Enslaved has been on of the most creative and interesting bands in the metal universe for many years now. It is the Norwegian band which has matured in the most challenging way. It is certain that during all those years they offered us some excellent albums, setting the mark each time higher. The release of their new album called “Riitiir” gives Rocking.gr the chance to talk to Ivar Bjørnson, guitarist and main composer of the band. His analytical approach to our questions assists us to have a clear picture of their new album as well as for the past and the future plans of the band.
Hi Ivar, how are you?
Congratulations for your new album. How long had you been working on “Riitiir”?
Thank you. We have been working on “Riitiir” since January 2011, actually quite immediately after the European – US tour at the end of 2010. There was a very energetic and positive feeling in and around the band and some ideas were coming, while we were on tour already. We were a bit surprised on how much of the inspiration was there. So already two years after our last album, we had a new one, which came out of hard work. It has been two of the best years of our career so far.
You release an album almost every two years and you always offer fresh ideas. From where do you receive inspiration, for the music and the lyrics as well?
I guess it is connected to how we relate the music ourselves to people outside. I like to listen to music in every setting, I try to discover music and to receive some advice and tips from people -friends around the world. I send the album to listen to them, something like mp3, and then I check the feedback and ideas from them. Most of the times I don’t like it, but almost every time there is something I like it and there is something new that can inspire me. When we don’t play with Enslaved, we work with music. Some of us work with concert production, some others are music teachers or work at a music studio. Music, music.
You are 24/7 in music.
Totally. And that makes music wanting to come to us. It sounds a bit like a mystical thing that music is something like an entity. Maybe it is biological and in the brain, maybe it comes from outer space. Things are coming like that.
Is there any particular concept behind “Riitiir”?
Yes there is. The term concept is very confusing. I would call it a thematic album. The history, functions and mechanics of the ritual used by human is the theme of the album. There is no an apparent link between each and every part of the lyrics. The ritual is the part of the lyrics. Some lyrics, like the title song are more historical orientated, anthropological. It is inspired by the use of the ritual in many various cultures, in Egypt or even in the Greek mythology. There is a mystical history there. Some of the lyrics are more psychologically or philosophically orientated dealing why humans are striving to change things and themselves through rituals. What they change is it the world outside themselves or it is the way that they are viewing the world? Some of the lyrics are in the mystical occult perspective in the working of ritual, raising questions of whether they use powers from outside the world. It is an exploration of ourselves and the world.
Compared to your last two albums, which do you think are the differences between those ones and “Riitiir”?
I think that “Vertebrae” and “Axioma Ethica Odini” are more specialized albums, in the sense that “Vertebrae” is going into a very introvert and more melodic space, while “Axioma Ethica Odini” is more heavy, in your face and direct. “Riitiir” has these two directions. It is not specialized, it is an album that is more taking into it all of the exploration of the different Enslaved expressions of the last two ones. It is a natural step not necessarily only from the last one, but a natural step if you combine the 2 previous ones.
Do you feel that the new album has the ingredients to be more successful than your previous albums?
My theory is yes, but I do really not have the fact to support it. “Riitiir” has an horizontal and a vertical strength at the same time. Maybe, “Axioma Ethica Odini“ is very forward going on a horizontal plan, while “Vertebrae” is more vertical in the sense that is more delayed and slow in the way that the things are going on. I think we managed to combine that in the new one. It works at a low volume at the background, because the song structures are quite catchy and strong, but at the same time it also works at louder volumes and especially with headphones, you can discover new things. Both are quite immediate, but “Riitiir” has the potential to live a long time in people’s mind.
I have been following Enslaved since the demo days. During all those years you did not stop developing your music and maturing in a good way, incorporating new elements from different genres in your sound. How did this come out? How did you decide to do that because it is not very common to shift to this sort of experimentation?
We were a bit lucky because we were a bit less bombastic at the beginning. We were a part of the movement, we were a black metal band. In the mid 90’s and in the late 90’s it was very important to be a Norwegian black metal band, in order to be able to be at festivals, or to tour or in media coverage. So we stand a lot of time with people ask “Are you a black metal band?” and we had to answer “No”. Of course we were influenced by that sort of music. Then we lost interest and tried something else more generally black metal. At the same time that became the advantage, because when we realised things after “Blodhemn” album, we felt that we had explored a lot of our black metal influences and we started to seal that. There was not much to collect from that direction. Then we discovered that the universe we were conceptually and musically was very open and we decided to start to deal with other influences. We are metal people, that is fine but we had people in the band which are into the 70’s, I was interested in some of the post rock and metal thing that was going like Swans or whatever. Before “Mardraum”, it was not that we did decide to change direction, it was more like that some of the new material came and we just raised the question that this would take us somewhere else and whether we would be going to do it. And we said let’s do it. Ιf people like it, fine, if they don’t like it, also fine. That was natural. When received that positive feedback after the “Mardraum” album, that only encouraged us to keep on going with that and after that point there was no idea to quit or whatever. I think the whole thing is being very honest about what you are doing. A lot of our colleagues quit because they got tired of being at that kind of band.
