Grutle Kjellson – Enslaved ‘The Dreamland of Fire & Ice’
According to the National Geographic: The small island nation of Iceland is Europe’s westernmost country and home to the world’s northernmost capital, Reykjavik. Intriguingly eleven percent of the country is covered in glacial ice and is surrounded by water; the island also contains about 200 volcanoes and has one-third of Earth’s total lava flow.
These details are in all probability the reason the nickname for the remote island acquired its nickname: “The Land Of Fire And Ice” (not to be confused with the book series by George R. R. Martin) and perhaps unsurprisingly, the destination has become one of the most sought after tourist destinations in the world.
Norwegian progressive Viking metal outfit Enslaved are more than acquainted with this fascinating and beautiful nation, for the quintet, Iceland acts as another home. As a matter of fact, the knowledge members of the band possess of the island is of a scholarly level. Numerous film clips throughout the band’s latter day releases have been shot in the land of fire and ice and as bassist/vocalist Grutle Kjellson illustrates, the nation is also a vital sector of Norway’s history.
“History has proven that Iceland was inhabited by Norse settlers in the so called ‘Viking Age’. They settled there mainly because there were conflicts on the mainland. So Iceland is like a crucial part of our mutual history. It is really important in the Sagas and to be honest, most of the Sagas or the tales that have been documented in written manuscripts of the Norse Mythology, these were written down in Iceland.” Grutle explains with impassioned enthusiasm – “A lot of the material was crafted in Norway and it survived by poems and oral traditions for centuries before they were finally written down in Iceland. It is really connected. The landscape there though, it is very inspiring. It oozes of something dangerous out there; there are volcanic eruptions and wild nature – it feels like it is on the brink of disaster the whole time. It’s fertile, but yet dangerous.”
Impressively Enslaved have redefined themselves in the metal world for over three decades, though their entire career has always revolved around Norse Mythology, the Viking culture and their homeland’s history. Their initial recordings reflected the emerging Norwegian black metal sound of the time in the early 1990s, however, the outfit quickly evolved. The band’s debut full-length Vikingligr Veldi released in 1994 features only one track under 10 minutes in length showcasing their unique orchestration of extreme metal at a very young age. Thirty years on, the five-piece are as devoted as they have ever been and on their 16th LP entitled Heimdal the fire in their collective creative bellies has not wavered.
“Iceland and this album really reflects the human mind in some way as well. Besides that historical importance, it really connects with the lyrics on another level and the state of mind we wanted to achieve with the lyrics plus this fascinating history. The first clip with did up there was for a song called ‘Jettegryta’ (from Utgard released in 2020), so I went up and I should admit, there is a lot of cool acting in that video!” He laughs with an immeasurable sense of pride before continuing: “I’ve been there before, but hadn’t been spent that much time there, no more than a couple of days before. It’s absolutely breathtaking, you have to see it to believe it. That’s why it is such an important place in the whole Enslaved saga. It has been so fantastic to have the opportunity to actually visualise our songs, music and lyrics in video clips like that there.”
The seven new songs that construct this ambitious adventure captures nearly all of the chapters of Enslaved’s majestic story. Their black metal roots still rise to the surface, but their development to incorporate musical journeys that motivate their ambition such as Led Zeppelin and Opeth is sensationally striking. It therefore seemed necessary to ask, what has kept these Norsemen so resilient, innovative and ambitious after all these years?
“It’s not very complicated. I mean, we have always had this pretty simple philosophy or ethos: Write something without any expectations from anyone and that you yourself,want to put on the turntable right there and then.” Mr Kjelison states with remarkable rationale – “Don’t try to go back and redo the 90s Classics or whatever you can call them. Go ahead and evolve, do something, make something interesting for yourself. I think that has kept us alive for all these years; I think if we started to, or tried to redo Frost from 1994, If we had that philosophy or vision, we would have killed each other.”
Interestingly Heimdal is also in reference to the shortest track from the five-piece’s debut album entitled ‘Heimdallr’ (over six minutes in length). It is named after arguably the most mysterious entity in Nordic mythology, famously known as the gatekeeper between the nine Norse realms; a character of mystery who scholars continue to research. These artefacts are part of the reason why the quintet have the creative conviction and incentive to pursue new thresholds of artistic eminence. However, the Enslaved “longship” did not navigate the metal ocean without the strength of committed oarsmen and sometimes even opportunistic winds for their sails .
“I mean, this started as a hobby. It was combined with day jobs for a long while all the way up to the early 2000s. Then everything got a little bit more professional. We were able to have, more or less part time jobs instead of full time jobs. So it became, the other way around until about 20 years ago. We have, from time to time, received offers to do special written pieces, we have composed music for movies and stuff like that. I mean, we’re not saying yes and approving every single offer we get.” Grutle Kjellson asserts with some tongue-in-cheek before enlightening his message further – “But if it is interesting enough, if we can picture ourselves within those frames, it can always be an interesting collaboration and we have done a couple of those over the years. We don’t do that unless we feel that we can benefit from it. It could be a stepping stone into a very interesting direction. Some of those collaborations have really pushed us forward. So that’s back to the philosophy of daring to do something different in order to develop and evolve as a band.”
Sadly our conversation was disconnected at this point. However, as the Icelandic saga Bandamanna states: “Wisdom is welcome wherever it comes from”.
Interview by Will Oakeshott @TeenWolfWill
Stream Enslaved‘s Heimdal Here
Enslaved – Heimdal tracklisting:
1. Behind The Mirror
3. Forest Dweller
5. The Eternal Sea
6. Caravans To The Outer Worlds
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