Schleswig-Holstein, Germany: It's the 29th time the Wacken Open Air, the world' biggest heavy metal festival is happening. From all over the world, fans of hard sounds in all its beauty and variety, gather to rock out, party, go crazy. This year, the work that's put into the festival's organisation and logistics shows exceptionally strongly. There's staff everywhere to help you out with anything, security's always friendly and there are lots of other things you'd be looking for in vain at other festivals: There are showers everywhere on the campground, some of them you can even regulate the temperature, toilets and constant access to clean drinking water, that's all for free.
For years, the festival's slogan has been "rain or shine" and this year (in stark contrast to the past three), we found ourselves on the "shine" side for sure. More than 30° C all the time, clear skies and 0% rain probability might be more than some asked for but it certainly beats having to swim through waist-deep mud to the stages.
This years lineup, as diverse and massive as always, features JUDAS PRIEST, DANZIG, RUNNING WILD, IN FLAMES, ARCH ENEMY, IN EXTREMO, DIMMU BORGIR, just to name a few, as headliners. On top of that, Wacken brings some 190 bands total, all metal, all worth checking out, all reason for another Sold Out, continuing an impressive, ongoing 14 year streak.
Wednesday, August 1st 2018
The wait's over: the festival inofficially begins for the 29th time. Of course, thousands of fans have already been here for days now, you know the deal with metalheads. The gigantic main stages, called Faster and Harder Stage are still standing there in awe-inspiring silence, while international winners of the Metal Battle are already going at it on the W:E:T and the Headbangers Stage, sheltered underneath Europe's biggest party tent. Metal Market's open, the Wackinger Stage sets up fans of medieval weirdness with everything they could wish for, ungodly things are happening in the Beergarden and the Wasteland Stage, by now an integral part of the festival's vibe, is getting thrashed into the ground by acts like TRAITOR and DUST BOLT.
These guys, DUST BOLT, a Bavaria-based, young thrash act, put on a total killer show here, with a heavy emphasis on the 'dust': Since weeks, the Holy Ground hasn't tasted a single drop of rain, and people got so fired up by the band, the stage was soon completely hidden behind a hurricane of dust. This would continue for the rest of the festival, by the way.
Anyway, we got a zero-bs show by this band that quickly reminded us of what it's all about when it comes to metal. The energy was insane, the sound quality was so much better than what we know from some other festival's main stages and the crowd took it all in. At one point, the stage literally broke as a plate gave way to one of the guitarists and swallowed him for a brief moment. After a short break, like total pros, the band brushed it off and continued beating the hell out of this gig. No doubt, this performance will stick with everyone who came out to see DUST BOLT live.
Lots of people waiting inside and in front of the W:E:T Stage, given that the festival still hasn't officially begun. Inside, old-school rockers NAZARETH didn't let the "old" get to them at all. Sadly, with the low frequencies dominating everything, the stage sound was not quite up to form yet. Still, all across generations, an astonishing amount of people (especially considering that the festival still hasn't officially begun yet) gathered underneath Europe's largest party tent to rock it out to Silver Dollar Forger, Hair of the Dog, Dream On and Love Hurts.
Back on the Wasteland Stage, TOXIC HOLOCAUST blasted their punky retro-thrash out into the night. As additional eye-candy, flamethrowers all around the area in front of the stage burned amounts of kerosine you'd only expect at a Rammstein concert. Keep in mind, this is the second-smallest stage this festival has got to offer.
While this was not for TOXIC HOLOCAUST alone, the flamethrowers would be used to an ongoingly insane extent throughout the rest of the festival, they could not make the band's routine, uninspired, choreographed performance any more exciting. On top of the songs' extremely generic nature, which presumably is what this band is all about, you've seen and heard all the faces, poses and announcements a million times before and this gig didn't have a thing more to offer.
While Brazilian thrashers SEPULTURA spread fear and loathing in the tent, the first day of W:O:A 2018 came to an end but there was still so much to be looking forward to.
Thursday, August 2nd 2018
Still no clouds in the sky above the Holy Ground as temperatures quickly peaked a few short hours after sunrise. Now how to spend noon better than, as advised by W.A.S.P's very own Mister Doug Blair, checking out Finland's Metal Battle Winners AWAKE AGAIN?
