Interview: ENSLAVED
Title: Seen from the underworld

Back in 1990, Enslaved founders Grutle Kjellson and Ivar Bjørnson met once in their local rehearsal room, located in Haugesund, on the west-coast of Norway, between Stavanger and Bergen.

First official publication of these amazing Blackened Viking Death Metal gathering was the famous split-release „Hordanes Land/Emperor“.

The debut album „Vikingligr Veldi“ was recorded in Grieghallen studio, which was at the peak of its days of glory in this period.

„Vikingligr Veldi“ was mainly produced by Eirik Hundvin aka Pytten, with some assistance producing the drums from fur-beater Hellhammer of Mayhem. The result: a hell of an Nordic Metal album. Further releases were „Frost“ (1994), „Eld“ (1997), „Blodhemn“ (1998), „Mardraum“ (2000) and „Monumension“ in 2001.

And over all these years Enslaved didn´t loss their ability to amaze thousands of fans around the globe through high-intense and unique musicianship, though „Monumension“ showed ´em in modified sound-clothes, more in the moodful progressive/psychedelic way.

Now the time has come to unleash the new album „Below The Lights“. The progressive and experimental elements are still there, more raffined and subtle that ever. 

Melodic elements and complex harmonics is also a prominent feature on the new release. I speak with guitarist and keyboard-witcher Ivar Bjørnson in order to elicit him some to „Below The Lights“.

Ivar, does exists a more or lesser change on the new album to the previous album „Monumension“?

„There are both minor and major changes, definately. I think the most signifigant change is that this new album; "Below The Lights" is more complete, determined and massive in its expression. The work process of making music became very turbulent and unstable allready from shortly after the days of "Blodhemn", which gave some very exciting results, especially since R. Kronheim was pulling in somewhat different directions from the rest of us. Well, I have to modify that a bit. We all tend to pull in different directions, it was not intented to sound like a gathering of guilt upon the goodname of Mr. Kronheim. However, it became very evident when we started to work on the new material that it could become a very bumpy road. Kronheim was distansing himself from the rest of the band both socially and musically. He wished for Enslaved to go for a more rock and stoner oriented direction, which both me, Dirge and Grutle all became more and more sceptical towards. You know, it is important to experiment and discover new musical territory, but at the same time you need to keep your focus and to stay on track, so to speak. And I feel that after the massive change on "Monumension" we needed to stop for a moment and retrieve our focus and direction. If you keep on doing only new "tricks" you forget the old skills and you never get a real chance to make the new skills stick and even more important, develop them further. Getting to the point, Kronheims departure was of course not a thing we felt terribly good about, but it gave us a spark of inspiration and we realized that we should work even harder than before to make an ultimate album. And to be honest, I feel that we came pretty close to achieving that goal, hehe. No modesty here. As the new songs for the album emerged in my head, we started to pre-produce them, to record them in our own rehearsal studio. It pretty early on became evident that something special was about to happen. A major difference soon came in the form that we all felt that new material was darker / "blacker", more hostile and aggresive, and at the same time with beautiful harmonies that Grutle has reinforced by using even more varied aspects of his voice. One thing the producers and engineers pointed out to us, was that it all sounded tighter. It was easier to get the guitars tight this time around, with me doing all the rythm tracks, which is a trick the old thrash-bands did we were told. Of course there will also be minor changes to be heard, like more structured use of analogue synths and effects, Arve's leads is different and more vowen into the music, and I am a thousand times more satisfied with the sound this time. Lyrically this album is also a lot darker and more personal, yet more cryptical.“

What was the reason for the pretty radical musical change on „Monumension“, which goes in a way more soulful direction?

„I think we kind of surprised ourselves with "Mardraum – Beyond The Within". We faced a sort of vaccuum after "Blodhemn" were we had taken the aggression and rage to a maximum and wanted to explore melodic, experimental and progressive elements to a greater degree than before. We simply decided to "go for it" and do whatever we felt like. "Fuck the world and its expectations, let's make the music we carry within ourselves!". As we started down this journey, we really enjoyed travelling without a map, so to speak. We discovered new layers of musicallity and it gave the band a new vitality where we started to work harder and closer together. And as we heard the final mix of "Monumension" we understood that we had taken the right choices. There is no simple explanation to it, we just made up our minds to try and realize musical dreams we had, and to withstand the preasure to stay "true" and make music from old recepies. You know, a band that works against their own philosophical idols is bound to fail at some point. If you feel the need to change, you will slowly rot from the inside if you try to stop or tame the desire to change. I am not saying that a band needs to change in order to be good, successful, honest or anything. Look at bands like Slayer or Iron Maiden, they rule even though they stick to the same formula year after year. Anyways, taking such a turn with our music and it all working out gave us a boost to the self-confidence, at least I know it did for me.“

What does mean the album title „Below The Lights“?

