One last day in the heavy metal mekka of Wacken Open Air. Additional reviews by Grimm Gent

And we kick off with a blast. If there is one woman who can get me out of bed so early to jump straight into a mosh pit it is Alissa of ARCH ENEMY. Believe it or not, this band was programmed as first band on Saturday on the Black Stage. The colorful appearance of Alissa and company made me forget all thoughts of the comfort of my tent. I wanted chaos and action. Despite the early hour there was quite a crowd, however, they were obviously still sleepy. My friends and I fixed this by kicking off the first mosh pit of the day at the second song – “War Eternal”. If people were skeptical about ARCH ENEMY’s new frontwoman this was not to be seen from my position in the pit. Every song – even the three new songs of War Eternal – was received with great enthusiasm. Alissa has a different style to address and incite the crowd compared to Angela, but their music is just so damn good. For those who fear she will not be able to perform the old songs, I can assure you “Ravenous” or “Nemesis” were as brutal as ever! I had a great morning stretch inside a sea of human flesh and dust. I had seen the dust clouds from up close but spending 1 hour inside of it made my lungs feel like I had been working in the mines. It would take two whole days before I felt I had recovered my full lung capacity. And you know what? It was worth it! arch enemy

(Grimm Gent) PRONG surprised us with a show that sounds better than the albums! After listening to all their CDs for our research for the interview we did, we were very curious for the show itself because of their many different musical styles evolving throughout the years. They had outgrown the straight-from-punk raw sound and shouting and this wasn’t prominently present anymore during the live show. Instead Victor’s voice has evolved a lot and he can take a lot more these days, making the show very pleasant and at times even a real party! There wasn’t a big audience, which was to be expected with this special band and older crowd playing at the same time as ARCH ENEMY. Still, we are happy to have seen PRONG and “Revenge… Best Served Cold” really is a good song that even got stuck in our head.

(Phoenix) You can read the entertaining and original interview of Grimm with Victor of PRONG at this location.

prong

With SLAYER and MEGADETH Wacken does not only have two names of the ‘Big 4’ in its line-up, with SODOM and KREATOR it can also show off with two of the ‘Teutonic Big 4’. Tom Angelripper was already in the mood when I saw him at the Beergarden on the first day of the festival, but on stage he seems even more energetic. SODOM plays a very powerful set with many classics and many metalheads defy the oppressive heat. Moshers taking a break from the pit return like ninjas covering their face to protect their lungs from the dust. At the end Onkel Tom invites us to the J.B.O. show later that day to cool down with some beers and sing along with the German drinking songs.

sodom

We are northerners and not used to this heavy sun. Everywhere on the festival area you see people crawling together in the scarce spots of shade or you find drunk people’s head and shoulders coloring red of sun burn. This ocean of light is in strong contrast with the darkness BEHEMOTH comes to spread. A touching moment when Nergal, who recovered from his fight against leukemia, shouts he’s “glad to be alive!”. The Polish band shows no mercy with the heat and delivers a brutally intense show.

Later I have some trouble to find a good spot to hear the DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT with good sound. Especially the grand master’s guitar playing is missing in the beginning. Devin Townsend is one of the most absurdly funny frontmen I have ever witnessed. Constantly joking and pulling funny faces for the camera, all while shaking some insanely technical riffs out of his guitar.

Devin: Let me ask you some heavy metal questions. Are you ready to rock?

Crowd: YEAH!

Devin: Are you doing circle pits and shit?

Crowd: YEAH!

Devin: Are you repressing adolescent fantasies of kicking your dad in the sack?

Crowd: YE…wait what?

Devin apologizes for not having the most festival-appropriate songs and illustrates this by playing the lengthy “Deadhead” and “Planet of the Apes”. A pleasure for the fans, but probably too boring for the newbies. During “Grace” Townsend called for a ‘wall of love’ and instead of the usual chaos and violence you could see all metalheads in front of the stage falling into each other’s arms for a collective group hug. “Laugh. Love. Live. Learn. Never fear love.”. So far for the feel good message of the day.

