In a summer crowded with festivals, Wacken has found its spot. Perhaps not the biggest or the one with the best bands, but the one that has the best whole metal experience. Get ready to be surrounded by metal everywhere. Metal markets, bars, video games, movies, tons of concerts and millions of beers… the truly holy land that every metalhead should visit at least once.
We entered the holy land while THE QUIREBOYS were finishing their set. We headed for the stages ready to enjoy the first day, which has grown and became bigger with the years, although Wacken still refuses to add it to the official dates, still considering it a ‘warm-up day’. And what a warm-up! This year the festival introduced a new stage, the History Stage, where the Wacken Metal Battle now takes place. One such band playing this stage were VARANG NORD from Latvia raised the title this year with their folk death metal, halfway between next edition headliners AMON AMARTH and ENSIFERUM. Congratulations, guys!
The Wasteland Stage was set outdoors with a Mad Max setup and a lot of flames. It received a bunch of excellent thrash and death metal bands, kicking asses from the beginning with GAMA BOMB. ANGELUS APATRIDA performed a set based on their impressive last work, Cabaret de la Guillotine (a must-have for any metalhead). Closing with death metal legends CANCER, who would have been followed by former Wacken Metal Battle winners from 10 years ago, CRISIX (who were now returning on their own right) sadly had to cancel their show under the warning of an electric storm.
But the main party was set on the Bullhead City Circus, a gigantic tent containing the Headbangers and W.E.T. stages. For a day, these two stages were strongly tied to rock and punk classic bands. We enjoyed the seminal punk of THE DAMNED; it’s a shame they didn’t play ‘Eloise’, but all the rest of their classics including ‘New Rose’ were there. The crowd started a bit cold, but at the end turned crazy with ‘Temple of Love’ by gothic rockers THE SISTERS OF MERCY. Australian rock and roll band ROSE TATTOO played with the living legend Angry Anderson, who despite his name keeps smiling at the audience and having as much fun as he can. Nice boys don´t play rock and roll, as they say, but angry, he rocks!
While UFO have been providing us with great music from decades, and they are playing the same setlist through their tour, they played with passion and energy at Wacken. The crowd sang every song, from the beginning with ‘Mother Mary’ and ‘We Belong To The Night’, to the absolute classics ‘Love To Love’, ‘Rock Bottom’, and the total madness that is ‘Doctor Doctor’. But the biggest party and the main surprise of all the festival, was THE SWEET, who played a show full of radio-friendly oldies with tracks such as ‘Action’, ‘Fox on The Run’ and ‘Blockbuster’. Followed by rock n roll blasts on ‘Teenage Rampage’ then ‘AC-DC’ performed with amazing energy. Two perfect performances. Andy Scott keeping the flame as well all the cheesy high-pitched voices you can ask for, and a band that carries the legacy in a more than worthy way. It’s nice to have them both back!
With the opening of the infield, home not only of the three main stages: Faster, Harder and Louder, but also of important places as the bands merchandise stand or the majestic deer; a three-floors-tall bar focused on Jaggermeister shots and cocktails and therefore a great meeting point if you don’t forget what you were doing there.
The schedule of these three main stages is quite simple: every time a band plays in the Harder stage, the central one, the other two remain quiet, setting the next shows. And the concerts in the Faster and Louder stages always take place at the same time. That formula has been working for years, but this year there was some problems as the Faster stage had quite higher volume than the Louder one. Ironic, isn’t it!
It’s been thirty years of Wacken and for thirty years the opener of the main stage (now Faster stage) has been SKYLINE, with a show full of covers. One of the Wacken organisers, Thomas Jensen, appears to play AC-DC’s ‘Shot Down In Flames‘, and the premiere of two new songs, ‘30 Years Ago’ and ‘This is W:O:A’, as 30th anniversary anthems.
