March 5, 2015 Interview – Grutle Kjellson of Enslaved
Metal fans would be hard pressed to find a band running more smoothly these days than Enslaved. The Norwegian extreme metal band has been melting speakers since the early 1990s, picking up steam amid the infamous second wave of Norwegian black metal and evolving into a juggernaut of progressive brilliance nearly unrivaled in today’s Metal scene. Although they only shared the imagery and thus the compelling veil of mystery from that infamous scene, perhaps eating sonic fruit from the same creative tree as contemporaries like Emperor and Kampfar, Enslaved has stood farther apart from black metal both lyrically and thematically as the years have passed. Dipping into the creative epicenter of the dreaming mind, exploring the subconscious realm through the runic ideologies of their majestic homeland, their music began taking on the flavor and passion of ’70s Progressive Rock. Without losing the viciousness of their infancy, Enslaved has scaled new heights of commercial success without sounding much more accessible than they did in those heady pre-internet days. As their thirteenth studio album In Times sees the light of day, all signs point to even greater heights of triumph for these Bergen originators. Recently, we had the pleasure of speaking with a major part of Enslaved’s success, that being founding member Grutle Kjellson, whose scything voice and artful bass playing adds so much dimension to the band’s sound. Read on to see what the journey of the band has been like, whether or not Run-D.M.C. ever attended an Enslaved gig, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – Enslaved have been together for a long time, exuding influence well beyond the genre tags of Black Metal or Viking Metal with which many journalists have tended to label you. Can you sum up what this journey from Norse originators to progressive craftsmen of award winning albums has been like?
Grutle Kjellson – Its been both up and down. We started off with me and Ivar (Bjornson – guitars) playing together since 1990. We played in a Death Metal outfit called Phobia back in the days. We kind of got tired of the Death Metal scene. It had gotten so trendy. We wanted, all the Norwegian bands, wanted to do something else. We wanted to go back to the roots and do all the Celtic Frost, Bathory type of more primitive stuff. We began to slowly incorporate more elements from the ’70s Rock scene. Ever since 1997 with Eld I think we have been going down that road more and more, towards a broader musical horizon, and not trying to repeat ourselves. We’ve had our ups and downs. Frost (1994) was our first milestone, the first album that was made available in both the U.S. and Europe. Probably the best album we did in that era was either Blodhemn (1998) or Mardraum (1999). So things began to go a little down then on Monumension (2000), and from then on it was a new lineup. It started on Below The Lights (2003) with just me and Ivar. From then on we’ve really been growing as a band and growing as musicians. From 2003 on I’d say its been a complete blast, and I hope it continues.
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely, Enslaved is at a level that very few bands get to stay and remain at for so long. You mentioned that when things were beginning it was you and Ivar, and when things got bad it went back to you and Ivar. Now, with things going so well, you and Ivar are no doubt at the epicenter of it once again. What makes that chemistry between you so unique?
Grutle Kjellson – Well we’ve been playing together for 26 years. And we were pretty young when we met, and the only scene that we lived in was basically me and Ivar and the drummer of Phobia. And that scene was quite small, not even ten people. We grew up with the task; we grew up with Enslaved and have been playing in it together for our whole adult lives. We have grown beyond friends and are probably more like brothers. We have a deep respect for each other. We know exactly how to get one another mad, but we are clever at not stepping on toes and giving each other room. And we share a lot of the same interest in music. We agree a lot, but we also have healthy discussions when we disagree. We’ve grown; I’d say we aren’t exactly an old married couple, (laughs) but I mean there’s a healthy companionship combined with a not so healthy brotherhood.
CrypticRock.com – Well that is good that you can coexist on so many levels. One of the things that sets Enslaved apart from a lot of the metal scene is the evolution of your sound. You have been so unafraid to expand and evolve and have never lost your identity. Would you say that to keep the band interesting for yourselves, are you driven to develop your sound and push it further each time, or is this something that happens naturally?
Grutle Kjellson – It just happened because we were driven to do it. We’ve always had this creative urge and had this simple philosophy never to repeat ourselves. We’ve always wanted to make our own favorite contemporary music. You have to simplify those things, I mean, if we had a plan the music would be constructed and very sterile, you know. I don’t like that approach; to make something specific, that would be totally wrong. Just sort of go with the flow and trust your own ability to make good songs. We have sources of inspiration, not anything specific. Just use what comes up naturally.
CrypticRock.com – That makes sense. In Times, Enslaved’s thirteenth studio album, is out now. What was the writing and recording process like for this album? Did it differ from the other albums?
Grutle Kjellson – It all started on the previous album, RIITIIR. We decided to go backwards a little bit. We decided to not use the advantages of modern technology. We decided to record the whole thing live in the studio. So we almost succeeded, and this time we decided to rehearse a little more prior to the recording, so we could have a little more flawless live recording in the studio. I think we succeeded in doing so. Its more organic, its more live sounding, and that is what we tried to achieve in the recording.
CrypticRock.com –The new album works out to six songs, for a running time over fifty minutes in length. Did these songs just mature into longer track times or was it something you did deliberately?
Grutle Kjellson – No we didn’t even think about it. As I said earlier, we just go with the flow. So it happened organically. In the studio, we saw the songs going longer than five to six minutes, going around eight minutes or so. We try to treat each song like it had its own life, like its own organism, actually. I think the songs are as long as they need to be. I am a fan of repetitive themes, as long as they are good, because then they get under your skin. I like bands like Earth, for instance, a little bit of droning stuff. Really makes you dream, makes you think. I think we unconsciously made some parts in the tracks that might evoke the same feeling. That’s a good achievement I think.
