Review: Wacken Open Air 2016

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Every year metalheads from all over the world travel to the Holy Land of Wacken. This year was the 27th edition of the world’s biggest heavy metal festival and like its slogan said, RAIN OR SHINE. Wacken and rain simply go hand in hand these days but that doesn’t make it any less fun.

Day 0 (Tuesday)
We started our journey from Hoorn (The Netherlands) at around 11.00 and after a five hour drive, we finally arrived at the Holy Land of Wacken. At this time, it was still sunny outside and we quickly pitched our tents. As part of the Wacken experience, we decided to pitch our tents at the “regular” camp grounds (instead of the Press camping but where’s the fun in that)

After some food, we decided to walk around the camp sites and share a drink with a few of the other early birds. So far, it was a good night with music coming from every tent/car/truck you can imagine. Some people even brought drum kits and amps with them and performed on the camping site. We even found a Lemmy memorial! All and all, a good day and we went to bed satisfied, waiting for the first day of live music from the festival.

Day 1 (Wednesday)
Waking up to the sound of rain is a familiar sight at Wacken but it couldn’t get in the way of our fun (at least that is what we thought.) After walking about 2.5 km through the pouring rain to get our Press passes, we were soaked and not happy at all. After we got our passes, we took a taxi back to the festival and started to feel better. It was a foolish mistake on our part as we had ponchos and raincoats but left them at the tent. After we changed, we made our way to the Wackinger Village for a specific piece of food that I had been craving for over a year (Zyklopenspiess) and watch Pampatut while we were there. We tried to watch Indian represents Elemental at the Headbangers Stage but to our surprise, they didn’t get on stage at that time (we later found out that due to unforeseen circumstances, they were not able to attend the festival.) After the food, we made our way to the beer-garden where we watched tuXedoo with their brand of “Alpencore.”

After tuXedoo were done, we made our way to the Press Section to see which bands would do a press conference and maybe find some wandering band members. We found out that Phil Campbell’s All Star Band was doing a press conference so we stuck around to watch the legend and his band take the stage. When Phil Campbell and his band came on, he informed us that the band’s name had been changed to Phil Campbell and The Bastard Sons, which was pretty funny because three-fourth of the band members are his sons. We tried to watch the band later on at the Headbangers’ Stage but we were out of luck as the stage was packed and we were not allowed inside. We then made our way back to our tent through the already piling and slippery mud waiting for the second day of music madness!

Day 2 (Thursday)
After being woken up by the rain again, we decided we would go to the festival grounds earlier and see the Ireland’s representatives at the Metal Battle, progressive sludge band zhOra. We were quite interested in this band as we had seen them play in Dublin once and the energy at Wacken was amazing. After zhOra were done, we headed back to the press area to watch legendary NWOBHM act Saxon, who spoke about their new live DVD (which was recorded while they were the support act for Motorhead,) working with Lemmy and about a new album, at which point Biff jokingly said that he was writing a song about Wacken called Mud and Alcohol. The press conference ended with someone asking if they would play 747, to which they replied we will ask the audience what they want.

Photo by Rolf Klatt from www.wacken.com
Photo by Rolf Klatt from www.wacken.com

We went back to the festival ground to see the band Skyline open the Black Stage (as is tradition) and with that, the festival. Skyline, as always, played a few covers of popular metal songs but what was different this year was they didn’t have any guest vocalists (like the years before when they had Udo and Doro sing for them.) After Skyline, it was time for Saxon at the True Metal stage. Saxon were absolutely amazing and the only thing I can say about this gig is that you need to watch it yourself.

Thursday turned out to be a hell of a night for the classic fans as Foreigner, Whitesnake and Iron Maiden took over the main stages. Foreigner kicked off with Double Vision and rocketed to the sky from there on out and of course, they played their classics Cold as Ice, Juke Box Hero and I Want To Know What Love Is. It always makes me laugh when a band like Foreigner or Whitesnake plays a metal festival because you see the big metal guys screaming along with the ballads.

After Foreigner, Whitesnake hit the stage, fronted by the amazing voice of David Coverdale. This would be the 15th time I’ve seen this band live and they never seem to disappoint me. Starting off with Bad Boys, they took everyone to the magic ride that is called Whitesnake. This tour is called the greatest hits tour for a reason, and again the crowd reacted amazingly to Is This Love and Here I Go Again. But Wacken being Wacken, it started to rain like crazy just before Whitesnake playing, so we rushed over to the press area to find some shelter. When the rain finally stopped we went back to the main stage for Iron Maiden.

Frank had never seen Iron Maiden before, so he was in for a treat. Iron Maiden finished their ‘Book of Souls’ world tour at Wacken this year after a massive world tour on Ed Force One. Unfortunately, I wasn’t happy with the sound coming from the stage and PAs. The sound faded and Bruce’s voice was sometimes buried in the mix; luckily for the people at home, they had a livestream of the concert and when I look at this, I realised that the sound was better than in the field. Personally, this wasn’t my favourite Iron Maiden show, so I made the choice to go back to the tent just before the encore. totally forgot about the Lemmy tribute after the Iron Maiden gig (stupid mistake), but I was too tired and upset to stay around.