(Grimm Gent) The allfathers of the blackmetal genre, EMPEROR, proved their worth once again. A tight show, no bullshit and just battering along. It was also the anniversary show of ‘In The Nightside Eclipse’ and the atmosphere was more than good. Also striking was the diversity of the audience. Your reporters of Grimm were standing between people from France, the Netherlands, Venezuela, Spain, and many more. Even a diehard fan from New-Zealand was proudly waving his flag to Ihsahn and company. A lot of fireworks and amazing music (with an ode to Bathory), what more do you need!?

(Phoenix) While we were waiting for AMON AMARTH we could already see the impressive stage. Left and right of the drum kit were two enormous dragonheads with bloody teeth spewing smoke. When the Vikings kicked off their show with “Father of the Wolf” you could hear the snare drum was way too loud in the mix. Johan Hegg proved entertaining as always and it turned out the dragonheads could also be used as platforms for the band members to perform on. Most amusing moment in the set was when the people in the front row all sat down during the beginning of “Twilight of the Thunder God” to start rowing their invisible oars of the Viking longboats. Great to see such interaction between band and audience. So with the overall performance I was not disappointed (I’ve never been let down by AMON AMARTH for that matter). However, the band made a very interesting choice in their setlist. Unlike CHILDREN OF BODOM the day before, AMON AMARTH did choose to emphasize their newer work with no less than 4 songs from the latest album Deceiver of the Gods. This was at the expense of some classics. It was the first time for me they did not play “Death in Fire”. Nonetheless, great to see this other side of AMON AMARTH.

While we were heading towards the Black Stage to see MEGADETH, we were surprised by the stream of people going in the opposite direction to see J.B.O., a comical German band. Germans love the bands from their own country and support them in great numbers. Since MEGADETH cancelled their Graspop show in Belgium, I was happy to see them here at Wacken. Mustaine never was one for a lot of interaction with the audience, but they compensated this by playing a strong set and many classics. The light screens and projections they brought also made it a visually pleasant show.

(Grimm Gent) The atmospheric folk/black metal band DORDEDUH has a very nice and strong sound. A good alternation between melody and harder parts. Warmly recommended for fans of the genre. The name of the band means ‘longing for spirit’ and emphasizes the esoteric character of the lyrics and music. Wonderful to muse along these guys and drink some mead. They perform stronger live than they do on albums so definitely check them out!

(Phoenix) I was lucky enough to see AVANTASIA already live twice, so I decided to fill their two hour show with other bands I hadn’t seen live yet. Halfway through their set I entered the Bullhead Circus to see the Swedish DEGRADEAD play. They started off as protégées of IN FLAMES band members, releasing very pleasing modern melodic death metal. Unfortunately in the meantime their newer releases have lost their original touch and are mediocre at best in my opinion. Still the band plays very strong live and Mikael Sehlin combines clean vocals and screams with ease.

I grew found of FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE’s mix of technical death metal with opera symphonies. Especially their 2013 album Labyrinth about the mythological labyrinth of Knossos and its modern time analogies is a real treat. I was hoping for good music, but I got a nice visual spectacle as a bonus! The Italian band expanded their concept into the live set-up. The band members wore worn out costumes like opera musicians would have. Francesco Ferrini played a big classical piano instead of just normal keyboards and female vocals were sung by a masked woman. The air of mystery was strengthened by frontman Tommaso Riccardi’s sense of drama as he recited intros for songs from a book. A strong concept worked out to the maximum in combination with a brutal performance!

(Grimm Gent) Metal without guitars, how is this possible! VAN CANTO brings both classics as own original work with their vocal chords as the instruments (accompanied by drums). It needs to be said that it was a bit of a letdown live and a lot of the charm was lost because of all the jumping around on stage by the artists. A must see for fans, but we rather stick to the albums. Also the fact that Kreator was blasting away a little further, caused a minor sound overlap and this was harmful for VAN CANTO’s show.

(Phoenix) Off I was to the Wackinger for a last time to grab a delicious late night snack and a mead drink. While I was there FIRKIN was throwing a hell of a party from the Wackinger Stage. The Irish rockers played one danceable Celtic jig after another and even got my weary legs moving. I realized that I didn’t spend that much time relaxing in this laid back area compared to earlier years. In the past the Wackinger and its folk music would always bring my energy levels up just by the pleasant atmosphere hanging there. No sense crying over spilled milk, though, as I saw a lot of good performances and I had two more to go.

