This is the third time that we attended this great festival. And every year it becomes better and better. Wacken is situated in the very Northern part of Germany, just above Hamburg. Already months before the festival starts, the first names of bands circulate on the internet site of Wacken (www.wacken-open-air.de). Many changes occur, until the final line up is confirmed. And still some changes might be coming up last minute. The cancellations this year came from CRADLE OF FILTH, WITCHFYNDE, OVERKILL, TESTAMENT, ANNIHILATOR and THIN LIZZY. The festival started on Thursday evening, August 3rd and ended Saturday night. What you'll read here is an overview of the many highlights on this year's festival. It's impossible to cover all sixty bands that played during these days. But I hope you get a good view of what this mighty cult festival is all about.We start our review on Thursday evening, August 3rd.
Thursday, August 3rd
After a seven hour trip full of traffic jams, we finally arrive in Itzehoe. It's a small town just above Hamburg, where we booked our hotel. The second reason to be there is a recordstore called Hellion Records. Some people like to waste their money in a casino. We rather spend it there and return home with a bag full of new CDs, records and magazines. It's a great place to find some rare stuff, too! BREAKER had just done an autograph session in the store. Many bands will follow their example during the upcoming days. Our next goal is the Wacken festival site. But first we had to go through a huge check up on drugs and weapons by the German police (this was done in a very rude way), which took place at the exit just before the festival. Of course these wankers didn't find anything, but it costed us about twenty-five minutes. At the Wacken backstage area, we even spend less time collecting our backstage passes, due to the fine organisation of this festival. Usually, we never miss a thing of this festival.
This time we couldn't help, that we missed the biggest part of the opener KROKUS. But I heard that they'd played songs like "Long Stick Goes Boom", "American Woman", "Heatstrokes", "Bedside Radio" and as an encore they played the JERONIMO cover "Heya" from their new album called "Round 13".
MOLLY HATCHET were on next with their magnificent Southern Rock sound. Hero of the band is long time band member Bobby Ingram, whose guitar solos kept going on and on. The band also played some songs of their newer albums "Devils Canyon" and "Silent Reign Of Heroes", but the older fans (like me) enjoyed the classics most. And with classics I mean songs like "Whiskey Man", "Bounty Hunter", "Dreams I'll Never See" and "Gator Country". Without any doubt the band played a great show, but the sound wasn't too well. I can still hear the bass thundering in my heart. MOLLY HATCHET showed us that "The South has risen again!"
COMPANY OF SNAKES was the last band on this first day of the Wacken festival. A name that probably won't ring a bell to many Metal heads around. But if I say that this band actually is WHITESNAKE minus David Coverdale and Cozy Powel, then you'll get the point I guess. Cozy, who sadly died in a car accident, was replaced by John Lingwood and David was replaced by Robert Hart (ex BAD COMPANY). However, Robert decided to leave the band and is now being replaced by Gary Barden (ex MSG). The song remains the same though and the band kicked off with "Come On". Many WHITESNAKE classics will follow like "Sweet Talker", "Slow and Easy", "Come And Get It", "Walking In The Shadow Of The Blues", "Fool For Your Loving", an acoustic version of "Ain't Gonna Cry No More","Here I Go Again", "Is This Love?", "Love Hunter", "Wine, Women And Song" and the RAINBOW/RUSS BALLARD classic "Since You've Bee Gone" which was dedicated to Cozy Powel". Bernie Marsden sang a few songs. And I must admit that you miss something when Coverdale doesn't sing all these magic songs. But it was great to see that people like Neil Murray, Don Airey and Micky Moody (who plays the instrument of the devil: the slide guitar) are still alive and kicking. A great closer of this first day. But tomorrow we would get the real stuff going on!
Friday, August 4th
Despite a few cancellations, the organisation of the festival came up with again one of the finest programs they ever made. A good collection of old and new bands were on the bill. How do I write a good review of over sixty bands on four different stages done by only two people? Here's what we came up with. This years edition of Wacken Open Air counted about 30,000 visitors. The first notes came from a Polish black metal band called VADER who started their activities at one o'clock exactly. Most of the songs they played were from their new album "Litany". On another stage the first headbangers could enjoy the sound of metal heads DARK AT DAWN. Their music shows some similarity to IRON MAIDEN.
