It’s quite simple to be at the top of creativity and in your fans’ consciousness for 25 consecutive years. You must think outside the box and do not act like a sheep, just immitating what others do or just being a part of the mass or the mob. This is simple, of course, only if you choose to behave like a leader and not like a follower… However, we should better listen to what Ivar Bjørnson has to say about it, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Enslaved.
I still can’t believe that there’s a black metal band from Norway 25 years on the spotlight, without one member of it murdered or in jail, no churches burned or vandalisms written on their criminal records. How on earth can you explain it Mr. Ivar Bjørnson?
Ivar: Well, then again we were never a “real” Black Metal band either hehe. Back in the days “Black Metal” meant a quite serious ideology, which some of these people from the scene adhered to in a very serious matter. For us the music had to take center stage, and spending years in jail was not compatible with those goals and ambitions.
Was it always for you as a person, music all that matters?
Ivar: Not all, but the most important – so some priorities would have to be made. I have my thoughts, my ideology, but music comes first!
How easy was to distract from music and start acting “dangerous” in order to win some publicity or a cult status?
Ivar: It seemed like a lot of people fell into that trap, and still people do that. Of course, I have to point out that there was and are still a very few bands and artist that combine the two; a “dangerous ideology” with sensational high quality art. But most of the “dangerous” people are like a gorilla – no doubt dangerous, but not someone you would listen to the music of haha. Keep your distance and don’t torture yourself with their childlike attempts at epic art, and you will be fine!
You are born in 1977, which means you were only 13 when you started the band. I just can’t see how you and Grutle Kjellson recorded on such an early age “Vikingligr Veldi”, a demanding album, not only musically speaking but lyrically too. How did you come up with the idea using the Old Norse language?
Ivar: When we started Enslaved, we had already been in a Death Metal band together for almost two years (meaning I was 11 when that band, Phobia, was started, haha). We decided we wanted to start a new band more in the vein of the Black Metal bands (as I mentioned, we were never a “real” Black Metal band, only related) – but with our very own concept. Grutle and I discovered that we had a common fascination for Norse Mythology – which we then decided to have as the very foundation for the new band Enslaved. And to really mark that strongly at the start of the band, it felt natural to use the language of those actual times.
As Euronymous was the one that helped you in your first steps, have you ever thought how extreme music would have been if he hasn’t been murdered? And how that would affect your music direction or your sound, even though is an extremely hypothetical question I guess…
Ivar: Yeah, quite hypothetical. I am not sure, but I sometimes believe it would have been more exciting and more focus on the art – not all the nonsense with Extreme Metal trying to become sexy and shit like that. He was a genuine artist with a strong vision for his music, and a very open-minded student of music. All kinds of music. Therefore, I sometimes think it would have been a scene of higher qualities. But maybe not as commercially successful because his extreme integrity? Who knows.
Are you friends with Vikernes? How do you feel about him and how do you see him as a persona in Black metal?
Ivar: Haha, no – we are definitely not on each other’s Christmas Card-lists. I don’t have to think about him, neither as a person in general, nor as an entity in the arts and music – has he made it abundantly clear that he is not a part of any scene, musical societies or whatever. So I for one do not understand why any of the people he is so keen on disowning is still interested in him.
Do you put into practice in your everyday life things from Viking mythology? Even though I can’t see any connection that paganism has with any ideology far right or far left still have you ever been accused for far right ideology?
Ivar: Norse mythology, Pagan belief systems and Runes are essential parts of my life; both as an artist and as an individual. I think I will leave it at that – these things are too complex for brief talks. There are no links between these aspects of my life and politics, neither are there any links between Enslaved and politics. It has never been any links, so, no – we have never been at the receiving end of those accusations. It is not that hard.
Have you ever thought of writing a political song? Were you ever on politics?
Ivar: I have never considered that, and I am certain it would not happen ever. Music is a higher form of human expression; let us just say I find politics to reside at the other end of the spectrum. What ideas and views I might have as a “private” person outside of music is not relevant as very few can separate me from me in that aspect.
Which were your first influences when you started and how far you have explored your music limits all these years? Tell me the last LP’s you bought.
