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Metal/Prog Metal Interviews


Interviewed by Julie Knispel
Interview with Ivar Bjørnson and Grutle Kjellson of Enslaved


This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 1 at

What really drove you guys to push beyond the traditional boundaries of what a lot of people think of when they think of extreme metal or black metal or death metal?

Ivar Bjørnson:   It’s hard to pinpoint, you know, where we started.  We come from a background where we are very heavily influenced by black metal, but it became evident quite soon that we wanted to go in quite different directions.  I think personal taste played a big role in it. Grutle has always been into stuff from the 1970’ stuff like Led Zeppelin, all that, and I just think that it just spread itself into the band.    We had to make a choice, you know, if we wanted to go with that.  We took a risk, and I’m glad we did.


Grutle Kjellson: You eventually hear those influences on the earlier albums, too. Already from ‘96, ‘97, I would say we started to incorporate more progressive music.


Ivar Bjørnson:   I think we believed...a thing in metal today, the whole...people like to throw around “do what they wilt” you know...they’re like Crowley a bit, you know, big time...I think Enslaved is a band that’s really put our weight behind that.  We’ve decided to really go with it.  We do what we want, and we’re really grateful that people are following that.


Grutle Kjellson: It definitely shows in the music.  There’s an honesty and a power in what’s on the discs, and what I anticipate we’ll be hearing live tonight, that really comes across.  It’s not playing up to a certain scene, it’s not playing up to a certain expectation.  It’s blood, sweat and tears in the grooves, so to speak.  Going back to albums like Eld, there’s a much more epic scope to the material that’s out there, with songs like “793 (Slaget om Lindisfarne)” and material like that.  There’s a storytelling pushes beyond a lot of stereotypical lyrical paths. 


What motivated you guys to get together and put together Enslaved and move forward?

Grutle Kjellson: Well, we used to be in a death metal band together in 1990.  It was called “Phobia,” and we played more or less early Darkthrone inspired death metal.  We got pretty tired of that pretty fast, and so we wanted to start something...for us, personally interesting and unique, you know...incorporate different sides of metal and new lyrical concepts.  So, I mean...the driving force was very strong like that, absolutely.


Ivar Bjørnson:   We wanted, you know...we wanted something from the music that we couldn’t find, as well.  It was just a decision to try and create that.

MSJ: Do you find the scene today to be as together as it once was?  From what I have read, it seems that at one point in time, everybody seemed to be pushing in a similar direction, and then, for the last couple of years, from the outside it, kind of a fracturing between bands who are becoming more commercially accepted or known like Children of Bodom or Cradle of Filth and the bands that remain “troo” or “kult” or “nekro.”

Ivar Bjørnson:   I think it’s hard to find those lines of division but...the whole reason the Norwegian scene became so strong was because we had a unified front.  There was...old bands to new bands, everything they released was totally unique.  You had Darkthrone, Enslaved, Immortal, all those bands...


Grutle Kjellson: Emperor...


Ivar Bjørnson:   ...they were all different styles, but every band had respect for being part of the scene and sort of necessity of working together.  I think that still sticks with us.  Those bands...we’re still in a band that’s very much the opposite...has the opposite philosophy of Enslaved and Darkthrone...


Grutle Kjellson: Very close...


Ivar Bjørnson:   ...close friends, you know?  They dig themselves deeper into the whole “nekro” thing, and we’re just doing more and more melodic elements, and I think at the same time, those two bands are still very heavily linked, so I think’s natural too because it’s a statistical or mathematical fact that back in ’91, ’92, there would be just enough people in Norway into extreme metal that you could actually hang out at the same party.  So you’d know everybody by name, and you’d meet them at every f***ing show that would be in Norway, and very different now.  So I think...and the whole internet thing, all that stuff causes a lot of fragmentation. 


And you see that in new scenes.  I was discussing that with somebody, about the US black metal scene.  Our impressions from abroad is that it’s very difficult for us to perceive that united scene because there’s so many opinions on what’s this and what’s that.  I think that’s essential for building a scene, and you sort of have to accept the fact there will be somebody doing things differently from yourself, but you should acknowledge them for their skills and their performances rather than their similarity to yourself.


Grutle Kjellson: That’s still what’s going on in Norway. They’re still good friends.  And us and Darkthrone, we’re so different that we’re almost becoming similar again.

MSJ: It’s good to hear that there’s still that kinship.  I know from listening to the entire catalogue, going back to the shared LP’s with Satyricon and Emperor, that the early material was all very much sung in Norse or in a few cases Old Norse.  The newer material is all English now, correct?

Grutle Kjellson: Mmm hmm.

