Interview with Grutle Kjellson of Enslaved
By Etiam

Maximum Metal: Good to see you all again. This is our second time talking together, and my third interview, I think, with the band overall.

Grutle Kjellson: Alright!

MM: So, has the tour overall been going well? It's a pretty different bill than last time with Opeth...

Grutle: Yeah! We get along well with Dimmu--we've been friends for a long time with them. Pretty flawless, when it comes to the personalities.

MM: The more I talk to you, the more questions I find that I have, and I'm sure I won't be able to get to all of them. It's rare that I get to talk to bands repeatedly, and one thing I've noticed since our first discussion is that it seems you guys have become more accessible to your fans. You're conducting these video responses during the production process, things like that. Do you find that you're opening yourselves up, and that the interaction with fans is really becoming stronger over the years?

Grutle: Well, it's just something that you just have to do to maintain contact with the fans. Things have changed so, so much during the last ten years and it's impossible to just hide away like you did before, when you just released albums and people would go to the concerts and buy the albums. It's not like that anymore with technology. To be able to cope with the present time and the future, this is the way to go, you know? It is the only way to be successful these days, actually.

MM: A fair enough point. I think you do a good job of that. I especially appreciated the track-by-track analysis for the new album. That gave me more questions than it answered--

Grutle: Oh! (laughs)

MM: --but it was still fun to read. Listening to that new album, it really seemed to take some elements from 'Vertebrae'--being progressive and densely structured--but it was hitting an aggressive note that I hadn't heard for some time before that. Now that you've been working with the same lineup for...four albums now...?

Grutle: (tallying on fingers) Ahh...'Isa'...'Ruun'...yes, four, exactly.

MM: Four albums. It seems like you guys have really hit a critical point where collaboration is at its highest point so far. Would you agree with that?

Grutle: I wouldn't say that we have reached the highest point yet. I would say that we are developing, and certainly developing together as well. I think that we have developed a lot from 'Isa' to now, and I hope we will do that in the future as well. Otherwise...well, we can't just lie down... (Laughter)

There's no point in doing any regressive stuff. It's always a progression to make a product, to think ahead, to think progressive, and not copy yourself. And not really copying anyone else, either. Go with the flow and don't put any limitations on yourself on the lyric writing, the actual production, and the recording. Just go ahead, and don't look back.

MM: I suppose the reason I said 'highest point' was my impression from listening to that first track and the first time I heard it. You've had “big” tracks before, but this one was almost your stadium rocker, so to speak.

Grutle: (laughs)

MM: It hit a high gear immediately, checking off all these boxes that Enslaved has been able to explore in the past 15, 20 years.

Grutle: Well, actually, it's a strange Enslaved song because it's very long and only has, like, three parts. (Chuckles) So, that's pretty rare. It's difficult to maintain a certain level of interest in something for so many minutes--it's about eight minutes long. But that was one of those songs that, when I heard the riffs and we started working on the arrangements, it was surprising how easy it was. We had a good feeling about that song.

MM: There were a few tracks that were really a serious step forward in a number of respects. A song like 'Night Sight' is very evocative of King Crimson. Last time we spoke, you were even wearing an 'In The Court of The Crimson King' shirt--

Grutle: Yeah! (laughs)

MM: But there were a few other songs that specifically hearkened back to past eras. For instance, in 'The Beacon', there's a lyrical theme of breaking chains, which goes back to 'Entroper', or in 'Giants', which feels like a sequel to 'Heir to the Cosmic Seed'. Do you guys ever feel like you're writing companion pieces or sequels to previous material?

Grutle: Never, absolutely not. We don't have any goals in mind when we are writing of what we want the song to sound like in any way. We just go ahead and we never look back. I can see the similarities now, or at least the same feeling, but we never think of stuff like that. I think 'The Beacon' is more or less a crossover between Celtic Frost...and Van Der Graaf Generator or something like that. (Laughter) It's a weird hybrid like that.

