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Een nieuw album van Enslaved is iets waar we altijd heel gretig naar uitkijken. Dit is geen luchtige ear-candy, maar een uitnodiging tot onderzoek op velerlei vlakken. Half oktober komt de Noorse band met het veertiende studioalbum ‘E’, de opvolger van het adembenemende ’In Times’. We zitten nog middenin de verkenningsfase van deze nieuwe brok progressieve extreme metal, wanneer we alles op alles zetten om componist/gitarist Ivar Bjørnson te kunnen spreken. De man is drukbezet, maar maakte gelukkig toch tijd voor ons vrij voor een diepgaand gesprek.

Door: Vera | Archiveer onder prog / sympho metal

When we talked about ‘In Times’, it was a month before you were curator at Roadburn. How do you look back now at that festival?
It was fantastic! When it happened I realized that it was a bit almost unrealistic. So many big things going on and we met all those great people, great bands and played a lot of concerts ourselves. It was really one of the highlights of our career.

Of the career? Wow! Because not only the touring for ‘In Times’ followed, but 2016 was also a year of celebration twenty-five years of Enslaved. Can you tell something more about that?
Actually I have to admit that it was the people around us that put some pressure on us that we had to do something special for the twenty fifth anniversary. Okay, we did one concert in our home town Bergen for the fifteenth anniversary, but we never really made a priority of doing this sort of celebrations. I think we needed someone to explain us that it is not like the band has been pompous and pretentious, it is also I guess for the fans and the people in the team who were following the band from the beginning… It is cool to make something out of it, to make a celebration, not only for the band, but also for the fans and the team. It is great for those who followed us since the beginning when having a celebration where we only play material from 1992 till 1997 at one concert and then the next eight years at the next concert. So we said okay, let us try that and it was really cool. It was very inspiring, to be honest. Especially for two reasons. One was to be reminded of all the good songs that we have from the past. It is easy when you make so many albums like Enslaved, you only focus on the latest records you have made and the old classics you have to play. Making such an active research through your whole career, it really reminds you of the ideas you had when you were younger and maybe on one side not so rational, maybe not so smart basically, but on the other side you were not afraid of anything. You were just taking chances and going for it so to speak. You were enthusiastic and crazy and that is also very inspiring and important for a band that has been around now for twenty six years. It is easy to think: okay I now know a lot of stuff and I do it like this. But it is a reminder at some point, you did not think like that. You just picked up a guitar and made whatever you found. So that is about the past, the positive thing about being reminded of the past. Then there is also the positive thing about being reminded of the future and the present. We experienced the same thing everywhere we went. If we did a festival job or if we did the Baroeg in Rotterdam, the release show over there or if we did three days in Berlin or the gigs we did in Australia, same thing happened: People were really, really enthusiastic at the beginning with the old stuff, but we got surprised when we came on stage with the new stuff! Then they got even more excited. That is really such a fantastic feeling! To be appreciated for what you have done, but then they also tell you that they are still following you and interested in what we are doing now.

Didn’t it invoke a feeling of nostalgia as well?
Oh yes, very much. It reminded us of how easy we saw things in the past. Becoming a so called ‘professional’ band makes you sometimes a bit tired of things. Then you become a whining rock-‘n-roll artist. Doing this really reminded us why we did it. We did it because we love to play metal. We love to listen to metal, we love to travel and enjoy it. Simple as that.

You saw the former album ‘In Times’ as a kind of closing of an era. How must we interpret that?
I think that we had a feeling that something was going to change with the line-up. Herbrand left less than one year later after the release of ‘In Times’, but we were already feeling that he was losing his motivation. And also, on a more positive note, I think that we felt that from 1991 – when the band started – until 2002/2003, it was like the original start-up sound of the band and then from 2003 till ‘In Times’ this is the exploration phase. We felt like: okay now we know where we are going. Before ‘In Times’ it was not obvious in which direction we were planning to go. If somebody would have asked me, I had to say: no idea. Since ‘In Times’ I started to get the feeling that we would continue to try and mix these extreme roots of the band with this new progressive, more melodic sound. All of these things combined made us consider ‘In Times’ as the closing of a chapter.

It had a kind of feeling like coming home, musically seen…
Exactly, coming home…

When did the new chapter come in sight? How did it started?
It is just one of those things… one day you have a feeling about starting. Something is bubbling, you have ideas, you just want to begin. I have to admit that I really wanted to start writing in the beginning of 2016, but there were simply no possibilities to it until April, when I had a trip to New York, Brooklyn with my other electronic project BardSpec. This is an amateur electronic band, so I had to get very cheap tickets (chuckles). I had to wait three days in New York before coming back. I thought: hey, this is fantastic! Now I have three days in Brooklyn in a RB&B with my laptop and maybe I can start writing for the new Enslaved album. Things just really happened, like the week before I left. I started having all these dreams and visions about everything. I am a scientist, I am always very skeptical. I always laughed a bit when people told me they have dreams about inspiration and now I started having these things myself. For me that was the interpretation of: there is so much inspiration and ideas that they wanted to come out. This time my subconscious tried to tell me. It sounds new age, but on the flight to New York I had a notebook full of ideas. Basically, after that show and going to the apartment… normally a tourist in New York would go out and look at things, but I just stayed inside. I wrote music twenty hours, slept four hours, got up the next day and had a desperate weekend of doing as much as possible. When I came back to Norway, I had pretty much the foundation for what would be this album. It is quite a new way of experiencing this.

