Twenty Mighty Years of Metal from Enslaved!

Enslaved is on the verge of celebrating their 20th Anniversary of being one of the most progressive bands on the the world metal arena today.  The latest album from Nuclear Blast Records is entitled Axioma Ethica Odini. their 11th magnum opus to date.  Currently on tour with the equally legendary Dimmu Borgir, we had a chance to speak with lead vocalist/bassist Grutle Kjellson just prior to leaving for what is to be an adventurous tour throughout Europe and the United States.  Topics of discussion included the grand beginnings of Enslaved, their latest album, influential bands and motion pictures, and an actor named Charles Bronson.  Read on…

Next year will mark your 20-year anniversary with Enslaved. How does it feel that you’ve been able to stay with this band for 20 years?
It certainly doesn’t feel like 20 years. I think of it as a bit strange, but we started when we were pretty young. This is what we have done for most of our adult life. It feels kind of natural. It feels good actually – we’ve made some good records. I think we have achieved a lot together. We’re still a vital band and we don’t feel like we’ve been doing this for 20 years at all. It’s still very enjoyable – there’s a good relationship within the band. So yeah, it feels great! We still feel like a hungry young band really.

What was your local scene like back in 1991 and what was your life like back then?
In 91, almost nobody knew what extreme metal / black metal / death metal was. It was very underground and there were very few bands in Norway – very few followers. We barely had any people at all coming to our shows. Things have changed quite a lot actually – obviously the whole thing, there were a lot of tensions because of the criminal activities that happened in 92/93. So suddenly everybody thought they knew what it was all about. We got a lot of – most of it negative attention – people only looked at every guy playing metal as some kind of arsonist or killer. It was first in 2003/2004 that the media here in Norway started to acknowledge the music as well. It took ten years to kind of get rid of that stereotyped mark. Things have been better in the last 7-8-9 years.

What kind of kid were you like back in 1991? You were 16 or 17 at the time…
In 1991, I was 17 years old at the time. I went to school and listened to metal. Rehearsing – drinking beer and going to a couple concerts. All of us that were into the scene were basically left alone by everyone. No one knew what the hell we were doing. Our friends just knew we were doing some crazy metal stuff. No one paid attention at all. That was kind of comforting – at least better than a couple of years later. I was just a normal, enthusiastic metal kid.

Do you remember the first metal concert you ever went to?
The first metal concert – the place where I grew up, we barely had any concerts at all. I think it was a concert where there were two Norwegian bands called Arch and Witchhammer – probably the first real metal show I went to. I went to some mixed shows with locals – like band competitions and stuff earlier, but with some local bands. But that Arch and Witchhammer gig was probably the first one that really counted as a metal show.

Ivar Bjornson is the only other original member is Enslaved. What do you think has made your musical partnership so successful for nearly 20 years?
Well, we have the same passion for music – not just metal, but we like a lot of the same stuff from the 70’s – like Pink Floyd and Genesis and so on. We work really good together. We know each other very well. We know where to step and not to step. We know how to not get on each other’s nerves on tour and stuff like that. We’re like brothers and we understand each other really, really well. And we know how to cooperate together. We’re very good at staying together when it’s necessary and to part ways for a couple of days if necessary. We have this mutual, telepathic understanding – and we’ve had that since the beginning. So it works really well, so we never have any big arguments or anything like that.

How does the music on your new album Axioma Ethica Odini compare to your previous efforts?
It’s a natural step forward. We try to never look backwards anyway. We like to improve the music on every album actually – not just the music but also the arrangements, the recording, the mixing – I think we have improved on every layer this time, especially in the recording process. In recording, we had a lot more time to go over details. We had ample time to do a quality check on every single thing we did. The mixing was actually pretty easy to do, because we spent a long time doing the recording – or at least a longer time than we usually spend in the studio. So I think that’s the main reason. We rehearsed a lot more prior to the recording, so it sounds a lot more confident itself – much more right in your face – much more aggressive and yet more dynamic. I’m really, really satisfied this time. But I think that the key word is “time.” We had enough time to do all the arrangements – instead of stressing for a couple of months, we had at least half a year to finish the album. That was very comforting, and you could easily see that.

Is there any story or concept behind the title of the album Axioma Ethica Odini – and what does the title translate to?
Axioma simply means an axiom – an absolute philosophical truth – a saying that you can’t argue about being it’s not a scientific truth – it’s a philosophical truth – that’s an axiom. And Ethica Odini is a Latin translation of an Old Norse poem called Haavamaal, which can be translated as “The Ethics of Odin.” It’s an old, old poem in 104 different verses, which deals about how you shall interact towards other human beings, towards nature and your surroundings. For example, listen before you preach. Know a person well before you trust them. I mean, that even makes old, old common sense. And it’s also about human spirituality. It’s kind of a hymn to our biggest axiom, which is Ethic Odin i.e. Haavamaal.

Please select two songs from the new album and tell me what inspired you to write the lyrics.
I can pick Lightning – the last song. It’s very much inspired by a certain god like being in the Norse mythology strongly connected to lightning. (Editor’s note – THOR!!!) It’s about the forces inside yourself. The mythology for me is a metaphor for certain protective forces inside your own mind. It’s kind of a war inside your own head against your own chaos. You try to conquer your own chaos, but you have to at the same time acknowledge that the chaos is there, so there’s always an ongoing conflict with the forces of this god and the giants – the opposite in Norse mythology – that was Lightning.

