Back in 1999, Norway’s finest bands were just making their first visits to the U.S. ENSLAVED were set to play LA for the first time in order to promote Blodhemn and roycifer, big johnson, and I were excited. This was back before the band evolved into their proggy style and were more or less pure BATHORY-influenced Viking black metal. Despite not having any of their early albums properly released in North America, us ravenous underground metal fans had no trouble finding their import-only releases at those painful import-only prices.
We arrived at The Whisky early and there were some local pay-to-play bands (as usual) up first. Some members of ENSLAVED and crew were outside hanging out and scoping out the turn out. I spotted guitarist Ivar Bjornson inside at the bar having a beer and chatting with someone. I went over and said hello and he was in a good mood. This was back when he was skinny and had short hair.
Unfortunately, the turn out for the show was really poor. The club closed the upstairs area and attempted to corral us all closer to the stage. The band finally took the stage and stood in ominous poses wearing Viking-themed tunics as the intro track played. As soon as the band went into their first song, things went wrong. Dirge Rep’s drumming sounded just godawful. He was not only playing too slowly but was also sloppy as hell. I looked over at roycifer and big johnson to see if I was the only one who felt that way. I got the vibe that many people in the crowd were confused about the drumming. The sound was pretty bad as well but that’s nothing new, it’s The Whisky after all.
Despite the less than ideal conditions, ENSLAVED tried their best to deliver a great performance. However, the crowd wasn’t really getting into it, including me. The pit was largely vacant and the crowd wasn’t really expressing their enjoyment. Perhaps, it was the fact that both guitarists had super short hair while wearing Viking tunics that didn’t quite convince the crowd that they were Viking, black metal, or brutal enough. Perhaps, it was the fact that the show was in the middle of the week. Frontman Grutle Kjellson had a really nice Rickenbacker bass and perfectly hit his falsettos though.
As the night wore on, you could see the disappointment in Grutle’s eyes and in his gentle face. This was the not LA debut that they were looking to make. Near the end of the set, he said to the crowd, “C’mon, LA! Let’s go fucking nuts!” Sadly, there was little, if no, response.
I remember hoping the show would end quickly because I was just bored and completely disengaged. I’m sure ENSLAVED felt the same way. But redemption came on their next visit to LA for the Los Angeles Metal Fest in 2000 where they not only played better with better sound but played to a much larger audience who had finally heard of the band.
Check out screen shots of a bootleg video of the show here.