By Mark Gromen and "Metal" Tim Henderson
‘Hell Or High Water’, ‘Slip Sliding Away’, ‘Void Terra Firma’ and ‘The Deluge’ were all songs considered in attempting to describe Wacken 2012, but only the play on SLAYER’s best known title gives the appropriate picture! Feel sorry for anyone at the festival for the first time, as they weren’t able to live the full experience (although certainly got more than for what they bargained). The ticket does say “Rain Or Shine,” which includes playing through thunderstorms! What’s the probability lightning will hit a giant metal tower, with electricity coursing through amplifiers on otherwise barren farmland? A week of rain, leading up to the event, had already made the mucky soil unstable (so much so organizers forbid the usually eager campers from arriving on the grounds on their customary Monday). While no one can predict/control the weather, they can take precautions or try remedies. Unlike 2005, when bales of hay were strewn across the massive grounds to not only help absorb some excess moisture, but stabilize footing, the W:O:A organization appears to have been caught unaware (or worse, not caring), as neither cedar chips (used to minimize spillage and over-runs around the open-air urinal/trough) nor any of the aforementioned hay, was forthcoming. For the record, that included the backstage VIP area, which was also a dicey quagmire to navigate, the viscous sludge threatening to de-shoe you with every step. Perception is a powerful tool and giving the “appearance” capital improvements were being attempted, however futile in the face of the on-off downpours, would certainly have gained favor, if not given W:O:A a bye, against Mother Nature.
Even such obstacles couldn’t deter the beer drinking camaraderie and some fantastic performances. It all started on Thursday evening, which offered the likes of SEPULTURA, U.D.O. and the headlining SAXON, although our first step across the threshold was greeted by the sounds of MICHAEL JACKSON’s ‘Beat It’ emanating from the VIP area. ‘Billy Jean’ was also aired! Why? Just shows where some industry types’ musical “tastes” lie.
SEPULTURA made the rare following-year return to Wacken, but they came armed with the Les Tambours Du Bronx featuring sixteen drummers from France who beat 225 litre barrels with beech wood bats or even axe handles. The pairing took the Brazilian's percussion to another level as such classics as they stormed through 'Refuse/Resist', 'Territory' and and of course 'Ratamahatta'. But it was the over-the-top 'Roots Bloody Roots' finale where we witnessed the extreme metal visionaries push the envelope that much further, Sepultura a rare breed which certainly stick out in the massive festival format that is the Wacken Open Air.
Under the backdrop of the sinister, smiling, Joker inspired Rev Raptor, the irrepressible Udo Dirckschneider (ex-ACCEPT), wearing almost as many chains (albeit silver, not gold) as a US rapper, ran through a career spanning repertoire, complete with a couple of surprise guests. Both Udo and guitarist Igor Gianola wore black-on-white camouflage paints, while Accept drummer-turned-U.D.O. guitarist Stefan Kaufmann sported a traditional camo jacket. There was a 5x2 stack of Marshalls on one side of the stage, 4x2 on the other. ‘Leatherhead’, ‘Screaming For A Love Bite’, then the plodding stomp of ‘Vendetta’ and ‘Princess Of The Dawn’, might not be Accept (current line-up or otherwise), but Dirkschneider is a special gift for all metalheads. Pink lights introduced ‘Head Over Heels’. Nice to see him change up which of his former band’s songs are performed, with some obvious (ahem) Acceptions! DORO PESCH joined Udo, the stage fittingly royal purple, for a duet ‘Dancing Like An Angel’. Almost 110 years of Teutonic vocal metal heritage in one place! For ‘Animal House’, the man welcomed back the Mean Machine line-up (guitarist Mathias Deith was also on the solo debut), his son Sven (who plays for a band called DAMAGED) on drums. Actually, they all stuck around for a while, including ‘Heart Of Gold’ and ‘They Want War’. Next, it was the costumed Finns’ namesake, Mr. Lordi, for ‘Break The Rules’, the stack heeled monster towering above the diminutive singer. The current U.D.O. line-up returned for ‘Man & Machine’ and the concluding ‘Metal Heart’. A quick encore saw ‘The Boogeyman’ and the requisite ‘Balls To The Wall’, where all the guests filled the stage. Fun!
