the track-by-track, it seems like it was quite a process recording across different studios and taking it to Jens Bogren to mix. There seemed to be an awful lot going on.
It’s a big undertaking in the sense that it’s tough. I think we could do it that way and all the different material still stuck together, because the whole foundation was built on live recordings, drums, bass, guitars, to begin with. Then once they were done, it sort of forked out. Myself, I have my own studio, and then Herbrand and Ice Dale have their more professional studio, so we have that chance of working in parallel. It requires a little bit of coordination and you have to have meetings quite frequently and write stuff down and this, but there was maybe one or two days in maybe the entire process that went to waste because (laughs) somebody sat down and recorded the same thing in studios. Besides that, ti was really efficient use of time, I would say. We had all these things that we wanted to try out, and it was all about not leaving any stone unturned, so to speak. We spent more time in the end of being really critical and having auditions for every idea before they were allowed to be brought with us to Sweden for Jens to mix down. So maximalism first and then minimalism after (laughs).
What were some of the things that required trying out? Studio experiments?
You know, it’s because we wanted things to be very evident and clear and up in daylight. Since Vertebrae, that’s become very important recording philosophy for us. I guess you could say that Joe Barresi more or less taught us that way of thinking about our music that we wanted stuff to be big and grandiose and thematic, and I guess a lot of young people automatically make that out as putting out big layers of instruments and sort of adding and adding to make things bigger, but he taught us to go the other way. So therefore, if there’s the basic instruments and you want to add an effect, having an extra guitar, you can’t be really sure if it’s going to work out with an acoustic or with a Morricone, sort of “cowboy” guitar, if it’s going to be more of a jazzy sound on the guitar. Instead of theorizing around what would be best, we actually took the time to try out these, so there would be some choices. Sometimes you would know that this requires an acoustic guitar, but it’s definitely worth trying a couple other solutions too and take them away and leaving it and not trying.
That’s another advantage of your own home studio too.
It’s an advantage and it requires a certain kind of discipline. I know, for instance, that Ice Dale, one of his other projects that he’s involved in, they sort of went into the trap of never finishing (laughs), because you’re always left with that feeling that, “Okay, maybe it could have been done better,” but as long as you have that, you treat it as a normal studio with the normal timeframes and limits and budgets and all that, but when you reach that sort of end of the line, you know that you need just one more day, you can do it. That’s the difference between that and a normal studio. But you have to keep in mind once you start doubting yourself and thinking, “Well, I don’t have to pay anybody, so let’s just try and do it 100 times more,” then you never finish. I think we’re pretty aware of these things. We are pretty good at being executive producers also in our own little projects, actually being able to say, “Okay, this is probably the best result that we’re gonna get, we can try 200 times more, but it is probably already good.”
How did the decision come about to take everything to Jens to mix?
We worked with him on the last album and what led to that was we had worked with Joe on Vertebrae, and that showed us what a huge difference it was, the whole mixing thing. It was an eye-opener for us, that if we could use our talent in the recording and use our resources, studios and all that stuff, but you really need a special kind of person to do the mix, to tie it all together and give the album its personality. The plan was to actually work with Joe again, the next one, but he’s a very busy guy and plans long-term and everything, and this was a time where we started to tour extensively, and things accelerated, so even though we were really busy, we felt that we were getting ready for a new album just two years after Vertebrae, and then we were discussing other alternatives, because it didn’t feel like a good idea to sit around and wait for Joe Barresi to have studio time – we had to keep the tempo up – and we were talking about which albums do we like, and it turned out that what Jens had done for Opeth was really good work and as fate would have it, the same year as we were discussing this, we went on tour with Opeth in the States and asked Mikael if he thought Jens and Enslaved would be a good fit, and he thought it would be absolutely perfect and got us in touch with him. The rest is history.
After recording yourself the last two albums, has it been hard for you to let go of the mixing process and rely on someone else? Or is it a relief?
