With around 130 live performances spread out on 8 stages over the weekend I was again happy to receive some help from my friends of Grimm Gent, an association for fans of rock and metal fans from the student city of Ghent, Belgium. Additional reviews and photos by them.

Shows are usually on from 11 in the morning until 3 at night, so you better plan your energy wisely at Wacken. We stumbled in the Bullhead Circus (tent covering the WET and Headbanger’s Stage) around 12:30 to watch AGNI KAI, the Metal Battle representative of Ex-Yugoslavia. The mid tempo death thrash of the band does not rise above the average, despite some good riffs and diversity in the singer’s voice. It feels like screaming without any message hitting home. The band works hard to get the crowd going and their show is cut short before the last song. An unexpected and less than nice ending for them. Competition is hard in the Metal Battle and bands get only 20 minutes to prove themselves.

After 5 minutes the curtains open already on the next stage for ROOM OF THE MAD ROBOTS, the Metal Battle representative for Hungary. They made the surprising choice to spend several minutes of their short set on a long intro tune. Their music is proggy and groovy, hard to compare with other bands. Unfortunately they could not bring the quality of their music I had heard online live on stage. Something was missing for the Hungarians.

I know watching many smaller bands of the Metal Battle in high tempo is quite fatiguing so we decided to take a break in between and have a nice Franziskaner wheat beer at the Beergarden. An area filled with large umbrellas and picknick tables to shelter you from rain or sun. Just like Belgium, Germany has a nice variety of beer (Belgium’s beers are better of course…) and the Beergarden is the only place at the festival where you can drink the tastier wheat beer compared to the standard pilsner everywhere. And this attracts also some bigger names. I was sitting at a table right across ACCEPT’s drum roadie (playing later this day) and Tom Angelripper/Onkel Tom of SODOM (playing Friday and Saturday).

Right next to the Beergarden is the Beergarden Stage. Home for many smaller but amusing bands, perfect to entertain the beer lovers sitting around. It was YE BANISHED PRIVATEERS that were playing on stage right now so I could compare with their acoustic and unplugged set from last night. You should think Alestorm but less metal and no invisible pineapples to crush.

wacken crowd thursday

A view over the main festival area a few hours later

By the time I entered the Bullhead Circus again EVOCATION, Metal Battle representative of China, had gathered a larger crowd who enthusiastically had their fists in the air. Their blackened death with some Asian themes seemed to please the crowd. I found out that they got the fourth place in the overall competition. But I had returned to watch JUODVARNIS, Metal Battle representative of Lithuania. Their pagan black was more my style and the band delivered a professional show. The band was dressed in a similar outfit and the frontman has a great voice. The fact that practically all the songs were sung in their native language and with clean voice did not seem to bother anyone.

The Metal Battle bands took a break for a wrestling performance (yet another of the many side activities going on at the festival), so we thirsty Belgians head over again to the Beergarden for a large wheat beer (beers come in a 0.3l size or a 1l at Wacken). On the Beergarden Stage LOS VAGABUNDOS were playing on their acoustic guitars. They played covers of The Rolling Stones, Rammstein… with a little flamenco touch. Their music is reminiscent of RODRIGO Y GABRIELA, another duo that created some great covers of Metallica on flamenco guitar.

I joined my Faroese camping buddies to watch their Metal Battle representative EARTH DIVIDE. The band had a slow start, but soon their pounding riffs caught on to start the headbanging. The Faroese supported their band and kicked off my first little mosh pit of the festival. EARTH DIVIDE gave an energetic show and I hope they’ve won some new fans with their performance.

 

Then it was time for the eventual winners of this year’s Metal Battle. IN MUTE from Spain brings melodic deathmetal with a bright red-haired front woman. Whenever you see this kind of band, you can’t help compare with ARCH ENEMY (playing on Saturday), so forgive me I yield to this temptation. Steffi resembles Alissa more in appearance but she gives forth more of the raw energy Angela had. She was clearly hampered by the brace she was wearing on her leg, but that didn’t stop her from stumbling around on stage cheering on the crowd. They played Scandinavian melodic death metal but with a serious focus on death and thrash influences. The band members were playing a 5 string bass and 7 string guitars, but did not get the most out of their instruments, in my opinion. Nonetheless a very strong live performance of the winners. Together with the other bands in the top five they get a big cash prize sponsored by the Wacken Foundation, yet another smaller organization part of the Wacken franchise, focused on supporting young and upcoming metal talent.