On the Louder Stage, TESTAMENT played a great show, with the same set list they have been playing the whole tour: ‘DNR’, ‘Low’, ‘Electric Crow’, ‘Over The Wall’, ‘Practice What You Preach‘ with some additions, as ‘The Preacher’ or ‘Eyes of Wrath’. Despite the poor sound of the stage, and some little problems in Chuck Billy’s voice, it was an amazing concert. Right after they finished over at the Harder Stage, HAMMERFALL starts their epic show with a loud and high-pitched voice, sharp guitars and many fireworks during almost two hours, starting with a new video clip for ‘Dominion’. They continue with some epic songs, like ‘Hammer High’ and ‘Renegade’. They look very well and active and demonstrate how versatile they are when they play an acoustic medley, to calm down the fans for a while, then continues with ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘(We make) Sweden Rock’, meanwhile, the W:E:T and Headbangers Stage were focused in the most extreme spectrum of metal. Starting with NECROPHOBIC and their excellent, powerful black metal, one of the best performances of the festival, with anthems like ‘Tsar Bomba’, ‘Blinded By Light, Enlightened By Darkness’ and ‘Revelation 666’. Surprisingly they were not the best show of the evening, as VLTIMAS confirmed what they have shown in their first record, the all-star project lead by Flo Mournier (CRYPTOPSY) and Blasphemer (ex-MAYHEM) played all the songs of the excellent ‘Something Wicked Marches In’, sounding as clear, powerful and technical as in the studio, plus a respectful cover of ‘Black Sabbath’. The choice of giving the vocal tasks of the project to David Vincent (ex-MORBID ANGEL) was totally successful, although he is clearly used to playing live with a bass in his hands, which made him look a bit uncomfortable in his movements, still a wonderful show, of a fresh new band with a lot more to say in the near future.
After those two mighty concerts, GRAVE did a real good job with his classic Swedish death metal, fans appreciated and enjoyed songs like ‘Into The Grave’ or ‘Morbid Ascent’. And if VLTIMAS overshadowed Grave a bit, NECROPHOBIC made DARK FUNERAL sound dull and apathetic, the band playing in automatic mode. Heljarmadr were not very enthusiastic on stage, and this really was not the best show of a band that is getting used to that “enough to save the day” level.
That made the crowd even wilder when UNLEASHED appeared, opening with ‘Blood of Lies’ and ‘Dead Forever’, and by the time they were playing the third song, ‘Don’t Want to be Born’, everybody in the audience was headbanging as crazy. The band kept that pace until the very end, where ‘Into Glory Ride’ and ‘Death Metal Victory’ closed a great evening in the tent.
But the big show was outside, where SABATON occupied the two main stages (yeah, at the same time) in order to make a show as impressive as possible, and it was impossible to watch the spectacle without remembering what SAVATAGE and the TRANS SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA did five years ago. As that was a magnificent and magic show, with two bands with common members melting and sharing members, coordinating choreography, dancers and sound on both stages. This time the Swedish band used the two stages as one big stage. Four ex-members joining them on stage isn’t as impressive as to use a double stage, and the band gathered a huge crowd of people, almost as big as SLAYER or PARKWAY DRIVE on the next day. Of course, SABATON knows how to move the crowd, and the encore start with ‘Primo Victoria’ which was an absolute highlight. But we expected more than a long set with five guests and a bunch of Fireworks here and there.
We woke up on Friday with a big dilemma, as EQUILIBRIUM (on the Faster stage) and JINJER (on Louder) were playing at the same time. And although the Germans sounded promising with the opener ‘Born To Be Epic’, JINJER is a band in clear ascension and we are happy to see how they grow bigger step by step. From ‘Words of Wisdom’ and ‘Ape’, and the brilliant ‘Teacher, Teacher’ and a happy crowd singing “Who is gonna be the one” and ‘Pisces’, to the end with ‘Perennial’. The band enjoyed and made us enjoy, proving not only that Tatiana is one of the best female voices but also a great front woman. The rest of the band is top level: Vlad plays as if it was easy, and Eugene and Roman now look less focused in the instrument, having fun while they achieve mastery, a great band to follow, they can start headlining big festivals very soon.
