Iver Sandøy has been highly active in music for a good long while now, and part of that run involves some excellent work both with and as part of Enslaved. As Enslaved’s Heimdal is soon to release I was afforded the opportunity to speak to Iver about it.
Heimdal is available here.
Ez: You’ve been working with Enslaved for… my understanding is you’ve been producing their albums since around 2011?
Iver: The first album they asked me to participate on recording was Axioma. Recording started very early 2010. I think the album came out later the same year, so since then. Before that, the odd gig subbing for them during the 2000s and we had some side projects and different stuff so it’s been kind of good friends and collaborators for a while now.
Ez: Coming in when you did as the permanent drummer and one of the clean vocalists, It was obviously an easy transition for you to make. You were already pretty familiar with them, both on a professional and I imagine personal level. As such, now coming into the new album, Heimdal, obviously already drumming a bit for Enslaved, what challenges did you have in terms of making your drumming musical for the songs?
Iver: Well this time… It makes sense for me at least to compare the previous album and this one since those are the two full albums I’ve been drumming for them. Last time the process was a little bit different. Firstly we came more or less straight off touring when we recorded Utgard, so we were more live focused in a way, and a lot of the parts came about a bit more more organically, like discussing what we should end up with in the studio and such.
This time I kind of opted to stay pretty true Ivar [Bjørnson]’s demos, drum-wise. For this album it’s very much him in the composing of the music. It always is, but especially this time it felt like for the rest of us, that we should really stay true to how it was written. It wasn’t really necessary to change much, so even the drum programming was pretty spot on.
Of course there were some sections where we changed things ’cause there’s always the odd section where it doesn’t feel natural, or in the spur of the moment you want to try something a bit more crazy, but even some of the fills that we had programmed, I just stuck to them ’cause I felt that was the best solution.
It’s hard to be specific about it. When you sit and work through the songs in the studio you do a thousand little choices that will differ from how it’s programmed, or how it was arranged, so just from working through the songs you make those little choices. I don’t think it through that much. More intuitive and just playing through them a lot before recording to try to incorporate it into muscle memory, or whatever so that it feels natural and not just a programmed drum part with a different sound.
Ez: So I imagine then what the major challenge here was was to just make it sound more organic and true.
Iver: So that’s the basic… It would be a stretch to call these compositions basic, but the basic compositions were very much there and finished. For me, the artistic freedom for this album was more connected to the vocals. The vocal lines are written by Grutle [Kjellson] and me anyway. Apart from the odd choir section where Ivar has some specific stuff in mind it’s up to us to find something that feels natural to us.
Ez: An interesting thing about Heimdal is it seems more atmospheric, at least [more] than previous works. There’s a lot of contrast in terms of business of instrumentation and I think that’s where a lot of the atmosphere comes from. As such, and assuming that I’m hearing this correctly, do you feel that clean vocals have a lot of room for growth in the compositions?
Iver: Yeah! I think that’s a fair assessment. The way we work there is a lot of space left for the vocals. There’s always room for growth or doing things a bit differently from the previous albums.
Not only for me as a vocalist, but also the producer part of me found it very rewarding to be able to explore Grutle’s clean vocals even more. I think he also finds it very rewarding to work on that part of his singing. After all, it’s been a part of Enslaved’s sound since the very beginning. A lot of people seem to have the impression that he only does the guttural vocals, but of course he’s been doing the clean stuff since the very first recordings.
So focusing on that and now that there are three vocalists in the band working on the harmonies and dividing parts between us, that has a lot of potential. I don’t think we’ve reached necessarily the full potential yet, but that’s very song-dictated. For this album there were parts where we were really able to explore that three-part harmonies, and jumping from one vocalist to the other.
So yeah; it’s an ongoing exploration and we’re not tired of each other yet.
Iver: And we don’t feel it’s necessarily fully explored. We haven’t reached the end of the journey for that part of it, and for the compositions and instrumental bits. There are so many paths you can still explore, so… Yeah. I still feel that there are a lot of openings and it’s inspirational to still work on it.
Ez: The other thing I’ve noticed is that there are definitely a lot of sections where the clean vocals are drawing out long, which I think contributes a part to the atmospheric feel on top of things. Especially early on in “Behind The Mirror”. Obviously it starts with the quiet water and the horn which is heralding the rise of the dawn and in a sense heralding the start of the album as well, and then it goes into this cold section but you’ve got these vocals that are just kind of soaring above it but without necessarily the drama that that implies.
Iver: It’s more ethereal. With us the clean vocals don’t necessarily need to be very intense or very dramatic or operatic. We have some intense clean sections, but I guess you could say we’re a full-blown prog rock band at this point *laughs* so we’re not ashamed of exploring the softer vocal styles. I also think that’s an interesting and cool juxtaposition with the intense part with the distorted guitars and double bass drumming and that ethereal, floating vocal, especially on “Behind the Mirror”. You have those vocals kind of floating on top in a dreamy soundscape while it’s really intense below it.
Ez: It’s dramatic without everything that could imply and it does work both as a contrast and a harmonisation.
Seeing you’ve described yourselves now as a full-blown prog rock band, when are you going to release a Rush tribute album?
Iver: *laughs* Maybe that should be left to other people.
Iver: Seeing as Enslaved did – prior to me joining – a live Rush track (“Earthshine”)…
Like every band there has been discussions “Oh maybe at some point we should do an EP of cover songs or whatever”, but probably… I don’t know. Where we are now, the song selections for a cover EP would probably be a bit more surprising.