Right after that we already saw one of the first highlights of the festival. The return of the mighty SAMSON with Thunderstick (Barry Purkis) the caged drummer and original bass player Chris Aylmer. Vocalist Nicky Moore may look a little older, but this blues vocalist still hits all the high notes like he did in the old days, while Paul Samson fires his riffs and solos at the hungry audience. "Vice Versa", "Red Skies", "Earth Mother" and "Riding With The Angels" were amongst the songs they played this afternoon. In the middle of the gig Thunderstick managed to escape from his cage and started dancing in the middle of the stage. After that he destroyed it. After the show he even managed to escape into the backstage area, where he stayed pretty quiet for the rest of the day. A very cool performance of some great musicians.
On the Wet Stage Swedish death metal band DERANGED promoted their latest release called "III". Also from Sweden is DARK FUNERAL, who brought us some very brutal combination of black and death metal. The first crowdsurfers made their appearance. A lot of older people went to see another band from the NWOBHM period namely GASKIN. Paul Gaskin is the only original member. He played quite a few songs from his new album "Stand Or Fall", but of course he couldn't leave without playing "No Way Out" and "I'm No Fool". It was good to see these guys back on stage again. It was very difficult to decide which bands to see at this hour of the day. There was so much going on.
ROYAL HUNT was playing on the True Metal Stage with ex ARTENSION vocalist John West heating up the crowd really well. It was kinda strange to see him dominate the stage with this band, 'cos in my eyes ROYAL HUNT is much too commercial for the powerful voice of John West. Nonetheless, the audience seemed to love it. Right at the end of this gig, SAVAGE started their set. It was nice to see them returning with their, pretty new sounding, recent album called "Xtreme Machine". Chris Bradley and Andy Dawson are the original members that didn't forget to play their all time favorite "Loose 'N' Lethal" of course. People, who didn't enjoy a good blast from the past, could go and see the German black metal band UMBRA ET IMAGO, who presented a shocking show full of evil and unholy blasphemy. Girls were nailed to the cross and tortured with flames. Musical wise, they're rather average, but the show definately made up for that.
Then another highlight came when one of my all time favorites ANGELWITCH hit the stage. They opened with "Extermination Day" and from those notes on, they surprised the audience completely with a 'best of ANGELWITCH" show containing songs like "Baphomet", "Sorcerers", "Atlantis", "White Witch", "Twist Of The Knife" and of course "Angelwitch". Thousands of people sang along and cheered their lungs out for an encore, but of course the organisation kept a tight schedule. Because of ANGELWITCH (that I wouldn't have missed for the world), I missed a large part of the really great set of this true metal band from the USA, called OCTOBER 31. Their attitude is to go for it completely. Frontman King Fowley really gives all he's got! Dressed in a "WILD DOGS" t-shirt, he made the audience taste some true metal. Last song of the set was the SAXON classic "The Power And The Glory", which gave the audience a chance to sing along to. The rest of the day, King Fowley spend record hunting on the Metal Market. I hope he will return soon for a longer tour, because the atmosphere he created with his band was exactly like in the good old days.
IMMORTAL had to swap places with MARDUK. Rumoured reason for this was that somebody had stolen the make up set of MARDUK and they had to get some new stuff. IMMORTAL, who played instead of ANNIHILATOR, didn't give a shit and right from the start, they went for the throat. Their set was almost the same as the one at Dynamo Open Air. Great riffs and a thundering rhythm showed the audience that they are still 'the kings of black metal' and no one else. RHAPSODY's star is rising really fast and their latest album is a million seller. Luca Turilli and his band mates showed they're also able to create this impressive sound on stage. MARDUK sounded very brutal on stage. Nobody can escape from their iron claws except for some Germans, who wanted to see Tom Angelripper's new outfit DESPERADOS. Which is in fact a cross between metal and country music.
GRIM REAPER played a set, which was much too short. Thirty minutes were filled with classics like "See You In Hell" , "Rock You To Hell", "Nightmare", "Fear No Evil", "I Need Love" and "Don't Waste My Time". Steve Grimmett (vocals) is still the perfect front man of this band. His new band is called SEVEN, and backstage he told me that his other band LIONSHEART does no longer exist anymore. STRATOVARIUS is a cool band and Timo Tolkki is a great guitar player, but I liked the sound of their forgotten first album the best. Reason for us to get something to eat. We missed a piece of PINK CREAM 69 through this but what we saw was more than impressive. Their new CD "Sonic Dynamite" is highly recommended and their stage appearance can be described as very powerful.
ARMORED SAINT filled the gap that was left behind by the cancellation of OVERKILL. And man, did they kick some serious ass here! They're definately back, sounding like they've never been away. Songs like "Can U Deliver", "Delirious Nomad", "Reign Of Fire" and "Raising Fear" proved this even more. PRAYING MANTIS surprised the audience with a crystal clear sound of their melodic rock. Of course they played some new songs from their new CD, but I'm glad that they didn't forget songs like "Captured City" and "Children Of The Earth". And they did a good version of the QUEEN song "We Will Rock You", which was the ultimate chance for the public to show their singing talents. For the oldies among us, it was cool to see good old Dennis Stratton (first IRON MAIDEN line up) play lead guitar again.