I would say it’s a relief, definitely. It didn’t take many minutes into working with Joe and Jens the first time before we realized the personality of the album is established when you go to the mixing. You’ve got to have a pretty horrendous or insane mixer to erase that when you’re that far into the process. You’re still there, you know? The thing about these guys, they have an ear. They’re hearing, they’re seeing the outline of the finished thing and it’s all about bringing it out for them. They’re not looking to change anything drastically into their own image or anything. It’s a very special and sometimes underrated role, especially in metal – the mixer – compared to, for instance, the producer. It’s talked about, the big producers, but I think more and more people in bands are discovering that bands are becoming a lot better at being their own producers, but really where they need to put their money is these mixers. And it is a big relief, definitely a big relief, to see the album being refined and taken to a new level. You’re basically sitting in the back of the room reading metal magazines and it’s all happening.
I think you make a good point that bands can be their own producers – like you guys have done – and that changes the focus to putting it all together in the mixing process.
Tell me about writing “Roots of the Mountain.”
That was one of those urgent processes. I guess there was this idea that started to come, the song. The main theme, or the opening theme, is an old ghost almost that’s been around for many, many years. It’s been played lots in my home studio, but we were looking for the right context for it. It’s a pretty dramatic sort of riff, and it needs to be put in a strong song and everything, and when I got this idea, I think it was towards the end of 2011, November/December. Best way of describing it is almost like first I hear this really faint sound, like a piece of music being played it a very far distance, and then day by day it’s almost coming closer, and I remember at the point we were flying to Portugal to do some festivals, and that’s when it hit home and that’s when, “Okay, that’s going to be the song.” I pulled out my smartphone and have this notation program on it which makes this horrible MIDI sound, and I kept going at that it Portugal while we were playing down there for a few days, and programmed it on the phone, most of it actually, because I was dead scared that if I went down there to the festival, had a bunch of port wine and beers and headbanged, the whole idea would be erased by the time I got back home. So I had that recording and writing the song in the home studio throughout December, and actually, the last piece was coming between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, that was when we were expecting to have our first child, me and my wife. The baby was 11 days over at the time, and finally we reached the limit when she would be admitted and they would set the process going. During those two last hours, waiting for being allowed in the hospital, there was not much else to do. The wife was screaming in the room next door, so I sat down and thought, okay, it’s almost an ironic approach, “Okay, let’s try to write an ending to this song,” and for some reason, it just came out. The whole last part of the song was just written as a sort of intro for the baby or something like that, so we keep referring to it as “the baby riff.” I’m looking forward to playing that for her when she grows up. It kind of sounds like a little baby coming there, with the little guitar coming there, sort of exploding into the riff. That song for me is pretty illustrative of the relation between inspiration and music. It is that important, I guess. If you’re loyal to your inspiration and show it that you take it seriously and will go to lengths to make sure it is put out into the world, I think it’s going to come lucky a lot more often.
Enslaved is a pretty high-profile band in metal, and certainly in European metal. Is that a luxury you can always have, to be waiting for things to develop? Are you ever more rushed than that to get something done?
No, we’re never rushed. I think being in it for as long as we have, and also, I guess at the point in time where we could have sort of sold our furniture and bought a shitty car and just driven around and around on crappy tours, like a lot of Norwegian bands did in the ‘90s, moved to London, for instance, and try to make it bigtime. We never did that, and I think we at quite an early stage came to terms with what we want is pride in what we do. Recognition is always good, but it doesn’t necessarily have to turn into a livelihood. Of course, the irony is at the point where we actually started selling and could have made a living from it, then the record business model collapsed, so there’s no royalties (laughs). If we started like 10 years earlier, I guess it would be different. But I’m really happy about the timing, because now that we’ve come a long way and the sort of work that we’ve chosen to do outside the band. I run a production company. We do everything from advising other bands and people involved in show business, setting up everything from visas for going to other countries to budgeting and whatever, and we build stages for big shows and stuff like that. The other guys in the band, some of them have the studio thing, singer works sometimes, he’ll be going around working for another company, ironically, building stages. Then you have the drummer, who’s more or less a professional fisherman and writes books about bait and weird stuff like that. It gives a freedom now that we’ve seen some of the bands, the toll that’s taken when you put everything in one cart, so to speak. And also, being in industry and having worked on the production side with some of the biggest bands both in metal and rock – we’ve been involved with productions of everything from Rolling Stones to Muse and whatever – you realize that the money and everything gives a lot of freedom, but it’s not necessarily the solution itself.
