Enslaved Announce North American Tour Dates

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 7th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

Well, no way this one isn’t a win. Norway’s Enslaved will hit North American shores just at that point when you think winter will never end, and they’re bringing Pallbearer and Ancient VVisdom along to support. Enslaved will be promoting their most excellent Riitiir release (review here), and I’m already anxious at the thought of seeing “Roots of the Mountain” live. Call the greatness assumed if you want — this is going to fucking rule.

The PR wire sends details:

Norwegian progressive extreme metal band ENSLAVED will return to the U.S. and Canada in early 2013 for a headlining, 20-show “Winter Rite” tour joined by U.S. doom metallers Pallbearer and occult rockers Ancient VVisdom as openers. Kick-off is in Philadelphia on January 30th with the tour closing in New York City on February 22nd.

ENSLAVED rhythm guitarist/songwriter/lyricist Ivar Bjørnson checks in from Norway about the upcoming trek:

“North America has become like a second home-shore to us; the rising support we’ve been getting for the last albums and tours has been amazing! We’re more than ready to come over again and play our new album Riitiir live to show that the new material is extremely well-fitted for a live setting, and to reflect the enthusiasm and dedication we’ve been getting from the fans over there! See you on the road!”

Confirmed dates for ENSLAVED’s headlining “Winter Rite 2013” tour are:

01/30/13 Underground Arts – Philadelphia, PA
01/31/13 Ottobar – Baltimore, MD
02/01/13 Mr. Smalls Theatre – Pittsburgh, PA
02/02/13 Magic Stick – Detroit, MI
02/03/13 Reggie’s Rock Club – Chicago, IL
02/04/13 Mill City Nights – Minneapolis, MN
02/06/13 Marquis Theater – Denver, CO
02/08/13 The Troubadour – West Hollywood, CA
02/09/13 Slim’s – San Francisco, CA
02/10/13 Branx – Portland, OR
02/11/13 The Highline – Seattle, WA
02/12/13 Biltmore Cabaret – Vancouver, B.C. – CANADA
02/14/13 The Pawn Shop – Edmonton, AB – CANADA
02/15/13 Dickens Pub – Calgary, AB – CANADA
02/16/13 The Exchange – Regina, SK – CANADA
02/17/13 Osborne Village Inn – Winnipeg, MB – CANADA
02/19/13 The Opera House – Toronto, ON – CANADA
02/20/13 Les Foufounes Electriques – Montreal, QC – CANADA
02/21/13 The Sinclair – Cambridge, MA
02/22/13 Bowery Ballroom – New York, NY

RIITIIR, ENSLAVED’s twelfth studio album, debuted at #8 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart in October with the band’s highest first-week sales in their career in the United States. The album is already a contender for many “Best of” year-end lists around the world for 2012. Pick up a copy at http://bit.ly/enriitlp and see why that is.

ENSLAVED will be headlining Scion A/V’s Roadburn Records showcase on Saturday, November 10th, 2012 at The Roxy in West Hollywood. Also performing are White Hills, Scott Kelly, Earthless, and Astra. RSVP to the All Ages event here: www.scionav.com/METALSHOW

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Enslaved Interview with Ivar Bjørnson: Patterns in the Currents

Posted in Features on September 14th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

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.

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Enslaved, Riitiir: Becoming the Heralds

Posted in Reviews on August 20th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

