The Holy Wacken Land is open for business. A lot of good music is on offer also this year, but the festival starts in a way no one had hoped for: It has rained continuously for three days before the festival, and it doesn’t stop there.
During Tuesday, the Wacken Open Air team sends out warnings because of the uncontrollable amounts of mud that are forming on the festival grounds. The reports, it turns out, are not exaggerated. As we hit the VIP camp grounds, the field is already a mess. The first stroll out to the ‘real’ camp site proves that things are even worse there. There’s mud everywhere, ankle deep, in some places even more.
Here’s the Power Of Metal.dk Wacken 2015 team (Phil, Thomas, Jørgen, Matt), getting ready to venture into the mud:
WOA Day I (Wednesday)
One of the consequences of the weather conditions is that we miss at least a couple of the Wacken Metal Battle bands we would’ve liked to see, and our first encounter with metal music today is US thrash/classic rock outfit DEADIRON. Front man Alexander is a showman more than anything and uses not only the WET stage and the wrestling podium between the WET and Headbangers stages to incite the audience to partake in the fun, he also engages very directly in the circle pit, which is formed on his own request. If he’s a great singer is hard to tell because the vocal production is honestly bad, and it’s hard to hear him at all, but entertaining he certainly is.
Attending: Jørgen, Phil, Thomas
Immediately after Deadiron, we make the easy shift over to the Headbangers Stage, where the 14-year-old guitar progeny NIK KAI and his band NO WORDS are getting ready to play their first Wacken gig. The fact that the boy is only 14 is mentioned more than once, as if that in itself is a selling point. When it comes down to it, I don’t really care what age the guitarist of a band is, as long as he plays well. He clearly masters his instrument, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the band can put together great songs. No Words’ music has a nu metal touch, a metal core touch, some thrash, some traditional metal, i.e. a bit for everyone’s taste. The Wacken audience is not immediately convinced that this band is the best thing since Nutella, but after a few songs, the crowd kind of gets warmed up and coughs up the response the singer is looking for. Actually, the constant mentioning of Kai’s age leads to considerations of how such a young boy can have so much hair in his armpits etc. Perhaps there should be more focus on the music, eh eh?
Attending: Jørgen, Phil, Thomas
No surprise: Arjen Anthony Lucassen does not show up at Wacken for the The Gentle Storm show. The Dutch hermit stays at home, composing material for upcoming masterpieces I will worship just like the previous ones.
Anneke Van Giersbergen is luckily here. She is such a lovely person to behold. Her big smile, her aura of positive energy and, of course, that fabulous voice.
She is not alone at the Wackinger stage. Marcela Bovio must receive a special applause. She is not just a side chorister. Her duo with Anneke is terrific and these female voices match perfectly with 7-string guitars (awesome Merel Bechtold) and 5-string bass.
One person is missing from the live line-up: Joost van den Broeck. His keyboards and equipment have been stolen and the show is dedicated to him.
The songs from ‘The Diary’ are the backbone of the gig. ‘The Storm’ deserves its title on CD, on stage and in the audience with the nice weather we have now: cold rain and wind. The tracklist is completed with ‘Witnesses’ (Agua de Annique), ‘Strange Machines’ (The Gathering) and ‘Fallout’ (Devin Townsend Project). I have only one regret, as there is no Ayreon song from ‘Into the Electric Castle’ and its Egyptian voice, and no ‘Waking Dreams’. I would love to hear those songs live. Anyway, I give two thumbs up to The Gentle Storm, for studio and live version.
Attending: Thomas, Phil
There are many weird concepts in metal, and GRAILKNIGHTS is one of them. A bunch of German guys dressed as superheroes play Hammerfall-ish metal. It’s fun for about three minutes, then it sort of wears out. After ten minutes, someone like me is ready to leave the tent. And that’s what I do.
Now, this is where it gets too much in terms of rain and mud. You have to focus so much on keeping your camera dry and not falling etc. that you get tired of it all. So it’s back to the tent and grabbing some food – knowing ourselves well enough to admit that we’re not going to catch the NEW MODEL ARMY later on, even that was actually the plan.