How do you mean?
It takes away pressure, because I guess a lot of musicians, where they’re at the point where bands split up or people leave their band or something, it often has to do with paying the bills, and of course seeing the people you went to school with or whatever. They have their normal dayjob and don’t have any financial worries and perhaps, of course, it feels unfair for bands that are touring five, maybe six or seven months a year and they’re still having to struggle to make ends meet. Some musicians I know that, before they go on a long tour, they’ll end their contract for renting an apartment because they can’t afford to pay the rent when they’re gone and they have to come back, live with their parents and get a new apartment and so on. You understand why people get burnt out, but I’m not sure that, let’s say, even if we quadrupled our sales and had a very high income, I’m not even sure that it would mean that I would stop running my company, because it is a sort of freedom when you’re choosing tours and you’re choosing appearances and festivals based on wanting to do them, not based on having to do them, because you can always build something or take on an assignment or whatever, do some extra work in the office, and make more money, or the same or whatever. I think that’s definitely freedom. I think the modern artists are more aware of the necessity to have an existence off the stage also.
Like you said, the industry collapsed.
It also gives us the possibility to have a positive outlook. For us, we did that whole thing where we stole that sheep, and I think we have a very clear opinion about piracy and all that, but now we see that, we’re really proud at having been part of the discussion, because things are turning. Now streaming and that stuff is becoming really a big business – perhaps never as big as the CD in its heyday, but that might have been the peak. Every sort of industry has its peak, and it’s not necessarily bad. Now it’s just about finding a good business model, something perhaps more clever than the record companies taking 90 percent and the artist getting 10, but that’s one step further down the road. Now the main thing is, I don’t care if people are paying one cent to stream the songs, but as long as we actually have said that we want to get paid, I think everything besides stealing it is pretty much okay. The rest is just a discussion and I mark it as making [progress].
The last few years have been so transitional, things like Spotify coming up or bands selling their own stuff through Bandcamp and their Facebook profiles. It seems like we’re at the point where we’re waiting for something to emerge as the form that others will follow. I guess that’s something you lose when you abandon physical media. Everyone decides to make CDs, so they make CDs. It’s less centralized now.
Absolutely. I think it’s gonna go into a phase where… It’s up to the record companies, on a big part, because if they decide that we can all live with – because there’s going to be a lower total revenue with streaming, obviously, because there’s no physical product and the consumer is much more in charge and all that stuff, but the record companies decide, “Let’s split that smaller pie between us and the artist,” then I think the model is gonna look a lot like it is today, but if they continue, like Spotify when it was started in Scandinavia, where you have four big major labels and they’re basically trying to make the same as they did before and giving whatever’s left to the artist, at some point there’s going to be more Radioheads and these kind of entrepreneurial bands. And they’ll get a manager and they’ll get a centralized computer expertise and bands are just going to release it to stream themselves. So yeah, the ball is really in the court of the record companies, I think. I don’t think they can afford to do the same mistakes as they did at the beginning of the digital age of just ignoring everything and hiring lawyers to try and keep their income at the constant, because it doesn’t look like that van be done. If kids have 20 bucks, they won’t spend it on a CD. They can get a prepaid calling card, a couple of condoms and some really shitty beer, and they’d rather spend it on that over and over again rather than spending it just on one CD. They don’t really see the point anymore.
