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Wacken Open Air Festival @ Wacken, Wacken (GER)

WACKEN OPEN AIR FESTIVAL
in Thursday, 31 July 2008 at Wacken
by Erika Wallberg

'Wacken Open Air Festival'

I counted to 45 of 70 bands I wanted to see at this year's bill of 'Wacken Open Air'. Now, it's not possible to see everything planned due to more than one reason. First, because there's four stages running all day and there's clashes so a priority order needs to be set. Sure, it's possible to choose to see a few songs from a lot of bands rather than full concerts. But then we get to the next problem. Wacken is a HUGE festival, it takes several minutes to walk from side to side even when the field is empty. With the field full of Metal Heads it takes about 10 times as long to get from one side to the other. And that's the only disadvantage with this festival. That it takes so much time to move around.

THE HAUNTED won everything this year and that was not such a big surprise. As always they delivered a rock hard set of Thrash Metal. You can always count on a good concert when you go and see THE HAUNTED and they did what they always do, delivered a tight set with a good mixture of songs. Sure, there are other bands that also put on a great show when they hit the stage but I always look forward to see THE HAUNTED a little more than most other bands because, afterwards I have that feeling of being completely ran over by a steamroller and ridiculously happy at the same time. All albums were represented in the setlist and I held D.O.A, 99 and Hollow Ground as the absolute highlights of the concert. It's not doubt it was the right move to bring Peter Dolving back into the band; he has the capacity to take the band further without loose the roots. Even if I prefer their Harder and Thrashier songs the material from The Dead Eye works excellent live, they add variation to the set and makes everything even better. A massive wall of sound and a heavy groove is a good recipe for a concert but variation is the winning concept!  Brand new Moronic Colossus from upcoming Versus had resemblances with 99 but turned over to a more floating Metalsong that nowadays is a trademark in the world of THE HAUNTED. Speaking of witch, Wacken offered a pre-listening session of Versus. That was 40 minutes of pure joy. I doubt Dolving and Jensen (Patrik, guitar) felt the same though, they looked mostly embarrassed behind their table while the 20+ journalists watched them while listening to the record. The album was really good, there's no doubt it will be one of the candidates on my top list this year. But at the first glance the promise of a heavier record that was supposed to be more old-school THE HAUNTED not really fulfilled. At least that was my first impression. Great songs, doubtless but it felt like a lot of them slid into the same comfortable tempo and the arrangements felt a little repetitive. Looking at my notes I've written almost the same things about most of the songs. Still, I'm absolutely sure this album is just as much a grower as The Dead Eye was, details will start to show after a few listenings and when everything has fallen into place the album will be a killer.

How come IRON MAIDEN didn't win this then? They had their stage setup with the hieroglyphs and the rest of the stuff from ancient Egypt. Nothing was slimmed down or reduced from the regular concerts. Compared to Stockholm the concert at Wacken was better but that only because Bruce was ill in at that time. Then he was struggling with a sour throat and had to push himself really hard to reach the high notes. Now his voice was in perfect shape still he seemed happier in Stockholm. At Wacken he actually threatened the guy managing the middle camera-crane, if he didn't get that out of Bruce's face he would get down there and put it away personally. Of course, he got what he wanted before it turned into anything worse and even if I don't really approve of such behavior it was beneficial for me. That crane wasn't only in Bruce's face, it was directly in my view too. There's no doubt this could have been the coolest tour in Metal History.

IRON MAIDEN is one of the best live-acts of all time, they have the resources and ability to make something great out of everything they do. And yes, this tour was absolutely amazing but the setlist was a little too predictable. I sure wouldn't mind if they excluded the mandatory's just one time and added a little of the more obscure songs to the set. One of the surprised was Rime Of The Ancient Mariner which also was the highlight of the whole concert. The backdrop combined with the lights and sound effects created a very creepy atmosphere. It felt like being on that boat, in the middle of a dark ocean. One could really taste the salty water splashing from the water. Hmm, wait! That was probably just the last drop of sweat pouring down my face after a hot day in the sun. No matter what it fitted right in and made the effect even greater. Another one, which was the biggest surprise of the set was Moonchild from Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son. There was no way I could foresee that and I had almost given up after the hitparade. I was absolutely sure IRON MAIDEN were out of surprises. I never expected them to do something that unpredictable after the long line of obvious songs. And that made the set absolutely amazing. To follow that with The Clairvoyant and Hallowed Be Thy Name sure was a marvelous finish to the concert.
The absolute biggest surprise of the festival came from WARBRINGER. After a brief listening to War Without End once, I completely counted out this California quintet. I though the album was plain and quite boring compared to other new bands in the same genre. Ok, I thought I've learned to not judge an album before listening to it at least three times by now too.

