Thousands of metal heads from all over the world packed their bags and travelled to a small, tranquil village in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, that already served for the 27th time as venue for the world’s biggest metal festival. You might have guessed already, we’re at Wacken Open Air (W:O:A). This year, the festival, which has also become a holiday destination for lots of curious non-metal fans, took place from August 4th -6th. As it is tradition, less well-known bands were able to perform on smaller stages on Wednesday, August 3rd.
In 2016, W:O:A attracted around 84,500 visitors - not a new record but still a lot of metal fans in such a small village. Also, there were several innovations this year: The metal exchange merchant booth was eliminated. Instead, the organizers moved the Beer Garden in this place that had been at the other side of the festival area. The wrestling ring had been moved into its own tent next to the one with the Headbangers Stage and the W.E.T. Stage where it had been previously. Furthermore, the names of the two main stages were slightly shorter this year and are now called Black Stage and True Stage. And in the light of current events in Europe, a bag and backpack ban was enacted to ensure safety for all visitors throughout the festival.
The festival’s warm-up day already offered a great variety for the hardboiled metal heads. The bands performed at W.E.T. Stage, Headbangers Stage, Wackinger Stage, Beer Garden and Wasteland Stage. On the two tent stages (W.E.T. and Headbangers), young and talented up-and-coming bands from all over the world had the chance to enthrall the audience during the Metal Battle. A couple of years ago, this contest was initiated to bring the international metal scene closer together and to give talented newcomers from all over the world the chance to show themselves. On site, a group of producers, labels, etc. attend and might give one or another band the chance to start a career. This year, the Metal Battle presented itself very international with bands from e.g. Argentina, Bulgaria, Estonia, India, Japan, Mexico, Romania and South Africa.
Curiosity was huge. Therefore, we sneaked into the tent to see these partly exotic bands. When we arrived Lynchpin from Trinidad and Tobago was on stage. Unconventional, hard and technically tuned, the boys played their progressive death metal riffs. The audience was not aversed and partly well entertained. 20 minutes later, the performance was over. During the five-minute break, Jeff Waters, vocalist and guitarist for Annihilator, entered the stage. He had the pleasure to present this year’s Metal Battle and clearly showed one of his many talents as entertainer.
Next up were lieViel from Bulgaria. Style-wise the band presented itself similar to Lynchpin but played a bit rougher and slightly influenced by core music. Both bands surely were a great opening to Wacken Open Air 2016.
A day later, the first long-awaited official festival day began. Except for the Party Stage, all stages were opened this day. And also musically there was a lot to look forward to: from Saxon over Vader and Whitesnake to The Black Dahlia Murder and - of course - Iron Maiden were waiting for the audience!
Zombies Ate My Girlfriend
Our day began with the last Metal Battle band on W.E.T. Stage. Having travelled all the way from South Africa, Zombies Ate My Girlfriend hit the stage. Not only would the boys surely end up in the top 5 of the funniest band names of the Metal Battle Contest, also their performance was memorable. Five men, five different looks. Naturally, this does not tell us anything about their musical quality but it was surely great to watch. From the musical point of view, they easily enthused the crowd during their 20 minute performance. Their interpretation of melodic death metal struck the chord of the audience. Their devotion and fire were palpable even in the last row. No surprise, Zombies Ate My Girlfriend won the Metal Battle 2016 at W:O:A. 5,000 Euro from the Wacken Foundation and material prizes were the band’s reward.
Way too early Saxon played up next on Black Stage. At 4 pm they began their set with the title song of their new LP “Battering Ram”. Much appreciated by the audience, they turned it up and delivered a great show - not really a surprise considering the stage experience of Biff Byford and his colleagues. With a great mixture of old and new songs and except for brief technical issues, the metal heads from England mastered their 75-minute performance with flying colors. Even after 37 years, Saxon know how to play such an incredible show. Not to be missed were songs like “Wheels of Steel” or “Princess of the Night” which enthralled the fans generation-spanning.
Let’s hope that Saxon’s place in this year’s running order was just a mistake by the organizers. Next time, we want to see them playing later and longer at Wacken Open Air.
