A Viking Vengeance, in Blood
Chronicles of Chaos chats with Grutle Kjellson of Enslaved
by: Paul Schwarz
After the death of the physically extreme Norwegian black metal scene of the early '90s (the days of the church burnings, the Inner Circle and, later, the murders), the bands who were part of the musical scene were forced, or given the chance, to stand solely on their own musical merits. Today, black metal bands are judged similarly to other bands: primarily on their music and public image. One could argue that the events of the early '90s were about image, but I believe real violence is beyond mere commercial image, or should be. Though some believe that the musically extreme scene died along with the physical extremity, I would disagree. Admittedly, the shift towards gothed-out commercial black metal, with such albums as _Dusk... and Her Embrace_ and _Enthrone Darkness Triumphant_, is a step away from the harsh, dark sounds which the scene originally emitted, but Cradle of Filth and Dimmu Borgir are not the last word on where black metal is today. This is where Enslaved come in. They were never part of the violence, but they have been part of the music since, more or less, the beginning. They have shared split EPs with scene greats like Emperor and Satyricon and produced such noted albums as _Frost_ and, in more recent times, _Eld_. Now they return to the fray once again with _Blodhemn_ (translated as "A Vengeance in Blood"), a record on which they move away from the epic direction of _Eld_ and, to some degree, sway more towards the sound of 1994's _Frost_. Speaking to Grutle Kjellson, it became evident that his concern was his music and his band and not with fitting into any kind of scene, now or in times gone by.

CoC: So, how are you doin'?

Grutle Kjellson: Uhhm, a little bit of a hangover, but otherwise okay.

CoC: <Laughs> How are things in the band?

GK: Oh, things in the band are very good right now. Everything worked out perfect.

CoC: How are plans for touring going?

GK: We have some plans for doing a small promotion tour in the US and Mexico next year.

CoC: Would that be your first trip out there?

GK: On this album, yes. We've been in the States before, three years ago, but that was on the _Frost_ album.

CoC: What do you think are the differences between _Blodhemn_ and _Eld_?

GK: The differences are huge, actually, very much because we have two new members [guitarist Richard Kronheim and drummer Dirge Rep] and both of them are taking part in the songwriting, both lyrics and music. The drummer is very different from the one on the _Eld_ album.

CoC: In style or the amount of skill?

GK: The style, mostly the style, because the drummer on _Eld_, Horgh [Harald Helgeson, now with Immortal], is also very good. But it didn't fit that much into our music, so on this album we tried to get hold of a perfect drummer. Dirge Rep fits perfect into the band and the drumming has a lot to say in the music, it is very important. So that's very different, his playing is totally different from Horgh's. Also, our new guitarist used to be a rock 'n' roll guitarist and he took a lot of ideas from styles of music that we had never been into before. It's a more complete album than our other releases.

CoC: So, apart from the addition of new members, do you think the change of studio and producer, moving from Pytten and Grieghallen, has made a big difference?

GK: Oh yeah, a very big difference, because we have worked with Pytten in Grieghallen for three records and it is not very exciting anymore.

CoC: You need a bit of variety?

GK: Oh yeah, nothing wrong about Pytten, but we needed some change, some new challenges, new people to work with and the Abyss studio, the area around the studio was very nice and everything worked out perfect.

CoC: Did Peter Tagtgren make any suggestions or say anything which changed your music, or did you just basically record with him?

GK: He had some ideas, but basically he just recorded. He actually did some backing vocals on one track. He had some ideas here and there, just like a producer should have, without actually taking part in the making of an album. Many producers have a tendency to try to run the band. Tagtgren is a perfect producer to work with.

CoC: On this album there are some techniques you haven't used before. Some songs have weird electronic parts in them and at the end of the album, after the outro is finished, there is a weird grinding sound, like grinding in a tunnel. Who were these introduced by and are any of them particularly significant?

GK: The outro was something that just came up, I really don't want to tell what it is, because that should be a secret. But the other sounds were done by Ivar [Bjornson, guitars and electronics), he has always done the keyboard stuff and that was his idea from the very beginning when he made the songs. That's supposed to be there. But the outro was just a crazy idea we had.

CoC: A private band thing?

