Enslaved are a Black Metal and Progressive Metal band from Norway. Well-known for their interest in Norse paganism, their philosophically-inclined lyrics, their long, complicated songs and their old habit of dressing up in Viking armor for photo shoots and concerts (they haven't done it in a long while, but they are kinda remembered for it). Their music is characterized by the aforementioned long songs, a combination of Harsh Vocals and more melodic singing, Progressive Rock touches (like keyboards, quiet parts and numerous tempo/time signature changes in many of the longer songs) and a strong Norwegian folk music influence. They're generally regarded as the second-most influential Viking Metal band in history (after Bathory, who invented it), and the ones responsible for much of its current definition.
They were formed in Norway back in 1991 by Ivar Bjornson and Grutle Kjellson (also known as Kjetil Grutle). Their name was taken from an early Immortal demo track, "Enslaved in Rot". While they began playing pretty typical Black Metal, they began to add weirder structures to their music, as well as writing longer and more complicated songs. They also deviated early on from the standard Black Metal concerns (Satan, the occult, etc.) in favor of writing about Norse Mythology. They rejected the label Black Metal entirely, preferring to call their music "Extreme Metal".
On their early albums, the lyrics were all in Norwegian, Icelandic and various old Norse dialects. As well, they tended to be more consistently brutal (with Frost being perhaps their most aggressive album). Their first release (other than the usual demos) was the Hordanes Land EP - three tracks of very primitive sounding Black Metal with long (7-13 minutes each) songs and the odd synthesizer accent. It was re-released a while later as a split with fellow Black Metal band Emperor. This more-or-less set the tone for their early albums - Vikingligr Veldi, Frost and Eld - each of which contained epic-length songs and plenty of aggressiveness, with the occasional quiet part or keyboard to break up the hypnotic, blurry riffing. The most notable change in this period of the band's history is the departure of original drummer Trym for Emperor after the re-release of the band's Yggdrasill demo as a split with Satyricon and his replacement with Harald Helgeson, who only lasted long enough to tour and record Eld before leaving himself.
For the recording of their next album, Blodhemn, the drummer's hot seat was occupied by the oddly-nicknamed Dirge Rep. Around this time they also added a second guitarist, Roy Kronheim. Blodhemn differed from previous releases mostly due to its cleaner, heavier-sounding production (by Peter Tägtgren, of Hypocrisy fame). Their next album, Mardraum, was something of a change in sound for the band - they began to write more complex songs, with more tempo and time changes than before. The next album, Monumension, took things even further, with the Progressive Rock influence even more prominent and with the lyrics now in English to boot! This pissed off a few hardcore fans, but brought in a lot of new fans as well, and the change was mostly well-received.
The next few albums continued in the same general vein as Monumension, save for getting another new drummer (Cato Bekkevold) and replacing Kronheim with new guitarist Arve Isdal for Below the Lights, and adding a keyboardist and second vocalist (Herbrand Larsen, who performed most of the clean vocals while he was in the band) for Isa. The lineup remained consistent from Isa through In Times, as has the quality and style of the band's work; Larsen departed in 2016, to be replaced by new keyboardist/vocalist Håkon Vinje for ᛖ, while Bekkevold departed in 2018, replaced by Iver Sandøy for Utgard. They also appeared prominently in the Metal: A Headbanger's Journey documentary, exposing them to yet more fans.
The band members have been involved in a fair number of side projects as well. Most of the band collaborated with Norwegian noise duo Fe-Mail under the name Trinacria; they produced the album Travel Now Journey Infinitely (2008). Members of Enslaved also collaborated with their fellow countrymen Shining (not the Swedes) for a series of compositions called the Armageddon Concerto. This has yet to be released in its entirety, but some of the material from the concerto appears on Shining's album Blackjazz, and Grutle Kjellson delivers guest vocals on two tracks. To confuse matters further, Enslaved has also released a split with the Swedes. Ivar Bjørnson was a member of Borknagar for awhile and currently has a neofolk-influenced collaboration with Wardruna's Einar Selvik entitled Skuggsjá, which released its debut album in March 2016. Arve Isdal was a member of a supergroup with Immortal members entitled I, which released the album Between Two Worlds in 2006.
