Enslaved: Spine Chilling

Originally published in Guitar World, Holiday 2008

Guitar World talks with Enslaved's Ivar Bjørnson.

"If I can be a bit pompous, I think we’re fulfilling a very important role for the metal genre,” says Enslaved’s founding guitarist Ivar Bjørnson. “You need bands like AC/DC, Motörhead and Darkthrone to keep things firmly rooted, so we can venture out and explore the boundaries.”

That’s something the Norwegian black metal quintet has been doing since the coldest days of the early Nineties scene. Led by Bjørnson and vocalist/bassist Grutle Kjellson, Enslaved have built a catalog that spans the range from violent Viking metal to progressive conceptual metal, as heard on 2004’s Isa and 2006’s Ruun. The latest addition to this extensive catalog is Enslaved’s epic Nuclear Blast debut, Vertebrae, an album that finds the group comfortably blending its innovative spirit with the brutal inspirations of its past.

“We’ve found the perfect balance on this album,” Bjørnson says. “Around 2000 when we were searching for a way to express our experimental visions, the whole past thing was a bit more of a burden. But now that we’ve found a steady and concrete personality, I can write songs that nod to the past and still feel inspired.”

Bjørnson’s fluid, David Gilmour–inspired lead lines and co-guitarist Ice Dale’s technical, Vai-leaning style have never sounded better than they do on Vertebrae, a fact that Bjørnson partially credits to the addition of respected mixer Joe Barresi (Tool, Melvins). “Joe got us to do a classic recording style this time, with the guitars panned left and right.”

Behind their dueling guitar work Enslaved build a rich atmosphere of lush keyboards, unconventional song structures and dramatic clean/dirty vocals. Thrashers like “New Dawn” tout the duo’s commanding double guitar assault, while expansive cuts like “Clouds,” “Ground” and the album’s title track highlight Bjørnson and Dale’s many nuanced, snaking lines.

But perhaps nothing exemplifies the group’s mix of brutal riffs and beautifully layered synth tones better than Enslaved’s live show. “We’ll have psychedelic movies projecting behind us while Ice Dale is out front with no shirt and his foot on the monitor,” Bjørnson says. “Visually speaking, that’s a good description of Enslaved’s sound. We feel as much at home in rock-and-roll clichés as we do in the artistic ones. It’s kinda like a guy in a beret…and a bullet belt.”

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