ENSLAVED’S IVAR BJØRNSON: AXIOMA ETHICA ODINITERVIEW
Enslaved are in that rare category of bands: You can safely get excited every time they announce the release of a new album, because they’ll never let you down. Their latest offering, Axioma Ethica Odini, only proves this point — eleven albums and nearly twenty years into the career, Enslaved are at past the point where even the most-revered metal bands often seem to lose creative steam. But Axioma feels just as unique, challenging, forward-thinking, and just plain rockin’ as anything the band has ever done.
This past Friday, just hours before taking the stage for the kick-off of Enslaved’s North American tour as direct support for Dimmu Borgir, guitarist and co-founder Ivar Bjørnson spoke to MetalSucks about the concepts behind Axioma Ethica Odini, the value of albums having a “side A” and a “side B” (remember those?), American beer, and more. Read the full transcript of our chat after the jump.
So tonight’s the first show of the tour… You guys toured with Dimmu before, right?
Yeah. We did three weeks in Europe before this with Dimmu. It’s kind of the second tour, but still the first.
What’s the crowd like for those shows? You guys are both considered black metal, but there’s obviously a pretty vast difference in your styles.
Yeah, the crowds have been really good. It might sound weird comparing [the two bands], but for us, it’s a bit the same as when we were opening for Opeth last year… Opeth is immensely different from Dimmu Borgir, but there are similarities in the type of fans that they have. Even though Dimmu is a lot about imagery and costumes and stuff like that, I think they still have that part of the black metal crowd that is… maybe “open-minded” is taking it a bit too far, but they’re not exactly like kvlt black metal fans. They’re not the East German types, where they’re standing with their arms crossed, being very skeptical towards everything else. Dimmu have a tongue-in-cheek approach to what they’re doing, which I think sort of rubs off on their fans. Even though we’re up there with our beards and playing 70s references, they still allow themselves to be moved by that. They’re into the music, which I think is good. It’s a lot easier than opening for a band like Slayer. I can understand why bands are nervous to open for a band like that — very strict, hardcore sort of cult band, where the crowd will be booing.
How long of a set are you guys getting on this tour?
We’re doing approximately 45 minutes.
Oh, that’s pretty good.
It is very good. I think they put Enslaved on because they want to offer the fans a package. And I guess they noticed that all our songs are at least two hours long, so we have to have some time… [laughs]
I was gonna say, you NEED some time to play any amount of Enslaved material. [laughs] So let’s talk about the new album. I saw in the press notes that it was referred to as a “vague concept album,” or something to that effect. Is that description accurate?
It is. Rather than calling it a “concept album,” I’d call it maybe a “thematic album.” I’m not exactly sure if it’s in the final step, but we’re seeing Enslaved take on, both musically and conceptually, themes that seem to be taking on a bit of life on their own. We’ve seen developments where we’re sort of spiraling inward. On the first three albums, we were dealing with mythology, geography and very external concepts, and then, especially around the time of Eld in ’97, things started to get more internalized and personal, philosophically. I think with Vertebrae it was human, anatomic references and feelings, almost in a nervous, reflective system of the body’s link with the mind. This new album seems to be going even further inwards, dealing with the concept of ethics — and that’s, I guess, what all the songs have in common, is that they’re dealing with the crossroads of nature’s — some people call it “divine” — laws and ethics, and manmade or human laws.
Did you guys talk about these concepts before you start making the album, or was it something that comes about in the lyric writing?
It is basically me and Grutle [Kjellson, bassist/vocalist]. We write the lyrics.
It’s been ongoing discussion since we started the band. For many years, we would talk about these concepts and elaborate. When we find something… [if] I’m reading a book and find something that I feel could be referenced, I’ll have a talk with Grutle, and [we’ll] discuss that back and forth. That’s on the very abstract level. Then we start writing the lyrics, and then it starts becoming more concrete as we go along.
If I was just listening to the music and not paying attention at all to lyrics, is there a way that the music reflects these concepts?
Yes… I’m guessing.