Fed and filled up and with dry clothes, I venture into the darkness, pouring rain and mud. I’m heading up to Headbangers Stage to see none other than Swedish 80s icon EUROPE. The five Swedes turn out to be so much more than the Final Countdown and Carrie. In fact, they have skipped the latter tune altogether tonight. I’ve never been a follower of Europe, but have enjoyed listening to a few of their songs over the years. This means I’m not really familiar with the major part of the material played tonight. Still, it’s plain to everyone that this is a band who know their stuff and quite simply deliver a good old, solid rock performance. You could expect that a band like Europe would rest of the laurels and play their old material, but this is certainly not the case. In fact, they start out with two songs from their new album, ‘War of Kings’, and another tune from said album is aired later. The songs I do recognise are Superstitious, Sign of the Times, Let the Good Times Rock and Rock the Night, and of course the power of recognition adds a certain something to the songs. It’s probably unavoidable: The encore is Final Countdown. I never thought I’d say this, but this is quite simply majestic. I never thought that hearing this song live and witnessing the overwhelming response of the audience would be so goose-bump provoking. It is. Great stuff!
WOA Day II (Thursday)
Waking up to even more rain is just not great. It’s somehow harder to get out of the sleeping bag than usual, knowing that this is going to be another day of soaked clothes and fighting through the mud. But what can you do? We’re here for the metal, and the metal doesn’t happen in the camp site, and certainly not in our tents. The first band we encounter are SAVAGE MACHINE, the Danish winners of the international Wacken Metal Battle. The show begins with Iron Forest from their debut EP ‘Through the Iron Forest’, a really great song. The Danes are filled with energy and despite some sound problems, they deliver a great show, which seems to go down well with the crowd. If you’re into Blind Guardian, Kai Hansen or just normal Power Metal, Savage Machine are probably a band you’d want to check out. Good one.
Attending: Thomas, Phil, Jørgen
This was not our original intension, but because of the pouring rain, we stay in the tent for a bit longer. This turns out to be a good choice. Romanian Metal Battle winners DARK FUSION have a strong on-stage presence, a futuristic/gothic visual concept and pound the audience with their impressive barrage of industrial metal. They’ve done their homework and prepared synchronous headbanging and moves, and overall make a great impression.
Attending: Jørgen, Phil, Thomas
The rain hasn’t stopped yet, so we stay a bit longer. Dutch Metal Battle winners FOR I AM KING have a charming little girl with specs in front. Her singing’s not exactly charming, though. She can grunt! I’m not sure how to label their brand of extreme metal, but it comes across as being a bit unstructured, and when the rain stops after a couple of songs, we move on.
Attending: Jørgen, Phil, Thomas
Folk metal phenomenon IN EXTREMO are as popular as usual here in Germany and gather a huge crowd in front of the Black Stage. As it is the case for basically all concerts today, the extreme amounts of mud dampen the reactions of the audience considerably, which, of course, is a shame. Still, Michael Rhein and his jolly fellows manage to create a party with their dudelsack metal and in particular with tunes like Erdbeerenmund, Spielmannsfluch and Rasend Herz. In Extremo celebrate their 20th anniversary this year, and cake is even shared with fortunate members of the audience.
Attending: Matt, Phil, Jørgen, Thomas
White Zombie was one of those bands I liked a lot during the 90s, but never got to see live. Now I finally have the chance to at least hear three songs from that era played live by the infamous front man, ROB ZOMBIE. A Rob Zombie show, it turns out, is just as much a spectacle as it is about the music. A damned shame that this takes place during broad daylight, because the stage setup and the band’s make-up surely must be impressive in a dark place! Anyhoo, it’s great to hear some of the songs I listened (a lot) to back in the day (More Human Than Human, Super-Charger Heaven) alongside latter-day Zombie hits like Teenage Nosferatu Pussy and Living Dead Girl – plus a snippet of Enter Sandman. Excellent gig.
The return of Savatage has had many people on a buzz for ages. Jon Oliva is a criminally underrated songwriter. To say we are excited about this does not convey it appropriately. They are doing a dual set with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO) across two stages – a feat which I will learn in the press conference the following day all came together because of Al Pitrelli. That is to say, he was the glue that held that aspect of the performance together. The band members all pay tribute to one another for their various contributions, but it is Al who is hailed as the hero of the night for his ability to remain calm and co-ordinated. Jon even mentions the pyro burnt his hand, but he heartily adds that he loved every second of the performance.
Well, so does pretty much everyone else that are there despite the unrelenting rain and the mud up to our shins.
It starts with Savatage. It has been a long time for a lot of people, many of whom I can see with tour shirts from the last time Wacken hosted them. Songs from ‘Hall Of The Mountain King’ and ‘Streets’ go down particularly well but Savatage do well to include things spanning almost their entire career. Even before the addition of the orchestra, they sound more operatic and it works well. The sound is very good. In rain that most people including organisers have described as the worst in the history of the festival, the sheer number of spectators is a staunch testament to the captivating power that Savatage still create. I’ve seen many people leave headlining acts because of far less rain.