At the same time you have this decentralized digital sphere for music, you also have a vinyl comeback, so the people committed to physical media are hyper-committed to physical media. That’s a smaller market, but it’s still there.
Yeah, totally, and it’s, as you say, responding by becoming even more committed. You see in Bergen where we live, every little independent record store disappeared and there was just a few big chains, and the one that survived was the one that actually really stuck to the vinyl, and they started selling vinyl players and cleaning kits and special editions and this and that, and sort of live by the rule that there can never be too high a price, there can just be consumer thinking that the value of the product doesn’t match the price, so they will just get all these fantastic things from all over the world. And then they started getting the whole vinyl hype going, so I would say Bergen, because of this particular shop, were already going with this vinyl comeback when it started happening all around the world. And now they even opened a bar in there, so you can go and drink beer, and at midnight when they close, you see a bunch of happy folks stumbling out there with bags full of vinyl. It’s the perfect concept.
The Sleeping Gods EP you did through Scion, thinking along these same lines, it’s kind of a different version of a model, taking corporate sponsorship or corporate patronage of art and being able to channel that through a physical pressing. How did that come about and how do you think it plays into the overall change in the industry?
You know, we heard about the Scion and their projects, their festival and they’d done some releases. I guess it came about because we knew guys from Vice magazine from back in the day, which again related to me working with some festivals that they were going to over here, and they knew of Enslaved and Enslaved was something they wanted to work with someday and this opening came and they wanted to have a release in their series. And they asked and they explained their project. Two main reasons for doing it immediately: One thing was that instantly struck me was it was the perfect conclusion to the debate that was winding down about the whole downloading and piracy thing. The Pirate Bay guys got convicted in Sweden, and it turned out those Robin Hood guys were selling ads for like millions so they weren’t actually that Robin Hood-ish after all. We felt that the climate was changing and then we figured, okay, let’s put our – what do you say? – let’s walk the walk and talk the talk. If they would finance this recording, we’d make these songs and release it. We didn’t make any money from it, but it proved a point for us that that’s not really why we were against piracy. Now we would have the release given away, but because we said we wanted to give it away. We decided it would be free, which was cool. Also, I don’t see any problem with it, as far as I know. They’re not doing anything really bad. They’re not like having kids build their cars or anything like that. The day they do, of course we’ll have to reconsider it, but it’s sort of part of a tradition that dates back to Old Europe, in Italy, where the patronage of the financial elite, the businesses, and then they get these artists to work for them. Of course it’s to put them in a better light – it’s not like they do it because their souls are made of solid gold or anything – it’s because they want to be perceived positively. Scion, for some weird reason, has reached the conclusion that this kind of music is how they want to be perceived in the world. And why not? We’re giving them something they want, and vice versa. The real winner, I guess, is the people who want to listen to the music. They can get these things for free. It’s a pretty good idea, I think.
One thing I found interesting about the record is Enslaved started out writing these huge, epic songs, and moved into five, six minutes and seems now to be in the process of moving back to longer songs. Of course the sound has changed a lot in that time too. Was there something about this material though that leant itself to being longer, or was it something you did on purpose?
Writing a song from a so-called “normal” structure was pretty exotic for a band like us when we started out. Extreme metal bands didn’t care too much about it. It’s really interesting if you go back and listen to pioneer bands from the early ‘90s, from this Scandinavian, Norwegian, or even European black metal, extreme metal sound, there was a big variety in songwriting schools. Some of them have kept their ideals going into extreme metal with the strong verse and chorus model. We actually didn’t think too much about that, but then around Isa, we experimented a little bit by trying to put our ideas and songs into these moulds and structures. It was interesting for a couple songs and all that, but then it doesn’t really fit the music, I think. It becomes too restrained. Before this album, there had been some discussion in the band, wondering, in terms of intensity, do we lose intensity with long songs? It’s an eternal nightmare with Enslaved. We go to a festival and they’re like, “You’ve got 50 minutes. That’s going to be long enough?” and we’re like, “No.” Then we have to skip 11 out of 13 records. I just came to the point where I thought, okay, screw this, I don’t want to think about song length anymore. For this album, I’m not even gonna consider it. I’m gonna have a look when a song is finished or feels really good and then I’m gonna go glance at the timeline at the top of the recording software. It’s not part of the song. It’s just a way of describing the song. As it turned out, when those thoughts were completely out of the way, the songs (laughs) became really long. I guess that’s the nature of the music. If you give it free reins, the songs become long. We have these long ideas, that take a while to develop, and repetition is a tool that we use a lot and using small variations when a thing reappears. Our best tricks, if you can call it that, simply can’t be done – it’s more like an elephant doing tricks – it’s slow motion and takes up a lot of space. But given a lot of space, it can be impressive and entertaining.
