For the regular attendees of Wacken Open Air, the 26th edition which took place on the first August weekend of 2015 was a déjà vu of 2012. Until the Thursday evening there was no sight of the rain stopping and the mud was only getting…muddier. Getting from point A to point B took twice as long because almost every surface of the festival ground was covered in ankle-deep mud. The festival organisers had to ask fans to stop arriving with cars and take alternative routes via public transport. Cars had to be towed with tractors in order for them to get through all the mud and park in the camping area – or to get out. Nonetheless, the terrible conditions showed all the strengths of the festival. The Wacken team was working round the clock so that every single fan could get to the festival site safely. All the attendees also accepted the muddy fact and everyone walked – or rather swam – through the mud with a smile on their face. Everyone was having fun and no rain or mud would stop the festivities from happening. It is THE metal event of the year after all, isn’t it? As the Wacken saying goes: Rain or Shine!
Despite the terrible weather conditions, all the shows went as planned and my oh my what shows did the lucky attendees of Wacken experience! Swedish classic rockers Europe put on one hell of a show filled with classics and newer tracks from their album War of Kings. Although it was unusual for such a big band to play on the Wednesday, many festival goers were happy to hide from the rain in the Bullhead City tent and rock out to tracks such as “Rock the Night”, “Superstitious” and obviously “The Final Countdown”. Even if Wacken is a heavy metal festival, there is always room for some good rock and this year The Answer were one of the better ones. They performed to a crowded Bullhead City tent and gave everyone a taste of swampy Northern Ireland with their bluesy rock. The vocalist was having such a great time that he decided to crowd surf (while singing) as long as the microphone cable let him and then back to the stage. Great connection with the crowd and a great show – no more words needed, just go out and watch them!
Black Label Society also put on a rifftastic show with colourful lighting which completed the whole performance. Their set included classics such as “Suicide Messiah”, “The Blessed Hellride”, “Stillborn”. The best track, however, was “In This River” during which pictures of Dimebag Darrel filled the stage. When a big picture of young Zakk with Dimebag appeared on the backdrop, the atmosphere became very emotional, it was powerful and probably a few tears were shed. Another “award” for putting on a spectacular show goes to power/heavy metallers Running Wild who performed their only show of 2015 and delivered a true German speed metal gig. Even if the night was super cold, it did not stop everyone from rocking out to tracks such as “Under Jolly Roger”, “Genghis Khan”, “Soldiers of Fortune” or “Into the West”.
Orchestras and heavy metal is not something new. Both Dimmu Borgir and Apocalyptica performed with orchestras in previous years. However, the show from Rock Meets Classic was a different experience and probably one of the few memorable shows from this year. The Bohemian Symphony Orchestra was accompanied by a band and a few changing vocalists: Marc Storace, Jennifer Haben, Joe Lynn Turner, Michael Kiske and Dee Snider. Although all put on perfect performances – especially the Ronnie James Dio tribute with “Stargazer” – it was Dee Snider’s set (and his shortest ever, as he claimed) which was the one people will still remember in a few years’ time. Mr Snider is just a true performer and it is noticeable from his first step on stage. He gave out his heart during those five songs and pumped the crowd with so much energy unlike any other performer. Perhaps Twisted Sister should perform at Wacken next year?
If all the above shows were spectacular and memorable then Savatage’s and Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s show is a whole new level of shows. This was Savatage’s first concert in over a decade and Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s debut at Wacken. The spectacle started with Savatage’s reunion show at the Black stage accompanied by impressive lighting, stage set ups and fireworks. After that, Trans-Siberian Orchestra performed their own show at the stage next door, the True Metal stage. Both bands joined forces after those two shows and performed simultaneously on both stages. I have never seen such a thing take place before and it was definitely a once in a lifetime experience for everyone present! This show is a testament to Wacken’s development as a festival; if they could organise such a spectacle then they can do anything and I only wonder what will come next. Well done.
As every year, Wacken provides an opportunity for unsigned and less-known bands to perform at the festival through the Metal Battle competition. However, it is a bit more than an opportunity to perform at a festival. Since Wacken is THE metal happening of the year, performing at the festival allows for the bands to network with many industry personalities such as the press, promoters, PRs and record label representatives. In fact, the Metal Battle bands have a special Metal Battle lounge backstage to allow them to do the networking and get feedback on their performances. There are five winners and each winner receives a monetary prize along with equipment. The first place winner gets €5,000, the second wins €4,000, the third €3,000, the fourth €2,000 and the fifth €1,000. Sounds like a good deal to me, doesn’t it?
The winners of this year’s Metal Battle were:
Savage Machine (Denmark)
It is not surprising that Vesperia won as their performance ticked all the boxes: musical accuracy, sound quality, stage presence and connection with the audience. However, it was Blaakyum who were one of the most interesting bands of the festival. Hailing from war-torn Lebanon, they put on a heavy show with an oriental touch and deservedly won the third place. Think Orphaned Land but heavier.
Iceland’s In the Company of Men also deserved a winning spot with their electrifying noise/hardcore/mathcore show. Musically and performance-wise it was one of the most interesting shows which kept your attention throughout the 20 minute set. Performing straight-on classic black metal, Norway’s Troldskugge also deserved a winning spot. Their show might have been “just” black metal for some but it was more than that as their music – like ItCoM – kept your attention throughout the 20 minutes with their stage presence, costumes and sonic attack.
A shout-out and congratulations should also go to the following Metal Battle bands for their attempts: Nuclear Chaos (Mexico), Summoned Tide (Sweden), Stortregen (Switzerland) and Deathless Legacy (Italy).
The 27th edition of Wacken Open Air will take place during 4th – 6th August 2016 and is already sold out. See you in Wacken, rain or shine! For all things Wacken, head over to the official website.