As with any good wine, Norway’s Enslaved have only matured with depth and taste as the decades pass. After nearly thirty years since the release of their raw black metal debut ‘Vikingligr Veldi’, the band have progressed through eras, adding nuanced layers of progressive rock, psychedelia and other subtleties to their broad musical strokes whilst never forsaking heaviness. Overdrive caught up with the funny and frank growler and bassist Grutle Kjellson ahead of their upcoming tour at the end of the month with Solstafir.
Regarding said tour, Kjellson couldn’t help but sound animated at the prospect.
‘Whilst unfortunately there won’t be much time for sightseeing, as we’re going hotel-venue-plane-hotel-venue-plane,’ he laments, ‘we’re always excited to come down and play Australia.’
‘We loved playing there in ’13 and ’16, and in fact, your country actually has one of our favourite audiences!’ What a nice honour to bestow upon us fans after nearly three decades of touring, huh?
‘You guys are really enthusiastic, really loud, you’re really getting into it. Not only that, but you guys have the same rough sense of humor as us, which makes it easier for a bunch of idiots coming from west Norway (laughs)!’ He goes on to recount a story about how he was signing vinyls after a show in Sydney, handing a couple signed back to a fan and toting ‘there you go mate, you (profanities)!’ to which he received an angry American throwing the vinyls straight back in his face and storming off. ‘It was no offence to the Americans, of course, but you’d think he’d know better, being in Australia and all right?’
Almost diplomatically, he pauses a second to qualify that with a backhand compliment: ‘Yeah, you guys are definitely able to dish it out and take it better than most other people we play to.’
Speaking of playing, when quizzed on whether or not the current setlist may reflect the old-and-new binary that was seen in their 25th anniversary tour in 2016, he confirmed this time would be a similar deal. ‘So, coming down with Solstafir, we obviously have to give them more than twenty minutes per show – not much more!’ he chuckles.
‘But for real, we’ll be playing a lot of the older stuff we didn’t play last time, of course the newer tunes as well.’ Pausing for a moment, he adds that the band haven’t really had much fan demand for what he calls ‘the mid-era’ of albums ‘Blodheim’, ‘Monumension’ and ‘Mardraum’, noting that ‘even newer fans of the more experimental side seem to love the early black metal work as well.’ There you go – expect more of the early and late-career contrast across the set list for this tour, too.
Kjellson’s playful attitude to on and off-stage banter may be received with varying responses, but anyone who has seen the band (and possibly copped a witty rebuke to a cat-call) knows humor and joyfulness are as much a part of the show as power and introspection. And they have a wide swathe of albums, songs, moods and atmospheres to draw on.
When queried as to just how the band have had this onstage, studio and interpersonal stamina, Kjellson has some succinct but powerful advice. ‘It’s actually pretty simple, really. To be in a band this long, you have to walk your own path, as a musician and a band as a whole.’
He adds, ‘If you’re going to capitalize purely on the success of say, something like ‘Frost’ (second album), but only want retread that across albums, that’s when you see bands become bored, boring and even start turning on each other over time.’ It’s true, a pattern we see all too often across heavy music spheres with artists scared to tread beyond tried-and-tested home turf, musically.
‘We’ve never done that. When we’ve made an album, we’re just trying to make music interesting for ourselves and avoiding the same album again and again. We wouldn’t have lasted this long if we were here just to please someone else.’
Simple, but sage wisdom we’ve seen in many long-players in the metal field; bands who may carve a niche but refuse to stay pidgeonholed there. Speaking of niche, the fact that so many modern post-black metal and blackgaze bands attribute much of their songwriting cues to Enslaved ‘is something we’re flattered about, but again not something we associate with either.’
The band reportedly are musical treasure hunters, which keeps things fresh. ‘You’ve just got to be seeking new music, not necessarily new music, just music that’s new to you.’
‘I wouldn’t say it’s exactly healthy to be hoarding first-press vinyls, but I don’t mind collecting re-prints or newer records of new stuff. Always be on the look for new sources of inspiration, I say.’
He likens the bands’ affection for record collection like ‘collecting data in a big data bank’ that allows them as listeners and musicians to enjoy and be inspired by a diverse range. ‘E’, their previous record, reiterates this notion, sprawling out with progressive, psychedelic, classic and black metal exploration that, like much of their discography, is palatably drawn from a wide range of influences.
Lyrically, with origins in folklore and mythology, Kjellson notes this expansive outlook has affected the themes behind his vocals over time, which he believes ‘are more related to psychology, the self, interpretations of the world around us, and our own personal experiences.’ Again, this metaphysical content only aids to make the live show a more ethereal experience alongside the lofty heights of the music.
Taking the entire conversation off-tack (and speaking of folklore), we end up discussing what Kjellson’s favourite Nordic weapon would be. ‘The axe, of course’, he says with some pride. ‘None of this two-sided blade nonsense. The beard-axe (one-handed,-one-sided short-axe) is sharp, quick and is basically an extension of the arm itself.’
He’s quick to assure us these won’t be wielded against the audience, but from conversation with this affable but staunch Norwegian it’s clear that they have a wellspring of ancient Viking energy from which they will draw for a mystical, powerful and, most importantly, fun show when they land later this month.
Wednesday 29th August – Rosemount Hotel Perth
Thursday 30th August – The Factory Theatre Sydney
Friday 31st August – The Zoo Brisbane
Saturday 1st September – Max Watts Melbourne
Tickets available on Ticketek: