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September 28, 2011

Wacken Open Air 2011: Every Band I saw at Wacken Reviewed

Brutal Tunes, Concerts & Grog Fests, Grymm and Frostbitten Lands

I’ve been putting off writing about Wacken for a few weeks, because trying to articulate the awesomeness of this year’s festival into a series of 500 words posts seemed like such a fruitless endeavor.

Instead of just repeating my daily diary (which went something like this: “Dear diary – today, I at sausages for breakfast and saw 10 awesome bands with my friends. I am in heavy metal heaven. The end”.) I’m going to write first about the bands I saw, then about our campsite, then about the festival in general. And I will probably end the week with a round-up of my favorite Wacken videos.

If you read my Wacken 2011 running order, you probably have a pretty good idea what I’m planning to see. Without further ado, I present every band I saw at Wacken and exactly what I thought of them:

Wednesday

Wacken Firefighters

Well, what can I say? The Wacken Firefighters are one of my favorite parts of Wacken, and it was cool to bring my Wacken virgin friends along. They’d had no experience of the wildness that is a German crowd, so seeing how much they were loving it made the show even better. Not knowing the songs, of course, we just took our cues from the Germans around us – yelling when everyone else yelled, linking arms and dancing when arms were thrust at us. At one point, they had everyone sitting down pretending to row a boat. Drenched in sweat and beer, I loved every minute of it.

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Toward the end of the set I decided to do something I’ve never really done before, and went crowd surfing. I went from the side right through the centre of the mosh pit and out the front of the stage. Germans sure are the nicest bunch of moshers! No one tried to pinch my bottom or grope me inappropriately. I did, annoyingly, lose my shower card somewhere in the throng. No €2.50 shower for me :(

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Tearing out from behind the barrier, I dived back into the crowd to find my friends again, but a German guy grabbed me and communicated via yelling and hand signals that he wished us to headbang together. He seemed nice enough, so I complied. And that’s where my friends found me, headbanging with a total stranger who gave me his beer as thanks for my company. Only at Wacken.

Thursday

Russkaja

I wrote about Russkaja before on this blog – and they proved to be one of those bands that don’t entirely appeal to me musically, but make a great festival act. Handy German translator Lex told us the song we were listening to was about killer tractors, so Aaron and I rushed in to join the mad circle pit shouting “Traktor! Traktor!” as we danced gaily around the medieval markt.

Helloween

German power-metallers Helloween were my first “proper” metal band of the festival, and the first major name to appear in the running order. It seemed fitting that Helloween – who came from humble Hamburg beginnings, after all – should be the band to rouse the metalheads from their campground repose. They called the masses to headbang, and the masses did headbang, and it was good.

Despite the power cutting out twice during “Are You Metal?”, and the standard festival set consisting of all the “Keeper” hits (is nothing they put out in the last 20 years good enough?) I enjoyed the Helloween set. Nothing surprised me – but with a band like Helloween, you don’t expect to be surprised. You expect to hear some kick-ass power metal, played with professionalism and aplomb, and you expect to finish the set ready for the next party. Helloween – consummate professionals – deliver.

Deris sang well, but I think it’s time to hear him sing some of the songs from his era in the band.

“Future World” was the first big Wacken singalong, which always gets the crowd in a good mood. It was great to hear Helloween songs live and sing along with “I want out” and “Keeper of the Seven Keys.” I was sad we didn’t get to hear “Are You Metal?” – but ah well, we were at Wacken, so I guess the answer was yes.

Blind Guardian

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Me and Andy at Blind Guardian

 

Blind Guardian and a German audience? Hell Yes! Our sole reason for choosing to go to Wacken this year – apart from the fact we love Germany and wanted to see all our friends again – was to see one of our favorite bands with their most devoted fans.

We found ourselves a great spot near the left-side barrier, about parallel with the front of the sound tower. We had a barrier to sit on, and a good, clear view of both the stage and the screens, and a wall of Germans surrounding us and getting more excited by the minute. Check, check and check.