(We are interrupted by an oblivious journalist who comes in and says, “I believe I'm supposed to be doing an interview with you,” pointing to Grutle. Grutle, an understanding fellow, almost apologetically points out that he's conducting an interview already. We discover that the journalist has mistaken Grutle for Ivar; the former, being an understanding fellow, points the journalist in the right direction, and we resume)

MM: To finish that theme of King Crimson, you [Grutle] did a '21st Century Schizoid Man' cover with Shining, and Enslaved collaborated with them again on the 'Armageddon Concerto'. Do you ever think that kind of external source will come in on one of your albums, or that you'll ever record an 'Armageddon Concerto'? The live version is a little lo-fi for regular listening...

Grutle: Well, I think the experience has really helped the band to evolve and think in different directions when we're making music. So, for us it's always been important to do these weird projects on the side, because it really helps the progression of the main band, Enslaved. So we have that thing going on with Shining, and we have a different one called Trinacria--

MM: I love that.

Grutle: --together with a noise duo. You have a different way to approach music after such a trip, and that really makes you a little more open-minded.

MM: Cleanses the palate.

Grutle: Yes, exactly.

MM: Can we look forward to another Trinacria record?

Grutle: Yes, but right now we don't have much time to do it. Maybe we have time to do a recording next year. We're actually working on that. It really depends on how busy we're going to be, so...I don't know. (Laughs) I hope so.

MM: It seems like the response to this album has been incredibly strong, based on what I've seen.

Grutle: You could say that. The better response the Enslaved album gets...

MM: --the less focus elsewhere?

Grutle: --the less hope for a new Trinacria album, at least next year.

MM: Okay, I can work with that. Back to this new album--it's breaking some streaks. You had previously three albums with single word titles, and on this album, you still had a lot of simple song titles, but they're more deliberately obscure. Were you trying to say anything with these decisions?

Grutle: Ivar wanted to have just 'Axioma', and I wanted to have 'Ethica Odini', and we decided to use 'Axioma' with the under-title of 'Ethica Odini'. And, actually, it was funny, because our painter misunderstood the whole thing and wrote the three words next to each other and we were really--'Wow...this works out great!' We had never thought of that. (Laughter)

We wanted to move away from the single word titles and do something new. To us, the biggest axiom is really 'Ethica Odini', which is this Norse poem in the Latin translation. And most of the lyrics are based upon that poem. So it was impossible this time to just have one word, really.

MM: That was definitely a distinctive theme that I picked up on throughout the album, especially in the opener, where you lay out the tenets of this lifestyle. The insinuations were painted not too obviously, but clearly enough that someone looking for them will find it. Keeping with titles, I was thinking about how you've had the name Enslaved through all of these changes. What does the name mean to you now, as opposed to, say, 1994?

Grutle: I think, going back to when we took the name, it was more or less just a cool name for a band, to be honest. (Laughter)

Now it really means something to me. We are enslaved in very many ways, actually. We are enslaved in humanity, which is going out of hand in all directions. Everybody knows that. The point is that we are trying not to be enslaved, but we're never going to be 'un-slaved'. We will always be enslaved, as long as we're here. Humanity is not working, except in the military, and they just work in the military way. They take away humanity and create individuals who don't end up thinking about themselves as individuals at all. That's one of the only times that humans actually...work. Otherwise--we're fuck-ups. (Laughter)

MM: That's an interesting way to think about it.

Grutle: We are enslaved, in fact. We are trying to break out, but we haven't been able to. Just look around you. Are we working together? No, absolutely not.

MM: Do you think there's a chance for that to get better, or will it always tend towards entropy?

Grutle: Someone will always benefit from someone else's failure, and that's never going to chance. When people are poor, they become extreme. And that just changes who is rich and who is poor. It always does. Just look at the history--there is always war.

MM: Not the most optimistic outlook--

Grutle: No, no. But that is the fact.

MM: It's pragmatic, one can't really refute it. And, I think that's about all I have time for, so thanks so much to you guys for coming back year after year. It's really one of my favorite things to see, and I look forward to a great show.

Grutle KjellsonEtiam12/14/2010

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