Enslaved - Interview
With "Heimdal" Norwegian Enslaved have recently released their 20th album (read review here). It is quite a huge step forward for them but in some cases also pretty much back to the roots so I had a lot of questions to ask. Iver Sandøy (drums, vocals) was so kind to do a very nice Sunday morning chat with me via Zoom where I got a lot of answers and a deeper insight into the band which is still burning full of energy and creativity. Enjoy reading.
Hi Iver, how satisfied are you with the reception of the new album?
Well, we are extremely satisfied with it. The reception has been at times overwhelming. So the spirits are high in the Enslaved camp!
Personally I am totally flashed by the album and "Heimdal" is by far the best album since "Frost" for me. These breaks and the alternation of quiet parts with the eruptive black metal outbursts are great and always provide a surprise, because it all comes so suddenly and yet fits perfectly into each other. With which ideas did you go with the songwriting?
All the music, the instrumental bits, are written by Ivar so it's kind of hard for me to go into detail or to know the details of his initial inspirations. But for instance for a song like 'Congelia' we talked about in the early stages when we started talking about vaguely planning the new album. I said something like: "maybe we should have a section with that slow blast beat this time". In Norwegian we say "langrennspinne" which is translated into cross country skiing blast (laughs). Of course that comes from Darkthrone; Fenriz and his love for cross country skiing so it's not extremely fast it's just that slow going (laughs) but a very insistent kind of beat that we always have enjoyed. And that turned into a whole song when he started working on it. That's an example of discussion within the band when we say "that kind of beat is cool" and he will come back with this.
Let's take 'Forest Dweller' as an example - did you compose this incredibly versatile song in one piece, or did the ideas come gradually? You first have to come up with the idea of pairing these harsh black metal riffs with clear vocals and a Hammond organ in the middle and then suddenly starting with acoustic guitars again...
This I cannot tell you because this time it is very much Ivars album to the very details. Even many of the drum parts I didn't really change from his compositions. What Grutle and I contributed were more the melodies on top of what we are singing. Those we wrote on top of the musical compositions. But when I know how kind of Ivar works, I guess it starts with the loose ideas of course and then you get to a point like in 'Forest Dweller' where you arrange the calm with the rocking parts. Normally it comes quite intuitively.
So when you did do the vocals, was there already a complete song or how did you progress with it?
That's how it normally works. We do quite extensive demos before we record the album so when we get the instrumental demos from Ivar we start to decide where we should have clean vocals, distorted vocals based on the lyrics that we have for the song. Most often we write the vocals on top of the finished arrangement. What can happen is that when we start writing the vocals we see that we need to extend a section to make it fit with the lyrics. A song can be longer or shorter when we actually start working on the vocals so that it's not a totally rigid thing. But it is being more worked on in sections. The way it works is that Ivar presents us a finished instrumental composition and that we stay to that arrangement lengthwise with the vocals or like in 'Forest Dweller' we changed some duration of the instrumental sections to fit with how we wanted the vocals to be with melody and lyrics.
So do you write the lyrics also after the compositions?
I think that varies but most often the compositions come first and Grutle and Ivar write the lyrics after that. But for this and the latest albums the lyrical concept has existed even before all the music has been written.
How long did it take to record "Heimdal" with all the pre-production and demo stuff?
This one actually took a while. Ivar wrote intermediately and the songs didn't come in one session. It was over the course of a bit of time the demos arrived and every time we got a new song, Grutle and I got to work on the vocals a bit. I'm not sure how long exactly it took but maybe about half a year to write it and writing vocal demos and writing vocal lines took the same time. When we recorded it, we always aimed for a pretty concise, intense period for that, it took a month in total and then mixing came later and also the Dolby atmospheric mix that we did. This is also interesting and you can listen to it at Apple Music to the surround mix that we did this December.
And with 'Caravans To The Outer Worlds' you wrote an awesome thrash song, maybe the fastest song in a long time...how did it come about? Is it some kind of homage to the old heroes like Kreator?
I guess those influences will creep into the songwriting when the riffs are kind of thrashy and I come more from a thrash metal background from my youth. I wasn't really a metal drummer for many years so I wasn't part of the black metal thing in the 90s. I was more into psychedelic and progressive stuff then. When I got back into metal, my references kind of stopped in 1990 (laughs). So what I have to go on is the stuff that I learned from Slayer, early Metallica, Kreator, those kinds of bands. So definitely there will be an old school thrash metal vibe in those kinds of songs.
