How Enslaved have stood the test of time
Over 25 fascinating years, Enslaved have shrugged off their underground roots to become one of the most enduring and fearless bands in metal. And they’ve done it all their way
In a world where we’re constantly fretting about the ability of younger bands to remain enduringly creative, the likes of Norway’s Enslaved, with 25 years of history and 13 albums to their name, could teach us all a thing or two. For their towering frontman, bassist/vocalist Grutle Kjellson, the secret is simple. “Make music for yourself,” he shrugs. “If it sounds good, then keep it. And don’t be a dick! Ha ha ha!”
Enslaved have carved a fascinating path, starting from primal black metal roots in the subgenre’s classic early-90s period, and reaching, by way of a spiritual embrace of ancient Norse culture, progressive compositions of cosmic profundity that with each release continue to redefine what extreme music is capable of. This March, they celebrate their 25th anniversary with three commemorative shows in London, each covering a period of the band’s history. This is no dewy-eyed nostalgia from a band past their prime, but a waypoint. Their creativity only continues to increase, along with the size of their fanbase.
Upon sitting down with Grutle and fellow founding member/guitarist Ivar Bjørnson, friends who formed Enslaved in their teens, and who remain the band’s core creative duo, Hammer’s first question has to be: how the hell do you do it?
Grutle, stoic but wry, takes the lead. “Maybe it’s because we change, at least in some way, from album to album. It’s really down to a simple philosophy, I think; we’ve always tried to evolve.”
Ivar, softly spoken and earnest, concurs. “Having something as simple as that makes it easier. There’s never a question of why we’re doing it.”
“We like to check out different genres and be inspired,” adds Grutle. “If something we make sounds like something we’ve done before, we throw it away. Creating music is about making something interesting for yourself. If you’re trying to construct something to suit others, it’s not music – it becomes some sort of industry. It’s a cliché, but it’s supposed to be heartfelt.”
They lament how some young bands treat music as a business, and in doing so, lose something of the naivety that can lead to creative magic. Ivar reminisces of days gone by; when the band were reckless, full of self-belief. “The studio we recorded [1994 sophomore album] Frost in still has the record’s production sheet on the wall, because it shows that as long as you believe in your visions, you can take it quite far,” he states, proudly. “As we’ve progressed, the band’s popularity has grown immensely. The only thing that has gone downwards is the monetary income, and that’s the same for everyone. I’m not saying it’s ideal, but we feel more motivated, because I think we’re in it for the right reasons: for the love of doing it.”