Chinese French German Japanese Korean Russian Spanish

 Bookmark and Share




 Interview and Photographs by: Birgit Haugen

Sonic Excess images and staff authored work are copy written and are not to be used without the written permission of the Editor(s). ©

 ENSLAVED, this Viking-themed progressive metal band out of Bergen, Norway has been around for almost 20 years. Although they changed their sound quite a bit during their tenure, their latest album Axioma Ethica Odini brings out the essence of what the band is really about. Brutality combined with melody and everything in between.

 After some extensive touring in Europe they finally made their way back to North America in support of DIMMU BORGIR on their Darkness Reborn tour. At the tour stop in Denver we caught up with founding member and guitarist Ivar Bjørnson to talk all things Enslaved.

 "If you are a die hard black metal fan, I have no problem understanding that you fell off."

Sonic Excess: How is the tour been going so far and how is the reaction of the Dimmu Borgir fans toward Enslaved?

Ivar Bjørnson: It’s been going really good. We are getting along extremely well with the Dimmu guys and the entire crew. We have known Dimmu for many years and it’s great to finally tour with them. And you know, we were expecting a good response from their fans and it’s actually better then we expected. The fans are surprisingly open-minded to a band that looks and sound so much different, it’s really positive.

SE: You also supported DIMMU in Europe, right?

Bjørnson: Yes, but I would say that the fans over here are even more, let’s say easier to convince in a sense, then in Europe. I guess it’s the difference between the Black Metal with corpse paint against other kinds of extreme metal. The difference is bigger in Europe then over here.

SE: Speaking of Black Metal; I don’t know why some call you Black Metal. You sound nothing like Mayhem or Bathory per say. How would you describe your music?

Bjørnson: We just call it extreme metal. It’s still metal but kinda extreme, some fast parts, some screaming, but it’s definitely not Black Metal and never has been.

SE: You always incorporated Norse Mythology into your music; why?

Bjørnson: When we started the band we wanted to have a meaningful direction. I guess we were inspired by back metal and death metal bands that had such strong concepts and images. But we couldn’t get behind that, because there are no satanic philosophies on what we were doing. So Grutle (vocals, bass) and I were discussing about what fascinated us and what common interests we had. And the Norse Mythology was the biggest interest, so we decided to put that into our music.

SE: What inspires your lyrics?

Bjørnson: Earlier on they were more inspired by books and things we read, anything from Tolkien and the books from the Norse Mythology, the sagas, the tales and all of that. But now, even though we are still using that language and the symbols, the lyrics are more about our world view, what we are experiencing. It can be small changes in our personal life or the bigger thoughts and views of the world.

SE: On your first couple albums the lyrics were sung in Norwegian and then you decided to sing in English; what was the reason to switch?

Bjørnson: Yes, it started out Norwegian but when we were touring we met a lot of people that were reading the translation (in the booklet) and they had a lot of interesting feedback to us. They had their own ideas and thoughts about them. We realized that our lyrics really meant a lot to people that were not speaking Norwegian. So it felt more natural to provide the lyrics in English, so people could experience them while actually listen to the songs, and not sitting there afterwards with dictionaries and translators.

SE: Who are the main songwriters in the band?

Bjørnson: I write the music. The lyrics are done together with Grutle.

"Axioma is a lot harsher, more brutal maybe, and a bit more masculine; both in songwriting and production."

SE: Axioma Ethica Odini marks your 11th studio album and it’s quite different from your first two releases in 1994 (Vikingligr Veldi and Frost) Do you think you lost fans over the years because you changed your music?

Bjørnson: I am sure of it. It’s much different now then our first couple albums where we were still more inspirited and easily confused with black metal. So if you are a die hard black metal fan, I have no problem understanding that you fell off. But we also gained a lot of fans over the years, and to my surprise we have also kept so many fans over the years. Maybe we underestimated our fans when we started to change things around with Bloodhemn (1998) and Below the Lights (2003). We expected to start all over again but we were pleasantly surprised that the fans followed us over the years.

SE: The new album is somewhat comparable to 2008 Vertebrae, which was a softer album. In your opinion what are the major differences?

Bjørnson: I would say the main difference is the production. It has the same vibe but there is a sort of a yin yang thing with those two albums. Vertebrae has its softer sides, more melodic and maybe mellow at times. Both albums have the same atmosphere but I would say that Axioma is a lot harsher, more brutal maybe, and a bit more masculine; both in songwriting and production. While with Vertebrea we were exploring the softer side of Enslaved.

SE: Recording the new album; the drums were recorded in a different studio, how did Cato like it?

