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Grutle Kjellson: “Is there life after the big deluge? Yes. You can have several personal Ragnarök’s during your life time. That is what I am thinking”

Met Enslaved zijn we altijd verzekerd van muziek vol diepgang en verborgen schatten. Het is een beetje op zoek gaan naar de heilige graal en telkens wat meer beloond worden. Ook het nieuwe ‘Heimdal’ blaakt van innovatieve wendingen en vondsten die je moet laten inwerken op je steeds consumerende brein. Zo hebben we het graag: extreme metal die niet vies is van innovatieve progressieve verrassingen! We waren dan ook verheugd dat we een half uurtje konden keuvelen met frontman Grutle Kjelsson (zang, bas en veel meer). 
Vera Matthijssens Ι 11 maart 2023

This time we can speak about life after the pandemic. How do you look back at the transition to normal life again?
We have only just started. We did the first post pandemic concerts. Well, we did a few shows before that tour. The first one was actually in Belgium, at Alcatraz festival in August 2022. So we had a couple of gigs, like at HellFest and Prognosis. We are still getting used to the old ways of living. It still feels a little bit strange to do travels and play shows abroad. For a very long time we did not. The very first show we did abroad was in April 2022 and the last one before that was in August 2019. Almost three years absence (chuckles), that was a bit weird.

I can understand, because I have the same feeling when I go to concerts…
Indeed, there were several years without it.

You kept busy as a band though… I still remember that you were one of the first bands that did live streams and yours were really exceptional I have to say…
Yeah we got invited to a governmentally funded on line festival in Bergen, Norway and it had a good production and crew and everything. So we said: yes, let us try this strange and weird concept of a concert. It is better than nothing, so we decided to give it a try and it did work out better than we expected, so we decided to move on with that concept, but still have a proper production to it. With backline and lights and cameras and all that. It was a lot of work, but that kept us busy for several months in the pandemic. So that was a positive thing to do. We have released the apocalyptical so called live albums afterwards, so I think we really think we got something good out of it and we were also able to write a whole album and an EP in between. We did quite a lot of work during the pandemic, we wrote more music as we usually do as well. I think we really got something out of it, definitely.

That is true, I totally agree. The new album ‘Heimdal’ is ace. It is always a huge adventure for me. I am always very honoured to talk to you, because it is not only black metal, but also progressive and other influences that you incorporate. Can you tell me when did you focus on writing the new album?
It all started in 2021 with the EP ‘Caravans To The Outer Worlds’. Obviously we kept all the songs and included them on the album. An EP is a good experimental stepping stone in between albums and we really took advantage of the whole EP format to do some experimentation and plan out new directions for the album. After the EP we talked about what should be included in the concept of the new album and we came down to my place, we had a meeting and we had some drinks and we discussed everything from music, structure, lyrics and lay-out. So we kind of made a whole sort of backdrop for the whole process and that was around mid 2021. We spent quite a lot of time with the whole process and we did the final adjudgments and the mixing in April last year, 2022. So the whole concept took – including the EP – 14 to 15 months.

I think that was one of the only benefits of the pandemic, that you had more time to prepare a new album…
That is correct. You can really polish the things, you can try out different solutions, you can use different angles in vocal lines and guitar solos. I mean, everything, you can have several attempts. I really think the album benefited of having a lot of time to do the experimentation and yes, we are really satisfied with the result and the turnout of the whole process.

The concept is something to talk about, because it interests me a lot. For quite a while you always had the Viking theme in the past already, but now it is going more into esoteric nature of everything. The concept is ‘Heimdal’ and it might be even the son of Odin after Ragnarök… Can you tell a bit more about that concept?
Yes. Being the son of Odin, that is one angle and everything concerning Heimdal and its origins are really debated. Being the son of Odin is one theory, being the grandson of Asgeir is another theory, being a Vanir God is the third theory. So all these pieces of Heimdal puzzle really indicates that Heimdal was incorporated into the Norse mythology. Meaning that… well. the arrival of Odin kill cults, some call it the creation of Norse mythology. Heimdal was most likely already present when the Scandinavian mythology was engendered as a forerunner. One of the already existing deities of Norse mythology, because you can find traces of Heimdal – or Heimdal’s forerunner – in 3300 year old rock carvings from the Bronze age. So the cultus of Heimdal exists for a long time. We don’t know whether he was worshipped or he was just seen as a significant person. That is only guessing of course, but he has been around here for at least 3500 years. Maybe longer, since the Stone Age, who knows? The whole Heimdal puzzle is really enigmatic, a lot of loose ends, which makes it so fascinating. So it has been a kind of a research trip, it sometimes looks like a David Lynch movie; you have several solutions; some loose ends, still it is satisfactory to not know all the answers, because then you will not search anymore and you will not be inspired for doing further research, which is really satisfying in my opinion.