QUEENSRYCHE started their set with ‘Blood of the Levant’ from their last album The Verdict and continued with ‘I Am I’ from the underrated Promised Land. At 11am and with the sun hitting hard, it was too much for a great part of the public, but there was still a lot of people to enjoy the classics during the second half of the show, although Todd LaTorre didn’t look very comfortable hitting the high notes in some of them. Obviously, not their best show, they look like they were losing enthusiasm as the show goes by.
Halfway between a power metal band and its own parody, GLORYHAMMER gave us a great show with a lot of funny moments. Dressed like superheroes, they delivered a handful of good songs, and all hail Angus McFife for it, they are the masters of the galaxy!
Sadly, the gig and all the concerts of the day were suddenly cancelled (in the middle of a song!) due to a bad weather report. And we would like to focus on that, as it was not only unexpected but also clearly excessive. During thirty wears, Wacken has become well known as the land of mud and rain, of sun and dust, and mottos as “in mud we trust” were famous all around the metal world. But, surprise surprise, we can forget the “Wacken – rain or shine” as it’s not the truth anymore. It was not the rain, just the possibility of some rain, just enough to cancel all the concerts for more than an hour and change a lot of schedules and even permanently cancel shows like TRIBULATION? Although I guess we were lucky that the rain didn’t really appear. Announcements like “if you have a car, get inside, and offer some spot to the ones standing outside” didn’t make the metal people react in panic, some of us thought it would have been hilarious as a joke, but taking it seriously is a bit too much. The official app updated and you had to watch and re-schedule your whole day.
Anyway, focusing on the important, BODY COUNT feat. ICE-T re started the show with a funny and aggressive concert, with some epic moments between the songs (all the audience cheering after ‘There Goes The Neighborhood’ and Ice T says “ok I know some of you are nazi racist shit so if you are one of those, please stop clapping hands”. A great show with some covers (Motorhead’s ‘Ace of Spades’, Slayer’s ‘Postmortem’, The Exploited’s ‘Disorder’ and Suicidal Tendencies’ ‘Institutionalized’) and a bunch of classics (‘KKK Bitch‘, ‘Voodoo’ or ‘Cop Killer’), some swearing and thrash talk, just as expected and they hypnotize us.
After some confusion about who was playing now on each stage, while the app didn’t show some changes in schedules and rumors were constantly shifting in the press zone, we wanted to see ANTHRAX was killing it, as usual. It’s always a pleasure to see the energy this band bring on stage, and of course if they are playing classics like ‘I am The Law’, ‘Antisocial’ or ‘Indians’ you can expect a good concert, with barely any surprises but solid and strong.
One of the most awaited concerts of the day was the return of DEMONS AND WIZARDS, the band was created twenty years ago for Tom Schaffer (Iced Earth) and Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian). And the magic started as the concert opened with the sun setting on our backs, slowly shifting daylight into a night show full of fire, the perfect descent from the wizardry of the first tracks to the hellish tunes of the closing tracks. A perfect vocal and musical performance sustained a band that lacks a great show of a full setlist, as we saw in Dokk´em Open Air. In fact, the most cheered songs were the four covers of Blind Guardian’s ‘Valhalla’ and ‘Welcome to Dying’, and Iced Earth’s ‘Burning Times’ and ‘I Died for You’. The soft ending with ‘Fiddler On The Green’ after the powerful ‘Blood On My Hands’ left us in a relaxed and uplifting mood, and thinking that maybe this concert would have been the perfect closure for the festival.
As if respecting that chilling mood, the almighty SLAYER appeared for the last time in front of the German audience with a very low guitar volume for the first three tracks. They started with ‘Repentless’, ‘Evil Has No Boundaries’ and ‘World Painted Blood’ and repeated the same exact set list they have been doing through all the summer festivals. And maybe ‘Gemini’ or ‘Hate Worldwide’ are not the crowds most delighted songs, but with a killer set, a lot of fireworks everywhere, and a great light and show production, it was only a matter of time before the setlist conquered everyone. How many bands can close a show with ‘Seasons in the Abyss’, ‘Hell Awaits’, ‘South of Heaven’, ‘Raining Blood’, ‘Black Magic’ and ‘Dead Skin Mask’, just to return for an encore with ‘Angel of Death’!? At the end of the show, the people were applauding and cheering for a long time as Tom Araya smiling at them, was constantly repeating how much is he going to miss this. A perfect closing for a great day.