Apparently not! When I arrived in the W.E.T Stage WARBRINGER had already started playing and the tent was almost packed. No one needed to stand in the middle of the little lake that had established itself in the inner parts of the tent, but apart from that area the tent was packed. One poor guy made an involuntary dive into it though and looked really dejected and basically laid down flat on the back in the watery mud until someone came to his rescue and dragged him out of there. Poor bastard! I doubt a thing like that would have decreased my mood at that time though. The sound was surprisingly good and the Thrash Metal blasting from the speakers made every hair on my body stood straight up. The only bad thing was that the concert was over too quick. 30 minutes were far from enough to still my need for WARBRINGER. I wanted more. They completely blew me away. And now when I know better, have been listening to their record I can't wait until they make it back to Europe for more gigs.

You would think that a festival like Wacken has everything sorted out well in time so everything will work out smooth. I missed the first song from PRIMORDIAL because the staff at the backstage bar wasn't in place when the first bands started to play. No open backstage bar, no gate to the festival, not for us with regular access at least. The atmosphere backstage was really annoyed and the security got a fair share of lecture from annoyed reporters and photographers. I decided to explore a different way out, through the Red Cross tent. That worked out fine, I only got a little bugged by a tiny security-guy when I just walked passed him without the right access to that gate. So what, can't be wrong to let people out!!! I still was late to the concert though. Irish Pagan Metal apparently appealed to a lot of people because the area by the Party Stage was packed when I got there and this was really early Friday morning. For a little while I thought I walked through some gate to another dimension and ended up in Ireland instead because there were so many Irish flags present in the crowd and the number of redheads increased by several hundred percents. I had a really hard time to imagine what PRIMORDIAL would be like live. I've heard they're an absolutely amazing live band but watching them my first thoughts were not all that high. They walked around on stage not making that big a buzz out of anything. The more I watched the better it got though, I was sort of sucked into the music and the show. The feeling I got later on was that everything was one, the stage, the band, the crowd. That's a feeling I've never had at a concert before. PRIMORDIAL's music is far from commercial but the crowd acted like any Arena Rock event and sang along in both verses and choruses. The sing along in As Rome Burns was almost as mighty as EXODUS Wall OF Death.

Absolutely amazing! The downside to this was that they played in daylight, I'm sure the effect would have been a lot stronger in the dark. And maybe even a little more so if they've been on a sweaty club stage rather than on an outdoor festival. I hope I'll get to experience that really soon!

SABATON, SOILWORK or DESTRUCTOR? It's not really an easy festival to be at Wacken, just too much good music all the time and unavoidable clashes. And it might seem like a stupid idea to choose DESTRUCTOR here. From a record breaking perspective perhaps not, because this was the first time I've seen a band four times in one week. For the same reason, I probably should have gone somewhere else. I could never have imagined that it should be DESTRUCTOR that sat that record for me though. But sometimes things moves in mysterious ways and this was what happened. I just love DESTRUCTOR! Their music makes me happy and they're always a delight to watch. Perhaps Wacken was much a repetition of the gigs the days before the Festival but with a little more energy and attitude. Dave Overkill and the rest seemed a little overexcited to be at the Festival and delivered a little extra energy and passion. That I chose to see them again over the other bands on at the same time must say something. I don't regret this at all! And this was the best DESTRUCTOR concert of the four.