Their most recent album is Utgard (2020). In short, Enslaved have been around for nearly three decades now, and continue to deliver some pretty awesome work.
Band members have included:
- Grutle Kjellson, lead (harsh) vocals, bass, occasional guitar (1991-present)
- Ivar Bjørnson , guitar (lead and rhythm), backing vocals, keyboards, programming, production help (1991-present)
- Trym Torson, drums, percussion (1991-1995)
- Harald Helgeson, drums, percussion (1995-1997)
- Per "Dirge Rep" Husebø, drums, percussion (1997-2002)
- Roy Kronheim, guitar (1997-2002)
- Arve "Ice Dale" Isdal, guitar (lead and rhythm) (2002-present)
- Cato Bekkevold, drums, percussion (2003-2018)
- Herbrand Larsen, lead (clean) vocals, keyboards and programming (2004-2016)
- Håkon Vinje - keyboards, vocals (2017-present)
- Iver Sandøy - drums, vocals (2018-present)
- Nema (1991) (demo)
- Yggdrasill (1992) (demo, later re-released as one half of a split with Satyricon in 1995 with a bonus track recorded specifically for the re-release)
- Hordanes Land (1993) (EP, also released as a split with Emperor)
- Vikingligr Veldi (1994) (the title is Icelandic meaning roughly "Glorious Viking Square")
- Frost (1994)
- Eld (1997) (the title means "Fire" in Norwegian, incidentally)
- Blodhemn (1998) (means "blood oath" or "vengeance in blood", roughly)
- Mardraum - Beyond the Within (2000) ("Mardraum" means "nightmare")
- Monumension (2001) (first album with lyrics mostly in English)
- Below the Lights (2003)
- Live Retaliation (video, 2003)
- Isa (2004)
- Return to Yggdrasill (live video, 2005)
- Ruun (2006)
- Vertebrae (2008)
- Live at the Rock Hard Festival (2009)
- Axioma Ethica Odini (2010)
- The Sleeping Gods (EP, 2011)
- Thorn (EP, 2011)
- RIITIIR (2012)
- In Times (2015)
- Roadburn Live (2017)
- ᛖ (2017) note
- Utgard (2020)
Tropes that apply to Enslaved:
- Album Intro Track: "Frost" is probably one of the best-loved examples of this trope in all of Black Metal. "Audhumla: Birth of the Worlds" provides a second example from their discography, while "Intro: 'Green Reflection'" provides a third.
- Beige Prose: The song "Heimdallr" is lyrically very matter-of fact, with virtually no embellishment or unnecessary description.
- Bilingual Bonus: Their early songs are mostly in Norwegian (a few of them are in Icelandic or ancient Norwegian). It still shows up occasionally, such as in "Sigmnudskvadet", "Havenless", and "Útgarðr".
- Black Metal: Viking Metal, specifically. They reject the label, but it still (mostly) applies.
- Careful with That Axe: Well... it's Black Metal. A few songs they have released throughout their career avert this (see Surprisingly Gentle Song below), but the overwhelming majority of examples in their discography play it straight.
- Cover Version: Songs they have covered include Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song", Röyksopp's "What Else Is There?", Faith No More's "Jizzlobber", Darkthrone's "Natassja in Eternal Sleep", Slayer's "Jesus Saves", and Autopsy's "Retribution for the Dead".
- Doom Metal and Post-Rock: It's not a primary style of theirs, but post-metal has been an influence on some of their works, and they re-recorded "Jotunblod" in a doom metal style for the bonus 7" included with some versions of Axioma Ethica Odini. "Forsaken" and the Trinacria album have been compared to the works of Neurosis.
- Early Installment Weirdness:
- Hordanes Land and Vikingligr Veldi have much longer average song length than most of Enslaved's following records, even the ones after their Genre Shift to Progressive Metal; both releases have average song lengths of over ten minutes long. In Times is the sole exception here, at slightly under nine.
- The lyrics of Vikingligr Veldi (as well as the album title) are mostly in Icelandic, with the fourth track being in ancient Norwegian; most of Enslaved's lyrics on the following four albums would be in modern Norwegian, and after that English.