ICED EARTH is a very hot band at the moment. Especially after the release of "Alive In Athens", they got a special place in everybody's heart. Their performance at Wacken was super cool. They played for the first time with new drummer Richard Christy (ex DEATH, DEMONS & WIZARDS). John Schaffer, their guitarplayer, played with a neck protector. He appeared with his other band DEMONS & WIZARDS in Holland not long ago. Besides the many classics that we all know from the "Alive In Athens" triple CD, we also got to hear a smashing version of "Electric Funeral" (BLACK SABBATH cover), which comes from their limited "Melancholy" EP. To me, this band is what IRON MAIDEN was in the eighties. Maybe that's why they played "The Trooper". They live for heavy metal. Same goes for Danish speed metal band ARTILLERY, who played at the Party stage, presenting the people their new album "B.A.C.K.". After a short break backstage, where my wife Rita got attacked by the monster that's on the new GAMMA RAY CD sleeve, HYPOCRISY and BLACK SWEDEN were enjoying themselves on stage. After that, we went to see the last few bands on this first day. On two different stages we saw GAMMA RAY and LIEGE LORD. GAMMA RAY did what they were supposed to do. They played a sort of 'best of' set and the people loved it. The band is very popular in their home country and they've influenced a lot of bands. Kai Hansen is the king of metal in Germany and it was just great to see thousands of people go crazy in front the stage at one o'clock in the morning.
On the other stage we saw the return of LIEGE LORD. Their power metal completed with speed breaks reached the cult status. Although there's only one original member in the band, they still play the old stuff like never before. Classics like "Master Control", "Freedom's Rise" and the RAINBOW cover "Kill The King" sounded very tight. SIX FEET UNDER and BREAKER were the last two bands on the first day.
Everybody talked about BREAKER, that made a great comeback with the release of their "Accept" EP on CD and the release of a two CD set called "Get Tough" on which they present us sixteen new tracks. Earlier in the week, the band played a club gig in Bremen, Germany. People told me that it was a great performance. Maybe that's why I was a bit dissapointed by this gig. The sparks didn't reach the public, no matter how hard they tried. Nonetheless, you could notice that this band is very experienced. Maybe if I saw them at a small club gig, I would go totally out of my mind, too. Or perhaps, it had something to do with the fact that I was a bit tired after seeing so many bands.
Day one was over before we knew it. Highlights being ANGELWITCH, SAMSON and GRIM REAPER. What a great way to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal!!
Saturday, August 5th
After a short, five hour sleep and a good breakfast we went to the festival site again. When we arrived we'd missed openers SHARD and DARK AGE, who were playing on two different stages. But who the hell is playing on a metal festival at ten o'clock in the morning? You must be nuts to play at that time and you must be even more out of your mind to go and see it. No reason to say that there was almost no one there when we arrived to see MOB RULES and FREEDOM CALL. MOB RULES already made a good impression with their album "Savage Land". On stage they sound a bit too clean to my opinion, but they let the audience taste a few new songs already, which sounded very promising indeed. FREEDOM CALL is a bit more experienced and consists of former members of GAMMA RAY and MOON'DOC. They attacked the audience with songs from their debut album "Stairway To Fairyland". LATE NITE ROMEO wasn't very impressive, to my opinion.
I was more impressed by French heavy rock animals NIGHTMARE, who really surprised me with their refreshing heavy sound. Sometimes they even used three guitar players, which gave them a nice full sound. Their singer shows some resemblance to Klaus Meine (SCORPIONS vocalist), he's a perfect frontman. In their too short set, they also played two new songs namely "Kill For The New Messiah" and "The Spiral Of Madness". And although the day was still young, the band made some good contact with their audience. Also check out their great double live CD "Deliverance".
LABYRINTH had to make up for their cancellation last year. They already played some new tracks from their forthcoming album "Sons Of Thunder" And despite the use of keyboards they played remarkably heavy. For the fans of the more heavy stuff you could see German metal band AGATHODAIMON on the other stage. Their dark metal is very popular in their own country, which showed by the enthusiastic response of the public. ANCIENT is also very popular. Aphazel and Deadly Kristin gave the people exactly what they wanted. Brutal riffs, and death metal that grabs you by the throath. A great promotion for their most recent CD "The Halls Of Eternity". On the other stage STEEL ATTACK, a German true metal band, was followed by Peter Tägtgrens band PAIN. Peter was dressed up like Satan, with his head painted red and with a long black coat. Pretty scary, but the industrial metal was not really my cup of tea.