Jon is a showman and a half. He loves being on that stage and it doesn’t seem obvious that he was absent from it with Savatage for so long, particularly in the final song before TSO arrive on the other stage. When they do, Al has raced across to perform with them. The only thing that is out of place with the TSO set is the unnecessary back up dancers. That they could have done without. Not in any way required nor making any meaningful contribution. It’s the only criticism I have of the evening. Please don’t have them again. Also it is quite apparent that after 20 minutes of TSO the majority of people are waiting for Savatage. After 20 minutes, every song that finished of TSO is followed by the crowd looking over to the Savatage stage.
The musician skills are not in dispute, though, and regarding that I don’t know how the hell they manage to get the sound so good. Seriously, with a never before attempted dual stage headliner, a lot could have gone wrong here. What a feat to organise it and pull it off so well, especially when the two stages are playing simultaneously and with the weather being so shit and the wind picking up. The sound and stage crew are world class here. No fault at all. I could have been watching this in Dolby surround sound it is that good. The visual display except for the dancers is as entertaining as the musical performances themselves.
Attending: Thomas, Jørgen, Matt
This has been the second day of pissing rain and more and more mud. Although we’d actually like to see Architects of Chaos with Paul Di’Anno in front, there’s no more energy left, and we wade back to our bunks to get some sleep and get ready for the third day of mud & metal.
WOA Day III (Friday)
Rumour has it that the rain will stop today, and we can’t wait for it to do so. And rightly enough, there are only few drops from the heavens throughout the day, and the sun begins to take over. Not that the mud will be gone as if by magic – far from it. It’s still like walking in doug in many, many places. Anyway, after breakfast, it’s time for more metal music.
EPICA have build a substantial following over the past year, and I can see why, even if this isn’t 100% my type of music. Much of the explanation for the popularity would of course be found in the fine voice of lovely Simone Simons who also live shows her ability to entertain the masses. I’m not familiar with the material, but I can see from the reactions of the crowd that the choice of songs goes down well. For me, this looks like an effective and professional performance with a bunch of musicians who know their trade of symphonic easy-listening metal. A nice to wake up, but not our thing.
Attending: Phil, Thomas
There is little doubt in my mind that Italian female fronted ANCIENT BARDS is a band to watch out for for fans of Rhapsody and the like, but I’m personally bored stiff after four or five songs of this round of guitar wanking.
FALCONER is the first band for me to watch Friday. This is their second show at Wacken, and it will also be their last if we are to believe singer Mathias Blad. Don’t really know why, but even if they are all dressed in black, the band is in a great mood. The Swedish power/folk institution delivers a great show despite not playing many live shows. We are served songs from all of their albums and the sound is excellent. The sun even comes out for the first time during the festival!
As we wait for Sepultura to begin, we watch a few songs by ENSIFERUM on the True Stage. On the whole, this doesn’t work for me, but I do see the qualities in a song like Burning Leaves.
Attending: Phil, Thomas
SEPULTURA are, on the other hand, my thing. The band is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, and here at Wacken, it’s being celebrated with a song from all releases except ‘Nation’, ‘Roorback’ and ‘A-Lex’ – and that’s simply because they don’t have time for more. A gig that starts off with Troops of Doom from ‘Morbid Visions’ cannot go wrong in my book. Then on to From the Past Comes the Storms from ‘Schizophrenia’, Inner Self’, Arise, Refuse/Resist, Roots Bloody Roots, and from the Derrick Green era it’s Choke, Convicted in Life, Kairos, a welcome stint back in time with Orgasmatron, then The Vatican and finally the Titäs cover Policia (where I’d probably preferred another Sepultura song, but so be it).
Derrick proves again that he is a colossal front man, and the band appear like a tightly knit unit. Impressive.
Attending: Phil, Thomas
Colossal presence (Sepultura)
STRATOVARIUS are suffering from the fact that the crowd – because of the mud – can do little more than nod their heads in rhythm or clap their hands above their heads. Nobody is physically able to move more than that – and that probably isn’t something they’re used to on stage because they’ve had a very long and well established career. They are enjoying their performance and we are treated to some material for their new album due to be released next month called ‘Eternal’. The music is tight – really precise and their technical skill on guitars in particular is commendable. The dual guitar solos are performed so well. I personally feel that they deserve to be a little higher on the billing than they are. A lot of people have waded through the sludge to see them. They set the standard for power metal live acts for me this year. The best power metal performance of 2015 I have seen. But at this point I didn’t know that this would change already Saturday!
