By Baz Jones
The guilty: myself, Emma, Oli, Bonzo, Ben, Ian C. and Siobhan; plus everyone else we knew coming from Nottingham, New York and London.
I can't actually be bothered to bore you with the details of the journey, suffice to say we got there with no hitches on Wednesday afternoon, set up camp and continued to get drunk during the day and night. As per usual, as we'd set off immediately after WUS, I wasn't remotely sober between Cambridge and Wacken and subsequently missed the pleasures of the local fire service brass band for the first night's entertainment. Thursday was spent gathering food, drinking beer and catching up with all the people I hadn't seen since last year. Gates to the arena opened at about 4pm, with bands kicking off about 5-ish.
It has to be said the bands on the first night weren't that inspiring. First up were Circle II Circle, who I'd never come across but wasn't hopeful bearing in mind that they contain ex-members of Savatage, a band I've always despised, both on record and live. Sure enough, their wanky brand of progressive power metal had me rapidly running for the bar before pulling off my classic festival trick of simply saying, 'This band sucks... I'm going to pass out now'. This is one obvious advantage to taking your girlfriend to these things with you as I believe I spent rather a large amount of time passed out in her lap whilst all the power metal was on. I made an effort to wake up for Annihilator... I keep giving this band another go, but I really struggle with them most of the time. OK, some of the riffs are pretty cool but the vocals are consistently weak and lyrics pretty trite. It's all done with a far too po-faced attitude for me to enjoy it. In their defence they did roll out pretty much all of their best tunes, with the likes of 'King of the Kill', 'Never Never Land' and 'Ultra Motion' certainly generating some movement in the crowd. I might have even headbanged to 'Alice In Hell', their one undisputable classic tune. I guess I'm glad they're still going, but some part of my brain just doesn't connect well with their ultra-technical thrash.
Victory seemed to really impress everyone that I was with, with their NWOBHM-flavoured classic rock. I am reliably informed they consist almost exclusively of ex-Saxon members which explains a lot. Unfortunately, I was most pre-occupied with drinking like a fish at this point and couldn't really get into it; however, what was a nice surprise was when Biff from Saxon wandered onto the stage with the rest of Saxon and treated us to a three song 'secret' set consisting of 'Motorcycle Man', 'Denim and Leather' and 'Princess of the Night'. Nice. By this stage I was well and truly flying and geared up for some quality pirate metal, courtesy of Running Wild. I can't explain why I love this band so much, but I do, no matter how much stick I get for it. Predictably, they ruled rather a lot even if they weren't sufficiently bedecked in pirate garb for my tastes. They played for a respectably long time and by the time they were rocking out with 'Branded and Exiled', 'Under Jolly Roger' and 'Prisoner Of Our Time' I was headbanging so furiously that I actually fell over during the last song much to the amusement of Ben and Ian, who helped me up again so I could carry on. The beer may have been a factor in this. Following that, eviltwinemma went back to the tents whilst me, Ben and Ian headed off to check out the Metal Karaoke (if you haven't seen one of these in Germany, you haven't lived - they have auditions, security, massive screens - they're surreal and all of these pissed up Germans are loving it). However, beer was beginning to take its toll so we didn't last that long, and headed back ourselves ready for an early start tomorrow when the real mayhem starts.
Now, this is where the fun really starts...
First up on the Black Stage, once I'd kicked everyone out of bed (or lured Oli with the promise of peppermint tea), were Dew-Scented. This German band seem to have been around forever, but unlike many of their peers from the early 90s thrash / death metal scene Dew-Scented appear to be destined to become perennial also-rans. It's a shem because they make a pretty impressive racket when they get going, with some seriously catchy riffs and decent stage presence (well, I suppose they are on home turf), but there doesn't doesn't seem to be enough originality to lift them out of the morass of other bands which sound exactly like them (only often substantially better). Having said that, there are far worse things you could wake up and eat your breakfast to. The band to gewt the day properly kicked off though were undoubtedly Extreme Noise Terror. Silly politics aside, they slay live, their dual-throated grindcore assault kicking the shit out of any power metallers who happened to be walking passed; it quite reminded me of seeing Exhumed, Mortician and Nasum back to back the first year I was here *contented sigh*. They covered the gamut of material from very early to very recent (like, 'we wrote this yesterday' recent) and sounded incredibly fresh given, a) the time of the morning and b) how long ENT have been around. John Peel would have been proud.
