Articles : Metal Obsession @ Wacken Open Air 2016
Wacken Open Air 2016
Images: Sonja Maglicic
Words: Gary Carson
Click here to view the full gallery.
I met Germans. I met people from Italy, Austria, Finland, Norway, and Denmark. I met a couple from Ecuador, some people from Canada, a group from Portland, Oregon. Then there were more Germans. I wondered past a woman wearing an Aussie flag and I met George and Zac from Sydney who play in Fenrir/Bastardizer and Dark Order respectively. And I met some more Germans. And some dudes from India. I even met a metalhead from Korea. There may have been a German in there too. There was also some Swedes in the mix and no doubt people that I didn’t ask but we all had one thing in common…
And we were all there for one thing…
Wacken may have the motto of Faster, Harder, Louder (or is it Rain, Hail, Shine?) but perhaps they should add ‘Social’ to the list, because no matter where you stand you end up talking with somebody.
The conversations usually go something like this:
“[something indecipherable in German]”
“I’m sorry, I don’t speak German.”
“Ahhh… [excitement] you speak English.”
[exchange some small talk]
“Where are you from?”
“Have a guess.”
[sure, I should put them out of their misery but…]
“There aren’t too many countries left.”
“Yes. Ok, no.”
At which point you are often offered a drink or a cigarette or both. Which then leads down a conversation path nobody wants so let’s just say you make friends really easily at Wacken no matter how shit or how fantastic the weather is.
And it was rather rank as you can see by the photos.
They say Wacken is not for the faint-hearted, and, having been to 7 or 8 of them now, I’ve witnessed the full force of misery (rain and hail) and bliss (blistering heat). I think I’ve only attended one that was somewhat normal but this year wasn’t to be.
When you drop 80,000 + people into a sloping paddock in front of two giant stages with four massive screens after rain there are two key ingredients you absolutely require:
- Rain poncho
I had the poncho but I needed to wait until Friday to travel to the local town of Itzehoe to purchase gumboots from a local department store called Deichmann. I was personally looking for bright pink or yellow or something Hello Kitty or Spongebob Squarepants related but I couldn’t find them in my size (I’m sure they’re big sellers in Germany with the over 40s).
There are a number of ways to tackle Wacken. The first is to give up and not bother with any bands and just enjoy the environment. You’ll drink a lot of beer and you’ll eventually hear some music. This is not me. Another way is to rush insanely from stage to stage to stage to stage to stage to stage (there are, I think, 6 but honestly there could be more) watching around 13 ½ minutes of each band. This, also, is not me. My approach – and perhaps it’s because I’m a festival junkie – is to pretty much see full shows of specific bands with the odd mad dash to a different stage (the problem here is that to get some stage to stage wearing gumboots sloshing through urine, and, hopefully, not shit-stained) mud takes a while. The fact that there were people in four-wheel drive wheelchairs to get around says a lot about Wacken. Next year I might get one of those too.
I saw heaps of bands that I love, some that I like, and definitely avoided the ones I detest. I saw some great shows and some that were boring. There were some surprises and some disappointments. Most of my highlights were not necessarily the big bands but the smaller bands that you don’t often get to see. I could give you my top three bands and I’d say most of you probably haven’t heard of them plus, because Wacken offers all genres, it’s all subjective anyway. Suffice it to say you will have a great time and despite the inclement weather and heavy-with-mud gumboots, I had a fantastic time this year.
Iron Maiden headlined Thursday night and concluded their ‘The Book Of Souls’ world tour at Wacken. Speaking to people, some said it was an incredible show and others said it was just “OK”. Nobody is right and nobody is wrong here. I thought it was magically energetic with a brilliant stage show. It was difficult to move around because of the numbers of people and the mud but the sound wasn’t great from where I was standing but when it’s windy the sound is always thrown around a bit. Whitesnake played before Maiden (yes, part of the old-farts brigade that also included Saxon and Foreigner) and I thoroughly enjoyed their set. It was great to watch Secret Sphere’s vocalist Michele Luppi (one of the finest singers from Italy) playing keyboards and backing vocals and to watch Tommy Aldridge (drums), Reb Beach (guitars), Joel Hoekstra (guitars) was pleasure in itself. David Coverdale (vocals) was in solid form too (for an old fart!)