Next up at Black Stage, where the crowd was growing constantly, were the classic rockers from Foreigner. The anticipation was huge, as the band does not belong to the acts that perform regularly at festivals. The sextet around vocalist Kelly Hansen, who’s been part of the band since 2005, showed a strong performance from the first second on. The choice of songs was great. You did not have to wait until the end of the set to hear the band’s classics. “Feels Like the First Time” and “Cold As Ice” - to mention e few - were not the only highlights of the show. At some points, the performance could have been a bit more exceptional. More specifically, Kelly Hansen could have put on a happier or more motivated expression. From time to time we had the feeling that he was not exactly having fun on stage. Nevertheless, it was a great, unmissable performance that convinced instrumentally and vocally.
Let’s stay in the genre of classic rock and head over to its next big representatives: Whitesnake! Fortunately, these gentlemen also made their way to Northern Germany and clearly proved that they are far from being on the shelf. With “Bad Boys” - a catchy song that always creates good vibes - they made a great start into their set. Vocally, singer David Coverdale proved that he could easily live up to old standards. But not only the vocalist but the entire band rocked their performance from beginning to end. “Is This Love?”, “Still Of The Night” or “Here I Go Again” did not make the masses scream and shout for no reason. It was hard to get rid of the goose bumps. These kind of songs are exactly the reason why Whitesnake belong to the top of their genre - and they surely will do so throughout the next decades! Even after all these years on stage, the rockers of Whitesnake have not lost that certain something and still make lots of hearts beat faster in 2016.
After a short break, the time had come. Everyone at True Stage had been waiting for this moment: The curtain fell and Iron Maiden began their show. For the Britons it was already the tenth performance at Wacken Open Air. Nothing to sneeze at! Iron Maiden’s show was not just special because of this small jubilee but also because it was the last show of the “Book of Souls”-Tour. A show at Wacken, an appropriate end for a tour.
Just like their show at Rockavaria in Munich, the rockers celebrated their set list with a classical Iron Maiden show. As usual, Bruce Dickinson wore his uniform for “The Trooper”, fought with a colossal Eddie and - after one of the guitarists had some fun with him as well - tore his heart out, squeezed the blood out of it and threw what was left of the heart into the crowd. You just can never get enough of watching Bruce finishing Eddie.
A couple of minutes later it became very apish: Bruce threw on an ape mask and armed himself with lots of bananas which he distributed in the audience. The picture of Bruce as Donkey Kong surely was unique and memorable!
Musically, Iron Maiden played a lot of old as well as new songs which were partly stretched for a bit too long with instrumental solos. Nevertheless, the crowd was ecstatic. Only the sound quality was not as outstanding as usual. But with a show like this, there’s barely anything to complain about. The rain-soaked masses left the stage area more than happy.
Quantitatively, Thursday presented itself a bit mediocre. Qualitatively, it was extraordinary. However, any hopes for good weather and a mud-free festival were crashed pretty quickly. Apparently it hadn’t been wet enough in Northern Germany for Odin last year, which was why he let the rain pour on a regular basis. Hopefully, Friday would be better.
According to our weather app, Friday was supposed to be sunnier and start without rain. But the app was not very exact and we were surprised by a rain shower from our way back from the actual showers. Bad luck.
But not only weather-wise there was a lot of variation: From Beyond The Black over Axel Rudi Pell to 1349, Blind Guardian, Caliban and the late-night-act Testament - Friday had a lot to offer.
Beyond The Black
Already for the third time on their relatively short career Beyond The Black had the honor of performing at Wacken Open Air. This year, they even made it to the Party Stage. Unfortunately, people didn’t really talk about the band Beyond the Black but rather about the One-Woman-Show by Jennifer and her temporary background musicians. Shortly before the festival, it was announced that the vocalist and the rest of the band were ending their work together and start separate paths as their future plans were just too different. In order to play the upcoming gigs, replacements had to be found. And even though the management had been hoping this would not have an effect on the musical quality, they had to admit they were wrong. Jennifer Haben seemed notably weaker vocally. If this had any connection to the height of her heels remains debatable. After a while, the young singer found her place on stage, the rest of the band still seemed to struggle a bit. Strictly speaking, they managed to play their set without mistakes but feelings were missed completely. The musicians did not seem to put their heart and soul into the performance. They merely played what had to be played without any obvious ambitions. More than disappointing, especially because the heart and soul, the feelings and atmosphere were exactly what used to make Beyond the Black Shows so special. Unfortunately, it was only an average performance here at Wacken Open Air.
