By Baz Jones
The guilty: Baz Jones, Jimmer, Yolanda, Emma, Keith, Iain, Katherine, Bob, Ben Joyce, John, Dermot, Big Hairy Dave, Linda, Ian, Alex, Sally and 43,000 Germans.
The venue: a big fucking field in Germany.
There have already been a couple of pretty comprehensive Wacken reviews from Ben and Jimmer but I've finally got round to writing my take on it. The battle plan was pretty much as usual - went to the Kambar on the Tuesday night, got very drunk and burnt my thumb on my newly acquired pipe. Caught the bus to Stanstead at 3am, acquired more beer at the airport when the bar opened at 5am. Flew to Lubeck, then a series of buses and trains to Wacken village. Pretty uneventful stuff, although we did acquire fish-in-a-bun and Jack Daniels and coke in a can at Hamburg. Superb. We hadn't lost Keith at this point. Once we'd set up camp and caught up with Big Hairy Dave and the New Yorkers, thence to the beer garden and to the Headbangers' Ballroom tent for the metal karaoke. Saw people crowd-surfing to a karaoke - only in Germany. Note to prospective vocalists - taking a song and playing it straight except with death growls rather than singing does not make you cool, it makes you a twat. Found Keith wandering aimlessly - he tells me I should go and find Emma as she's really pissed off with me for some reason. It transpires she's actually really pissed off with Keith for getting lost. Go to bed rather tipsy.
This mostly involved the consumption of large quantities of beer. Temperature turned out to be 30 degrees in the shade, though the new addition of the 'refreshment patrol' was nice - guys wandering round the festival site spraying people with water. Music finally kicked off at 1800 with Zodiac Mindwarp. There appears to be some kind of confusion about this band. They were bollocks. Sufficiently poor that I didn't even bother leaving the beer garden. To all of you guys going to see them at Whitby in November - I hear there's this really good little pub called the Elsinore. That guy really wants to be Dave Wyndorf but just about manages that drunk guy who slurs his way through the karaoke in your local pub. However, things improved massively with the appearance of Motörhead, who are always worth getting up for, so we wandered into the arena in time to catch them blasting through 'We Are Motorhead', 'No Class', 'Metropolis', 'R.A.M.O.N.E.S.', 'God Save The Queen, 'Shoot You In The Back', 'Doctor Rock', 'Life's A Bitch', 'Going To Brazil', 'Sacrifice', 'Killed By Death' and the obvious closers of 'Ace Of Spades' and 'Overkill', and the first drum solo of the festival. Note to drummers - drum solos do not make you cool, they make you a twat. To be honest, I've seen Motörhead a few times and this time they didn't quite do it for me - the sound was a bit dodgy (not loud enough!) and it just seemed a bit workman-like. Perhaps I just wasn't in the mood for it, but I was a bit disappointed… still, Motorhead on a bad day is still better than most other bands, particularly the two bands on either side of them - and Lemmy is still god-like. Closing the night, and backed by a legion of fans (easily the most represented band of the festival T-shirt-wise) were the Böhse Onkelz. Apparently, they have a dodgy skinhead past but ultimately that's irrelevant as I would have hated them anyway. Worse still, they managed to trot out terrible, sub-Andrew WK bilge for two and a half hours when I was trying to get to sleep. I guess you have to be German to like them. Ugh. We managed to lose Keith for about ten hours; he finally turned up with no memory of where he'd been but with very dirty feet. *shrugs*
Right, after the opening evening's disappointment, this is where the metal starts. We opted to spend the entire weekend between the two sound towers - decent sound from the two main stages and with an option on two separate beer tents within staggering distance. Opening up the Black Stage were Orphanage. I'm pretty confident I'd seen them before and not been impressed, but they were actually shockingly good... there are a lot of these gothic doom / death metal bands around at the moment, but these guys deserve to be at least as big as the likes of Lacuna Coil - really tight, genuinely heavy when they want to be and good interplay between the male and female vocalists. The sound problems of last night appeared to have rectified themselves, and although they didn't quite have me headbanging, I was certainly nodding in approval. The curse of Wacken struck after this and we had to endure some horrific power metal for half an hour (they were allegedly Paragon. I think even olithered would have been struggling with this tripe) before the legendary Cathedral. Inexplicably, I'd never seen them before, but for the record I'm definitely in approval of their return to the crushing doom of yore. Songs like 'A Funeral Request' and 'Congregation Of Sorcerers' are just unfeasibly heavy and Lee Dorrian is a fantastic frontman, really engaging with the (tiny?) crowd. We also got a bunch of more upbeat tunes including 'Ride' and 'Stained Glass Horizon', which finally gave me something to flail my hair to. Set highlights though were the closer 'Hopkins' (kind of obvious I know, but a great song nonetheless), but particularly rolling out 'Ice Cold Man' from the Probot record, which was just glorious.