MSJ: Conscious decision there?  And, if it was a conscious decision, what pushed towards doing that?
It was not that dramatic for us, really.  We kind of thought of the fans...the crowd’s point of view.  We thought it was pretty strange for the crowd to, you know...screaming the titles in Norwegian, where they have no clue what the f*** they’re saying.  I think it was a wise move by us.  As he mentioned earlier, when we buy CDs, buy albums, we would be listening to the music and reading the lyrics instead of reading the translations.  We just thought, “OK, let’s give it a try.”  We thought it worked out pretty good, so we just continued.  It’s not very dramatic at all, actually.  The other thing is that it’s much easier to express yourself in English.  You’ve got a kind of artistic distance to what you’re doing.  It’s easier to sing in English than Norwegian, actually.
MSJ: I’m almost afraid to ask this question, but I’m going to ask it anyway.  How is the sheep?
The sheep, actually, is in perfect condition.  We just borrowed it for one hour and...
MSJ: Did it go back to the farm, or...

Grutle Kjellson: Of course.  It was all arranged.  I mean, does it look real?  It doesn’t look real at all.  You can’t catch a sheep up in the’s totally impossible that way.

MSJ: Did the message get across, do you think?

Grutle Kjellson: Oh yeah.  Oh yeah, absolutely.


Ivar Bjørnson:    – It did.

MSJ: Good.
In Norway, it really came across good, yeah.
MSJ: It’s definitely a little harder to get the news story watching on the computer, but reading all the stuff people were posting on the forum, I thought it was an inspired way to try and get the message across...

...that if it’s OK to download a song and make sure the artist doesn’t get paid, then why not “download” a sheep?

Ivar Bjørnson:    It was directed at this politician who made...he suggested a law in the past where you’d just disregard any control over anything and you’d just give a flat compensation...a few every artist, and then everybody could take whatever they want to.  So we’re not doing...we’re not attacking the fans or anything.  I know how it is, if you’re on a computer and you’re chatting with a friend and he says, you know, “this and this band has just released a song and you’ve got to check it out.”  And you’ve got your hub or whatever, and you go download it.  And that’s not the people we’re after.  It’s politicians, you know, with his fat salary and making a suggestion and trying to make a decision.  Because what he did was to totally disrespect the fact that some people have to try and make a living.  If you’re going off and touring, it’s like you’re going into the studio and recording for two months.  Where’s money for food supposed to come from?


Grutle Kjellson: You’re not going to pay for the recordings...that’s the royalties - pure and simple.


Ivar Bjørnson:   It’s not about kids on the internet - not at all.  We know what’s going on.  We’ve got a computer at home ourselves.  It’s just a grown up politician should know better.  It’s the same as saying “OK, you’re a good politician, so we’re not going to give you a salary.  You just have to share all your views and your...”

MSJ: Do it for the love of doing it.  That should be your reward.
MSJ: I know I only have a few more minutes with you guys, and I don’t want to take up too much time.  Has anything out there musically been striking you as being...”this is real, this is what’s hitting me right now?”

Ivar Bjørnson:   I was really...I guess this is old news now, but I remember the last Opeth album was really an impressive record.  They took such grief with that.  That’s one I can think of.  What else is going on?


Grutle Kjellson: Celtic Frost.


Ivar Bjørnson:   Yeah, Celtic Frost, big come back.  For Celtic Frost’s album, that was very courageous.  Instead of coming back and saying “Hey guys, we’re just the same as in 1983, just putting on some makeup to hide the age,” they are actually showing their age and maturity.


Grutle Kjellson: As a mutual friend of ours so wisely said, Monotheist is a completely logical release for a band that released Morbid Tales in 1983 - completely.


Ivar Bjørnson:   Impressive.

MSJ: When you’re off the road, do you guys go to go any shows, or do you stay away from live music because you do it so much?

Ivar Bjørnson:   Actually, we both work with music outside the band too.  I’m involved in a festival in Norway...Yeah.  I see quite a lot of shows now.  I like to go to festivals, even when we’re not playing.  I like to check out the bands.  It’s very different.  In the early days there’d be a few bands that were really good, but a lot of bands really couldn’t pull it off.  But these days, the pressure in the metal scene of being a good live is so high that there are some real gems being made.

MSJ: And you?

Grutle Kjellson: Yeah, I like to go to shows myself.  Especially...I don’t go to that many on the road, mostly on weekends like Inferno.  Loads of good bands from abroad.  I was supposed to go to the first Rush concert in Norway since 1979, but...unfortunately we played in Munich the same night.  That really sucked.  Rush is my absolute, number one favorite band, so that was pretty hard to swallow.

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