Enslaved’s vocalist and bassist Grutle Kjellson is in his home country of Norway, poised in a cat-like state of readiness for the imminent tour that commences this month. Are you ready for it? “Pretty much,” he says, listing off some of the places the band will hit, “Norway, Japan, Australia, United States…” Yes, Australia in October, the 25th Anniversary tour, An Evening With Enslaved.
Grutle reflects – minimally, I might add – “25 years; it’s a long time but it doesn’t seem like a long time…” Surely starting out you didn’t think you’d still be going a quarter of a century later? “I was 17 when we started the band and as a 17 year old dude you don’t think 25 years ahead – you don’t think 25 days ahead – maybe you think 25 hours ahead? You’re only concerned about pussy and booze. I really have to admit that I couldn’t imagine 25 years at the age of 17.” I ask what he’s concerned with now. He laughs and I’m pretty sure he wants to say ‘pussy and booze’ – he doesn’t though. He’s all grown-up, dammit. “Obviously things are different now I’m…how old am I? Oh yeah…42! So I have a very different perspective on life in general, and now I can’t imagine myself not being in the band. We’ve been doing this our whole lives – since we were kids, basically – so what else could we do? We’ve been doing this for so long now so it’s a little too late to turn back, isn’t it?”
I suggest that it’s never too late to get a job in a factory or an office. “Oh! Come on, man!” Having pretty much lived and grown up in the business, are there times when you’re quite tired of the bullshit? “Of course. It happens every once in a while.” He mentions the pain of cancelled flights, lost luggage and not getting paid. But he’s philosophical about the negative side. “So of course there are times when the motivation isn’t at 100 per cent – but what can you do? Have another drink and think it over! The motivation will always come back pretty easily.” You can always think about that job in the office or the factory. “Exactly! Think about the factory! There are always worse things you can do, you know?”
Getting back to the tour. An Evening With Enslaved has a very sophisticated ring to it. Will you guys be playing in tuxedos? He laughs again. “Yeah – we always do! We’re gonna be playing a lot of songs. We’re gonna be playing two sets, and those who buy tickets to the show can vote for which songs we play in both live sets so the fans can actually participate in making the set-list.” Yes, you heard right. Two sets with the chance for fans to have their say about what Enslaved will play. Well, within limits. Set One is entitled Tales From Mythological Forests, and it’s going to be built from tunes from such albums as Frost (1994), Eld (1997), Below the Lights (2003), and Isa (2004). You’re already salivating, right? Well, don’t stop drooling yet because Set Two is called Spinning Wheel Ritual and is chock full of tunes from Vertebrae (2008), RIITIIR (2012), and In Times (2015). Go get a bib, you dribbling bastards.
So playing stuff from Frost (1994) to In Times (2015); is it like a weird time warp? “In a way. We’ve been doing this [two set arrangement] for most of this year.” Grutle mentions a recent festival in Norway that celebrated the extreme metal scene when Enslaved first began busting out the old tunes. “So we’re starting to get familiar with our old songs – in the beginning it was like playing cover songs! So that was pretty fascinating. Many of the songs we haven’t played for more than 20 years and three of the guys in the band, apart from me and Ivar (Bjornson), had never played these songs so it was a very special thing to do. But we’re starting to get the hang of them now and we’re re-discovering that they’re really good songs! It’s great to play them with a really competent line-up because we weren’t that competent in 1993! The songs sound better in 2016, I have to admit.”
And, rather bizarrely I thought, Enslaved took out the 2016 Metal Hammer Golden Gods Award for best underground act. Grutle is perplexed and amused in equal measures. “A lot of people found that really funny, and to be honest I found it a little bit funny myself. We were there with Megadeth and Dave Mustaine so in that respect, compared to say Metallica or Megadeth, we’re still underground. When we received the award I said “Well, it’s really cool to still be an underground act after 25 years of existence!” which means we still have all of our credibility intact and we can do whatever the fuck we want.” He makes the valid point that “The underground is very different in 2016 compared to 1991 so by the terms of 1991 underground we are definitely not underground anymore. It’s all about definition. The thing with awards is; are they really that important to the progress of the band? Not really but it is an acknowledgement in a way so it really doesn’t matter if the award is for best underground, best album or most sexy male artist, it’s still some sort of acknowledgement.”
Yes, there are not many underground acts with tribute albums, and I mention Ond – A Tribute (2012). “It’s very weird but it’s also a huge honour because it wasn’t initiated by ourselves, it was done by fans and it was really cool. I really enjoyed the fact that we’ve been inspiring many bands to pick up their instruments and make music. A lot of the songs were interpretations of Enslaved songs and those covers are always the most interesting; they’re kind of using the riffs and the lyrics to make their own songs – and that’s the right way to do a cover song. But it was also cool to hear the replica songs too. To hear a band try to make the song sound like the recording that we did back in 1992. It’s a little bit difficult to make a digital recording sound like a very analogue recording from ’92 – but it was really fun to listen to, and I’m deeply honoured actually. It was a fantastic thing.”
Anyway, underground or not, at least you got a free dinner from the Metal Hammer Awards. “We got free drinks actually. A lot of free drinks. Eventually I actually got thrown out of the party! I got drunk, of course! They gave me gin and tonic; what the hell did they expect?!”
Gin and Tonic? Now that is sophisticated.
An Evening With Enslaved. October 2016.