The mud was piling up on the Thursday, so instead of catching Orden Ogan at ridiculous o’clock on Friday morning (thankfully I caught them a couple of years ago at ProgPower USA) I wandered into town to get some gumboots. Still, got there just in time to catch the ever energetic, intelligent, and insane Henry Rollins do his spoken word work. Perfect. I wish more people would be as passionate about life as he is. He spoke about not polluting your body and having experiences and being the first person on earth to play Iggy Pop in Antarctica! Essentially, he is a great motivator; and that left me with a really positive vibe to go into a very muddy Wacken with. After Henry, it was time to finally catch Japan’s Loudness, after being around since 1981. Watching Akira Takasaki take to his guitar was divine, almost beaten by (pun intended) their drummer Masayuki Suzuki. I wouldn’t say vocalist Minoru Niihara is the world’s best singer, but, like those that have been around for a long time, it’s about entertaining the crowd and he absolutely did that. Beyond The Black is a female fronted symphonic metal band with a wonderful singer in Jennifer Haben (she also performed an acoustic track in the media tent later in the day – wish I would have caught that on video as she has a superb voice). Still, their brand of FF metal includes some white angry boy rock elements that kind of suck which is a shame because they’re not bad. Still, they’re playing at Summer Breeze next week so will try to catch them again (hopefully without mud!). Thanks to the energetic Johnny Gioeli, Axel Rudi Pell put on a solid performance but their new album is a dud and the new songs just don’t shine live, as they didn’t shine on the album. Still, fans of guitarists would have enjoyed his performance.
Israel’s Orphaned Land were one of my favourites at this year’s Wacken. They were playing on the Headbanger’s stage which is a massive circus tent with two stages playing a quick-fire tag-team of bands. It’s a great place to relax and the only place to truly give your feet a rest when the whole festival is covered in mud (either that or a beer tent!). You won’t be clean after sitting down but you won’t look like you’ve shat yourself out of every orifice if you sat down outside. Orphaned Land bring EVERYBODY together and they offer a humble, community performance that is about crowd involvement. Their Middle-Eastern tinged prog is something to enjoy. Kai Hansen (Gamma Ray/ex-Helloween) showed he still has it on the Party Stage with his new project Hansen & Friends (new album called XXX out on September 16). This project is mostly written by Heaven Shall Burn’s (and vegan) Alex Dietz and Dark Age‘s Eike Freese with Hansen involved with the lyrics. It’s basically a back to the roots project with big choruses and classic power metal Judas Priest/Gamma Ray sound. They also had a few guests on stage (more on the album) and they absolutely nailed the Helloween covers which also featured Michael Kiske (in fact, both Kai and Kiske would be back in a couple of hours for a smashing set from Unisonic – which also included a few more Helloween covers – if you want me to name those covers I’d have to do more research because, honestly, it all becomes a blur after a while! :D). The biggest band of the night was Blind Guardian, though. Wacken loves Blind Guardian and having seen them a number of times here over the years, it would be fair to say whilst their performance was superb, the crowd involvement was lacking and I think that wasn’t due to the band but the conditions. Standing in mud for 15 hours and with the weather deteriorating it’s fair to say the crowd was less involved than usual. Still. Blind Guardian FTW!
Saturday was more of the same. Symphony X nailed it. It was their first time performing at Wacken and the crowd were thrilled to finally see them. Russell Allen nailed it hard – a very charismatic performer. Having caught S-X for five shows last year in the USA, now at Wacken, I can highly recommend getting tickets to their upcoming shows in Melbourne and Sydney. They will blow your mind, and not just musically, either. Seriously, Russell Allen is a beast on stage. Borknagar was somewhat disappointing again. I really like their albums and even though they write very busy music, I felt it didn’t quite come together for them. This was my third time seeing them and the first time, which was at Metal Days a few years ago, was when they excelled after the release of Urd. Metal Church brought back some classic metal and having Mike Howe back on lead vocals is a blessing in disguise. They played all the hits from their early material as well as a slab from the new album. Therion – busy like Borknagar but far more organic. Twisted Sister, for their final ever German performance titled ‘Forty And Fuck It’ (Dee Snider joked that it wasn’t a Scorpions, Kiss, or Priest final performance), was superb. I’d never seen the band perform but I have to say Snider is piss funny and so into the songs that they live and breathe. Whilst I felt the vibe for Blind Guardian was a little less than fantastic, the vibe for Twisted Sister was insane. There was a tribute to departed drummer AJ Pero who was replaced by Mike Portnoy (ex-Dream Theater – his first ever performance at Wacken), some nice humbling words from Jay Jay French, and some caustic comments about pop idols. It was brutal, fun, and 1 1/2 hours of magic and with the crowd on repeat for “We’re Not Gonna Take It” – that is an experience I will never, ever forget. Speaking of magic: Steel Panther. Giant dildos, boobs, giant blowup cocks, a crowd surfing mankini man (I’d hate to have been the security guard rescuing him). Definitely another highlight. It was funny being in the audience for this – German’s are typically not used to such brutally offensive humour and to listen to the delayed laughter as jokes were translated to friends was hilarious. Thankfully, Steel Panther back up their entertaining show with fantastic songs.
The two bands who had the biggest impact were more personal though. Folk/power metal band Elvenking from Italy and international melodic/power metal band Serious Black. Why? Simply because I love both bands and being up the front for both screaming out lyrics, fists in the air, is when it really hits you. Whether it’s Parkway Drive or Arch Enemy or Pyogenesis or whoever, just see the bands you love and give back what they give to you.
There’s always bands you miss and bands you just hear in the background. You cannot see everything and half the time you’re distracted by market stalls, food vendors, the sword fighting, the pseudo Mad Max themed ‘Wacken Village’, the official merch stands, pyros, the fire-laden Wacken logo, the impending bad/good weather, the security, the incredible range of band t-shirts people are wearing, the sheer number of people, the beer, or just the general weirdness that abounds (including married people, men wearing pink, leopard-skin lycra, or people play fighting or just falling over in the mud or creating cardboard boats in the middle of mud paddocks). The following are the bands I missed that I wanted to see: Entombed AD (saw from a distance for about 5 minutes), Girlschool, former Nightwish vocalist Tarja, Sebastian Bach (who I’ve seen a couple of times at Masters of Rock) and Ihsahn (seen previously at Metal Days). I saw 10 minutes of Eluveitie and also Testament. Then there was Snowy Shaw, Foreigner, and I caught about 10 minutes of Dio Disciples from a distance (and by distance I mean it’s not like the PA at Wacken doesn’t spread sound across half of Northern Germany!), and I missed Dragonforce, too. My favourite vegan Alyssa from Arch Enemy I only caught from the safety of the media tent as I awaited Serious Black.
Admittedly, I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with Wacken. I love it due to the size. It really is an amazing experience – rain, hail, or shine. The first time you walk in your jaw hits the (muddy) ground. And that still happens years after going there for the first time in 1999. I hate it for the same reason. The size means it is sometimes difficult to get close to your favourites, the weather can have a massive impact, too. But the festival is too good not to go once (or twice or eight times!).
I’m sitting here in Gottingen in central Germany on a balcony overlooking green trees and squirrels and birds and reflecting on no-sleep, energy drinks, loud metal music in the sunshine and I am missing it already. I keep saying I’ll never come back but I keep coming back.
Wacken 2017 has already been announced. I’m unsure if it has sold out already but grab a ticket if you can. All the details can be found at www.wacken.com.
Now it’s time to get back on the autobahn.
Auf wiedersehen, metalheads!
About Gary CarsonSince 1999, Gary Carson has co-hosted Australia's longest running prog/power metal radio show on Screaming Symphony. Gary has a Bachelor's degree in Psychology/Sociology and enjoys horrifically violent games, horrifically violent books, and horrifically violent movies. And gay power metal. Check out Screaming Symphony every Thursday night from 10pm (Melbourne time) on PBS.FM
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