Music has been a very mysterious concept for philosophers and scientists since the Greeks. It was one of them… Aristotle? I can’t really remember. One of the guys had been talking about the different steps in the scales and everything, and how we represent all these mysterious concepts. It is a bit ponderous. Now they’re sitting around and putting electrodes in people’s heads, trying to measure what’s really going on — they’re making music and they’re listening to music and all that stuff. It’s kind of the ultimate proof of what’s so great about music, is that they still can’t figure it out. That’s a beautiful thing. I think [the concept] is definitely reflected in the music, but it’s not really under our control, and that’s what makes it great. I think that’s why people can also listen to music without caring too much about the lyrics… it’s because if they don’t have the lyrics available — if they got a bootleg or they can’t speak English or for whatever reason they can’t grasp the concept — I think they can still enjoy Enslaved, because there’s so much in the music, also.
Have you been playing the new material live?
Yeah, we’ve done the whole side A of the album.
That’s so funny that you said “side A.” [laughs] My advance copy was digital. I don’t even know where side A ends and side B begins.
One [“Ethica Odini”] through five [“Axioma”] is side A.
So yeah, that’s what we’re doing this tour. On this tour we’re doing songs one through four: “Ethica,” “Raidho,” “Waruun” and “The Beacon.” The next tour, we’re going to move on to side B.
You obviously think of your albums in these terms, of side A and side B.
Do you miss the days of albums having a side A and side B? There are going to be kids who read this interview and will have no idea what the fuck we’re talking about right now. [laughs]
Yes. You’ll inspire a few of them to check out the vinyl! That would be worth everything. That’s what we grew up with. I like CDs, too. There’s just something about the whole album experience… It’s like seeing a play at a theater or whatever, with the intermission in the middle. If you can make that balance between side A or B or if it’s four sides or whatever, if you make the right songs for the right sides, it really gives it a new dimension. I definitely recommend that anybody who reads this and gets curious about it to go and get your favorite album on vinyl and just check out the difference.
Do you listen to non-vinyl?
Oh yeah. I try to get… when there’s a new album that I’m excited about, I’ll get it on vinyl. Sometimes if I can’t, it’s only released as a CD or a picture vinyl — I’m not too thrilled about picture vinyl, because of the sound — then I have no problem getting the CD. It’s not like the principle or anything. I always ask, “Do you have the LP?” And if not, then we move on to CD. And I use digital listening stores, like iTunes and a few others– especially for checking out albums that have a big buzz around them, or if my friends talk about an album, or I read about it in a magazine, I’ll go and check out the first few songs online. It’s not the same as it used to be, where you would go down to the record store and listen to it on headphones and buy it if you like it.
When you write your albums, do you write with a side A and a side B in mind?
Not really. All the songs are more or less written randomly. That doesn’t really happen before we have the arrangement going. Normally, the first or maybe the last song [in the album’s sequence] will be very clear early on in the process, even while writing it. What we do is we start debating [the sequencing] in the studio, when [the songs are] finished, because there is always that special quality that pops up in connection with the song. If there’s a particularly nostalgic feel to the song, that might be a good ending. We try to keep it open until everything is done.
Right on. So how is side A going over live with the crowd?
Really good. I think maybe the most direct songs are on side A. We’re giving people a little bit of time to get to know the album before we start doing side B, which maybe takes more time to digest. [Side A is] going over really well.
It’s probably still early too talk about this, since you’re here doing the support stint and you’re just starting tonight, but do you guys think you’re going to come back and do a headlining set at some point?
Yes, definitely. We’re just trying to work it out. I don’t think we can make it before summer, so it’s probably going to be next fall before we do it — late summer of next year or fall and we’ll come back and do some headlining. Absolutely.
You’re going to do a bunch of festivals in the summer I take it?
Yeah. We’ve just made a few public announcements so far, but there are other ones in the works. We have all these plans and most of the European festivals will start releasing [their line-ups] in January or February.
Cool. Well, is there anything you want to add before I let you go? I know you have a bunch of other interviews to do today…
We have some time. We saw this bar here. They seem to have a lot of locals there, so we’re going to have a few beers there. The U.S. has an excellent tradition when it comes to microbrewery, so we’ll sit around drinking, we’ll attempt to try all of [the beers].
And to everyone that reads this: Thanks a lot for the support from the American crowd — particularly in the last four or five years. I hope people take the time to check out the band live, and the album. I will be cocky enough to say that it is worth the effort.
Axioma Ethica Odini is out now on Nuclear Blast. Enslaved’s North American tour with Dimmu Borgir continues through December 14. Get dates and tickets here.