Surrounded by Germans on all sides, the crowd’s vocals practically drowning out the stage, watching the band come alive with that gracious ease that comes from seeing old friends again – Blind Guardian once more drew music from a magical place and brought it forth in all its beauty. I know of no other band who can create a mood quite like them – think of the crowd singing “Fear of the Dark” with Iron Maiden, or chanting “Die, Die, Die!” along with Metallica, but imagine that energy, that sense of being surrounded by magic, from the beginning of the set till the very last note.

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Blind Guardian

Hansi’s voice was, as always, note perfect, and the band carried the set with sweeping melodic solos and bridges. CDH pulled me on his shoulders for The Bard’s Song and I looked over that sea of people, all singing and swaying together, and I knew I was home.

 

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Singing "The Bard's Song" from my husband's shoulders

Ozzy Osbourne

I’ve seen Ozzy once before, at Rock2Wgtn in New Zealand. After watching DVDs of him perform, I was expecting amazing things. Instead, we were treated to this doddery, hunched man who mumbled or screeched the lyrics and couldn’t even remember which country he was in. But since I’ve always been a fan I decided to give Ozzy another chance at Wacken. Surely, he couldn’t be any worse?

He was.

It seems Sharon has dumped all their former band members and replaced them with young whippersnappers who are all gods of their various instruments (and quite attractive, too). The trouble is, with such an amazing lineup, Ozzy’s failings stand out even more.

He screeches and chokes on the vocals. He forgets the lyrics, and he is so violently off key you could see people visibly cringing. About five times every song he yells “I can’t hear you!” We watched five songs but that was about the limit of our tolerance – it was that awful.

You can tell Ozzy genuinely loves being on stage. That ear-to-ear grin he wears isn’t fake – he’s having the time of his life. And far be it for me to dictate when someone who so fervently loves his job should quit. But his voice is appalling, and it’s not going to get better. And the next person to say, “I can’t hear you!” is going to get a Doc Martin in the bottom.

Friday

Ensiferum

Who puts such an awesome band on at LUNCHTIME? This is far too early to be braving the festival grounds without sufficient applications of wurst. Unfortunately, we dallied too long at our campsite, and arrived at the festival grounds in the middle of Ensiferum’s third song. They had drawn such a crowd we couldn’t get near the front, and I ended up watching most of it on the screen on the back of the sound tower.

Friends of mine had seen Ensiferum in Aussie a couple of years before and couldn’t rave enough about them, but despite loving many of their songs, I thought they seemed a bit flat and uninteresting. Perhaps it was simply where we were standing, or the aforementioned lack of wurstiness.

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Somewhere up there is Ensiferum. Why are all these people AWAKE at lunch time?

Van Canto

Van Canto was introduced to me a couple of years ago via my friend Andy. She’s an amazing singer and a huge Nightwish fan, so when Johnowar heard Van Canto’s version of “Wishmaster”, he brought Andy their CD, and she’s been addicted ever since. No one was happier than she when Van Canto was announced for Wacken 2011.

If you’ve never heard of Van Canto, you’re missing out on probably the silliest of all the silly metal cover bands. They sing metal songs a capella – that is, with no instruments (apart from the drums). The bass and guitars – including the hardcore shred solos of doom – are all sung by one lass and four blokes with amazing pipes.

They’ve just released their forth album, Break the Silence, and have become insanely popular in Europe. Their show had one of the best vibes of the whole festival, and that’s saying a lot. They played a great mix of originals and covers (including Wishmaster, Master of Puppets, and – my favorite – Kings of Metal). The crowd sung along and did a little rakkatakka of their own. Their between-song banter was hilarious.

Despite this, it is very weird looking up at the stage at a metal festival and not seeing a single stringed instrument.

“rakkatakka-motherfucker!”

Sodom

Admittedly, I didn’t stay for the whole set. Sodom suffered from sound issues, not all the fault of the organizers. They don’t work on a festival stage, not sandwiched between other, more impressive, acts. I just wanted to hear “In War and Pieces”, which they played second, and it was fun, but I was hungry, so we went to get hot dogs.

The true definition of metal – eating a foot-long German sausage covered in chili con carne and relaxing in the sun with beer and friends while fucking Sodom play in the background. Heaven.

