If we are to take anything away from the 26th incarnation of Wacken Open Air, it’s that it was basically Wacken 2012 all over again. The slogan of the festival has always been “Rain or Shine”, and in this case, for the most part, it looked to be “Rain or…never mind”. As Dom reported in his article, the mud level was ridiculous – it pretty much resembled a giant swamp. Have you seen Two Towers? Think of when Frodo and Sam are being escorted by Gollum through the Dead Marshes, and imagine that but with constant rain and an abundance of shoe graveyards located every few hundred metres. It’s no surprise stalls ran out of wellies on the second day!
I digress, because I’m British and I like to complain about shit, the weather was a bit of a low point. But the line-up more than made up for the cold and wet we suffered until Thursday evening. A personal highlight of that day was In Extremo, who bring their traditionalist medieval swing into their riff-heavy material as quaintly as they always do. It’s certainly fitting that a circus of swaying metalheads is perfectly timed for the grey sky to brighten up, if only for sporadic periods. Nonetheless, the Berlin troupe deliver with a positive, melodic and yet heavy edge that continues and improves. Definitely a high point. Rob Zombie, one of the more controversial acts in rock music recently, brings his picturesque horror-rock and equally extravagant stage setup right afterwards, filled with plenty of his bangers. Songs like “Living Dead Girl”, “Never Gonna Stop” and of course “Dragula” prove more than enough to justify that this evening has already been worth it, and the chants are in full swing throughout. Obviously what followed next was the much-hyped double-show of Savatage and Trans-Siberian Orchestra, which needs no explanation. It was marvellous.
Epica open up the main stage on the Friday as only they can do – with the chuggy, rhythmic prowess over Simone Simons’ soaring vocals, they waste no time in getting a monstrously hungover crowd into the swing of things again. Ensiferum follow with an excess of ferocious, yet enjoyable folk metal that is ripe for the pickings in Wacken territory. Their rendition of “Twilight Tavern” suggests that most of the people in the arena are already hyped as much as they were hours previously, which shows they’ve done well. Also “From Afar” was fantastic as always.
Old-school thrash in the form of Sepultura follows, which, if you’ve been ignoring Max Cavalera’s recent comments, doesn’t even slightly give off the impression that they’re “shit” (his words, not mine). Say what you will, but you have to admit that 2015 Sepultura put on a killer show live, and deserve to be where they are even with people still comparing them to when Cavalera was in the band. It doesn’t compare to their show with Les Tambours du Bronx in 2012 still, which was hard to top. At The Gates emerge dishing out melodic death metal in its purest form, making us all squeal in ecstasy at their skills, and with riffs aplomb send various circles of moshes. It’s become apparent that songs from At War With Reality mean the band is far from being considered an afterthought. Riffs for days. The same cannot be said for Queensrÿche, who clamour onstage and deal a quick one-two punch of old-school heavy metal to get their crowd going, but it doesn’t extend further than that, and what follows is a slither of mediocrity that lacks any real depth.
Opeth, dressed in as least metal clothing as you can possibly imagine (maybe just Mikael Akerfeldt to be honest), waste no time in delving deep within the progressive-death terrain as they are so fondly renown. With polyrhythms aplenty behind him, and some vitriolic death growls interspersed with some mesmerising cleans, Akerfeldt is really one of the standouts of today. Not least the performance of “The Grand Conjuration” was a highlight in itself that needed its own performance. What a spectacular piece of music. It’s not until Black Label Society that more riffs permeate Wacken, in what can be described as a superb sounding Southern rock mosh, full to the brim with those epic solos and pieces. But Zakk Wylde’s finger skills prove done to death after 5 minutes and it gets tedious quickly. Seriously, stop doing it so often. We all know you can shred. “In This River” was touching though. In Flames, one of Wacken’s most beloved performers, are almost guaranteed to be bringing a lot of theatrical, colourful lighting and blissful energy. And we get all of that, and more. With songs like “Where Dead Ships Dwell”, “Cloud Connected” and “Take This Life”, among many other ragers, this was a set that can be summed up as being riffier than something with a lot of riffs. They were truly awesome and deserved their monumentally large crowd.
Over in the tent, Latin metallers Ill Niño plunge into an energetic, furious performance that is probably the loudest out of any show across the weekend. It’s perfect for their myriad of sounds and nuances of nu-metal, metalcore and alternative rock, along with Cristian Machado’s euphoric voice which is tonally perfect. “This Is War”, “How Can I Live”, “Live Like There’s No Tomorrow” and “I Am Loco” are personal standouts, and the band have definitely not lost a step. Their energy is next level.
Saturday (final day of the festival for those who don’t know), plays host to Powerwolf’s spendthrift image both visually and in their music. If you look up the word ‘epic’ in the dictionary then there’s a photo of the band next to it, not least the entire few minutes where “Amen And Attack” blasted through our eardrums. We all know how perfect that was. Skindred, over at the Party Stage, unleash a hybrid of acerbic nu-metal brutality and comedy at the behest of frontman Benji Webbe, who may be the biggest personality of the entire weekend. Crowd control at its very core, and with bouncy, engaging guitar work that is both rhythmic and catchy make Skindred the most underestimated band of the weekend. Songs both old and new were all enjoyed thoroughly – particularly “Kill the Power”, “Ninja”, “Pressure” and “Nobody”. You all enjoyed the T-shirt helicopter as well, admit it.
Early evening plays host to Bloodbath with all eyes on them, with a certain mystique over them. Not just because of their musical prudence but the band’s outside activities are all in question, constantly. But at face value, their utterly heavy-as-heavy-comes death metal is enjoyable, if slightly different than when Akerfeldt was in the band. Their special appearance from Dan Swanö for their climactic tune “Eaten” felt as if Satan himself was onstage. It drew many a cheer, and many death metal fans went home happy. Sabaton followed in what can be described as pure insanity. In a good way. They’re a featured act of today, and they fulfil every epic power metal fan’s fantasy with fireworks, pyro and a giant tank. Their sound struggles at first, as the first four songs are considerably quiet, but this is soon rectified and all is okay with the world again. Sabaton’s stage presence is to be admired, as well as their ability to balance playing awesome rifftastic metal and engage in decent Swedish banter with inebriated German fans. It was magnificent and so much fun, especially “To Hell And Back”, “Swedish Pagans”, “Ghost Division” and “Metal Crue”. It almost made me forget I had a horrible 12-hour long journey back home ahead of me, on my birthday. ON MY BIRTHDAY.
But they are not the last band of the night. Oh no. And it’s not Judas Priest. I didn’t see them because reasons. Instead I decided to watch Suicide Silence, and holy cow were they impressive. Frontman Eddie Hermida lay down an incredible versatile mix of piercing highs and guttural lows that rivalled late vocalist Mitch Lucker. Seriously, ‘hardcore’ fans of the band are still saying Eddie can’t cut it. Wrong. He is fucking insane. And the band’s staple tracks “Unanswered”, “No Pity For A Coward”, “Slaves To Substance” and “You Only Live Once”, among many others, did exactly what everyone wanted. They slammed hard, and were ferocious as hell. Thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish.
Wacken 2015 may have proven difficult to enjoy at first due to the weather, but the scorching sun that carried us all through Friday and Saturday made all the damp worthwhile. Here’s to another year sometime down the line. Unfortunately due to other commitments I won’t be travelling to Germany next year, as much as I would like to. However, if you want tickets…erm…tough. They’re all sold out! Sorry for the bad news. If you were lucky to get a ticket, hats off to you! Enjoy!
Interviews with Skindred, Ill Niño and Sabaton are all to follow. Stay tuned and thanks for reading!