Arve ‘Ice Dale’ Isdal is one of the ironmen of Norway’s vast heavy metal scene. Nearing his 20th anniversary with iconic progressive black metal outfit Enslaved, Isdal has shown no signs of artistic complacany, dividing his time between the Enslaved mothership, hard rocking group Audrey Horne, and the newly formed experimental instrumental project DROTT (alongside Ivar Thormodsæter (Ulver) and Matias Monsen).
Isdal caught up with Metal Injection for a candid one-on-one, diving deep into DROTT’s debut album Orcus, two decades of collaboration with Enslaved, his work on the upcoming Audrey Horne record and much more!
You’ve certainly managed to stay busy during the COVID-19 pandemic. You’re involved in so many different projects. With some return to normalcy happening in the music world, and between recording and touring for multiple bands, it must require a certain juggling process at times.
I’ve actually been pretty busy during the whole COVID period. Because of DROTT of course, Enslaved has been doing some stuff. I’ve been writing with Audrey Horne and some studio recordings for other bands. So yeah, I can’t complain because I guess most of the music business have been more or less shut down, at least the live stuff, and it’s been pretty hard for a lot of people. I shouldn’t complain about that. It’s a good thing.
The idea for an instrumental project like DROTT, I love that you guys can convey emotion and tell a story without words. With bands like Audrey Horne and Enslaved, it’s very different in terms of scope and feel. This is something where you are able to convey certain emotions and go in different pathways that you probably couldn’t if you were pegged down with lyrics and vocals. How freeing is something like this project where you can go in different directions and tell those stories in kind of interpretive ways?
It’s been a really good experience I think for all of us, because at least I haven’t been doing much like instrumental music, at least not since I was growing up and you just did a lot of different stuff, I guess. But it’s a totally different approach.
When we first started DROTT we didn’t have any plans, to be honest. We just would like to sit together, press the record button and just start playing and jamming. And I think we did that for like three or four rehearsals before we even listened back to it. And yeah, we just wanted to start with the three of us, and we didn’t want to bring in a singer or even another instrument because it was difficult enough to get time for the three of us to meet. I mean, it took like four years since we first talked about it.
But then when we listened back to it, it was kind of great actually because, like you say, you could hear that we kind of went in the same direction and we communicated so well with the instrument. So it actually worked because we had no idea when we listened back to it what we had done. Nobody could remember any themes or anything because it was just jamming, like long sessions.
Some of them were like 20 minutes long and stuff. But that was kind of cool and a bit surprising, to be honest, that you can hear like the conscious of songs in there with all of this different atmosphere and stuff. So yeah, it was a great experience. And like you say, it’s totally different to work with a singer.
With an album like Orcus you are telling a pretty concrete and defined story from beginning to end. Do you like to look at it as one piece of work or parts of the whole? From front to back it almost has an opera feel or a classical music composition in its flow. Yet there’s so many different subgenres of things in this record, from classical to metal to dark ambient and jazz.
In total now we do. But to be honest, we didn’t write it like “The Lure” and then kind of built the story from that. Actually the “Orcus” song was the first one of the songs on the album that was ready.
So it was a little after. We liked some of the songs and then we started to think about the concept. Most of the songs we already had, so we just put them in the right order and made the story. Then we special wrote some songs for it to kind of fill in the gaps, if you want. It’s definitely a story from the start to end.
Orcus certainly has its highs and lows and moments of melancholy to go with moments of aggression and raising the tempo. I get a lot of that from Enslaved as well, certainly in recent albums with that balance of brutality and melancholy. Is that something you particularly enjoy in work you’ve been involved in? Taking the listener on that ride?
Yeah, absolutely. I always loved to play with contrast, if you want. If you have something dark and you want it to be like, really dark, it’s a good thing to put something more mellow or like even lighter right before it then it seems darker. I love to play with contrasts like that. And there’s something especially me and Matias in DROTT talked a lot about and have been very conscious to play with those contrasts. OK, how can we make this song fit in perfectly and how can we kind of get it to be really dark?
You’ve been involved in a lot of different subgenres of rock and metal in your career. You’ve talked before about contrasts in an album, but I think that’s also important for an artist. Has that been refreshing for you as a musician and multi-instrumentalist, to be able to move between a more progressive black metal sound like Enslaved, to more straight up hard rock band like Audrey Horne, and now this incredibly diverse music with DROTT. It must help you from getting bored with any one material.
For me it’s always been natural to do different genres and stuff because I grew up listening to a lot of different kinds of music. I mean, from more progressive music with Pink Floyd, Genesis, King Crimson and stuff to the more classic rock bands like Kiss and Guns N Roses, to harder music like Metallica and then later on the black metal stuff. So to be able to play all that kind of music or different genres, yeah I like it.
I don’t know. It feels very liberating to kind of not get stuck in one genre. I think I would be maybe bored if I was just to play like pure black metal in Gorgoroth or whatever the rest of my life. I think something would be missing. So I at least have to play or write some of the music.
I believe 2022 will be your 20th anniversary with Enslaved. Eight or nine albums and countless world tours. Coming from Norway and Norway’s metal scene, Enslaved are really one of the pillars of the entire country. How big of a thrill has it been to be able to contribute in the way that you have for two decades now? And to still see this band evolve and change from one record to the next.
Yeah, and that’s what’s always been interesting for me, at least with Enslaved from when I started. Each album is different from the previous. So we’re not, like sticking to (a theme or sound). I think evolution is a big thing in Enslaved to create something new, a new concept almost for each album.
To me that’s also a very interesting way of writing music and evolving. A band like Audrey Horne is more like a constant in a genre in the classic rock and roll and heavy metal kind of thing. So you don’t get that in that band. Yeah, it’s very interesting with the Enslaved stuff that it’s never the same.
You mentioned earlier Audrey Horne and that the band has been busy writing throughout this pandemic. I think it’s been three years since Blackout? Are there designs to maybe have a new record out in the next year or two? How would you guys like to see that progress while balancing touring cycles with all your other projects?
Yeah, but at the same time we were doing it for like 20 years with both bands, so we’re used to it then and the fact that we are getting older and people have families and stuff. So like back in the day you could be on tour for like more or less like three or four months in a row with a couple of days break in between. But now we don’t tour that way, at the same time at least. I think we have almost like a month or so with Enslaved, so then we have to have some weeks off and then I can tour with Audrey Horne. We definitely have to plan it.
But I mean now with the whole COVID stuff, it’s all like upside down. So I’m not sure what’s going to happen to everything next year because we are also recording a new Audrey Horne album at the moment that will be out next year sometime. And Enslaved haven’t even toured for Utgard, so we are definitely going to tour a lot next year.
Now that you’re on the other side of Orcus with DROTT, do you see this as being a project that you and the guys got out of your system? Is this a one and done or is there that feeling of wow, this went so well, we gel so well together. I could definitely go back and see us doing another album, a different concept.
Absolutely. We have already a lot of songs, some even recorded from the last session. So I think we have at least two of the next concepts ready. I think we’re going to record the next one probably before the end of the year. I’m not sure, but soon. We’re definitely going to continue to write and make albums together.
DROTT release their first full-length studio album “Orcus” on September 24th 2021 via By Norse Music