Strange what isolation can do…
It is like a fever in a way, you know. I totally had to get anything out, in a kind of panic way. That is probably the best process and it was a big relief to me when we were able to finally go into the studio this time, because that is the big fear of every composer I guess. You agree to deadlines and then you are afraid to deliver something not good enough. But I think we did a great job, that’s when subconscious is taking over things. That’s maybe a message for taking it a little bit easier sometimes. At some point I can understand why some artists get a bit crazy. If you try to combine all these things, like a normal life, family, music, touring and so on, there’s not that much time left.

Indeed, in the meantime you became a father in the eye of the storm as well…
(laughs) That’s it!

How do you manage to combine all this?
I think the thing is… (thinks - pause) To put it in a very cliché metal way: Remember to think about death, because that gives the perspective of how short life is and then you just have to do as much as possible what you have time for.

band image

On the other hand it must not have been easy for you to find replacement for Herbrand after fifteen years duty. Did that go a bit smooth?
It just went fantastic. There’s a whole story there. In April 2016 I started to write and sent a message to the guys. There was a lot of enthusiasm, but I did not get an answer from Herbrand. He was extremely important for those new songs, because the clean vocals were definitely going to be prominent on this new album. Then for a few seconds he came back and he was really enthusiastic and then he disappeared again. Then we did the Summer shows. I asked if there was a problem, because we travel a lot, 150 days a year in the air together, of course there can be issues under the surface, but he said no. Then he came back halfway the Summer and he said: I am going to quit at the end of 2016. This was of course quite a sad message for the band after fourteen years. Of course that explained why he was not really working with the new songs. I think he was thinking about it for a long time. We have been through crises, through fights, through line-up changes, people that had to leave the band… all kinds of weird stuff. We thought: well, this is actually a normal issue. This is a nice guy, friend of ours, saying he is going to leave us in six months. So there is nothing to panic about. Let us just continue, like we did. This time we are not going to look for problems, we are going to wait until they appear before us. And that was the right thing to do, because there is so much depending in Enslaved on personal relations. That’s why me and Grutle are still in the band. For so many years, we never had a conflict, while we are both kind of difficult people (chuckles). The reason why it works is that it first clicked as people and then as musicians. Therefore for us it is impossible to have an audition. Somebody can come in and they can play a song and that can be the best keyboard player in the world. It doesn’t matter. They would have to be with us and go on a mountain trip or something like that. That is important. No audition. Let’s just see what happens. We talked to some people in other bands and in the end four or five guys would help us in the studio while we were waiting for the right guy. However, what really happened was one of the strangest things that ever happened to us. We did the last show in our home town Bergen in December 2016 and we had invited a local support band, Seven Impale. We went out to watch them and said: this kind of guy is what we should have in Enslaved. Really a passionate keyboard player and also really into prog. Let us talk to him! Maybe he can do a few shows with us, just for fun. We talked to him and he said he had no plans anymore with that band. Their singer the same day, he had told them he had to leave for another country to go to the operatic school. So he was looking for a new band. We could not believe it! Sixteen minutes after our last show with Herbrand we had found a new keyboarder! It is not possible! We gave it a try and it worked!

Wow! I would say ‘that’s heaven sent’, but you are black metal…
Metal and Prog Gods just got together and they called it black metal haha. Two months later we already started rehearsing and we decided: if you want it, you can go to the studio with us. He said: yes, I am ready. He is one year younger than the band, he is twenty-five. It is just great to have that kind of energy in the band.

A song like ‘Sacred Horse’ is kind of ritualistic, isn’t it?
Yes, exactly, you’ve got it. The first part of the song is rather galloping. Horses are special entities. It is perfect in terms of moving, also great distances, but at the same time horses are very gracious. It is so muscular. It is brute force, a masculine sort of exploding force, but also very elegant and with a kind of feminine beauty. I can only imagine that primitive men must have been fascinated by this animal and therefore it was one of the first living creatures from nature that was taken into the mythology and the magical system. The song is a contemplation, a meditation on that. In ancient caves you already see drawings of horses. They have been extremely important in the history of nature and mankind.

What about other lyrics on the album?
Every song on the album is about the relationship between the individual and something outside. And ‘outside’ is also a metaphor for another place in time. The last song ‘Hiindsiight’ is a song about the relationship between the individual and the past itself. It is still yourself, it is the same person, but it is how we relate to what we did in our youth. I think some people have issues, because they ignore their past or youth. Just to illustrate these abstract relationships to the magic itself, which is obviously different from everyday life itself in a sense. ‘Eolh’ (from the title ‘Feathers Of Eolh’) is a rune of invocation, of transformation. The song is directly dealing with the whole transformation in the mythology from mankind and fusing with the birds growing feathers. So they can fly and escape a situation. For me that song is giving the ability of the magic itself and it is a very optimistic concept. It is not about wearing a cape and having a candle in my hand. It is not about that. It is about the belief in the power of transformation and we all have that. It is how we grow, I guess, from being kids into adults. It is how we go from irresponsibility to responsibility. It is a common thing: if people have problems, they have to go through transformation. I think happy and content people are having the ability to switch between both. I, myself like to be the responsible dad at home and be the crazy guy at the concerts. Having fun! That’s what this song is about: having this control over transformation.

When I read that the lyrics no longer dealt with isolation, but more about dualities, then I thought: maybe it is also a kind of feeling like when you are young, there is a need in finding yourself and knowing who you are. Now when you have reached the point of aging, you look more at the world around you and you see the bonds between different things…
Exactly. That is pretty much the essence of the album.

Enslaved will do a European tour in October and November, starting in Scandinavia. In the UK they will tour with Opeth and that is a perfect match! Late November they will perform in the Low Lands. Be there!

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