Based on their eccentric, colorful outfits, you'd assume that 'standing out' is a somewhat high priority of theirs. Their (sadly rather short) performance was engaging, tons of fun and bursting with energy nonetheless. AWAKE AGAIN's regular use of electronic sounds and beats might not be a purist's cup of tea at all, but it's really not often you come a cross live performers as fired up as these guys. It's one of many beautiful things about this festival: You can't help but stumble upon new, quality things you never knew you'd enjoy.
The moment we've been waiting for has come: The gates to the main stages were finally opened. Despite the sun still showing no mercy, the place was packed from second one. After SKYLINE played their traditional first show, US metal band DOKKEN took to the stage. We had hard rock and positive vibes all over the place but you could tell that Don Dokken, not exactly being in his 20s anymore, seemed to be just a bit tired and jaded. Still, this was a solid rock show and everything fans could have wished for, and even for people not familiar with the band, there was fun to be had.
At the same time, on louder stage, TREMONTI were visibly stoked to play at Wacken for the first time. Now this was a show where the crowd had no damn choice but to party with the band which rocked the stage with an inspiring, burning passion one beat at a time.
Needless to say, the side-project of former guitarist for Creed and current guitarist of Alter Bridge Mark Tremonti, featured true virtuosity, insane grooves and riffs that physically forced all the hair to go in circles. A pity that shows like this have to come to an end.
Another thing that came to an end, back in 2015, was Mötley Crüe's 30+ year run. But former front man VINCE NEIL isn't done yet. His solo-project, named after him, stopped by Wacken this year to play the main stage. The less said about his vocal talents (and what they've really been since day one), the better. When compared to other talents playing on various stages at the exact same time, this was an insult.
On the bright side though, this was at least a chance to look back to the good old days. If you looked at this like a Mötley Crüe greatest hits live show with different guitar solos, you could find some sort of enjoyment in this as everlasting hymns like Girls, Girls, Girls, Dr. Feelgood, Kickstart My Heart, Looks That Kill and Wild Side were performed by awesome musicians and Vince Neil.
One of metal's most unique voices roared from the stage as DIRKSCHNEIDER, former U.D.O. and Accept singer's solo-project gave the hungry crowd what they yearned for: pure metal. Not much to say here. If you want to know what Metal is, go watch DIRKSCHNEIDER, simple as that. They got more to offer than Balls to the Wall, seriously.
Tens of thousands of fans stood in front of the main stages and eagerly awaited Poland's BEHEMOTH, possibly the most extreme act of the festival yet. Dressed in detailed, grim outfits, the band stepped on the stage and, after a short intro, they showed no hint of mercy as the show began. A superfast, infernal and heartfelt 'F*CK YOU ALL' blazed over the infield. Total satanic madness. The band had prepared a 'brutality nonstop' setlist that rammed the crowd right into the ground and watching them, being no stranger to any single cliché, yet still somehow managing to come across as very damn real and, honest to god (or you know, the other guy) downright frightening, was pure bliss for lovers of extreme music.
On top of signature songs like Slaves Shall Serve, Chant for Eschaton 2000 and Blow Your Trumpets, Gabriel, we also got an excerpt of 'Nergal's life lessons' : "Stay strong! Face your fears!" he shouted at us and reminded us that it's truly great to be alive. BEHEMOTH seem to get better each year and their next show cannot be soon enough.
HATEBREED, an unstoppable force onstage and pioneers of their genre, are a a regular addition to Wacken's lineup by now and they've certainly earned their reputation. The fact that their merch includes "I survived the Hatebreed pit at Wacken" T-shirts should be enough to know what you can expect from their shows. But be warned: Surviving this pit is not exactly a walk in the park.
They kicked of their furious set with As Diehard as They Come and To the Threshold and, yet another time, blood was shed in Wacken. The thick, rising dust didn't exactly make things more pleasant but the point of no return was long gone. The fans showed what getting into the pit at this festival really means.
30 years ago, DANZIG released their self-titled debut album which went on to become a milestone in heavy music history. Celebrating this anniversary, they played the album in its entirety at Wacken this year. Of course, we got a whole lot more DANZIG (and sadly, a record number of unpleasant feedback sounds) and frontman Glenn Danzig, who's long made it up to Living Legend status, is still in fairly great shape.
