With this being week which will see the release of the bands 15th studio opus, ‘Utgard‘ we caught up with bassist/vocalist Grutle Kjellson to find out about how the album came together, how it stands up against their previous discography, his take on the metal scene in Norway and much more…
OD – Let’s talk about the new album. I was intrigued to read the meaning behind ‘Utgard’ [from Norse mythology, a circle of rocks or place that borders the extreme borders of the world] and the depth and power of what it represents. Who came up with the title?
GRUTLE – It was discussed a little back and forth between myself and the guys and we were sitting in our living rooms talking over the phone having a few glasses of wine and to be honest, I can’t remember who exactly came up with the name but ‘Utgard‘ came up in the conversation and that’s where it came from.
I can’t remember who said it first but hey, that’s what happens when you’ve been drinking. [Laughing]
OD – “Utgard” represents multiple things as was highlighted with the press release for the album, do you feel that there are deliberate moments on the album that translate the imagery, metaphors, and esoteric “locations”? Was this part of how the material was written?
GRUTLE – Yes, absolutely. This time around, the concept of the album was already there when we began to work on the songs. Everything was there in the background, the concept, the artwork. In fact, the artwork was one of the first things that we discussed [see below].
It was kind of a comfortable environment to build on, despite ‘Utgard‘ being somewhat of a scary place. Everything really came together very easily on this album. It just seemed to be a very natural progression that was easy to follow, with regards to the writing process.
OD – Would you say that “Utgard’ is almost a concept album of sorts?
GRUTLE – I think it’s difficult NOT to describe this or any of our albums other than a concept of ideas. We don’t really tend to follow a direct story of sorts,… we’re not King Diamond [Laughing].
All of the songs belong inside the concept of the album. Even though it’s not just one story, it’s a compilation of ideas and stories that make up the overall feel and ‘concept‘ of the album. In that sense, all of our albums are concept albums.
OD – Knowing that you strived to capture a very particular feeling on this album, how would you say the location/geography of where it was written, or imagined, played in reference to how it sounds in the end? I couldn’t imagine Enslaved in LA record such a textured and alluring album.
GRUTLE – We are very much affected by our surroundings. To be honest, that’s one of the main reasons why we sound like we do. If you even look at old Swedish or Norwegian classical music. There is a certain feeling to it. The harshness of our environment has a huge effect on what we do and how we look at things.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like we come from a super cold, bleak, hell-hole. Our climate is kind of like Ireland, as in, we get like 250 days a rain a year [laughing] Then you have the history of our families who were mostly fishermen that were dealing with the most brutal weather conditions with families hoping that they wouldn’t die when they went out to sea.
People on the coastline tend to have a strong sense of humour, much like Irish people. The coping mechanism to deal with daily struggles resulted in song and humour, poetry and storytelling. That really influences where we all come from.
Even though Norway has become a rich economy over the last 50-or-so years, there is still a struggle with life. I mean look at us [Enslaved], we’re all musicians and we’re broke. [Laughing] You can call us; ‘The modern-day working class of Norway‘… you really can actually.
OD – With close to 30 years of history under your belts and this being your 15th studio album, do you feel that the bands’ current sound and overall aesthetic, is where you envisioned being at this point in your career?
GRUTLE – Yes, absolutely. I have to admit, I didn’t see this coming back in 1991. We always wanted to move on and improve and evolve and never get into the habit of repeating ourselves. If we ever tried to re-create anything that we’ve done in the past for the sake of popularity, that would be the end of the band. It’s just not what we do.
We have to make things interesting for ourselves and just hope that the fans will like the music. I think our fans appreciate what we do and the challenge we give ourselves with each album. If you’ve been a fan of Enslaved for the ten or twenty years, I like to believe that you would be familiar with our quest for reaching new heights in our music. We have never been a band that tries to capture moments that we have already created on previous albums.
OD – Do you think that too many bands use that approach?
GRUTLE – Unfortunately, yes. There are a lot of bands out there that try to create a specific sound/album that has proven to be successful in their past. To me, it just sounds like a blood-drained empty vessel that is never what they hope it will be.
They [bands] should just do what they want and not worry about sounding a certain way or pleasing a certain demographic of their fans. By pandering to this, you are cutting off the natural free expression and creativity. I don’t understand it, I mean I do, for record sales and financial gain; but creatively, I’ll never understand that.
OD – Bjørnson has said the first steps of the album came together very quickly and he almost didn’t trust himself at first. Has this ever happened to you before and do you believe that this happened as a result of almost tapping into the subconscious and letting yourself go?
GRUTLE – I honestly think that’s the most common way that we create and write music. It usually comes about after each touring cycle, when we get a little bit of a break. It doesn’t really take that long before the snowballs to start rolling again. Once we get started it just begins to flow.
