By Baz Jones
The guilty: myself, Andy, Ian C., Iain R., Jason, Tom and Catherine from Cambridge, Dawn, Jo, Hilton, Jeff, Bob, Valeria, Lance, Stu, Dave, Kath, Andy WP from London.
Left about 8pm Thursday 3rd when I got picked up by Andy H in the minibus and set off for London to pick up the others. Started drinking immediately. Almost missed the ferry owing to horrendous traffic, but finally made it and hit the bar (I always forget how short it is from Dover to Calais). Made it to the camp-site for about 8.45am... we'd resreved tickets under the impression we could pick them up at 9am. The ticket office didn't open till 2pm. Whoever was in charge of this aspect of the festival needs to be shot. Queued for six and a half hours before we got in, in the pissing rain, having run out of beer and cigarettes. Finally got into the site and immediate headed for the furthest corner we could find and set up camp. Was pleased to discover that my tent has yet to die on me *bounce* Unfortunately had missed the first three bands but managed to make it down in time for...
Mastodon, who slightly disappointed me. I love their album ('Remission') but although they played well and were certainly very tight, they looked like they would work better in a small club, rather than on the big Marquee I stage. I'll hasten to say they were technically brilliant but the sound did them no favours, losing most of the guitar for the first couple of songs. Oh well, I'll just have to make sure I catch them on their next UK club tour. Samael were up next... I'd never seen them before but have been dangerouly obsessed with their music for over ten years now. I'm still in two minds as to what I thought. There's a bit of me that knows they could have got up and done Smiths covers and I would have loved them, so I'll get the criticism out of the way first - there were more problems with the guitar sound, such that for large periods of time you could only hear drum machine, keyboards and vocals. They also (and this is the bit that really urks me) only played material from the last two studio albums. Don't get me wrong, I love those albums, but where were classics like 'After The Sepulture' and 'Ceremony Of Opposites'. Still, we got 'Rain' (yes!), 'Jupiterian Vibe', 'The Ones Who Came Before' and a fistful of others, and Vorph has some seriously impressive stage presence, stalking around with the air of someone supremely (arrogantly?) confident of their own superiority.
Opeth were the first truly outstanding band of the festival. I've seen them before, but for some reaon tonight they just gelled amazingly well. The sound desk had finally got their act together and you could hear every nuance of what the band was playing. They played for 50 minutes (although it seemed like about half the time) and predictably we only got five songs, but Opeth, like Type O, Bal-Sagoth and My Dying Bride have an almost unique ability to write 10min+ songs and still keep you interested. I'm not usually one to get all sad and muso on people, but watching Michael Akerfeldt play is about as close to heaven as I'm ever likely to reach - will someone please give the guy a fucking medal. As is becoming the norm, they closed with 'Demon Of The Fall' and disappeared as quickly as they'd come. It's telling that I saw more Opeth shirts than almost any other during the whole weekend. After this I wandered off for a bit, tried some of the food and more beer, caught some of Overkill (who are shite - good riffs, but will someone please shoot the tit squealing orgasmically at the front? Please?!) before getting down near the front for Sepultura. I've been a bit unconvinced by their last few albums (you know, the ones after 'Arise'), and particularly by Derrick Greene. However, the new album is pretty good, and again I'd never seen them so I thought I'd give them a go. I'd like to publically say my doubts have been dispelled. Derrick is a phenomenal frontman live, better even than Max if I'm being brutally honest, certainly with a stronger voice, and god, how amazing is Igor Cavalera? His drumming is right up there with Lombardo, Hoglan and von Blomberg for some of the best I've ever seen live. The set included a few new songs, but plenty of old favourites to keep me interested - we got 'Refuse Resist', 'Territory', 'Propaganda', 'Biotech is Godzilla', 'Arise', 'Dead Embryonic Cells', 'Attitude', 'Sepulnation', their cover of 'Bullet The Blue Sky', a closing 'Roots Bloody Roots' and probably loads that I've forgotten. My one piece of advice to them would be to get an awesome second guitarist, as there is still something missing on the older material, and Derrick is better if he's not confined to a mike stand. Still, I went away feeling really quite exhilarated, having engaged in my first bit of head-banging of the weekend. If any of you get the chance to see them and have been dubious owing to their recent recorded material, I strongly recommend you give them a go.
By this stage my back was killing me from the journey and the queuing, so I went to have a bit of a drink and a smoke with Iain and Andy. There was a ver annoying bongo player near to us, but he was still more musical than anything I heard coming from the Stratovarius tent I'm afraid (mental note: avoid them at Wacken). Finally, feeling very stoned and drunk I wandered over to see Friday night headliners, Type O Negative. The effect was a little bit like sticking your fingers in a plug socket. They marched on and launched straight into what will always be my favourite Type O song 'I Know You're Fucking Someone Else', scaring all the little teeny goths, and then proceeded to lay waste to the venure for an hour and a half, including such hits as 'Kill All The White People', 'Jackhammer Rape' and 'I Don't Wanna Be Me', as well as genuine favourites like 'Wolf Moon', 'Christian Woman', 'Love You To Death", 'Everyone I Love Is Dead', 'World Coming Down', 'My Girlfriend's Girlfriend' and obviously 'Black No. 1'. Dressed for a change in orderlies' uniforms (hopefully Pete 'Rod Of' Steele has finally thrown away that filthy green T-shirt), I thought they were mesmerising throughout, which is why it was a bit bizarre that people began drifting off after about 45 minutes... I know it was late but come on! The beer tent didn't shut till 6am! Ah well, their loss.