ICS VORTEX is the solo project of…well, ICS Vortex or Simen Hestnæs, current vocalist of ARCTURUS and BORKNAGAR and of course best known as former bassist of DIMMU BORGIR. For this solo project he traded the bass for the guitar and we get to hear a more diverse range of the man’s many vocal capabilities. The music of this solo project, until now only released on the album Storm Seeker, is quite diverse and is lyrically carried by the theme of a sailor. Although I suspect the latter will carry many metaphors for things in Hestnæs’ life. A pleasant show and another prove of the amazing musicianship of Vortex.

“The KREATOR has returned!”. These are the first spoken words of Mille Petrozza to the fans. It is past midnight on the last day of the festival, but if KREATOR doesn’t give you that surge of power that will make you want to jump up and smash things, I don’t know what will. Their show was relentless, demanding of the fans in the pit, and so damn good. I’ve seen KREATOR perform at other festivals, but nowhere do “Pleasure to Kill”, “Phobia”, “Enemy of God”, “Violent Revolution”, “Flag of Hate” or “Tormentor” sounds so perfectly brutal as late night Wacken Open Air. This onslaught was the perfect ending for me, so drained of every small frustration I head over to the camping grounds with a smile to enjoy a few last drinks before the bus leaves to Belgium early in the morning.

But… Grimm Gent is still out!

(Grimm Gent) After years of waiting the time had finally come: Seeing SCHANDMAUL on German soil, as closing band on the biggest metal festival. It seems a contradiction, but in reality this was a very pleasant ending. Inciting folkrock with a medieval touch. Of course this band is very popular with the Germans, but still a lot of foreigners stuck around for this show. The beauty of it was this was an intimate band to end with, which is bizarre as the motto of Wacken is big, bigger, biggest. Very nice to experience.

EPILOGUE

I knew by the time I would be writing this Wacken 2015 would be sold out. Why wouldn’t it be if you take a look at the first names that have already been released?

SAVATAGE

TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA

RUNNING WILD

IN FLAMES

IN EXTREMO

U.D.O. (special orchestra show)

SABATON

AMORPHIS (special “Tales From The Thousand Lakes” show)

DEATH ANGEL

POWERWOLF

ENSIFERUM

KATAKLYSM

CANNIBAL CORPSE

SEPULTURA

THYRFING

But here’s a question: Is the fact that it is already sold out not an excuse to book less than fantastic names now? I was amazed by the first set of new names last year too and I was suspecting Wacken would keep up that level as it would be the 25th anniversary edition. However, I grew disappointed as more names were announced. A festival like Hellfest (France) or Summer Breeze (Germany) provides less show or advertisement but succeeds in keeping up a steady supply of strong names. I wonder if Wacken’ slogan should not be “Faster, harder, louder, bigger”?? I am afraid the festival is revolving too much around the show. Wacken is not only sold out very fast, you could ask if the festival itself is not selling out as well. It keeps getting bigger. With the Wasteland Stage (that I didn’t visit much) it seems like Wacken is building on a new area after the introduction of the Wackinger Area a few years ago. With the industrial bands playing there this year and the post-apocalyptic, steam-punk look the artifacts and stages were given, it looks like they are creating a different area to experience besides the fantasy and medieval world of the Wackinger. I fled from Tomorrowland in Belgium because first of all it is not my kind of music, but secondly because that festival is more about the show than about the actual music. And I don’t mind a good decor, but people pay more and more money for not only good names, but also everything around it. While it is an amazing experience, it excludes many price-conscious visitors who save a whole year round to see some bands. I heard Germans say that every year there are more and more foreigners coming all the way to Wacken instead of German metalheads. This is another parallel with the dance festival Tomorrowland where 50% of the tickets are sold to non-Belgians. Are music festivals still about the music, or are they turning into amusement parks?

All of this being said, Wacken Open Air remains a pretty amazing experience and deserves the name of metal mekka. You could say that just like all Muslims need to visit the real Mekka to create the biggest circle pit in the world around the Black Stone, Wacken Open Air is the metal mekka worth visiting at least once. But you better start saving for the trip and hope you are with the lucky 80.000 metalheads that get a ticket before it’s sold out!