This is a very enjoyable part of the process that we all really enjoy. Being creative, or even being forced to be creative is a great feeling. It really begins to open-up something within us and leads to some very interesting, new ideas.
There are things about being in a band that is a pain the ass, like airports, tour buses but when we get to create and write and playing live that’s the most incredible feeling. I really miss playing live shows and the energy that we get from the audience.
OD – Enslaved has matured in sound more than any of your peers over the years when you look back to the beginning of the band and the ‘Black Metal’ references, do you feel that you have come a long way artistically and have shed the genre tags; that critics love to use?
GRUTLE – First I would like to say that I totally agree with you. People just love to box things and brand them as a certain style or sound. I stopped caring about that a long time ago… in fact, I used to say; “We’re not a Black Metal band!”
The reason we are not is by way of definition. ‘Black Metal‘ tends to have Satanic lyrics or extreme views on religion, we never had that, thus we are not a Black Metal band. People just love to put tags on us and we just don’t care anymore.
For me, I listen to music that I like. I don’t listen to tags, I listen to specific genres that I enjoy or particular bands that I have respect for and admire. I don’t give a shit if it’s Jazz or Death Metal, it’s all Rock n’ Roll at the end of the day. [Laughing]
OD – What would you say had you heard the music you’re producing now back when you were younger?
GRUTLE – I hope so [Laughing]. We have a lot of layers and different phrases, vocals etc and when I was young I was a huge fan of Mercyful Fate and King Diamond, and I’m still a huge fan today, so I feel that we have a lot going on in our music, much like those albums and Grutle aged 18 or 20-years old, would be all over contemporary Enslaved.
OD – You have said of this album and I quote: “I personally think ‘Utgard’ is a milestone along the lines of ‘Frost’ or ‘Below The Lights’.” Why those particular albums?
GRUTLE – ‘Frost‘ (1994) was a very important international release for us. It was our first album with proper promotion. We started touring Europe and North America off that album and saw us move to the next level and not just stick around the small clubs of our local scene.
With ‘Below the Lights‘ (2003) followed ‘Monumension‘ which we thought that there were too many good ideas and also too many loose ends. So, this album [‘Below The Lights‘] saw us as a much more focused band, a band that wanted to go somewhere and not remain stagnant. Personally, this album represented a fresh start for us. So, looking at ‘Utgard‘ and the loose ends gone, new members etc, it’s almost like another fresh start.
OD – Having filmed the video for ‘Jettegryta’ [see below] in Iceland, how did this come about and did you have this location in mind when writing the track?
GRUTLE – We didn’t have the location in mind when we were recording the track but the idea to go to Iceland for the video came up during the mixing process. Believe it or not, it was our manager who came up with the suggestion.
I love that place [Iceland] and was really happy with the end result. It’s the perfect location for the visual aspect of the track and is a very special place for me.
OD – I was surprised to see Enslaved covering RÖYSKOPP’s ‘What Else Is There’ track, as I’m sure most people were. Tell me how that came to be?
GRUTLE – That was part of a Rock Radio organisation in Bergen who were celebrating their 25th year and invited a selection of Bergen artists to cover other Bergen artists tracks and we decided to record the track around the time when we were doing this album [‘Utgard‘].
OD – Norwegian metal holds a very interesting place in the history of the genre. Do you feel that the Norwegian metal scene is producing a more positive and diverse range of bands, or do you feel that there needs to be more experimentation and evolution?
GRUTLE – It’s always been very experimental, just look at the first wave of bands that turned up in the early ’90s. None of that music really sounded like anything else that was happening in the wider underground contemporary music scene.
If you listen to Norwegian heavy music from the ’70s and ’80s, it’s pretty avant-garde. Bands like Junipher and Aunt Mary which was kind of out there Prog and sometimes awkward and slightly weird music. It’s with checking out but yeah, there’s been a good history of experimental Norwegian music.
I think it’s got a lot to do with the weather and the environment, we can’t help writing weird music [Laughing].
OD – In the event that this global pandemic is still with us to this degree over the next two years, do you have any plans for how Enslaved [or any other bands] can continue to survive?
GRUTLE – There are plans for touring next year but I don’t really know what to expect. None of us does. All we can do is make as many plans as we can and hope for the best. We are desperate to get back out there and play live music once again.
The only way I can see things coming anyway close to ‘normal‘ is if we get a vaccine. When that will be, is anyone’s guess.
OD – Please recommend an album or artists that you have recently discovered?
GRUTLE – Well, the first thing that springs to mind is a Norwegian band called ‘Prudence‘. They were active from ’69 to ’75. They are kind of folk/prog rock and really good musicians. Also, I’m also a huge fan of Tim Buckley and just recently, I bought my girlfriend Jeff Buckley’s album and I loved it. Really great stuff.
Enslaved ‘Utgard‘ will be released on October 2nd via Nuclear Blast. You can pre-order the album here.
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