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The opening words

With 80000 tickets sold, Wacken Open Air is probably the number 1 metal festival in the world. Just look at ticket sales for 2014. Sold out in two days. Incredible. There are festivals with more visitors, still this Northern German annual festival is on everybody's lips. I really can't understand why it has become this popular though, as it's actually just one great out of plenty metal parties across mainland Europe. Wacken has also turned more into an event than just a festival for heavy music, with other entertainment outside the actual festival site, such as medieval plays and spoken words-appearances.

My experiences of the 24th edition of Wacken Open Air started early Wednesday morning up in Stockholm, Sweden. 1050 kilometers (650 miles) later we once again set up our tent on German soil, ready for a night of heavy partying. A few beers and a couple of Jägermeisters later we found our way to the beergarden to meet up with some native friends. Many hours later, light rain occurred and I decided to retreat to our beloved tent.

When waking up Thursday morning, my thoughts went back to early August 2012 when the festival was nearby flooded and massive pools of mud were all over the place. I opened the tent's zipper and all I could see was the sun already shining bright. A sigh of relief later and with positive thinking, I prepared for a day that eventually landed on temperatures around 28°C (82°F).

Reviews and photos by Tobbe

Thursday August 01

Band: Annihilator
Black Stage 17:00-18:00

Canadian thrashers Annihilator enters the stage to the first tones of new song Smear Campaign. I can't see the point in opening up with a track that almost none in its audience have heard before, since the album Feast wasn't released until three weeks later. After this tentative start, the gig boosted though. The teamwork between guitarists Jeff Waters and Dave Padden turned out extraordinary, with Padden doing the major part of the vocals and with Waters filling in the blanks.

With the guitarists placed on one flank each, there's plenty of room for Venezuelan bassist Alberto Campuzano to get some attention in the stage's center and to get all players a part of this show. A massive and distinct drumplay from Mike Harshaw filled the grounds of Wacken and with Annihilator's patented thrash metal we all had a blast in the summer heat.

Waters loved the response he was getting and he had great interaction with his crowd, although front row at Wacken's main stages means a 40+ feet distance. The set was stuffed with mostly classic Annihilator tunes that went down well and got instant reactions from the fans. During the one hour set, I only missed one song, as I definitely wish The Trend to be a part of the set again, even if it's the most difficult song in their entire repertoire, all according to themselves.

Performance: 7 chalices of 10
Stage sound: 5 chalices of 10
Best: Clown Parade and No Zone
Worst: To open the set with a not yet released song

Smear Campaign
King Of The Kill
No Way Out
Clown Parade
Set The World On Fire
The Fun Palace
I Am In Command
No Zone
Alison Hell

Band: Alpha Tiger
Headbangers Stage 20:15-21:00

I tend to trap myself in front of the main stages where the bigger acts play, so once in a while I try to leave that main area of the festival and visit the smaller stages as well. I reviewed Alpha Tiger's second studio effort early this year, so I decided to check them out when I was given the opportunity.

The band plays typical German power metal, nothing more, nothing less. The youngsters do their absolute best to release their energy in the huge marquee, but they don't really reach all the way. I place a huge question mark for the choice of songs from the latest album. I went back to check my review which songs I preferred and out of the four songs I had chosen for Staff's pick, none was played. Four others were and that explains pretty much why this gig had no chance to become a dominating experience.

The band tries to go full throttle and seemed overwhelmed just to be on stage in Wacken. With more experience they will have an opening to continue the road to recognition, although this type of music no longer gather the major metal masses.

Performance: 5 chalices of 10
Stage sound: 6 chalices of 10
Best: The youthful energy
Worst: Not playing The Alliance and Crescent Moon from their latest album

From Outer Space
Beneath The Surface
Waiting For A Sign
Men And Machines
Along The Rising Sun
Black Star Pariah

Band: Deep Purple
Black Stage 20:15-21:45

When checking the stage times, Deep Purple obviously conflicted with Alpha Tiger. I have seen Purple more than a few times before, so no matter how ridiculous this decision might be, I only had time to check out the last approximately thirty minutes of this set.

When looking back on a setlist I found on the internet, I can't see me choosing badly. I entered the main area when they started to play Perfect Strangers. Among the remaining songs, Black Night, Hush, Smoke On The Water and Space Truckin' were present, so I believe I hit some kind of jackpot with this choice, even if I placed myself pretty far from the stage and half of the time had my eyes fixed on the big screens.

Deep Purple of 2013 have since long lost the ability to totally rock hard. The band relies on the smash hits, as they pretty much just stand tight upon stage with limited movement to create a visual event as well. The songs are nevertheless extraordinary in many ways and that's why quite a few people still show up for the band's shows.

Performance: -- chalices of 10
Stage sound: -- chalices of 10
Best: ---
Worst: ---

(sorry, no setlist)

Band: Rammstein
True Metal Stage 22:15-00:00

Industrial metal from Germany's own Rammstein. Seriously, without the pyros and the crowd's ability to sing the words, I would have rated this as a 1 out of 10. The songs suck big-time and the band members' performances are so fucking stale. Okay, they're supposed to be robots, but it's still lame. I felt like vomiting ten minutes into the set, but I had made myself a promise that I would see the entire show and my buddy also wanted to see this spectacle.

