It’s been more than 2 weeks since the Headbangers India crew got back from the 24th Wacken Open Air. The 2013 edition of the heavy metal ran for 4 days with over 120 bands from more than 25 countries (maybe more?) and today, when I think back, the first word that comes to me to describe the event is ‘overwhelming.’
Due to the nature of the event; the size of the festival and multiple stages, it’s really impossible to watch every single act. This ‘review’ (if I may call it so) focuses only on my impressions from the festival and focus on the bands that the Headbangers India crew watched.
Before I get into the actual review of the festival, I want to give you, the reader, an insight as to what this festival is made of. The town of Wacken has a population of less than 2000 inhabitants and on any normal day, would be a quiet German town. However, during Wacken Open Air, the village transforms into a living, breathing metal machine. With approximately 90,000 metalheads making their way to the festival this year, the town opens up and the streets are filled with black t-shirts and beer stalls. The feeling of walking through so many metalheads is definitely overwhelming. It’s like a part of the world where regular rules don’t apply; where metalheads can just be themselves without the judgemental eye of society upon them.
The festival itself covers an enormous area; enough for 7 stages (Black stage, True Metal stage, Party stage, Headbangers stage, W.E.T stage, Beer Garden stage and Wackinger stage), camping spots for all the festival-goers, beer gardens, food stalls etc. And if you are really unlikely, you could find yourself trudging long distances to get from your camp site to the Black stage and the True Metal stage (where all the action is). Wacken also traditionally has a legacy of terrible weather, and this year was no different. The sun blazed and beat down upon the festival-goers on the first two days and a short but intense bout of rain on the third day ensured that everyone left the festival with muddy boots and wet clothes.
90,000 fans at a festival equates to a tremendous amount of beer/alcohol/food consumption and the festival grounds were peppered with beer and alcohol stalls. The Wackinger Village consisted of several food stalls offering almost all kinds of food available, albeit at a slightly premium price.
It was late evening when I actually arrived at the festival, sharing a car for the long journey from Leipzig, Saxony to the town of Wacken, Schleswig-Holstein. I met up with the guys from Devoid and Kryptos, and beers were popped as we waited for Devoid’s set at the W.E.T stage for the Wacken Metal Battle. Devoid’s set was preceded by Trallery, winners of the Wacken Metal Battle Spain. Straight up thrash metal with a ferocious bass player. Devoid’s set which was 20 minutes long was quite destructive as well. Beginning their set with ‘The Invasion,’ they went on to play ‘A God’s Lie,’ ‘Brahma Weapon’ and ‘Battle Cry.’ However, I’d have liked the band to end with a heavier, more in-your-face track that would have left a lasting impact on the audiences who had collected to watch ‘the metal band from India’ (being from an ‘exotic’ country has its advantages). I’m quite upset that I didn’t get to watch Crimson Shadows from Canada, the epic power/death metal band that ended up being crowned winners of the Metal Battle. The day ended with a lot more beer being consumed at the VIP bar. Nothing more to report.
The official first day of Wacken Open Air 2013. I was up early in the morning to ensure I’d be able to use the bathroom facilities and take a clean shower. After a bit of a bite and waiting for the rest of the guys to wake up and get ready, we proceeded to get a few more beers and wait until 4pm for Skyline. A purely cover band, Skyline hit up the Black stage and got the crowds ready with their versions of ‘Still Of The Night’ (Whitesnake), ‘Turbo Lover’ (Judas Priest), ‘Paranoid’ (Black Sabbath), ‘T.N.T’ (AC DC) and ‘Paradise City’ (Guns N’ Roses) among others. Skyline were followed by Annihilator and that’s when the thunder began. I maintain that I’m not the biggest fan of Annihilator (save for Jeff Waters) but they did put on a great show. Tracks included ‘The Fun Palace,’ ‘Set The World On Fire,’ ‘Allison Hell’ and ‘No Way Out’ from their upcoming album ‘Feast.’ It was quite nice to meet Dave Padden at the VIP bar after the concert as well.