While managed by Thomas Jensen, one of Wacken’s owning partners, Saxon deserve the headlining slot anyway. As the plethora of recent live releases documents, as well as a t-shirt on sale at the festival proves, this was the Brits’ fifth Wacken. Although it was 8:45, had never seen them in daylight. ‘Heavy Metal Thunder’ rang out as the opener, Biff Byford in black jacket, Wheels Of Steel tee underneath. ‘Hammer Of The Gods’, ‘Power And The Glory’ followed, bassist Nibbs Carter offering up a toast with the same Becks exclusively available throughout the festival grounds (would think bands had the option of another/better grade of beverages). Fog covered the stage for ‘20,000 Ft’, Byford on the drum riser, shaking his blond mane and perpetually chomping on gum. ‘Never Surrender’ saw steam shooting skyward at the front of stage, fire behind. For ‘Gods Of War’ and ‘Motorcycle Man’, the video board showed the front row behind the barricade populated by kids with blue dreadlocks or wrestling masks: not the stereotypical Saxon fans. Biff’s two-fingered whistle punctuated the red staged ‘I’ve Got To Rock (To Stay Alive)’, the frontman quipping, “When we decide to retire, we’ll play our last show here, at Wacken 2045!” Don’t take him seriously, do the math!
A whammy bar happy ‘Crusader’, then ‘Rock The Nation’ where the drum riser (ala KISS/Peter Criss circa ’75) lifted vertically, sparks falling from above and lit up Nigel Glockler’s last name across the backline cabinets, for his solo. ‘Battalions Of Steel’ gave way to a deep blue hued, fog covered stage to introduce ‘The Eagle Has Landed’. Paul Quinn got down on bended knee at the front of the stage. ‘Wheels Of Steel’, with blazing plumes firing atop the cabs throughout, saw Quinn and second guitarist Doug Scarratt on the same side of the stage, for the first time. As the song ended, Byford hitched a ride on the automated, robotic camera that traverses the length of both massive stages. He almost stayed on too long, headed for the dormant stage next-door, as he joked, “I’m going to London, man!” He jumped off just in time, the band needed him for ‘To Hell And Back Again’. ‘Denim & Leather’ brought the proper set to a close. They returned, Nibbs riding (ala Angus Young/ AC-DC) on a roadie’s shoulders, for a trip to the front of the barricade, while the rest of the band remained onstage, playing ‘Strong Arm Of The Law’. ‘747 (Strangers In The Night)’ and ‘Princess Of The Night’ brought the relatively short (90 minute) set to a close. Damn shame more North American audiences don’t get the opportunity to see these guys. What a back catalog and still delivered with such youthful exuberance.
VOLBEAT's star has risen high in a very short time and are poised for greatness in both North America and Europe, hence the enviable stage time (10:30 until midnight), with the crowd soaking up material from 2008's Guitar Gangsters & Cadillac Blood and their latest, Beyond Hell/Above Heaven including 'Fallen', 'Heaven Nor Hell' and their latest single 'Still Counting' which closed off the night. During their set, Volbeat were joined by NAPALM DEATH's Barney Greenway, KREATOR mainman Mille Petrozza, MERCYFUL FATE legend Hank Shermann, and Mercyful Fate/KING DIAMOND guitarist Michael Denner, for the song '7 Shots'. You don't attract that kind of metal elite unless you've got your proverbial shit together. It was epic!
Friday, August 3rd
Early risers got a chance to hear SANCTUARY play a pair of new tracks, ‘The World Wired’ and the world debut of ‘I Am The Law’. Afterwards, bassist Jim Sheppard told us the band has enough music ready to record, which they hope to finish this fall. The aforementioned tracks were demoed for labels and the band is checking their options. The remainder of the hour was all classics, including ‘Future Tense’ ‘The Mirror Black’, their cover of Jefferson Airplane’s ‘White Rabbit’ (OK, maybe they’re not ALL classics) and the concluding ‘Battle Angels’.
KAMELOT, who also aired an as yet unreleased tune (‘Sacrimony’), were the first to feel nature’s wrath. While their set (like Bang Your Head, three weeks before) was characterized by volumes of fire (octet of flame throwers on opening ‘Rule The World’), it was also the beginning of the day’s rain showers. No time for ‘Karma’ today, but new singer Tommy Karevik once more acquitted himself well, as North America will soon see for themselves. By the time OVERKILL came on, the precipitation had (temporarily) stopped. Guess the Big Guy Upstairs prefers old-school thrash! Was the NJ band’s first show in Germany for The Electric Age and they were easily the best act of the day. Kicking into the prophetic ‘Come And Get It’, the stage was covered in fog, so much so it appeared to be on fire, but only the band was. ‘Bring Me The Night’, ‘Elimination’ and ‘Wrecking Crew’ followed, frontman Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth communicating to the multi-national crowd through expressive hand gesticulations that punctuated the lyrics. ‘Electric Rattlesnake’ brought a little BLACK SABBATHy riffing to the party. ‘Hello From The Gutter’ could have been re-christened “the sewer,” given the aesthetics laying before them. Guitarist Derek Tailer was shirtless by ‘Ironbound’, which was followed up by ‘Save Yourself’. It was an old school finish, beginning with the song of the same name, ‘In Union We Stand’, a resurrected ‘Rotten To The Core’ and the obligatory ‘Fuck You’ finale. The Kill came to shred the mud-filled landscape.
