Enslaved: People think that Black Metal is a riot, just like Punk

When Grutle Kjellson, the lead-singer of progressive black-metallers Enslaved, declared in the famous documentary „Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey” (2005) that Christianity had it coming, referring to the church burnings from Norway, many narrow-minded people labeled him, and his band, as products of the same extreme (and somewhat psychotic) atheism that gave birth to acts like Mayhem.

However, after having had a very entertaining phone chit-chat with the musician, Maximum Rock Magazine believes that is is safe to say that Grutle is not only a true gentleman, but also a person with a unique understanding of human spirituality and culture. These being said…The man has a point.

Since we care about our readers being informed on the latest stuff happening in the metal world, we’re not going to keep our discussion with Grutle to ourselves, and we’ll share it with ya’.

Read about the new album „Riitiir”, the fascinating similarities between cultures, and…bleached blondes in the interview below.
Enslaved Riitiir
Congratulations on your new album, „Riitiir”. It’s absolutely fantastic. Tell us, what exactly does the title stand for, as I’ve looked the word up and I haven’t found its meaning.
It’s a little construction that I created together with our guitar player. It’s not necessarily a word, but more like a linguistic „concoction” inspired by Norse writing. Somehow, the English translation would be „the rituals of man”, hinting to a universal set of behaviors.

On this material you seem to have gone back to the very roots of extreme metal: you can hear Black Sabbath in „Veilburner”, King Diamond in „Thoughts Like Hammers” and Voivod in „Storm of Memories”. Did you willingly descend into the musical past?
Not really. Absorbing this or that is never a specific goal of ours. We have a very wide range of musical tastes, and the bands you mentioned are something that we like. But it’s not intentional. The music you make, the music you arrange, the music you play obviously gets colored by the things you listen to and have been listening to. Nothing is constructed but you can hear some sort of inspiration that is only natural.

I’ve been listening to the lyrics and there’s a clearly surrealistic pattern in them. They’re very introspective and detached from the external reality. What inspired the themes this time around?
Actually, as I’ve said before, it’s a bit universal. The lyrics are about the rites of man, meaning that, this time around, we wrote about the similarities we found in different people’s system of thought. In early times, people from all over the world, that had no contact with eachother, seemed to have a mutual way of appoaching life. In mytholoyg they had the same gods and deities, only under different names. There are loads of similarities between Greek mythology, Norse mythology, Indian mythology, and the likes. Everyone seems to worship the gods of weather, of the harvest etc. We have been researching these similarities in mythology, and also in people’s mutual way of thinking, dreaming, living etc. That’s what the lyrics talk about.

„The artwork and the music are very closely tied together”

It’s fashionable today to call a thematically unitary album a „concept” album. Would you use that label to describe „Riitiir”?
It’s not a concept album in the sense of the albums King Diamond did, but it’s a concept album because it’s tied together. It’s not one story, but it’s about the same things. The fans can judge whether it’s a concept album or not, but for me it definitely is.

What about the artwork? There are clearly some pagan elements in it, with the solar symbol and the hands reaching up, forming a tree. Tell us more about it.
It is the artist’s interpretation of the things that were presented to him. Our art always has a special meaning to this artist. His images are a visualization of the things we talked about on the album. We’ve been using this artist ever since the year 2001. Weve developed a mutual way of thinking. He creates the artwork after listening to the album, so everything is very obviously tied together. You can find some hints in the lyrics to get an idea of what it all means. It will help you draw a parallel between the music, and the cover. That way you get a deeper understanding of everything. However, we have loads of fans who like to find out for themselves.  

Will you do more European shows this autumn and winter? Can we expect to see you anywhere near Romania?
I don’t really know. We’ll do some Norwegian shows, like a small Norwegian tour. There will be a total of 6 shows, and 2 gigs in the USA. After that, we’ll do a full tour of the States at the beginning of next year, followed by a European tour in March. I don’t think we’ll come very close to Romania. The reason is that it’s so far away and we haven’t really been working with promoters there. The closest will probably be Hungary. I think we’ll do a show in Budapest, but I’m not sure.

I understand you vacationed in Mamaia, a famous Romanian sea-resort. You may not know this but Mamaia is considered the most snobbish resort in the country, with Romanian versions of Paris Hilton prancing about all day long. It’s a bit funny to picture Grutle from Enslaved sharing the beach with bleached, siliconed babes. Did you feel any sort of cultural „discrepancy” while there?
We’ve been to Mamaia twice. I went to a cheap hotel, it was a cheap flight and I became friends with the staff of this small place where we were lodged. I took a couple of trips to the beach, I went to Constanta and hung around the rock bars, listening to heavy metal in the evenings, I took the local train to Bucuresti, and I had a great time. I did, however, see all the fake posh people: rich Russians, and so on. Of course I saw that! But, you know…what can I do (laughs).

„The good, old Satanist is the perfect embodiment of the Villain for the Media”

Lately, in Romania there have been some problems with certain extreme religious groups wanting to ban Lady Gaga’s concert, claiming that she’s a…satanist. You certainly can’t compare Gaga to black metal, but black metal bands have also faced similar issues. Where do you think this fear of transgressive performances comes from?
People seem to be in need of an enemy. Everyone craves for an enemy, especially the media. The good old Satanist is the perfect embodiment of the Villain. Poor minded, religious, monotheistic people, they urge for a scapegoat.

Why do you think they’ve created this figure of the Black Metal anti-hero? The press demonizes these artists more than it does others.
People without knowledge about what black metal is or what extreme metal is, they look at it as a sort of riot, just like punk was back in the day. They consider the artists a bunch of angry people smashing stuff. I’s been around since people started listening to The Rolling Stones and the Beatles in the 60s, and it all came back with punk in the 70s. When certain individuals started to commit murders and burn some churches in Norway, people got the wrong impression that everyone with distortion on their guitar is the same. They like to think stuff, and they like to judge, they like to get angry at the enemy and shout. People are not interested in reading about stuff, understanding…This is something you can’t stop; it’s human nature.

There’s a lot of crap going around in Romania right now, with politicians fighting to gain power and ordinary people having to face the consequences: poverty. What’s your message for the metalheads out there? Can they find a cure in music?
Absolutely, or at least they can experience a good old cleansing of their minds, with music and art in general. They’re like a vitamin injection. Keep a healthy distance from problems, and rely on music to provide you with salvation. It’s a a bit difficult to take part in the situation described by you, because I have no idea what’s going on. In Norway it rains all the time but the economy is good. The Romanian metalheads have my full support and remember – stay heavy.

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