More insanity on the tent stage: masters of brutal death metal DYING FETUS, from Maryland, USA, put on quite the show. Now this was truly refreshing: Pure hatred, only as much talk as absolutely needed, no "thanks for checking us out, now give yourselves a hand!", only masterfully crafted death metal and merciless grooves.
DYING FETUS is another band that seems to get better as time goes on. This show included more recent songs like Fixated On Devastation and From Womb To Waste as well as old classics like Grotesque Impalement, but what exactly was going on on the stage, was probably information overload for most beholders anway. Chaos, ultimate brutality, life-threatening speed and grooves that make your head fall off - the perfect recipe for top-tier brutal death metal.
The Priest headlined the traditional Night To Remember. That's right, for the second time in the festival's history, metal gods JUDAS PRIEST stopped by and put on another historic performance. The lighting and other elements of the show, again, were downright insane, but this is band that, to this day, would not actually need any of that. With JUDAS PRIEST, you just get riff after riff after riff that physically does not allow the human body not to headbang.
The band's most recent album Firepower has been out since March, so the concert included a song or two from that, as well as all the classics, of course. You've Got Another Thing Coming sort of ringed in the last round and what followed was every metalheads dream: Painkiller, with its iconic drum-solo intro, Breaking The Law and Living After Midnight wrapping up the set. Now what's left to say? It was an honour to have witnessed this.
Friday, August 3rd 2018
11 AM on the hottest day of the weekend: Thousands of metalheads are already gathered on the infield where Sweden's THUNDERMOTHER had the honour of playing the first gig of the day on the main stage. Within a few short years, these ladies have rightfully made somewhat of a name for themselves. For some odd reason though, you could sense an almost worrying amount of tension on their lead singer. The guitarist, on the other hand, she basically made the show, a nice little walk through the crowd while soloing included. What a kickass way to start the day!
And now for something completely different: CANNIBAL CORPSE, yet another legend was up next on the Harder stage. These guys have been around for more than 20 years now, they have long reached cult status and no censorship could ever stop them. This year's Wacken saw a George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher on top his game and the rest of the band just as deadly on-point. This gig showed a lot of youngsters how it's done, no question there.
Between Evisceration Plague, Kill or Become, Stripped, Raped and Strangled as well as Hammer Smashed Face as the traditional ending, Fisher very rarely spoke to the crowd - "I ain't gonna waste any more of your fucking time". He then challenged the audience - should they be in the mood for some headbanging - to keep up with him during Stripped, ... "You will fail. But you can still try".
How stoked the people of Wacken were to see CANNIBAL CORPSE live on stage, even under the burning hot sun, really showed the action got more and more insane towards the end of the show when the security could barely keep up with the overwhelming number of crowd surfers. Good job, Wacken!
It's still a too well kept secret: DARK TRANQUILLITY are not only masters of Goteburg Melodic Death Metal, but also a safe bet when it comes to a fun live show. Mikael Stanne has amounts of charisma that you just cannot resist. The guy is genuinely happy to be doing what he's doing with this band and you can feel that.
So, as always with this band, there was lots of partying going on as DARK TRANQUILLITY played signature songs like The Treason Wall, Clearing Skies, Terminus (Where Death is Most Alive) and Misery's Crown.
So if you have missed out on seeing them live until now, go make up for it as soon as possible! They bring a unique kind of energy to the stage and a good time is always guaranteed.
For those who wanted it even more melodic and even more chill, AMORPHIS stopped by and played the big stage.
For those who wanted weird, local underground craziness, DAS PACK from Hamburg, Germany took the Beergarden Stage. A little too much "hilarious" talk but a genuinely surprising amount of musical versatility was shown here and the audience was visibly thankful.
A whole lot more musical versatility, like from another universe level of versatility, could be witnessed on the Louder Stage now. Heavy Rock masters MR. BIG played an out of this world show at Wacken 2018. With guitar god Paul Gilbert, who's possibly responsible for bringing electric drill guitar solos into this world, and the rest of the band consisting of people with talent beyond words too, this was truly a moment to remember
There is not much to be said about this gig because words really could not do it justice. If you want to see what skill (that still sounds good) looks like live, check them out while you still have the chance. Did you know you could sweep pick on bass guitar? Betcha did not.
They were on the forefront of a whole new wave of symphonic metal. Lots of bands have tried to be them, but no one can quite match them: EPICA, fronted by the outstanding vocal talent that is Simone Simons played this day as temperatures peaked.