Further power metal widdling (Weinhold I'm told, who for the record are one of the worst bands in the entire history of rock music) was washed away with more beer (or in Emma's case, mead) before Arch Enemy on the Black Stage. A few people have said they thought they were a bit pedestrian, and I agree about the iffy guitar sound, but I thought they were great. No early material to speak (boo! Well, we got 'The Immortal' and 'Diva Satanica', but bugger all off 'Black Earth') but plenty of soon-to-be metal dancefloor classics like 'We Will Rise', 'Ravenous' and 'Tearing Down The Walls' and lots of energy and stage presence. Angela Gossow is one of the greatest finds of recent years, with a fantastic Swedeath rasp and bags of aggression; watching the Amotts' guitar-work is also always a pleasure. Basically, Arch Enemy are the perfect metal festival act and sure to become Wacken regulars. Something horrible shuffled onto the True Metal stage (pah!) at this point, so we went in search of some shade. A good thing we did, because whilst lurking in the WET stage, a band called Artefact came on stage and absolutely blew me away. I think I may have stood with my jaw on the floor for the entire set - they're French, completely unknown (like most of the WET stage bands) and play a vicious brand of blackened Swedish death metal. This sounds like about a million other bands, but this was just unbelievable - I just couldn't understand how a band this young could look so confident, fresh and as if they were genuinely loving every second of being on stage. They didn't have long, but a tent's worth of people who'd very probably never heard of them before were instant converts. Find of the festival and then some... I really urge you people to go and support these guys. We were talking to them later and they seemed humbled by the reception they got. Quality and humility. I love them already. Note to Jimmer: there are actually loads of really very good French black metal bands.
At this point, as much as it pained me to miss the reformed Satan on the side stage (for the record, Big Hairy Dave went to see them and apparently they were excellent - bah to festival clashes), I had to go and see the Best Band In The World Ever on the black stage - Mayhem. For those of you that don't know, I have a bit of a thing about Mayhem, and it was all I could do to not drop to my knees and worship the second they came out on stage. It's an impressive feat to walk out into glaring sunlight and feel the temperature drop through their mere presence. Fully suited and booted (corpse paint, spikes and big knives), they were every bit as I expected, playing a set which included material culled from every release they've put out, I think they put off a fair proportion of the audience with the more recent stuff, but who cares what these heretics say? You just can't argue with the likes of 'Freezing Moon', 'Pure Fucking Armageddon', 'Carnage', 'Ancient Skin', 'Pagan Fears', 'Fall Of Seraphs', 'My Death', 'Dark Night Of The Soul', 'View From Nihil'... Oh and there were flaming pigs' heads on sticks as well, and rather a lot of bloodletting from Maniac. The guy's a legend, and no matter who much we all mourn the passing of Dead, Maniac just sounds so utterly inhuman as he stalks round the stage looking suitably intimidating. And Hellhammer! I can never get bored of watching arguably the finest drummer in black metal (have you seen the kit schematic in the new album? Have you?). Absolute mastery of their dark art. Superb. (Note: if you think that was gushing, wait till I get to Nocturno Culto).