I can understand. If all the enigmas are solved, then you don’t need to look any further…
Exactly. You need to search for an answer. That is kind of the main goal. Search and find and interpret. These are the mysteries of life, I think that is important.

I think that suits with the approach of your albums, because they are so full of impressions that you need to listen several times and you discover something different with every spin…
Yes, exactly.

In the first song you are talking about the horn of Heimdal and someone from Wardruna is guesting on the track. What has this horn of Heimdal to do with the concept?
That horn is a replica of a horn that is almost 3500 years old. It was found in a bunk in Denmark and then they made replicas out of that. It is quite an amazing instrument. You should think of that culture as old and primitive, but it could not have been when they made artefacts like that. It is super impressive and it sounds massive. So this horn was – only guessing of course – but this horn was probably for ritualistic purposes or as a warning sign for battles. Heimdal is the one who stands for chaos or war actions. He is blowing the yellow horn. Well, where ever the first creation of Heimdal is, we should incorporate him into Norse mythology. But of course he drew inspiration from something that was already present. The horn blower of the Bronze Age is a person, personalized in Heimdal, that is our theory. End of discussion (laughs)

Musically, the info sheets tells about influences from Led Zeppelin to the German thrash bands, but in my opinion the third song ‘Forest Dweller’ – that is one of my favourites – and it has that kind of grand Led Zeppelin influence in it… Can you find yourself a little bit in it?
Yeah totally. To me the opening reminds me of Led Zeppelin as well. The ‘Kashmir’ sound and then the vocal lines – also in the middle part – I have to admit that I draw a lot of inspiration from Peter Gabriel from Genesis.

Great! I had written down King Crimson… ‘In The Court Of The Crimson King’…
Yeah King Crimson as well. It is kind of the same landscape. And then it is obviously – the middle section is kind of harsh heavy metal, it is kind of a combination of thrash metal and Iron Maiden and the end again it is very maybe a little bit of David Bowie/Genesis.

In ‘Kingdom’ things become harsher again and it should be a song about endurance. Any thoughts on that?
That is a kind of hybrid between Teutonic thrash metal and space rock. It is as if Kreator and Hawkwind had a collaboration (chuckles). Something like that.

By the way, I saw that your favourite album of the year in 2022 was Voivod…
Yeah Voivod, I mean, it is so amazing that these guys started 40 years ago and make an album in 2022 that sounds so innovative and aggressive and vital. I think it is just hugely inspirational that they are even able to make such an energetic explosion. It sounds so good, their songs are really fantastic. It is like the perfect combination of thrash, punk, prog and psychedelic rock. It is one of my favourite bands of all times as well. I love Voivod and I think ‘Synchro Anarchy’ is one of their best.

I was really into Voivod when they went the Pink Floyd way…
Ah with ‘Nothingface’ and ‘Angel Rat’. Beautiful albums!

In the concept it is said that in the end Heimdal should return to the world as a guide for the human race. So we can reflect it on nowadays society as well or not?
Totally and the thing with Heimdal is, in the mythology he appears already in the so-called Sea of Creation even before the giant appears, even before the creation of the world and he ends up in Ragnarök. Heimdal and Loki kind of symbolically kill each other. So they are kind of like the reflections of order and chaos, kind of morphing into something else, into a new dawn after Ragnarök, so it is kind of symbolic in a sense that it can absolutely reflect yourself, if you had a kind of gathering after a breakdown and you start to recover, you grow from that and become a better person. So you can relate to that and that of course relates to what we are facing into today’s society as well. It is all about cycles, so Heimdal definitely appears as a teacher, a teaching force on his own and in Norse mythology. He will morph into something new and positive after Ragnarök.

So, in your opinion there is life after the big deluge, let us say?
Yes. You can have several personal Ragnarök’s during your life time. That is what I am thinking.

For you the first big tour will be in the US. What are your expectations?
Yes we will do an US and Canada tour in April. Then we come back in May and we will do spring and summer festivals and we will do a full European tour later in the autumn. It hasn’t been announced yet, but there will definitely be more shows in clubs in Europe as well.

Then something about the artwork, because you are very much into photography, it is one of your photos…
Well, the front cover picture is taken by my girl friend, my partner. And the rest of the photos – except the band photo – all the booklet photos and all the single covers are taken by myself. Some of them are recent and some of them go years back. It is from our archive and most of them are analogue photos, self developed. Dark room stuff, old school… the whole effort to the artwork was really a personal project as well. We have done it simultaneously while we wrote the album and rehearsed and made demos, shot some photos and developed them, scanned them, it was quite a journey!

Thank you! Then I am going to let you go, because our time is up
Alright, thanks for having me and see you in the Netherlands or Belgium…

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