The next band I caught was Deep Purple, and all I can say is, this is a band for which age does not seem to have any effect on. Ian Gillian hit the highs and the lows with aplomb and it goes without saying, Steve Morse is a guitar legend. It was great to see a band that has been playing music for more than 40 years still draw massive audiences and entertain the crowd like it’s their first show. The band began their set with ‘Highway Star’ and ran through their classics (‘Perfect Strangers,’ ‘Space Truckin,’ ‘Strange Kind of Woman’ etc) and even invited Uli Jon Roth on stage for a guitar duel that went into ‘Smoke On The Water.’
However, the band of the day, perhaps the entire festival, was German powerhouse Rammstein. I’d caught their set in Berlin earlier in the year and was blown away, but Rammstein at Wacken Open Air was something else. 90,000 fans screaming along to every word, and that’s not the half of it! The pyro, the lights, the stage act. In my opinion, Rammstein have transformed themselves from a band that plays industrial music to a complete theatrical event. Beginning their set with ‘Ich Tu Dir Weh,’ complete with synchronised fireworks shooting into the sky, the band played a classic setlist which included ‘Du Hast,’ ‘Links 2 3 4,’ ‘Benzin’ and ‘Du Reichst So Gut.’ ‘Benzin’ had some of the coolest stage setups I’d ever seen; the guitar players shoot flames from their mouths and the vocalist Till Lindemann walks around with a flame thrower, burning down an innocent ‘fan’ that runs across the stage. The concert ended with ‘Pussy’ where Till mounted a giant penis shaped cannon and shot confetti into the crowds. What is surprisingly to see is that the band has absolutely no communication with the audiences. It’s all straight out song after song, bang-bang-bang-bang, no unnecessary banter to kill time etc. Rammstein were definitely my pick of the day (perhaps the entire festival) and after close to 100 minutes of screaming to every song and feeling the heat from the fireworks, I decided to call it a day and retire to the VIP bar for a few more beers.
The 2nd day of Wacken was upon us! With a host of great bands on the lineup, including Gojira, Ihsahn, Ugly Kid Joe, Powerwolf, Sabaton, Doro, Soilwork and of course, headliners Motörhead, this was a day to look forward to. I was out at the Black stage at 1.30pm to catch Gojira and while they did put on a strong set, I wasn’t particularly impressed with the sound mix. However, Ugly Kid Joe (who unfortunately were playing at the same time as Ihsahn) were a treat to watch. Despite hardly being relevant in today’s world, the band garnered quite an audience and put on a great show. The cherry on the top? Phil Campbell of Motörhead joined the band for a rendition of ‘Ace Of Spades.’ This was particularly special, considering the events at the end of the day (more on that soon).
I watched the final bit of Sabaton’s set as I set up based in front of the Black stage, waiting for Lemmy and his crew of bastards to hit the stage, and they were quite impressive, to say the least. Power metal done well. It was their first time at Wacken Open Air and based on the response they received, it definitely won’t be the last.
Motörhead. Oh, where do I begin? When Lemmy walked into stage to the intro of ‘I Know How To Die,’ he looked like a man on the fringes of death. His voice, despite sounding strong seemed strained and he looked physically weak. The band played on (at a pace slower than usual) and make no mistake, it was great, but it was no Motörhead concert. It was no surprise that after 6 tracks and an early guitar solo, the band left the stage citing Lemmy’s poor health. I wish the best of health to Lemmy and can’t wait to see Motörhead again under better circumstances.
This short Motörhead set gave us time to walk out and explore the village of Wacken a little. By the time we got back, Amorphis were on at the Party stage and despite not knowing much about the band and the music, I was quite overwhelmed by their acoustic/psychedelic set with folk overtones, (although I was too tired to last through the heavier parts). Headed back to the bar for a few beers before hitting the sack.