Could you imagine that the band would follow this path especially back in the early 90s?
Not really. On the first album we had all those spikes, we had a different direction and alternative incentives. No, there was no chance to imagine that. We did not even imagine that the band would exist for more than five years. When you are so young, you do not think of those terms, that some day we might play at another country, go on tour, have records. Everything that happened was a positive surprise.
It was a positive surprise for us as well to have you all those years. In the review of “Riitiir” I write that the bet for a band which presents continuous creativity is the next album. In other words, do you believe that your next album will be as fascinating as the previous ones?
Yes, I always believe that 100%. It is imperative to have a total and the biggest belief in the next album that is coming. In my point of view, it is pointless to feel that you have reached your top mark. Then, it is better to do something else.
In there a particular album or period of Enslaved that you prefer most?
It changes a bit depending on the album that you are working. If we are in the middle between albums, you are the most objective at that time, because you are not in the studio. I am a bit fascinated on what happened around the time of “Below The Lights” album. It is so determined on taking the heritage and the roots of the band with us, but at the same going quite ambitious and sort of cheerless into a new and unknown territory. I also remember we had to ask Roy Kronheim (the guitarist) to leave the band and after the recording the drummer quit. So we went from 4 members to 2 members during the making of that album, but it came out. We had very good memories of the studio session of that album. This reminds me of a certain determination of what we were able to do.
Can you say that “Below The Lights” was the album that open a new era for the band?
I think that “Mardraum” was the beginning of the opening, the decision to go and open that door. “Monumension” was some kind of calibration and exploration of out the limits, also extremely necessary. With “Blodhemn”, the last album before this period, we had the feeling that the picture was too static and the focus was too rigid. With “Mardraum” we decided to open a new journey, with “Monumension” the picture became too much out of focus maybe and then we managed to find the balance with “Below the Lights” and get that little, first truck with the door open, which open the path to where we are now.
Which album came closer to your musical vision?
Right now I would say it is “Riitiir” in all aspects. It is realizing quite a few of recent staff and the ideas that have been with me all those years, but I have not found the right moment to realize them. If I can include “Riitir”, I would say “Riitir”. If I had to exclude it, because it is not old enough yet, I would say “Below the Lights”, for now actually. It might change in a week.
What are your artistic ambitions? What would you like to achieve as a musician?
I would like to continue what I am doing right now. I would like to realize some of the potential of music in the live setting. I am not talking for light years away, I am talking a few levels up where we are able to bring a better live presentation, to use more visuals and company in the music. I guess it is simple staff. Moreover, I would like to continue making albums with the band, to tour more and tour bigger.
This means that you are going to support your new album with concerts and touring.
Is it possible to see you on stage in Greece?
I wish we can play in Greece. We were very close to Greece at least two times, but a lot happened in Greece after that. I totally understand that It would be hard for a promoter to commit to such large upfront costs, while he will not so sure how many people would come to the concert. So if somebody likes us, we will be there in a new setting.
I had the chance to see you live many years ago, but there are many others in Greece who are expecting this concert. Be sure for that.
It is a very big disappointment, especially the last time when things were announced. It was a very serious organization, but I guess that was about the time when things started to get challenging for the private businesses in Greece and I understand the promoter wanted to wait and see if there were certain advantages. But things didn’t work out.
The prog rock elements are obvious in your music. Which are your favourite bands?
From the prog rock era, two bands I like most. King Crimson and Genesis. Of course, I love them all. There are others of course, Yes, Rush and all those brilliant bands. Genesis and King Crimson have an edge and sometimes have this beauty in their music. Especially, King Crimson have many dark elements and brings them a little bit closer to the heart than the other ones.
I would like to ask you something about the Norwegian scene. Do you follow the scene nowadays?
Yes, I do. I try to keep up with what is going on. For me the last developments in the scene have been good and bad. The good news is that there are a lot of things happening especially in terms of the retro, like black/thrash kind of thing. The bad news is that this is not really interesting for me personally, even though I am a huge fan of that music. If a band sounds almost like Kreator and Possessed from the late 80’s, I prefer to go to my collection and listen to these bands from the late 80’s. This is a problem for me at least. But it is great to see that the scene is developing. What is cool is that you are getting some doom bands from Norway which are missing for many years and a little bit of this sort of alternative metal thing that is coming. It is not that they do not make their own music. It is that their music is either a tribute to black metal or a criticism of the old bands. For example, Darkthrone are playing punk, but what the point to play like the 1992 Darkthrone if you don’t like the new Darkthrone. It is better to make something on your own. Using your musical skills as a tool to criticize others is really a blame.
What can we expect from Enslaved in the future?
More music, that is for sure. We have so much more to do, more places to play and more records to make. We are thinking of some other formats like making concert movies, to communicate through the internet and make video art or whatever, to cooperate with other bands or musicians. What in fact is going to happen is that the world won’t get rid of us for another 40-50 years, for sure.
Thank you very much for your time. It was pleasure to talk to you.
Thank you too.