Written by Dux, August 2010
In the world of rock and roll, there
are select few events synonymous with the form. Names like Woodstock,
Lollapalooza and perhaps Rock am Ring spring to mind as the largest and
most prestigious, with festivals like Ozzfest and its ilk residing somewhere
in the secondary tier of rock attractions. For metal heads, the biggest
musical event is, bar-none, the Wacken (pronounced "Vock-en")
Open Air festival in northern Germany. With over 85,000 people attending
the outdoor event, and close to 100 bands playing over the course of three
days, the analogy of Wacken as the "Woodstock of heavy metal"
is certainly apt.
When news came down the pipe that
friends and local thrashers Eternal Legacy got invited to play W:OA, it
took me all of about three seconds to decide that I couldn't pass up the
opportunity to attend the legendary festival and see what Europe had to
offer. Wacken was reported to be completely sold out with 85,250 tickets
purchased and about 20,000 more in the way of bands/crew/guests. Four
primary stages, thousands of kegs of Becks, and acres of land filled to
capacity with all manner of camped out metalheads.
It would be unfair to say that the
footage and coverage in films like Metal: A Headbangers' Journey didn't
do the festival justice. The mecca of all things metal to be sure, and
an experience I was definitely glad I had, it wasn't as mind blowing to
this jaded critic as the media has made it out to be.
The following are my impressions of the bands I was able to see:
Being that this was the kickoff day, there were only about four worthwhile
bands playing, all of which I attended for at least some time.
Alice Cooper: It's only been in recent years
that I have been getting in touch with my '70s rock roots, and even then,
I've never seen it as a priority to listen to the somewhat campy shock
rock act, Alice Cooper. I've heard the tunes that get airplay in the past,
and I wasn't overly impressed. That being said, I was well aware of the
stage show that Alice puts on, and with that alone, I thought it would
be worth my time to check out.
My initial thought would be that the amount of time allotted and non-arena
setting would be prohibitive to Alice's ability to perform his theatrics,
but I was wrong. Everything from the guillotine to the giant hypodermic
needle were present and well-executed. The performance didn't change my
mind on the man's music, though the band was certainly tight, but definitely
made me appreciate Alice Cooper as an entertainment experience. If nothing
else, his set is more like a musical play, with an interesting, if shallow,
narrative that keeps the audience hooked.
Mötley Crüe: I'm fairly familiar
with the Crüe's hits, and generally see Too Fast for Love as a quality
metal record. That being said, even if they were one of the better glam
bands of their day, I've never had any motivation to see the best of the
worst of a much maligned genre of rock/metal on their own merits, and
will likely never again unless they are part of a similar package deal.
I guess that's the beauty of Wacken; you can see glam bands play with
gore metal and thrash guys, all on the same day.
I wish I had something more constructive to say, but I don't. The band
put on an entertaining show, playing the hits, with Tommy Lee using an
enormous, roughly four-foot in diameter faux bass drum in front of his
kit. Vince Neil sounded good, but it was apparent there was some effects
going on with his voice, or at the very least, cleverly layered with the
backing vocals of his bandmates. On a side note, I had no idea Nikki Sixx
played such a prominent front man role in the band.
Iron Maiden: One of the quintessential bands
of the genre, I had never seen Iron Maiden live. A shame for certain,
I made it a point to be on time and attentive for their set. Unfortunately,
as it turned out, Maiden's set would consist of almost entirely newer
material, largely eschewing the hits. This has been a point of contention
amongst fans since The Final Frontier songs started being played live
on the most recent tour with Dream Theater, but I thought they might treat
Wacken to something a little more special.
I suspect the song choices were a vain attempt to be fresh in light of
the much better-received nostalgia trip, the Somewhere Back in Time tour
of a few years ago. At least Bruce had the consideration to tell us at
the onset what they'd be playing. I left an hour into the set, disappointed
after all the great things I'd heard about their past live performances.
Gojira: A band a little more to my taste
than the other "classic" era groups, I was excited to see something
more aggressive, especially after being let down by Maiden. I had seen
Gojira with Trivium and Lamb of God a few years ago, and really enjoyed
their performance promoting the quality From Sirius to Mars album. Unfortunately,
I had also had the displeasure of hearing their most recent work, The
Way of All Flesh, and was somewhat wary of how they would be this time.
