By your friendly webmaster
Nottingham: yours truly, Yolanda Downs-Barton. Cambridge people: Baz Jones, Emma Bennett, Keith Boyle, Iain & Katherine Ross, Ian Campbell, Ben Joyce. Others: Bob (Iain's mate now lining in London), John & Dermot (Irish), Alex & Sally (Cologne residents), Dave Tyler, Linda (back after two years) and too other Noo Yoikers.
What started off as an uneventful drive down to Stansted in the middle of the night fininshed in a total and utter fiasco. Everything was fine - unusually for Ryanair - until check-in where the dippy bint at the desk took a couple of ice ages to get most of the passengers sorted out. We were in the queue well on time, but after something like an hour of the queue moving at the pace of a disabled snail, we arrived at the desk to see it displayed "Closed", with still 20 or so people behind us. Still, we were checked in (as was everyone behind us...) via the oversized luggage counter. The upshot of all this was a rather fraught session at each of the various checkpoints, followed by a crazed charge to the departure gate, through a maze of people of which Pac-Man would have been proud. Arriving at gate 59, the sound of "Last call for flight FR434" was not a pleasant experience. But we made it... just, as did the orthodox Jews who I'm sure were in front of us in the queue... interestingly, one of them had dreadlocks where the twisty bits of hair were supposed to be. Odd.
Arrival at Lübeck to join up with the rest of the Cambridge party (who I'd briefly seen at the back of the plane) was followed by the customary bus ride to Hamburg Hauptbahnhof where there was much eating of Seelachs-Ei-Brötchen. Baz said he was happy at finding the Holy Trinity - Fischbrötchen, double Jack & Coke in a black can, and Elephant beer. As before the efficient German trains ran bang on time, head initially for Kiel, change at Elmshorn, head for Itzehoe, which, just like two years ago, was (a) baking hot and (b) a dump. Finally cramming onto the bus we could head for THE HOLY LAND OF METAL.
On arrival in Wacken, tents (and space blankets) flew up quickly, in a prime spot for access to the festival site and away from the evil chemical toilets. Closer inspection of the chemo-khazis revealed one contained nazi graffiti, which I'm sure were written by previous users, possibly at a meathead hardcore festival. One of the "white power" slogans had been changed to "black und gay power..."
What little remained of Wednesday was spent: (a) obtaining the W:O:A 2004 wristband, now in a black and yellow "angry wasp" design (very appropriate, as we were constantly chased by the little bastards until back on English soil); (b) hailing the arrival of Big Hairy Dave who had brought three Noo Yoik metalheads this time; (c) drinking beer in the now renamed Löwenbräu Biergarten; (d) despairing at the utter shiteness of the karaoke on the Jim Beam stage. A brass band of local firemen also turned up to play beer drinking songs to a bunch of already smashed Germans.
Thursday started with an appearance in the nearby W:O:A Breakfast tent. As it turned out I passed up the chance for any food - I was sure they'd had a fry-up there before, and not just baguettes - but it later turned out I was thinking of Graspop. Yolanda bagged a couple of mugs of coffee for €2 each... ouch. This was followed by the customary trip to Spar at the other end of the village to get in a few essential supplies. No beer this time, though - if there's one thing I don't miss about the last two years it's drinking lager at 30+°C, and I'd get enough on the festival site in the Annual Collection Of Wacken Beer Glasses. Irritatingly, there were no carrier bags and I ended up carrying the supplies back to the tent in a bread basket.
Following this, Thursday was very much a continuation of where Wednesday left off, in that a good part of it was spent in the Biergarten. Some neat manoeuvering of benches earned us a place under an umbrella, fortunate as the sun was doing its best to turn us all into bratwurst. Many of us had a crack at Wacken's latest innovation - beer served in 1-litre steins, which I had to have despite the €7.50 coat of the beer and (ouch) €3 Pfand on the stein. Also on the Löwenbräu bar I noticed that €5 would buy an official Wacken Luftgitarre, in the shape of the famous goat skull logo, and with four holes in the back for carrying beer in, similar to the inflatable Maes Pils beer holders from Graspop. Bizarrely, there was a closed compartment contaning two dice - for playing drinking games? One of us was heard to comment that there should be three dice with a six on every face. You work it out...
But the main highlight of the Löwenbräu Biergarten was the food... specifically the Schweinshaxe. For the uninitiated, this is a whole roast pork shoulder. A giant chunk of pig, in other words. Skin and all. Served, unfortunately, with a large quantity of sauerkraut, which I wouldn't touch with a long barge pole. But the dead pig... this was good.
One of the notable topics of conversation was the subject matter of Leaves' Eyes "Norwegian Love Song", and what it could possibly be about. Two black metal fans getting ot on? Or worse? Maybe two black metal band members? Baz finally killed with the immortal line "If anyone ever writes Varg/Euronymous slash, I will kill them. No, seriously, I will tkill them."
6:00 arrived, and the first band of the day, ZODIAC MINDWARP. I headed in to see then with Yolanda after Sam "Anselmo" of the Mental Hamster boards failed to turn up with his yellow Spam t-shirt. I'm sure I've heard someone mention how great they are (Jon Jarrett?) but otherwise it seemed to be a set of competent classic rock, though not something I'd remember as outstanding. Next up, though, the legend that is MOTÖRHEAD. Does this band need any introduction? Just in case, Lemmy & co kicked off with "We Are Motörhead", then a romp through a load of the old classics. "No Class", "Metropolis", the punk double of "God Save The Queen" and "Ramones", "Shoot You In The Back" (I think!), "Doctor Rock", a new one called "Life's A Bitch", "Going To Brazil", "Sacrifice", "Killed By Death", "Ace Of Spades" and the closer "Overkill", complete with three runs through the legendary drum intro. Marvellous.
Far less marvellous was what appears to be Germany's favourite band, BÖHSE ONKELZ. It seems at least half the people at the festival, if not more, were kitted out with Böhse Onkelz merchandise of some sort. They had their own separate section of both official merchandising stalls, even the one that was only supposed to be selling W:O:A stuff. They had their own reserved campsite for members of the fan club. Now add in a healthy dose of suspicion amongst all non-German-speakers towards their past as a punk/oi/skinhead band that was involved with the extreme right. Admittedly they have now repeatedly denounced this for the past 17 years, but in the end what really matters is their musical output... and I have to say it is completely and utterly crap! Think what Andrew WK would do if he had what remains of his brain removed and spoke German. It doesn't bear thinking about. But what really puts the biscuit crumbs in the bed is that this bunch of jokers had a two and a half hour set - the longest of any band on the festival, longer even that the overall headliners, Saxon. It defies belief.
Friday kicked off with another trip into Wacken village, to get more drinks, food that would still be alive by Sunday morning, and bin bags - for trash, laundry and to carry this whole lot home in. Remembering the rip of the official breakfast tent the day before, I thought of having a crack at the Hangover breakfast offered at one of the houses up the road. Bacon, three eggs, toast, coffee, apple juice. Marvellous. Better still was a charity tent offering more mugs of coffee for €1 each so I had a couple of those. Sights on the way back included a convoy of motorbikes arriving at the festival site, and a madman attempting a 400 metre sprint while pushing a couple of crates of Rostocker Pils down the road.
First band on Friday was ORPHANAGE, on the Black stage, who I'd been told were warbly woman goth metal. Yolanda headed into the festival site to see them, I opted for the Biergarten but I did hear bouts of warbly opera woman punctuated by a healthy dose of death metal growl. Not really my bag, but Yolanda enjoyed them enough to buy an album. PARAGON opened the True Metal stage for the day and I was unfortunate enough to hear them playing their squiddly twat metal while staking my place at the front of the Black Stage. My reason for that was CATHEDRAL. Even better, in a stunning display of originality, they kicked off with a slice of true doom, "A Funeral Request". It was followed by "Ride", "Stained Glass Horizon", "The Carnival Bizarre" (all eight minutes of it), "Congregation Of Sorcerors" with Lee doing his "Walk Like An Egyptian" act, "Ice Cold Man" from the Probot album, and closing with a marvellous rendition of "Hopkins", the best metal track ever, whith Lee's customary self-strangulation with his microphone lead. The crowd was bizarrely small - did all the Böhse Onkelz fans not know what they were missing?
Next up, WEINHOLD on the True Metal stage were utterly excruciating. More warbly woman fronted malarkey, with the overall effect of a second division Nightwish. I was reliably informed by some one who saw their entire set that they had mime artists, and people dressed in red wizard costumes. Such utter arse could only be rectified with a healthy dose of Swedish Death Metal. It came at the hands of ARCH ENEMY, and the opening chords of "Silent Wars" blasted the warbly gothic loons to oblivion. Unfortunately, they suffered from two major problems - a truly rotten guitar sound, which I'm surprised the Amotts put up with, and a distinct lack of early material, including absolutely sod all off "Black Earth" - a cardinal sin! What was in there (that I know of) was "Instinct", "Dead Eyes See No Future", "The Immortal", and "Ravenous" to close. There must have been a load off "Wages Of Sin" in there, an album which I've never taken to. Hmmm. Good, but could have been a lot better.
