Many people would do everything for their religious beliefs and even more would do anything for their loved ones. However, when it comes to this cult known as heavy metal, 80,000 metalheads (and those who were unlucky enough to not get tickets) would do anything to go to the “mecca” of metal at least once in their life. Wacken Open Air is like a never ending disease; once you go there for your “once in a lifetime experience”, you know you have to come back and if you do find the possible means to do so, you end up going there every year. That’s true. Every year, 80,000 metalheads from all over the world take a week off of whatever the hell they are doing and make the pilgrimage to the “Holy Wacken Land”.
Wacken Open Air is indeed an amazing experience and those who visit it really understand what the atmosphere is all about. The fact that next year’s edition, which will also be the festival’s 25th anniversary, sold out in less than 48 hours proves what dedicated fans this festival has. The line-up is also shaping up to be really interesting: Emperor reunion, Behemoth, Kreator, King Diamond, Amon Amarth, Apocalyptica (special show with orchestra), Iced Earth and Prong among others. The anniversary festivities next year do indeed sound promising. Nevertheless, there’s still a lot of time until then so let’s look at the madness which took place in 2013.
Unfortunately, due to travel delays the MetalRecusants team missed most of Wednesday and the Metal-Battle bands. It was unfortunate to miss acts such as Devoid from India, Chaosphore from Greece or the winners themselves, Crimson Shadows from Canada. Nevertheless, Karma Zero from France pleased many with their modern style (and with their Dunderbeist looks) and groovy guitars which at times reminded me a bit of Sepultura. Up next was the Romanian contender, God – The Barbarian Horde, who were reminiscent of acts such as Turisas and Ensiferum put together. The next day, Thursday – the official big start of the festival – also saw bands battling for the winning spot. Behold the Grave, from Mexico, were the first ones to be checked out that day and their death metal did impress. A set filled with groovy riffs and sweet melodic solos. Although the vocals at times seemed weak, this was great headbanging death metal. The Central American contender from Costa Rica, Rotten Souls, had some weak and some strong points but overall, with their hilarious makeup they put on a good show. It was the act from Poland, however, which had more humour on stage than any band. Gnida made everyone laugh and put smiles on the people’s faces with their very short tracks and funny remarks – as it is supposed to be with grindcore. It sometimes helps to not take stuff to seriously and be full-on metal: playing some Polish pop/disco song during their show was just perfect. The last Metal-Battle act that I witnessed was Mysterious Priestess from Japan. This band proved that heavy metal is not all about how you look. With hipster-like glasses and “normal” plain clothes – no leather, no black, no extremely long hair – the band presented their interpretation of melodic death metal with lots of mid-tempo parts.
It is tradition now that every year the founding members’ band Skyline opens the festival’s main stages (Black & True Metal stages). They played a short set full of covers of the likes of Saxon, Whitesnake, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin and Guns n’ Roses. The band might have not played original material and did not have an array of guest stars like the previous years but nonetheless they did set the party and festival spirit and everyone was now ready for the big guns to show off their metal.
Up next it was time for thrasher legends Annihilator to wreak havoc on the Black stage. Blasting off with “Smear Campaign” and “King of the Kill” heads all over the Wacken fields were banging. The Wacken crowd was also spoiled to a new track “No Way Out”; the band no doubt had to play something special since it was 10 years since they last played this special festival. Their set also included tracks such as “Clown Parade”, “The Fun Palace”, “I Am in Command” and, of course, the classic “Alison Hell”.
Although the Thursday would see such bands as Deep Purple, Ragnarok and Rammstein put on some extraordinary shows, it was a British rock ‘n’ roll act which was your humble reviewer’s main attraction of the day. Yes, I am talking about an act that goes by the name Thunder. They had all you could desire in a rock act and you could truly feel the power of their music in the air. Goosebumps took over my body when the first notes of “Dirty Love” were blasted out in the air. This was a true rock ‘n’ roll show. No bullshit. Just four people on stage and great rock music with classic tracks off the albums Backstreet Symphony and Laughing on Judgement Day. That was not all. We were also treated to tracks such as “The Devil Made Me Do It” or the amazing rock ballad “River of Pain”. Call it cheesy but it rocks and I am lovin’ it. Thunder, come back to Wacken soon.
The show continued at the Wacken Black Stage in similar vein with rock legends Deep Purple. Regardless of their age, they took the stage by storm from the very first track, “Highway Star”. Even though the sun was still shining, Deep Purple were for many the headlining act (regardless of the fact that Rammstein was the “top act” of the day). Their set was an amazing performance which showed off not only the band members’ maturity but also the huge amount of talent and skill. Tracks such as “Into the Fire” proved they can still rock with skill as the gigantic Hammond solo showed which was followed by a guitar solo. Regardless of the band members’ age, regardless of the sign on the stage indicating the current year (Wacken 2013), it felt as if we were all teleported back to the 70s for a night of rock ‘n’ roll. It was also amazing to hear that Ian Gillain’s voice still rocks and he kept up the quality throughout the show with tracks such as “Strange Kind of Woman”, “Perfect Strangers”, “Space Truckin’” or the amazing finale “Black Night”. The show could not go by without a tribute to their late keyboardist John Lord when the song “Lazy” was dedicated to him and a picture of him appeared on the big screens. Before the band went into another classic, Steve Morse started playing the melody of the Guns N’ Roses track, “Sweet Child O’ Mine”. After Morse was finished with his little jam, the legend Uli Jon Roth joined them on stage for “Smoke on the Water”, which everyone was singing along to – it couldn’t get any better. The show finished with the aforementioned track “Black Night” and indeed, the night was black at Wacken Open Air.
The big headliner of the Thursday was Rammstein – his first performance at this festival – and even though your messenger does not appreciate his music, indeed the amount of people queuing to see him and the fact that the main stages area had to be locked down proved that this band was the big headliner of the night. Nevertheless, some of us prefer the darker side of metal and, thankfully, Wacken knows how to accommodate everyone. Although the Bullhead City tent was almost empty with around 100-200 people for the Norwegian black metallers Ragnarok, it did prove that the flame is still strongly flickering in the underground and for such extreme music. Playing tracks like “Sword of Dark Waters” and “Blackmor Miracle” along with satanic chants (even the most cheesy and simple ones like “hail Satan”) it was a pure non-compromise black metal show.
As usual, the next couple days were tremendously busy band-wise, so stay tuned for the reports from the Wacken Friday and Saturday as well as interviews with certain interesting people!