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Wacken 2010

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:

Day 1

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.

Day 2

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 good tunes.

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 time spot.

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.

Day 3

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