Come midday and the scorching sun, The Crown marched out onto the Black Stage. We were pretty spoiled this year for Swedish (style) death metal, but up there with Dismember, the Crown have got to be contenders for this year's SDM title. Sadly no longer with Tomas Lindberg, but the band didn't seem to really care... they ripped through 45 minutes of high-speed, high-impact thrashy death metal, more great riffs than any band has the right to and lots of screams of 'Satan!' thrown in for good measure. (Cliche warning:)The first album material is still far and away the best, but on the strength of this performance I'm going to have to go out and buy their recent albums, which I think I may have dismissed out of hand. Unfortunately I missed the end of Obscenity's set owing to a massive crush in the WET stage, so went and acquired some more wurst. I've seen Diamond Head before and they were bollocks then, and surprise surprise they were bollocks now. It's a shame because those old records mean a lot to me, but to see what's happened to them since is frankly quite painful. Thus I set about getting good and drunk during their set, making sure I came back to catch them rattling out classics like 'Am I Evil?' at the end of their set. What a waste.
Emma went off to check out Dark Age and came back with glowing reports; they sounded OK from where I was standing, but she'll have to give you a full run-down. I was busy watching the legendary death metal war machine that is Dismember. Ohmygod, they are sooo good live! As a band, they've had a bit of patchy career - 'Like An Everflowing Stream' is a stone cold classic, and 'Indecent and Obscene' has plenty of great moments, but 'Massive Killing Capacity', ahead of its time though it may have been, is still pretty lame. However, since then they've been on the up and up, and this was well and truly reflected in their live performance. Predictably mostly using material from the first album and the last two, there was just no let-up throughout. Really tight musicianship, great Swedish groove and incredible vocals adds up to one of the best bands of the festival for me. I'd never seen them before, so I'm so glad they didn't disappoint me. I hear that Grave have recently reformed, so hopefully I can go for the original Swedish Big Four some time soon.
Unfortunately after this there was the unutterable bilge of Freedom Call. I'm sure Oli loved them, but really not my cup of tea. Sentenced on the other hand were much better... indeed, there was much headbanging when they starting rolling out classics like 'Bleed', although my memory of the exact set-list has been eroded by alcohol and time, though I vaguely recall they played 'My Sky Is Darker Than Thine' and definitely finished with the ubiquitous version of 'The Trooper' (which I believe Dark Age also covered and possibly one of the more homoerotic power metal bands). I'm constantly amazed by how different Sentenced are on stage compared to their recorded material - rather than being dour, depressing and static, they seem to suddenly decide that they want to be Motorhead (this is no bad thing). Jimmer walked off in disgust, which I found slightly surprising. [No I didn't - I was nowhere near Baz or Sentenced at this time! Dammit, Baz, stop drinking so much! - Jimmer] Perhaps there wasn't enough gurning for him? After Sentenced, I really meant to go and see Raise Hell - indeed I may have done, but suspect what I actually did was pass out in the field until Testament came on. Or rather, slightly unfortunately, I woke up during Primal Fear, had a heroic effort at pretending they didn't exist and finally gave up, acknowledged their existence and went to the bar.
Finally, Testament appeared on the Black Stage at 1945 and proceeded to launch into a Greatest Hits set to 50,000 adoring metalheads. It's nice to see a band finally conquering their various problems and getting on with the serious business of thrashing for Satan. We got exactly the set you'd expect from them, albeit with a couple of oddities and a reworked running order from recent times - 'Eerie Inhabitants', 'Practice What You Preach', 'Sins Of Omission', 'D.N.R.' 'Alone In The Dark', 'Low", "True Believer', 'Burnt Offerings', 'Into The Pit', 'Electric Crown', 'The Haunting', 'Over The Wall' and set closer 'Disciples Of The Watch'. If I had one complaint it was that the vocals seemed to occasionally be lost from the mix, but overall a solid and enjoyable set from old hands to this game. After this though, there was a very quick dash over to the WET stage, dragging everyone I could muster to go and catch one of my absolute musts of the festival - Rotting Christ. Thank Satan we did, because the tent was fit to bursting by the time they came on, being tonight's WET stage headliners (before the Karaoke came on). I am very pleased to say that I have never been let down by one of the major black metal bands live, and this was certainly no exception... with more atmosphere, presence and songs than most of the rest of today's bill put together, there awesome mixture of bile and majesty has never sounded so honed. Playing material covering their entire career was always going to go down well (particularly the crushing 'Non Serviam'), but it's great to see the most recent material fitting in with the rest of the set just fine - to those of you who haven't bothered with the last couple of albums on the basis of the proceeding, relatively weak gothic metal albums, I strongly urge you to go out and buy them, as I consider them a real return to form. Obviously, we were always going to get stuff like 'Der Perfekte Traum', but (and now is time for a confession) I really like their CM-influenced goth-metal stuff, so needless to say I was happy as a pig in shit. No 'Visions of the Dead Lovers' unfortunately, but hey, you can't have everything, and I came away from their set with one of the most amazing feelings of exhilaration after seeing a band that I've had in recent times.