Day 3 (Friday)
The first thing I did on Friday was finally watching Henry Rollins as I really wanted to see him perform his spoken word act. The thing about Henry is that he always tells exactly what you need to hear, if it’s political or just stories about him travelling to Antarctica and listening to Raw Power by Iggy Pop while sleeping on the ice.

After Henry Rollins, we decided to go to the Betontod listening session where we were served Betontod beer which was all kinds of awesome. The album sounded good and you could see that the guys were really excited about this one.

After Betontod, the Metal Battle winners were announced, with Zombies Ate My Girlfriend from South Africa taking the grand prize in the country’s very first win. I rushed back to the Black Stage for Entombed AD and I’m really glad I didn’t miss them; the energy from the Swedish death metal outfit was coming right at you from the beginning of the show. It’s always a pleasure to see this band live and when I looked at the audience from where I was standing, I could see that I wasn’t alone. Axel Rudi Pell took the True Metal Stage next but he couldn’t keep me there for long. His guitar playing was great as always but for me, the rest of the show was too far out of reach and I made my way to do some record shopping. We caught a bit of the folkish sounds of Eluveitie from the Black Stage, which was still a feast for the eyes and ears with guest frontwoman Liv Kristine. We walked around the festival site, drinking a few beers and counting the minutes to Blind Guardian; one of Wacken’s favourite bands. They remain one of Germany’s biggest names in power metal and they always gives me goose bumps when they play The Bard’s Song.

Al Jourgensen and his band of misfits in Ministry took the Black Stage after Blind Guardian and owned it from the first minute. The band was truly amazing and blew me away at 00.15 in at night. The energy and raw power was intense and seeing Al Jourgensen tearing it up on stage was just a treat for the eyes. These industrial metal legends surprised me with their show and remains one of the best shows from Wacken Open Air 2016.

Photo by Rolf Klatt from www.wacken.com
Photo by Rolf Klatt from www.wacken.com

But the night wasn’t over with Ministry, as American thrash metal legends Testament stampeded all over the diehard fans who were still waiting to see them at 01:45 in the morning – when most fans were already drunk and/or in bed. Testament blew the top off Wacken and having missed the band in Holland a few weeks, earlier, I was glad not to miss it. Absolutely worth staying up so late.

Day 4 (Saturday)
It’s always hard waking up to the last day of the festival because of the partying we did the day before but we pulled ourselves together and walked back to the festival ground. We missed Dragonforce but we could hear them play as we walked over (they played Through The Fire And Flames which always makes me smile and think about Guitar Hero 3 – what a bastard of a song that was). We arrived just in time to see Symphony X take the stage. I personally didn’t like it very much that early in the afternoon but they went on and did their thing, which meant Borknagar was up next. They had a few troubles earlier that day at the airport but finally everyone and everything got on stage just in time. The progressive death metal band from Norway set their mark at Wacken with an awesome performance and I’ll be looking forward to watching them again!

Metal Church followed up the True Stage but since I saw them two weeks earlier, I walked back to the Wendy Dio press conference. She spoke about the new Dio boxset and told us to make sure we caught the Dio Disciples show later that night because there would be something very special about that show. When the press conference was over, I walked over to Wendy and she said what everyone now knows, that there would be a hologram of Dio!

I made sure I found my way to watch the ultra-violent, wrestling themed band Eat The Turnbuckle. The stage setup was a wrestling ring with a referee on stage, and the first thing they did was cut each other up with a pizza cutter! It’s not surprising that this band has been banned in some places because of the violence and the blood, but it made for a good show. After four songs and two band members hurting each other, it was time to go over to the True Metal Stage for Steel Panther. It’s hard to describe – going from people hurting each other to four guys dressed like girls but goddamn, I sure loved it. Steel Panther’s music is a mix of sleaze and hard rock/80s metal. If you have seen them live, you know you’re in for a party and half naked women on stage and in the audience.

It wasn’t the best show I’d seen from the band but they were a nice warm up for the last German show of Twisted Sister later that night. We caught the last half-hour of Tripytikon which was okay but we were excited to see Twisted Sister on the “40 And Fuck It” tour. Earlier this year, they announced their retirement as a band with Mike Portnoy filling in for the late AJ Pero. I’ve seen Twisted Sister on many occasions and like every time, from start to finish, you got what you would expect from a Twisted Sister show. The raw power the band has and the electrifying energy that is Dee Snider made the stage look small. I had some tears in my eyes when they did their final song because this felt like the end – no more Twisted Sister at Wacken and last tour in Europe. Luckily I had tickets to see their final show ever in Belgium at the Alcatraz Festival but it did feel like a final goodbye at Wacken. We missed Arch Enemy to say our goodbyes to our friends and journalists at the Press Section but came back for Dio Disciples with Tim “Ripper” Owens and Oni Logan on vocals. It was an amazing experience to see them perform the classics but the best surprise was when the stage went black with a video on the screen. When the video ended, standing there in the middle of the stage was a hologram of Ronnie James Dio singing “We Rock.” I never thought I would see this but it was an amazing thing to see. With a tear in my eye it was time to go back to the tent for some much needed rest and say my goodbyes to Wacken for this year.


Headbangers India will be back at Wacken Open Air 2017, RAIN OR SHINE!!

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