Norwegian progressive extreme metal giants Enslaved released their stellar 14th full-length studio album ‘E’ via Nuclear Blast Records in 2017, and are now gearing up to headline the 7th annual Decibel Magazine package tour across North America, the lineup also featuring Wolves In The Throne Room, Myrkur and Khemmis. Guitarist/songwriter Ivar Bjørnson recently spoke to Metal Assault about all things Enslaved, and was as insightful, candid and articulate as ever. Enjoy the conversation below, and enter the giveaway at the bottom of the article, for a chance to win a pair of tickets to the Orange County stop of the Decibel Tour, Saturday March 10 at The Observatory!
Ivar, it’s good to have you again on Metal Assault. Always a pleasure. So, this one is interesting, and I like that we’re doing this interview now, a few months after the latest album came out. Usually I talk to you before the release and we talk about what to expect and how people will respond, and all that. Now, the album ‘E’ has been out since October of last year. How do you look back on the result, and what do you think about how it all came out?
It’s been a crazy few months, man. It’s been very intense, and it’s still going on! I don’t think we’ve had a release like this before, where there’s so much attention around it for such a long time. It’s been really good, and we’ve been touring quite a bit already. The first European leg has been done, we did Russia, Norwegian dates and everything. It seems like an album that’s really made a bit of an impact on people, old fans of Enslaved, and it also seems to be reaching new people. Of course, there’s the album itself, but it’s also quite exciting for an old band to be launching an album now when things are changing a bit, with how the industry works. I guess we’re past the whole running around like headless chickens and being worried about the internet. Now everybody is more focused on how to make it work. Both the label and the people around us, it really feels like we are reaching new people through that, not only in terms of streaming or selling records, but in terms of how we interact with people. We’ve done lots of live chats, live streaming, and I think we even did a Reddit thing, which I still don’t understand (laughs). But it’s amazing how we can reach people these days, and the album is still making an impact!
Yeah, certainly. You do something different every album and you challenge yourselves, but it’s not like all of a sudden you’re going to make a nu metal album or anything like that. So, the reaction from your fans is always positive, isn’t it? Is that comforting for you? Every album you do, your fans usually do respond positively.
Yeah! It’s quite a privileged position, and I think it’s so heavily ingrained in our DNA that if we try to do a nu metal album, we would just self-destruct. I think we would just dissolve our bodies if we ever got to that point. But it’s also funny in the sense that when you do 14 albums, things start getting a little bit weird. We have an expression in Norway … I don’t know if it translates very well to English, but something like, “You meet yourself in the doorway.” It’s something like how we’ve always been talking about claiming freedom to go in the direction that we want to, and that every album can go into any kind of direction, to pressure ourselves positively in a way. But after having done so many albums, we can’t really talk about being underdogs in any case anymore, because now it has sort of become what we do. At some point there’s only so many ways you can reinvent things without it becoming a meta-arrangement. It starts becoming obvious to yourself and people listening that you are focusing more on the perception of new material. So, there’s always a new challenge as long as you stay awake and notice things that are going on around and inside of the band. For us, it has become a challenge to free ourselves of perception that we also have of our own band, of what we’re doing. I think we managed to do that quite well with this one, to distance ourselves from any sort of theoretical approach on where to go, and just keep on doing what we do, playing the music and just go by the feeling. If it feels good, it is good. I think we did that quite well.
That’s very interesting. You mentioned that you’ve been touring quite a bit since the album release, mainly in Europe. So, how much of ‘E’ have you been doing and what you have thought so far in terms of performing it live?
It just works so well, performing live. So far, we’ve done the first 3 songs of the album and they’ve all worked really well. I have to say that the third song, ‘Sacred Horse’, in Italy and Russia we already have people singing along with the song, which is quite rare for a song on a new album. It is usually songs from the early ’90s that people have had that sort of relationship with. That also tells us a lot, and gives us the underlying feeling of the album having a special impact on people. It’s a song that people have high expectations for, and I think we’re able to deliver on the expectations with that one, as well as all the new songs. I think this album is really written for the band and as the band, and really played out in the rehearsal room, in every aspect. As a band we’d been playing it together to get the right vibe. We had the drummer and the bass player doing sort of a bootcamp couple of weeks before going into the studio. Us guitarists, we’d been working on it, and the singers and so on. I think everybody else since the mid to late 2000s have had a fascination with technology, studios becoming more and more of an internet thing, and a solution for remote collaborations and all that. But for us, this album has really underlined the importance of being a band, being together in a room and rehearsing. Sometimes, it’s not even about feeling like you’re doing something incredibly interesting. You just have to sit there and go over patterns and rehearse parts that are hard to do, and so on. It put us together as a group and it really made for a good album. So, we’re going to continue doing that.
You’re right, it is quite rare for bands to make albums like that these days. So, when you put out a new album and start playing it live, sometimes it resembles an album from the past and goes well with certain older songs when it comes to making a set list. Is there anything like that with ‘E’, where you find yourself going back to a particular album from the past to find songs to combine with the new ones in the set, or would you say ‘E’ goes with anything in your discography?