Finally got to bed at some stupid hour, only to get up for about 11am. Actually changed underwear this year. Spent the morning playing my favourite festival sport of 'Spot the White Supremacist'. Started drinking early after a nice breakfast kebab, before starting on the day's band-age:
Somhow I ended up watching Doro, who as much as I would like to not admit it, which surprisingly good. I don't know any her songs, but there is something impressive about thousands of pissed-up Belgians going nuts to some forty-year old Bonnie Tyler look-alike first thing in the morning. Feeling somewhat bemused and not nearly drunk enough, I went and acquired more booze and went off to see some proper metal. Destroyer 666 have never yet disappointed me and this time was no exception. The sound was pristine and their brand of 80s-worshipping blackthrash was just crushing. Even the others were impressed (I should explain: I always end up dragging unsuspecting friends to see the obscure bands at the arse end of festival bills and they usually go away unimpressed). When are they playing in the UK again?
One of the funniest moments of the weekend was seeing Iain Ross' face when I pointed out to him that Arch Enemy's vocalist is female. That woman has one very scary voice (not as much as Sinister, but hey). Arch Enemy on record are great fun, but a lot of their stuff ends up sounding quite similar after the initial rush has died down. However, in a festival setting they're perfect. They are obviously having a huge amount of fuss up there, Angela in particular, as they rattle through a set covering their entire career (they even had me headbanging during 'Dark Insanity') including a new one from their forthcoming album ('Anthems of Rebellion'). Next up on the Marquee I stage were The Haunted. I've lost track of how many times I've seen them and they never disappoint me, but I don't have much to say about them that I haven't said about them before. Suffice to say, another solid performance, but the first album's still the best.
I was expecting a lot from The Murderdolls but to be honest, much as I like the songs, they looked a bit lost up there. Their predicament wasn't helped by almost universal apathy from the crowd, but this just wasn't the right bill for them. Sat in the shade, getting drunk on a sunny Saturday afternoon listening to the Murderdolls is obviously still better than being in work, but I was still a bit let down. The next few hours got a bit chaotic, as I wandered from stage to stage to catch bits of various different bands - Finntroll (excellent yet again, this band keeps going from stength to strength - I'm amazed they're not bigger in Europe), Prong (bit hit and miss from what I heard, but that was always my impression from the records I've heard, but I was pleased to catch their anthem 'Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck'), Six Feet Under (diverting for about 15 mins, but rapidly got a bit meat and potatoes, and Chris Barnes' voice is degenerating; they were better last time I saw them) and Hatebreed (bit too hardcore for my tastes, particularly vocals-wise, but good Slayer riffs and the vocalist's Bathory shirt was a step in the right direction). I was hoping for a bit of an epiphany regarding Anthrax, as I had had with Megadeth a couple of years previously, but I'm afraid I just don't get it. I find their songs twee frankly, the muscianship is not that great, the vocalist sucks and to be honest the stage presence wasn't up to much. Everyone else seemed to think they were great, but they're obviously just not my bag, baby. Pretty bored at this stage I went back to camp for a bit of a lie down. From there we listened to Lacuna Coil and Within Temptation, both of whom I've seen before they both sounded pretty good from where I was sitting but not startlingly different from what I was expecting.
Got back into the festival ground proper to see the closing three bands. First up was Alice Cooper... maybe the guy had been stripped of most of his stage show, but he can still put in a great performance. Well, what do you expect from a guy who's been in the business for over thirty years?! Starting off in black, but wearing a very fetching sparkly white and gold combo (complete with top hat) by the end, I'm constantly amazed that he's still got the voice he has (cf, say, Ozzy Osbourne). The set-list was predictable, but I would have gone away disappointed if we hadn't got 'School's Out', 'Poison', 'No More Mister Nice Guy' and 'Under My Wheels'. Granted, we didn't need the mid-set drum solo (these should all, without exception, be taken out and shot), and lamping your guitarist accidently with a mike stand isn't that cool, but all in all a sterling performance from an old master. After that, and a quick jog to the Marquee stage, Ministry were headlining for the night. Note to all would-be guitar-based industrial bands: give up now. Ministry have ruled this roost for a long time, and on the basis of this performance aren't going anywhere fast. I don't think I've moshed so consistently to a live band for a very long time... they just ruled from beginning to end, absolutely crushing the pretty paltry crowd in front of them (where was everyone? Not watching Stone Sour surely?! Piss-weak grunge ten years past it's sell-by date). I walked into the tent as they were playing 'Deadguy' which is just a lesson in guitar violence, and still probably my favourite Ministry song, though given a set containing 'Just One Fix', 'N.W.O.', 'Thieves', 'Supernaut', 'Psalm 69', and 'So What' there's not a lot to choose between them. Alien Jourgensen was without trademark cowboy hat but does seem however to have acquired rather an attractive mike stand. Just stunningly good.
And so to the headliners: Iron Maiden. Similarly to Alice Cooper, these guys have been in the business too long to put on a duff show. This was obviously helped by the fact that the emphasis was on their early material... 'Number Of The Beast', 'The Trooper', 'Revelations', 'Hallowed Be Thy Name', 'Heaven Can Wait', 'Run To The Hills' etc etc. They played for a good two hours, and for some reason Bruce was in a particularly vociferous mood ranting about everything under the sun: the state of metal, Mp3 bootlegging... though by this stage me and Iain had pooled our remaining drink tokens and everything gets a little bit hazy. We eventually stumpled to bed about 3am-ish, feeling very drunk but very metal.
Alright, just bring on Wacken now... I'd like to say a big thank you to Andy Hudson, who's enabled me to go on this and many other events over the last five years you're a star. And now for sleep...