Attired in white BW&BK logo emblazoned t-shirt (which stands out like a billboard in a sea of otherwise black clad masses), makes Mark easy for friends to spot. Felt a bit like King Arthur in the muck farming scene from Monty Python’s Holy Grail. People probably thought: “Must be a king, he ain’t got shit all over him!” Especially with many in the crowd, inadvertently (if not purposefully) wallowing in the ankle deep mire. Even the two-story stainless steel staircase to the backstage area was caked with several inches of goo on each step (until late Saturday, when a lone guard decided to clean the piles away).
Speaking of shit (the grounds not the band!), it was an easy decision to put CORONER on the priority list above OPETH (sorry Mikael!) as we couldn't miss this reunion set. So "Metal" Tim and accomplice Bill Peters (of Auburn Records/Cleveland's famed Metal On Metal radio show) took to the task of zig-zagging through the muck and blackened swimming pools without a lifeline! And when 'Serpent Moves' grabbed the soaking wet audience by the throat, there was no turning back. The genius that is this Swiss trio connect on so many different levels, and kinda like ENSLAVED (current example) and VOIVOD (classic example), rise way above the head of most. If a different time, different place, we may have seen these progressive metal monsters on one of the main stages, but today they appease a few thousand in the rain. While Marquis Marky (drums), Tommy T. Baron (guitar) and Ron Royce (bass/vocals) performed gripping renditions of 'Die by My Hand', 'Masked Jackal' and 'Grin (Nails Hurt)', all weather ills had been forgotten. So with rain coat on and bourbon (Tim) and beer (Bill) in hand we soaked in the glory as the skies eventually cleared.
The Infected warning buzzer calls the fans to attention, as HAMMERFALL took to the True Metal stage, opening with ‘Patient Zero’. The sun was shining brightly again, as the Swedes, all attired in black, treated the fans to what will be a rare live appearance, both this year and none scheduled for 2013, which included a large dose of their initial two albums: ‘Heeding The Call’, ‘Steel Meets Steel’, ‘The Dragon Lies Bleeding’ and ‘Let The Hammer Fall’. Flames burst across the front of the stage in ‘Any Means Necessary’. Threshold was the only studio album not represented. Joacim Cans addressed the crowd at “the world’s best heavy metal festival,” then played ‘BYH’ (aka Bang Your Head), inspired by another Deutsche festival! For ‘Blood Bound’, the singer said, “If you know it, sing along. If you don’t know it, close your eyes and think of something else.” Personally, hard to believe it will probably be sometime in 2014 before we see these guys again.
Been a decade since we invited Silenoz to be a guest at our first BW&BK 6-Pack Weekend, obviously having befriended him years earlier, so like proud parents, we watched as he and DIMMU BORGIR strolled onstage, fronting the Prague National Orchestra and a couple dozen voice choir, in hooded robes (the classical entourage required 60 hotel rooms near the Hamburg airport, an hour away, the only location that could accommodate them en masse). Masked behind a translucent curtain, with the Abrahadabra artwork, the maestro could be seen egging the crowd on, his hand to his ear, calling for more pre-game noise. Some in the symphony painted their faces, similar to the Dimmu guys and a few (particularly one trombonist) could be seen on the electronic video board headbanging violently! Close-ups revealed the instrumentalists were playing from sheet music, so someone had to transcribe the Norwegians’ music for trained professions, a major undertaking, even though everyone rehearsed in Prague for five days, prior to Wacken. Some parts of the 90 minutes were entirely orchestral; others saw the band join in. Early on, the now bald Silenoz addressed the crowd, saying, we’ve played here five times, so we decided to do something special,” which was basically re-create the still forthcoming DVD from Oslo. The band had new stage outfits since I saw them in the UK, last winter, Shagrath in a black overcoat with long, dangling fringe. ‘Gateways’ turned into a fiery duet with Agnete Kjølsrud, the female singer who appeared on the aforementioned album, as a shower of sparks rained down from the lighting rig. Even though they began at 9:30, the sun was just going down, but it took with it any semblance of heat because suddenly you could see your breath. Onstage, much of the evening was a blue hue, although ‘Ritualist’ was lit a sinister green. Their signature tune was offered as a strings laced (oft pizzicato) operatic treat and a full metalized version. Even in these muddy conditions, fans crowd surfed. ‘Vredesbyrd’ (“Are there any Norwegians here tonight? Then this one’s for you), ‘Progenies Of The Great Apocalypse’, ‘The Serpentine Offering’ and ‘Kings Of The Carnival Creation’ were delivered with just one symphonic break, leading up to ‘Puritania’ and the climactic (literally explosive)‘Mourning Palace’. Was a pleasure to witness this special event, in-person.