In some ways, Enslaved’s twelfth album, Riitiir, picks up right where the last one left off. 2010’s Axioma Ethica Odini (review here) was the Norwegian progressive black metallers’ most expansive outing yet. balancing a more traditional (as far as that kind of thing goes with Enslaved) first half with a second that found them pushing the boundaries of influence into doom and even a burgeoning psychedelic sensibility, all driven by their overtly metallic context but given melodic breadth that even pivotal works of their new era like 2004’s Isa or 2006’s Ruun began to point toward and which was all-too-briefly affirmed on last year’s subsequent The Sleeping Gods EP. Since 2004, the band has been putting albums out more or less like clockwork, and despite having moved to Nuclear Blast for each North American release since Vertebrae in 2008 – Riitiir is their third for the label – they’ve been consistent in lineup while exceeding themselves in terms of quality of output. Riitiir – also written as the all-caps RIITIIR, and derived from the words “rites” and “rituals,” themes that encompasses much of the record’s lyrics and musical sensibilities – was recorded across a variety of studios in the band’s native Norway, and overseen by the band personally, but to mix, they teamed with Jens Bogren of Fascination Street Studios in Sweden and listening to the various layers at work on the eight tracks, it’s no mystery why. Along with their most prevalent melodies yet, Riitiir also boasts the complex arrangements vocally and instrumentally that have been a hallmark of the band’s latter-day work. It’s an album you can listen to three times in a row and hear something different each time, whether it’s a tempest guitar lead in “Death in the Eyes of Dawn” from Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal or Ivar Bjørnson or a subtle harmonic shift in the vocals of keyboardist Herbrand Larsen, whose voice has become more and more a fixture of Enslaved’s work since he joined the band in 2004.

And certainly pre-Larsen albums like 2001’s Monumension or 2003’s Below the Lights were not without their progressive sensibilities, but the work the band has been able to do since his arrival is in a different league entirely. There will be those who disparage their growth as some shedding of black metal trueness. I’m not one of them, and I think to limit Enslaved to one genre or another at this point is to undercut the value of what they do, especially in the songs of Riitiir. Bassist Grutle Kjellson still has his trademark rasp and Ice Dale offers no shortage of monstrous and deathly growls, but it’s the lushness that Larsen brings in his clean singing and synth work – Bjørnson contributes synth as well – that ultimately define some of the most memorable parts of Riitiir, be it the rush of “Veilburner” where he tops a near-punkish beat from drummer Cato Bekkevold or the subdued finale of closer “Forsaken,” the atmosphere of which is no less lonely than its title. Throughout, Enslaved bask in their own indulgences and put them to good use, leaving no avenue in the songs unexplored or underdeveloped. Perhaps unsurprisingly, as a result of this, the individual songs are longer than one might have come to expect from the band, the halfway marker “Roots of the Mountain” – a landmark in more than just its track placement – being the second track to top nine minutes behind opener “Thoughts Like Hammers” and the closer clocking in at a weighted 11:15. That’s not quite the 16 minutes that “793 (Slaget Om Lindisfarne)” took to open 1997’s Eld or the lengths they went to on their 1994 debut, Vikingligr Veldi, but on average, they’ve pushed further time-wise to match their expanding scope on Riitiir, and even on the title-track here, which at 5:26 is the shortest of the bunch, it’s time well spent.

While it’s a little ironic that Enslaved would be around long enough to bring them full-circle from starting off with longer tracks, delving into shorter bursts and then working their way back up over the course of their last several albums, the principle difference between Riitiir and the several outings preceding it is the effectiveness of the blend of influences. Axioma Ethica Odini, which was one of 2010’s best albums, make no mistake, kept the bulk of its progressivism for its second half, and it wasn’t until the last two tracks – “Night Sight” and “Lightening” – that the staggering melodic reach of the band  in its current incarnation really unveiled itself. It’s in that regard most of all that Riitiir picks up where Axioma Ethica Odini left off, as there seems to be a willful shedding of concern for expectation happening right from the start of “Thoughts Like Hammers.” The progression is more rock-based and bombastic. The first verse is a genuine stomp, Bekkevold holding back as he does a lot throughout from unleashing blasts or double-bass drumming, and Kjellson starts off Riitiir with a vicious slew of cosmically-themed lyrics. All seems to be going according to plan until the chorus opens up, Larsen comes in on vocals – he’d done a kind of call and response during the verse as well, but the chorus is all him, and in layers – and the majesty really takes hold that the fabric of the record is made apparent. Enslaved won’t be burying their progressive elements this time around, but neither do they shy away from crushing heaviness, as “Thoughts Like Hammers” shows as it approaches its midpoint break, Kjellson and Larsen once more in a call and response, but over a more vicious instrumental burst. An airy solo follows and long synth lines sustained under Bekkevold’s tom runs while Kjellson gurgles out a few more lines, then shouts back a spoken part and a more melodic guitar takes hold to lead back to the initial verse and chorus interchange. If it sounds confusing, it is. If it sounds like a lot going on, it is. Among Riitiir’s impressive achievements, not falling apart halfway through has to be considered right at the top.