The True Metal stage continued to fall flat on its face with another wanky power metal band, BRAINSTORM. While I could have endured their set at the Black stage waiting for what was to come, a better idea turned out to be having a look what else was on offer. On looking in the Wet tent, I saw a load of the Cambridge people in eager anticipation, having heard a lot of good things about ARTEFACT. 25 minutes of Death metal of the most brutal and Scandinavian kind followed, making Artefact contenders for strongest band of the festival so far. A major bonus was that they were absolutely over the moon to be playing, even in a near-graveyard slot on a small stage and with only a short time. Even more amazing was that they're French. Let's face it, France is not exactly a hotbed of metal! Suitably satisfied, I headed back to the Black stage for MAYHEM, long renowned to be the flagship band of Tr00 Grim Necro Nørdiik Kvlt Goat (and other such words) Blak Metel. The stage was tastefully decorated with pigs' heads which were immediately toasted with the on-stage flamethrowers within seconds of the band emerging. Maniac spent a lot of the set leaning on his mike stand to spit his words of grimness at us, with a constant leer on his face. Occasionally he would wander round the stage to pick up a pig's head, throw it to the crowd, or stab it with either a four-bladed weapon of impalement or a three foot long machete. There was also the hilarious (in a black metal set?) sight of him kicking a knitted Father Chistmas toy back into the crowd, and looking rather pissed off about it ruining his grimnity. I do not claim to be an expert in Mayhem but I do at least recognise "Freezing Moon", "Carnage", "Pagan Fears" and "Pure Fucking Armageddon" at ten paces. And I'm sure Baz will fill me in on which track was about "a place where you doesn't necessarily want to be" - prime Metallenglisch from Maniac, there. Much of the set was accompanied by repeated torching of however many of the pigs' heads Maniac had left on stage at the time. In short, there was no let up at all for the whole set. The band, and the props, were both on fire.
It's safe to say nothing could follow that, and the available choices were GRAVE DIGGER on the True Metal stage, who sounded like bad NWOBHM, and HOBBS ANGEL OF DEATH on the Wet stage. I was led to believe that Hobbs were an Australian thrash band who had existed for about 20 years and had roughly the same number of fans. It could have been good, but I didn't bother. Baz raved enthusiastically about them though, later, while Emma was making a set of finger jewellery out of pretzels, that spelled "666". But I digress. The time of these two sets was spent with Yolanda looking around the stalls collectively known as the W:O:A Metal Market (not to be confused with the paid-entry Metalmarkt). Ensiferum's new album "Iron", and a Suidakra double-pack of "The Arcanum" and "Auld Lang Syne" relieved me of a grand total of €28.
Back to the action, then. Three bands to choose from. FEINSTEIN were sharing a set with THE RODS on the Black stage - who? KOTIPELTO, recently divorced from Stratovarius, widdled and wanked on the Party Stage. So the obvious choice was the Wet stage, where MISERY INDEX were playing. I caught about 20 minutes of their set, which was cut a lot shorter than the official stage times indicated. Now, my general disdain for American Death Metal has been well documented in the past, but here I am prepared to make an exception. Misery Index do not sound American - they avoid the ultra-grrg-no-treble-no-semblance-of-a-tune stylings of Deicide & co. for a - dare I say it - more Swedish sound. There's a tune in there. I can make out whole lines instead of occasional words drowning in a sea of grrrr. Muchly impressed was I, despite the general lack of space in the marquee - there were at least 100 people watching intently from outside...
A visit to the toilets next to the Biergarten brought a shock. MAMBO KURT had hit the Jim Beam stage, and was playing "The Final Countdown" on a Hammond organ. If you thought the original was bad, this blows it clean away in terms of execrability. "Livin' On A Prayer" was equally unwelcome, and by the time he had run though a medley of Skinhead O' Connor, Elton John and Celine Dion, my patience had been stretched to breaking point. Entering the khazi, the sound was replaced by stench, which was infinitely preferable. Time for a sharp exit back to the festival area.
I caught a quick showing of DIO on the True Metal stage, mainly during what appeared to be the most popular part of the set, from the Rainbow days. "The Man On The Silver Mountain" and "Long Live Rock N' Roll" recieved such a rapturous reception that they were both briefly reprised after a drum solo. According to various information sources, Ronnie's date of birth makes him anything from 55 to 64 years old - but given that is what is not in doubt is that his first band started in 1957, he's doing extremely well for a man of whatever age he is. I will salute him most mightily if he's still rocking hard at 70!
Earlier on in the day I'd seen a t-shirt of an unknown quantity, ELÄKELÄISET. Seeing "HUMPPA" in huge letters on the back indicated that this might be a severly Finntrollesque band, and I was tempted to knock off DESTRUCTION to see them. Approaching the entrance, the choice was an easy one. Given a chance to heat both bands at once, and hearing no guitar from the party stage but a load of tin whistles, showed German Thrash to be the way to go. (It turned out later that Eläkeläiset had only acoustic guitars with their tin whistles - so expect something alongs the lines of "Visor Om Slutet" and not "Jaktens Tid".) So, Destruction won my support and were already ripping through "Mad Butcher" as I was approaching the lighting tower. A set containing such gems as "Eternal Ban", "Metal Discharge" (still sounds like a nasty disease to me), "The Butcher Strikes Back" and "Total Desaster" (gah... learn to spell!) was also liberally sprinkled with great bursts of fire from the front of the stage, and the odd firework or six. Clearly, I made the right choice.