Their powerful melodies grabbed the crowd right by their rotating necks as they proved, once again, that no other band can really follow through with their vision of melody and metal as they do.
Now with CHILDREN OF BODOM, from the mystical, wonderful land that is Finland, you have a band that's been able to mix heavy freakin' sounds, playfulness, strange humor and a kickass live show for years now. The genre heroes kicked off their setlist with Are You Dead Yet?. We also heard classics like Needled 24/7, Hate Me! and Hate Crew Deathtroll. The band truly left the crowd blooddrunk when they ended the concert with Towards The End.
Meanwhile, on the W:E:T Stage, "Schmier! Schmier! Schmier!" chants awaited German thrash masters DESTRUCTION. When they finally got on stage, they made damn good use of their short slot. Not much talk, even intros cut short, no time to waste. With songs like Nailed To The Cross, The Butcher Strikes Back, Thrash Till Death and Mad Butcher, DESTRUCTION proved that they are 100% worthy of being part of the German Big Four.
Time to bring out the big guns. NIGHTWISH, a band which remained strong in spite of some major lineup-changes over the past years, are still a force to reckon with and enchanted the audience with their mystic sound and bigger than life, epic melodies.
You can't help but get chills down your spine, when these guys perform beautifully haunting songs with powerful hooks like Amaranth, I Want My Tears Back, Devil & The Deep Dark Ocean and NEMO. And so did, tens of thousands of people this night.
Meanwhile, European Nu-Metal pioneers CLAWFINGER had quite the party going on front of the Louder Stage. With their album 1993 debut album Deaf Dumb Blind played in its entirety as well as some new songs (that is, less than 12 years old in some instances), they sort of stole the show as people all the way behind the tech tower screamed their lungs out and wouldn't stop jumping as the band played their not-exactly-metal show.
There's no stopping to Rock n Rolf Kasparek. Back in 2009, on this very festival, him and RUNNING WILD, German godfathers of power metal, officially called it quits. But here we are again.
Sails set, they were Riding The Storm, stopped by Port Royal for a quick break and Under Jolly Roger, they went on sailing away into the night. It's truly heartwarming to have them back in action, especially with a way more enthusiastic show then we've seen in 2009.
What a strange, strange mix for super late headlines this night: While IN FLAMES put on a 'Nomen est Omen' show and set the Faster Stage on fire, OTTO and his Friesenjungs spread joy and Ottifants among the more than welcoming fans. As old IN FLAMES songs, that helped them reach the status that they have today, like Pinball Map and Only For The Weak, as well as more recent stuff like Here Until Forever and The Truth, rocked the Holy Ground, Otto Waalkes still put on an impressive, honestly inspiring show, given his age of 70 damn years.
Samstag, August 4th 2018
One more day at the world's biggest heavy metal festival. After BETONTOD, followed by WINTERSUN kicked off the day on the big stages, the first real party of the day happened when ALESTORM played. "We are here to drink your beer" is all it takes to get stuffed parrots and blow-up cutlasses waving over the heads of the people who were still far from done.
Simultaneously, underneath the tent, ERIC COHAN and his band took it just a bit more relaxed and had people comfortably rockin' into the new day, before NIGHT DEMON, whose music (sadly) is just as uninspired and formulaic as their name, cranked the metal up to 11 again.
Before we get to the last acts of the day, let us quickly give a huge compliment to this year's sound engineering at Wacken. Over the past years, not only this festival, has struggled with too many gigs that had the low-frequency sounds so badly over the top, that, beyond the obvious observation that somebody up on the stage played the bass guitar, you couldn't do much more than guessing what the rest of the band was doing.
But not this year at Wacken! With a few exceptions, from the Beer Garden Stage all the way to the main stages, you had amazing sounding live concerts were guitars where guitars and tom drums were tom drums.
The overall sound has gone way less aggressively loud, there's no question about that, though. You have to accept that. But if you want to see a band play and actually take in what each of the musicians is doing, you probably should prefer less ear-bleedingly loud sound that is more distinct and gets across all of the details.
So now, we got a taste of just how many details you can squeeze into an ordinary 4/4 beat when French progressive metal band GOJIRA took the stage. While blow-up whales went flying over the crowd, the band gave a killer performance, with L'Enfant Sauvage, Stranded, The Shooting Star and The Heaviest Matter In The Universe.