To my dismay, much of the set list was comprised of their banal newest
material. Was it heavy with frantic drumming? Yes, but it was also incredibly
uninteresting. I did, however, get into the songs from their back catalog.
The standout day of Wacken in my opinion, Friday at the festival boasted
my favorite bands of the bill, including Ohio's very own Eternal Legacy.
Voivod: Voidvod has always been of those
quirky groups that exist somewhere in the middle strata of metal bands
and defy classification, but maintain something of a cult following. I
first became aware of the band after Jason Newsted jumped the Metallica
ship and did a brief stint with them and Ozzy Osbourne at the same time.
Their 2003 self-titled album really turned me on to band, with that year's
Ozzfest appearance with Newsted cementing my admiration for them.
This year's appearance at Wacken would see the band without two of their
greatest assets: original guitarist Piggy (Dennis D'Amour, RIP) and the
aforementioned Newsted. In spite of this, Voivod played a solid set, though
my level of interest would ultimately wane with a lack of familiar material.
Eternal Legacy: Up next were the
boys in Eternal Legacy. What can I say? I was more excited about seeing
their first high profile debut than anyone else, and so my opinion may
admittedly be biased. Despite the choice to see them from the stage, I
opted to be down in the trenches to really experience the band as everyone
else would. Legacy's performance started off with little fanfare, wasting
no time and charging out to the stage with the high intensity riffs of
"Shadow of Revolution." The rest of the set would follow suit,
with the debut of new song "Cauterize" off of the upcoming Seeking
No Peace record resulting in relentless thrashing.
The biggest factor to Eternal Legacy's credit was an aspect that few
bands practice today. While most frontmen would simply chat a bit to the
crowd and proceed to the next song, Shaun Vanek brought the amount of
crowd participation and interaction to a higher level. Eliciting comparisons
to a young James Hetfield in terms of charisma, and indeed taking cues
from Metallica in their prime as a whole, Eternal Legacy showed an air
of showmanship, with extended jams before songs, doodles during crowd
chats, and an attitude that didn't beg for participation, but commanded
it. Combined with the antics like jumping off stage mid-song to interact
with the fans, and the raw energy of Shaun and Tim, EL was more than just
After smashing a prop "axe" guitar at the end of "Lifeless
Alive," Eternal Legacy was called back for an encore; the only band
I saw to do so. Unfortunately, after breaking said guitar, the Engle head
Shaun was playing out of appeared to cease functioning. With the crowd
growing impatient and starting to heckle, he recovered and plugged into
the nearby Marshall. The band closed with the questionable "Realm
of Wind and Ice," but still pleased the now-full tent, leaving them
begging for more.
All and all, the set went over phenomenally, especially for a virtually
unheard of band. The boys were fortunate enough to be able to use their
own audio engineer Mac for the performance, a boon to the band's sound
to be sure. Evidently I wasn't the only one who liked their performance,
as the gentleman who placed a 50 Euro bill in Shaun's guitar earlier in
the performance later revealed he was a concert promoter in Sweden and
wanted to put EL on tour.
Arch Enemy: Of all the high-caliber
bands on the bill, Arch Enemy was easily the one I looked forward to the
most. Probably due to the fact that I was most familiar with nearly their
entire catalog of music, the band did not disappoint. Their sound was
crystal clear, the band didn't miss a beat, and Angela Gassow roared with
authority while still managing to look sexy. Almost no songs in (if any?)
were played off of the mediocre latest record, Rise of the Tyrant, but
rather, were selected from the melodic yet riff-tastic Wages of Sin, Doomsday
Machine, and the re-recorded old material present on The Root of all Evil.
Grave Digger: A band I was just then introduced
to by Jason Vanek of Eternal Legacy, whom I mistakenly believed to play
death metal, I was surprised to find Grave Digger was actually one of
the fathers of power metal. I don't mean that in a vaguely related fashion
the way Rainbow and the Scorpions are spoken of, but rather playing a
full-on, modern power metal sound despite starting nearly a decade before
the genre proper.