Ivar: There were some very strong influences at the time of starting Enslaved; of which I would say these were the strongest: Mayhem’s “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” (even though the album was not released before 1994; material, demos, live recordings and early studio sessions existed from long before that), Bathory, Master’s Hammer, Rotting Christ, Tormentor, Darkthrone, Celtic Frost, Kreator, Destruction, Sodom and Venom. Μy last album purchases was the new Meshuggah (which I have not heard or learned the title of yet, just got it in Tokyo yesterday), and “Sorceress” by Opeth.
Looking back to when all this started and where you are now, how long and how difficult was that journey?
Ivar: It has been a long road with many sacrifices, but has been worth it. I have grown as an artist and as a person and all that I know of people and experiences ties in with Enslaved. I am living a great life with great privileges, so I feel that the journey has been exactly how it should have been. No fight, no progress!
There’s more than a year and a half since your last full length, “In Times”. Shall we expect soon your new effort?
Ivar: Yes you shall! I do not have the dates and details right now, but be prepared quite soon for news!
This album works out to six tracks and is over fifty minutes, reminding me of your debut “Vikingligr Veldi”. Has this happened by chance or was it something like back on the roots nostalgia?
Ivar: I feel that “nostalgia” is too much of a conscious decision to apply for that. But I am pretty convinced that being inspired by our own history was important for “In Times”. But, no, “nostalgia” is taking it to far. It is still Enslaved in 2015!
Describe the most difficult moment in your career. Which is the most underrated album of your back catalogue?
Ivar: We have had our fights and there has been line-up changes, but there were never any real problems; just childish bickering. It all worked out. I never knew challenges before I got children. Now I would say that leaving for tours is the most difficult moment. Every time. It seems all our albums have their dedicated fans, followers and believers. So I do not feel there are any really underrated albums. Perhaps “Vertebrae”? I think it deserves an even bigger recognition!
Which was the most daring release, the most “extreme” in terms of too progressive for metal audience?
Ivar: I think “Monumension” was quite challenging for everybody, even ourselves – proved by the fact that the album was the soundtrack to our most drastic line-up change. The album is great, but it tries so many things at the same time. It is almost like the album is falling apart and holding together very strongly at the same. Strange one!
How difficult is to satisfy your fans after twenty four years of activity? Were they quite demanding during all those years?
Ivar: Hey man, it is twenty-five years! We have the best fans ever. They have high expectations and believe strongly in what we do; that is very different from being demanding! Of course, when people saw that we were changing after “Frost” and that we were more into developing and experimenting that to please anyone, of course some “purists” complained. But how can you take that irony seriously? Extreme Metal; any kind of art with impact, is born of mutations and rebellion. And then when the artists continues to mutate and fuck with ideas they are supposed to be told by “fans” to behave more in a conform way? Hahahaha. That’s great. But no. Our fans on the other hand, expect high standards, but also lends us limitless support in what we do!
“Return to Yggdrasil” was your last video release and it was more than ten years ago. Are you thinking of shooting a DVD live experience for your fans due to your 25 anniversary?
Ivar: Yes, we are thinking, but I cannot share my thoughts right now! Stay tuned.
You have already received four Norwegian Grammies (“Isa”, “Ruun”, “Vertebrae” and “Axioma Ethica Odini”), if I’m not mistaken, “In Times” had reached fourth to the American Billboard Heatseekers chart and fifteenth in the Billboard Hard Music chart. Does all these Grammies, charts etc mean anything to you (personally speaking and Enslaved as a band)?
Ivar: Yes, they do make both me, and the band quite proud. It is always nice with recognition, there is no shame in admitting that. But it does not mean anything for the music and art itself. It will always just be based on other people’s preferences, trends and chaos: it has no actual meaning or substance for the art itself. I make a point of reminding myself of that as much as I can.
Is there any challenge you have not tried yet with Enslaved?
Ivar: Of course – we have a lot to achieve. We can become better musicians, play better together, and develop as a live band – make great and spectacular live shows – record better albums with more colossal productions.
Which are your plans for the next year? Touring all over the world? Is there any thought for a performance in Athens?
Ivar: Next year is working with new material. More releases? Who knows! But yes, we will for sure continue to tour the world.
The closing is yours and I really wish you all the best and hope we can speak again sooner than your 50th anniversary, but I promise Metal Invader will be there to celebrate with you!
Ivar: That is great, thanks for joining in the 25th anniversary! See you soon!