Enslaved - The Way to Ragnarok

By Dr. Abner Mality

 The ancient Norsemen were unique in that they had the only religion that predicted the death and destruction of its own gods. This was Ragnarok, the day when the forces of good and evil battled with such fury that the Universe itself was destroyed, clearing the way for a new beginning.

There's a lot of that Norse fatalism to be found in the music of Enslaved. This Norwegian band has emerged as a respected and singular voice in the extreme metal world, utilizing some of the aspects of black metal and yet standing completely outside that stifling genre restriction. The only thing predictable about Enslaved has been their unpredictability, as each album they release is completely different from the others. Yet they stay true to their core beliefs and if you enjoyed one Enslaved album, you will enjoy them all.

The latest offering is "Ruun", a truly progressive and heavy look at how the mind handles the concept of imminent disaster and destruction. The Ragnarok of one's own mind is linked with the Ragnarok of Norse legend. It's a challenging concept and one that Grutle Kjellson, the longtime voice of the band, can explain better than a land-locked groundling such as myself. I will let this bard of the modern age tell us of "Ruun" and the coming of Enslaved...

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: Enslaved has now been a band for more than 15 years. Did you have any idea at the start that the band would still be going in 2006?

GRUTLE KJELLSON: Well, I guess we didn't give it much thought. (chuckles) I think the reason we have continued for so many years is the goal for Ivar (founding guitarist) and me has always been constant development and to create music that we ourselves enjoy. We are always trying to create our own favorite music and it is a constant challenge. We are trying to challenge ourselves. That's the reason for our longevity.

WC: Many bands say they compose music primarily for themselves. Do you give any consideration at all to what your fans might like? Have you ever had an idea that was so wild that you rejected it because you thought nobody would "get it"?

GK: Not really. When we compose, we don't have any real goals. There's no intention of what the result is going to be. We don't have any agenda that a certain song is going to sound exactly like King Crimson or Pink Floyd or anything like that. Our songs come to us quite naturally. We never made any song to fit a particular market. But it's extremely cool that people have appreciated what we are going. We have never fallen prey to a commercial way of thinking.

WC: Every Enslaved album seems to be a journey to a different place. Where does "Ruun" take the listener? What's the destination this time?

GK: It's a kind of dark album, really. The lyrical concept is quite unique this time. It's about how certain forces in your head react to catastrophe, how they handle disaster. We link these forces to ideas in Norse mythology, so everything is linked together to that concept. All these forces working together drag the situation into complete chaos. ..which is more or less what always happens in the human head, you know. (chuckles) But that doesn't necessarily have to be a negative thing. You can always turn the chaos into a positive thing.

WC: A lot of creativity comes from chaos.

GK: You have to tear something down to build something new, something healthy.

WC: So it's an interpretation of how people react to mental stress?

GK: Yeah, yeah. It can be stress. On the cover, we have a picture of a sinking ship. That's another metaphor for this state of mind, really.

WC: On your website, it was mentioned that the album relates to the concepts of logic and metaphysics. Those are two things that don't necessarily go together. Is the album a way to reconcile those two ideas?

GK: Yeah, I guess you can say that. It's also inspired by the way we link the old Norse myths to the present day. We use those myths to describe the human mind.

WC: Norse mythology had the idea of Ragnarok, the End of the Gods. Do you think humanity is on the verge of its own Ragnarok?

GK: I think you can experience your own Ragnarok quite a few times during your life. It's not the solution, the final judgment. I think there are a lot of Ragnaroks going on in the world today, but not the "final" Ragnarok.

WC: When I heard "Ruun", I thought it had a warmer sound to it than your previous album "Isa". Would you agree with that, would you say it's a bit more accessible?

GK: I agree. It's a lot more organic, the sound is a lot more "opened up". That was a conscious move because we changed the studios where we recorded and mixed the album. We actually were the first metal band to ever use the studio where we recorded "Ruun".

WC: That was a pretty positive experience?

GK: Yeah, absolutely. We had a very skilled engineer. It was an American from L.A. named Mike Hartung, who did a lot of work there in the 80's.

WC: You've got some relatively new members in the band now. What were the contributions of the new members?

GK: All three of the new members have brought a lot of good energy in to the band, actually. And now we have five people doing the arrangements together. It used to be that one person, the songwriter, would do all the arranging. Now we all contribute. Me and Ivar are still taking care of the lyrics. Ivar and Arve work on the guitar arrangements, Herbrand and I work on the vocal arrangements and Cato takes care of the drums. So everyone is very much involved now and the three new members are really, really skilled. Herbrand is a good singer as well as being a good keyboardist and he even plays some guitar live. He also owns his own studio so he's a good engineer as well.

WC: He does the clean vocals?

GK: He does maybe 60% of the clean vocals.

WC: His keyboard technique is very subtle compared to what you hear in most metal bands. Most of the times, the keyboards are on top of the music. But on "Ruun", it seems like the keyboards are inside the music. Would you agree?