„The songs all deal with different "underworlds". Everything has an underworld. The subconciousness can be looked upon as the underworld of our "personalities". The afterlife where the dead go (whereever that may be, if they go anywhere at all) would be an underworld to life. Mythology and magic an underworld to everyday life. My dreams and wishes and underworld to the reality I experience. I find it really fascinating to think of how we divide our lives into the "normal" life and our personal underworlds. And it is in these underworlds everything important and real is made, and then brought forth into the surface world. And the title of the album symbolize just that. The "Lights" being the surface world and the underworld being "below" that. I believe that how we think and feel all is taking place below our day-to-day thoughts and worries about work, being able to afford food, caring for our loved ones, leaving the loved ones. Have you ever went to sleep feeling really worried about something, just to wake up the next morning feeling alot better about it? That's when something has happened, turned, changed and molded deep beneath in the soil of the soul. Or at least, that is one way it could be. And to me this whole idea of a subterra-reality is very estetic, magical and inspiring.“

Does exist a concept on the new album, and if so, what?

„We have allready spoken a little bit about this, but I can try and elaborate a little further. As I said, it deals a lot with themes of underworlds in various context. Furthermore it is a tribute to the underworlds, my way of showing affection for Darkness if you like. I sometimes feel that we live in a fucking joke of a world where everybody knows what is really going on but we have some kind of silent agreement to pretend it is all different. It has it advantages, but there is a sadness and an acute loneliness to this roleplay. The difference is of course in the spheres of friendship and love, where one is allowed to act out ones true feelings. And more relevant to us here, this is also the case when working with the arts. Music, painting, ballet or whatever could also be seen as an underworld to conventional interaction. In stead of smiling to idiots because you need to earn you rent in some supermarket you can scream out your guts about your resentment towards humanity. Or you can go home and paint your sorrow instead of nodding and answering "thanx, I am fine" when your co-workers asks because they think they have to. That's how absurd it gets, right there. If someone you don't know very well asks you how you are, you are supposed to answer "fine" no matter what, because if you start telling you feel alienated, pissed off or heartbroken, it's like your fucking raving mad or something. That' s pretty funny, what's the point of a question with only one answer? Its more like a way to avoid talking it seems. In my case, I'd rather avoid talking at all, and try and channel what goes on in the underworld up to the surface as it is.“

Please bring the former and nowadays inspirations for the music of Enslaved a bit closer!

„To be honest, I am not a hateful, misanthropic person at all. To spend my life disliking all sorts of things would lessen the quality of the experience that life is, I believe. I simply choose not to care. If the world is populated by fools, why should I spend time contemplating upon that. I'd rather carry the knowledge with me that people are like this and that and act according to that knowledge. If you experience that people say one thing to your face and another behind your back, there is no point in "hating" anyone for it. I'd rather appreciate when I meet honest people than to start getting emotional everytime you sense dishonesty. A misanthrop accepts hopelessness and embraces disappointment. I'd rather try and find the pearls in the shit. I am inspired by all sorts of things. Weather is a very powerful thing to me. To see the world change as a rainstorm builds up awakens a weird mood in me, and can bring out weird sounds and songs. Women is another, even more powerful thing to me. They have a beauty that is overwhelming when you study it, and their ability to give life combined with their natural grace also gives a hint of how incomprensible and entertaining the world can be. Sorrow and loss would be the third and most important factor that has and still inspires me. Not the sentimental kind, more that of nostalgia. To have friends and family die gives a weird feeling of how fragile and uncertain it all is. To be standing outside the house in the nightly hours and thinking about how it all will be gone in 100-500-1000 years, how our friends, family and ourselves all will be "gone" in a given time, makes me feel somewhat lighter, and makes me want to laugh and mourn at the same time. Which can be experienced as a state of emotional completeness, or extacy if you like It is a good sorrow or a familiar safe loss. Because it points out to me that I really am here, now. How can you really feel present if you have no awareness of having to go? I think Buddism has some brutally beautiful perseptions and interpretations on these themes.“

The musical style of Enslaved has grown to a totally unique sound; how has it developed in the last years?