Canadian Metal in the early hours of the morning on Wacken's Black Stage sure was a pleasant way to start the day. 3 INCHES OF BLOOD blew everyone's head off with their very energetic Heavy Metal and pumped the crowd full of adrenaline. I guess it can never be too early for crowd surfing, because even if it wasn't even lunch time people kept thudding down in the mud on the other side of the security fence. So the response from the crowd was nothing to complain about. 3 INCHES OF BLOOD are quite a hard band to label because they have a little of a lot in their music. But besides the occasional growls in their songs an easy way to describe them is Pure Old-school Heavy Metal with some thrash-influences. On this tour the vocal duties wasn't shared by Cam Pipes and Jamie Hooperon. The harsh parts of the vocals were performed by guitar player Justin Hagberg. Musically it worked perfectly but that loss of a character on stage affected the whole picture from an entertainment perspective, they have some catching up to do in their live performances. At least on a stage of Wacken-size. Else everything was perfect, the duels between Cam and Justin worked perfect and the songs were played with perfection. But if I should be a little mean it sounded like Cam was on helium every now and then. On record he can get a little annoying but live he was awesome. I guess it's just a matter of getting used to that hysteric way of singing and when that's done 3 INCHES OF BLOOD just gets better and better.

The hours at the gym aren't for Beach 2009 anymore. In the Metal world there's a completely different thing to get in shape for, Mosh-Pit 2009!!! EXODUS proved once more they're still one of the most influential bands in the scene and packed the entire festival-area around the True Metal Stage. And man, they got a good response from the crowd with circle Pits, crowd surfing and that's the receipt of well played metal. Rob Dukes looked completely furious the whole time really bringing on a good show as the frontman he is. The only thing that bugged me here was his choice of words between the songs. Sure he looks like a bad-ass Mutha-Fucka but it got a little to much of the F-word I think. Else he seemed a lot more inspired to do something great of this show compared to 'Headbangers Open Air'. Now he fitted right in with the others, had the same attitude and energy as the rest of the band. Besides that, he looked totally crazy and the others appeared more relaxed and beamed the stage with joy rather than anger. The new trend in the scene of brutal music is the Wall Of Death and there was a few half-successful attempts this year. None really managed to pull it off until Rob Dukes made his attempt that is. It was pretty fascinating to see the entire crowd split in half all the way from the front-line back to the Front Of House mixing table with the exception of a few lost souls that had NO idea of what was going on. I can only imagine their surprise when Rob gave it a go and about 30.000 people rushed from the side right into each other. Hysteric and a lot of fun to watch but I certainly wouldn't have wanted to be in the middle of it all. Musically EXODUS is perfection, they were absolutely tight and they seem to have so much inspiration to play and that always boost the experience.   

Another MORTAL SIN concert down then! For a band I never expected to see, seeing them four times in two years is a lot. And even if I knew what was coming I looked forward to see them once more a lot. That fact proves quality. Bands that can deliver on a stage are always a real pleasure to watch and MORTAL SIN certainly qualifies in that category. Sure, a lot was similar to 'Headbangers Open Air' but what made them really special is that they can deliver equally well on a small stage as a huge one. They did about the same thing, saying almost the same things between songs and made it work. The Wacken True Metal Stage needs a lot more attitude to be filled and I was surprised by Mike Maurer's attitude change. The cozy dude from HOA was replaced by a killing machine and he got the crowd going. It worked perfectly though, it would just have been strange with that more relaxed attitude. When the competition is as hard as it was on Wacken this year you really need to stand out and claim people's attention to get it. MORTAL SIN managed that with grace.

Was AIRBOURNE really that special? Are they really THAT good live? Ok, they're not at all my favorite style of music still I say AIRBOURNE were great. The problem is that I can't remember much of them a few concerts later into the festival. Only that they were filthy, loud and screaming Rock 'n' Roll and an absolute party-booster. Can that have something to do with me not remembering it afterwords perhaps? Maybe, but the biggest reason is that they play plain rock and that type of music just doesn't get stuck in my head. It's gone the same second the songs are finished. But AIRBOURNE sure always deliver a sweaty set of great Aussie Rock. Will they remain the kings of the genre or can AC_DC give them a match with their new album? I doubt that.

What can I say about OBITUARY that I already haven't said then? Well, Frank Watkins was back with the band. I have no idea why and by whom he was replaced by at 'Bang Your Head' but he sure wasn't there. Now everything was back to normal again. That was god because Frank was a lot more fun to watch than his substitute. And it's always worth mentioning how damn good a guitar player Ralph Santolla really is. Though I still think it's a little strange to see him playing Death Metal since the main part of his other bands has been quite soft (like MONARCH, EYEWITNESS and MILLENIUM) but it works, so why not. And he has some of this school of music in his back pocket too, like DEATH and DEICIDE. OBITUARY is doubtless my favorite Florida Death Metal band but there's not that much difference from concert to concert and that is a disadvantage with this band. On the other hand most of that is my fault since I persist to see bands more than once on each tour.

