review by: Jez Andrews
I have grown accustomed to the sad truth that I will never really have the perfect festival experience. As far as I can remember, the weather at the Wacken Open Air (or WOA) has never let me down. Neither has the festival organisation or band selection. Despite that, something MUST go wrong.
The curse of bad luck reared its ugly head the night before the festival began. The size of the ditches on the Wacken site can be particularly difficult to judge in the failing light, and it was with this in mind that I sat glumly outside my tent with my left leg in plaster. I had only myself to blame. So, before I go any further, I wish to express my deepest gratitude to the WOA first aid team, the medical staff at the Itzehoe clinic (above and beyond the call of duty), and my companions Richie and Fiona, who ran here, there and everywhere for me while I struggled around on a pair of crutches.
Given the restrictions on my movement, I was unable to walk back to the main arena for Zodiac Mindwarp, Motörhead, or Bohse Onkelz on the first night. From what I heard, all three acts got a good response, though I was a little disappointed at the lack of fireworks.
The metal market was impressive as ever, especially the black metal stall where I bagged some goodies from Darkened Nocturn Slaughtercult, Morrigan and Infernal War – and you can't beat those prices.
As I sat, downhearted, outside the tent the following morning, I heard the unmistakable intro from "Conan the Barbarian" that signified the entrance of Paragon on the True Metal stage. As they performed their set of reasonable quality power metal, I reluctantly left the safety of the camping ground and dragged my crippled self off to see Cathedral. The last time I had given this band a fair hearing was upon the release of The Carnival Bizzare, but seeing them live for the first time was a most invigorating experience. The doom metallers had certainly pulled a decent crowd for so early in the day, and songs such as "Congregation of Sorcerers" and "Ice Cold Man" (vocalist Lee Dorian's contribution to the Probot project) sounded superb. The impressive finale of "Hopkins (The Witchfinder General)" went some way towards sparking back my enthusiasm for the whole event, so cheers, guys.
Weinhold were a new band to my ears, but their solid set of eighties power metal was nicely entertaining, particularly with vocalist Jutta Weinhold, adopting a vaguely Blackie Lawless look. The cry of "Shut up! You are not Nightwish, you are not After Forever, so stop singing!" from a drunken Fin was ignored. I laughed, though...
As expected, Arch Enemy played to a somewhat larger crowd, and skillfully delivered the goods. I realise that many have been sceptical over the band's progress following the departure of Johan Liiva, but I'd have to say that their Wacken performance this year was more impressive than when I saw them in London five years ago. Frontwoman Angela Gossow certainly knew how to stir up the fans who had piled in to see them, and given the response to "We Will Rise," "Enemy Within" and "Ravenous," it would seem that Arch Enemy have firmly endeared themselves to the German hordes. And it was at this point that we all felt the power of the German sun.
Brainstorm did not hold a strong enough claim on my interest for me to risk further damage to my limbs, so I sat patiently beside the Black Stage and awaited the arrival of Mayhem. The crowd began to swell as the traditional pigs' heads appeared, and erupted as Maniac took the stage. Though I have never seen him looking more camp and un-black metal, his vocals were pretty damn fearsome, far better than I have ever heard them.
Opening up with "Deathcrush," and thankfully only including three songs from the last two studio albums, Mayhem had the audience in the palm of their hands. Spitting out the likes of "Freezing Moon," "Fall of Seraphs," and "Pagan Fears," accompanied by some impressive flame throwers along the stagefront, the band played a surprisingly good set, proving that they had not foresaken the scene from which they had strayed. Rounding off proceedings with "Pure Fucking Armageddon" and "Necrolust," they left the fans well satisfied. Definitely one of the best bands of the day.
Despite erm...vocal difficulties, Grave Digger were fantastic. The long-standing giants of German heavy metal gave the people exactly what they wanted, and inspired me to go delving into their back catalogue. "Rheingold" had heads banging from the word go, and "Son of Evil" and "The Grave Digger" made for two more of the day's highlights. Having to sit and only occasionally stand on the fringes of the crowd, I couldn't really enjoy it to the full, but I'm still glad to have been there.
Due to the sheer exhaustion of hobbling around on one leg, Feinstein were my final band of my day. Not withstanding the household names from which the veteran band members hailed, their material just wasn't familiar to enough people. It was only the surprise guest appearance of Manowar's Joey DeMaio on bass for one song that brought the masses closer. Not the most interesting of bands. Kind of like when Paul Dianno tries for another stab at his former glory.
As Dio were greeted by one of the largest crowds the festival offered, I was making my slow and painful way back to the tent. I was glad to hear all the classics blaring across the site, including "Long Live Rock n Roll," "Stargazer," "Gates of Babylon" and "Holy Diver." What royally pissed me off was having to miss the mighty Destruction, who played a blinding set from what I could hear.
It was approaching the midnight hour as Doro and friends appeared on the True Metal stage. As one of her special guests happened to be Blaze Bailey, they opened with an all-the-trimmings cover of Iron Maiden's "Fear of the Dark." Other Maiden to be revamped during the set were "The Trooper" and "Man on the Edge." Though the name Warlock has been familiar to me for a number of years, their material has not, so I was unable to appreciate a certain portion of the set. The butchering of Judas Priest's "Breaking the Law," with Doro sounding more like Bonnie Tyler, was utterly unforgivable. Decent orchestra, though...
