Ivar Bjørnson of Enslaved: Ehwaz and Paradoxes

Ivar Bjørnson discusses Enslaved's rugged and enigmatic new album, E.

Having recently completed their incredible 25th Anniversary tour, Norway’s purveyors of melodic-extreme metal Enslaved are set to release their fourteenth studio album, enigmatically titled E. E is a rugged and profound new offering from the longstanding Norwegian band, and harks back to some seriously primal Norse roots. In the week leading up to the release of this intriguing album, Enslaved guitarist Ivar Bjørnson talked to Metal As Fuck about new ways of writing, the concept of E and the paradoxes of humankind.

So, ‘E’ represents the runic character ‘ehwaz’, what is the significance of this? “That concept is derived from the runic alphabet, used in the Old Norse times, the ‘Viking times’ as it is sometimes called, but really dates much further back to the Bronze Age. They used an alphabet, the runes, twenty-four different symbols that were used both for writing, normal stuff like “this guy owns this few cows” and stuff, and then it was also used for esoteric works, or magic, as it were, in popular history. I guess behind each of those runes there was a meaning, and this particular one means ‘horse’, in mythology the most famous horse is Sleipnir, Odin’s own horse, the one with the eight legs. So of course it has a deeper meaning, like person and horse, it symbolises the whole concept of relationships and positive dependency. That was what was appealing to us, we have many albums in which we have dealt with the individual struggle and so on, and now it is refreshing and interesting to look at how that individual relates to, you know, other individuals, to nature, to concepts within itself and so on. So, that sort of guided the whole process.”

Is this part of a post-25 year ‘new approach’? “I’m not sure one could take it as far as saying it’s a new concept or ‘new direction’ or anything, it’s still one aspect of existence, and reflections on being human, and this is definitely an important part of it that we haven’t explored to much in the past. So I guess it’s a pointer for some concepts that we are going to work on but definitely not limiting to just that, I’m always a little bit careful with predicting where we are going to go lyrically and musically for the next album, because I always wind up contradicting myself when we have something new [laughs]”

I suppose it is hard know [laughs]. Have you used a different way of writing, a new creative process this time? “Yes, maybe a little bit, the concept came a little bit before the music and I think that’s one of the first times that happened. We’ve had, at the beginning of the band, it was a bit of the opposite thing where the music was made first and the concept sort of shaped by, or inspired by the music and I think we’ve had a long stretch now where we sort of developed them parallel – song-lyric-song-lyric – and I think this is the first time the concept was laid out before the music, the music’s been inspired by the concept of the lyrics. To me that’s very positive new experience. I’m going to go ahead and predict that that’s going to be the process for the next few albums. It was very rewarding.”

How do you think this new process has changed the music? What does it bring that is new? “I think they bring a little bit of a wider view, on what to make within the music, it makes more opportunities, when you have that taste of what it is about. It’s sort of a paradox that when you have no idea what a song’s going to be about you would think that a song could go in any direction, but having just a little bit of notion of thematics, having those first almost solid frames for the song actually gives more freedom. And that makes you more creative within that space. It reminds me a little of my experience with improvising music and just having that discussion before you start improvising. It sounds paradoxical, again, having a little bit of a plan for it, for all that spontaneity, actually makes it easier to operate and come up with something …spontaneous.”

Speaking of those paradoxes, the album deals with these kinds of dualities of humankind… “Yes. Polarities are interesting, you can’t sort of avoid them, they do have interesting connotations also, think the way we tend to think it is either this or that is also interesting to challenge sometimes. Sometimes there’s a mixture that isn’t zero or a hundred, but more like 50-50, going into grey areas, and sometimes it doesn’t have to be either good or bad, nor a mix of it, just what it is in itself, just sort of surpasses that scale that we are so used to that goes from white to black. And so definitely that’s what we explore in the lyrics and in the music, that’s a lot of the core of the theme of Enslaved, challenging the notion that is must be ‘this’ or ‘that’, or a mix. It’s as album that we started writing last year, in very intense period, approximately one year of writing while we were touring with the last album, very early on the process we had a feeling that it was going to be something really strong, really special.”

 

E is out NOW via Nuclear Blast Records