AT THE GATES founded the Swedish Melodeath School. ‘Slaughter of the Soul’ is a must have classic. Period. I discovered this album when I watched the ‘Blinded by Fear’ music video at 2 a.m. on French TV, many, many years ago: I remember I bought the CD a couple of days later. I did not hesitate to pre-order ‘At War with Reality’, many, many years later: an excellent choice. When I am thinking about AtG, I have Carcass in mind too. ‘Why?’ you may ask. First, both bands are definitely leaders, not followers, and inspired tons of combos. After a very long break, when many thought they were out forever, both played reformation shows, which brought them to the Hole in the Sky festival in Bergen, where I enjoyed each note they played. Both came later with a terrific new record, which can stand the comparison with their legendary previous productions. Last but not the least, Carcass played last year at Wacken for a more than a ‘10 devils’ show: a great and wild souvenir!
Today it is the turn of the Swedes from Göteborg to hit the scene here. The sun is back, but wind has tricky influence on their advanced and particular riffs, which deserve the perfect sound they had at Hole in the Sky, then at Aalborg Metal festival where they blew me up. Indoor shows match perhaps better their compositions and style. Anyway, the concert itself is great, and Tomas ‘Tompa’ Lindberg is running from side to side, as a screaming Nisse. After Derek Greene, and later Mikael Åkerfeldt, Mark Osegueda and John Bush, it is the frontmen day today (on Saturday too, because of Dee ‘Fucking’ Snyder, the king of frontmen!). AtG do not let us go before a last punch in the face: THE ‘Blinded by Fear’.
Attending: Thomas, Phil
My own private story with OPETH started on July 2000 when I bought ‘Still Life’ in Trondheim, and played it in the car on my way to Nordland, Troms and Finnmark: long journey with great music. From the first notes of ‘The Moor’, I understood this band would have a special place in my discography. I have seen them live three times, twice in Oslo, once in Kristiansand, always indoor. I could not yet experience them in open air: the show at Hovefestivalen in Arendal was canceled because Mikael Åkerfeldt had chickenpox; Coroner played at the same time at Wacken in 2012, a heartbreaking choice.
Opeth is not just playing songs, they create delicate or bombastic atmospheres. Will it work with an outdoor show on a sunny day? They open the gig with ‘Eternal Rains Will Come’ and ‘Cusp of Eternity’ from Pale Communion, and the magic works immediately, magnified by a loud and clear sound. Then we get the first moment of grace through the notes of ‘Drapery Falls’. The second one comes with ‘To Rid the Disease’. From now on I am flying high: do not take drugs or alcohol, just music. I need a couple of minutes to land after a huge ‘Deliverance’, which is closing a show I will definitely remember.
P.S.: I just disagree with Mikael when he sings ‘God Is Dead’: Cthulhu is actually just asleep… For the record, he has still a great sense of humour (I am talking about Mikael…).
BLACK LABEL SOCIETY are ok – the power of ‘The Beggning’ and ‘Funeral Bell’ and Zakks impressive vocals are a good start. Thankfully they’re spending less time talking between songs and it is a good half an hour before Zakk spends ten minutes going over and over the same repetitive guitar phrase. I’m sorry but however great a player his is – and he most definitely is – there’s just no need for this. It is the same every time, and it’s boring. When you’ve only got a little over an hour to play, why not play? ‘Concrete Jungle’ is played significantly slower, and the rendition of ‘Blessed Hellride’ sounds a lot different. It’s not the acoustic ballad from the album. It’s a little darker with the electric element. It works, but I prefer the original version.
Parts of QUEENSRYCHE’s portfolio I quite simply worship. ‘Operation:Mindcrime’ first and foremost, then ‘Promised Land’ and ‘Empire’, to some extent also ‘The Warning’. Funny thing is that I never have seen them live, and it’s something I really wanted for ages. Now that Todd La Torre is on board, I also have some faith in the band’s ability to actually hit the right note, so to speak. Todd certainly is a fantastic singer. He treats the classic Qrÿche material with great respect and delivers everything, also the songs from last years ‘Queensrÿche’ album perfectly. Things start out a bit worrying with a dodgy sound, but things are cleared up quickly. Michael Wilton and Eddie Jackson are not the most lively musicians on the planet, but La Torre and Parker Lundgren make up for that with more movement, as does the dynamo behind the drums, Scott Rockenfield. En Force, Warning, Breaking the Silence, The Needle Lies, Eyes of a Stranger, Queen of the Reich and Take Hold of the Flame are some of the powerful tunes that wave over the muddy rivers of Wacken today, and it’s like a relief for someone like me who’s taken so long to finally get to see this band. Queensrÿche also plays a promising old-school sounding song from their upcoming album. Can’t wait to hear that one!