Parallel to what was going on at Party Stage, Beer garden had a great alternative to offer: the Austrian boys of tuXedoo set the stage on fire. The audience was screaming, people were dancing on tables - already at noontime! The six rockers from Mattighofen, Austria, just know how to enthrall and entertain the crowd. With their very own mixture of metal core - humorously called alpine core - they found themselves a niche. Completing their great performance is of course their funny, unstudied and bustling nature. Already at Rockavaria in Munich, tuXedoo were able to show their talent. Now, at Wacken, they were able to outdo themselves as they were able to shake the walls of Beer Garden even at their third out of four days of performance. Let’s hope that Hons, Mök, Påz, Dü, Kiwi und Kopal stay as successful as they currently are and that they’ll be able to bring a lot more stages to life.
Axel Rudi Pell
Back from alpine core, we went straight over to a classic representative of heavy metal: Axel Rudi Pell. The band surrounding the eponymous German guitarist had completed the first part of their tour already in April and was now playing several festivals before continuing with the rest of their tour in September. Axel, his singer Johnny Gioeli and the rest of the band were super motivated to fire it up at Wacken. With clean vocals, amazing guitar riffs and lots of fun, the rockers swept the stage and delivered an outstanding performance! No surprise the metal heads were celebrated loudly and left the stage with thunderous applause. Once again a great show as we know it from Axel Rudi Pell.
Time for an alternative in the middle of men-dominated bands: At W.E.T. Stage, the ladies of the British heavy metal band Girlschool rocked the tent. The women that already play together since the late 1970ies easily caught everyone’s attention with harsh riffs, rocking vocals and striking outfits. In the beginning, Kim McAuliffe, Enid Williams and co were able to carry the audience along. After some time, however, the fascination for the quartet decreased. As an all-girl rock band, the four women surely are role models in the world of metal. Nevertheless, their music was too catchy, so that the hope for another performance did not exactly rise. Still, it was a nice experience to see these rock ladies live.
Following Girlschool, the boys of Ektomorf began their show at Headbangers Stage where a big crowd was waiting for the performance to begin. From the first second on, the audience was alive and kicking. Musically, the rockers from Hungary can be compared to Soulfly which probably didn’t enthrall everyone. But for those who were able to identify themselves with their music, Ektomorf played a great, sweeping show. For others, it was barely more than dull, loud noise that you could go without. Definitely one of those acts that split the masses.
Bullet For My Valentine
Back at the main stages, Bullet For My Valentine started their performance. Just like they’d done at Novarock, the Britons opened their show very strongly and simply rocked the true Stage. With a great mixture of older, well-known songs from the band’s beginning, that still enthuse the fans, and new songs, Bullet For My Valentine entertained the Wacken audience as usual. Apart from two small text-lapses in “Hands Of Blood”, Matthew Tuck and his men played an incredible show that was definitely worth a performance on one of the main stages.
Entering the Headbangers Stage encased by blue light, the performance by Frenchmen Alcest was in stark contrast to the ones before. Singer and front man of the post rockers, Neige, clearly knows how to create a special atmosphere like this within seconds. It was a simple matter to completely fall for his music and start drifting away in fantastic dreams. Compared to the performance of Ektomorf, the tent was not as full as it used to be. Instead, mostly people that appreciated this kind of music were present. Shows by Alcest are always an impressive and amazing experience that you don’t want to miss. Definitely one of the highlights of this year’s festival!
At 10:30 pm, Hansi Kürsch and his band members set foot on True Stage and were embraced by the audience with loud cheering and screaming. With their epic power metal, Blind Guardian, who, together with Iron Maiden and Twisted Sister, were the headliners of this year’s W:O:A, started into the night. It was easy to notice that the German band was more than happy to be able to play at Wacken again and to perform in front of such a great crowd. By now, Blind Guardian can look back at 29 years of band history – a lot of experience that was perceivable during their performance. The set list entailed a good mixture of old and new songs – catchy classics like “Nightfall” mustn’t be missed! After 90 minutes full of epic power metal, the band ended the show and left a happy crowd behind.