We all seemed to split up after this for a bit… and alcohol was beginning to take its toll. Me, Ben, Emma and possibly some others wandered over to the WET stage in time to hear Hobbs Angel Of Death. I've never managed to acquire their albums, but I shall be redoubling my efforts - fantastic old school (well, they've been going for almost forever) thrash / death metal from Australia. I heard rather than saw most of their set as I felt a small sitting down was necessary before I assaulted the beer tent again. This also tragically means I can't remember any of the songs they played (I think Ben may have the same problem), but my overall impression was very positive. Sadly at this point, I had to return to the tent to pass out for a while, so missed Misery Index, amongst others. Feeling somewhat refreshed, we all met up again in the Biergarten and witnessed a German phenomenon which eclipsed even the Böhse Onkelz - Mambo Kurt. This guy is the German Mike Flowers Pops, wearing a tweed suit and playing classic rock and metal covers on his Hammond organ, including 'Bombtrack' (arguably the funniest thing I've ever seen in my life), 'Raining Blood', some Fugazi cover which Ben recognized and many, many more. Bizarrely, there seemed to be a lot of support for this, including several Germans deciding to get naked and dance on the stage. Eh? Possibly also the only time you'll hear the phrase "Hammound sound, motherfucker" in cold blood. I think 'Candle In The Wind' may have also been involved *shudders*.
I think I may have gone back to the tent again at this point, or possibly gone to the Metalmarkt. Either way, I wasn't going to be loving Dio, though everyone else seemed to. Wake up and smell the coffee people - Dio has about three good non-Sabbath tracks and an ego the size of a planet. The guy calls himself Dio for fuck's sake. I managed to find everyone else at our designated rendez-vous spot in time to hear him play 'Holy Diver' and 'Heaven And Hell', both of which I admit to headbanging furiously to, but realistically I don't feel that fussed about missing the rest of his set (which apparently involved drum solos). To make things even more bizarre, that guy from Manowar came out at the end to present him with some award for being in Elf, at which the little man looked very confused, as were we. My timing around this point is somewhat confused, but I definitely recall there being some other bands which played drum solos, including possibly Kotipelto (he's in Stratovarius for his sins) and Feinstein and the Rods (apparently Dio's cousin is involved). Never mind though, because recollection swims back into focus for Destruction. I was greeted at the Black Stage by Big Hairy Dave claiming he was getting worried that he might have to thrash without me. Never fear - I've seen Destruction on several occasions and they just do not disappoint. Probably my most sustained bout of headbanging throughout the festival as they tore through classic song after classic song - 'The Mad Butcher', 'Thrash 'Til Death', 'Nailed To The Cross', 'Metal Discharge', 'The Butcher Strikes Back', 'Life Without Sense', 'The Antichrist', 'Curse The Gods', 'The Ravenous Beast' 'Total Desaster' (I'm told with Abbath and Peter Tagtren, though bizarrely I didn't notice at the time), "Eternal Ban'... great stuff. Destruction just never let up, full speed thrash for an hour, incredibly intense. Schmier just such a hero - and the fact that they were playing on home turf in front of a crowd made up of German thrash fans can't hurt.
Drunk to the point of near insensibility, though not, it should be noted, as bad as Keith at this point, the die-hards went to go and check out Doro. In actual fact, what we got was a Doro plus guests set, followed by a set by the 1986 Warlock line-up. Determined to wait up for Amon Amarth, we settled in with a few beers and gritted out teeth. In actual fact, the 'guests' set was quite amusing, as they opened with 'Fear Of The Dark' with, er, Blaze Bayley singing. Pretty corking actually. In fact, later on we got 'Man On The Edge' and 'The Trooper' as well, as well as some duet between Doro and Blaze. There was an orchestra involved as well, which was nice, but the set went on far too long, and when they left the stage, a near-comatose Ben uttered a relieved sigh that we were going to get some death metal soon, before the horror that she was coming back for another entire set dawned on him. After some persuasion, we convinced him to hang around; Warlock were nowhere near as interesting a proposition, again went on too long, and furthered the agony by playing stupidly extended versions of songs. I forget how long 'All We Are' went on for with the singalong, but let's put it this way - me, Ian and Ben had a go at a three-part harmony barbershop version half way through to alleviate the tedium. Finally, Doro decided her time was up and Amon Amarth stalked out of the dark at 2am. Their largely mid-paced death metal is always palatable, and although I can't remember what they played, I imagine it was broadly similar to what they played last time I saw them. Good stuff, but not enough to persuade me to stick around till the end, so headed tentwards, to find Keith utterly comatose in the middle of the tents, clutching a near-empty bottle of Jagermeister. One of his mates had thrown a sleeping bag over him, but it was decided to try and get him into a tent. However, when we picked him up, he started shaking violently until we slapped him a bit. Having carried him, literally, to a fence so he could piss, we carried him back to his tent, were despite his condition, he still managed to simulate sex on the way into the tent. Oh dear.