I dare say that with "Heimdal" you have an even wider range between progressive and black metal than ever before, do you agree?
I think that's a fair assessment. As we've grown older, we have started not giving a shit even more (laughs) so the references are probably even clearer. If we do a black metal homage then we just go full on and a thrash metal riff we don't hide. We just explore that to the fullest and also the progressive elements. Hopefully we managed to go further in every direction. It just makes the ideas more fully realized in a way. If you're going to go Krautrock and early Kraftwerk, let's just go for it!
Maybe it depends on my age and the fact that I'm also into some prog stuff like Rush after all these years only being into death, black and thrash especially when I was a teenager but with "Heimdal" it is pretty much easier to listen to than albums like "Isa" or the other stuff you released in the early 2000s – this was pretty more difficult to access to….
Well, that's interesting because in the minds of a lot of people probably the Heimdal album is the difficult one and especially compared to Utgard or albums like Isa. So it is interesting that you say that! Maybe it has to do with our age group but Heimdal is just more logical for us now. It explores more fully the influences that maybe have always been there but it's out now on display a bit more.
Yes and I think that there aren't so many compromises this time. All these twist and turns on the album are very surprising so that at least I quite often think: "wow, what the fuck is happening here?"!
(Laughs) There are less excuses. If we go there, let's just go there.
What made me a bit puzzled is this intro on 'The Eternal Sea'. It totally reminds me of some techno songs from the 90s. What was the intention behind it?
Yeah, I think you can totally say that. It's kind of repetitive, almost programmed to it and influenced by those 90s dark techno. But that's just a long lineage that comes from that 70s Krautrock German electronic music approach as well. It's just logical and wrapped in metal and rock sounds but the way of thinking has probably much to do with the dark ambient techno electronic world.
"Heimdall" is the guardian of the rainbow bridge and the sound of his horn "Gjallarhorn" is supposed to warn of the downfall of the gods at the beginning of Ragnarok – so are you warning at the beginning of your album about the beginning of a dark time to come? I mean, since 2021 everything is kind of getting shittier and shittier….
Well I guess that's up to the listener to interpret it but it's not that we're being secretive about it. The album is called Heimdal and it's based on this Norse legend when he blows his horn one of its signals is Ragnarok. But the whole concept of Ragnarok is that the world is going to shits but let's not forget that the whole point of Ragnarok is the new beginning after it. So it's this circle but I don't want to go too literally into the lyrics because they are there for anyone to read and interpret in their own way. But yes, it signals both – the end of something and the beginning of something new. Your going into this album is going into a dream state and also coming out of a dream state.
Nevertheless I have to come back a little bit to the lyrics. Looking at the cover and reading through the lyrics, I get the impression that the sea and something to follow (Navigator, Beacon, etc.) play an important role.
I was born and raised on a small island and all the people who are in Enslaved now are coastal people so the sea holds a special importance for us, definitely. The sea and the ocean hold such strong symbols for all of us and it can be used poetically in so many ways because it has such a meaning and such significance for our people. I can only speak for the tradition where I am from but the sea is kind of both: a life giver and a life taker. So many men from my family, both my great grandfathers and his father disappeared at sea and this mightiness and the duality of the relation to the sea of taking life and giving life is important. In hard times people could always rely on the sea to survive as well while in the inland when your crops failed you had nothing to fall back on. The coastal people always had fish and other stuff so you could always survive from the ocean. There is a red line and I feel that we explored that on the previous album and on this one perhaps even more especially in songs like 'The Eternal Sea', exploring the history and the significance of the sea for us as people.
So you switched to another topic than the "Frost" theme….
Well, we're not Immortal. They can deal with the frost and snow and Enslaved is more about the water in its liquid form which is also appropriate for the music.
How much are you affected by the climate change in the area you live?
I think that everyone is affected by it. It's A difficult time in Norway - we have had such areas that were still untouched by industry and now they are really pushing to take that away. I don't want to get too political here but it's just as important to protect whatever is left of nature as it is to electrify everything. Even though we are talking about climate change and moving away from fossil fuels the politicians are only talking about more, more, more. How many cell phones do we really need? How many cars do we really need and how big do our houses need to be? This is something that we should discuss.