So to the headliners of the night - WARLOCK, more specifically the Doro-fronted 1986 line-up. In essence, that means very little to me, and I had already decided to head back to the tent. However, if I remember rightly, the set was opened with two Iron Maiden covers, and that wasn't half a familiar voice doing the singing. Then I realised there were "special guests", and the voice was Blaze Bayley, recognisable even from that distance. It turned out the other guest was every Graspop 2000 veteran's favourite gay German pensioner (though he has since turned out not to be that old!), Udo Dirkschneider. Anyway, I digress. A fair chuck of the set was spent in the W:O:A Metal Market, looking at drinking horns, Mjölners and other such jewellery. Yolanda seemed very interested in a celtic-patterened rug for the wall, and also a stall selling more Black Metal than even Baz could have believed, later buying Graveland, Gorgoroth and Vintersorg albums. There was also a stall selling almost exclusively splat-gore-grind, complete with "shocking" uncensored artwork which makes Cannibal Corpse's banned-in-Germany albums look tamer than the average hamster. The buying session was crowned by Yolanda buying a Dark Funeral thong which was immediately named *adopts Atilla Csihar voice* Pagan Knickers.
Exiting the Market was followed by more spending, on a Black Stage t-shirt and the Official Wacken history book, and there was only time for a quick stop at the tent to drop things offbefore heading back to claim a place on the Black stage, we were confronted with Warlock's encore, which consisted of Doro repeating "Burrrning... Witcherrs..." for what seemed like an eternity, probably "only" 10 minutes or so, but certainly more than long enough that I considered beating her to death with a full-sized Mjölner. Those "witcherrs" must have been well and truly frazzled to a mass of black charcoal. And in any case, if it's witch burning you want, Cathedral have that one bought and paid for.
By the time AMON AMARTH emerged, it was 2am, and I was well and truly knackered. But there's nothing like a blast of Swedishc Death Metal to keep me going for another hour, and true to form, Amon Amarth delivered the goods with a half-mid-paced-half-blindingly-fast set. I'll admit I know very little of their material though I do know the utterly godly closer "Bleed For Ancient Gods" (pun...), surely their definitive moment and easily the best crowd reaction of the whole set, even at nearly 3am. And some serious credit must go to their frontman for having a beard to match that of the mightiest Frost Giant, and for carrying a drinking horn through the whole set.
Back at the tent an an unfeasibly late hour came the sight of Keith wandering slowly through the campsite, obviously off his face. He stared at numerous tents, including mine, with absolutely no idea which one was his, even though it was decorated with Withnail quotes. This was followed by him sitting in the middle of the tent circle, rocking in a similar way to Timo Tolkki in his Finnish nuthouse cell, before passing out completely. Attempts to move him to a more suitable position were thwarted as he had frozen in a state which approximated to rigor mortis. This prompted John to offer a most approproate description: "Keith ist kaputt".
Miraculously, Keith had recovered from the alcoholic oblivion of the night before, which turned out to have been an entire bottle of Jägermeister and then some. My priority was food so Yolanda joined me for a Hangover breakfast; hers had a glass of hazelnut milk added in, which I turned down. The charity tent had gone, but a great find was another stall selling mugs of coffe at 50c each. Brucie Bonus. I had a couple of those.
Despite Keith looking like an extra from Night Of The Living Dead, this could not put me off heading to the Biergarten for the rowdy celebration of malt and hops that is ONKEL TOM. Relegation to the smallest stage of all at 10am meant no repeat of the on-stage 50-person riot that was the closing set of the last two years, but the German crown were clearly enjoying it, singing along to every word and throwing beer around, despite the scorching hot sun which was already worse that the day before.
First official band of the day was BAL-SAGOTH on the Black stage, which I suppose was a good enough wake-up call though I can't count myself as a fan, particularly as I can't take them any more seriously than, say, Lawnmower Deth - it's the frontman's ludicrous Fred Durst-style baseball cap and some ridiculously long titles - take this one, for instance: "And lo, when the Imperium marches against Cul-Kothoth, then dark sorceries shall enshroud the Citadel of the Obsidian Crown". Even Nile wouldn't do that. Anyway, what followed was a three hour non-stop metal marathon, starting with DEATH ANGEL on the True Metal stage. Some batteringly fast thrash followed with a scattering of tunes from the latest effort, "The Art Of Dying", showing that 13 years' absence didn't do them any harm at all. Mark Osegueda still jumps around like he spent all the time away drinking Red Bull, and most interludes were spent with him enthusing about how great it was to play at Wacken, in front of the greatest crowd ever, and about theit general devotion to metal. Manowar would be proud. Closing with a shout-along of "Kill As One", they left happy, we left happy, and Yolanda had a wrestle with a huge Turkish man for one of Andy Galeon's drumsticks. Her ensuing nosebleed was no deterrent to the both of us heading straight over to the Black stage to see Deicide's more-than-welcome replacements, UNLEASHED. On hour of Swedish Odinist Death Metal contained "Death Metal Victory" and "Legal Rapes" (exclusively involving nuns, for the record), and a cover of Death's "Evil Dead", dedicated to Chuck Schuldiner and Quorthon. Finishing (before the encore) with "Into Glory Ride" (NOT a Manowar cover, as I said two years ago!), it was one huge performance, and not just from the frontman who had clearly eaten one too many wild boar pies. Thinking they had finished early I managed to miss their encore by heading off to find water. Damn. Still, it was straight back to the True Metal stage for ANTHRAX. Avoiding the predict-o-set they could have played, they opened with "N.F.L.", "Got The Time", and "Caught In A Mosh" which kicked up the biggest pit of the day so far. The rest of the set, in no particular order: "Room For One More", "Safe Home", "Antisocial", "What Doesn't Die", another new one I don't know, "Death Rider", complete with John Bush doing his best helium-voiced Neil Turbin impression, "Indians", and a slightly pointless singalong before finishing with "Only". I could grumble about some glaring omissions ("Madhouse" and "I Am The Law" would be obvious), but it was enjoyable none the less.
Time for a break. I'm not too keen on CANNIBAL CORPSE, so I headed back to the tent, where I could clearly hear a straight contest between them and AFTER FOREVER from the Party stage. After Forever could occasionally be heard above Cannibal Corpse's death metal racket, and when it did come through there were bizarre times where some death metal savagery had yet another opera woman wailing over the top. Any breaks in Cannibal Corpse's set revealed After Forever to be heard clearly, and I can now describe them as a third division Nightwish. Weinhold were bad, After Forever were even worse. I suppose it was fortunate that Cannibal Corpse drowned them out for most of the time, and the crowd helped as well with the constant chants of "Hammer Smashed Face! Hammer Smashed Face!" - prompting Corpse Grinder to announce that "You know, there are some songs we're not allowed to play in Germany". For the uninitiated, that's their first three albums, of which "Hammer Smashed Face" is on the third. It still didn't shut the crowd up, though...
I did return to the festival site to see NEVERMORE. So far I've not been convinced by their power metal-meets-thrash hybrid, and I'm still not, but the antics of the previous band did lead the frontman to say "Y'know, we really want to play Hammer Smashed Face, just so we can get arrested for it." Hmmm. A power metal cover of gruesome death metal? I'd like to see it done... So to the real reason for returning to the festival site, which was HYPOCRISY. It's fair to say they've taken a lot of stick for their last few albums, for whatever reason - ask the kvltists why, because I couldn't see anything wrong with a set that I'm guessing from the general crowd reaction was made mostly of newer material. One notable moment was "Adjust The Sun", where Peter Tägtgren attempted to command the sun to disappear behind some obviously non-existent clouds - and the other was a tepmorarily renamed "Wacken '47". Hmmm. Say what you want about the "new" Hypocrisy - if this was it, I like it. In fact, I'm sure it was one of these kvltists throwing an insult at Peter, though I couldn't possibly hear what it was from where I was, he responded with "That's a new one... I'll try that with my wife later!"
The sight of the True Metal stage decked out with a pumpkin-related backdrop signalled the arrival of HELLOWEEN and also signalled the time to head back for some more scouring of the W:O:A Metal Market. After 10 minutes and with only a water-damaged copy of Suidakra's "Emprise To Avalon" for €5, this was enough to realise I'd have to shell out €2.50 for the Metalmarkt entrance to try and find what I was looking for, even though Bob said it was not worth it. He was wrong. With careful scouring of every last box of CDs, including looking for duplicates, I came away with: Finntroll - "Trollhammaren" and "Midnattens Widunder"; Thyrfing - "Valdr Galga", "Thyrfing" and the "Hednaland" demos, and Mayhem - "De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas"... at last!
Sticking these back in the tent was only a short stop, because of another major highlight about to be unleashed on the Black Stage. After kicking myself at passing up the chance to see them two years before, I finally got to see CHILDREN OF BODOM live. And not a single second of the set was anything less than fantastic. Coming on stage to a soundtrack of "They're Coming To Take Me Away", possibly dedicated to Timo Tolkki, they started with "Hate Me" and how can you argue with the rest: "Hate Me", "Chokehold", "Bodom After Midnight", "Sixpounder", "Silent Night, Bodom Night", "Angels Don't Kill", "Needled 24/7", "Deadnight Warrior", "Towards Dead End", "Every Time I Die", "Downfall" - in more or less that order. And there was even time for something of a piss-about at the end - Alexi lambasting Janne for soloing instead of starting the intro to "Downfall", where we all had to shout "Janne is an asshole" to make him do his job. He responded by playing the opening chords of "Holy Diver"... so a quick rendition of "Janne is a fucking asshole" did the trick. Heh. When COB are on this kind of form, the competitors don't even need to bother turning up.
