Enslaved bridge ancient mythology and extreme musicality on 'Heimdal'
Norwegian extreme metal veterans, Enslaved have thrived for three decades; the band is critically acclaimed for its artful blend of traditional black metal with experimental elements of progressive rock and is and loved by fans around the world. Enslaved, during its tenure thus far, has become synonymous with top notch musicianship, a thorough passion for Norse mythology and the ability to masterfully weave the two into a brand of sonic extreme that elevates extreme music to that of high art. Currently, Enslaved is composed of founding members Grutle Kjellson on bass and vocals and Ivar Bjornson on guitars, as well as guitarist Arve Isdal, drummer Iver Sandoy, and keyboard player Hakon Vinje.
With a new album out entitled Heimdal out on March via Nuclear Blast, the band’s sixteenth full length release, bassist and vocalist Grutle Kjellson took time from his home in a remote village in Norway, 2 hours South of Bergen to talk about his most prized memories with the band, how he and his bandmates went about choosing a setlist for an upcoming Spring tour of North America, and the passion the band shares for researching and finding inspiration in history of the Norse folklore.
“Our new album gets its title, 'Heimdal' from one of the main characters or gods of the Norse religion and mythology,” Kjellson said. “Heimdal has specific roles, and he’s a guardian against the giants meaning he represents order from chaos and darkness in the world. But that is just the surface, our album goes beneath the surface. In a way it’s like doing archaeological research into Heimdal, because after all we took an interest in this character over 30 years ago.”
Kjellson further explained that when it comes to Heimdal, the band was fascinated by the mystery of his origins. “It’s a riddle kind of a mystery we don’t really know where he comes from. He was worshiped as an entity long before the Norse people were here”.
As it pertains to the album, Kjellson explained the album’s collection of songs could be viewed as a concept album about the unknown origin of Heimdal, which was probably older than conventional wisdom dictates. “I think there is some evidence that something similar to this god was worshiped and acknowledged prior to the bronze age,” Kjellson said. “There are rock carvings supporting these theories. There is no science yet to prove this yet, but it’s such a fascinating idea. So, we have turned a lot of stones on this album to uncover the roots, the concept and origin of this Heimdal character.”
It's no secret that Enslaved has made a career creatively sourcing ancient Norse culture, incorporating a Norse-heavy narrative into its music and lyrics. However, according to Kjellson. the band's passion for Viking lore goes well beyond aesthetic appeal. That much is evident given the kind of time the band collectively invests in really doing their homework to get it right on the track. “Nobody just knows about this stuff, you have to do some research,” he said. “I tend to read a lot of books, scholarly research on archaeology and Germanic runes. It’s very far away from the Marvel universe."
Throughout their career, Enslaved has earned the reputation of bridging sonic extremity with the kind of sophistication that is not often associated with the art. Given the band's academic approach to process, that level of refinement is no coincidence. "Honestly, I’ve been in contact with people at universities who have degrees and have discussion with people formally educated in the field of archaeology and Runology. Obviously, since we’ve been doing Enslaved for 30 years, we’re not professors or researchers at universities, but we are still really interested in these topics and love studying the mythology. We love bringing it out and sharing it with fans in our music and art with the music of Enslaved."
Coinciding with the release of their sixteenth studio album, the band is set to embark on a month-long tour of North America, their first true overseas tour since the pandemic. It is a unique reality that Kjellson admits will take time to get back into the mindset of being on the road, though the band are all excited to perform for international fans once again. “We’re not used to it we’ve all been locked up for 2 years so we will have to get back into that touring mentality,” Kjellson said. “But we’re also very excited and eager to get back to North America and play some shows!”
Of course, exploring ancient mythology isn't conducive to short songs. Given Enslaved's vast catalog of music and it's substantive quality - both in duration and dynamic, Kjellson explained the unique challenging in making a setlist fo an Enslaved tour. “It’s not easy deciding what songs to play,” he said. “When we have a new album it’s kind of a no brainer that we play at least some new songs from the new records, maybe 3-4 songs, which if you know anything about Enslaved, that’s almost half of our set. But we try to pick some old favorites from all the periods of the band, old school stuff from the first albums, our mid-section, but we want to focus on our new album. Of course, if we were to play various songs from all our albums, we’d have to play for 4-5 hours, and I don’t know if we’d ever be able to do that. But for this tour it will be a nice blend of selection of songs. I hope people will be eager to check out the new album and hear our new songs live.”
Enslaved will perform an album release show for Heimdal in Bergen, Norway on March 3, and will begin the tour of the U.S. on April 5 in New York and wrap up the tour on April 30 in Baltimore. Kjellson said that this is just the initial start of the worldwide tour.
In addition to the band's heavy touring slate, later this year Kjellson is particularly excited about Beyond the Gates 2023, held in Norway. The international celebration of extreme music spans four days and will see the band taking on a classic from their catalog in its entirety - a performance format that seems best suited for the band.
Enslaved will perform the 1997 seminal classical ELD as a special set. “We haven’t done ELD in a long while we just did it once at Hole In The Sky, also in Bergen back in 2005, and it was fun,” he said. “It has been a while. But we do love that album, it’s special to the fans, and it’s special to us, so we play songs from it to this day, but we look forward to playing the full album at Beyond the Gates later this year.”
Kjellson said that he and the members of Enslaved, despite their trepidation about touring after such an extended pause, are eager to begin this touring cycle for Heimdal. Given the band's preparation, both researching their source material and their detailed approach to recording, sharing the final result live seems especially rewarding.
One thing is for certain, after a live layoff for a couple of years, fans of the band's brand of refined extremity will finally get their fill of Enslaved in all of it's live majesty. “There will be more shows in Europe and for sure summer festivals from May-September some have been announced but some are not announced,” he said. “We are booked through the Fall of this year. 2023 is going to be a big year for us we have a lot of tours and a lot of shows to do.”
Heimdal, the sixteenth studio album from Enslaved arrives March 3rd via Nuclear Blast Records. Pre-order the album - HERE
Experience Enslaved live on their North American co-headlining trek with Insomnium set for this spring, Dates and cities can be found below. Get tickets - HERE