But it was no time to go to bed yet, because we had time to go for some D-A-D return show at the Louder Stage (while OPETH were attacking the Faster Stage), it was my first time (and last opportunity) to watch them live, so I had to make the most of that situation. They make classic hard rock and they’re so good and funny, wearing amazing and colorful garments, changing rare instruments song by song, starting with a new one, ‘Burning Star’ (taken from A Prayer For The Loud Album), ‘Evil Twins’ and ‘Bad Craziness’ makes the crowd dance and rock, adding to the great sound and lights. These Danish dudes know how to rock, shaking Wacken from ‘Nothing Never Changes’ and ‘Grow Or Play’ until the last and only ‘Sleeping My Day Away‘, with a big smile on our faces, it’s enough for this day.
One of the most magical experiences that Wacken provides is the comical presence of the German artist MAMBO KURT, with his annual tradition of giving at least three big concerts throughout the days in which the festival takes place. Always being the closing act of the W:E:T stage on Wednesday, which allows the youngest, and action oriented audience to enjoy crowd surfing and mosh pits while the comedian destroys with tons of bad jokes and his lame keyboard with a bunch of classic metal and pop songs. Or if you prefer a more relaxed and drunken experience you can attend his concerts in the Beer Garden, where (in addition to being one of the places of the festival where they serve German wheat beer) you have available a lot of wooden tables to sit and feel as if you were in the middle of the traditional German Oktoberfest. One of these shows took place on Friday night while the last one was opening the Saturday concerts. A good chance for a breakfast wratburst (it’s a must here) or the wonderful wackenacken (a piece of barbecue meat with onions and bread or maybe a little piece of heaven), with a beer, and feel the forces renewed inside you. In the unlikely event of feeling too much inner force, you have also in the beer garden a full set of clean REAL toilets, as amazing as it sounds.
With full force, we headed to the Faster stage. There BATTLE BEAST offered a magnificent show with music that combines perfectly the classic hard rock and heavy metal styles, even with some soft rock in the mix. Where some fall constantly in the cheesy, half parody, half eurovision version of themselves, BATTLE BEAST stands triumphant, with great mastery in the musical section and an extraordinary singer, Noora dances gracefully between the diva singers of gothic bands and the angry Valkyries. A wonderful concert in which they reminded us that just nine years ago they were here winning the metal battle. With a set based in their last two albums Bringer of Pain and No More Hollywood Endings, they deserve a higher position in the next festivals for sure!
At the W:E:T stage, THE VINTAGE CARAVAN offered us psychedelic rock with hints of stoner rock, and songs like the magnificent ‘Reflections’, ‘Babylon‘, ‘Reset’ and ‘Expand Your Mind’ captivated the audience.
For those looking for more aggressive music, CRITICAL MESS, the new death metal project of Britta Görtz (known as the singer of the thrash metal band CRIPPER), was an amazing show! Her voice is better than ever, darker and aggressive, and the crowd was enraged. Five or more circle pits at the same time was undoubtedly a record for this year’s edition, at least in the Wasteland Stage.
The last day had a great mix of genes. First up was cult British hard rock band URIAH HEEP, the boys and Mick Box are doing a great job, I’ve never seen them before, so I payed close attention. They inspired many great bands such as Iron Maiden. Now they’re promoting their last album Living The Dream, I must admit that the band sounds even better live, songs such as ‘Grazed By Heaven’, ‘Knocking At My Door’ and ‘Take Away My Soul’ will soon turn into classics of the band. They then alternate with oldies like ‘Look At Yourself”, ‘Gypsy’, closing this tremendous gig with the unforgettable ‘Easy Livin’.
