Life as a metal musician is diverse and bountiful, at least in terms of experience: from kidnapping sheep in the Norwegian mountains to playing for mythology-dazed small crowds at strange venues in towns unheard of.
The laborious yet rewarding life of extreme metal on tour is the topic of The New York Times’ recent profile of Norwegian band Enslaved. And the fact of the “world’s most important newspaper” issuing a long and serious article of such a wee entity on the international music scene, is perhaps the paramount proof of the meaningfulness of doing what Enslaved do. This is the relentless pursuit of music as defined solely by themselves; doffing genre-labels and expanding the references and allusions, but maintaining a strong momentum by endless touring. As the article points out; for bands like Enslaved having a global fan base does not imply stardom, luxury or complacency, it is rather the only way of surviving. But it means that the “musical life” itself becomes hugely dynamic and progressive.
From one-dimensional roots in the movement known as Norwegian Black Metal Enslaved has evolved into something different altogether; out of necessity –as “pure” black metal was both ephemeral and criminal- and out of artistic needs of exploration and development. In general the development of Black Metal and its obsession with evil has turned into subtler allusions to pre-Christian spirituality and the kind of mythological heritage that is preserved in different Nations' and peoples’ traditional culture and folk music.
As has been pointed out by many analysts metal is a leading global force in reviving the interest in traditional musical expression around the world. From Alaska to Chile, from Finland to Japan this trait is becoming more and more distinctive. And Norway was in the vanguard, with the link between Black Metal, Norse mythology and Norwegian folk music.
The Times’ article spells it out: Extreme metal, which once seemed like a threat to Norway’s cultural heritage, is inevitably coming to be seen as part of it. How long before the government finances an ad campaign, inviting black-metal fans from around the world to come to the most evil country on Earth?
Well, the point is that the evil part is downplayed and supplanted by aspects of indigenous history, pre-Christian spirituality and not least contemporary musical influences. Now that black metal, in its crude form, is marginalized and bands such as Enslaved instead make use of the all-comprising extreme metal label, the discussions around metal are in fact often discussions about a new form of world music: aggressive, sinister and perhaps evil, but not simply so. And more prominently it is becoming sophisticated, complex and more artistically self-certain. As the New York Times writes of Enslaved: There is no need to be a metal fan even to enjoy getting lost in the group’s elegant, epic music.
Enslaved are currently on a five week tour of North America. The next gig is tonight’s show at The Opera House in Toronto.
Listen to and download Enslaved's Ruun here: