“…an amount of human waste everywhere! Its the biggest!”
– Jon A. Nodtveidt on Wacken Open Air 2005.
Yup, that time had come; the big 30. To a metalhead 30 years is slowly but surely getting accustomed going to the chiropractor for your back pains and every time you need to explain to the guy that were not in the car crash. For Wacken it is a big thing, for any festival is a big thing, especially for this kind of genre.
The Big Bull has turned 30, with estimated 75 000 whiplashed necks onslaught 9 stages in a area of 300 hectares.
Because it fucking is.
During the whole extended weekend stay I was thinking what word would describe this turn shift metalheads mecca.
This is your Antichrist’s partner in crime on high dose on caffeine leaving the mild wastelands of Eastern Europe to Berlin to hitch a bitch ride to Wacken and see this old bull in person, stalk Henry Rollins in his go-cart and talk with some of the legends of the extreme metal genre, more on that later or more correctly videos.
Speaking of bands, I must add that the band list for this year is… mellow. Not to be negative it still rips, but having in mind that is the big number 30, you expected some jaw dropping bands to commemorate this unique event and having in mind that other festivals have way extreme band lists; it kinda leaves your head scratching.
That being said, if my 20 hour travel would last even more, it would be worth it. For those who never been to Wacken or any bigger in general I have word for that summarizes the scope: its god damn immersive.
I dare you not to get lost in this place. Even from the press area which is pretty much close to the infield and other stages, first day you are absolutely clueless.
From the endless lines of merch from bands (from t-shirts to cups), jewelry, piercings, 10 types of Indian food (which means I’m assaulting the all 850 toilets), temporary tattoos, cups, jackets, Viking accessories… I basically went there for one day because Ill go bankrupt within an hour.
Among other and some new features Wacken had organized Wheels of Steel for the disabled, on social commitment there were stem cell donors organized by German Bone Marrow Donor Database and the Wacken open air blood donation under the fitting moniker We Want Your Blood.
So much that metal is for bad people.
As well as the History stage; creating for fantastic atmospheric music during the whole festival, featuring bands from Slovakia, Russia, Poland, Spain and many others. All akin to the historic national music and its located where all the Viking merch and galleries are. To say that you feel transported somewhere else is an understatement.
Speaking of being transported, the Wasteland stage took the cake. Imagine environment looking like Mad Max on 80s Hulk Hogan growth hormone, with metal blasting in the background and its citizens lurking around looking for the Fury Road movie set. Took them 30 years to combine these two factors but hey, it a damn eye candy. I basically wanted to move there.
All this talk and still no real mention of the bands playing? Well, this is the thing with Wacken; it is a spectacle even if you miss half of the bands. You really have your hands full in exploring everything. So let’s talk about the stuff for what we came there.
Wednesday was greeted with mild rain during the afternoon, in case you forgot where you are. It is in all means a warm up day, looking at the band list from Burning Witches, Sweet and Sisters of Mercy on the W.E.T and Headbangers stage, which is indoors area and to be honest my favorite stages on the festival.
For those who want heads on on the first day, Wasteland stage was hitting with bands like Cancer, Torment and others.
But the main stars of the night were Sisters of Mercy, you can be metal as you wanna be, but everyone was going nuts and singing the lyrics from songs like More, Marian and Temple of Love. On the performance side, and this you are going to read quite a lot: the sound was fantastic. Besides Andrew Eldritch (who is 60) the band is relatively young and make with their stage presence and movements. Unlike Eldritch who looks that a harder breeze would be his death sentence. Nevertheless, it was the (goth) tits and a great star of the festival.
Something else kicked as that day; The Moviefield. Another cool new addition playing movies on the Gaming Village and the Beergarden. Mostly the movie material is repeating but with features Like Heavy Trip (I could not recommend more) and Lemmy can be enjoyed on repeating viewing.
Thursday was a quite different story, first band that took the festival by the black storm was Necrophobic, now by image totally in black metal territory and their music is not far from it took the Headbangers stage (yup, I’m still there) and decimated. The sound was totally on point, the vibe the crowd and bands blistering performance. Vocalist Anders Strokirk, who look like Sebastian Bach on a solid dose of Satan in his veins, looks fucking possessed, same goes with the rest of the band. Although their recent musical dark releases are more akin to black metal there is enough grove in it to win over everyone in the crowd. Constant crowd surfing are the proof of it. The crowd was so good, that even the vocalist broke character and smiled during the gig, a lot.