But what about this for competition. In the last four years or so, SAXON have had something of an Indian summer. Whereas, ten years ago they might find themselves playing to a crowd of three men and a dog, now they're headlining Wacken 2004 in front of 30-odd thousand people, with a two hour set. I wasn't there for the start but did hear "Heavy Metal Thunder" and "Dogs Of War" opening, along with the recently-reinstated "Solid Ball Of Rock"; by the time I'd arrived half an hour or so later, they were playing a track I'd never heard before, "Travellers In Time" from one of the 90's albums. This was one of several extras that wouldn't be in a usual Saxon set, and there would be more to come. There was "Dragon's Lair", possibly the replacement for "Court Of The Crimson King" which I've become bloody sick of the last few times I've seen Saxon, "Rock Is Our Life", and a really odd choice for the closer, and one that hasn't been played for years - "Forever Free". These off-the-wall choices aside, you can take your pick from the "Heavy Metal Thunder" compilation for the rest of the set. "Strong Arm Of The Law", "Motorcycle Man", "20,000 Feet", "The Eagle Has Landed", "And The Bands Played On", "Princess Of The Night", and "Backs To The Wall" were all in there. Then there was the not-so-small matter of the special guests. One was the man who started the Wacken Open Air festival in 1990, playing bass for the first time in 20 years, and guesting on "Crusader" - unfortunately I can't remember who he was! One guest I do know, though, is Nigel Glockler who was brought on to drum on "747 (Strangers In The Night)"; and the other one, who I thought had gone AWOL during a *cough* obvious point of entry... and as Biff introduced the third guest... it was the sight of 100 lights or so in the shape of the famous eagle which had been hiding behind two different backdrops all along, even during "The Eagle Has Landed"! Never short of a surprise, there. Finally, a couple of extra members were added for "Denim And Leather", near the end - I forget who one was, but the other was Schmier of Destruction fame. As for "Wheels Of Steel", this was now dragged out into a 13-minute mammoth with probably the longest sinagalong ever and Biff arsing around midway through as all the German crowd jumped the gun and sang along with no prompting. Finally, after the slight oddity of "Forever Free", Biff and co were back for one last fling with "Dallas 1pm", which wrapped things up nicely. Best of all, as it's Saxon's 25th anniversary of their debut album, and Wacken's 15th, the whole lot was filmed for a DVD, which may well be out next year. Marvellous.
This brings us to the final act... nearly. SATYRICON were the last of the interesting bands, with an hour and a half to entertain us. Much as I was completely clapped out, there was no way I was going to miss this set, in anticipation of what was coming. So Satyr and his legions emerged to play a set of... actually, slightly underwhelming black metal, though that may have been my general state of tiredness. The frequent bursts of fire and sparks from the stage, though - that kept me interested. Certainly I was interested long enough to witness the band disappear, followed by being confronted with three huge burning inverted crosses on stage. This signalled the arrival of NOCTURNO CULTO... who is a very fat man with a very evil voice. The next half hour consisted of the closest possible approximation to a Darkthrone gig. There were four tracks - "Kathaarian Life Code", "The Hordes Of Nebulah", "Transilvanian Hunger" and "Under A Funeral Moon", accompanied with more blasts of flames. Satyr rejoined on guitar, and the resulting sound in the slower passages was something Electric Wizard would kill and maim for. This is exactly the way black metal was always meant to be, and anyone who judges it by the standards of Cradle Of Filth would probably shit themselves. As Nocturno Culto himself put it... "This is the true taste of evil!" And better still, it was in total darkness - it would have been interesting to see Mayhem in a late-night slot as well for comparison. After a severely good half hour, Satyricon returned again for a final blast through "Mother North" with Nocturno Culto playing guitar, and this beefed up their sound a hell of a lot... if only he could have been playing for their whole set! Overall, a near-perfect way to finish up.
Except that it wasn't the end - there was one band to go, the extreme silliness of J.B.O., back after two years to take Onkel Tom's place as the late-Saturday-night-everyone's-drunk-so-let's-have-a-party slot. The problem is, they're purely a German in-joke. Stupid covers and stolen riffs aside, nobody else has got any idea what they're having a laugh about. Maybe if we ignore them, they'll go away, but an hour was a long set to ignore them for.