While ANCIENT was closing their set, a lot of people were already waiting for ex IRON MAIDEN frontman BLAZE BAYLEY to jump on stage. It was very brave to see that this man simply picked up his life and started a new band under his own name. He didn't change his stage performance too much and next to songs from his current solo album "Silicon Messiah" ("Ghost In The Machine", "Evolution", "The Brave"), he even played a few old MAIDEN songs, like "Man On The Edge" and "Futureal". The audience loved it and so did Blaze. His new album is very well received everywhere and the response from the crowd was enormously today. Probably this was one of the reasons, why a lot of people missed the German band SQUEALER…..and so did we. As we already saw SENTENCED at the Dynamo Open Air festival a few weeks ago, we decided to skip their show and watch SOLSTICE instead. They are a doom metal band from England and sound like a cross between SOLITUDE AETURNUS and BLACK SABBATH, but with just a little bit more speed.
Another highlight was coming up, while SOLSTICE was playing their last song. LIZZY BORDEN was back and in forty-five minutes he 'shock' rocked the audience like he never did before. Swaying around with his axe and changing clothes every two songs. LIZZY is constantly in action. Right from the start he climbed in one of the pilars besides the stage. He also raped a nice young girl and drank her blood like a vampire. This is real cult. For the Wacken public, he even played the titletrack of his soon to be released new CD "Deal With The Devil", next to oldies like "Me Against The World" and "Red Rum". At the end of the show he shook down a pillow full of feathers, which made a great effect. LIZZY was back and I hope he will return soon again for some more (indoor) shows.
VANISHING POINT came all the way from Australia to present us their power metal. Most of the songs came from their album "In Thought". ENTOMBED changed from a death metal outfit to a bit more straight forward rock band with influences from death metal and punk. And this variation was very much appreciated by the fans. It was a shame that DEMON didn't choose to surprise the fans by bringing their big show, for which they were quite famous in the early eighties. Now they let the music do the talking. This means a mean attack of hardrock like it was popular in the late seventies and early eighties.
While DEMON took us somehow a few years back in time, NIGHTWISH wanted to show the public what metal is all about in the new millennium. Their female singer Tarja has a wonderful voice and is a great stage performer. She also knows to hit all the notes right, even the tough ones. Splendid performance! While we already saw SPIRITUAL BEGGARS play at the Dynamo festival, we went to see HADES. This band knows to impress the audience with their technical qualities. Their set was a mix of new songs from their recent CD "The Downside" and oldies like "Rebel Without A Brain". MORBID ANGEL is already to be found on many festivals around the world so here we took some time to get something to eat. That's also why we missed a big part of JACOBS DREAM. Their self titled debut CD impressed us a lot and I was just back in time to see that HADES singer Alan Tecchio joined the band on stage for a spontaneous jam.
Right after that it was time for the one and only rock diva from Germany DORO. She is still very popular in her home country and played a set which gave the public a good overview of her career, containing songs like "Metal Tango", "Burning The Witches", Terrorvision", "All We Are" and the new single "Ich Will Alles". She even had to come back for some encores. DORO still rules in Germany and I've never seen such an enthusiastic crowd during the 'Meet & Greet' hour, when she appeared for her autograph session.
While the biggest part of the crowd was enjoying DORO, a few die- hard metal fans were waiting to see the return of HEIR APPARENT. After an absence of fourteen years, they finally decided to return to Europe. And I must say it all sounded very intense and professional. Time stood still again, when hearing songs like "Tear Down The Wall", "R.I.P.", "Decorated", "Keeper Of The Reign" and "Masters Of Invasion". A great comeback to my opinion.
But we were in for another highlight at the festival site. The appearance of ROSE TATTOO turned this festival into one big party. Frontman Angry Anderson conducted the band through a long 'best off' gig complete with smashing versions of "Remedy", "Astra Wally", "We Can't Be Beaten", 'One Of The Boys", "Manzil Madness", "Bad Boy For Love", "Rock And Roll Is King" and "The Butcher And Fast Eddy". It was an emotional gig for some people who hadn't seen the band for many, many years. And I can say that the band was in the best shape ever. Also expect a soon to be released live CD from this gig. A gig that can be seen as one of the best of the whole two days festival. On the other stage they stopped the shows for a while, 'cause the organisation knew upfront that everybody wanted to see Angry & his men rule the festival. And they did. After ROSE TATTOO, everything slowly turned back to normal again.
