Thursday, October 16, 2008

Emperial Greetings Milwaukee-1998

Back in 1998 I received a phone call from someone at Century Media Records. I had a very good relationship with the publicists there at the time, so getting several calls per day/week was nothing new. Back in the day, zine Editors, writers (there’s that word again!) and publicists worked together for what seemed to be a common cause. So I got a call asking for a favor. Emperor, who were riding higher than ever on the release of their 1997 album ‘Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk’, were set to play the 1998 Milwaukee Metalfest.

This was to be their first ever show in the U.S.A., a huge deal for the band and the label. Emperor needed to ship their keyboard/synths (whatever it was) to the US and have it brought to them in Milwaukee for the fest, as shipping to the venue would be a clusterfuck.

Someone wanted to know if I’d be willing to let the keyboard be shipped to my house and then bring it with me to the festival. I didn’t see an issue with it, like I said I saw it more as a favor to my friends at CM versus anything else. So the keyboard was shipped to me from Norway, it was a huge road-case and it must’ve weighed at least 80 lbs. I remember some of the correspondence between the members of Emperor and the label worrying about who’s getting the keyboard shipped to them? CM told them ‘someone they trusted’ and said “his name is Tom, he’s a writer in Chicago, no need to worry.”

The band was worried the keyboard was going to be sent to ex-Metal Maniacs writer Tomas Pascual because they wrote “there’s no way that little guy will be able to carry it!” [[I Have nothing against the guy but folklore has New York based Tomas Pascual as the main component in the ill-fated/disastrous 2003 Metal Gods (Halford, Testament, Immortal, Carnal Forge) US Tour- so maybe we can thank him for the Judas Priest reunion??]].

So the case arrived safe enough and yeah, it was heavy as fuck, that’s for sure.

A day or two after the arrival of the keyboard I received another call. Would I be interested in picking up Emperor at O’Hare Airport and getting them to Milwaukee on the Thursday before the fest? Hmmmm, why not? I thought. I wasn’t the biggest Emperor fan, but it sounded like it could be adventurous and again, you do favors for friends when possible.

So I agreed. I’d pick up the band at the airport and then we’d make our way up to Milwaukee where the Century Media crew would be waiting to get them prepared for what was to be a hectic, yet highly anticipated weekend.

I ended up renting a mini-van as including me; there would be a total of seven people and we'd need a bigger vehicle. This was all easy compared to the true task at hand…getting Emperor into the United States of America. A few members of the band had/have criminal records, some served time in prisons for various offenses and now they needed to enter our country to play a Metal Festival.

I was alerted to the plan of attack. The band was carrying a letter from the label, this letter stated that Emperor were seeking entry into the U.S. to come and play a “benefit show for Jeff Becerra” (who, as we all know had been paralyzed in a robbery attempt etc. etc.) The letter also stated that there would be no merchandise sold, no payment for the performance, simply a benefit appearance. Now at the time there was no benefit for Jeff, but the letter writer had to mix both fact and fiction as there was quite a lot riding on the band’s entry.

I also remember the label telling the band to travel “light”, especially not to look too “suspicious” or “threatening” in any way, try to make it all as smooth as possible. No spikes, no “corpsepaint” none of that stuff and hope it all works out.

So I arrive to O’Hare and wait for the band to land and clear customs. I’m standing there; looking around because truth-be-told I had no clue as to what the fuck the band looked like outside of the back of ‘In The Nightside Eclipse’ album. So as I’m waiting I look over and see someone being wheeled in a wheelchair, the person in the chair was hunched over, covered from head to toe in a flowing black robe and I instantly thought “fuck! They wore their capes for the trip?” “Not good.” Turns out it was just an old lady being pushed through customs, but I got a great laugh out of it anyway.

Ihsahn-Milwaukee 1998

So after my laughter subsided I saw some confused looking longhairs walking my way, I don’t remember if I had a driver sign that said EMPEROR, probably not, but I figured they were the band. I was right. Now they exited customs one by one, and we ended up waiting for the last to clear.