Didn't make it to see Onkel Tom in the Biergarten, but did get down to see Bal-Sagoth (or BazTheGoth as some wag dubbed them). I've always been a huge fan of these guys, and they were a perfect wake-up call on quite a groggy morning. Playing stuff from all of their releases, their epic 'barbarian metal' is never going to appeal to everyone, but with an awesome new drummer (the old one left for Dragonforce - an error on his part, I feel) and a wealth of material to draw from, they're right up my alley. Byron still refuses to look the part, with his bouncer-in-baseball-cap get-up, and seemed to have adopted an American accent, but is still a great vocalist and lyricist and the hardcore of their fans (I guess most people were still asleep) managed to create quite a pit down the front. Good sound as well. The new album is coming out pretty soon - I will be buying it. Death Angel were up next on the True Metal stage… I've never been that into them on record, but was incredibly impressed at how fresh and energetic they were. Easily getting one of the warmest responses of the festival, they obviously had some friends there. "We're you're motherfucking alarm clock", quoth the singer - an interesting juxtaposition of words, but pretty accurate. Obviously genuinely enjoying being there, and desperate to interact with the crowd, they have strangely, turned out to be one of the best thrash reformations of the past few years.
Deicide pulled out at the last minute, but were replaced by Unleashed. Most of you have probably read me gushing about this lot before, so you're prepared. Simplistic they may be, but devastatingly effective in a festival atmosphere. They got a great response as well, which was nice to see, and they were, I think the first band of the festival to dedicate a song to Quorthon and Chuck Shuldiner, covering Death's 'Evil Dead'. They closed with the mighty 'Into Glory Ride', before leaving for quite some time. At this point I expressed some disappointment they hadn't played 'Before The Creation Of Time', until they wandered back on stage - I headbanged and all was well with the world. I can't stand Anthrax at the best of times, so wandered off to the Market where I purchased Nargaroth's Black Metal Ist Krieg (which is seriously good and spawned the phrase of the festival - "Es ist Krieg!"), and Emma got me a copy of Sabbat's Sabbatical Holocaust (which is also fucking good and I'd been looking for a copy for a while). Got back in time to hear Anthrax play 'Only' (not bad I guess, but I still think they suck live), before the death metal warhorse that is Cannibal Corpse. Ridiculously brutal and technical, it seemed like everyone at the festival except Jimmer came out to see them; it was pretty awesome to see. George Fisher was at pains to point out between every song that they weren't allowed to play anything off the first three albums in Germany (can I point out that is a particularly ridiculous law), but we did get 'Fucked With A Knife' (dedicated to the ladies!) and a blistering 'Devoured By vermin', plus a lot of stuff off the new record (which I haven't got, having got bored with their studio output a while ago). Even if you've given up on following this band, they're still masterful live.