In the past, bands that stood out in the Metal Battle have often earned the victory. I remember the astonishing set of doom metal from HAMFERD (Faroe Islands) a few years ago in their tidy costumes. They were the only ones making a difference between the many thrash and (melodic) death bands and deserved the title of Wacken Metal Battle winners. I had a similar feeling with HULDRE this year, but they finished only in third place. The representatives of Denmark had transformed the stage in a forest setting with large branches and plants on stage. Danes were numerously present in the audience with their little flags so the atmosphere was lively. HULDRE’s folk metal got people dancing and they entertained the crowd by bringing their songs alive. For example, one song about a swamp that has taken many victims was accompanied by a bunch of little bones being thrown into the crowd.

The main festival area had opened its gates a few hours earlier. This area features the two big main stages, Black Stage and True Metal Stage, and a slightly smaller Party Stage. This is where all the big names will be giving their shows over the weekend. After all the smaller Metal Battle bands I took a little break, but luckily Grimm Gent just started their day after a visit to the Wacken village itself. Their first band of the day was HAMMERFALL!

hammerfall

(Grimm Gent) The Swedes always know how to perform a tight set and they brought us nice heavy metal resulting in a huge amount of crowdsurfers. The show was good advertisement for their ninth studio album ‘(r)Evolution’, which will be released August 29 in Europe. They didn’t play much of it yet in this set, except for ‘Bishido’ as a live premiere in the encore.

(Phoenix) After a break from all the bands I returned to the main festival area to watch another performance of STEEL PANTHER. I can easily compare their show with the one they played at Graspop in Belgium. Similar setlist, same jokes, same hilarious attempts to speak the local language, and a loooooot of boobies. The comparison between Belgian and German titties would be a very interesting topic, but it would lead us away a little too much of the topic, I’m afraid.

Wacken has rearranged its security posts at the festival site so this would prevent you from smuggling in any alcohol compared to other years or other festivals. However, the Wacken water bag that the organization provided so kindly for us can be filled with other things too of course… So let’s say I was present at the following shows but luckily my friends’ memory was a little bit clearer the next day.

(Grimm Gent – SAXON) Biff Byford rides on the stage on a motorcycle as it behooves a good old rocker. This classic band was the first big headliner for Wacken Open Air in 1992 and even then they were already going strong for many years. They still perform a strong show with a nice decor and the appropriate smoke and light effects. But with a name as Saxon (which is also some kind of ground fireworks) we were expecting some more pyrotechnics. Some interactions were quite tedious, but this NWOBHM band from the seventies still scores with one of the classic metal anthems “Denim & Leather” and everyone screams his heart out with this powerful song.

RUSSKAJA was playing on the WET Stage after this and they turned the whole tent in a wicked party of ska, rock and polkabeat. For the Grimm team it was the first time to witness these guys and it needs to be said: their performance really hit home! Georgij Makazaria is a real crowd tamer and nicely binds the set together with effective one-liners. With “Psycho Traktor” the whole audience was a circle pit and it only got crazier with “Wake Me Up”, a cover of Avicii. We could notice that RUSSKAJA played here for the fourth year already and had become a real household name because of the ecstatic atmosphere and everyone singing along with the lyrics and even the funny sounds in between. Even though nobody understands the Russian lyrics, the exhilaration is  even greater with the German lyrics as Germans are pretty loving of their fatherland. One thing is for sure, this show is not lacking in “Energia”! A very nice experience and worthy to check out.

After this ACCEPT started with a song from the new album Blind Rage live for the first time: “Stampede”. A wonderful track and with the enthusiasm they started this they finished the rest of the set. In the dark Wacken a decent light show is real eye candy and big inflatable Wacken balls are thrown in the audience to play around with for a while. Still, Udo’s vocals were a big lack to us.

(Phoenix) Just have a look at the crowd and the majestic sight of the burning bullhead at the beginning of Accept’s show and you can understand why Wacken is an amazing experience! Stay tuned for day 2!