I think specially the last two albums, including this one, seem to be going very well with our very early stuff. There’s just something, I guess because of the lengthiness, or some of the monotony that is in the groundwork, even though it is more layers now on top of it. Or it has got to do with us having our 25th anniversary last year. It really made us look all the way back to our beginnings. For the live set now, it is getting more and more difficult but also more and more important for us to sort of get the whole story of the band across. We don’t have to do songs from all the albums, and we have to be mainly focusing on what we’re doing now, but it is also important to give some history of where the band is coming from, to give meaning to where we are now. So yeah, it’s getting harder but we try to do it intuitively as much as possible. We start out building the set around a selection of new material and then just throw in what seems to be naturally accompanying these new songs. And right now with the previous album ‘In Times’ and now ‘E’, that seems to be the first two releases, the ‘Hordanes Land’ EP (’93) and the album ‘Vikingligr Veldi’ (’94), but also a little bit from ‘Below the Lights’ (2003). So it’s exciting to see with each new album, which part of the earlier career it matches, so to speak.
That’s awesome, and that’s what I thought! I would say nostalgia is a big human emotion, isn’t it? When you thought of the 25th anniversary, there were memories that probably came back to your mind. Do you think that’s why the new material also resembles some of the earliest stuff that you’ve done?
Absolutely! Last year we did the full rendition of the entire ‘Vikingligr Veldi’ album at the Beyond The Gates festival in Norway. So, not only listening to our old material but doing things like that, and we also did that the year before for the 25th anniversary at several mini-festivals. We had something like 58 songs we had rehearsed to be able to play live throughout 2016. Just getting back to that frame of mind of how we’re thinking and how the music felt back then, is a really big inspiration. One thing is being sentimental, and that’s not as constructive. Then everything is about how things used to be and are now lost. But nostalgia is a good thing, actually. When I think about nostalgia, I think about building bridges between the times. It was a good time then, but it also very good now, and then you have a sort of exchange between the times. It is constructive, and a pretty strong energy to reconnect to those early days. As a songwriter, things might be more clever or complex now, but there’s something about that rawness and that unwillingness to compromise in the early days is so inspiring. Things didn’t matter, in a positive way, not in a chaotic way. It was a tunnel vision, just writing that music and leaving all of the noise around it outside. It is something that I find very valuable to go back to and get inspired by.
Totally, but obviously there’s a line that needs to be drawn too. Nostalgia is great, but you’re not one of those bands that are going on a full tour to play just the old album. A lot of bands do that, and I think sometimes it is just kind of like an easy way out to do a tour without having to make a real set list. You’re not doing that.
No, we try to limit it. As I mentioned, we did a ‘Vikingligr Veldi’ concert, and we’re doing a ‘Frost’ one later this year. We’ve chosen to do it at one festival, a small one too, just once and not do it again. And now we’re being contacted and people want this to be a tour. But that’s not really for us, and that’s exactly what I’m afraid of. If you start doing that and go down that road, I think you sort of kill off a little bit of the new energy in the band. So, it’s good to go back sometimes and dip your feet in that water, but you have to get back and be a creative band. People who do entire tours playing old albums, I think sometimes they probably feel that they’re letting themselves down as artists, if your career is based on playing old hits and humbly asking the crowd to understand that you have to play one or two new songs. It just seems so horrible to be a musician like that.
Yeah, for fans of such bands, those are the bathroom break songs.
Exactly! That’s when you go and have a beer (laughs).
So, talking of touring, you have the Decibel tour coming up in North America. The magazine has been around for a long time and the tours have been going on for a few years now too. I think as a band it must be cool to be a part of that, because it becomes a part of history too. Anyone can google Decibel and the year 2018, and Enslaved is always going to be on that.
It is very cool! People always talk about how Europe has got all the big festivals, but the US has the Decibel tour and it’s talked about here. It is a really strong thing. It is connected with the whole culture of the magazine and also the fanzine which has strong connotations for people with the background from the scene like we have. They’ve had Kreator, Abbath, Carcass, all these great bands, so we really feel privileged to be able to do that.
And I know it’s a package tour with three other bands, but are you still doing a full headline set similar to what you’ve been doing in Europe?
Absolutely. That’s the beauty of it. It’s going to a full tour with a full set. No bathroom breaks!
– by Andrew Bansal
TICKET GIVEAWAY: Metal Assault is giving away two pairs of tickets to the Decibel Magazine tour’s Orange County stop, March 10 at The Observatory. Please read the following rules, terms and guidelines, and enter the giveaway using the widget below.
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Decibel Magazine Tour 2018 dates:
02/15/2018 – Philadelphia, PA @ TLA
02/16/2018 – New York, NY @ Irving Plaza
02/17/2018 – Boston, MA @ Royale
02/18/2018 – Montreal, QC @ Corona Theatre
02/20/2018 – Toronto, ON @ Phoenix Theatre
02/21/2018 – Cleveland, OH @ Agora Ballroom
02/23/2018 – Chicago, IL @ Metro
02/24/2018 – Minneapolis, MN @ Cabooze
02/25/2018 – Lawrence, KS @ Granada Theater
02/26/2018 – Englewood, CO @ Gothic Theatre
03/02/2018 – Calgary, AB @ MacEwan Ballroom
03/03/2018 – Edmonton, BC @ The Starlite Ballroom
03/05/2018 – Vancouver, BC @ Rickshaw Theater
03/06/2018 – Seattle, WA @ El Corazon
03/07/2018 – Portland, OR @ Hawthorne Theater
03/09/2018 – San Francisco, CA @ Regency Ballroom
03/10/2018 – Santa Ana, CA @ The Observatory