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German sandwich

Rhapsody of Fire

I thought maybe seeing these guys live would make me like them, but live they sound just like one of their albums. I just can’t get into Rhapsody of Fire – it’s too high-pitched, too over-blown, too generic, too much dungeons and dragons and not enough heavy fucking metal.

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This is why every hobbit needs tall, handsome German friends

Their songs lack that ethereal, layered quality of Blind Guardian and the singalong lyrics of Helloween and Edguy. Fabio, the vocalist, pauses and extends words at odd moments (Not uncommon for singers with English as a second language), making the vocal melodies almost impossible to appreciate. Sloppy guitar work and some an uninspiring stage presence cemented my opinion of Rhapsody of Fire as a band I’m just never going to like.

Deadlock

A favorite of one of my German friends, Deadlock has a kind of nu metal / hardcore sound with both males and female vocals. I enjoy them on CD, but was interested to hear how they come off live.

Deadlock played the WET stage, and their set was plagued by sound problems – something I never heard at Wacken in 2009. It reminded me of good ole NZ J. With only a half-hour set, I felt sorry for them, but they trucked through as best they could and put on an admirably high-energy performance.

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Deadlock

I thought the vocals (from both vocalists) in particular were quite weak and the songs didn’t seem to pick up when I wanted them to. I craved more layers, more complexity, but Deadlock seem to only scratch the surface of their sound – I wish they would push themselves musically to see what they could come up with. Right now, there are solid band of decent musicians with a generic sound.

Even our German friend seemed disappointed. I would give them another chance, because I think they’re a good band, but I think in the end they weren’t doing something distinctive enough to impress me, given all the amazing acts I’ve already seen on this trip.

Suidakra

Suidakra have been hit and miss with me – I’ll enjoy one release, but hate the next. Their set was no different. I find their sound jumpy and sporadic, but it’s when they settle into a mid-tempo groove that their music comes alive. A mediocre set punctuated by moments of sheer brilliance.

Judas Priest

Judas Priest have earned a lot of criticism lately for their Epitaph tour (a Farewell tour that’s not a farewell tour), for the sudden departure of K. K. Downing, and for generally being old and past their prime.

But, there they were, live and twenty meters in front of me, and any thought of criticism flew out of my head. Rob’s vocals, although nothing on his voice in the 80s, were faultless – he wailed, rasped and screamed with every ounce of power within him as he sauntered across the stage. Their energy and enthusiasm for the music and the crowd made the stage shrink – you felt as though you were in a tiny venue, hanging out with one of the greatest metal bands of all time, instead of several feet away, surrounded by beer steins and people who haven’t showered in several days.

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Judas Priest (sorry, my photos are shite)

I had no idea Rob Halford owned so many sparkly jackets.

It seemed impossible for the crowd to get any louder – we screamed and cheered with each new song, as one after the other Judas Priest stormed through our favourite songs: Metal Gods, Judas Rising, Painkiller, Starbreaker, Never Satisfied, Turbo Lover … classic after classic rolled over the city of Wacken and soared away into the night.

Its nights like this I pity people who don’t listen to metal. Maybe it’s because seeing a band like Judas Priest – a band who helped bring metal into existence – feels like such an important event. Something to remember forever, to tell your children while they listen in awed voices, to keep close to your heart when you feel like you’re losing at life. You just have to remember being in that crowd with 70 000 of your brothers and sisters and knowing that Rob fucking Halford thinks you’re awesome, just for being there.

After they finished their set, my husband, the world’s biggest Blind Guardian fan (and not a huge Judas Priest fan), turned to me and said, “Blind Guardian were awesome, but Judas Priest blew them away.”

“I wasn’t going to say it, but yes. Yes they did.”

Triptykon

Since Dani Filth got beaten up by some irate fan (I would say “by someone bigger than him,” but everybody is bigger than him) and had to cancel their performance, Triptykon played in their slot. To follow Judas Priest would’ve been a nightmare, and I think they did a much better job than Cradle would have done.

Fire leapt from braziers on the stage and curled around Thomas Fischer as he droned into the microphone. The ex-Celtic Frost frontman’s band retains much of their black metal roots, but the most itself is pure doom, slow, grudging, echoing of foreboding and future violence, but never quite delivering.