Yes, it is the same here in Germany. So many things have changed and forests not far away from here completely died and nobody really cares about that. It is unbelievable!
I can definitely feel from my youth that the weather is getting just more extreme. Well, it's probably a nice excuse for all the climate change deniers, at the moment it's about 30 cm of snow in Norway and this is also extreme, even in Bergen that is traditionally a wet city. It's getting wetter and wetter and the weather is getting more extreme, like you guys had this summer in Europe this extreme drought. And let's not forget it's us, the humans. When I was born in 1974, there were 4 billion people on the planet and now it's doubled. Only in my lifetime! I know the theories that it will level out is what they predict but we have to reach 10 billion before that starts happening. So will there be anything left of nature? Or will it all be industrialized when we have finished killing all the insects. Then we won't have crops anymore. It sounds like a thrash metal dystopia from the 80s and now we are there.
Coming back to the history of the band - you never paid attention to any boundaries or opinions of others in your band history, was that the right way in retrospect or should you have made one or the other compromise in retrospect?
Do people have regrets? I am sure. We all spend time thinking what we shouldn't have done or what he should have done in another way but at the same time you just have to leave it behind. For Enslaved, in retrospect you can look at some of the albums and maybe say "okay, that wasn't the right direction or it could have been done in a different way". But at the same time you can say that we wouldn't have arrived at Heimdal if we hadn't been for even the missteps. Even if some the albums maybe weren't as artistically fulfilled and, not that it matters but some of them were less commercially successful but it was all part of arriving at the albums that did really matter and getting us to where we are now: where 16 albums a lot of people really care about what Enslaved do and that's a fantastic privilege. That we have people like yourself that actually care enough to go deeply into the stuff that you create, analyze it, have opinions about it and discuss it with us. As an artist that is the ultimate goal: to create something that holds relevance for people. Of course you have to start from yourself but you wouldn't be creating art and putting it on display if you only cared about yourself. We want to create something that people can relate to and hopefully find value in it.
Are you planning anything for next year as a 30th anniversary to celebrate "Frost" and "Vikingligr Veldi" accordingly? And this year a tour?
For 2024 there are no details yet. It will be a busy year this year. Vikingligr Veldi was released in 1993 and it is already announced that we will do a Vikingligr Veldi show in Germany at Party.San. We already did two Frost shows in 2019 and that was the 25th anniversary. So we did that and I'm not sure if we're going to do that again. To my knowledge we haven't been asked, at least not officially by anyone. We'll see. This is one year ahead from now. Anything can happen. We have plans for a little tour in Europe later this year but first it's the festivals like Brutal Assault, Party.San, Beyond The Gates in Bergen and a few others. But the US tour is coming up first for the whole of April and this is the big one this year. This will be interesting. We haven't been on a proper tour for that long since 2019 because it has not been possible.
Caravans To The Outer Worlds
Axioma Ethica Odini
Return to Yggdrasill
Below The Lights
Mardraum - Beyond The Within
Emperor / Enslaved
- Embr - Embr - Dec 10
- Nargathrond - Mourning Season - Dec 12
- Infernal Execrator - Diabolatry - Dec 15
- Cryptworm - Oozing Radioactive Vomition - Dec 15
- Strigampire - All To Dominate - Dec 15
- Empires Of Euphrates - Echoes Of Ancient - Dec 15
- Breed - History Of Tomorrow - Dec 15
- Imperialist - Quantum - Dec 15
- Hinsides - Hinsides Hörs Djävulsklockans Urklang - Dec 15
- Revulsed - Cerebral Contamination - Dec 15
- Bunker 66 - Portraits Of Dismay - Dec 15
- Demoncy - Diabolica Blasphemiae - Dec 15
- Vargrav - The Nighthold - Dec 15
- Insepultus - Deadly Gleams Of Blood, Steel And Fire - Dec 15
- Feral Forms - Premalignant - Dec 15
- Horrifier - Horrid Resurrection - Dec 15
- Funeral Vomit - Monumental Putrescence - Dec 19
- Atronos - Erwachen - Dec 21
- Úlfarr - Orlegsceaft - Dec 21
- Insurrection - Exiled To Earth - Dec 22