Enslaved’s Ivar Bjørnson discusses 10 songs he’s been listening to this year
Long-running Norwegian metal greats Enslaved are releasing their fifteenth album Utgard on October 2 via Nuclear Blast (pre-order), and so far they've released three singles, two videos of founding guitarist Ivar Bjørnson discussing the making of the album, and a livestreamed performance. We also caught up with Ivar and asked him what music he's been listening to get him through these quarantined, concert-less times. Here's his list:
Mayhem “Pagan Fears” (from “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas”)
This is still, and I suspect will always be the ultimate Black Metal album, in the same way “Dark Side of the Moon” will remain the ultimate Classic Rock album. Everything is so coherent and fits perfectly together; production, songwriting, musical performances, lyrics and concept together makes for an imposing gothic-satanic cathedral of sound where the apocalyptic drums constitutes the foundation, the haunting guitars stands forever as the pillars, of 2nd wave Black Metal and the vocals are the voices of the grotesque gargoyles ornamenting the mad architecture.
Pink Turns Blue “Your Master is Calling” (from “Meta”)
There has been some talk about post-punk/Krautrock influences in our new material, and these guys are a fine example of what that can be once you have a sniff outside the mainstream. The trance-inducing atmospheres that is invoked through seemingly endless repetitions reappeared as a tool in Norwegian Black Metal a decade later; a tool we have eagerly utilized ourselves. The energy is expressed, and preserved, through a highly disciplined use of few themes and patterns, rather than diluted through frills and thrills meant to impress and show off skill. It is bleak, hopeless… and beautiful.
Intronaut “Fast Worms” (from “The Direction of Last Things”)
Intronaut is such an amazing band; their progressive songwriting takes the listener all over the place. This song is so engaging, so diverse, so heavy and also so melodic and soaring. A bit of the good old cunning prog, a pinch manic Meshugging, a dose of uplifting Addiction (type Jane) here, a light touch of Fripping there – all blended masterfully into their own signature sound and executed playfully. Having watched them live throughout an entire US tour also makes me appreciate them even more. What a wonderful bunch of musicians and people. That they called out Grutle for dressing as a Canadian off-stage made us (including Grutle) love them forever.
Steve Reich “Pulses” (from “Music 18 Musicians”, the 1998 Nonesuch Records version)
After I discovered this album some years ago, I keep returning to it whenever I want to refocus – be it mentally, work-wise or just ground myself during some kind of hectic period. It is absolutely magical, and the exploration of the album seem to be endless; I always come away from it with something new. The “discovery” of the minimalist movement fronted by Reich and Philip Glass has impacted my deeply as an artist and as a listener. It is hard to describe otherwise than that some blanks were filled it and that my view about music in general changed profoundly. I will probably figure out exactly what I mean when I get old, and then die before I get to share the solution.
Aura Noir “The Obscuration” (from “Aura Noire”)
I love Speed, I love Thrash (when it is gnarly and evil), and I love Black Metal – there is just way too few who can combine these three factors in a good way. Aura Noir were the masters, and I am eternally bummed out by them disbanding last year. They claimed to be the ugliest band in the world, I can agree if they by “ugly” mean “catchy and headbanging-inducing”.
Ulver “Rolling Stone” (from “The Assassination of Julius Caesar”)
Ulver has always been good, all the Ulvers are great, but I really jumped in my chair when I heard “The Assassination of Julius Caesar”. The depressive 80s vibe is something I already loved, and with Ulver incorporating their epic and weird take on the whole thing it just blew up for me. I have just started listening to their new album “Flowers of Evil” which also sounds wildly promising and heartbreakingly sad. This band is a total treasure and a huge inspiration in terms of how many weird and wonderful turns a seemingly straight-ahead journey can take, if you are willing to follow your inner muse, eh, wolf.
Bathory “Father to Son” (from “Hammerheart”)
I can simply never get enough Bathory, and there is always an abundance of Bathory-influence on the Enslaved-albums. This time I think the second (“Jettegryta” is the winner of ‘this album’s most obvious Bathory-tribute’). There is a feeling in Bathory’s music that cannot be found elsewhere, even with the amount of bands (us included) that have been inspired by and have “borrowed” from Quorthon’s amazing body of work. The mix of Norse themes and more-epic-than-epic-Metal on especially “Hammerheart” and its younger brother “Twilight of the Gods” was an integral part of Enslaved’s start-up, and is to this day one of a handful bands that can still be counted as “core influences” on Enslaved.
Ivar's list continues below, but here's Enslaved's "Jettegryta" if you want to compare...
The Residents “Six More Miles” (from “Lonely Teenager”)
Residents never gets boring. There is a language at the foundation of their creations, below and above the words and the instrumentation, that reminds me of dreams/nightmares, David Lynch movies, altered states of mind, rituals and magick, children’s playing at its most intense and submerged: the language of the unconscious. To delve into the dark pools they create; to swim, dive deep, float, sink and let yourself be caught by the lyrical maelstroms is an absolute treat for the soul. Should such a thing exist. I saw them in my hometown Bergen on this tour, and it was one of the best concerts I have seen.
Entombed “Left Hand Path” (from “Left Hand Path”)
Such an influential band, and such an important album for so many of us that started out in the early '90s. Those guitars and the bass are so heavy, I remember being very impressed when I heard it – you can clearly hear one of the guitars on our “Frost”-album being quite inspired by the Entombed guitar sound. The drumming is groovy (that drummer should have considered starting a Rock’n’Roll-band…) and the vocals are out of this world good. The way this song is arranged is pure genius, it has no weak points.
Pink Floyd “Us and Them” (from “Dark Side of the Moon”)
It seems appropriate to end this with the “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” of popular music: “Dark Side of the Moon”. Again everything fits beautifully together. For me this is the materialization of my musical life; which is pretty much all of my life. For my 11th birthday, my dad (r.i.p.) gave me his entire Pink Floyd vinyl collection – which was made up of all the “regular releases” (he never got into collection rarities, bootlegs etc). I spent the next evenings listening through them, and after listening once to all of them (I had heard a lot of the songs before) I went back and listened to “Dark Side of the Moon” over and over again as often as I had the chance. This particular song is a beautiful, haunting and highly poetic piece of art. I used to think it was a lament over the fact that we as humans are so far away from each other even though we have so much in common. Nowadays it seems more like a stating of a fact: there’s us, who do our part in containing the viruses of the world, be it the Covid-19, disinformation or predatory capitalism – and there is them, who will use any or all of these viruses for their own gains and narcissistic portfolios of self-entitlement. There are a few differences worth celebrating.
Check out the two other singles from Utgard and those videos with Ivar: