4 – 6 AUGUST, SCHLESWIG-HOLSTEIN, GERMANY
SOLD OUT 6 February 2011 (6th time in a row)
Under the daring line Blasting Europe in August, the king of all metal festivals reaches in 2011 its 22nd year and, once again, deserves all biggest words of praise. The fields hosted total number of over 85 000 participants, out of which 75 000 were ticket owners (according to a German law, the number is not allowed to grow – otherwise, this festival would’ve grown to monstrous sizes for sure).
If last year I delivered a much-encompassing guide and a longer coverage as a first-time Wackener, this time I will be just going through the new, the unchanged but very good, the particular moments to remember and – of course – the Finnish appearances. In 2011 Finland was represented by well-established names: ENSIFERUM, APOCALYPTICA, CHILDREN OF BODOM, MOONSORROW and, in support of last year’s glory, BATTLE BEAST who won the already renowned Metal Battle of the bands. Also the amusing humppa (Finnish polka) cover band Eläkeläiset was among the guests, as W:O:A is not all about being dark and grim.
As the numbers on the website visitor counter goes numb because of too many simultaneous guests, the camping fields around the metal village become populated with enthusiasts from all over the world. It’s the weekend before the festival. Metalheads do this from 2 big reasons: to avoid traffic jams in midweek and to enjoy the sweet camping life for as long as possible. Same story as years before, people are making early arrivals in spite of the measures taken to control the phenomenon. The organizers have raised the fees for the early ones, but in vain it seems. Anyhow, 10 and 20 euro don’t make a whole in the budget of those who love Wacken. Unfortunately I arrived on the holy grounds on Wednesday evening, which is quite late, but felt the celebration atmosphere starting with Hamburg central station. There, I already met fellows selling Wacken tickets, which got some raised brows, as many of these tickets can be counterfeit. This is a serious thing, because enough people were tricked and unfortunate enough to return home from the festival gates…
Travel tip: to go cheap, go carpooling; check websites such as Mitfahrzentrale – they usually have a version in English, too, or simply go to the international ones. Car sharing is a very effective way to reach the festival especially if you are in Germany, as you can find lots of daily rides to Hamburg or straight to Wacken (that also means travelling in company of metal brothers). People also advertise there group train tickets, which turn to have a ridiculously small price. Join them in the adventure!
Itzehoe is the last stop before the metal village and the mood was uplifting. The small station with its shops was crowded with metalheads looking for beer with a contagious over-enthusiasm! An official welcome point was set there to provide us with beer and informative papers on the festival and camping grounds, as well as the opening hours of all facilities. No time for waiting, the shuttle buses come fast and the “all in” ticket costs only 8 euro. The transportation is very well organized and I don’t think anyone can be in trouble with it. Thumbs up for the organizers, their efforts led to great results!
The campsite together with the festival grounds (Wacken Center, Wackinger Village, the beergarden, the food area, the 6 stages, the movie field) are a complex, well-thought structure, and it is possible at any step to wonder where you are and where to head to. Luckily, at crossroads and many other important points there are big maps with the very helpful “You are here” marks. Also the guards are ready to help the lost ones anytime. The problem with the printed maps we were given was that the writing was too small and thus difficult to read, even when sober.
Another trouble was going through the village in search of the Press Check In, placed so far away. The same spot was also for the guests and VIPs. Waiting in line with all our stuff around us wasn’t too pleasant, but finally getting our passes and bracelets was relieving and we easily set our minds on the coming beer to drink and the enchanted Wacken night.
Mornings can be so nice and sweet in Wacken. Perhaps the clean fresh air and the ever going joyous mood does wonders to the drinkers, as they wake up each day with new forces! In fact, I’ve seen party people who barely stopped in the morning. In any case, few have the occasion to take a longer break than a few hours. The people are (over-) friendly and their survival goods are easily shared with any guest or anyone in need, it seems. The opportunities for fun are always countless – they are up to everyone’s crazy imagination. After you have your Wacken baptism, you may pass through the traditional Slow Motion Zone, watch a tent “bullfight” or have a fun ride on whatever object is appropriate 🙂 Also, don’t be surprised if the Air Guitar contest turns into a striptease show!
Useful tip: Ask and it is given! I wouldn’t have believed it at first, but a newly gained buddy showed me it’s possible. When you’re in need of beer, just go ask for it politely to the nearest tent. You will be surprised how fast they are to help, the Wackeners. We got 2 🙂
Having a hot coffee made with love and care in the camping, some schnitzel and grilled sausages, me and the fellows were ready to go and live the show! Great bands can be found scheduled even early in the day, at noon, like ENSIFERUM and MOONSORROW. Strange choices, however. Their music fits heavy drinking and a later time of the day, with cheering mood instead of morning sleepiness. That was said by many around.
On Thursday morning, grey skies and drizzle menaces our joy. Warm clothes, as well as something to protect from the rain are already necessary. It’s a bad omen to get this weather so early in the week. From the press area I catch a part of the BLIND GUARDIAN sound check – it is fabulous! The way they sounded showed that the band is definitely well prepared and ready for tonight’s (expected) mighty appearance: a stunning professional act and an epic celebration. Looking forward! I went on through the place filled with this energizing feeling of content for the day that had just started. The festival, in spite of the weather, was following its normal rhythm: people coming back and forth from the supermarket, going for drinks, waiting in great numbers to buy official merchandise, taking photos in a frenzy, crowding the beer garden and so on. It is time for the first gigs also. The Wacken Firefighters are the traditional openers, followed this year by the crazy band RUSSKAJA singing Russian polka music mixed with some fun melodies. The atmosphere had been more than warmed up already, time for some serious metal. Again – traditionally – SKYLINE & Guests (Doro Pesch, Chris of Grave Digger, U.D.O...) to perform the beloved Wacken hymn.
The most important thing about the running order at W:O:A is that… it has no mercy. From 12:00 to 03:00 the next day, bands play simultaneously on the impressive stages and usually at least some big names will overlap with some others. Choosing can be tough, so for most people the solution is to watch half of a gig and half of the other one. Also, it is to be noted that the headliners don’t play as the last bands of the day, but they are booked for the “prime time” – that is from dusk to nightfall. Thus the natural conditions and the sky’s majesty add the best possible touch to the entire show.
The first major act (and a delightful appearance that pulled a great crowd) was the German heavy metal legend HELLOWEEN. The “Seven Sinners” album of 2010 was a revival which also put Andi Deris‘ vocals in the limelight. He sounded wonderful on the new songs, being an energetic and overpowering presence at the same time. Truly nice to watch him. “I Want Out” was inevitably sung, but still no “If I Could Fly”, which they constantly leave out. My personal favorite was the brilliant, bitter and rough “Where the Sinners Go“, one of the recent compositions and a serious piece of metal. The band also had a rough start for this gig. What was supposed to be a true blast (and it was, for the first minute) turned to total failure. A failure of the electrical equipment. The Wacken stage couldn’t take the heaviness of the perfect anthemic opener “Are You Metal?“; it all went blank at the chorus. The band resumed it – blank again. And so one of the memorable killer festival moments was fully sabotaged. Nevertheless, the gig had successful moments, even for those complaining of Andi’s poor performance on the Kiske era songs.
Destiny made it so that I had to skip the Finnish BATTLE BEAST (which I strongly recommend, if you want to hear some old-school flavored heaviness and a very special front lady!), because in front of the Black Stage the ranks were getting packed and started an early choir in anticipation. It was time for the headliners BLIND GUARDIAN, with their only 2011 show in the homeland. The number of BG t-shirts worn was impressive. But what wasn’t, after all? A concert that I was sure would make it into history. With a reputation of being better on stage than on their (fantastic) records, the German symphonic-power-progressive band had an outstanding performance for 1h 30′. One cannot help but describe them in praise words, so bear with it! While still daylight, BG appeared in the sounds of the solemn and delightful “Sacred Worlds“. From the very first riffs we could realize they were doing a perfect job, as a very passionate musicians team. There was hardly any room for disappointment. Although Hansi Kürsch let out the high pitched vocal parts, he was perfect for the rest. Without a doubt, one of the most valued voices in metal! “Welcome to Dying” and “Nightfall” followed, forcing the crowd to sing along with the purest joy, and this didn’t really stop until the band was long gone off the stage, 2 hours later. Besides this, in partly random order, “Tanelorn“, “Traveller in Time“, “Lord of the Rings“, “Imaginations from the Other Side“, Into the Storm“, “Time stands Still (At the Iron Hill)“, “The Bard’s Song“, “Wheel of Time“, “Fly“, “Majesty“, “Valhalla“, “Mirror Mirror“. It is an impossible task to describe the skills of this band, the presence of Hansi – now much slimmer and younger looking and very simple in appearance – the passion on both sides, the atmosphere of the twilight (no better time!) and the awesome pyrotechnics towards the end, in the glorious night. Also the crowd surfing got unbearable – ecstatic fans were “floating” over the crowd, one after another. A mosh pit got formed, too. Thousands of voices were still singing the “Valhalla” chorus even after the bards were gone and the stage lights were off. Long after the event, heads were still filled with those tunes and the discussions were revolving around the most epic band of the world (regardless of people’s preferences in metal). At least the public’s attitude surely impressed those who were not fans of BG. This whole madness consumed, I had reasons to remain in the press tent and watch OZZY OSBOURNE on screens…
Friday, after so much partying and drinking, people were slowly waking up and moving towards the festival area. To have ENSIFERUM play at noon was a weird decision, but Wackeners are surprising creatures: they gathered in large numbers, filling the field to the entrance gates. There was no awkward morning silence, but heroic group shouts of “Lai lai hei!” and “Ta-ta-ra-ra! ta-ta-ra-ra!”, showing that this is no band to ignore. Hooray to the Finns! The opener “From Afar” warmed up the audience, which was soon making circle pits and a wall of death. At the same time on the Party Stage was PRIMAL FEAR, e respectable name in the power/heavy metal area. I sacrificed a bit of the Finnish warriors’ show to go check that, and hearing the amazing “Seven Seals” performed live was precious… Later on, MORBID ANGEL crushes the Black Stage, but I’m in search of epicness and find the Party Stage… where the a capella band VAN CANTO is, a perfect party act and energizing entertainer. If you thought that rappers are good at creating and sustaining rhythm with their vocal chords, check this one out. 5 singers and a drummer only – enough to perform with force and harmony well-known metal tunes, such as “Wishmaster” (NIGHTWISH), “Primo Victoria” (SABATON), “Rebellion” (GRAVE DIGGER) “Fear of the Dark” (IRON MAIDEN), “Kings of Metal” (MANOWAR) and, again, “The Bard’s Song” (BLIND GUARDIAN). It was impressive and FUN!
Next in line for me was SODOM, the thrash metal legend itself. Thinking that KREATOR was also present in this year’s W:O:A, on Saturday, makes it easy to say that it was a thrash metaller’s dream… Further on, RHAPSODY OF FIRE and AS I LAY DYING would’ve been very interesting acts to see – both overlapping, unfortunately. In my great responsibility… I managed to miss both 🙂 I caught, however, a band that was not on my list, but which dragged me with its insane energy: HEAVEN SHALL BURN. In full sunlight, with some good use of fire blasts on stage, it was not bad at all to watch. A musically aggressive German band with a strong social message.
At 20:45 I was still in denial of what I was about to watch: JUDAS PRIEST on their farewell tour. and knowing there can be no better concert as in Wacken, this was definitely their ultimate show. 2h and 15′ for this heavy metal monster, equipped with all they had to bring so we could have the real taste of “British steel”. Regardless of age and preferences in metal, it was a Feast for all present souls. One does get goosebumps when, in front of them, legendary musicians of a respectable age deliver with passion heavy hymns that every rock club, rock radio and rock heart has known like a credo. Rob Halford (60), in spite of limited vocal power, did not leave it blank for the high-pitched parts. The band tried to go through its entire musical history – a wonderful, wonderful show – hardly anything can be so fulfilling in terms of metal experiences than being a part of this!
The festival rapture continued far in the night with the aristocratic treat APOCALYPTICA, emerging from the deep darkness… a very well chosen time, must say. They are good for the mysterious late hours of the night. And so they begin, with the wonderfully dark and mysterious “On the Rooftop with Quasimodo“, new track from their “7th Symphony” LP (2010). A perfect start with its slow and anticipating pace, building up the tension so magically… For the continuation I expected the band would jump in our face with their own brilliant compositions. Instead, they chose to focus on Metallica covers. A logical choice somehow, because those were fit for the festival and kept the crowd singing along. The final song was… another cover: this time, Edward Grieg’s “Hall of the Mountain King“. The rest of the setlist: “2010“, “Master of Puppets” (Metallica cover), “Grace“, “Bring Them to Light“, “Last Hope“, “Nothing Else Matters” (Metallica cover), “Inquisition Symphony” (Sepultura cover), “Seek and Destroy” (Metallica cover), “I Don’t Care“. Personally, I think they were too much centered on that certain band instead of taking advantage and bringing their own compositions forward… I believe they were not invited twice in a row at W:O:A because they are good with covers, but because they are a well-established name with very original stuff they can boast with. Nevertheless, they’ve stayed very nice fellows, as hundreds of fans could see during the meet & greet session. Towards the end of the gig, deep fog coming down engulfed the area, creating an even more unreal atmosphere – something I haven’t seen in Wacken so far.
Saturday’s opener: once again a heroic Finnish band – MOONSORROW. Starting mercilessly with “Kylän Pääsä“, the blood-painted warriors did their best to sound cold and war-like (not in black metal style though) and, although I wish the vocals were stronger, it was convincing enough. “Kivenkantaja” proves it quite well HERE. Bad playing time, however. This band’s show would’ve gained in pagan metal atmosphere if it happened sometime beyond midnight. At least that’s how I felt and still feel.
KATAKLYSM was another rough band to play among the starters – and an exhausting one for the fans. The Canadians death metallers, apart from raising a little Illuminati awareness, set up for a “security stress test“. The madness consisted of stimulating the fans to do a mass crowd surfing, a true ordeal for the guards in front of the stage. The surfers were exhilarated, running in ecstasy and giving the irons in a frenzy after they were dropped off by the security. MAYHEM and SEPULTURA followed on the big stages, but exhaustion was knocking at my door after a stroll in the village and I could only watch a bit on the screens. I replenished my force right on time for the first headliner of the day. In fact, this last day of W:O:A had so many headliners that it seemed too crazy to be true! There… ICED EARTH… Last appearance with their long-time vocalist Matt Barlow. A farewell concert that everyone knew would be true metal history. Matt’s performance was brilliant and very much involved with the crowd – the look on his face said it all. Also, the rest of the band wasn’t any less involved in the subtle drama we were all feeling. As guitarist and main man Jon Schaffer began his solemn speech, the fans began shouting Barlow’s name wholeheartedly. The musicians didn’t make it any easier by giving brotherly hugs to Matt, Freddie Vidales wearing a “MATT F*CKING BARLOW” t-shirt and ending the show with the “Iced Earth” track itself. Under melancholic grey skies, tears gathered in many eyes, it was hard not to feel the sadness. How weird to see a band that performs so close to perfection, still young, legendary to its core, parting ways with such a dedicated vocal. I don’t think we understood it – there was a somewhat puzzled feeling all around, although we knew it was the end. It was, however, an amazing event to store in one’s memory. The gratitude, respect and appreciation were reciprocated – a band as fabulous as its fans. Matt lingered for a while in the V.I.P. area to shake hands with whoever wanted to greet him – and he wasn’t allowed to leave too soon.
Controversial as it may sound, the mood was high again really soon, when the festival grounds got filled for AVANTASIA at its only show of 2011. This one was bombastically advertised since last year and, out of curiosity and sincere admiration for the charming Tobias Sammet, a ‘god’ at the age of only 34, I joined the happy ranks. With a beer in my hand and a will to party, I got instantly carried away by the sumptuous show. Tobi is, by all means, a total artist. Hard to describe my awe when my eyes met the guests: Jorn Lande (MASTERPLAN), Kai Hansen (GAMMA RAY, ex-HELLOWEEN), Michael Kiske (ex-HELLOWEEN) and more. To see such gods on stage was blissful. I think it started to rain, but it just didn’t matter. My personal favorite was “The Scarecrow“, a delicious duel between Sammet and Lande, remarkably executed. 1 h 30′ of awesome rock spirit that showed it doesn’t matter how aggressive or harsh your music is, but how passionate and professional you are and how good you feel on stage as an artist. The huge crowd’s response at the best metal fest in the world clearly showed it too. I skipped a half of an hour though to see LACRIMAS PROFUNDERE on the Wackinger stage (!?) – a German gothic metal band heavily inspired by the famous Finnish scene. They put on a satisfying show and they deserve kudos for how neat they sound – even after they changed the vocal – a change that’s usually catastrophic for bands which rely so much on the vocals specific mood. The new guy sounds as dark and sexy as he should. Couples were swaying to the danceable music as the night was settling in.