Time to clear up, then. Much chaos could be heard from outside the tent as the Cambridge contingent packed up and had tents demolished round about 7am. So, just as I was emerging to see the world, barely a quarter of an hour passed before they were all on their way. Presumably this would be something to do with the usual mass mob for the Itzehoe buses. No rush for us Midlands folk, though, with a flight at 9:20 the next morning on the cards. So there was plenty of time to demolish the tent, during which Keith, John and Dermot also departed to tour Europe for a couple of months. With Yolanda busy packing her gear away, I found time to head into the village for another trip to find supplies for the way back. Halfway to the Aktiv Markt, it became obvious that everywhere was shut except the petrol station, so drinks were bought there. As Alex explained later, that's how it is in Germany - no Sunday trading apart from essential services such as fuel.
Time to head off the site, then. And who should we see in the bus queue - Keith, Dermot and John, who had left an hour earlier. In the mob, a bus turned up right in front of us, which we still couldn't get onto - and after four more misses it became obvious that the buses were stopping at random points - where we might have been at the head of the queue before, at the arrival of the next bus we could be right at the back. Hence we quit the farce and headed up the road to find a taxi for the five of us. In the end this turned out to be a good move - though it didn't seem so at the time, as four MPV taxis shot past us, including one empty one. Stopping at the 50-cent coffee stall for another couple of mugs, Sherm turned up randomly with a load of her mates from Brighton. There was 11 of them in total, with only six left, the other five already on their way to Itzehoe in a previous taxi. After much waiting, we decided to order a taxi for the five of us, with a bit of help from one of the girls on the coffee stall. Ten minutes after the order, just as we were about to fill our faces with a huge sausage each, a bus turned up and stopped where we were. The cab was ordered, but hardly believing our luck, we took the bus anyway. So that was approximately €3 saved per head, and the taxi would have plenty of customers to choose from anyway.
The bus continued to stop along the way to pick up more people, eventually turning round and heading for Itzehoe before we could get anywhere near the campsite. So the trip was relatively uncrammed. Unfortunately, we lost Keith, John and Dermot at Itzehoe station as they bagged an earlier train to Hamburg while Yolanda was buying a Tiramisu cornetto. Another train soon followed, though - the trip testing my patience as a bunch of German kids kept on singing a very irritating song with even more regularity than your average tramp with a tin whistle plays "The Wild Rover". Still, we lost them at the change at Elmshorn, trading them in for some scouse Saxon fans instead. Arrival in Hamburg meant it was a good time to check the availability of buses back to Lübeck airport. It was a fair wait, so we thought we'd have a beer. I had no idea what the man in "Nagel" was saying - all I wanted to do was order a bucket of Franziskaner Weißbier. His response: "You! Sit down! Outside!" in a manner that would have befitted a certain Austrian from 65 years ago. So instead of sitting down, we picked up our gear and left - and barely a couple of minutes later, found Keith again. So we hooked up with him, John and Dermot and headed to a steakhouse just down the road, where much Duckstein was drunk (two pitchers between four of us) and meat was eaten. Relieved of more of a rapidly diminishing supply of cash, there was just enough time to catch the bus to the airport, where we arrived round about 5pm. So, only another 16 hours to the flight. And who should we see on arrival? Baz, Emma, Ian... just checked in and ready to jump on the plane. Seems there was no need for the mad rush, then...
Some of the immensely long time was passed recovering Yolanda's missing flight confirmation number, despite hindrance from some unhelpful security guard who may well have been related to the barman in Nagel, and writing the beginnings of this review, either out in the sun (and chased by wasps) or inside the airport. Then came a hammer blow - the airport was going to shut after the last flight, and we'd all be kicked out for the night. So, the next couple of hours or so were spent in and around a pub across the road, drinking Bitburger, eating chips and finding three others to discuss the events of the weekend, Böhse Onkelz, Motörhead and Winston Churchill's drinking habits. But, irritatingly, we were ejected from the garden as the pub closed at 9pm, leaving us sitting by the roadside with a bunch of nutters ranting about bizarre sex-related accidents, and how much they hate Germans. Not a good choice... but by this time the airport staff had relented and agreed to open the hallway outside the restaurant to sleep in. So we headed in to avoid the loonies, even though it was hot and sticky and there was very little chance of sleep on the hard stone floor. I sat up writing the review until I was ready to drop... only to lay awake on the floor for a good part of the night. But morning arrived, and at 7am the main body of the airport was opened.
Check-in was quick and easy; this made the load a hell of a lot lighter. Also in the check-in queue was COB Matt with Simon and Sarah, two of his mates from... somewhere. This gave us all plenty of time for a coffee at the restaurant, where we found out why Simon was covered in scars - a skydiving accident in New Zealand had left half his body smashed up. Now repaired, me managed to break his leg before the festival, and the accompanying crutch was nothing to do with dropping out of a plane.