Grave Digger sounded just like Blind Guardian, and, indeed, along with
another appearance by Doro, would be accompanied by Hansi Kürsch
himself for a song. Despite these guest appearances, after the novelty
of their style-to-age ratio wore off, I grew impatient with the overdone
formula of "classic" metal the band practiced.
Slayer: I had seen Slayer a few times before;
once at Ozzfest and another at the first Gigantour, both of which were
open air venues. Neither time was I particularly impressed with band,
the vastness of outside performances not lending itself particularly well
to their already-muddied sonic tone.
I decided I would give the band another shot on a fresh ear; one that
was more familiar with the seminal thrash band's music, particularly the
muscular South of Heaven album. Unfortunately, familiarity with the band's
back catalog or not, I was unimpressed with the robotic live performance
Slayer delivered. The sound was, as I had expected, completely inarticulate
from a rhythm guitar standpoint, though I was willing to accept it as
just being part of their tone as it is on the newer albums. I was mostly
jaded with the lack of crowd interaction from Tom Araya, and the overall
playlist-like delivery of the setlist, a good portion of which consisted
of songs from the less-than-stellar past two records.
Anvil: Yeah, I saw the documentary. Yes,
it was pretty much the first time I had heard an Anvil tune or even much
more about the band than their name and the general style that they played.
No, I was not particularly excited to see a band getting so much attention
mostly on the merit of a documentary that played up how, frankly, unsuccessful
they were. Were it any other circumstance, I sincerely doubt Anvil would
have been playing on one of the main stages, even with the atrocious post-midnight
The best two songs of the set were "March of the Crabs" and
"Metal on Metal," the first and last ones, respectively. The
rest of the set bored me as uninspired, if competently performed, traditional
metal. Anvil's riffs are mostly generic-sounding, and Lips isn't a particularly
charismatic frontman: a fact corroborated by his "innovative"
(read: gimmicky) use of a vibrating dildo to play his guitar and speaking
through his pickups at various points. The only redeeming quality came
in the form Robb Reiner's solid chops, and even then, his drum solo did
little to hold my attention.
The last day of Wacken had the most lackluster lineup of the three,
which I suppose was good, as it gave me some time to explore the grounds
more and check out the metal market's vinyl selection.
Overkill: Overkill kicked off the
day for me. I've heard the band's studio stuff, including their well-received
newest LP Ironbound, and have never gotten into them, much less the upstate
east coast brand of thrash that they practice in general. I've always
found Blitz' vocals to be more grating than unique, but this was Wacken,
and I owed it to myself and the band to check them out on virtue of their
legacy in the thrash scene alone.
If nothing else, Overkill's performance stood on its own merits. Blitz,
despite his eccentricity and sometimes offbeat comments, interacted well
with the crowd and seemed genuinely into the performance. Though the songs
I heard were somewhat stock, the band sounded great live, both sonically
and in execution. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised to have been won
over some by the New Jersey veterans.
Edguy: Edguy was the second upper-tier band
that I was looking forward to most. Despite less-than-stellar recent efforts
from frontman Tobias Sammet in both Edguy and Avantasia, I could not deny
the back catalog of quality power metal, nor the reputation he had garnered
as an entertaining frontman.
Edguy delivered on all fronts. The set list consisted of mostly classic
tunes, with the exception of a Rocket Ride song here or there. I was sincerely
hoping that the in-attendance Hansi would have come out to sing guest
vocals on one of the songs he has collaborated with Edguy on, but to no
avail. Despite this, Tobias delivered as a captivating front man, with
an immaculate mix being the frosting on the proverbial cake.
Earlier in the day I saw a few songs from the sets of W.A.S.P.
and Cannibal Corpse, neither of which impressed
me for different, opposite reasons, both of which having to do completely
with their general style and not their live performances. The remainder
of the night held bands that interested my very little, with the possible
exceptions being Immortal, who I missed out
on during a food/beer break, and U.D.O., who
was on during the late night slot.
See also: Wacken
review by David
Dux - August 2010