It is now the final night of the fest, but spirits are still high. More or less tired, we still keep going strong – it’s time for MOTÖRHEAD – legend No…? I gave up counting, so much for this W:O:A! Lemmy Kilmister, at the age of 65, no longer has the vocal chords he once had, but the show was still a great one: loud as hell, fast-paced rock music with the trademark flavor of the guitar riffs. “The Ace of Spades” represented the memorable moment awaited by both fans and ‘ousiders’ alike. I wish I had gone closer to the dense crowd, but I stayed far in the back, enjoying the last cup of mead before the weather turned iremediably worse.
CHILDREN OF BODOM (it is Sunday already, ouch!) was emphasized by an aggressive light show, with the obsessive bright green predominating. Alexi Laiho, careful with the etiquette, as usual, overused the F-word. “In Your Face” was marked by the Finnish rockstar by performing on a platform on stage and by hurrying to begin one chorus, a mistake to which he nonchalantly replied in the mic: “I f*ucked it up!!“. The show can be watched HERE along with the heavy rain that poured down, chasing lots of attendees to their tents and to their cars, afraid of the swamp to be created. Before the ever-exciting “Downfall“, Alexi makes another fun moment by telling Janne Wirman, “play your f*ucking thing (*looks to the wrong side of the stage*)… wherever the f*ck you are!!” (*looks on the good side*). And they all play it fantastically. More confusion on the side of the frontman, as we heard him asking, “Where is my f*ucking cow bell?!“. Alright, ladies and gens, that was the mighty CoB in the mighty last night of W:O:A 2011! They seemed to be there for fun and it was pretty cool! SUBWAY TO SALLY was the last act for the metal mecca, with a mix of Medieval tunes and rock that is much-loved in their German homeland… but by that time the crowd was separated into 2: the ones vanquished by the weather, in search of food/warmth/shelter and the last enthusiasts, who would remain to dance in the glorious mud. Gloriously and carelessly. Still, I can say it was a lucky year. Wacken in mud is just not nice. Not nice. There was one interesting fact about the desolate Sunday morning, though: on my way out I noticed that the tent landscape looked untouched and people hadn’t departed massively, like they did last year. It was a very different, unexpected view, given the rain. It was the proof that Wacken rocked ’til the very last moment – Saturday was indeed crazy!
What else to say about W:O:A 2011? That I am sorry for not seeing more bands, though I have no clue how it could’ve been possible… Be prepared with a few clones of yourself when you plan to attend this festival.
Milestones of W:O:A 2011:
– JUDAS PRIEST on their farewell tour
– the last ICED EARTH appearance with Matt Barlow
– the only German show of BLIND GUARDIAN this year
– the only show of AVANTASIA this year
With a much improved organization than the previous year, we had the same Wackinger Village packed with Nordic Medieval awesomeness, the Metal Market, the Bullhead tent with comedy shows, wrestling and various contests, the movie field and the huuuge campgrounds to use for acting out all funny and insane ideas. Much respect goes to the organizers for making it better than before! Respect to the villagers also, for their support and for wearing without hesitation the official Wacken t-shirts!
Whoever craves to see bits to full concerts from this 2011 edition can easily find such in Youtube, as these were broadcasted live by the German t1elevision ZDFKultur and consequently uploaded.
Some of the next year’s headliners were announced right on the spot: we will rock along with AMON AMARTH, AXEL RUDI PELL, GAMMA RAY, HAMMERFALL, MINISTRY, SIX FEET UNDER and many more! Hurry to get your tickets for 2012 because 30.000 of them are ALREADY sold!!! To quote the Youtube user “TwDBladestyle”, “Wacken doesn’t even rock. WACKEN F*CKING METALS!!!”
Many thanks to Marie Neumann @ Wacken.com, to my road fellows and to the Greek bands Deathclocks and InsIDeaD! \m/
I leave you now with some samples of “Wacken Looks” for your entertainment!