During that time, thrash metal legends Testament were kicking hard and loud at the Louder stage in the infields. With over 30 years of activity and beating the odds, their positing on one the biggest stages on the festival is well deserved.
But on Thursday, the Bullhead Circus (W:E:T and Headbangers stage) were the extreme metal epicenter. Vltimas which is David Vincents second try in the death metal genre and with members like Blasphemer on guitars it is very likely that the band would rip and they actually did that, to my surprise. Definitely better than the Morbid Angels last album. The next death metal legends were Grave and Unleashed. Unleashed´s music can the primitive at times, but Johnny’s charisma and humbleness simply wins you over.
But the darkest band of the day definitely went to Dark Funeral. The Headbangers stage had turned into the Satan’s warzone, festival or not, Dark Funeral took over Bullhead Circus. The tent is theirs. After an eerie intro, stoic stage presence from the members and the vibe of the new vocalist Heljarmadr made me the born again Dark Funeral fan. God damn. The song Unchain My Soul starts and the biggest stage fire starts, burning eyebrows in the first two rows. The sound was glorious and vocalist just rips thought the songs, cementing his place as the voice of Dark funeral. His voice and stage presence is on point. Since the first blastbeat during the set, mosh pits accrued and boy did they ever stopped. Same goes for the crowd surfing, even Jesus Christ was doing it during the set. The Old Snarl would be proud.
After them one of the godfathers of extreme metal had come to the stage, one of the main reasons why bands like Grave, Unleashed and Dark Funeral exits: Hellhammer. Althought the moniker is Triumph of Death but by all degrees this is Hellhammer of 2019, the line-up is fantastic, Tom Warrior is in very good, humble spirits. Even doing his classic ˙˙ugh!˙˙ with the crowd like Queen at Live Aid.
In the meantime in the infields the biggets stages were hosting bands like Airbourne, Hammerfall and Sabaton. Its kinda funny that band like Hammerfall is playing before Sabaton, the same band that supported Hammerfall several years ago on tour.
I was not present during those shows, simply because I can’t close myself but reaction of those bands were positive, very much. Although you can sense that people are overserved with Sabaton: from being present in Full metal gaming village in the game World of Tanks, playing on two biggest stages (Faster and Harder) and could not pass somewhere without hearing the band on the stereo. I’m a passive listener of the band at best and I was feeling like, ˙˙Dude, there are other bands that you can play.˙˙
Friday has finally decided to fully remind us that we are at Wacken, and no metal festival during the summer can’t go without rain or showers, especially not this one. I cut your short on the weather forecast, simply because the weather, if we ignore the first day, was awesome. Quite hot for this part of Germany. You could take the shower in the morning and get dry in the matter of a hour. It was that warm. But I will get to the weather situation later because Queensryche was playing at the Harder stage, at noon and if there’s is any bands that can gather so much audience at this ungodly hour (especial on this kind of festival in Friday) is fucking Queensryche who are going on their second renaissance with their new album The Verdict. The performance is professional as it gets, Todd La Torre vocally sliding on their pretty much best of compilation set list and really convinced me to catch the band again live as soon as possible. The next ones were Equilibrium and Eluveitie, and during the Eluveitie set the shit hits the fan.
Their playtime was cut short due to coming storms from Hamburg and everything is closing: the stages, press tent, fucking everything.
So let’s talk about this storm that frozen the whole this festival for an hour or two; there was barely one. I had seen way smaller festivals proceeding as usual during rain and some storms here and there. Obviously the Wacken staff knew something that we did not. Because of this, the band line up got a bit screwed up and the audience who did not had the Wacken app on their phones you did not knew who’s is who and where. Some bands got relocated to other stages, some got pushed back in some another hour and some even canceled their gig entirely like Tribulation.
I managed to catch Venom Inc. at the Headbangers stage by chance. How? Tony fucking Dolan from the band was doing the sound check. Seriously, what band with this magnitude of this kind of a festival does the sound check themselves? Kudos to the guy. What amazes me with that these cats is that they are pulling through their 50s, heart attacks and hip operations and just killing it with no sign of fatigue. Setlist consisting songs from Ave, old stuff and b-sides as well like Lady Lust and Rip Ride. Being awesome on stage and yet so humble at the same time is a factor that a very small number of bands can do. Venom Inc. is doing it flawlessly.