„Thanx man, I feel honoured and priviledged that people see us as unique! I think there has always been something "different" in our music, rigth from the start. I think we had an advantage in the fact that we grew up as a band when there was no scene to speak of, or at least in our part of Norway. So we were able to work out and towards our own style without comparing it to other bands. Also I think that we have a built-in sense that the band and the music is made on our terms, not the world. Rigth from the start we wanted to play extreme metal, with a lot of similarities, connections and common references with Black and Death Metal. But we never got into the concepts of satanism of gore-glorification. So why should we sing about this just because we had common musical references? Still we got, and still receive wide respect from the society of Black Metal musicians, because they recognise our music for what is. Also I think that our personal lives has influenced our development a lot. Both me and Grutle have been through a lot of weird shit and we try and channel every possible experience, dream and underwordly impulse in to the band. Since we have constructed our own conceptual universes and musical rules, we have felt inspired You know, both me and Grutle have kept our love for 70's music intact over all the years even though we have lived the life of an Extreme Metal band. His affection for Led Zeppelin, mine for Pink Floyd, and our common admiration for bands like Black Sabbath, Rush, Yes, King Crimson and so on, has crept is way more and more into Enslaved's music. We don't feel any commitment to keep it "pure" style-wise. If people get surprised when they hear something "weird" from an Extreme Metal point of view in Enslaved's music these days, they sure as hell haven't been paying a lot of attention over the last few years. To be honest, if people discover that "Enslaved is not pure Norwegian Black Metal" these days, it won't earn them a lot Nobel Prices for amazing discoveries. We've never had an agende for where to go with the music, we have tried different stuff, and kept on going with the parts that felt right when we have tried them out. And I think the Enslaved fans appreciate this, and they can hear that we are getting better at doing what we do best. And this support from fans, magazines and radio stations has really also been a driving force for us to go on taking Extreme Metal to new places.“

Who wrote most of the new material for „Below The Lights“?

„Actually, I have written all the music for this new album. I have written four lyrics, co-written one lyric with Dirge Rep, Dirge Rep has written one lyric by himself, and Grutle wrote one. It sounds like I practise absolute dictatorship, but the truth is far from that exiting. Everybody has he possibility to get their songs into Enslaved, but for this album I was the only one using the oppurtunity.“

Which bands are you listening these days?

„I'll basically listen to anything as long as it has got atmosphere and energy in it, but I'll stay away from soul, blues, country, (except Johnny Cash), 80's pop (I'm one of the boring guys who doesn't go and happy jazz.) Besides that I'll listen to rock, pop, 70's rock, psychedelia, jazz, noise, electronica, ambient, glam metal (or at least Mötley Crüe), indie, art rock, death metal, black metal, thrash metal, hardcore, contemporary music, soundtracks, experimental stuff, folk music, minimalistic music, pre-techno, techno. You name, and I'll probably listen to it.“

Be so kind and explain the music and the lyrics of the new Enslaved compositions with your very own words!

„First of all I'd like to say that I have rearranged the songs to make them in the order they actually appear on the album.

`As Fire Swept Clean The Earth`:
This is the perfect opening track for the album. It has a strong song-structure, yet it still drops hints about what is about to happen. The bits separating the verses got some nice spacey harmonies, and Grutle does some weird stuff with his bass and voice that really adds depth and dimensions to these parts. The lyrics has a special background. They were written three years ago or something. I had just gotten together with my last girlfriend, Silje, and we had this incredible car trip all over Norway and Denmark some months after we got together. As we were crossing the mountains between Bergen and Oslo we drove through all these tunnels (which the road between the two cities has a lot of) deep inside the mountains and emerged into the wilderness of the snowy mountains, it felt as we were the two last people on earth. This temporal isolation made the moment very intense, and the it felt as if the bond between us became something deep and eternal, like the mountains we were in the middle of. And being the weirdo I am, I started to fantasize what I would feel like to be standing there seing the world being swept clean by fire. I came to the conclusion that this would be a beautiful thing. Years later I had now written a song with the same of atmosphere in the riffs, and me and Silje had broken up. I still feel very stronly about the relationship and wanted to pay tribute to it through using that lyric. To me it is one of the most atmospheric songs and lyrics I've done.

