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DAMNATION INTERVIEW: Grutle Kjellson – Enslaved

ENSLAVED are one of the most influential bands in extreme metal. From their early records helping shape the revered Norwegian black metal scene to recent records carrying a progressive and excellent sound, the band are a hugely pivotal figure in metal. 2016 has seen the band celebrating a huge milestone, 25 years, and as part of the celebrations the band have embarked on a special tour titled Enslaved 25 which included a headlining performance on the Terrorizer Stage at this year’s Damnation Festival. We caught up with vocalist/bassist Grutle Kjellson to reflect on the band’s lengthy career, the Norwegian black metal scene and what is in store for ENSLAVED in the coming years.

So ENSLAVED are headlining the Terrorizer Stage tonight at Damnation Festival, what can fans expect?

Grutle: Hopefully a very energetic band towards the end of the tour! Hopefully, no fuck ups! Hopefully a good vibe and hopefully a good selections of songs from our entire career. So, I think they can expect a top notch ENSLAVED show!

This show is part of the Enslaved 25 tour, how has it been for you guys celebrating 25 years?

Grutle: It’s been fun, it’s been hectic with a lot of different shows and different sets throughout the year. We’ve played so many songs that we have to pick up from the grave so to speak. Some of the songs we haven’t been performing for like 20 years and it’s been really interesting! It’s been like playing a bunch of cover songs, at least for the other members, not for me and Ivar [Bjørnson, guitars], they have never played these songs before. So it’s been challenging but it’s been really really fun, we’ve played in many countries, we’ve played in Europe, Australia, Japan and we’re going to hopefully have a trip to New York so there will be a lot of territories covered.

So how has the fan reaction been? Because it is such a big anniversary for you guys, has the fan reaction matched the milestone?

Grutle: Absolutely! You see all the fans we have gathered throughout all these years, you see people in their 50s with the grey hair and then you have really young people, a lot of the people in the audience are in fact really young. People who have come with their parents so we are playing to people from 10 to 60 years old and that is really good!

And with this year marking 25 years of ENSLAVED, what has been some of the best moments for you in your career?

Grutle: Well obviously this milestone, for me the first time I held the physical copy of Hordanes Land in 1993, that was still probably the biggest moment! The first show outside Norway, the first date on the first European tour back in ’95, it was in Vienna and it was amazing! Also, the first tour in America, the first trip we ever made to Japan, just one month ago, that was really good for us!

Enslaved live Damnation Festival 2016
Enslaved live @ Damnation Festival 2016. Photo Credit: James Weaver

Did you ever expect you’d make it to 25 years in the band?

Grutle: No, I was 17 when we started the band and you don’t think that far ahead when your young. Your only concern is getting drunk and getting laid when your 17, I couldn’t imagine being in the band 25 years later, as the years pass by you don’t see anything else but being in the band. This is what we have been doing for all of our adult life!

When ENSLAVED first started, the band was a big player in the Norwegian black metal scene, which has dissolved from the whole controversy that happened in the ’90s. How is the Norwegian scene today?

Grutle: Well, many of the bands that started back then, at least some of the people in those bands, are still around so I guess it is still a strong scene. I don’t have much knowledge about younger bands, I don’t know how the young scene is, I’m not good at paying attention! So I think it is nice that we started these bands, 25 and 30 years ago, and we are still around. I think that is nice.

And I guess in the ’90s, it’s very well documented, that the bands that cropped up in Norway at that time had a kinship to one another. A very close circle. Do you still keep in touch with those bands or have you all drifted apart?

Grutle: Well that circle thing is always overrated! Hugely! But yeah, we’re still friends with some of the bands, we talk to the main guys at the festivals, we have beers when we meet. It’s the same with the guys in IMMORTAL, the guys in EMPEROR. Almost every single one of them used to be in the scene and having a band back then, there wasn’t much hostility was around, there was some obviously.

Last year you released In Times that got a lot of positive reviews. Are you happy with the response to that record?

Grutle: Oh yeah, fully! I remember we started touring for the album like six or seven days before it was released in the United States, promos were handed out and we had some songs that were broadcast to YouTube. That’s an attempt to get people into it before they bought the album, surprisingly for some of the songs there were sing-alongs already on the first day in San Diego, six days before the release! So, it gave us self-confidence I guess and there have been many good shows, many tours! We’ve done three or four tours since the record came out and it’s been fantastic, our audience have been growing, especially in Australia. We played there last month, so it’s been fantastic, overwhelming actually!

Recent albums have moved towards a more progressive sound rather than continuing the sound of your earlier records. Was there ever a conscious decision to do that or was it a natural thing that just happened over time?

Grutle: Yeah, it was a natural evolution and development. I think it’s a very fake thing if you have a goal, then you are constructing the music rather than being creative. And we will never repeat ourselves doing the same album again. We just go with the flow!

So with 2016 coming to close and 2017 on the horizon, what sort of projects do you have in the works?

Grutle: There’s going to be a new album, we’re going to finish this year’s concert calender first. We’ve got a couple of shows in Norway and one show in New York, New York By Norse actually, Oslo By Norse. So that alongside a little tour in Norway, the last show is in Bergen, our hometown, on the 16th December and after that we are going to focus on writing the new record and eventually record the next album.

So really my last question for you, with this year being 25 years of ENSLAVED, where do you see the band in five years when it will be 30 years?

Grutle: I sure hope we are still around! Alive and kicking, still making good albums, playing good concerts, that’s all I hope for. It’s all I can hope for!

Well best of luck for tonight’s show and the rest of the plans for the rest of the year!

Grutle: Thanks man!

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