Sometimes, opportunity literally falls from the sky—or if not the sky, then at least from a decent height off some stage somewhere. Case in point: the beginnings of Enslaved.
Before Ivar Bjørnson was in the erudite Bergen, Norway-based metal five-piece, he was a 12-year-old spending time in Haugesund—the city closest to the little Norwegian village where he lived, and the home of the basement space where he and his thrash-metal group rehearsed. One time at the space, some of Bjørnson's bandmates left for a spell, leading him to hear and then spy on another (and "totally awesome"-sounding) metal act practicing upstairs. A member of that band was tickled enough by Bjørnson's interest in his music that he offered the kid a guest-list spot for their show that night.
It was an early concert, just down the street from his dad's place, so Bjørnson was able to make it. The crowd was small, but the mosh pit was furious. Bjørnson observed the action from the back of the hall, but curiosity eventually got the better of him, so he moved up to grab a better view. "At the same time, one of the most rowdy guys did a stage dive and went over the crowd and crashed into me. I sort of half passed out on the floor [and] got slapped in the face a few times," Bjørnson remembers. "He was worried that he knocked out this little kid."
That mystery diver ended up being Grutle Kjellson—a musician four years older than Bjørnson. The pair would get to talking and start bonding over various bands and guitar sounds, leading to the co-creation of one metal group called Phobia and, in 1991, Enslaved. Today, with Kjellson as vocalist and Bjørnson as guitarist, they're Enslaved's remaining original members.
Rising as part of Norway's 1990s black-metal scene and enduring ever since, Enslaved have taken their sound through substantial tonal shifts. Their full-length debut, 1994's Vikingligr Veldi, is black as pitch, grainy and gritty, moving at a generally constant, fierce speed. By contrast, 2001's Monumension moves up and down, and back and forth, in volume and tempo, and is rich with textures plucked from various permutations of metal, including black, power and prog. In Times, Enslaved's brand-new 13th record is an example of their reluctance to stick to a single school of thought (or tone). There are psychedelic zone-outs, dramatically sung vocals, pulsating drums and classically growled black-metal vocals strewn over the album.
In interviews, Bjørnson has been skittish about pinning down any specific stylistic allegiances. A conversation circa 2006 with Deadtide.com is as good an example as any of Enslaved's avowed interest in thinking (and talking) big and eclectic. "I think we're sort of rooted in what we were when we started, an extreme metal band, with no real belonging, with influences from Nordic mythology and mysticism," he said. "Most people say we're part of the black-metal movement. We're still sort of there, but we've added so much more. We've learned from classical heavy music, we've learned a lot from progressive music. We're basically an extreme metal band, and we've forced our ears to open and take as much as possible from any kind of genre."
After 24 years tied to the same project, changes in palette are to be expected, especially considering this group. As time has gone on, Enslaved have also grown considerably more professional. "The first five, 10 years, gigs would be more sort of a haphazard thing," Bjørnson says. "We would have a good day or a bad day or whatever. As we've grown older, we've come to realize that every show has to be an absolute maximum." He's also come to view metal as a more complex, non-homogenous entity than he did as a kid.
Still, some things have stayed the intended course. "I remember that the idea was to do the band forever. That's sort of childish, being like, 'This is what we want to do, so let's just do it forever,'" Bjørnson says, but the 37-year-old has 20-plus years to testify to that notion's persistence. And by another metric established long ago—and sundry tours since—Enslaved have made good on another key goal.
"The first main ambition was that it'd be awesome if people knew about the band around the world, and that we could play in other countries—which is a really big ambition when you're 13," Bjørnson says. "It was just about being recognized and having people know about us in other places [other] than just our friends."