GK: Yeah, absolutely. A lot of metal bands have keyboards just because they think they should have them. We try to integrate the keyboards into the music more. We're not using them all the time...,we just use them when necessary.

WC: They're not overpowering.

GK: No, not at all. It's kind of an oldschool way of using keys, I think.

WC: Would you say there is a pop influence on "Ruun"? Some of the vocals are quite melodic and catchy. I've always heard Pink Floyd influences in Enslaved and in some parts, it almost reminds me of a late Beach Boys sound...

GK: Beach Boys! (chuckles) Well, that's not a bad band, actually.

WC: I might be going out on a limb there...

GK: Well, it's actually influenced by Pink Floyd as you mentioned and also the older Genesis from the Peter Gabriel era. But it's not really inspired by the Beach Boys. (laughter)

WC: Just something crazy that came to me while I was listening.

GK: All of the guys in the band listen to old music and have schizophrenic tastes, actually. There are people in the band who listen to pop music as well as metal and even punk. Basically, we listen to everything!

WC: Would you say there's any humor to be found in Enslaved's music? You're dealing with pretty heavy concepts most of the time.

GK: We are very humorous persons outside of the band, but we are deadly serious about everything concerning Enslaved. But we're not that serious on the tour bus, I can tell you that.

WC: Is there any idea about how the band will continue to evolve in the future?

GK: The exciting thing about the band is that we have no idea, actually! We never know how the next album is going to sound. It tends to be a little similar to the last song we make for each album. The last song we wrote for "Isa" was "Return to Yggdrasil" and that might be the song on "Isa" that is closest to "Ruun". The last song we did for "Ruun" was "Heir to the Cosmic Seed" and that was very different to the other tracks on the album. But I really don't know what we'll be doing next.

WC: Have you ever been tempted to do something non-metal, like maybe a prog rock album or something with just acoustic instruments?

GK: I don't think so, actually. Enslaved is the ultimate blend for us, musically. We're very much into making extreme metal and adding progressive influences. I think we are really satisfied with our general development. I don't think we'll ever turn away from being an extreme metal band.

WC: If you could invite any three musicians in history to dinner, who would they be?

GK: Geddy Lee. Lemmy Kilminster. And uhhhh...the first two came very naturally. Let's see...maybe Robert Fripp! An interesting trio, huh?

WC: You'd have some pretty interesting conversations between Lemmy and Robert Fripp, that's for sure! (laughter) One of the exciting things coming up for the band is a tour of the States. Do you have any details for us?

GK: Well, it's still under construction. We will do Europe first...we'll start in the U.K. in September. There will probably no tour in the States until December or January.

WC: Anybody in mind to go out with?

GK: For the States? We have no idea right now, actually.

WC: What was the last CD you got for your own enjoyment?

GK: Let me think. It was a King Crimson record actually...the one they did in 1994. "Vroom". Pretty good stuff!

WC: That seems to be one of the bands Enslaved draws inspiration from.

GK: During the last six or seven years, especially. You can hear that Ivar has draw a lot of inspiration from the works of Robert Fripp. But we don't sound like King Crimson. Nobody really does. We have our own sound.

WC: What was the last concert you saw for your own enjoyment?

GK: It was the CD release party of a Norwegian band called Vreid.

WC: Very good band! They would be a good band for you to tour with.

GK: We actually did play with them last year. They supported us on our European tour of February last year. Very nice guys.

WC: Do you have any sort of Spinal Tap story you can share with us?

GK: (laughter). I have to think a bit, because not everything is suitable to share! Well, it happened in the States. We were eating some mushrooms on an 18 hour drive from Chicago to Denver. Our former guitar player Roy was checking his pockets and found some really evil looking South American mushrooms he picked up somewhere. "You guys wanna check it out and taste it?" he asked us and we went "Yeah, sure. There's nothing to do for the next 18 hours so why the hell not?" So me, the drummer and Roy split it in three and ate and then we were all tripping really bad for the next 15 hours. I remember Roy lying outside a gas station and petting what he thought was a giant dog-sized ant. (laughter) He was telling this huge ant how extremely beautiful it was while people were passing by him and trying to get gas. It was like ten straight minutes of "Ahhh, my beautiful little ant...." and actually he was petting nothing!

WC: I sometimes see and hear similar things downtown where I live!

GK: And at the same time, I was frightened to death and hiding in the bathroom, imagining that every one in the world was trying to kill me! (laughter) Per, our drummer at the time, went to buy cigarettes and he was about to pay the guy $700 for the cigarettes!

WC: Jesus!

GK: Ivar was not thrilled. He had to take care of all three us. He was pretty stressed out. "Listen, you can't pay $700 for cigarettes! No, I'm not trying to kill you! No, there isn't a giant ant out there!" So that was pretty weird.

WC: The next time you see mushrooms lying around, you're going to let them lie!

GK: Well, that was six years ago and I haven't touched anything like that since!

WC: Any final words for the fans here in the States?

GK: Keep on supporting us. We haven't been there in three years but I promise we will be back! Of course, buy or steal our newest album "Ruun"!

Candlelight USA Record's Website

Enslaved's Website