Presumably though, if that fate was going to befall a band like Enslaved, it would’ve happened at some point before their twelfth album in. “Thoughts Like Hammers” makes an intriguing opener, showing right away that the band have pushed themselves even further in terms of their arrangements and structuring since the last time out, and that their level of performance, as ever, is second to none. Larsen in particular has surfaced as a defining presence in the band’s sound, and his increased range and confidence on Riitiir only makes the material richer. He appears vocally on every track on the album – he was on almost all of Axioma Ethica Odini as well but for the instrumental interlude – but more than that, he is clearer, more forward and more accomplished-sounding than ever before. Because of the complexity of the arrangements of which he’s a part with Kjellson and Isdal, it wouldn’t be fair to call him a “lead” vocalist, but he makes choruses like that of “Thoughts Like Hammers,” “Death in the Eyes of Dawn” and “Roots of the Mountain” powerful and memorable in ways they simply wouldn’t be without his input. The three distinct voices of Enslaved each have a role to play in the overall balance, but with the bass-heavy groove of “Death in the Eyes of Dawn,” it’s Larsen’s that most stands out, however killer the opening gurgles sound. The song develops some of the spoken ideas of the opener, using throaty semi-whispers to top a bouncingly proggy guitar line during the bridge before Larsen takes over for the pre-chorus and chorus. Isdal returns for the next verse and the cycle seems ready to repeat itself, but a cut to a solo section instead of the Larsen-topped pre-chorus acts as an unpredictable shift and a quick section of effective stops leads to a heavier overall push, Bekkevold announcing its coming with fervent snare rolls and Kjellson coming on for an all-cylinders burst that shifts back to the progressive bounce with hardly any announcement at all. Again, it works. The initial verse/pre-chorus/chorus/post-chorus arrangement repeats, and in the last minute of the song, a stretch of acoustic guitar is introduced to carry the flow into “Veilburner,” which is shorter at 6:46 and more simpler overall in its structure.

Given what Enslaved have so far done on Riitiir, it would just about have to be. Whatever shift it makes to a more established pattern, however, “Veilburner” more than makes up for with its chorus. If modern Enslaved has a prototype arrangement, “Veilburner” is probably it – Kjellson fronting the verse and Larsen taking over for a galloping chorus – but the chorus has a second stage and it’s among the most grand of any on Riitiir. They repeat it twice, Larsen holding the fore once he’s come to it, repeating the lines, “I cannot tolerate being held in the dark/I need to see/I will the flames,” in his kind of drawn out, dreamy melody, seemingly unaffected by the rush beneath him, and when the song opens up and the low-mixed growling accompanies, there’s hardly a finer example of the offsetting melody and brutality to be found in modern metal that is still worthy of the name. Kjellson returns for a final verse and the song cuts to noise that bleeds directly into “Roots of the Mountain,” which stands among “Thoughts Like Hammers” and “Forsaken” as one of the several peaks of the record. At 9:17, it is grandiose, but not inflated. Solid. It is the catchiest chorus on Riitiir and ties together not only the theme of rituals, but the career-long battle-mindedness of Enslaved with their cosmic side and even a flourish of inward wisdom-seeking. Again, it sounds like a lot and it is, but it’s all there. And for those who’d relish the head-down pummel of Enslaved at their blastbeaten heaviest, that’s there too, right in the beginning of the song, which shoves its way through the first verse before you even realize it. It’s only when Bekkevold evens out his bass drum and Larsen hits a newfound falsetto in the chorus that “Roots of the Mountain” makes itself fully known. They rush through another verse and get back to the chorus in good time – rightly so – and let loose a guitar solo before bringing in a different progression, also led out by a solo, this time in an ascending line that leads to a break of Kjellson’s bass and the drums (which sound sampled if they aren’t). The guitars kick in and Larsen spits some raw philosophy, and for a minute, it genuinely seems like the song is in its final stretch.

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