SKEW SISKIN is a band with the same attitude as bands like ROSE TATTOO, NASHVILLE PUSSY, AC/DC and MOTORHEAD. Rock and roll coming right from the heart. Nina is the sexy frontwoman from this band out of Berlin. Her voice is raw and she likes to play with the audience. She's like an animal, teasing her audience. Especially the male part of course. The people loved it.
But just like ROSE TATTOO, most people were waiting for the appearance of DEE SNIDERS' S.M.F. Dee replaced THIN LIZZY and did this in his own specific way. This was the perfect return of an evening full of TWISTED SISTER classics, but with a completely new band. Well, that is almost completely new, 'cause the only remaining member, besides Dee himself, is drummer A.J. Pero. Do I need to give you song titles? I don't think so. Everybody should remember songs like "Tear It Loose", I Wanna Rock", "I Am, I'm Me", "Burn In Hell", "We're Not Gonna Take It", "Leader Of The Pack", "Be Cruel To Your School", "The Price" (dedicated to DORO), "S.M.F." and "I Believe In Rock And Roll". The jokes of Dee were perfect. He mentioned that THE ROLLING STONES hated his version of "It's Only Rock And Roll (But I Like It)" and he also told us that this was the very first show of the European tour and it also was the very last show of the European tour. After all, it was a very short tour. He shouted at 'the guy with the Wiener Schnitzel in his mouth' and dedicated a new song called "Hardcore", to the man who invented heavy metal: Lemmy Kilminster of MOTORHEAD. A great performance of an even greater show man. I hope he will return again soon. Through this hell of a performance, we missed some bands like RAISE HELL.
Right after DEE SNIDER, it was time for a band coming from the very depths of hell: VENOM. They came to the conclusion, it wasn't safe to take any pictures, so we were hoping for a very spectacular show at Wacken. It turned out as a bit of a disappointment, although musically, they were rather good. Their new CD "Resurrection" is a killer and a must for every dedicated metal freak. I must say, I've seen much better shows from these three English hellhounds from Newcastle. "Black Metal", "Countess Bathory", "Welcome To Hell" and a couple of new songs were played with a lot of passion, but for those, who saw their show at the Dynamo Open Air festival a few years ago, must admit that the few bombs they fired here, were nothing compared to that!
Right after VENOM, it was time for ZAKK WYLDE's BLACK LABEL SOCIETY. I must admit, that his latest album was very overwhelming again. I actually hated his "Book Of Shadows" CD. This show made us clear that Zakk is still one of the finest 'new' guitarplayers in this world today. Especially during classics like "No More Tears" and "War Pigs", he showed the audience, that he must be taken seriously. The man is a true hero and an enormous beer lover. Nice detail however is that he doesn't drink it all by himself, but he also likes to share his beers with his thirsty fans. So a lot of half full or nearly touched beer cans disappeared into the crowd. This all happened while playing guitar and singing with his own dark brown voice. Next there was a remarkable change in the program. On the stage next to the stage, where Zakk played his fabulous performance, things were getting very crowded. The festival site was taken over by a girl called CHANTAL CHEVALIER. She was doing a striptease and sex dance show. And it was funny, not to say shocking, to see all these guys who went out of their minds earlier during VENOM and MORBID ANGEL, dancing on the beat of a disco sound. OK, it's a great sight to see a stripper taking off her clothes, but therefore you're going to a night club, where the music is irrelevant. Here you are at a metal festival with so many great bands and you don't expect the sound of a disco beat, that you already hated so much in the seventies and eighties.
I also wanted to watch TWISTED TOWER DIRE, but decided not to do it, 'cause we had a very long trip back home again the next day. And by the time we left the festival site, it was Sunday already.
After this edition of WACKEN OPEN AIR, we came to the conclusion that this is just the coolest festival around. Where would you find so many cool names together in two days? Highlights for us were ANGELWITCH, SAMSON, LIZZY BORDEN, ROSE TATTOO, ZAKK WYLDE's BLACK LABEL SOCIETY and DEE SNIDERS S.M.F. We would like to thank Sheree and Thomas, Holger and Heike, Michael Klinger and everybody at CMM management for making this review possible and for doing such a great job. We love you for that and we hope to see you guys back next year.
Coming home, we decided to check out the Wacken homepage on the internet after a few days. There we already found the first names of bands that are rumoured to play on next year's edition. And with names like WATCHTOWER, MANILLA ROAD, CULPRIT and CIRITH UNGOL, I'm sure it will become another great edition of the finest cult festival on earth.
Written by: Toine van Poorten
(originally appeared in ROCK BRIGADE, Brazil; Sept. 2000.)