The grandiosity of Enslaved’s newest record, Utgard, is like whiplash: it sneaks its force upon you when you least expect it. But, even when you do expect it, the result is still jarring.
Like the auditory dichotomy the band wades in, Utgard proposes the concept of unity, and through this unity, an acceptance of darkness and light. The new record is unique though, for its oft-times inverted notion of duality. One finds the calmer sections quite often have the most force, the most darkness. This is what co-founder Ivar Bjørnson is getting at when he speaks of the architecture of the moral code to the universe.
“It’s sort of constructed,” he says. “This idea of good vs. evil. You find constructed elements in nature and more directed ones, but neither have to be particularly good or bad. The universe is terribly constructed in a sense.”
Utgard (due out in the Fall of 2020 via Nuclear Blast) deceives in that way. Yet, its deception should never be miscalculated. The power of Enslaved lies in their acceptance of the grey. Things are never clear, in nature as in the depths of the human mind. The films of masters like Lars Von Tier, Ingmar Bergman, and David Lynch catch this point visually, offering up phenomena in the clearest sense. That is, in the sense that’s it’s never clear at all.
“Lars Von Tier talked about how he was just inspired by the forest,” notes Bjørnson. “And how people are missing the point of nature in the sense that the forest is very beautiful; it’s harmonic, organic, and natural. And at the same time, things are being killed, preyed upon, and that’s why it’s natural in the sense. It doesn’t make these animals that are preying upon other animals evil in any sense; that’s just something we as humans have come up with, whether it’s political, or religious, or ideological.”
Like previous Enslaved records, Utgard was an organic process: a journey without a specific destination, a trip through space and time, via a collaborative and natural dialogue. It is the process that is paramount.
“It makes it easier to be inspired,” Bjørnson says. “Because that’s who we are. We’re wired to be social. In many ways it was a bit surprising, the direction the songs took. And that’s part of the fun. It takes a little bit of will to have a loose approach. It’s not the simplest exercise. It’s a tense one because it’s very important.”
Important is the direction of water, the movement of eagles, the changing seasons that sparkle across the universe, the infinite modes of communication, symbols, and the direction of directionless matter. Enslaved are a veteran band. A group started in 1991 by two people: Bjørnson and Grutle Kjellson. Their movements have shaped their communication. Like a tree sculpted by the will of time, Enslaved show their wisdom on their branches: a gnarled and twisted perfection of a great many blooms.
“We have this sort of specific thing, in geographic terms, being this Norwegian band, and we’ve always been that,” says Bjørnson. “It’s been like a central influence, with the Viking thing. But at the same time, we definitely have a dual, very local and very global approach. Since we did our first tour in the U.S. and Mexico back in ’95, the Norwegian thing was something that attracted a lot of people.
“Back then, you’d go to the airport, and the security guy would have a Viking hat on, and it’d be kind of weird. But now, it’s very common. For an album like RIITR, which was done specifically with that global experience in mind, we sort of compared various belief systems around the world, going back to the Sanskrit and the Indian, and tracing that into Norse mythology.”
Utgard leaves one in state of transference. Each time you listen to it, it expands. Like a David Lynch scene made of shadows and monochromatic moods, the record bends one way, then redirects another. And this changes continuously: an imprint of infinity that gathers strength through its acceptance of randomness. The best thing to do is go with the flow.
“One of things I like about the record is that it changes a little bit from spin to spin,” Bjørnson says. “I can go back to back many times, and that’s fun.”