At the Headbangers Stage we get a complete change of pace some of doom and gothic metal by SEPTICFLESH. From the beginning with ‘Portrait of Headless Man’ and ‘Pyramid God‘ the Hellenic dudes created a great atmosphere. When ‘Anubis’ comes up everything was symphonic death metal dark art.
After this, and changing stage one more time, there was a band that I saw some years ago, and I wanted to know how they had grown since then, and that were BULLET FOR MY VALENTINE at Harder Stage. Now after their sixth album Gravity, they choose ‘Don’t Need You’ to start the battle, and the people answered with headbanging rhythm, the sound couldn’t be better and the feedback with crowd was perfect. ‘Over It’ and ‘4 Words (To Choke Upon)’ were played. We were enjoying a show full of speed and fury metal, they were in a good form, and they demonstrate this song by song, closing the gig with ‘Your Betrayal’, ‘Tears Don’t Fall’ and ‘Waking The Demon‘.
In the tent the French (although heavily influenced by their Tunisian roots) progressive rock band MYRATH developed a fantastic show. Their music is so personal and different from other progressive bands and having a Jesus Christ as the protagonist of the crowd surfing, in the middle of the audience, raised by some of his followers, only made that strange feeling even bigger. A show based on their last excellent album, Shehili, the title track closed the show.
If some group showed itself as the true winner of this edition of Wacken, consolidating themselves not only as a promising band but as a complete reality, it was the Australian band PARKWAY DRIVE. They made the same show that is taking them across several European festivals, full of memorable moments like the opening of ‘Wishing Wells’, guided onstage by hooded guardians carrying torches, sing-along tunes like ‘Prey’, that works much better live or the powerful ‘Karma’. The best moment of the concert certainly happened when, after two songs Winston asked if the audience had realized that no bass player was onstage. The reason for this being that their bassist Jia had broken his knee five days before the show, being forced to play the concert in a wheelchair. But the most special thing was that the one pushing the wheelchair to the scenario was no other than his own mother. The woman had never done crowd surfing before, so Winston kindly asked the public to help her get to the sound tower that way. The crazy public carried her there while the band played an excellent ‘Carrion’. Special moments like ‘The Void’ and ‘Absolute Power’ with more than 60,000 people jumping to them, proves that with Reverence they finally have the album they needed to make the leap to the first international line, we realise that they will stay there for a very long time.
There’s a band that has been on the road for a long time, it is the British classic SAXON, and although perhaps the critical voices would say that they always perform more or less the same set, we’re talking about one of those bands that, it doesn’t matter how many times you have seen live, you will enjoy at maximum. Not only that, also (not like other bands of his generation) they manage to make you enjoy the songs of his latest album, ‘Into the Labyrinth’ and ‘Thunderbolt’, as well as the classics. Perhaps we expected a little more production and show being one of the headliners, although they threw fire here and there on most of the songs. Of course, classics such as ‘Denim and Leather’, ‘Strong Arm of the Law’ or the wonderful ending with ‘Crusader’, ‘747’ and ‘Princess of the Night’ were a magnificent closure for the festival.
We say that because the last performance of the day and the festival was RAGE, and they proposed a concert with the Lingua Mortis Orchestra, in which they played the full album XIII, and perhaps it would have been a memorable concert at another time of the festival but although they closed with ‘Higher Than The Sky’ the feeling was of an excessively long and slow concert with beautiful details.
And as the curtains fell, we said goodbye to the 30th anniversary edition of Wacken. There wasn’t a really special celebration, just an emotive video before PARKWAY DRIVE started, and a special solo courtesy of Matt Heafy (TRIVIUM) just before they announced the first bands of the next year: AMON AMARTH, AT THE GATES, CEMICAN, DEATH ANGEL, HYPOCRISY, JUDAS PRIEST, MERCYFUL FATE, NERVOSA, SICK OF IT ALL, SODOM and VENOM. More reasons than enough to repeat the next year, but only if you’re lucky, as they have sold out in less than 24 hours. Hope you get to the holy land, see ya there!