That’s something that works particularly well in these songs, I think. That repetition where something from the beginning comes back at the end slightly different, so even when a song isn’t as reliant on its chorus like “Roots of the Mountain” is, even when you’re doing something else, the song still has its own context. There’s a sense of structure even when it’s not verse/chorus/verse/chorus.
Exactly, yeah. It’s not like we try and resist it. I have to underline that. There are guys in the band that have – I would say pretty much everybody else besides me – have a relationship to music that’s more traditional in that form, Grutle with his ‘70s rock and Herband and Ice Dale, if you catch them at the right time, you’ll find them singing along to some silly pop tune on the radio. Cato loves his ‘80s classic hard rock and all that. I guess that’s what makes it exciting sometimes, is I’ll have these ideas that totally, from my perspective, doesn’t have any particular structure. It’s more like a chain reaction or nuclear bomb (laughs) or something. It goes off at some point and it randomly strikes chorus and builds out in these weird patterns, but then the guys will come in and see some order or logic there. The singers, they really shape the song, and that’s why I would say they’re not only adding vocals, but technically speaking, we’re saying I’m doing the composition, but the singers are doing the arrangement for the song, even though they’re not actually changing the sequence, the order of the sequences of the song itself from what I have written, but the way that the vocal adds structure to the song is so, I think, far-reaching, that we’re defining it as a rearrangement of the song, even though they’re not actually rearranging it, if that makes any sense.
Changing how many cycles through a part is played, for example. Is that kind of what you mean?
Yeah, that happens sometimes. “Roots of the Mountain,” that’s a good [example]. For me, a lot of people perceive it as a chorus, with clean singing. For me, it was a more transitional part. It was maybe a part that was sort of binding other parts together, but when they add the vocals, they were discovering things in the material and changing the weight of the riffs, so to speak. So a riff that might have been quite anonymous in the basic composition really turns out to be the hero of the story when the vocal is added to it. It’s maybe a bit back to what we talked about, the mixer, that they’re seeing an outline of a personality that’s been there all the way but you need that talent and that person to see that. I think the singers are doing the same with the music, in a way. I’m trying not to think too much about it when I’m writing. I just want to let it flow naturally, and then it’s really exciting to hand it over to them and have them interpret the structure that they think is there. Nine out of 10 times, there’s an instant agreement, and sometimes we have to do, like you mentioned, change the amount of times something is played or even the sequence or something like that, but that’s becoming more and more seldom. As we get to know each other better, things are more being written with how they’re gonna think in mind.
And so as you’re putting parts together, you can imagine their perspective on it.
Was your writing for this album affected at all by your Roadburn experience?
Yeah, I guess. It was one of the strongest musical experiences ever for me. It’s hard to see how it wouldn’t affect it. It’s not easy to see a direct line, but it’s definitely been very influential. Not only the times when we played, but just that whole environment, that whole scene, that whole weird feeling of having found some kind of home for Enslaved. We’ve always been almost black metal, or almost prog metal, or almost this and that, but related to other genres and so on, and I guess when we started playing Roadburn and even did this artist-in-residence thing there, we’ve kept going there every year since, just to hang out and meet the guys. It really felt like a home for Enslaved. There’s a bunch of other bands there that also come from genres and backgrounds that they don’t necessarily fit into anymore, and it’s a good thing to have Roadburn.
