METAL: Enslaved escapes scene that took black arts literally

Enslaved guitarist Ivar Bjornson is probably one of the youngest musicians to celebrate his band’s 20th anniversary – he was just 13 when Enslaved plunged into a grim Norwegian black metal scene that would soon make headlines for its connections to church arsons and murders.

After spreading the darkness across North America this month, however, Enslaved will head back home to mark the occasion in very un-black-metal fashion.

“What we’re going to do is play a free concert for underage kids,” Bjornson says. “After that, we’re going to kick out the kids and bring out kegs shaped like Viking ships, and have a bunch of friends from all over Norway come. We’ll just rig up a stage and have a bunch of friends, do some jamming, play some King Crimson and Led Zeppelin songs and basically get wasted.”

Sign us up.

Enslaved brought its extreme progressive metal to the Starlite Room Friday for a sombre evening with American post-rock outfit Junius and French shoegaze/metal band Alcest.

Enslaved never cared for the trappings of early-‘90s black metal. Showing a musical and ideological maturity beyond many of his peers, Bjornson was uncomfortable with the criminal actions of certain members of the scene. One of several musicians who took their black arts too literally was Varg Vikernes (aka Burzum), who spent 15 years in prison for murder and arson, while Emperor’s drummer Samoth was sentenced to 16 months for arson. (It happens that Emperor’s debut EP was released as a split with Enslaved’s first EP, Hordanes Land, in 1993). More detailed story here.

“A lot of these things happened when the scene was already dissolving a little bit, when the real criminal stuff took place. It sort of fractioned – those guys would stick with other people with those extreme views,” Bjornson recalls.

Despite his young age, he had the foresight not to get caught up in the chaos.

“Maybe we were naïve, but we were thinking, ‘Didn’t we do this to make music? What’s going on here, guys?’ Us and a bunch of other bands distanced ourselves from the whole thing. We ended up reading about it in the newspaper like every other Joe in Norway.”

The band continues its quest to evolve in all directions on its latest full-length Axioma Ethica Odini, a metal masterpiece that explores Bjornson’s ’70s prog-rock influences. Enslaved’s music is still unrelentingly dark, with tasteful melodic vocal passages and synth bits that rarely detract from the raw brutality of its vicious riffing and double-kick blasting, or the demonic growls of frontman Grutle Kjellson.

Lyrically, the band stays near tried-and-true Scandinavian metal themes of Vikings and Norse Gods, albeit with an intellectual edge.

Axioma Ethica Odini, Bjornson says, is about “exploring the possibility of pre-existing ethics in the same way as we have pre-existing laws. We’re trying to look at a paradox there. On one side you have the ‘axioma’ part representing scientific thinking and universal truth.

“On the other hand, Ethica Odini is the title of the book from the pre-Christian time in Norway … supposedly written by Odin.”

With a chuckle, he concedes, “Someone probably wrote it for him while he was running his golden halls up there.”

Bjornson’s lightheartedness will likely never seep into Enslaved’s music; the band is only interested in channeling its darkest energies.

“Some people I guess use music to comfort themselves, and they like music that’s about going to clubs or having a lot of money or whatever,” he muses. “It’s a matter of taste.”