So things were fine until I ran into the problem of having to dump my key chain at the magnetic detector. Muchly annoyed was I at losing it as it was doing a good job at holding my trousers up, but what was really irritating was that it was not a problem at any point at Stansted, and was signalled as OK to take in the hand luggage at the Lübeck check-in desk. Bastards. Reduced to just the keys on a clip, passport control was no problem and there was time for a cold Frikardelle with tzatziki before boarding, with considerable less panic than at Stansted. It would not stay that way. The flight was pleasant enough, allowing me to write more of the review - that was, until we started flying over the Channel and clouds appeared out of nowhere. As we started to descend things started to get a tad hairy as the clouds became darker, and for the next ten minutes I had to dump my notepad and hang on for grim death as the plane was flung about all over the place, with the overall effect of riding a particularly nasty rollercoaster at 20,000 feet in the air. It was rather unnerving, but at least there were no huge drops that I've heard about. Before too much longer, though, the clouds broke - and no sooner had I seen the land below us as a great blast of lightning shot down to the ground at no more than a couple of miles into the distance. Cue comments about the vengeance of Thor. After a bit more bumping and jiggling, and what must count as the longest 20 minutes of my life, came the first non-bounced landing in four Ryanair flights.
Leaving the flight feeling like one of James Bond's Martinis, at least there was no rush to collect the baggage this time, which was a good job as it took an age to arrive. The stop in Costa was still pricey, but at least the Spicy Meatball Panini was a better bet than the Tostato of two years ago - it had filling in it! The first tea on British soil was followed by a short bus ride to Takeley, to Mark's house (brother, for the uninitiated) where I expected to find my car key inside his barbecue. He'd forgotten. But, noticing the windows open, I thought I'd see if anyone was in. He was, deciding to skip work in retaliation for keeping him in overtime on Saturday with lots to do. So, this means: (a) he finally met Yolanda and got on with her fine; (b) both of us managed to have a shower, my first in a week, where I could finally wash the mud out of my hair; (c) a brief lunch stop watching that episode of Game On where Matt joins a band and comes up with the immortal lyric "Blag knob, swivel dick, love pump, tallywhacker". Marvellous.
The trip to Cambridge was spent with a loud blast of "Iron", surely one of the best albums I've heard this year, if not the best, with an equal amount of truly godly riffage as the first album. Arrival at Lea's I was reunited with the long-lost-in-yhe-post Futurama DVDs I'd been waiting for for so long, along with an unwanted Playstation and a fair few games. Yolanda came away with a pair of nearly-unused New Rock boots. We were both pleased. Yolanda opted to sleep through a good part of the trip back to Nottingham and missed my heroic drive through a tropical monsoon. So we arrived home later than expected, something along the lines of 9pm... to a mug of tea and a well-deserved long lie in!
It has occurred to me that on this trip I did not spend any time at all at the Party Stage, which I'd say is more an indication of the overall quality of the bands on the Black Stage keeping me there instead. It also occurs to me that I have eaten considerably less sausage than before, only a couple of Münchener Weißwurst (boiled white sausages, very odd) sometime on Friday.
Bought: Wacken 15-year history book (still to be searched for hilarious Metallenglisch), Black Stage t-shirt; album-wise, Ensiferum - "Iron", Suidakra - "The Arcanum", "Auld Lang Syne" & "Emprises To Avalon", Thyrfing - "Thyrfing", "Valdr Galga", "Hednaland", Finntroll - "Trollhammaren" & "Midnattens Widunder", Mayhem - "De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas", plus a free "Irony Of Christ" CD handed out by a random (presumably) member of the band.
Festival highlights: every last second of Children Of Bodom; Mayhem; "Darkthrone"; Schweinshaxe; finally getting hold of "Iron" four months after its release in Finland; absolutely no whinging and whining from anyone at all; finally getting some photos involving fire (for Mayhem and Destruction); W:O:A Luftgitarre; the hangover breakfast; cheap coffee; discovering Artefact by accident; Orphanage's comedy Metallenglisch lyrics; not missing any bands I wanted to see; Franziskaner Weißbier; 1-litre steins.
Bum notes: Weinhold and After Forever were the worst of the bunch; the sun; wasps; Arch Enemy were a relative let-down; Mambo Kurt's general presence; not enough standpipes and the water tanks regularly running out; the W:O:A breakfast tent; the standars of the Jim Beam stage karaoke.
A special aviation-related bum note section: general cluelessness at the Stansted check-in; general confusion, an uncomfortable night, and losing the chain at Lübeck; vengeance of Thor on the flight back.
GOLD: Children Of Bodom
SILVER: the Satyricon / Nocturno Culto combination
Highly commended: Artefact, Motörhead, Cathedral, Destruction, Hypocrisy, Saxon.
WOODEN SPOON: Weinhold get the nod over After Forever for what I hear about the mimes and wizards. Arseulation.
That just about wraps it up. See you all next year at the Biergarten.