Attending: Phil, Jørgen, Thomas
Oi! Is that Geoff Tate? Will someone kick his arse? Wait, hang on, I just did myself… (Queensrÿche)
ANNIHILATOR now have Jeff Waters as a frontman. This has happened before, but it is my first experience seeing them with him on lead vocal duties as well as guitars. Unfortunately the result is not as good. Jeff doesn’t make mistakes – there are just some things he does better than others. His vocals are alright – nothing exceptional but not bad either. The reason the performance suffers in comparison with others is simply this: A trademark of Jeff (as any Annihilator fan should know) is his on stage quirks, expressions and movements around the stage while delivering some of the most exquisite guitar in this history of thrash metal. Something is lost when that isn’t able to be delivered in the same way due to Jeff having to concentrate on vocals. His stage presence is one of the best things about this band – and he is one of those rare talents who can successfully simultaneously combine brilliant stage presence with mastery of his instrument. However, adding lead vocals in means that the stage presence is not as good. The guitar is fine. Fantastic as always. There were a couple of sound issues too. A slight technical difficulty half way through the set, and initially the guitars were not loud enough though this was resolved fairly quickly. An interesting surprise is a guest appearance from Mike Mangini playing drums on ‘Set The World On Fire’. As many of you may know he is now the Dream Theater drummer and since they are to play on the adjacent stage directly after Annihilator, he joins his former band to play for that song. It is warmly received. The best thing Annihilator have done in terms of the set list in recent performances is to include ‘Human Insecticide’. It’s such a good, solid, thrash riff and it’s also a good thing that by this point in the day people can move around a little more because the mud is drying out a bit better.
Attending: Thomas, Matt
Flashback to the 90s – Mike Mangini behind the kit once more (Annihilator)
It is difficult to describe the intensity of DEATH ANGEL show. These guys are not getting older, they are getting wilder. ‘Seemingly Endless Time’ from the classic ‘Act III’ album opens the hostilities and even during Mark Osegueda’s between songs speeches, we do not get a second to catch our breath: what a frontman! Rob Cavestany was, is and will always be a guitar hero for me, in the studio and on stage: just check out the solos from ‘Voracious Souls’, solos he composed when he was teenager. But Mark, Rob, Ted, Will and Damian are not living in the past, and songs like ’The Dream Calls for Blood’ or ‘Succubus’ kill as well (Kill as one, hahaha?). Just sweat, blood, fun and a diabolical precision in the execution of the songs. I just feel I have been executed, and so happy for that. Thank you very much, you amok Thrashers. I am afraid the WET stage as to be rebuilt now.
Attending: Thomas, Phil
I have seen DREAM THEATER several times before and they never disappoint, same thing with their Wacken show. They were tight as hell and really seemed to enjoy their first show at Wacken. They played all their classics like The Spirit Carries on etc. it was a really great show that everyone seemed to enjoy. Sadly I had to go early to catch the Armored Saint show.
Aaah, the memories. At some point in 1991, Jørgen and I got ourselves on a bus and headed down to the Rock Hard Festival in Berlin. The bill was quite frankly an odd mixture: Morgoth, Sepultura, Obituary, Blind Guardian and, you guessed it, ARMORED SAINT. Having then just released the ‘Symbol of Salvation’ album, the Saint wasn’t the winner of the day, there in Berlin. Jørgen and I were practically their only fans, along with perhaps 20 others. Depressing it was. Eventually, Armored Saint collapsed without having reached the deserved recognition, only to return after John Bush had left Anthrax. They’re a good band, and in my view, they deserve a lot of credit. Some of that credit they get today on the Headbangers Stage.
Starting out with the title track from the latest and indeed capable album, ‘Win Hands Down’, I’m sure that some of the old-school fans in the audience get worried, but there is no reason to. First of all, it’s a great song, secondly, this is the only new song apart from An Exercise in Debauchery, which is played later. March of the Saint is next, then Delirious Nomad. After An Exercise…, it’s time for Raising Fear and the goose-bump provoking Last Train Home, where Bush once again shows that he’s one of the best metal singers around. Albeit that the man looks as non-metal as you can. What’s with those weird pants anyway?!
A new-ish song is then brought forth: Left Hook from Right Field (from ‘La Raza’), only to be followed by the two old-school hammers Reign of Fire and Can U Deliver. A nod to the old school? Indeed – and what a nod!
