WORDS: James Weaver
ENSLAVED have been at the summit of extreme metal for over two decades now. With earlier albums rooted in black metal whilst later albums have showcased a more progressive edge, the Norwegian five-piece are a complicated beast. On the back of a successful performance at this year’s Bloodstock Open Air Festival and still touring in support of the critically acclaimed In Times there is no stopping ENSLAVED. Before a co-headline performance with fellow Nuclear Blast label mates GRAND MAGUS, we spoke to vocalist and bassist Grutle Kjellson and rhythm guitarist Ivar Bjørnson about the tour, the band’s appeal and why ENSLAVED reject the term black metal.
We are coming to the end of this co-headline tour with GRAND MAGUS, how has the tour been for you guys?
Grutle: Really good! It’s nice to be able to travel around with GRAND MAGUS. Us Norwegians and Swedes always go well together. It’s been a little too short actually.
Ivar: The setlist is working really well with the new tracks.
It’s been a select choice of UK dates, how have you found playing cities you’ve not normally played before?
Grutle: It’s been cool!
Ivar: I think we are the type of band that enjoy that, of course when we play in places we’ve been to a couple of times the crowd knows us, there’s something that’s just a bit different when we come to new places. Like with Wolverhampton was a challenge because GRAND MAGUS have played there a bunch of times before. It’s always a challenge playing somewhere new but we definitely like the challenges.
This tour comes off from a performance at this year’s Bloodstock Festival. How have you found the UK scene?
Grutle: Pretty well considering that we don’t come here too often, it’s been pretty solid. The UK has been one of the best countries in Europe for us, it’s always cool to come and play here.
This tour has also been in support of this year’s In Times, how have fans taken to the new material live?
Grutle: Well the album has been out for a while now so at least the die hard fans will know the songs! But apart from those guys, the record has been really well received.
With it being your thirteenth studio record, is it difficult to build setlists?
Ivar: It’s actually getting easier. The tricky part was with some albums back was where you felt you could include all of your career whereas now it’s just unrealistic. Now it feels free, we can include a few new ones and then we can just do whatever we want, we obviously will include some stuff from Isa and some older albums which we feel we need to have both for our own sake and the people attending the shows.
Grutle: It’s a bit strange when people claim we have to play that song from album number seven!
Ivar: Very specific!
ENSLAVED are considered to be a strong player in the explosion of black metal in the 1990s but you prefer the term extreme metal. Why is this?
Grutle: We’ve always been uncomfortable with black metal because we have a different definition of what we think black metal is. Back in the days when we helped create the scene, our definition of black metal was any form of metal with satanic lyrics.
Ivar: Yeah, like MERCYFUL FATE.
Grutle: Yeah, MERCYFUL FATE, for us that is black metal. It doesn’t have to be extreme at all, take GHOST for example. The first album is black metal. So for us, we never fit into that category and we are not that concerned with labels either so we just called ourselves extreme metal or whatever the fuck we want.
So it’s always been about making the music you want irrespective of labels?
Grutle: Yeah, exactly.
Ivar: The label extreme is just really to give some hint that there is a certain vocal style and some tempo styles.
Recent albums have moved more towards a progressive style with a lot of dynamic song structures. Is this to try and craft an epic and dynamic sound?
Grutle: Really it’s just going with the flow, we try to make music that we enjoy ourselves. All of us are great music lovers and we’re not entangled with genres. So we can use any kind of inspiration from anything we listen to. There are no boundaries.
So it’s really just picking and choosing what you love from any form of music?
Grutle: Yeah exactly, fusions of different styles has always been the most interesting type of music anyway.
And do you feel by having a sound that covers a range of styles that you can appeal to everyone?
Grutle: It’s fine if we do so but it has never been a goal to appeal to anyone but ourselves!
Ivar: We notice at our concerts that we have representatives from different sub-genres. I think it is a long process because there aren’t too many bands like us and people usually sit on either side of the fence, like OPETH for example, people will either go one way or another. For us we keep trying to balance it.
And really my last question for you both is what’s next for ENSLAVED after you finish this tour?
Grutle: We spend little less than a day back home and then we start a Norwegian tour. We do that for a couple of days and then we are heading back to the United States up to Christmas. Basically touring!
Ivar: And next year will be 25 years of ENSLAVED so then I guess there will be a bunch of touring for that too.
In Times is out now via Nuclear Blast Records.
ENSLAVED perform at London By Norse 2016 to celebrate ‘Enslaved 25‘ in March next year.