Unfortunately, the second day of the festival was over much sooner than we had hoped. And sadly, the metal legend like Testament played not until at 1:45 am – after such a long day almost impossible to attend. All in all, the Friday at Wacken Open Air was marked by a huge musical variety that showed the different facets of metal. Even the weather was better so that the individual shows were a lot more enjoyable. Let’s see what the music and weather gods have in store for the last festival day in Northern Germany.
The third and last day of the festival started slightly ambivalent. In the early morning, the sun came out even though rain had been promised. Then, in only a few minutes, the sky clouded up, got darker and darker before all the rain that in a 100 mile radius poured down. Luckily, the storm calmed almost as quickly as it had begun so that almost nothing could get in the way of a successful final day at W:O:A. Also, a lot of great bands awaited the festival visitors: from Dragonforce over Symphony X, Metal Church, Gloryhammer, Twisted Sister to Arch Enemy – the variety was huge.
Our day began at noontime with a legend of progressive metal that is still underappreciated. Symphony X. Shows of the US band in Germany are unfortunately a rarity – all the more reason to be excited for this performance. In order to satisfy the fans greed for new songs, the rockers around guitarist Michael Romeo started off their set with “Nevermore”, a song of their new LP “Underworld”. The first part of their set list was entirely dedicated to the new album. Outstanding songs like “Without You” or “To Hell And Back” mustn’t be missed. All those who hadn’t been a fan until now, surely became one during their show. After playing their new tunes, Symphony X also performed older songs which was definitely appreciated by the audience. But if you manage to perform technically demanding music like this with so much heart and soul like Russel Allen and his band members did, it’s surely no surprise to earn as much cheering and applause as Symphony X got after their show. The only negative part of the performance was the fact that it ended way too early. Apart from that, the progressive metal band was simply stunning.
When hundreds on men with colorful leggings, wigs and bellybutton tops make their way towards a stage it has to be Steel Panther time! The hair metal rockers, blessed with tons of self-irony and a proclivity for parodies, always manage to surround themselves by a big audience – also here at Wacken. However, music itself – even though it’s a lot of fun - has no priority for the Americans. The quartet’s fascination undoubtedly is their show. There is just no other band I know that has a ten minute entertainment break during their set that does not bore the audience but instead enthuses and entertains the crowd. Sentences like “I have a boner” and “He has a small cock” during their show are just a couple of examples. What’s also remarkable is that no one else would manage to use the words “fuck” or “motherfucker” more often in such a short time as the five rockers from Los Angeles. Everyone who thought that this is stale, was miles out! Self-ironic gags, jokes on the bassist, who is of course the stupidest band member and should therefore keep his mouth shut and look pretty instead, are funny over and over again. Most impressive is definitely the fact that probably no other band in the world actually makes so many women in the audience show their boobs. Respect, gentlemen, you definitely know how to play your game!
Next up on Black Stage was the dark ritual performed by Triptykon. In the background, a painting of a crucified man, in the foreground, several inverted crosses (as they are also found in the band’s logo), smoke and torches that enhanced the devout atmosphere. Simultaneously, the sun set behind the treetop. If this scenario had been planned diabolically by the organizers of Wacken or if it was merely coincidence remains to be questionable. Fact is, everything fit together perfectly and the atmosphere was great. Time for a full dose of mournful black metal! Thomas Gabriel Fischer, front man of the band and experienced musician in the black metal/death metal genre, and his colleagues entered the foggy stage and caused loud cheering by their loyal fans. Static and gloomy, they performed their show and almost completely refrained from any remarkable effects. Their rough and native sound didn’t need any special effects or stunts, it simply transported a very clear and direct message to the audience. A well-made variation to the earlier program.
One of the most special shows of the festival clearly was the performance of Twisted Sister which was the last one in Germany. For almost the entire year, the band has been on a farewell-tour that ran under the motto “40 and Fuck It”. After 40 year in the show business it is reasonable to retire to a more private life even though it’s painful for the fans and the entire metal world to lose such a legend. This fact was emphasized by Dee Snider right at the start of the show.
The farewell tour of Twisted Sister is supposed to be a true goodbye, not one of those where you have another farewell tour after farewell tour after farewell tour as we know it from several other bands like the Scorpions. Dee also talked about the bands’ last time at Wacken 13 years ago. Back then, it had been a special and wonderful evening. Nevertheless, it was their plan to outdo themselves and deliver an even better show this time. And we can give away this much: They surely did!