Attending: Phil, Jørgen, Thomas
Much like their performance I witnessed at Hellfest earlier this year, IN FLAMES have pulled in the crowd. I suspect it won’t be long before they are headlining major UK festivals too. Most of what I said at the Hellfest review also applies here. The only difference is that the crowd are a little more restricted in being able to go as crazy as the Hellfest crowd on account of the ground conditions. For the same reasons, I am restricted too, being able to only see this from further back, but the sound is still incredible – very well balanced. The pyros during and at the end of their set go down a treat and they are just as tight as they were a little more than a month ago. There’s a bit more talking between the songs, of which there are more than was the case at Hellfest. I do kinda wish their image was still the same as a few years back instead of developing an almost nu-metal look. Well, to be fair that only applies to vocalist Anders.
There have been phases in my metal life where I’ve listened to NUCLEAR ASSAULT a lot. They were also among the first twenty or so bands I saw live (Roskilde 1992), so, yeah, John Connelly and Danny Lilker were early influences for me. Their sound was unlike any other band I knew at the time and their approach to thrash wasn’t at all like e.g. Slayer, Metallica, Megadeth or all the other bands I listened to. In 2015, there are now several bands who copy what Nuclear Assualt did back then, but they are still a unique band. Connelly has short hair now and hasn’t exactly lost weight, jawohl, but his voice is no less characteristic and aggressive. Glen Evans behind the drums looks really, really old now, but he’s still got the same punch, and Lilker hasn’t actually changed that much. Erik Burke has replaced Anthony Bramante since the last time I saw Nuclear Assault live (Wacken 2002), and he fits in nicely. A couple of new songs from the new EP are played and approved, but otherwise we’re looking back in history with songs like Critical Mass, Emergency, When Freedom Dies, Radiation Sickness and the hilarious My America and the most provocative tune of them all, namely Hang the Pope. Killer stuff.
Attending: Phil, Thomas
Still brutal (Nuclear Assault)
Due to the overlapping schedules and hard prioritisation, my encounter with Dutch female fronted super stars WITHIN TEMPTATION is all but too brief. Sharon den Adel looks as wonderful as ever and her voice is equally stunning, and that’s just about what I get from that concert before wading back to the WET Stage.
Attending a little bit: Thomas
It’s funny how some bands have a special status with you. MY DYING BRIDE aren’t commercially huge in any way, and, admittedly, some of their material from yonder years isn’t exactly the best that has graced human ears, and yet, they have always been my favourite doom band. The reasons are primarily their sound and their mix of the melancholy with death metal fury. I love contrasts, also in music, and that it something the Brits around Aaron Stainthorpe certainly provide. This is only the second time I see the Bride live (the last time was at Wacken 2002), and I’m therefore anxious that this will be a good experience. My Dying Bride do not disappoint.
Kicking off with Your River from ‘Turn Loose The Swans’, the WET Stage audience are invited on a late-night journey through the My Dying Bride universe. Eight songs of atmospheric, emotionally haunting doom, with the breath-taking tempo shifts and stunningly beautiful passages are laid before us, the set concluding with a demo song, God Is Alone, which the band, according to Aaron, wrote 145 years ago. The song, by the way, is complete mayhem and pure death metal anger unleashed. Throughout the gig, the front man himself is wallowing in apparent self-torment, biting his own arms, falling onto the floor as if in constant agony, thus adding to the atmosphere of gloom. A special concert, this one, and most definitely not one I will forget soon.
Thus ends the third day of Wacken Open Air, mud still dominating the scenery, although the rain has finally stopped and is not likely to return on the morrow.
WOA Day IV (Saturday)
I wish I could understand German. POWERWOLF are very popular in their native country, and in between songs the frontman is saying things that has the crowd laughing their assess off, but of course I have no clue what is being said. It’s pretty formulaic in terms of the music, but people have a lot more freedom to move around today as the mud is drying out a lot better, so there is a lot of jumping around and much more audience participation than has previously been possible. There’s a lot of latin based themes – it sounds more symphonic than power metal. They are darker than most power metal bands and they certainly look it. They are not familiar to me, but I’ll be checking out more of their material for sure. A particular favourite is one called ‘Werewolves Of Armenia’. The frontman is a guy called Attila Dorn, and he talks a lot, but he obviously uses it to his advantage. Though I personally have no idea what he is saying, the pauses between songs and him engaging with the crowd in the way he does actually adds to the performance – and that’s rare. Normally I am the first to want people to stop talking so much and play the songs, but I wasn’t bothered by this – and I don’t even understand the language! I also enjoy the way the keyboard player does not restrict himself to standing behind the instrument when he isn’t playing, instead running down to the front of the crowd and adding to the stage presence. The reason I said Stratovarious were the best power metal band I had seen in 2015 until then was because after watching Powerwolf, they are now second.