Bands that I wanted to watch but didn’t/couldn’t: Mustasch, Doro, Powerwolf, Tristania, Agnostic Front, Soilwork
Reasons for missing afore-mentioned bands: Incredible heat beating down on us, as well as scheduling conflicts with other bands (although I did hear good things about all these bands). Doro celebrated her 30th anniversary of playing metal at Wacken and invited Uli Jon Roth, Biff Byford (Saxon) and Chris Boltendahl (Grave Digger) among others to join her on stage.
The clouds showed ominous signs as dawn broke upon the final day of Wacken Open Air 2013. The weather report predicted rain later on during the day, which came exactly during Lamb Of God’s debut performance at Wacken Open Air. The result was unbelievable; a wicked moshpit of flying limbs and mud everywhere. Having seen Lamb of God before, I ran for cover before the worst of the storm hit but the band played on to an ecstatic crowd that braved the rain for them.
I did catch bits of Anthrax and as anyone at Wacken would tell you, they totally destroyed. Nolan (guitars/vocals of Kryptos) had this to say about Anthrax’s set.
“The band of the festival for me was by far Anthrax. They absolutely destroyed the place. Joey Belladonna was on fire and it was one of the best vocal performances I’ve seen in a long time. Watching them play all the old shit, especially Deathrider is like a…..fistful of metal.”
I faced a ‘metal’ dilemma in the evening; watch Swedish doom metal band Candlemass or watch American shock rock artist Alice Cooper. The latter won over and I don’t regret my decision one bit. My teenage years flashed before my eyes as the 65 year old Cooper belted classics, one after another, including a bunch of covers by The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles and The Who. I was bouncing all over the place, singing along to ‘Poison’ and ‘I’m 18,’ trying to make sure Manaswi didn’t leave me in embarrassment!
I also caught bits of Nightwish’s performance and to be honest, I was blown away. I knew Nightwish was big in Europe but they had a massive audience, and everyone seemed to be having a blast. They had a great sound and stand-in vocalist Floor Jansen was on fire! I’m aware of Floor’s older work with After Forever but this was the first time I heard her with Nightwish. The concert was recorded for a live DVD and this is something I would definitely like to get my hands on.
Midway through Nightwish’s performance, I left to watch Indian thrashers Kryptos hit the stage. Playing the WET stage a few minutes after midnight, Kryptos were one of the last acts of Wacken Open Air 2013. They attracted a sizable audience, although playing at the same time as Meshuggah and Lingua Mortis/Rage is bound to have consequences. I’ll be very clear; I thoroughly enjoyed their performance but I’ve seen Kryptos play better. Playing music mostly of their 3rd album ‘The Coils of Apollyon,’ the band did receive a good response from the crowd, and I think, that is the bottom line, isn’t it? Hardcore Superstar and Suidakra were on after Kryptos but I just wanted to rest my weary legs and have a beer. Walking back from the WET stage, I caught the last few minutes of Lingua Mortis Orchestra featuring Rage and enjoyed what I heard.
I missed Fear Factory (but heard them from the bar area), Danzig, Trivium, Sonata Arctica and Devil Driver but I’m not a big fan of any of these bands. No biggie.
So ended my experiences at the 24th edition of the heavy metal pilgrimage, Wacken Open Air. 4 days filled with excessive beer drinking, heavy metal and meeting great people from all over the world. That, perhaps was my greatest observation about the festival; the camaraderie between everyone there. No one cared about your age, gender, ancestry and colour of your skin. If you were at Wacken, it meant that you were there for the metal and that was the bottom line. No arguments about the difference genres of metal; everyone was accepted and acknowledged.
I will definitely be back at Wacken Open Air 2014, seeing that King Diamond, Emperor, Behemoth and Amon Amarth (among others) have been confirmed as performing acts. 75,000 tickets for next year’s edition have already been sold out, just 45 hours from the start of sales! I expect next year to be just as good (if not better) than this year and if YOU plan to be there, YOU need to start planning right now.
Until next year, Wacken!