Interview: Ivar Bjørnson of Enslaved
From their days as a leader in the Norwegian black metal scene to a tour-de-force of hypnotic prog intensity and scabrous, blackened pomp: Enslaved continue to evolve into one of the most intriguing metal bands on the planet. 14 albums and 26 years into a career that shows no signs of losing neither momentum nor its magical, effervescent creative sheen, Enslaved are once again evolving before our ears and eyes. This time, however, even the sky is no limit. And the best is yet to come. We spoke with one of the founding members and multi-talented musician, Ivar Bjornson (lead & rhythm guitar, keyboard, backing vocals) about their new album E and how it came to fruition as well as many more topics.
It's an honour and a pleasure to talk to you first of all, how are you currently feeling now that your new album 'E' is so close to being released?
We're extremely excited about it, we are very lucky to have a well planned process for this record ever since we started writing for it in 2016. The album itself was pretty much done a couple of months ago, and everything since that has been about preparing layout and promoting the album, which we started pretty much the day after the mastering was done. We're lucky to not be one of those bands that finishes everything and walk around moping around for half a year before it gets out. It still feels really fresh and it's about to get to that time where you start to feel a little bit nervous about how it's going to be perceived from the listeners. It still is exciting even though it's our 14th album.
The newest single 'Storm Sun' has received very positive feedback so far, it's an incredibly epic and progressive journey, what would you say is the meaning behind this song?
It ties into the main topic of the album, the theme is about relations and I guess dependencies from the individual outwards and inwards and one of these dependencies of of the individual is the relationships you have is with nature itself. It's one of the underlying and most important aspects of the album, it's our relationship with nature and how this ever growing distance between the origins as a creature existing on and depending on and living with nature and how that's affecting us today. With the theory to sort of investigate if this removal from nature is also the removal of who we are, the roots of who we really are, and this song is basically dealing with that.
Is the title of the new album 'E' a representation of Enslaved or is it something completely different?
It is also Enslaved, it could very well stand for our name as a band. The first approach of ending up with the E was what I talked about earlier with the relations of the individual with different aspects outside and inside. Outside could be nature, it could be other people, and then there's also inner relations, you know like through your past self and relations to your mythological self or your magical self and all of these psychological aspects of yourself and human beings. The runes is the alphabet that was used in the historical and nordic countries, properly referred to as the viking age, going way back than those first few hundred years. They used the runes as their alphabet for writing but also for esoteric purposes. This particular rune which we are talking about is the rune for 'E' and it's called 'EHWAZ' and that's where the concept developed. It's the purist essence of the concept which is expressed through 'E' and it's also the fourteenth rune which is pretty well timed with our fourteenth album, and it happens to be the same letter which we use to represent Enslaved. In the end, we think it was the perfect title for the new album.
I've been watching you studio diaries for the making of the album on YouTube, did you try anything different when you entered the recording studio this time around?
Nothing really different, I guess more of the things that we discovered had been working out positively for us before. What we did is we took the live recording concept a lot further and parts of the band had been recording the basic instrumentation for the album live together. Now we took everybody into the studio and everybody recorded it at the same time and that of course has its challenges and requires a little more time with those basic recordings. But that definitely gave us the result that we were looking for. Also, I think something else we did different was that we spent a lot of time together in the studio, I guess it's a bit of a backward process that we do now that seems to be quite common for a lot of bands for a while now. You starts out as a unit going into the studio and everybody has their opinions about everything, and then you sort of fall into this pastime where you know each other well, so that leads to a lot of positive things like trusting each other and then spend more time alone in the studio with your parts. We also discovered the dangers of that is becoming complacent and not challenging each other, and I like to challenge them with the stuff that I do. It's always better when you've got someone who's challenging you and asking you why you do those things when you're not so sure about something. What we did this time I guess has more to do with being a tight knitted group together, everybody is more involved with everything and I guess we came out of the studio as a more tight social group also.
It sounds like you've worked hard on this album than ever before, would this be accurate?
Yes, definitely. It's going to affect us positively for hopefully a very long time because we invested a lot of time and effort into this album. There's so little extra time around the band because of the things that we do, so putting all of this effort into the band has certainly required a few sacrifices in terms of family life and things that we do outside of the band. But it just had to be like this and I guess it's going to keep being that way as we keep on going as a band. My theory is that when you get to these 25th anniversary years and everything, you have to make some conscious choice whether you step on on the brake and just float around for a bit, or be able maintain that sort of freshness Enslaved Interview And feel like a new band in a sense, you have to give something extra, you have to put down the gas pedal a little bit extra and that’s what we’ve done now.
It’s been almost a year since your Australian tour, on which you celebrated your 25th anniversary, do you have any fond memories of your time here, and that tour especially?
Yeah, it was all fun. You know, it was even more intense than the last time. Last time we had a day in front and a day after the tour, this time it was pretty much flying in right before the first show, and flying straight out after the last one because it was part of a bigger tour. We went outside of Melbourne, to that koala park, where you hold koalas, and I guess that’s what every tourist does, and that was great for us to do that, it was pretty special. Then we spent a lot of time in all three places, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, walking around and we met a lot of people that we met the first time, and it was already starting to feel like the Australian gang. So that was really good. We had a night out in Melbourne and that was also smashing.
Since it’s only been a year, will it be a little bit longer before you return here?
My theory is that we’re going to be there in 2018. Whether that’s going to be before summer or after summer, I’m not sure. I might have picked it up wrong, I don’t have the dates so can’t confirm it, but I did hear someone talking about something that sounded like we might be going through there again. I think it’s going to be surprisingly soon.
With this being your 14th album, along with a very successful career, do you have a certain philosophy or approach to writing such great music after all this time?
No….yes. It’s an abstract one. We want to make the music and lyrics the concept. Everytime we want want to make an album, we want to make an album that we’ll listen to ourselves. That’s what we told each other and ourselves when we started the band in ’91, teenagers, I was 13, Grutle was 17, and that was the ambition and it’s still the ambition now. It’s no more and no less than that. It’s sort of hard to measure, to know if you’re being successful, but that doesn’t really matter. As long as we can listen to an album and feel that we gave it our best, and we were able to record how far we’ve gotten at that moment in time, that’s what we ask of ourselves and I think, if we made an album that sounds great and it flopped, it would still feel like a great album for us. If we made an album that felt mediocre to us, and it sold a lot, it would still feel mediocre to us. I guess that makes it a lot easier for us to really resist any sort of outer pressure on the band. It’s a positive pressure because what we feel now, people are expecting to feel challenged and expecting to be surprised, and it’s really positive.
I just want to thank you for the interview and wish you all the best with the release of E on October 13th, do you have anything you’d like to tell your fans here in Australia?
I want to thank them for the immense support that lead to us going over there in 2013, and the massive welcome we had last year coming back, and I really hope that we can repay you guys buy coming back even sooner this time. I hope everybody takes the time to check out at least bits and pieces from the new album, I’m sure that’s going to convince you to check out the whole thing eventually. Give it a chance, because I believe it’s a great album.
E is out October 13th via Nuclear Blast.
Written by Steve Jenkins