Attending: Jørgen, Matt
Usually, Phil and I are up and about earlier than two or three in the afternoon, but it’s as if the mud has made us a tad more tired, and, well, we’re not tempted by Powerwolf as it is the case for Jørgen and Matt. Paradoxically, the sun is now beaming from a clear, blue sky, and quite frankly scorching. Luckily, a breeze of refreshing, cold wind blows from the land of A Thousand Lakes as Finland’s proud sons AMORPHIS are the first ones to grace our running order on the last day of the festival. Even if the Finns have a strong, new album out soon, the focus is entirely old-school. Amorphis celebrate the 20th anniversary of ‘Tales from the Thousand Lakes’, and, to be honest, it’s a treat to listen to all of these old songs with Tomi doing the vocals. In addition to the ‘Tales…’ songs, the sympathetic Finns treat us with Better Unborn, Against Widows and My Kantele from ‘Elegy’, as well as the slightly superfluous Abhorrence cover Vulgar Necrolatry, and lastly Folk of the North from the ‘Black Winter Day’ EP. A bit weird to see Tomi without his characteristic dreadlocks (with the sunglasses he looks like an updated and fitter version of Dave Wyndorf from Monster Magnet). But it matters not: Amorphis are a wonderful band, and listening to the ‘Tales…’ material brings back fond memories of a time when there weren’t folk inspired metal bands every goddamned corner.
Attending: Phil, Thomas
There are over 50 people on stage for ROCK MEETS CLASSIC. Prague Symphony Orchestra make up most of that number. Rock and classical music mix so well when people know what they’re doing. And this has been very well put together. Dio and Rainbow songs from Joe Lynn Turner are a good way to continue after an ok but not outstanding opener from Jennie Haben from Beyond The Black. They’re a symphonic band as far as I know. Joe has the experience needed to build the pace of things and get things rocking more, but it’s Michael Kiske and Dee Snider who really get things heated up. Before I get to that I have to acknowledge the orchestra’s performance. Far more than traditional performances from orchestras involved in rock music such as the S&M Metallica performance, the Prague Orchestra actually really works well to add to the stage presence. They may have to stay sitting a lot of the time, but they are rocking out just as much as the other band members are. You clearly see the enjoyment they get, and they convey that to the crowd, which has a really powerful, positive effect. The conductor swordfighting with the baton went down a treat too. Now, for the rest of the performance: I never thought I would see Kiske on stage doing Helloween songs. A mate of mine also watching said he hadn’t seen him sing those songs since ’88. He may look a lot different, but he still hits all the notes when he sings I want Out and Kids of the Century. He is limited to three songs. Then Dee Snider, or Dee ‘Fuckin’ Snider as he addresses himself, appears for some Twisted Sister classics amid a lot of joking and banter, and a rant about selfies – he is even wearing a shirt saying ‘Stop Taking Selfies’ which he jokingly describes as a world problem. His encouragement of audience participation is captivating and it does exactly what it is intended to do. This is one of the most entertaining acts I have witnessed in recent years. Of course the biggest participation of the entire day is with the classics I Wanna Rock and We’re Not Gonna Take It. The set finishes with all the people involved coming on together to perform ACDC’s Highway To Hell. Dee jokes that they won’t go off for an encore because getting 50 people off and on stage again is a nightmare and when he tried it last many of them didn’t come back. According to the schedule, they overran already. Nobody cares. Everyone enjoys this. I hope they tour it more.
Attending: Matt, Jørgen, Phil, Thomas
After the huge Rock Meets Classic show with Mr Snyder and Kiske, where I sang and screamed as a kid, it is time for a complete change of mood with BLOODBATH, featuring Nick Holmes from Paradise Lost, who replaced Mikael Åkerfeldt in the studio and live for the ‘Grand Morbid Funeral’ tour. The sound is as good as the performance, but the show doesn’t really take off, and Dan Swanö as guest at the end doesn’t change this feeling. I guess the place can get the blame for it. When I think about what Death Angel, Obituary or Nuclear Assault did on the WET stage, much smaller and ‘indoor’ scene, I just regret Bloodbath doesn’t play there instead of on the big True Stage in the late sun light. I regret also that they forget to play ‘Outnumbering the Day’: I just love this song. Interestingly, as a side note, one cannot fail to notice that Holmes hasn’t done his homework. He wears mirror sunglasses, thus trying to make it less obvious that is reading the lyrics from a ringbinder hidden behind his monitor. Bloodbath isn’t his fulltime job, right…
Attending: Thomas, Jørgen, Phil
Ehm, where are me lyrics, then? (Bloodbath)
CANNIBAL CORPSE are for many THE death metal band, but for me they are a band I’ve gotten used to or come to appreciate over the years. Corpsegrinder and his hardy fellows play the Party Stage, which here on the Saturday by far is the most muddy one. We’ve reached a point where we can’t really stand it anymore, so we enjoy the brutal sounds from a bigger distance than we usually would. Still, the effective groove of Cannibal Corpse works like a charm. I’ve never really been able to tell the difference between their songs, but I don’t care. It works perfectly no matter what. Brutal groove, brutal grunts, what more do you need?
