Enslaved's Ivar Bjørnson: "I’ve said from day one that we’re not actually a black metal band"

Enslaved 2022
(Image credit: Press/Nuclear Blast)

Enslaved have always been black metal’s most boundary destroying Vikings. They dabbled in jangling synths on 1994’s debut album Vikingligr Veldi, when the scene was still defined by blastbeats and Satanism, and since then have pillaged tones from prog, psych, folk and post-rock. 

Even now, 31 years deep, there’s no sign of the Norwegians’ eclecticism fading. When Hammer sits down with guitarist, co-founder and lead songwriter Ivar Bjørnson, he promises that the 16th Enslaved album will be a space rock- and thrash metalinspired axe to the skull. Just don’t expect straight-up kvlt black metal… 

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What are we getting and when are we getting it? 

Ivar Bjørnson: “When, it’s not exact. I’m not hiding anything, because I’m not entirely sure. This process has been so all-encompassing for the last year and a half, so, now the album’s done and the artwork’s in, I’m just spacing out: ‘Don’t even tell me!’ And what you’re getting is our 16th album, so it’s got that Spinal Tap vibe. ‘What’s so special about your 16th album,’ you ask? That difficult 16th album! Ha ha!” 

On last year’s Caravans To The Outer Worlds EP, Enslaved went space rock. Will the new album continue in that direction? 

“Kind of. It definitely has that, but it’s also more focused. It’s more metal, I think. As a guitarist, I’ve been listening to a lot of my heroes, especially [Mayhem’s] De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas and Bathory, but also the thrash bands that I was really into when I started playing. The Teutonic ones, like Destruction, Kreator and Sodom. I’ve really enjoyed a lot of thrashing on this album.” 

Is this the fastest Enslaved album? 

“It’s the most intentionally fast. There’s a song on this album [lead single Kingdom] with blastbeats, where we’re really paying homage to what Darkthrone invented and called ‘cross-country ski blasts’: a bit slower, but more consistent. We mix that in with the more Enslaved progressive elements. There’s a lot of 80s heavy metal riffing as well. It’s a weird song.” 

Utgard was delayed due to the pandemic, released in October 2020, and then you couldn’t tour it. Did frustration from that make you want to thrash harder on this album?

“My family had this unreal luck where my youngest kid would get Covid, then the next one, then me and the wife. On the last day of isolation, the next person would get it. From December 5 of last year to January 15, we were all locked in the house. [When writing] I worked nights – having kids, there’s a lot of sleep deprivation involved – and you get a bit spaced out. I had a lot of great experiences in headphones, headbanging by myself, and then: ‘Whoa! Three hours have passed!’ That’s when you know you have a good riff: you play it on a loop.” 

Why did you self-produce the album again this time? 

“I’d be curious to work with an outside producer, but how would that work? We’re so used to how we work and two guys in the band [drummer Iver Sandøy and guitarist Arve Isdal] have studios. But I’d be open to it at some point. Steven Wilson, give us a call!” 

Now that you’re dabbling in even more genres, are Enslaved still a black metal band?

 “We’ll always be associated with that movement, but I’ve said from day one that we’re not actually a black metal band. For us, black metal will always be extreme metal with a Satanic ideology, and that we’ll never have. But we still revisit our roots. [Mayhem founder] Euronymous was my main inspiration for guitar playing and as a songwriter.” 

What do you want this album to achieve for the band? 

“Worldwide dictatorship. I’d ban social media and go back to typewriters.” 

Enslaved's 16th album is expected early 2023 via Nuclear Blast

Matt Mills
Contributing Editor, Metal Hammer

Louder’s resident Gojira obsessive was still at uni when he joined the team in 2017. Since then, Matt’s become a regular in Prog and Metal Hammer, at his happiest when interviewing the most forward-thinking artists heavy music can muster. He’s got bylines in The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Guitar and many others, too. When he’s not writing, you’ll probably find him skydiving, scuba diving or coasteering.