GK: Yeah, that's a private band thing.

CoC: Okay, fair enough. So long as I don't read it anywhere else <laughs>.

GK: <Laughs> I don't think so, not from me anyway.

CoC: Your previous album title, _Eld_, translated into English, meant "Fire". Now you have "Vengeance in Blood". What is the significance of this particular title? It has a much more violent feel to it...

GK: Yeah.

CoC: ... And it kind of fits with the faster, more violent musical path you've taken. I was wondering whether there is any connection between the title of the new album and its style?

GK: Yeah, the title track has lyrics I wrote in quite an insane mood or whatever you want to say, quite angry, and I think the record is pretty much angry, aggressive and I think the title fits perfectly well. There are some kind of, not soft, but beautiful parts.

CoC: But unlike on _Eld_, where there were bits of it peppered around the album, on this the most "beautiful" bits are at the beginning and the end; in between there is a huge wall of really brutal sound. It sounds good but it is a change, you don't have the thirteen minute epic that began _Eld_.

GK: I see what you mean.

CoC: Why do you chose to sing in Old Norse as opposed to English or Norwegian?

GK: This is actually in Norwegian. We have two languages in Norway. The western part is a kind of language called, I suppose, new Norwegian. The Norwegian they speak in the Eastern part is very much like Danish. Very influenced by Danish writing, because Norway was in union with Denmark. The language _Blodhemn_ is written in is the language we speak and write in the western part of Norway. This is new Norwegian and that is something that came up from old dialects. There was an author called Ivan Allson who collected a lot of dialects throughout the western part of Norway. He made this new Norwegian writing language from the older dialects that had kind of survived from Old Norse.

CoC: I am curious about the album cover. The last album was a photo. This time you've got a picture, and quite a simple picture. What is the significance of the shield, the mace and the battle-axe?

GK: You are thinking of the promo cover. That's just a cover to get the promo CD out.

CoC: What does the real cover look like?

GK: It's a picture of us on a stony "beach", the sea and a Viking ship, swords and all.

CoC: I'm a little confused; the reason I thought mine was the real cover is that it was in the Nuclear Blast catalog and all the adverts.

GK: That was a mistake. I think the promotion cover looks like Donald Duck.

CoC: <Laughs> I wasn't too big on it, that's why I was asking.

GK: <Laughs> It wasn't supposed to be released that way at all, that's just the promotion cover, the actual cover is totally different.

CoC: Musically, you basically fit into the black metal genre, to an extent...

GK: Concerning the music, yes. I think the music is metal. The category all depends on the lyrics, from my point of view. As long as it is not dealing with satanism or such things. The lyrics describe the music, the music is metal, but our Viking lyrics can explain how we're not black metal, so we use the term "Viking metal". It is not really a category, the category is metal and the Viking stuff is just something with which we've put a label on the music many years ago. That has kind of become a category now. That's not our fault.

CoC: A few bands from Norway choose not to play live, or don't do it very often. Burzum, Varg refused to play live...

GK: Because it was a one man thing, pretty strange.

CoC: Don't Darkthrone play live anymore?

GK: Darkthrone is put on ice for many years.

CoC: But you guys do go in for live playing and you seem to take it as quite a priority. When I saw you in London you dressed in stage garments and played with a lot of energy. I was wondering how important live performances are to you?

GK: Live performance is of course very important for every band, I think. You have to prove that you can play live; everyone can do a record in the studio, but I don't look upon that as a band. To be a band, it means that you perform in front of some sort of audience. That's my definition of a band. Otherwise it is just a studio project. Don't you agree?

CoC: I know what you mean, but it's something some bands don't agree with.

GK: They, of course, have different points of view and I respect them for that, but this is my definition and our definition.

CoC: What are your touring plans for Europe and when are we likely to see you?

GK: We have been negotiating with the promotion agency. We haven't come up with anything yet, but we will definitely do a tour in Europe, probably March and April or something, 'cause we are going to the States at the end of February.

CoC: Anything more you wish to say?

GK: Most people who haven't recognized us yet, and if they are reading this interview, I'd like to say to them: come to our concerts and we will prove that we are one of the best metal bands of the ages. Come check us out.

(article submitted 16/1/1999)

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