Norway's Enslaved began their journey in extreme metal in Bergen back in 1991. No less than eight studio albums and two Grammy Nominations alongside numerous live shows have made them a highly esteemed band in the metal community. Never halting in their development, their latest album "Isa" offers an insight into truely creative minds. James Ashbey caught up with frontman and founding member Grutle Kjellson backstage prior to their show at The Garage in London on February 20th, 2005.

Your earlier lyrics were written in Icelandic and Norwegian. Why did you change to using English lyrics?
Well it’s probably less dramatic than people think; we just wanted to try it out for one album – Monumension – to see how it worked, and we were kind of satisfied so we decided to continue. I mean there are no dramatic changes or reasons at all really.

So do you think you will continue to use English from now on?
Yes I think so. I mean there might be some Norwegian lyrics if it fits the music, but English will be the main language from now on.

The band has had a lot of line-up changes, particularly on the drums. What is the reason for this, and do you find it hard to find the right person each time?
Yes, there are a lot of guitarists, a lot of bass players, a lot of vocalists but very few good drummers! So they are hard to find.

So is there a particular sort of person or aspect you look for?
Yes of course. Since we play quite a lot live we need a very steady drummer; we need a kind of human metronome, a human “machine”; someone who can play tight but also be creative, and there are very few drummers who are able to do that. Finally we have found Cato who is able to do what we want and much more as well, so we’re really satisfied.

Your Below The Lights album won you several awards and nominations last year. What are your thoughts about that, and the general response to your recent output?
Well we’re still really satisfied with Below the Lights actually. Usually I’m not that satisfied a couple of years after – I don’t like Monumension that much for example – but I still really like Below the Lights. It was a very cool process; it was mainly me and Ivar doing things, so we spent quite a lot of time in the studio. It was a good experience, I think we finally found a certain recipe on that album, and we were beginning to get good structures and arrangements to the songs, and I think we’ve developed that even further on Isa.

So would you say that the albums you like personally is a big factor on your choice of songs to play live?
Well partly of course, I mean you always like to play new songs from the album you’ve just released. We have realised though that we have released eight albums and you have to pick some live favourites that the fans still like. We are playing three or four new songs from Isa tonight, but a lot of old stuff as well, because people still want to hear the stuff we did back in ’94 and ’95.

Do you think the move to a more progressive, technical style is a result of you improving on your instruments, or did you just feel it was the right time to experiment with other approaches?
Well we’ve always been influenced by progressive rock, and this has just become more evident on our newer releases, because yes I think we have progressed as songwriters and musicians. It’s been a sort of natural development really.

Do you listen to other bands in the “Viking metal” genre? What do you think of their music?
Well I listen to Bathory and I think that’s about it, because I find a lot of bands from that ‘genre’ – to me it’s not a genre at all actually – I think they are inspired by music that I mostly dislike, like folk music, and it’s a little bit too much….”la-la-di-dah” [does folk-like jig!]. I think it’s a bit boring to be honest. [Vreid vocalist comes past] Especially Vreid, sounds like a bunch of morons! [Laughs] No, they’re a good band!

You have been confirmed to play the Roskilde festival. This has surprised some people as it is generally a more poppy rock festival? What were the reasons for going for this event?
Well usually there are a bunch of metal bands there as well though, there are usually at least three or four, so we’re happy to do it.

And do you have any other confirmed plans for tours or festivals this year that you could tell us?
Well we definitely have a US tour coming up in late summer, and there’s going to be more UK dates, maybe an Ireland tour, and a few more festivals. We’re waiting for those final offers – none of the bigger festivals are quite ready yet, but they will be soon I guess. We are confirmed for Graspop in Belgium and Fury Fest in France, they’re both ready.

Do you have a preferred style or “scene” in metal at the moment?
Well to be honest I listen mostly to old music, bands from three decades ago. I listen very much to bands from the early ‘70s, like Yes, Rush, Pink Floyd and Gentle Giant, just to mention a few. And Genesis- old Genesis – that’s cool!

Could you tell us of any hobbies or interests you have outside of music?
I’ve got one hobby and that’s sports fishing. That’s what I do, me and the drummer.

I understand that the reason for you playing first at the Inferno event at the Underworld was related to that as well wasn’t it?
Yes, because Cato had to leave to go to Ireland for some tuna fishing. But the gig was a success, and his fishing trip was also a success!

Well that brings us to the end. Thanks for your time, and I hope it goes well tonight!

Links of interest:

Tuba Records