Dee Snider, John French, Eddie Ojeda, Mark Mendoza and Mike Portnoy outdid themselves musically and didn’t let anyone notice for how long they’d already been in the music industry. Especially Dee, who at 61 years and with a six pack that younger men should be jealous of, jumped and ran around on stage, headbanged and amazed the crowd with his passion and a great sense for entertainment. Ingenious was the performance of “Burn In Hell” where only red lights from the stage floor shone on Dee who began the song in a demonic way. The band could not have created a more diabolic atmosphere on stage! A fire show was naturally was also part of the performance.
Next to this optical show, Twisted Sister also won the crowd over with their music. Songs like “We’re Not Gonna Take It” or “I Wanna Rock” were of course, part of the set list.
All of the shows of this year’s farewell tour had already been great and worthy of a last goodbye. Their performance at Wacken Open Air was still able to exceed all of the previous concerts – even though the performance ended 20 minutes earlier than planned. The stage, the music, the show – everything was simply amazing and perfectly attuned. A remarkable performance that will go down in history. Thank you, Twisted Sister, for 40 brilliant years full of exciting music that coined metal forever.
It felt like a real challenge now to play after Twisted Sister and deliver a similarly great show. But since the melodic death metal rockers of Arch Enemy used their performance at Wacken to film the concert for their new live DVD, the people in the audience could prepare themselves for an incredible show. With anticipation and super excited the fans waited in front of the Black Stage for Alissa White-Gluz and her band members. As the curtain finally fell, an extraordinary stage setup, that you’d wish for every band, awaited the audience. A huge inverted pentagram on a white canvas decorated the back of the stage. Up front, more banners with the Arch Enemy’s graphic were hanging from the stage ceiling. Ten minutes after the show had begun, these banners fell from the ceiling with a loud bang to reveal the true stage set-up. The classical Arch enemy eye in the background, next to it sacral-looking figures and lots of spotlights. But not only the stage looked great, also the performance was amazing. Alissa, who only just joined the band in 2014, knows exactly how to deliver an outstanding show.
Fans of Arch enemy are already used to a lot of action during their shows. This evening, the band topped their usual performance by jumping around even more, lots of posing and headbanging. But also the crowd was of special importance to the band. Alissa animated the fans and interacted with them all the time.
But also the vocal power was superb. Alissa sang and shouted for her life and gave the songs and extra bit of power and melody. Of course, the rest of the band was just as energetic as their singer. Jeff Loomis, Michael Amott, Sharlee D’Angelo and Daniel Erlandsson also showed their musical talent. The audience could do nothing else but freak out at this performance. It didn’t matter if Arch enemy played old or new songs, the crowd sang along, screamed and cheered all the way through.
The special performance with lots of pyro drew a lot of attention this night at Wacken and clearly topped the festival off. Of course, the filming for the live DVD, as well as a smoking hot female singer that did not just stand in high heels on stage but jumped around full of power, might have influenced the entire show in a way – but definitely not to a disadvantage for the band. The Swedes brought the festival to an amazing ending with a performance that will be remembered for quite a while.
This year’s Wacken Open Air festival was again characterized by “Rain or Shine” that seems to be on the biggest metal festival’s agenda for a couple of years now. The weather just didn’t want to play along the whole weekend. Lots of mud and rain and sun in turns made W:O:A almost adventurous again. Naturally, the mood of festival visitors was not too influenced by this. The fun was uninterrupted, the thirst for beer never ended (unfortunately the organizers did not comment on how much beer the average visitor drank per day). Musically, 2016 was as great as always, with lots of variation among the different metal genres. The headliners, as well as several less popular and relatively unknown bands from the Metal Battle, delivered great performances. No one had to starve either as the food stands as usual had a great variety of food to offer. For those who were looking for more than just music, an outstanding entertainment program was offered (yes, you could have had a weekend full of fun even without listening to one band).
Except for tons of garbage that were left behind by some people, Wacken Open Air 2016 was definitely a successful festival from which you can only come back home happy.
Pictures: Manuel Miksche
Text: Conny Pläsken
Translation: Tanja Frank