CrypticRock.com – True, look at the album Eld, those were some long songs, but they worked. Even back then in your more raw, straight ahead period, you proved you could pen majestic longer songs without issue. So longer compositions have been something Enslaved is intimately familiar with.
Grutle Kjellson – Well longer songs are definitely not for everybody, I guess. But we aren’t playing pop music you know, right? (Laughs)
CrypticRock.com – Thank goodness for that. Kanye West is not going to yell at you guys too then? (laughs)
Grutle Kjellson – (Laughing) No I think he would probably be bored seeing Enslaved. Actually, funny story. We did a gig in Detroit one time, back in 2000 or 2001, and we played in the basement of a club, I forget the name. Upstairs there was a Run-D.M.C. gig, and those guys actually went down to see us after their show. And they stood in the fourth or fifth row really digging it. They didn’t throw up the horns, they were just yelling things out but they seemed to be really enjoying our show. Afterward we took pictures with them and talked to them; they were really nice guys.
CrypticRock.com – Run-D.M.C.. are originators themselves, and they are true artists. Can you expand on your relationship to black metal, if there is any, and give us your thoughts on the state of the black metal scene today?
Grutle Kjellson – Well, as you said, we were never really Black Metal. That was always more of a lyrical thing to me. Black metal has always been about Satanic lyrics. That’s black metal to me. We belong to the Norwegian extreme metal scene, and most of those bands, those black metal bands, are still going strong. A lot of the copycats laid down after a couple of albums in the 1990s. Almost all the original bands that were around in 1992 are still around today, so its still consistent. There might not be too many new black metal bands emerging from Norway, but I still think its a pretty strong, consistent scene.
CrypticRock.com – Agreed. Will fans see anything new from the Trinacria project in the near future?
Grutle Kjellson – We have been thinking about it, definitely. It was moderately successful, but it is very hard to do much press or play live with such a project. So many people and so many instruments, so we weren’t able to do many shows. Its difficult to find time to make an album with that many people, especially considering that Trinacria was not its own members’ main projects. The next one will definitely involve myself, and Ivar on drums, but the rest is pretty much open. It might involve other members. There will probably be another Trinacria album, but I just can’t say when. Its been put on ice right now.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, well, everything has been put on ice this winter, especially in North America. So Grutle, tell the fans what your own musical influences are, perhaps what made you pick up the bass guitar in the first place?
Grutle Kjellson – (Laughing) Well the first and biggest band for me was KISS. My older sister, she’s like four years older, she had Kiss cassettes (back then it was cassettes). As the good businessman Paul Stanley was, they managed to have KISS trading cards. We had soccer cards and we had KISS cards. I’m not kidding (laughs). So they would come in your Saturday bag of candy, called ‘star-bag,’ and there were two or three KISS cards. After a while we were more interested in the KISS cards than the candy. We got posters; everybody had KISS posters on their walls. Even if they didn’t have any cassettes or albums. I grew up with KISS both visually or audio. My favorite KISS album was 1981’s Music from “The Elder.” Later on it was Iron Maiden, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, and of course the Thrash Metal in 1983-84, Metallica and Slayer, and on to more extreme stuff like Bathory and Celtic Frost. But I’ve always had one foot in the 1970s. That is my favorite decade for music, with Rush, KISS, and Zeppelin. I think I am going to see Rush in North America later this year. I’ve never seen them outside of Europe. The venue is in Boston, where I’ve been before. I saw the Boston Bruins play the Edmonton Oilers there, so now I am going to see one of my favorite bands there. I’m very excited about it.
CrypticRock.com – That definitely was an incredible era. You are a big hockey fan?
Grutle Kjellson – Yes, I play hockey too. I was training last night, actually. Veteran hockey – I suck. But it’s fun. It’s a great sport. You keep in shape and its exhausting, as long as you don’t get hurt. We’ve got some guys from the A-level team coming over to play with us next time. One player is only 17 and the oldest guy on the team is 61 actually.
CrypticRock.com – Wow, that is incredible. Both of those players can make you feel bad about yourself in their own way. (Laughing).
Grutle Kjellson – (Laughing). Yes, that’s true!
CrypticRock.com – Here in New York, the Rangers have Mats Zuccarello, who hails from your own country of Norway. Many consider him one of their favorite players on the team.
Grutle Kjellson – I am a big Ranger fan myself! They should have won bigger the other night. I was watching against Toronto Maple Leafs the other night. We should have won by more of a margin than 5-4. We should have been leading them 4 to zero. It was still an exciting game though.
CrypticRock.com – Definitely, Ranger fans hope they build on it. CrypticRock.com covers all forms of music and Horror movies as well. If you are a fan of Horror do you have any favorites?
Grutle Kjellson – I like the classic ones. I’m not a zombie or gore fan. I kind of like the unseen Horror, more of the Alfred Hitchcock thing. When things are very much in a veil, so to speak. I love The Omen trilogy, which is more about moods than effects.
CrypticRock.com – The Omen (1976) was an incredible film . Especially that scene where Damien’s nurse hangs herself and you see the black dog.
Grutle Kjellson – That’s probably the most scary scene in the film. I also like some Dario Argento, and some old films like Nosferatu (1922). Things with good music, you know, the whole package. I pretty much like the 1970s with movies as well as music (laughs).
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