Saturday, August 4th
The autobahn was gridlocked, thousands of campers leaving Saturday morning, unable or unwilling to endure another soaking rain. Staying so far away from Wacken has its drawbacks, especially trying to get there early enough to see GAMMA RAY, or PARADISE LOST, but the later will be touring over here shortly. With rain falling once again, we set foot onto the grounds while AXEL RUDI PELL was onstage. The Blackmore inspired guitarist is legendary at home in Germany, having never set foot in North America, despite possessing one of the best (and truly underrated) singers in business, American Johnny Gioeli (HARDLINE). The man knows how to trot out the festival hits, often melding the long songs into a medley, so fans can hear even more favorites in the restrictive hour time limit. Such was the case here, stringing together ‘Masquerade Bell’, ‘Casbah’ and ‘Dreaming Dead’, with a bit of LED ZEPPELIN’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’ or the closing pairing of ‘Tear Down The Walls’ and oldie ‘Nasty Reputation’. Speaking of cover tunes, the blond haired, black Fu Manchu moustached Pell worked DEEP PURPLE’s ‘Mistreated’ into his own ‘Mystica’. Good stuff!
In contrast to a golden oldies/festival faves set, TESTAMENT took the opportunity to introduce fans to their just released Dark Roots Of The Earth CD, opting for a quartet of fresh material. Even though there might be 50,000 fans in front of you, that doesn’t mean they’re all gung-ho enough to have already bought (or even illegally downloaded) and learned the lyrics already. Leading off with ‘Rise Up’ which also opens the new album, Chuck Billy came out wearing sunglasses and recognizing they were once more unnecessary, discarded them before the song had even begun. Alex Skolnick played his guitar vertically, much of the time. Old-school pairing of ‘The New Order’ and ‘The Preacher’ gave way to back-to-back newbies, first single ‘Native Blood’ and ‘True American Hate’, the second without introduction, although Billy did reference it as new, upon its completion. ‘More Than Meets The Eye’ saw Chief, as the singer’s nametag reads, (in obvious reference to his Native American heritage and similar stature to the behemoth character in the film One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest) air guitaring in the wings, as Skolnick solos center stage. The current title cut is slower, more melodic, almost a ballad, which was quickly remedied by Billy taunting, “I see all you muddy motherfuckers. See if we can’t stir it up even more.” Bang, it’s ‘Into The Pit’, barked backing vocals by guitarist Eric Peterson. ‘Practice What You Preach’ a fierce ‘Over The Wall’ (wonder how mud-caked the bouncers up front got on that one!), ‘D.N.R. (Do Not Resuscitate)’ and ‘3 Days In Darkness’ (unwittingly, a fitting epitaph for Wacken 2012) finished things off. Looking forward to the co-headlining shows this fall!