`A Dead Stare`:
The lyrics for this is written by me and Dirge, pretty much 50/50, and is impossible to try and descripe. It is about a nightmare-like underworld of the mind. A fantasy image too wrapped up in metaphores and mystery for ourselves to truly grasp any coherent meaning. But that's not the point, people can get their own images from it. The music has a similar quality, it has some very psychedelic, horror-dreamlike parts, but at the same time it is the most groovy song on the album. Some parts are very "black" and the middle-section has some 70's psychedelic a la Hawkwind references. It is a weird song, I can only say that I like it. A lot.

`The Crossing`:
This is Grutle's lyrics, and as far as I know it deals with transition, change and fighting the inner bounderies. The lyrics are played out in a mythological setting and is very moody, dark and dreamlike. So is the beginning of song, which I wrote in a very dark moment in which I truly felt the beauty of this darkness. It was a feeling of having lost so much, but instead of wanting to have it back, I wanted to express the feeling of letting it go. A lot of stuff went bad at this moment it my life, but for once I didn't feel hopelessness, rather a quiet observant peace. And the transition from the first part of the song to the second is a true "crossing", out of the darkness up into the surface to fight and keep on going.

`Queen Of Night`:
This lyric is simply a story about how real to the extreme of deadly, love can be. Sound sappy, but it is a rather brutal story. It is about an person in the third person who leaves his homeground after burning everything to the ground. He travels to see "her" again, and is finally re-united with her in a rather tragic way. A tribute to all the femine forces, with all their creative and destructive aspects. These paradoxes along with the actual story is reflected in the song, with a dynamic development from the lowdown, soft to the harsh, aggressive end-part. Another favourite of mine from Enslaved's song-pool.

A special song with only two riffs. It felt dangerous to do this song, but we wanted to included to keep up the experimental edge from "Monumension". No point in chickening out, or what? hehe. This is a scary song, and includes excerps from the Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose, which wrote about the darker sides of the human mind. The lyrics itself deals with accepting things as they are, and I must admit that this along with the last song on the album "A Darker Place" is the darkest lyrics I have written. As you must have realized during the course of this interview, the time when this album has been written has been a difficult time. I lost my long-time girlfriend, a lot of trouble happended in my familiy and a lot of old grief caught up with me. I had a feeling of being lost on the sea with no haven to go to; thereof "Havenless". The middle part is where Sandemose's work emerges. It is simply.

`Ridicule Swarm`:
This is the other of Dirge's lyrics albums, and I have no idea what it is about. Dirge Rep is pretty obscure and deeply into Chaotic Occultism, and he refuses to explain his lyrics. Which is cool enough by me. I think it deals with individual strenght and opposing mass values forced upon you. The song is the most aggressive on the album, and features some very catchy riffs and grooves. The middle sections are very floaty, dreamy and have strong references to the "Vikingligr Veldi" era of Enslaved. It came out as a very compact and complete song. One of my top "fast" songs, I dare say.

`A Darker Place`:
This song sums up the album to a great extent. The opening is very atmospheric and the journey through the song features elements like harmonies, melody, harsh riffs with strong Black Metal references, and it all ends with a long and very atmospheric instrumental part. We had a guest lead guitarist for the ending. He is a kind of legend allready here in Bergen, and he normally plays in Emmerhoff & The Melancholic Babies, which is a band we truly appreciate. I guess I have said it a lot, but this is also one of my absolute favourite songs of all time. Nothing less. The lyrics are as the title suggest, a lyrical portrait of absolute darkness. It is a glimpse into a place in my mind where I seldom go, but it is essential to my life and creative work, so it deserved a place on the album. It closes with the words "Head back into the light, never to return. This dream will haunt you. Behind walls. Below the lights". That pretty much sums it up.“

Your biggest wish for the future?

„To make good music for myself and everybody that cares to listen, to work, achieve, enjoy life, experience love, procreate and die. What else could one wish for? Thanx for the interview, hope you enjoyed it as much as I did! So long.“

© Markus Eck, 15.12.2002

[ to overview ]

All Copyrights for band-photos & -logos reserved by its Respective Owners.