We all love Rush but now that we’ve become a full-blown prog band, that probably would feel like a pretty obvious choice and that is just totally honouring Rush. I think their legacy stands firmly on its own; I don’t really want to meddle with it. Probably if we were to do something it would be one of the less proggy Rush songs. Maybe some of the more poppy things like…
Probably because of the old Hear ‘n Aid album “Distant Early Warning” was always one of my favourites and that’s extremely poppy. That’s Rush from the eighties. That’s not Farewell to Kings.
Primus were doing that.
Ez: Yeah they did a Farewell to Kings tour I believe.
Iver: Yes, and I bought a ticket to see the show in Oslo, but they cancelled their whole European tour, the cowards. *laughs*
I didn’t get to see that, sadly, but of course they were very true to the original. Just sounded fantastic, and also weird at the same time with Les’ characteristic vocals on top of perfect renditions of the Rush songs, so it still had the Primus flavor. And I’m a huge Primus fan, so… *laughs*
Ez: Well maybe you could convince them to tour with Enslaved some time then.
Iver: That could actually be weird enough a combination. I would love to do that. If Primus wants to bring us along for a US tour, that would be fantastic. Or even an Australian tour.
Ez: I’m sure you guys get “come to Australia” all the time, but I’m more than aware of the logistical and financial issues that come with just coming to Australia.
Iver: More or less right after I joined full time we did the short tour of Australia in 2018 along with Sólstafir. We did four cities. Perth, Melbourne, Sydney, and… oh, help me out.
Ez: Was it Brisbane, or Adelaide?
Iver: I think Brisbane, and like you said, just the cost of getting there with a full band… We had to scale down the production a bit. Then we went directly to Japan after Australia, so it’s only if you can get the logistics to combine like that, but then of course so much has changed since 2018 and become so much more expensive, so it’s even harder now.
We’d love to come, it’s just not on the table at this very moment, and that’s also because we have a lot of stuff going on for the upcoming year so I don’t know much about 2024 yet.
Ez: If it happens it happens. If it doesn’t it doesn’t, you know?
Ez: Back to the album itself, it’s conceptually about Heimdal, and my understanding is that part of the album looks at Ragnarök and Heimdal’s potential role after the event. There are themes of parenthood that run through it, especially if Heimdal does indeed become a god after Ragnarök, [then] becoming a parent to all creatures underneath.
I know that for some of the band have becomes parents. Have you yourself?
Iver: No, I haven’t got children but there are parents in the band and that definitely colours the content. You change your perspective regardless of how your life changes so it’s only natural to bring those changes into the lyrical content. You’re not trying to conserve your seventeen-year-old self’s points of view when you’re pushing fifty. That would not make sense.
Ez: Whilst I was listening to the album – which, by the way, it’s really good to listen to when you’re folding clothes –
Iver: Oh! Well, I’ll bring that on to the guys. I love that perspective. It has got a lot of layers, so maybe that’s the reason.
Ez: There certainly was a sense of worry and concern that ran through it. If that is indeed there, was that intentional, or was that more a byproduct of the subject matter of mythology potentially being related to parenthood?
Iver: Mmm, perhaps. That’s an interesting perspective, and we definitely explore a kind of unease in a way, and especially songs like “Congelia” kind of hold that uncomfortable, worrying feeling for quite a while before getting some sort of release, at least.
At least in the musical sense and also in the lyrics, we like to explore the moments right below the drama. Like you said with the vocals, they’re not fully dramatic all the time. I think unease is the best term for it, so if you get that feeling from the album I wouldn’t say that it’s conscious, but for some parts definitely. Again, songs like “Congelia”, it was very conscious from discussing the concept of the song before it was written, just using that beat and the whole point is that it never lets up and its very… stays in the monotone, and doesn’t develop much. Just gets this kind of noise music dynamic where it just really almost doesn’t go anywhere but there’s a lot of stuff going on.
Ez: That was the song where I felt it the most.
Iver: Yeah. It’s a kind of frustration in that, where you build up and if you keep that going on for as many minutes as you do in that song, it kind of gets physical, that frustration, so that’s conscious, yes.
Ez: That song in itself – I mean, all the songs are – but “Congelia” is very interesting in that it’s also probably the most classically black metal of the songs, and of course it does make a sort of swerve to a different, more relatively odd territory toward the end when it does kind of release. And it obviously is held for long… like six minutes of pure d-beat type stuff?
Ez: Then it lets up, but it doesn’t feel like it drags. It doesn’t feel overlong. Like you said, it’s almost like noise music in that it’s very monotonal but there’s a lot of things going on in it.
Iver: Like with noise, the noise aspect is the first layer but there are a lot of textures in that block of sound that you start to notice after a while. I think “Congelia” also sums up Enslaved in a way because it’s using the black metal element with that beat and those tremolo guitars, and then combining it with the synthesisers and that whole noise / electronic music dynamic and arrangement and krautrock influence which has always been part of Enslaved, [and] a stretch of time to work the way it’s supposed to work.
You could say that’s a common denominator between electronic music and at least some kinds of early extreme metal like the early Enslaved albums. I mean, take songs like from their first EP (Hordanes Land), “Slaget i skogen bortenfor”; Totally the same thing. The monotony is kind of the point of it all.
Ez: Well, I think I can squeeze one more question in. I’ll ask about Heimdal‘s closing track (“Heimdal”), because it too has a sense of monotony; a stretch toward the end and it’s kind of a climax without a climax as the album kind of suddenly ends. It doesn’t go “Oh here’s a triumphant moment, here’s a low point”; just “Here’s where it ends”. Obviously a closing song doesn’t have to have that sense of finality, but going into making that and ending the album how it did, were there any concerns with it being fitting?
Iver: No. We love working with anticlimaxes. That’s one thing, and also I think, especially for this album, what was conscious is it would make sense to end on a question mark, and it makes a nice loop if you start it again if you go back to the first song after the last song.