The final day began with a fair protion of leg pain, as well as various albums being blasted from campsite stereos. This was a day of bands that I did NOT want to miss, not for anything. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I missed Bal-Sagoth at Bloodstock 2002, but your crippled reporter was there bright and early this time, ready for some battle metal of the bizzare kind. Though the set was only half an hour long, I heard some pretty nice tracks from Starfire Burning..., The Power Cosmic and Atlantis Ascendant, and I was cheered to hear that the long-awaited new album would see the light of day within the next few months.
Even when considering the quality of Unleashed's performance, the fact that they were replacing Deicide was a major kick in the nuts. The set was heavy, brutal and well-received, but none of their material really stands shoulder to shoulder with "Sacrificial Suicide" or "Once Upon the Cross." Respect is due to vocalist Johnny paying tribute to recently deceased Bathory frontman Quorthorn and grinding through a cover of Death's "Evil Dead" for the late Chuck Schuldiner.
From what I could tell, Anthrax were on fine form over on the True Metal stage. I heard the classics pouring out, including "Anti-Social," "Indians" and "Caught in the Mosh."
I was just struggling back from the metal market when Cannibal Corpse hit the Black Stage for some of the tightest death metal the festival had to offer. I myself was collapsed in the middle of the arena, in serious need of dowsing with ice-cold water, but hearing the large Wacken crowd delighted with "Hammer Smashed Face" and "They Deserve to Die" (a hammer in the face of German censorship) was very refreshing. The sound was flawless must have impressed all in its path as it travelled across the site. "Devoured by Vermin" rounded off the set and put a big smile on my face as I made my way back towards the main body of the crowd.
The relative tedium of Nevermore allowed me to rest my leg and congratulate myself on finding an excellent Sodom t-shirt. The beer flowed, the sun beat down relentlessly, but the atmosphere was just incredible.
You can say what you want about the commercially acceptable sound of Hypocrisy, but for me they left every band on the bill before them trailing in the dust. The songs were never especially complex and the set wasn't particularly pacey, but they had such a crushing sound and so much feeling behind the music that I dropped my crutches, steadied myself against the railings, and headbanged for all I was worth. As they opened with "Fractured Millenium," I was reminded of the greatness of the Peter Tägtgren scream. Moving on through the gems of "Eraser," "Fire in the Sky" and "Roswell 47," Hypocrisy delivered one of the best performances of the festival.
It will be a cold day in hell when Helloween fail to receive a hero's welcome on their native soil. I may have been forced to sit down for most of the show, but this particular group of German metal veterans were most entertaining nonetheless. Drawing from Keeper of the Seven Keys material for the most part, the Wacken crowd were going apeshit. I was pleased to hear "Future World," "Dr. Stein" and "If I Could Fly" chiming out of the PA, though once again I was a little disappointed at the lack of Walls of Jericho tracks. Still, job well done.
As the skies began to darken slightly, the hordes descended upon the Black Stage for Finnish wizards Children of Bodom. This included an alarming number of female fans preparing to swoon over Alexi Laiho. Doubtless there were many aspiring guitarists in the crowd ready to compare notes on the Bodom axeman, and I was certainly expecting something impressive. The fans roared, the band played, and the crowd surfers were many in number. Their reception was one of the wildest I’d ever seen...and yet, I found myself bored shitless. Maybe I just wasn't in the mood. Maybe the band themselves were having an off-day. Whatever the reason, as they tore through "Silent Night, Bodom Night," "Hatecrew Deathroll," "Needled 24/7" and other such crowd pleasers, I simply didn't feel moved in the slightest.
About 10 minutes later, none but a small few patient black metallers were left at the Black Stage. What must have been nearly fifty thousand festival goers had flocked to the True Metal Stage to watch Saxon. It was scary to think how many sewn on band patches were within that crowd. As "Denim and Leather" and "Wheels of Steel" were being pelted out for the millionth time, I was sitting in the dirt having a somewhat difficult conversation with a Frenchman about the French underground black metal scene. After the virtues of Nehemah and Belenos had been pondered, I said my goodbyes and returned to the Black Stage for the band who would round off my final night of Wacken Open Air 2004.
Satyricon had two guitarists, a bassist, a keyboard player, a drummer and a vocalist, just like many bands that had appeared over the past two days. But somehow, they managed to make this combination sound ten times heavier than any band who had preceded them. No words can describe the ballistic intensity of Satyricon's set. As this constituted predominantly of old material, the people were spellbound as a blast of the purest, truest Norwegian black metal thundered through the night sky. I wished more than ever that both my legs were working, but the pain forced me regretfully back to the tent after only six songs. This also involved missing the appearance of Darkthrone's Nocturno Culto, essentially history in the making. As I collapsed on the grass, downing the last of the water, I could still hear Satyricon loud and clear across the site. Without doubt the most powerful festival set I have ever witnessed.
As I sat in Hamburg airport the following afternoon, plastered with dirt and dripping with sweat, I not only promised that I would return next year, but admitted to myself a great personal truth. Jez, it's a bad idea to jump across large ditches in the dark, you fucking retard!
A sad, dejected, yet steadfast Jez Andrews.