You can try and not move at a GOJIRA show. But you will fail.
No stranger to a tiny little bit of irony here and there, as well as a whole lot of jokes in questionable taste, STEEL PANTHER, for a the third time already, brought their humorous take on retro glam metal to Wacken.
Underneath the crude jokes and the layers of makeup, these guys are fantastic musicians and you can tell that they are very real about the music they are playing. Nothing too negative can really be said about their music, the show however could use an update, after more than three years now. When you hear the same jokes over and over again, the same "spontaneous" mishaps, the same one-liners, it starts to wear down on the authenticity. And that is a problem because the band's act might come across as not-so real anymore.
So, to get 100% real, why not step by the Headbanger Stage? Question: What is New York Hardcore? Answer: MADBALL!
After their trademark Reggae-ish intro, these guys stormed the stage and just started trashing the place. Frontman Freddy Cricien couldn't even last one entire song up there, away from the fans, he just had to jump right into front row.
Bursting with energy, both the band and the fans had tasted blood and untiringly brought what energy was left in their bodies to the floor. "A lot of you seem like you've got lots of stuff on your chest" - with these words, the frontman encouraged the audience to let go and, given the amount of flying limbs and people in the crowd, that is just what a lot of witnesses to this show found the chance to do.
Sweden's at it yet again: ARCH ENEMY, torch-bearers of Melodic Death Metal had prepared an almost 1.5 hour setlist for this year and long story short: They frickin' delivered.
As the sun was slowly setting, the band's trademark guitar insanity performed by Jeff Loomis and Michael Amott, and Alissa White-Gluz' almost too perfect vocals sure as hell turned some heads.
Let's be real for a moment: ARCH ENEMY have not exactly played "hard to get" over the last years. They are everywhere. Does the routine show in their live performances? A bit, maybe. It can still be appreciated as a 100% thought-through, professional metal show. Also, you just can't help but look twice at all this damn talent up on that stage. On top of that, it's wonderful to see that this band, despite their insane success over the last years, does not shy away from trying new things. We had a notable increase of brutality here and there, but we also had clean vocals as Bloodstained Cross, War Eternal, Ravenous, Nemesis and We Will Rise had people jumping, banging, moving on this last day of Wacken 2018.
Two and a half hours of HELLOWEEN, HELLOWEEN PUMPKINS UNITED that is on Saturday night at Wacken. Holy cow. The classic lineup with Michael Kiske and Kai Hansen back in action kicked off the show with Halloween and moments later, there was no more questioning as to why this band has reached legendary status, not even in its home, Germany.
They continued with songs from throughout their entire career, but we had all the classics like Are You metal?, Pumpkins United, Eagle Fly Free, Keeper of The Seven keys, Future World and I Want Out.
For die-hard fans, this was still way too short but this show, too, had come to an end eventually as huge, beautiful fireworks lit up the sky above the stages. While blow-up pumpkins still bounced over the crowd and the last notes of I Want Out echoed over the campground, the end of this year's Wacken Open Air was ushered in with bright colors and a huge bang.
Even after almost three days, even while HELLOWEEN played at the same time, you could still discover new stuff on Wacken. SÓLSTAFIR, from Iceland played underneath the tent and gave a bone-chilling, highly emotional performance. With their atmospheric, delicate sound, they surely found some new fans this night.
Last round: Before IN EXTREMO had the honour of wrapping up the festival, things got spooky and epic on the Faster Stage one more time: DIMMU BORGIR, the Bon Jovi of Black Metal from Norway slapped the crowd around for one last dance.
Now, one might roll eyes at the band's decision to make more accessible music but there is still no question that frontman Shagrath has one of Black Metal's most powerful, incredible and distinct voices. Also, the band still consists of amazing musicians, so watching them put on their slightly over-the-top, yet super well put-together show was a pretty solid way to end this year's Wacken Open Air. We still had sick growls, (some) machine-gun paced drumming and deep guitars, and at the end of the day, that's all that really matters.
So what is left to say? THANK YOU, Wacken Open Air! As heartbreaking saying goodbye may be each year, it was an honor and a please being able to spend yet another wonderful festival with the W:O:A crew as well as friends and peers from all over the world. Now, all eyes are set on the festival's 30th anniversary in 2019.
See you in Wacken - rain or shine!
Text: Richard Metzler