Despite having been going for nearly 25 years, the genre-bending, rule-ignoring creative idiosyncratics in Enslaved have only ever played one UK outdoor festival. Six years on, they’re back to play it again, with the Norwegians returning to Bloodstock next week. They are bringing their unique, ebb-and-flow mixture of thunderous, riff-driven black metal, and layered, textured prog melody. They’re also bringing their under appreciated sense of humour. So we asked founding guitarist Ivar Bjørnson what makes Bloodstock different – and got into a discussion about how corpse paint is like playing the the oboe.
How does Bloodstock differ from other festivals you’ve played? “What we notice is that the festival has it’s own vibe. It reminds us of the vibe you get when you do shows in England. It reminds me a little bit of the Norwegian one. It’s not necessarily the most crazy crowd – that’s the kind of stuff you get in Eastern Europe, all mosh pits and everybody flying about – but it’s a very humorous crowd.”
**How does a band with such a varied back catalogue try and fit everything into a festival set? **“At some point, we just gave up! We had to do whatever feels right at the time. Sometimes in Scandinavia, we do more mainstream festivals, and at those, it doesn’t really matter how it’s put together, we can show more of what we’re doing now, the latest period of Enslaved. But when we do metal festivals like, for instance, Bloodstock, we’re a band that’s accepted for ourselves and want to feel comfortable playing, but you also want to… not necessarily please the crowd, but you feel like at least some of those people have partially got a ticket to go to the festival to see your band. So you would be quite arrogant to go up there and do the first four songs off the new album, and that’s the set. It is a little bit of a challenge. Luckily, we’re a band that really enjoys our own old stuff, so we have a little bit of a checklist. You need some old, some new; if it’s a 45 or 50 minute festival set, we might cut out the middle period of our history and just do new and old. We try and make it as energetic as possible within that. And we like to think we’re a band that do a lot of shows, so we’ll eventually end up close by again and make sure we check the setlist from the last time we were on.”
**Does [vocalist/bassist] Grutle Kjellson have to adapt his on-stage chat for festival crowds? **“No, we have this thing – we call it the zero-response vision – where the perfect moment is when you do onstage banter, try and be funny, and have absolutely no response from the crowd. That’s what we’re aiming for. We also do that no matter where we are. I remember one particular awkward moment where we almost had it – there were three or four people who ruined it. We did either Paganfest or Heathenfest in Germany. It was very serious that day, and the pagan vibe was so dense that you could cut it with an axe. Grutle did this horrible joke where he asked, ‘Which of the American presidents was the most heathen one?’ There was quiet, then he said, ‘Ronald Pagan.’ And it was completely quiet, but then we heard about four people chuckling in the back. We heard afterwards that people were quite offended that we were making fun of them. But that’s us; there’s all sorts of Vikings, and we’re like the ones who had fun.”
**You’re playing in the middle of the day, hopefully in blazing sunshine. Under those circumstances, how glad are you that you decided against wearing corpsepaint? **“It’s something that we’re pretty happy about every time we think about it. Especially when we see other bands struggling with it, hearing from next door that they have to have black towels because they can’t have white fluff mixed in with their paint. There’s enough production issues that you don’t have to worry about [if you don’t use corpsepaint] – and I guess it also has to do with the show. Either you have to be headlining, or you end up in the sunlight. For a band like us, now that we’ve gone from headlining the smaller stages to being on the bigger stages in the middle of the afternoon, it’s definitely an advantage. We even have a guy with no shirt on, which is kind of handy with the sun out. And you can crack a joke and smile at someone.
“Wearing corpsepaint in daylight is like playing the oboe: it’s impossible to look cool.”