Walking out with their guitars and other assorted equipment were Guitarist/Vocalist Ihsahn, his wife [and future Peccatum bandmate] Ihriel, Guitarist Samoth, Drummer Trym, Live Bassist Alver and keyboardist Charmand Grimloch [Tartaros]. I introduced myself and we all had a quick laugh on the success of the “letter” and all was a go!

All seven of us jumped in the van and it was off to Milwaukee. Trym got in the front seat so it was only natural I’d spend most of our drive talking to him. I had known about his stint in Enslaved, but knew little else about him or what caused him to trade the Vikings for the Black Wizards. As we were driving, it was fairly quiet, it was a helluva plane ride from Norway to Chicago and like I said I didn’t have that much to say to the guys, and girl.

I handed Trym my CD case so he could play DJ…first choice was ‘Melissa’ by Mercyful Fate. As soon as “Evil” kicked in the whole van came alive, everyone instantly perked up as Trym pounded the beat on the dashboard for the whole song, practically the whole album. Funny, there was a bit of a language barrier and even though they spoke excellent English, the power of Metal overcame all.

Alver-Milwaukee 1998

About an hour or so into our trip a few of the guys were getting hungry, so we stopped at a place called Perkin’s which is exactly like a Denny’s. I really wish I had a camera with me at the time, back then I wasn’t exactly a photo dork like I am now, but I wish I had a picture of all of us sitting around this table as I remember it being pretty fucking funny. Everyone was looking at their menu’s and kind of giving the confused puppy look, you know the head turns and the look of helpless appears?


So I ordered first. I ordered some sort of Lemon-Pepper Chicken thing and you know what? Everyone at the table ended up ordering the exact same thing as me! I didn’t know if they had no idea what to order, let alone eat or maybe Lemon-Pepper Chicken was a mainstay at dinner tables in Oslo? Not sure, but again, I found this really funny!

We all ate, good stuff from what I remember, everyone seemed to enjoy my taste in food which was kind of a relief, I’m sure they were starving. We got back on the road and minutes later stopped for gas. Samoth and Alver maybe went in and bought a few bottles of booze, Kahlua and a few other things to drink on the rest of the way. Nothing crazy, just after dinner drinks, in a car, while driving, with a bunch of Norwegians who seemed to be enjoying our cramped existence just a little more with each drink. We jammed Slayer, Godflesh, the 'Laibach' Morbid Angel album and maybe another I cannot remember, but it kept us in good conversation for miles.

We arrived in Milwaukee sometime that evening, met up with the Century Media crue and had a few drinks to celebrate the bands arrival and a toast to the great weekend that lay ahead. The CM guys were cool enough to bring me a TON of shit to listen to on the way home, and on the way back up the next day, all very cool.
To wrap all of this up…the keyboard which started this whole thing? Well it didn’t even get used! There was a problem with an adapter of some sort and without it the keyboard was useless. So the band whose sound pretty much revolved around the atmospheric keys, played without them. Alver’s bass guitar got broke somewhere between Norway and its arrival in Chicago, so he was able to secure a replacement, no big deal. All in all I remember their set being very good and received even better.

The sound in that room was always notorious, but they did their best and judging from the reactions, their first show in the US was a huge success. They opened with “Thus Spake The Nightspirit”, which was killer, being a drummer fan, watching Trym just blast away live was just awesome. Also performed “I Am the Black Wizards” and “The Loss and Curse of Reverence”. They had a short set so it went by pretty quick. The guys were a little disappointed in their show, mostly because they didn’t get a chance to perform at 100%, but the crowd ate it up.
Emperor-Milwaukee 1998

I’ve seen both Samoth and Trym a few times since 1998 and they still remember their maiden voyage to Milwaukee in July of 1998…Cool.