You went this year?
I was there briefly, one day. Grutle, the singer, was there [for the whole fest], which you could see on his face for a week after. I haven’t seen him that exhausted since we were pretty young. I think he had a really good time.
With the album title, what is it exactly that you’re looking to say about ritual, or the need for ritual? How did it come about?
It was just an avenue that we ended up in having gone in the directions we had gone in on the previous albums, starting all the way back, but particularly with Ruun, that took on a more psychological and inward-going journey, through Vertebrae and Axioma and all that, and it just appeared as a natural next stop on the journey to look at the rituals. What are we trying to say? I’m not entirely sure of what that might be, but it’s a starting point from where we are exploring topics around it. Some of the lyrics, like the title song, which Grutle wrote the lyrics for, have a more historical and global perspective, and it’s sort of like, almost comparing, has a comparative aspect to it, looking all these pre-monotheistic religions and how they’re utilizing rituals and the coming together of peoples to try and achieve something mentally bigger than the individual and even something bigger than the tribe, and going into that spiritual sphere. Other songs, “Thoughts Like Hammers” has a philosophic take, maybe, on the ritualistic process of undergoing bigger philosophical changes, or using philosophy as an engine of change. Some songs are dealing with inner workings, the mechanics, if you can say that, of the rituals from a – I wouldn’t say “biological,” but slightly more physical – point of view than pure psychology. We have all these different angles that are looking at that, because it is evidently quite important. It holds the key to other things. We’re not concluding, we’re more asking, I guess, and exploring through our own asking, is the ritual seeking to cause physical change in the world, to alter reality, or is it actually more trying to change the perception? Is it the way to change how you see the world, rather than change the world and all. Is it an escape mechanism? Is it an act of surrender, so to speak, in the circumstance? Recognizing that you can’t change things, so you’re utilizing the otherworldly forces, or is it actually a potent way of causing change? Like we do with the music, it’s contrasting and setting things up against each other and seeing if there can be any interesting consensus coming out of opposing views. …Or something like that (laughs).
It does seem like there’s more than one viewpoint at work on the album. You have the title-track, which has the Hindu chanting, and then different perspectives throughout. I guess that was the basis of my question. What do you see as unifying all those themes, or is it just the basis of ritual itself as what ties it all together?
I would say that the starting point is in that core of man and his rituals, stripped down to that timeless, spaceless place, and then we’re exploring it from there on and songs are going in wildly different directions. It’s a concept album in terms of theme, but not the concept album in terms of having a linear story or anything like that.
And of course, 13 albums in, you guys must have your own rituals involved in the writing process and recording process even over the last few albums. Did that enter into it at all? I know “Storm of Memories” seems like a pretty personal thematic to work from.
It’s hard to pinpoint how much of that. But it’s definitely reflecting on the album and in the lyrics how much we are using our own music in ritualistic terms. I think working with this album and these lyrics and the concept and everything made us realize how much we are utilizing the band as a ritualistic temple or something, for ourselves, as a collective but also as individuals. You can see the albums are following our own personal developments and we have certain topics maybe, Grutle’s lyrics are more extrovert and linked to mythology and history and maybe have a more direct edge to them sometimes. Mine are perhaps more abstract and introvert, and they all deal with more of the ruins than necessarily mythology and so on. But it’s definitely something that we use, ideas are put to the test in our work in Enslaved, and Enslaved is used as a source of energy in our lives. It’s impossible to say where Enslaved stops and our personalities start. I guess especially for me and Grutle, having been in the band for such a long time, we’ve sort of lost any notion of how it would be to not be in the band. It’s pretty blurred, as evidently if the band is dealing with the ritualistic side of man, then I guess that’s gotta be something that we are also dealing with as persons. If Enslaved sounds hostile, I take it we’re in hostile mood (laughs). It’s a pretty good reflection of what’s going on, and that’s the ongoing joke in Enslaved: “If music is the language of the soul, we’re pretty fucked up” (laughs).