AT THE GATES did a really good gig at 'SwedenRock', could they match that here? Sure they could, this was just as good, absolutely. It's kind of strange though because this was still absolutely high priority but the real excitement was gone. I expected about the same as SwedenRock and that's what I got. It's nothing negative about that but the charm of novelty wasn't there anymore. The bad thing with AT THE GATES is that they feel quite stiff, most of the time it feels impersonal. Tompa Lindberg has a great voice, one of the best of the genre in fact but compared to THE HAUNTED and Dolving, he's not giving anything of himself. Dolving shares warmth and charm and that's what I lack from AT THE GATES. To not compare the two is impossible and I absolutely prefer THE HAUNTED of the two. Still I wonder if they've ended higher up on the list if they had played earlier on the Festival. AT THE GATES was the last band I saw before heading back north and I was really ready to go home by then.

ENEMY OF THE SUN's debut album Shadows from last year went straight through to my heart. I love the album and I think it's great to see a new recipe of metal. They have such a great groove in their music and it's still really heavy and brutal. This time though they didn't blow me away. Musically it sounded great as usual but it felt like they've settled in a false security. Sure, it can be hard to deliver day after day but that's what this is all about. Demon guitar player Waldemar Sorychta was hardly visible from my side of the stage and pretty bass player Alla Fedynitch didn't really fill her part of the stage either. Compared to 'RockHard' this was a mediocre performance but I guess this is common for new bands, it takes a while before everything settles and they can crush every night. Still they managed to get the crowd moving and ended everything with a huge circle pit in the W.E.T Stage tent.

I so wish I would have chosen OPETH over MASSACRE. But unfortunately I didn't, I just managed to see the 2 last songs after giving up on MASSACRE. It's so strange with some bands, they don't need to do anything specific when they're up on stage it's still magic. OPETH was one of those bands, it looked great and my impression afterward was that they're a great live act. I never have the feeling after seeing them live that it is a hard job getting into their music, but it is and I never seem to get into their records. OPETH have never really got stuck on me even if I've given them several tries. Guess it's time for another one now because those last minutes of their concert were magical.

I choose to see MERCENARY over HOLY MOSES and I think this was my dumbest decision of the festival. Not that MERCENARY was bad but I think HOLY MOSES would have been better, at least judging what other people said. And I think MERCENARY have lost their identity a little with their latest album. In fact it's been a downward spiral for them since after 11 Dreams. Their albums are still good but it feels like they get more and more comfortable in certain patterns and keep repeating themselves over and over again. And that feeling of streamlined and commercial songwriting makes the music safe and boring. That affected the older songs too, most of it felt dead. It wasn't until Firesoul everything heated up. The crowd woke up and so did the band. It was really fascinating to hear a couple of thousand people sing the bridge. It's not really a simple sing along chorus line and it's a damn long part too. But that was no problem and this song really saved the whole concert.   
When did SOILWORK get this huge? It was really hard to get from W.E.T Stage to Black Stage but I managed and caught the last few songs from a far distance of SOILWORK's set. Ok, every band at Wacken gets a much bigger crowd they would anywhere else but this I never expected. I never thought they would draw more fans than THE HAUNTED. But they did and I've apparently missed something. I think SOILWORK were at their best around Predators Portrait and after that their records has passed me quite unnoticed. I've listened to them, sure but they never really got stuck like their earlier albums did. The ones after got a little too commercial and mainstream for my taste. I guess I'm one of few that feel like this. The atmosphere was great and the crowd followed Bjorn Speed Strids every move.  They sure sounded great, absolutely tight but that's not a big surprise with riff-maestro Daniel Antonsson (also in PATHOS and DIMENSION ZERO) in the lineup.