Nevermore failed to impress, but Hypocrisy are another festival favourite. They played a solid, if unremarkable set which included everything you'd expect in a Hypocrisy 2004 set, including stellar versions of 'Fractured Millenium' and 'Roswell', sorry, 'Wacken '47'. Lots of stuff off the last couple of albums, which works better live than on record. I'd write more about them, but to be honest, they exactly what I expected, and a good breather, chance to stock up on beer, have a sit down and listen to some competent, melodic death metal. I guess I must have missed Helloween - me and Ben had wandered off somewhere, to return for Children Of Bodom, and not find the others even though they can only have been about ten metres away. Oh well. Thankfully, I can remember seeing COB this time, and they rocked mightily. First off, they're stupidly good musicians, and surprisingly aggressive, they managed to hack through: 'Hate Me', 'Chokehold', 'Bodom After Midnight', 'Sixpounder' (top tune), 'Silent Night, Bodom Night' (and that), 'Angels Don't Kill', 'Needled 24/7' (oh and that one too), 'Deadnight Warrior', 'Towards Dead End', 'Every Time I Die' and 'Downfall'. Ripping stuff, and obviously enormously popular in Germany. You see, if power metal bands sounded more like this, they wouldn't be rubbish.
Almost there now… festival headliners were Saxon again. I have nothing against Saxon; they're good at what they do, but I've never bought an album, and find them a little bit underwhelming. They played for a good couple of hours, and rolled out all of their 'classic' tunes, and went down predictably well. Biff's still got a good voice, and they can obviously play (yes, including a drum solo), but they just don't do it for me. I spent most of the set in conversation with iain666 and drinking beer. They brought out some 'special guests' - I even stood up for some of this. The guy who founded Wacken came out and played bass for a song, plus some ex-members at various points. For 'Denim and Leather' they brought out some friends from other bands - I perked up until I discovered one was that cunt from Savatage (do you know what I want to do to Savatage? Well, I'm not going to tell you, but it's a Cannibal Corpse lyric), so promptly sat down. Until he mentioned the other guest was Schmier from Destruction - cue me jumping up and spilling beer. That was preety cool. They left shortly after that, bar encores, but I was already en route (both metres) towards the Black Stage…
Some of you may have noticed I'm quite fond of Satyricon. Imposing, majestic, black as fucking pitch... Satyr, Frost and live members ruled for about an hour, playing some of the best music ever written - 'Walk The Path Of Sorrow', 'Angstridden', 'Night of the Triumphator', 'Filthgrinder', 'Fuel For Hatred', 'Repined Bastard Nation', 'Hvite Krists Dod', 'Forhekset' and probably a bunch of other stuff I've forgotten. There's been a lot of shit talked about Satyricon on-line. You're all wrong, and missing out on one of the most interesting, exciting bands currently out there. Not as progressive as some of their Norwegian peers, but concentrating on modernising their sound whilst staying true to the filthy, spiteful side of their roots, Satyr and his Moonfog label are the standard-bearers of the current black metal scene. He cuts an impressive figure, clutching the mike stand on the back-lit stage. But what really impressed me was the humility he seemed to express between songs (well, the times he wasn't spitting out misanthropy anyway) - at one point he commented how the likes of he and Nocturno Culto started all this, all those years ago, they had no idea it would lead to playing something like Wacken. Eventually, they leave the stage, and a portly figure walks on followed by the rest of Satyricon and backed by three huge burning crosses. And launches into 'Kathaarian Life Code'. Nocturno Culto, he of Darkthrone fame and possessor of the most evil voice in metal, has arrived. I don't think I've ever seen something quite so fucking awesome in my life, as the closest thing we'll get to Darkthrone live ripping through 'The Hordes Of Nebulah', 'Transilvanian Hunger' and 'Under A Funeral Moon', accompanied by a frankly ridiculous amount of smoke and fire. Darkthrone are at heart a very rock 'n' roll, but there's nothing quite as evil or cold as hearing 'Transilvanian Hunger' coming through a massive festival PA… it just sends shivers down your spine. Around about that point, someone asked me whether I'd just cum. However, it gets better, when Satyricon return proper with Culto on guitar and hammer out 'Mother North', one of the True Norwegian Black Metal scene's finest anthems. Simply stunning. Deleriously happy at this point, I half considered watching J.B.O., but as soon as they started playing decided against it and went to bed.
And that just about rounds up my festival write-up. A week's worth of excellent music, about two slices of pizza and some Fischbrotchen and 18 beers a day. Fantastic company, as usual, as well. It's a hard life. Now, how many days till Wacken 2005?