Bjørnson: As a matter of fact he was very happy with that. There are very few people he worked with that were able to push him. He is a very intense guy and he talks a lot. So therefore sometimes when people are a bit shy in the studio they get completely run over by him. (laughs) They don’t realize what he wants is somebody who is really strict and sort of push him to perform his best. So what we did this time is get our friend, who is drum teching for us and has also been playing with Cato. We thought this is the one guy who can push him to his limits. And at the end, Cato has never been that satisfied before.

SE: And the rest of the album was recorded in Ice Dale’s studio?

Bjørnson: Yes, Ice Dale (guitar) and Herbrand (keyboards) run the Earshot Studio in Bergen.

SE: Do you rehearse at all before going into the studio?

Bjørnson: Yes, and this time even more so then with prior albums.

SE: In part because you had more time due to a cancelation of a tour?

Bjørnson: Exactly! We were talking about if there is maybe something we can do better as far as songwriting and all that. And then we realized that the one thing that all of us were kind of dissatisfied with was that we were spending more and more time in the studio or in front of the computer and almost being theoretical about everything. So we decided to go back to the rehearsal room and work out the songs there. And that was really good, also for the social factor of the band.


"If people want to make a video for their favorite songs from any Enslaved album, we are really interested to see that."

SE: And on that note, how about rehearsing before a tour?

Bjørnson: Well, the thing is that Cato (drums) is a bit of a Crocodile Dundee. (laughs) He lives in the forest and does fishing and a lot of outdoor stuff, so we have to get him down from the mountain for a while. But normally about two weeks; but then we rehearse all the time before we leave on tour.

SE: Did you write more songs for the new album which didn’t make the cut?

Bjørnson: No, that didn’t happen; we scrapped maybe a few songs for prior albums but not with this one. It didn’t come that far. A song was already killed when we are writing riffs. If we keep playing it for a few days and it still really didn’t do anything, then it never even entered the rehearsal room.

SE: The fan video contest went really well, is that something you might do again?

Bjørnson: Definitely! Don’t know if it’s gonna be the same thing, like new release, make a video, or we also think about doing an open theme. If people want to make a video for their favorite songs from any Enslaved album, we are really interested to see that. Maybe have a compilation of songs. We never have done a “best of”, so that would be an idea. These days bands do their “best of” after two albums, (laughs) and we have done 11 albums now, so it’s about time. It would be cool to include bonus material, like a DVD with fan video interpretation of our songs.

SE: Most bands say their latest album is their best, what is your statement on that?

Bjørnson: Yes, it is. (laughs) It is the essence of Enslaved how we are right now. Well it’s just like the human mind works, for an artist, the last painting is always the best and so forth. I think it’s funny, one of my favorite bands, Testament, was asked if their last album is their best one ever, and they said: “no, the second best but we are really happy about that one.” (laughs) Now that is very honest.  

SE: You have been working with Truls Espedal since 2001 for your artwork. Do you give him the main idea and he runs with it, or how is your working relationship with him?

Bjørnson: It’s a bit like what you see in movies, when they want to make a phantom drawing of a suspect at a police station. Grutle and I talk about the lyrics and the album and our ideas around it, and Truls will just be sitting there, drawing small sketches as we talk. And then we might see a figure or color on his papers and we react to it. At the end he has a big pile of sketches and when he feels he has enough he just tells us he got it, goes home and paints for a month or two and presents us with the final piece.

SE: Was there ever a time where you told him, well I don’t like this or could you change that?

Bjørnson: No, not so far! 6 albums later and we are still in total agreement, it’s pretty crazy.

SE: How important are the visuals and booklet for an album to you?

Bjørnson: It is very important. Everything has to be the inner part of a big package. I would say it is more important then how the individual members look. It’s the logo, the colors, it’s the atmosphere that is created when you open the booklet and you look at all of those things. It spans on the music. Normally when you sit around listening to any music it creates those inner images and if there are good aesthetics around as well you can really expand on everything. Hopefully we give such visual concepts that people will see an Enslaved shirt or painting or whatever and they get the same feeling as they get when listening to our music. That would be the ultimate goal.

SE: What’s your take on downloading or YouTube uploads?

Bjørnson: It’s like radio I guess. It’s practical if you can sit around and listen to a record on YouTube whenever you want to, like a party or so. I think if people are sharing stuff with each other it’s just like the old cassette trading days, as long as it is not organized on a big scale like Limewire and stuff like that.

SE: What’s next for Enslaved?

Bjørnson: We are going to India and then we will be home for the Holidays. Then take a few months off and go back to Europe in March and April and are also doing the Summer Festivals in Europe. And then we will be back in the states next fall. After that a new album and the cycle will continue.

 SE: Any last words?

Bjørnson: Thanks for supporting Enslaved in all of those years, especially during our weird, impulsive changes, we really appreciate that.



























































































































  Sonic Excess images and staff authored work are copy written and are not to be used without the written permission o f the Editor(s). ©