I must admit I couldn't see what was so special about CYNIC when they released their debut album Focus back in 1993. Everyone around me seemed to love it but their music never got to me. Not until about ten years later. When I finally picked up the CD and sat down and really listened to it, it completely blew me away. I guess I never had the peace in me back then to really get into their quite complex and progressive Metal and it passed me by. Musically I expected perfection from these guys and that's what they served. Performance-wise it was extremely boring though. I guess this is a band that needs help from a good stage-set up with lights and effects to be a whole package and I'm pretty sure I will feel different after seeing them on a club-stage when they'll have all that. Still I wouldn't mind a little more action on stage.

This summer's major Metal event, AVANTASIA went cold turkey again. This time it took 2 1_2 songs for the sound-guy to get Jorn Lande's microphone to work. That's not acceptable for a headline gig. He should have learned from 'SwedenRock' when he had problems to get Andre Mattos voice out of the speakers. When Jorn's voice finally came through, the crowd reacted immediately with cheering and applauding. But the buzz was about how crappy the sound was handled. Sure, AVANTASIA are a great event. But I think the arrangement could have been a little grander, at least here when they had the Friday's headline position. If this had been something in class with IRON MAIDEN or JUDAS PRIEST in a production perspective I think AVANTASIA could have taken a huge step up the ladder and outshined EDGUY by far. Yes, it's only a project but that doesn't rule out the possibility to be the next great thing in Metal. Sure it was really striking with the different vocals, especially Jorn's deep voice compared to Tobias Sammet's quite whiney pitch. The setup was a little different this time. Kai Hansen was excluded and Uli Jon Roth added. No matter how much I love Uli he didn't boost the show all that much, how could he? He didn't get any space to shine. I think it's the same thing with Bob Catley, he's a really great singer but I guess this is Tobias show and he was the major character this time too.

The competition was really hard on this year's festival. And that KAMELOT which I else hold very high as a band ended up at the bottom of my list was a surprise even for me. But it wasn't only due to the competition. I think KAMELOT are better when they have everything set up for them; festival-gigs aren't the most beneficial events for them. Also, in the light of day it got painfully clear that they really need the effect of the stage-lights to boost the show. I don't expect a lot of crazy action on stage, which would just have been really strange and completely wrong to the music. It's just the nature of KAMELOT, they need the lights. So from an entertainment point of view they were really boring. Else everything was pretty much as usual (again the curse of seeing bands too many times on each tour), Rule The World, Ghost Opera, Karma. It's amazing that Roy Kahn's voice holds after the massive touring they've been doing the last couple of years. Ok, it tended to be a little rough now and then during the concert but that's not a disadvantage. His delicate tone is still there so a little structure is only good.  

I did choose to see ENEMY OF THE SUN over CARCASS. I've seen both bands before this summer and ENEMY OF THE SUN have done a much greater impression on me than CARCASS so this is based on only a few songs. CARCASS didn't sound bad at all but it all felt uninspiring, exactly as on 'SwedenRock'. The show was barely ok at 'SwedenRock' but at Wacken's Black Stage was far from enough. They shall have credit for dedicating Incarnated Solvent Abuse to EXODUS though, as a tribute to them. The response from the crowd was huge and things like that always give me goose bumps. Re-unions in all glory but sometimes it's better to let sleeping dogs lie, guess this could have been one. Ok, I admit I gave up pretty quickly and shamefully missed Angela Gossow's guest performance, she's great so that might have increased the grade a bit.

Old School Florida Death Metal legends MASSACRE hit the Party Stage with Kam Lee in the front line Friday afternoon. I must admit I didn't really got the idea with his skeleton outfit. It looked mostly ridiculous and didn't fit in with the rest of his band at all. And frankly, I remembered MASSACRE to be a lot better so I was really disappointed with this performance. But it wasn't just musically, Kam Lee's speeches between the songs got really embarrassing. Even so bad that I decided to leave right in the middle of the concert. Ok, it can be a festival trick to have some chick to show her tits but then go on about imaginary sexual activities she would perform with the guys around her later on� Come on, that's just low. It wasn't one bit fun either.    

Wacken is extreme in every way. Hell, just the backstage camping is far bigger than the whole 'Headbangers Open Air Festival' and I admit, even if it is reluctantly that I was really ready to go home that last day of the festival. Almost two weeks of festival-life, concerts, party and all what's included on a great vacation was exhausting and it felt so good to get back home. But I would absolutely do it again, so I bet I'll load my car and do it all over again because 'Wacken Open Air' was a great ending of a really cool Metal-Summer!

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