In an hour they played three songs – Procreation of the Wicked, Circle of the Tyrants and The Prolonging … maybe there were more, but they all blended together in this mess of droning bass. After Judas Priest, Triptykon didn’t really work for me – it all seemed too bleak and boring. I know that’s the point, and I think if this had been a club show I would’ve enjoyed them. But this was Wacken, and Triptykon didn’t really work.

The screens kept focusing in on Tom G’s face. Right in. He is slightly too ugly to be viewed 40 foot high.

I’m becoming a serious fan of doom and doom-related metal, but I still feel it doesn’t work in a festival setting. It’s hard to find that trancelike state you go into when you listen to doom when you’re constantly being pumped by a man with a giant keg of becks on his back.

Airborne

These Aussie jokers seem very popular in Europe, having played something like three Wackens in a row. Probably because I’m a kiwi, I find them boring – too much posturing as AC/DC, too little attention to creating timeless and catchy rock songs.

They put on a great show – amazing energy on stage, and they really fed off the enthusiasm of the crowd. But to me, Airborne are trying too hard with their beer swilling and climbing the lighting rig routine, and it’s at the expense of their music.

Apocalyptica

It’s 2am, I’m freezing cold, and I once again find myself sitting through some bands I’m not that interested in to see one of the last acts of the evening. In 2009 I waited for Amon Amarth, and this year, I wait for Apocalyptica.

We saw Apocalyptica in 2009 at Bloodstock, and their set was one of the highlights of that festival for me, so I was looking forward to seeing them again – enough to stave off sleep for several hours (remember, I’ve been in the festival grounds since lunchtime at this point).

Just as they began the first haunting notes of their set (On the Rooftop with Quasimodo), a mist descended over the festival. This eerie fog obscured most of the crowd and the food tents beyond, and combined with the gothic lighting and biting thunder of those electric cellos this quickly became the most dark and atmospheric show I’ve seen on a Wacken stage.

While their set at Bloodstock was earlier in the day and seemed to be more about three crazy Finnish lads prancing around being silly, this late night slot lent them an air of the demonic – shrouded in shadows, they pounded at those cellos, and their sound was louder, more dissonant, more haunting than ever.

Highlights of their set included, of course, their covers – Sepultura’s “Inquisition Symphony,” Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” and “Seek and Destroy”, and their finale – “At the Hall of the Mountain King”.

Saturday

Iced Earth

It was a sad day for Iced Earth – they said goodbye to singer Matt Barlow with tears and heartfelt words and a crowd that gave him the sendoff he deserved. Opening with “Burning Times” and ripping through crowd favorites “Vengeance is Mine,” “I died for you” and “Birth of the Wicked”, Iced Earth showed they can pull out a set of furious power metal with professionalism and humility.

The Shining

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The Shining (but not THAT The Shining)

Apart from Blind Guardian, this was the band I was most looking forward to. Why? The Shining made my Top Ten Metal Albums of 2010 list, and their album Blackjazz was probably my favorite release of the year. They had a half-hour set on the W.E.T stage. I was meant to meet my friend Johnowar who was interested in hearing The Shining – apparently all the black metallers at home talk about them, so he wanted to see what the big deal was.

When I arrived I found the W.E.T stage surprisingly full for the middle of the afternoon. After no luck locating John (we’re both blind, yet we always assume that we can find each other if we meet up somewhere), I scored myself a spot at the front and did some serious rocking out. The Shining are the soundtrack from some future science-fiction jungle jazzhall, space-junkie Fear and Loathing in Los Vagas. It’s not headbanging music … It’s almost fit for a dance club. A dance club of your nightmares. Everyone cheers when he brings out the saxophone.

steffmetal-wacken-2011-the-shining John told me later that he left after a couple of songs when he realized this The Shining from Norway were a completely different band from the Shining from Norway he knew about.

Sepultura

I didn’t see Sepultura – only some random dudes butchering metal classics. We decided to drown our sorrows in the alcoholic fruit punch tent. I don’t remember much after that.