Ohh but the day was just warming up, Here’s the band which surprised me the most out of the whole festival; Fucking Body Count. You would think that the band like them would feel a bit strange. Hell no, they took over the Louder stage like a motherfucker. Ice-T is an excellent shape and like with Venom these guys have presence and mobility, despite their older age. I bet this is the first time that you saw Ice-T and Venom in the sentence, huh?
These are strange festival times indeed.
Same goes with Anthrax which I unfortunately could not see because I was interviewing Tony Dolan, but since the interviews in the press tents are almost right to the bloody infields you can hear the bands like they are playing next to you. So much that Tony and I were joking about that during the interview.
Due to storms (or lack thereof) Cradle of Filth was pushed ahead and I might add to a better suiting time and place, the W:E:T stage at 20:15, and to be perfectly honest the band did one of the best gigs in the last decade.
The first half of the setlist consisted of first 4 songs of Cruelty of the Beast album, Malice Through the Looking Glass, Summer Dying Fast… pretty much and old COF fans wet dream and they did them incredibly good. The musicianship was tight as were the maidens that Erzsébet Bathory put on meat hooks, Danis voice is so rejuvenated that it seems that he finally prolong his deal with Faust.
Back on the Faster and Harder stage other two bands were fucking incredible: Demons and Wizards and Slayer.
Watching Demons and Wizards I was in fucking awe but feeling really conflicted about some stuff: why the hell they are not touring? Why is Hansi not in Iced Earth?? Why Jon Schaffer has a haircut and looks even more badass than before?? An incredible performance and really one of the highlights of the festival.
Demons and Wizard had only one show this year but Slayer had its last show here in Germany. About them I had very mixed feelings during the last years, with the last mediocre albums and seemingly tired gigs, the writing was on the wall that some members (cough Tom) don’t wanna do this anymore.
That being said, the saying that the candle burns most bright before it flickers was the fucking hymn of the band that night. In Slayers case was a fucking inferno. They were gods on the stage. Toms voice was vicious and on point, the sound, the fire on the stage everything was working flawlessly to put this legendary band to a spectacular send off. The crowd was at its wildest, moshing even when Tom is only speaking, to his great amusement. The set list was surprisingly diverse and aiming to satisfy every fan. It even included songs like Gemini and Payback. Which is one of the fastest Slayer singing songs in the carriers and Tom did it like it was nothing. Speaking of members on stage that absolutely ruled; Gary Holt. He was the guy always on the move, banging his ass every chance he got and just owning his stage and honoring Jeff the best way possible. If this is truly the bands epitaph they had cemented their legendary status in a way that little bands had accomplished. I’m pretty much screaming Slayeeer while I’m writing this report.
On Saturday I had a different reason for screaming: Emil Bulls.
What The Fuck?
Did someone in the Wacken organization got blackmailed? Did someone lost a bet? I’m not going to say much about the band because they don’t deserve even this much space, those who were following Wacken on social media knows what I’m talking about. And yet the band got a large amount of audience that some good bands will never see because reasons that I cant even fathom.
On the last Day I finally got the chance to see Henry Rollins perform. The 58 year old nervous blabbermouth who simply won’t stop talking.
This guy performed on Wacken for 3 days straight. The last day our Henry got stuck in traffic and his third performance was pushed up to 17:00 instead of 16:00 hours a usual. Typically of Henry he was late around 20 minutes and decided to start performing at 16 30 and do it till 18 00. So not only he had the most days active as an artist/performer but he had the longest performance in the festival.
Thats How much talks. Keep talking pal, we love you.
Having in mind this was the last day of the (already, I know) the bands of that day were more mellow but very worthwhile to be checked out: Delain, Parkway Drive, Battle Beast and Powerwolf which possibly gathered the biggest crowd on the festival. On the more extreme balls to the wall side we could still catch bands like Primordial, SepticFlesh and Aborym. Bands Saxon and Rage perfectly closed the festival.
And there it is, 30 years of Wacken, the quickest and most stamina drained weekend that I had a very long time. Writing this I feel incredibly nostalgic to this musical and magical gathering of all things metal and everything connected to it.
This shit is our mecca and is something that every metalhead should do at least once in their life. If you do in that case, see you all next year.