I could pick one another song – Giants – that was probably the first lyric I wrote for this album actually. I was inspired by Ivar’s music on this one – it was kind of a harsh, heavy song. And it had me thinking about the giants in Norse mythology – those forces are supposedly evil. The lyrics are about trying to embrace your own chaos. Chaos is always looked upon as some negative forces – but it’s about transforming the chaos into something positive.

You’re going to coming back here on tour with Dimmu Borgir. Is this your first tour with Dimmu Borgir?
The US tour – it will actually be the second leg of the World Tour with Dimmu Borgir. It will start up in Europe – some concerts in Eastern Europe and some concerts in Scandinavia and Finland. And then it’s going to be a couple of weeks break and then we head for the States. We are looking forward to it! We know those guys from way back. They’re good friends of ours. They’re a very, very professional band – very good at what they do. That’s something I’m really looking forward to.

On your Myspace is list Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch as your favorite directors. What is your favorite Stanley Kubrick movie and why?
Most of them are pretty good. The last one I saw was Eyes Wide Shut actually. I know that movie has been looked upon as one his weakest movies, but I really enjoyed it. It might not be the favorite, but I just loved the eerie unsecured feelings of it all. Nothing much happens, but it’s a very creepy feeling combined with the music and the movie. It really makes your spine shiver. I just love that feeling. It’s one of the best horror movies I’ve ever seen actually. But the favorite –well I have to say The Shining. It’s the most creepy horror movie of all time – mainly because of the madness of Jack Nicholson. And there’s a thing with David Lynch’s movies – there’s loads of hints all the time, and when you think you’ve understood the red line, everything is torn apart like the next minute and you think, “Aw, what the fuck? I have to start to think all over again.” I really like when directors – and even musicians – that are constantly challenging your mind long after you’ve listened to the record or have seen the movie. So I really like that. I don’t like things that actually hit me right away. I like things that I actually have to think over – even if it annoys me at times – I’m feeling great.

When you talk about Lynch and his complex themes, Mulholland Drive comes to mind. Did you like that movie?
Absolutely! I also like Inland Empire, the one afterwards. That’s even more freaky than Mulholland Drive. It’s cool to see when people are trying to interpret those movies by themselves. There are loads of sites on the Internet where you can read about different people’s interpretations of the Lynch movies – the secrets and what it means and stuff like that. That’s really, really cool. If you make art that is open to other interpretations that you have as a director or a lyric writer or whatever – now I think that is real art.

What is it about Charles Bronson that makes him one of your favorite actors – as listed on your personal Myspace?
(Much laughter) Well, that’s a little joke really. He’s probably the best bad action hero in the world. He doesn’t look like an action hero – he doesn’t talk like an action hero – he doesn’t act like an action hero – but still he’s the best! I’ve also seen like 20 of his movies and I mean, they’re all the same. They’re all just one great movie! I actually have a signed photo of Charles Bronson in my bedroom – I’m not kidding.

Where’d you get that?
I got it from a friend of mine who’s a huge Charles Bronson fan.

Since you’re talking about actors and directors – is acting and directing something you might want to do sometime?
Well, I don’t think I have the talent – but yeah, why not? It’s an interesting arena for expressing yourself. I’ve never done it but I really don’t know if it interests me. But I’d definitely try if people asked me too – absolutely.

How many times have you seen the band Rush, and do they influence you at all?
I’ve only seen them once, because they’ve only played in Norway twice. The first time was in 1977 and I was only like 3-4 years and hadn’t even heard of Rush at that time. I saw them in Stockholm in 2004 – probably the best show I had ever seen in my entire life. I was suppose to see them in 2006 or 7 in Norway – I bought the tickets and then two days later our manager booked a European tour that ended on the same day as the Rush show was in Norway. So I was stranded backstage in Munchen in Germany and all my friends were calling me from the Rush concert, “Ahhh! Listen to this!” And I was like, “Aw, fuck you!”

But Rush is one of those influential bands from the 70’s – together with Pink Floyd and King Crimson and stuff like that. They have not directly musically influenced us – but the same approach to make something more progressive or epic than normal rock and roll or heavy metal – it’s the urge to go beyond those normal frames and make music and dare to just go with the flow and do whatever you want to do – instead of thinking what people will think when you do something different. So I think we’re very inspired by that way of thinking music rather than the actual riffings or techniques or anything like that – because Rush is a very good technical band and we are not. (Much laughter)

So if for some reason Rush was doing a tribute album and invited Enslaved do to a song – what Rush song would you want to cover and why?
There’s a lot of songs really – but the first thing that pops into my mind right now is actually Earthshine for Vapor Trails. That’s actually one the newest albums. The first time I heard it, I thought this is a song I would like to cover sometime. I think it’s got an energy in the song that is very related to the songs that we make. The openings riffs in Earthsong is riffs that maybe could be made by Ivar from Enslaved. That’s the first song that popped up in my mind. It’s has kind of an Enslaved energy over it – if that doesn’t sound too pompous – or maybe it does… (Laughter)

Do you have any messages for your fans out here in the Los Angeles area?
The usual – buy the album, come to the concert and we’ll sign it for you – afterwards of course. And I really appreciate the support over the years. We will never give in – at least not for 20 years. We’ll go for another 20 years – so hang in there yourself and come to our shows.

That sounds good. Then we’ll do another interview on your 40-year anniversary and we’ll be talking about that…
(Laughs) Yeah, I’ll turn 57 by then. Maybe that’s a little bit ridiculous, but we’ll see…

You never know. Look at Lemmy for Motorhead. He’s in his 60’s and he’s still chugging along.
You never know! And Lemmy’s a cool guy!

(Interview by Kenneth Morton)

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