Good sport award goes to AMON AMARTH, who were unceremoniously “bumped” from their nighttime slot, yet went on to slay, regardless. Strolling on to a classical influenced intro tap, Johan Hegg points to fans in the front row and boom, a flash of fire and smoke as the Swedes tear into ‘War Of The Gods’. Fire plumes ignite in succession, like falling dominoes across the stage, as the band headbangs. A downshift in energy for the second song, crowd shots of ‘Runes To My Memory’ show inflatable sex dolls (of both sexes) and a four foot blow-up phallus. Not the runes intended, I think. As if to prove the point, security eventually confiscates the giant appendage (probably didn’t want that showing up throughout the live TV stream, nor after-market video footage). It appears the drinking horn affixed to Hegg’s side and the Thor’s hammer medallion around his neck have both gotten bigger than when seen last summer, at Tuska, in Finland. Today, the stage is covered in scrims and Surtur Rising album backdrop, making the stage look aglow and the prodigious use of fireballs only compounds the effect. ‘Death In Fire’ fittingly sees four flame cannons explode simultaneously and repeatedly across the stage front. ‘Live For The Kill’ sees an interlude of classical strings compete with the fire plume, while ‘Cry Of The Blackbirds’ begins with a statuesque Hegg throwing the horns skyward, playfully flicking his tongue. As ‘Fate of Norms’ began, the bushy bearded frontman put that oversized ale horn to good use. The Vikings were afforded an extended, 75 minute set, which allowed them to change the scrims. During the sing-along for ‘Pursuit Of Vikings’, Hegg told the crowd, ‘Doesn’t matter if you don’t know the lyrics. It’s death metal and no one will know the difference.” ‘For Victory Or Death’ actually saw a fireworks “rocket” shot from floor to ceiling, as opposed to usually cascading sparklers, but then Vikings enjoy living dangerously, challenging death. The two-song encore was pomp filled, with Hegg wielding and oversized hammer to intro ‘Twilights Of The Thunder God’ (flames, clouds and onstage lightning that were dwarfed by what we experienced, for real, the day before) and concluding ‘Guardians Of Asgaard’. Damned, these conquerors need to return to these shores again, soon!
SCORPIONS: These old-timers pulled rank and somehow made the organization flip-flop their time with the aforementioned Swedes. Even worse, to a chorus of whistles and cat-calls, they were 15 minutes late in starting (a no-no at European festivals). Have a feeling they were waiting for the guy in Scorps triple A (All Area Access) laminate who passed me, to make his way through the slop to his lighting or soundboard position on the infield. Navigating the sardine packed, typically body-strewn grounds, in the dark is difficult enough, add the possibility of unsure footing… well I think I know who was responsible and why. The wait would have been worth it, had the German institution delivered anything resembling the classic 2006 performance. Granted, this time they were allotted only half the time (90 minutes), but this began as a drab, sleepwalk through albums that anyone other than the most ardent fan doesn’t care about. In-ear monitors, teleprompters, my how things have changed, although Matthias Jabs looked tan and rested. What happened to Blackout? Metal Tim suggested they do something special and play that album in its entirety. Would have been more welcome to our ears than the opening ‘Sting In The Tail’ and ‘Is There Anybody There’, up third, or the boring stretch of ‘Rhythm Of Love’, ‘Raised On Rock’ and ‘Hit Between The Eyes’. OK, we didn’t have to hear ‘Winds Of Change’ or ‘No One Like You’ and the early triumvirate of ‘The Zoo’ (Jabs on squawk box), driving video accompanied ‘Coast To Coast’ (third guitar courtesy of beret wearing singer Klaus Meine, who ditched the wrap around shades two songs in) and slower than normal ‘Loving You Sunday Morning’ hinted at better things to come. Alas, this was an Americanized set, which ain’t a good thing. They’d only had one other show in the three weeks since the US tour ended, think they’d work something else up. Did get to hear ‘Dynamite’ and the title cut from Blackout. What they lacked in musical punch, they tried to compensate for, utilizing flames, fireworks (even shooting them atop the shelter) and a giant onstage video board, behind two story tall, elevating drum riser bound James Kottak. Speaking of which, please tell me that his last name tattoo, across his pecs, isn’t permanent? By the end of the predictable encore, have a feeling that many more than just these two old North Americans were disappointed.
Although (announced at the last minute) “special guests” EDGUY were only afforded about half the set they’d played less than a month before, at Bang Your Head, the infamous night singer Tobias Sammet fell offstage and broke his nose, but continued anyway. Scaled down, much of the 2am set was old school favorites, including ‘Tears Of The Mandrake’, ‘Lavatory Love Machine’ and ‘Babylon’, with a couple of newer tunes in the mix.
Wacken 2013 has already announced some major players, including DORO 30th anniversary show, ANTHRAX, DEEP PURPLE, NIGHTWISH, acoustic set from AMORPHIS, SABATON ARCH ENEMY and RAGE, with orchestra. It will be held Aug 1st-3rd, rain or shine (of course), but as our hotel proprietors said, upon our departure, “We can guarantee you better weather next year!’ To which Tim replied, “Yeah, couldn’t be any worse.” Hope to see you there!
Check out a Best Impressions trailer below. For all info visit Wacken.com.
(Scorpions, Sepultura, U.D.O. photos above courtesy of W:O:A/Olaf Malzahn)