I know you’re doing shows in Norway and the Barge to Hell in Miami, but will you do a European tour after the New Year?
Yes, that’s the plan, both to do – I don’t have any dates or anything – but I know that more likely than not, what’s gonna happen is we’re probably gonna do a US tour first, then a European one, and then I guess perhaps an Australian one even, if we have time for that before the end of the summer season, the festivals. It’s gonna be world touring, quite extensively. What I’m thinking and I’m pretty sure of is the whole moving over the Nuclear Blast on a worldwide basis is also gonna be meaning that the distribution reaches further and so we have to follow the album around and perform the stuff live. If the album tells the story of Enslaved, playing it live is definitely what underlines it, or proves to people that it is really what it sounds like. It’s gonna be busy.
And that’s its own set of rituals.
Oh yeah. Definitely. We’re getting pretty good at it. It’s definitely something where, after an album, especially as intense in the making as this one, it’s good to go out on the road again. I can’t really imagine being in a band that didn’t tour.
Do you have any timeline on coming back to the States, who you’ll tour with, or is it all still up in the air?
It’s still up in the air. I think it’s gonna be early in the year. When we start the touring at the top of 2013, or I’m pretty sure that the US is gonna be the first place we actually hit. We’re doing it backwards this time. Normally, we’ll do Europe, States, and at some point we’ll actually remember that we’re Norwegian, and there’s Norwegian dates at the end. People are sort of feeling left out, saying stuff like, “Yeah, it’s nice to see that you guys are writing blogs in the States and everything, but how about a few gigs in Norway?” This time we took it seriously and we’re doing the Norwegian tour first.
One last thing. I know you’re a beer guy…
Anything that’s really gotten you excited lately? What are you drinking that’s good these days?
There’s so much fun going on in the world of beers, because it’s really become sort of an alternative for people that admired and envied the culture that wine people have had for so many years. But you couldn’t really have that with the beer, it would all be mass-produced and crappy and stuff. I guess Norway and the States are among the best, together with the Belgians, when it comes to beers. I’m a big fan of the American microbrewing styles. I’m a light and bitter kind of guy, so Sierra Nevada, their Pale Ale and Torpedo are very often found in my fridge. It’s stuff that’s hugely popular in Norway. This summer, when we went mixing in Sweden, the stuff’s a lot cheaper there, so I bought a big case of Sierra Nevada from there, actually. Then it’s the Norwegian ones. They have some pretty brilliant ones here now and the competition is pretty stiff in terms of making real quality IPAs and all these variations, Blondes and these kind of beers. Unfiltered stuff. If you go in Bergen to a pub, just a few years ago, it would be really unusual to see a pub that would have more than five different draughts on tap, but now it’s becoming like you find in the States, these places where the selection is big. I would say favorites right now are definitely the IPAs. The last one I had was an IPA, that was yesterday. And tomorrow I guess I’m gonna go have some more (laughs).
There’s such an explosion now of IPAs and different variations. It’s interesting to see that whole thing come up.
If you ever get the chance, there’s a Norwegian one called Nøgne Ø, or “Naked Island” is the translation. It’s taken from the [Henrik] Ibsen poem, “Terje Vigen,” and it’s really good. They were actually the first foreign brewery to make Japanese sake. They were given this cultural fungi from some Japanese guys. The pedigree of the fungi went back to the 1800s or something and they were given a box of this and allowed to make real Japanese sake. So they’re getting famous. If you get a chance to check out that. They’re really huge in Norway now. What they’re known for is every bottle is top notch quality. You never find a flat one or something. It’s really macro, mass production tempo, but the quality is microbrewing. It’s really amazing.
Tags: Black metal, Enslaved, Enslaved Riitiir, Nuclear Blast, Riitiir