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It's like a tropical cruise ship in the middle of North Germany

Skeletonwitch

US band Skeletonwitch ripped up the W.E.T stage, Unfortunately, due to effects of alcoholic fruit punch, have forgotten most of their set. I remember being happy, so they can’t have been shite.

Avantasia (and Guests)

I’m more an Edguy than Avantasia fan (I prefer my power metal biting and catchy instead of epic and instrumental), and after my boredom at Rhapsody of Fire earlier I wondered if I was losing my love affair with power metal. No so. Trust Tobias Sammet to put me right.

This show was billed as Avantasia plus guests, and you wouldn’t believe who showed up for this installation of the metal opera – Jam Lande, Bob Catley (“The Story Ain’t Over”), Kai Hansen (“Death is Just a Feeling”) and Helloween’s Michael Kiske. Hearing so many stunning vocalists come together to perform these songs gave each piece a different sound – making Avantasia more dynamic live than perhaps they would otherwise be. Tobias has managed to create a truly unique metal opera and bring it alive.

Also, I want his jacket.

Kreator

I don’t like to use words like “a brutal thrash attack,” but if the description fits …

I saw Kreator at Bloodstock in 2009 and since then they’ve been one of my favorite thrash bands. I loved their Bloodstock set – the raw energy that comes from playing thrash live and the ferocity with which they pounded out their songs. But Wacken proved that Kreator is one of the best live thrash acts in the world.

I think a little of that magic Wacken juice was in the air that night, the way they seemed to be on the same level as their fans, as if they were playing in the corner of a dirty club than on stage at a major festival. From their opener “Choir of the Damned,” the crowd surged with happy aggression. The largest circle pit I’ve ever seen opened up right in front of us, as thousands of metalheads cheerfully leapt in circles and waved their horns in the air. “I want to you raise the flag of Hate!” Mille screamed, and we did, but there was no real hatred here.

When extreme metal meets sheer lyrical brilliance and a fucking killer German crowd, you have a recipe for a winning evening.

Motorhead

How is it that Lemmy seems to make every stage he stands on look impossibly small?

We stayed for a few songs; since Motorhead sounded exactly the same as the last time I saw them. To describe them, I simply need to say, “they were Motorhead.” Review done, beer finished, time for a nap.

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Our motley horde of international metalheads

So, for those of you who went to Wacken 2011, whom did you enjoy the most, and why? Who did you enjoy the least? Who really surprised you? And for those of you who didn’t go to Wacken this year, why the hell not?

2 Comments on “Wacken Open Air 2011: Every Band I saw at Wacken Reviewed

Rob Liz
September 28, 2011 at 11:44 pm

I really need to get my passport and some serious cash. I’d love to get out to Wacken one year. I have to say that I’ve seen Ozzy twice now and I would love to say never again except for the fact that if they ever reform Sabbath I’d be obligated to go. Clapping like a trained seal, dousing himself and the crowd with foam or water and yelling I can’t fucking hear you 20 times during a set is tiresome as hell.
My friend is a big Van Canto fan in fact he’s being completely obseesed by them right now since he did an interview but I can honestly say that I have absolutely no interest in seeing them.
I saw Priest many years ago in the 80’s and it was a good show but for me over the past 10 years somethings been amiss with Halford’s stage presence. I saw Halford open for Maiden in 2000 and even then he had this thing where he was hunched over the mic and staring at his feet through every song. It’s a bit off putting. But they’re a must see even if you’re not a hardcore fan.

steff
September 29, 2011 at 12:08 am

@Rob – yes, yes you do. The only problem is you get hooked, and end up having to go back again and again. We’re going back either 2014 or 2015, so come one of those years and we’ll party together.

I have heard and seen such bad things about Judas Priest in recent years, I was pretty nervous that I wouldn’t like them. They’re not my favorite favorite band, but when you’re in the mood and you have one of their albums on, they’re awesome. I think the whole band – and especially Rob – are putting their heart and soul into this tour, and it really comes across in their performance. At least, that’s what I saw.

Van Canto are not something I listen to on my iPod, but live they were great fun. Those jokey bands are such a festival thing.

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