Attending: Phil, Thomas
Looking out for looooove…or something (Cannibal Corpse)
If you’re in doubt if JUDAS PRIEST is still up for it, then rest assured that there’s still some juice left in the old metal fruit. No, Halford can’t do the same screams as he could 15 years ago, but he can do SOME screams, and very effectively, even. Opener Dragonaut from last year’s ‘Redeemer of Souls’ works fine and fits into the Painkiller tradition (which we like). Then we move into an old-school moment with Metal Gods and the perhaps less played Devil’s Child (from ‘Screaming for Vengeance’). Less surprising is Victim of Changes, which is followed by ‘Redeemer…’ song Halls of Valhalla. It divided fans for sure back in the day, but I always liked ‘Turbo Lover’, and tonight we get exactly the title track from that album. Good stuff! Halford spends a couple of minutes contemplating the origins of the band, and then the Priest celebrate their past with Beyond the Realms of Death from ‘Stained Glass’. I reckon new kid Richie on the guitar wasn’t even born when this album was released? The gigantic Jawbreaker follows, and as we head over to the WET Stage after an hour or so with Judas Priest, the anthemic Breaking the Law resounds over the fields of Wacken.
Attending most of or parts of the gig: Phil, Matt, Jørgen, Thomas
Running away from Judas Priest isn’t an easy decision to make! But OBITUARY make up for it. Easily, even. From the first notes of the instrumental Redneck Stomp to the last tones of Slowly We Rot, the Florida death metal veterans gives everyone a lesson in brutality. The Obituary groove is so massively impressive and infectious, there’s no way you can stand still, and the area in front of the WET Stage is practically boiling. The reason that this gig doesn’t get a 10 devil rating is that there are a number of odd pauses between almost all songs. John Tardy disappears behind the stacks a few times as if there’s something wrong, but no explanation is given. This kind of breaks the flow of an otherwise perfect performance.
Attending: Phil, Thomas
Errr, guys, who put out the lights? (Obituary)
Man, those screams are unbelievable. That’s the reaction you read from the faces of those in the crowd who aren’t accustomed to Dani Filth’s vocal performance. And, yes, it is impressive that the man still has a voice at all after all these years of screaming in CRADLE OF FILTH. Dani is apparently less impressed with the reactions of the Wacken audience here in the midnight hour. No matter how good CoF are, they are essentially a black metal band and indeed an acquired taste. They are NOT Judas Priest or Maiden, and especially after midnight on the last night of Wacken, and in particular as Wacken where everyone has been wading through ankle deep mud for four days, no one can expect reactions in those measures. Eventually, Dani’s calls for a circle pit are rewarded, and more people do gather in front of the Black Stage, but you still sense it’s not enough for the wee Englishman.
That said, Cradle have gone to great lenghts creating an impressive stage layout, and they play flawlessly. The sound is probably the best Cradle live sound I’ve heard, and the new band members around Dani do a fantastic job. The biggest set back is not Cradle’s fault: The soundboard guy forgets to turn up Lindsay Schoolcraft’s microphone for Nymphetamine, which is a real shame. Otherwise an excellent Cradle of Filth gig.
Attending: Phil, Thomas
This concludes this years Wacken Open Air for us. Some of us would have liked to see the crazy Finnish fusion metallers Waltari at 02:15, but it’s too much now. The mud, rain and eventually scorching sun has gotten to us, and it’s time to hit the sleeping bags. Anyway, despite the ridiculous amounts of mud, this has been another year of great musical experiences and shows. Let’s hope that it won’t be another four days of wellingtons next year!
Don’t forget to visit our Wacken Open Air 2015 picture gallery!
All pictures © Thomas Nielsen, except Opeth © Philippe Leconte.