Late Feb sees Enslaved heading out on a month-long European tour. MIC Norway hooked up with Enslaved’s Ivar Peersen to talk about musical cross pollination, inspirational sources, humour and his fascination for singer-songwriter Stein Torleif Bjella.
Listen to the latest ’99 Minutes’ webcast featuring an audio version of this interview HERE
Starting February 23rd at the rather understatedly named “Underground” club in Köln, Norwegian metal outfit Enslaved are ready to embark on a month’s European tour that will take them to the Netherlands, Germany, France, Belgium and several dates in the UK. With close to 80.000 followers on Facebook, the band is already way past the underground label, but they keep trying their best to pay attention to what goes on on the outskirts of music as well. Enslaved love to experiment and find new ways to explore music itself. Having worked together with people from within the contemporary music field to improvised jazz and even music made on ice instruments, the rockers in Enslaved seem to have a very special talent for attracting musical talent and experimentation across genres. Guitarist and composer Ivar Peersen agree to the point where he confesses that they are immensely proud of this character trait of the band.
Absolutely! That is one of the things we are the most proud of! Jokingly, we have this thing, whenever a guy walks past with a big plant on his head, weird clothes, riding a one-wheeled bike, we say, ok, that is the Enslaved-fan in this village! It seems that people who are genuinely interested in music, be it from the bullet belt angle or the good old vinyl collector or just average Joe, we get stopped at airports and on the street by people from all parts of life, and they sense that we take great pride in that. Other bands have commented on that, and many fans, that it has added an extra dimension to being a follower of Enslaved’s music, because it puts you in a very eclectic and interesting family!
Your music is in many ways, above any kind of genre, it is pure energy. Is that maybe why people from so many kinds of musical persuasions seem to take interest in you?
Yes, I think so. That is it how it started, we wanted to make our own blend of music, we had all these favorites, but if you wanted to make a perfect song for the night, you would have to start with some Pink Floyd, and then move on to some early Motorhead, and then some epic Maiden, then maybe the Demon Box album by Motorpsycho and then you had to go back to some Led Zeppelin, so this takes time. I guess the basic motivation was that simple; how can we do all that in one song? And that is what we are still doing! The records collections get bigger and bigger, so it gets more and more complicated, but also more rewarding!
Let us talk about your output. There is no doubt that what you make is pure metal, driven by swirling guitars and drums, pure energy, still all your albums are very different?
Yeah, I guess we have fallen into this pattern of doing it, not only conceptual in a lyrical sense but almost in a musical sense from album to album. I guess we found some value in exploring things in depth from album to album. So even though songs may vary, of course, it seems to be working for us to really go into one aspect. I guess our previous album, “Vertebrae”, was, to use a cliché, how soft can we go? Which lead to the natural reaction, how hard can we go, with “Axioma Ethica Odini”. Of course, it can be challenging, some people like to listen to music like AC/DC and Motorhead, like we do ourselves, and they expect the same thing to be repeated. Why change a winning team and all that. But we have made it our career to sort of represent the other, I think, important factor within art or any kind of social structure, be it in society, an art movement or a musical genre. Somebody has to preserve tradition while others go out and do weird stuff. The backlash of being the traditionalists is that it is basically just AC/DC and Motorhead who can do that, have those subtle nuances and repeat themselves. A lot of other bands try it, and on the second album they are done, because people think “we don’t need this”. Our backlash from experimenting that much is that it is really hard to see the whole picture. I guess we have been lucky, that is one side of it, and the other side is this almost rabid interest for music ourselves, going to concerts, listening to albums, following the big picture with the commercial movements and at the same time follow the Bergen underground black metal scene or the Norwegian national experimental metal scene or whatever. Keeping an eye out for what else is going on helps us refocus. Maybe that partly explains our success.
I also find a lot of humor in your music, as in all good metal?
Yeah. I think Venom laid down the ground work, inventing black metal, the most sinister movement ever. I remember being 10 years old and seeing the cover for the “7 dates from hell”-album, and they were standing on this mountain of skulls and just holding inverted crosses and then of course, you think, wow, that’s tough! But at the same time, the same band they go on stage at Wembley Stadium, and they said things like, with a dramatic voice, “A lot of bands are expecting Venom to fail. Well, we can reveal that we are the failure”. It just takes the air out of any balloon potentially bursting in their own face. So yes, there is definitely a huge element of humor! We have had the honor of meeting some of our bigger idols over the years, we have played a festival with Celtic Frost, for instance. And they tell their stories from the rehearsing room in the eighties, what they were up to, it just confirmed to us it is just something that goes with the territory. When you are dealing with the occult or the dark or aggression and the bad sides of the human psyche, it is a very good, and very necessary medicine to have that laughter. I think the only cases where things went wrong, I think you could actually make some kind of psychoanalysis and see the lack of humor. Not only with the individuals from the black metal movement who ended up dead or in jail, but in other genres also. If you lack that humor thing, things start to fester and will get infested and all of a sudden you wake up and a fantasy becomes real for you or life becomes too serious or depressive or whatever, so yeah, laughter is definitely important. I remember the Quart-festival, for instance, way back, 2006 maybe, we were sharing a tent, wall-to-wall with this pop band, I don’t remember their name now, they failed horribly some years later. They were like the moist depressive bunch of people ever! They were sitting in corners, did not talk to anybody and we were probably making their life hell, from our laughter attacks next door, farting pillows and all that. And then we went on stage and did this hugely dramatic show, we were really serious, head banging and making grim faces. And they did the opposite. They dragged themselves out of the backstage area, hating each other, went on stage and were, like, full of love, smiling, did probably a nice concert and then went back to depression after the concert. So I prefer being happy off stage and rather compress all the doom and gloom in to the stage shows.
So what are you listening to of Norwegian music these days, do you have any favourites?
One of my last discoveries, that I happened to stumble across, is singer-songwriter Stein Torleif Bjella. The keyboard player of Enslaved (Herbrand Larsen, editor’s note) is from the same area, halfway between Bergen and Oslo, (Hallingdalen, editor’s note) in the valleys up there where they all are, you know, mellow and weird. He kept talking about this Bjella, and then I saw his latest album, titled “Vonde Visu”, which might translate as ‘bad songs’, or ‘evil songs’, even, so as a metal head you have to listen to that. And that was an expression that I really fell hard for, so I am listening to a lot of that. He even came to see one of our shows and it looks like we are going to try to do something together. Again, talking about energies, I think both of us recognized, across some really big distances in the musical specters, some of the same energies there.
Stein Torleif Bjella has, of course, a very strong foot in traditional Norwegian folk music and also an American folk tradition, but there really would not be any Norwegian black metal or Norwegian metal at all without the folk music, would there?
Absolutely not! From both sides. What made Norwegian metal stand out, at least what they called the 2nd wave of black metal movement from the early nineties has that folkish touch, although maybe not in tone. You know, that is another debate, people keep calling us viking metal or whatever, because we have this lyrical concept, but from the viking age there was basically just chanting, recitation and drums, no music. What they call folk music is rather medieval, christian music, and how metal is that? That is another question.
Well, whether you will admit it or not, that is where much of your music comes from, the medieval ballad tradition.
Absolutely! And it is interesting that you mention the americana, or the roots movement, because that is, you know, that is rock’n’roll, and that comes from the blues, as we all know, and combined with this flirtation with the devil, you know, one of Bjella’s songs are called “I was the devil in my younger years” (“Satan i unge år”, editor’s note) and this is very strong in the folk music tradition. Ok, a few elements within the black metal genre have said things and stand for values that maybe makes it weird to say that folk music is linked to the blues, but it definitely is.
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