Managed to miss as much of Gamma Ray as possible, allowing me to to get a good spot for In Flames. Seeing them this time round was a slighly weird experience, as I've seen them before and they didn't impress me that much, and neither have their recent albums, but somehow the combination of a huge amount of German beer, having just seen Rotting Christ, being surrounded by some of my best friends in the world and watching the awesome fireworks display over the flaming Wacken cow's head, made In Flames the best band in the world for about an hour. They played a varied set - 'Cloud Connected', 'Clayman', 'Episode 666', 'Gyroscope', 'Bullet Ride', 'Pinball Map', 'Behind Space', 'The Jester Race' ,'Only For The Weak', 'Drifter', 'Colony' and probably a few others - and managed to convert a hardened sceptic like myself into an overnight born-again In Flames fan. I believe I struggled to remove the bigh shit-eating grin from my face for several hours afterwards. There was going to be no following that, but there was a joint decision to stay and watch Twisted Sister if only for comedy value. Well, I guess they were pretty funny. I'm trying to think of nice things to say about them, because they weren't that bad, but I am struggling a bit, I confess. Obviously this wasn't stopping the entire festival ground lapping up every word, and believe me until you've seen 50,000 Germans singing 'We're Not Gonna Take It', you, er, haven't laughed as much as I have? There was definitely a sinking feeling though, when with half an hour to go, Dee Snider announced - 'We've got one more for you' and they hadn't played 'I Wanna Rock'. Which they proceeded to do. For half an hour. Well, maybe it was a little less, but not a lot. Jesus Christ, I got it running round my head even now. The horror *shudders*.
Oh, and I went and watched about 30 seconds of sub-GWAR wannabes Lordi as well.
Staggered up at some ungodly hour as was looking forward to both of the first two bands. Unfortunately Sinister (who are absolutely god-like) had pulled out at the last minute, hence Holy Moses were playing on the Black Stage, albeit with Rachel from Sinister singing with them. This didn't really appeal too much, but I caught a couple of songs, which didn't really sway my opinion that Holy Moses are a pretty boring thrash band live, even if on record they ahev a few moments. Instead I opted for Graveworm on the Party Stage. Obviously, as any fule kno, these guys are not as good as t'other Gravewurm, but I confess I was really, really impressed with them. Great sound for the smaller stage made their pretty straightforward, keyboard-driven, Cradle-inspired black metal come across incredibly well, especially considering the time in the morning and my raging hangover. However, beer and mead soon remedied this and some headbanging was even inspired. In fact, I think I may actually have to go and buy some of their albums... In general, Saturday was definitely the better of the two days, particularly for black metal, and we scooted along to the Black Stage immediately after Graveworm to catch Thyrfing. Every time I listen to this band, I'm always reminded of the Nunslaughter quote, "Listening to Thyrfing does not make you underground, it makes you gay." Well, in that case, I guess I must be gay. Viking Metal as a concept can occasionly border on the ridiculous (although there are obvious exceptions like Enslaved and Falkenbach), but I've got a bit of a soft spot for Thyrfing. Occupying the same slot Amon Amarth had last year, they played a solid set of folk-inflected death / black metal and managed to get a substantial pit going from opener 'Mjölner' onwards. They certainly cut an imposing image, particularly the massive, bearded, blood-covered vocalist who stalked about the stage glowering at the world in general. They made a few friends there, including Jimmer, which I thought was pretty unlikely at the time - his taste in music must be improving.
Next up were the death metal war machine that is Malevolent Creation, about the first band of the festival to inspire me to go and join any sort of pit. Suffice to say that well and truly made up for the absence of Sinister from the billing, and true to their reputation laid waste to the entire festival ground. I almost felt sorry for Yanks Twisted Tower Dire on the Party Stage who were trying to compete. I wandered over a one point to see how they were doing; I'd seen them in a tiny club in Bradford a few years ago, and they were obviously loving the opportunity to play to a bigger crowd. There's always something really funny about a massively built vocalist with a very high voice. He even brought his kids out at one point, saying, "I asked my kids whether they wanted to go to Disneyland or to Wacken and they said, 'Daddy, we want to go to Wacken'". Very sweet, but not enough to distract me from wandering back to watch the rest of Malevolent Creation. They got the biggest cheers for their older material, particularly the storming eponymous anthem, but more recent material like 'The Will To Kill' stood up really well as well. Truly excellent.
