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Enslaved’s Ivar Bjørnson on Australian Tour Fails, Progressive Black Metal and Norse Mythology

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Norway’s veteran purveyors of progressive black metal, Enslaved, are finally about to hit Australian shores for the first time in their illustrious 22 year career.  Ahead of their long-awaited tour, HEAVY spoke to one of the band’s founding members, Ivar Bjørnson, on why it’s taken them so long to tour Australia, progressive black metal and Norse mythology.

Enslaved had planned on touring Australia a number of times in the past, but due to a myriad of mishaps, their plans continually went awry.  Ivar muses, “It was a bit of a Spinal Tap thing going on there for a few years. I guess the first few times it was typical of very enthusiastic promoters within Australia that didn’t quite grasp the amount of work and, understandably of course, it’s quite a risk to take…  so the first few times people were quick in starting the process before they really knew if they could make it through and then there was a few times that were just bad luck.”

The recent failure of Australian tours by other European bands also left European agents less than enthusiastic about sending their bands here.  “Everything sort of blew up and then all the European agents got scared,” Ivar recalls. “And finally the last comical thing that happened was that instead of renewing the Visa rules in 2014 as scheduled, Australia moved up the change to this year in the middle of our process so then we had to start over again.”

Ivar explains that the band is excited to finally be touring Australia, especially after the problems that plagued their previous tour attempts. “It’s been something we’ve wanted to do and as you understand it’s been so much back and forth and so much happiness that we’re finally going and then disappointment and now to see that things are officially in place and now we know that we’re actually going, it’s fantastic.  We’ve known about the Australian metal scene since we started, we’ve known the metal scene there forever so it feels like finally.”

Enslaved have a reputation for making every album sound different to its predecessor and Ivar explains that they gain this ability through being avid listeners of music. “We make sure that we’re exposed to the music – old music and contemporary music or whatever – and I guess that shows us a lot of possibilities.” He confesses, “I’m not afraid of being inspired and I think that the way this band is built, we built it really from scratch and didn’t want to go in anyone’s footsteps.  We wanted to be inspired, but create our own sound.”

The band’s ability to create its own sound within the heavily populated black metal market has led to them being categorised as progressive black metal, but Ivar isn’t entirely convinced.  “I guess since we’re so inspired by music that’s labeled as progressive, then I guess I can understand it… we’re doing something with the Norwegian extreme metal sound and going somewhere with it.  It’s a weird word, progressive. If you observed it literally, what the word means, then I guess yeah we could be labeled as progressive.”

Enslaved’s lyrical themes often favour Norse mythology.  One of the reasons that Ivar is interested in Norse mythology is because it’s relatable where other religions are not. “It’s a representation of the human psyche in a sense.  It’s natural and believable and inspiring and guiding as opposed to the theistic religions, which is for me the equivalent of trying to push a square block through a round hole.”

He considers that monotheistic religions, those that believe in only one god, portray unrealistic standards that man simply cannot live up to, whereas Norse mythology provides a better reflection on real life. “I guess it’s the same for a lot of these pre-monotheistic mystical traditions. They’re basically a believable and actually quite realistic model of the inner workings of the mind, so therefore it’s actually something that you can utilise instead of something that’s just going to make you feel hopeless and alone like most theistic religions.”

Ivar explains that, in Norse mythology, it’s not just good and evil or black and white.  The gods are fallible, to which man can relate, rather than in monotheistic religions where the single god is the epitome of moral and ethical perfection.  “Even the most pure of heart of the god figures in the mythology have their weaknesses; they will succumb to temptation.  Sometimes they’ll find a way to rectify it and sometimes they won’t.  They all have their flaws and at the same time the darkest and dirtiest archetype will show positive actions at times, so it’s got all the shadings.  It’s got the greys and all the in-betweens and I guess that’s how the human mind is.  No one is totally pure of heart or totally evil, there’s a lot of things in between, but if you’re met with monotheism I guess it confuses us more than it explains when you don’t really fit into any of the categories.”

Some of the songs referencing Norse mythology are sure to be played on the Australia tour, but with such an extensive catalogue it is impossible for them to even play one song from each album so they use a considered approach to the difficult task of song slection.  “We take the core from the new album and then we try to build around it with old material that fits into that to make a musical story for the night.  There are going to be songs from the album that was released last year [RIITIIR] and there is going to be stuff back from the very first album.”

Enslaved will be touring Australia with special guests Rise of Avernus on the following dates:

Perth – Thursday October 31st – Heatseeker
Melbourne – Friday November 1st – The Hifi Bar
Sydney – Saturday November 2nd – The Manning Bar
Brisbane – Sunday November 3rd – The Hifi Bar

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