- Frost is arguably the only album in the band's catalogue that qualifies as "pure" black metal; Blodhemn has too much Melodic Death Metal influence to qualify (it was produced by Peter Tägtgren, after all) and all the others have strong Progressive Metal influence. Even Frost has some oddities like the pure Folk Metal of "Yggdrasil", though.
- Epic Instrumental Opener: Lots of them. The best example is probably on "Større enn tid - Tyngre enn natt", which is arguably one of the best uses of this trope in history.
- Epic Rocking: As mentioned many, many times above, YES. The best example is "793 (The Battle of Lindisfarne)" from Eld, which is over 16 minutes long. The shortest song on Hordanes Land was nearly eight minutes long and the shortest song on In Times is over eight minutes long. Most of the other albums don't use it this consistently, but it still applies to more of their songs than not.
- The End of the World as We Know It: "As Fire Swept Clean the Earth", in a bit of a metaphorical way.
- Genre Shift: Very frequently throughout their career. The general trend of their sound has been adding more and more prog metal elements on top of their black metal foundations, a process which reached its apex on Below the Lights when they became a fully fledged progressive metal band. There are a few oddities in their discography as well. Bloodhemn almost sounds like melodeath much of the time, while the Thorn EP is atmospheric black metal in the style of Burzum.
- Genre Roulette: The Sleeping Gods EP. On top of a relatively normal sounding prog-black metal track ("Heimvegen"), there's an ambient track ("Synthesis"), a folk metal track ("The Sleeping Gods"), and even an instrumental Post-Punk song that almost sounds like a cover of The Cure ("Nordlys").
- Harsh Vocals: Par for the course for a Black Metal band.
- Heavy Mithril: Much of their early material lyrically consists of retellings of the Norse myths. As they became proggier, they retained the mythological themes, but now focus more on the mystical and philosophical themes of the myths instead of the stories themselves.
- Horny Vikings: They used to dress like them on stage. Mostly averted with their lyrics though, which tend to either retell Norse myths or extrapolate from them in more philosophical or mystical ways.
- Indecipherable Lyrics: Occasionally. Sometimes due to the above trope, sometimes due to clean or spoken word parts being low in the mix.
- Industrial Metal: A major influence on Trinacria.
- Lead Bassist: Type B: Grutle is the lead vocalist. Also an arguable type D, as the bass is fairly important in progressive metal, and his instrument is usually clearly mixed.
- Lighter and Softer: Vertebrae and to a lesser extent Ruun are this compared to the rest of the band's discography. In Times is a Zig-Zagged example; there are examples which are every bit as heavy as anything on their previous records, but there are Subdued Sections as well.
- Long Runner Lineup: Stayed the same from 2004 until 2016, when Herbrand Larsen left.
- Loudness War: Most of their albums are affected pretty badly on CD, with clipping and brickwalling throughout the metal portions, although some of the vinyl editions have averted this. The general rule is that all Enslaved vinyl releases have way higher dynamic range than the CD, but it's not clear if all of them are separately mastered; the ones on Nuclear Blast (RIITIIR and In Times) appear to be so, with little to no apparent clipping on the master, but the ones on Indie Recordings, Back on Black, and Osmose Productions may not have been. Surprisingly, this may not always make a huge difference; for example, while the vinyl master of Vertebrae is still somewhat clipped, the vinyl edition nonetheless has DR12 to the CD's DR6, which is actually better than RIITIIR's improvement from DR6 to DR11 on vinyl. The general rule, in short, is that Enslaved sounds way better on vinyl.
- Mind Screw: Arguably some of their weirder lyrics - almost like if tool developed an interest in Norse Mythology.
- Minimalism: Enslaved's early work is heavily based in this style, with often only around 3-5 distinct riffs per song. They use their minimalism toward very different musical aims than standard 'minimal' music though. (Evoking a larger sense of grandeur using slowly developing themes, rather than attempting to 'chill out' the listener.)
- New Sound Album: Mostly averted, because the evolution of the band's style has been fairly gradual. However, there are a few anomalies, mostly listed above under Early Installment Weirdness. If you want to pick a point where the prog metal elements started to dominate their sound, it would probably be Mardraum or Monumension. Also, see Lighter and Softer for a few subtle changes.