Follwoing that I had to have a bit of a sit down, and tragically missed Callenish Circle as I wanted a decent place for the band I'd actually come to see - Carpathian Forest. At this point I was struggling to see how the day could get any better, but despite playing in the blazing sunshine, Carpathian Forest managed to turn it up a further notch. One of the few bands of their stature to have remained true to the corpse-paint and spikes ethic of True Norwegian Black Metal, Carpathian Forest are also one of few bands whose true necrotic art can be effectively translated to a live setting, owing to the predominance of Celtic Frost and old Bathory riffs within their stripped down rock 'n' roll songs. Down to one remaining original member, they ripped through 45 minutes of pure, orgasmically good black metal (causing much piss-taking from Ben and Ian at my raptures) culminating in the triple volley of 'He's Turning Blue', 'Carpathian Forest' and 'Bloody Fucking Necro Hell' as the vocalist chucked his guts up over the front few rows. Total Fucking Necro.
At this point I headed back to the campsite - I refused to go and see Bai Bang in case they were any good, and I would have to admit to liking a band called Bai Bang. Owing to massive queues on the way back in, I missed Cryptic Wintermoon, but the couple of songs I heard through the tent as I was queuing (including a cover of 'Night Crawler') sounded really good. Must remember to check them out at some point. I definitely went to see Soilwork again, but to be honest I can't really remember what they were like, which is never a good sign. They were unspectacular last time I saw them (though their last two records are reasonably credible), and I guess they haven't improved much. They were perhaps unlucky in that they were never going to live up to In Flames last night, a band ploughing a similar field, so are consigned to the depths of my drunken memory. Bad luck guys. Much much better were Ancient Rites over in the WET stage. Somehow we'd managed to round up pretty much the whole posse and crowded into the back of the sweltering marquee along with a ridiculous amount of beer, owing to being stood next to the bar, which was just perfect for watching such an intense, emotional performance from the Belgians. Opening with 'The Return', they mostly stuck to material from the last two albums, with the 'Fatherland' material still dominating in the live arena (I remember typing somthing similar in my Graspop report two years ago!), but it was great to be surrounded by a bunch of good people really getting into 'Fatherland' and 'Mother Europe'. I think that was what made Wacken for me this year - although the band are great every year, the crowd I went with this time round were such great people. Anyway, I digress. Ancient Rites rocked hard once again, I just wish Gunther would bring his boys over to the UK a bit more often. Oh well.
Continuing in the black metal vein, we trooped out on mass to go and check out the day's other corpse-painted warriors - Dark Funeral on the Black Stage. Tough call between seeing this or Kataklysm over on the Party Stage, but I think I made the right decision. Somewhat unfeasably, Dark Funeral played for an entire hour and hence managed to cover an enormous range of material, eliciting a similar response in me as when Carpathian Forest played earlier. The absolute highlight for me though was the end of the set when they rolled out 'Secrets of the Black Arts' and 'Shadows Over Transylvania', and I turned to Ben in between songs and said, "If they play 'Open The Gates' my life will be complete", only to hear the opening chords before I'd even turned back round. They then topped that, by closing with 'My Dark Desires'. I went away happy, anyway. Obviously Stratovarius are a big pile of arse, and I ended up passing out on Emma's lap for about an hour, only to wake up and find the sun had gone down and it was time for Nile. Unbelievably, there was some dissent as to great they were - Jimmer and Bonzo seem to find them quite boring. Heathens. They're certainly bizarre to watch live, as without any semblance of a groove, they end up being almost ambeint. The result is quite eerie, and unnerving to watch this incredibly technical and brutal music but be unable to react physically to it. You end up just losing yourself in and being carried away, with the result that 45 minutes go by and it feels like about five. Truly one of the few bands out there still obviously playing death metal (specifically Morbid Angel-style American death) but genuinely taking it to new places. After a few years, there are still too few bands carrying that banner and no-one has really come close to Nile, Cryptopsy or Akercocke for far too long.
And so to the headliners. How can you possibly go wrong with SLAYER! Having seen them live a few times, I can't say this was the best I've ever seen them, mostly because they actually finished a whole 45 minutes early (!), but I will forgive them because they played 'Reign In Blood'. All of it. In its entirety. From beginning to end. Bring it on... it isn't going to get much more exhilarating than that; the rest of the set comprised of 'Disciple', 'Threshold' , 'War Ensemble', 'The Antichrist', 'God Send Death', 'Stain Of Mind', 'Hell Awaits', 'South Of Heaven' and 'Dead Skin Mask'. The sound was a bit ropey at the beginning, but once initial problems were ironed out, they set about hammering everyone into submission. Obviously, they've got so much great material that they're always going to miss out a few classics, but I think everyone felt a little bit bemused when they stalked off stage so early with no encore; I appreciate it's impossible to follow playing The Entirety Of 'Reign In Blood', but a little strange all the same. Anyway, feeling very tired, and with an early start the next day, we trekked back to the campsite, and listened to Vader and Onkel Tom from the tents. Both sounded great and I kinda wished I'd stayed to watch them but sleep was calling.
And that's your lot. Thanks once again to olithered for organising everything so efficiently, and to everyone we saw there for making it a great few days. Bring on WOA 2004.