- Nobody Loves the Bassist: Averted - not only is Grutle the main vocalist and one of the band's songwriters, his bass is even audible fairly often (on some albums more than others, though).
- No Ending: "Bounded by Allegiance" cuts off suddenly at the end.
- Norse Mythology: Their primary lyrical theme, especially on their early albums.
- Progressive Metal: Especially on the later albums, but it's been an influence on their music since at least Hordanes Land if not earlier. The only albums not to contain much progressive metal influence are Frost, where most of the songs are kept within the 4-5 minute range (although there are three that pass seven), and Blodhemn, which contains an atypical (although perhaps not surprising, given who was producing) amount of Melodic Death Metal influence. (Utgard also has somewhat shorter songs, but without really lessening the progressive metal influence.)
- Revolving Door Band: For the first decade or so they kept losing drummers. The lineup stayed the same from '04 to '16 though.
- Roaring Rampage of Revenge: The song "Lightening" from Axioma Ethica Odini seems to be about somebody enacting large-scale revenge on some group of people or other, among other things.
- Rock Me, Asmodeus!: Averted, which is rare for second-wave black metal.
- Shown Their Work: They REALLY know their Norse Mythology.
- Siamese Twin Songs/Fading into the Next Song: "Frost" -> "Loke", "Audhumla: Birth of the Worlds" -> "I lenker til Ragnarok", "The Sleep: Floating Diversity - A Monument, Part III" -> "Outro: Self - Zero", "Intro: 'Green Reflection'" -> "Lunar Force", "Isa" -> "Ascension", "Neogenesis" -> "Outro: 'Communion' (excerpt)", "Thoughts Like Hammers" -> "Death in the Eyes of Dawn", "Veilburner" -> "Roots of the Mountain". There may be other examples as well.
- Soprano and Gravel: The band alternates clean vocals with the traditional Harsh Vocals of black metal. On early releases, Grutle Kjellson would do this himself with other band members providing occasional backing vocals; on later releases, other vocalists handle most of the clean vocals (Herbrand Larsen when he was in the band, Håkon Vinje and Iver Sandøy now) while Grutle continues to do the rasps.
- Surprisingly Gentle Song: Variously played straight, Zig-Zagged, and subverted:
- "Frost", "Audhumla: Birth of the Worlds", "Intro: 'Green Reflection'", "Yggdrasil", "Hollow Inside", "Axioma", "Sigmundskvadet", "Synthesis", "Norvegr", "Frøyas smykke", and "Outro: 'Communion' (excerpt)" play this straight, although the first three are intros and the last two are outros. ("Norvegr" could also be considered an outro, but it's nearly eleven minutes long).
- "Entrance - Escape" and "793 (Slaget om Lindisfarne)" zig zag the trope, as while they have blasting black metal sections, they don't use harsh vocals (except for one brief Metal Scream in "793").
- "As Fire Swept Clean the Earth", "A Darker Place", "Neogenesis", "Havenless", "Større enn tid - Tyngre enn natt", "Convoys to Nothingness", and up to half the songs on their more recent albums (particularly Vertebrae) are subversions, as they start out quite serenely and (generally) eventually proceed into blasting black metal complete with the requisite Careful with That Axe. On the other hand, Vertebrae in general is Lighter and Softer than the rest of the band's discography, although every track has Harsh Vocals.
- Teen Genius: Bjornson was 13 when he helped found the band and 16 when they recorded their first two albums.
- Titled After the Song: As mentioned above, their name comes from an Immortal demo track, "Enslaved in Rot".
- Token Good Teammate: Like Immortal, they never got involved in any of the arsons, murders, or other questionable activities (jaywalking?) that many other second-wave black metal bands took part in, nor have they ever had political or satanic lyrics.
- Trope Codifier: For the Viking Metal subgenre.
- Uncommon Time: Several examples throughout their discography. The title track of Eld contains an early one. The title track of The Sleeping Gods is one of many later ones. In Times probably uses more of this than any previous Enslaved album. In general, they have used this trope fairly extensively since the Progressive Metal elements have come to dominate their style.
- Villain Song: "I lenker til Ragnarok" appears to be one from the perspective of either Fenrir or Loki.