I know Germans have bad taste in music, but this is absurd. The vocalist entered the stage in a pink fur coat, there were excessive pyros and smoke, as well as gasmasks and flame throwers. All feeling like a circus to overshadow and cover the music that sounds like Kraftwerk on crystal meth. This is my opinion and I don't care what others think about this band. They have a massive group of fans and perhaps my heavy metal ears are what's negative, but it will take a lot for me to see this band play live again.

Performance: 3 chalices of 10
Stage sound: 6 chalices of 10
Best: The pyros
Worst: The crowd singing Du Hast Mich

(sorry, no setlist)

Like at most times at Wacken Open Air, we met up with friends and roamed the bars until early morning. Waking up Friday morning was quite an experience itself. It was pretty hot even at 9 a.m. and at around 4 p.m. I started to feel a bit fatigue, since I had been out in the massive sunshine in 34°C (93°F) with almost no shade, simply because there was none and because there were people everywhere shade was available. I mixed beer, water, soda and even an ice cream to not become overheated. It wasn't until 6.30 p.m. during Mustasch's set in the big marquee that I felt somewhat back in party mode again.

Friday August 02

Band: Pretty Maids
True Metal Stage 17:15-18:15

I saw Pretty Maids just six days earlier at a small festival in Sweden, so I can't say I was dying to see them again. Nonetheless I did, but I placed myself pretty far from the stage, somewhere in the back where I could find some shade. Since the band conflicted with Mustasch, I opted out the last fifteen minutes of the set. A set with songs off the band's two first and two latest albums. A little boring I might say, since they have plenty of good songs on a bunch of other records as well.

The band has fun playing live and the newer guys have found their positions behind or often even beside the long-time veterans, vocalist Ronnie Atkins and guitarist Ken Hammer. When on this huge stage I think the band, like many others, gets a somewhat tough task to fill the possibilities that the entire floor provides. Pretty Maids is most definitely a better act when the band is able to interact with their audiences, which is pretty damn impossible on Wacken's two main stages. Still a rather good performance from the Danish rockers.

Performance: 6 chalices of 10
Stage sound: 6 chalices of 10
Best: Mother Of All Lies
Worst: Rodeo

Mother Of All Lies
I See Ghosts
Back To Back
Needles In The Dark
Yellow Rain
Little Drops Of Heaven
Future World

Band: Mustasch
Headbangers Stage 18:00-18:45

To enter the huge marquee, where the Headbangers Stage is located, felt like a relief. No sunshine for at
least forty-five minutes was something I had looked forward to. I've seen this band on many occasions before and I know what they're made of. It's heavy riffs and solid bass grooves through most songs. The drum play from new addition Jejo Perkovic sounds a bit different, but still he has full control of the situation and he match the band quite well.

With lead vocalist and guitarist Ralf Gyllenhammar as always in his prime, Mustasch puts on a good show with a set mainly filled with their most well-known songs. The frontman finished off the set down with his crowd, drinking people's beers, screaming and fooling around with the fans at front row. The rest of the band was forced into an extended jam, while their leader was busy down on the ground, before they played the last tones of their set. They didn't seem to mind, as the band left the stage satisfied and I believe most fans left with that impression as well.

Performance: 7 chalices of 10
Stage sound: 7 chalices of 10
Best: I Hunt Alone and Mine.
Worst: Heresy Blasphemy

Heresy Blasphemy
Down In Black
Deep In The Woods
Bring Me Everyone
Black City
Speed Metal
Double Nature
I Hunt Alone

Band: Sabaton
True Metal Stage 19:45-20:45

Sabaton gains more and more popularity for every record released. Many know-betters loathe this band to the core, as they claim that the band plays the simplest kind of metal available and that they don't deserve any attention at all. To the general metal public, this is however something fascinating, I believe. With pumping rhythms, exciting lyrics about war and its horrors and a happy-face frontman all over the place, the crowd is overwhelmed by the band's exploding performance. Pyros, an immense amount of fire and lots of smoke pretty much sum up the show's contents.

The frontman, Jocke Brodén, has some shortcomings in his voice, but is visually extremely important for the show's outcome. He has his crowd in a constant and truly solid grip from the first tone to the last. He drinks beer for a cheering crowd, he changes some lyrics (with emphasis on the one in Swedish, Karolinens Bön, where the words become highly explicit) and just lets everybody down on the grounds believe that this is the best time ever.

The band puts on a good show, and people in general thinks this is good and accurate heavy metal and a rather stunning performance and I do too. At least they give me something to have fun to and something that I remember quite well. There are tons of other bands that expect their crowds to lift the show into unknown heights, but Sabaton would take care of business even if there was only a few fans in front.

Performance: 7 chalices of 10
Stage sound: 5 chalices of 10
Best: Gott Mit Uns
Worst: Swedish Pagans and Midway

The March To War (Intro)
Ghost Division
Gott Mit Uns
Carolus Rex
Into The Fire
Karolinens Bön
Swedish Pagans
Cliffs Of Gallipoli
The Art Of War
Primo Victoria
Metal Crüe

Band: Motörhead
Black Stage 21:00-22:15

What the hell shall I write about this performance? You all have already heard the story about Lemmy leaving the stage etc.. Because if you haven't, you should never have found your way to this text. Anyway, here's the deal. I placed myself around a hundred feet from the stage in a fairly upright position. The band entered the stage and Lemmy called out to his crowd: "We are Motörhead and we play rock 'n' roll". What first caught me and my buddy was Lemmy's torn and pale looking appearance. He was whiter than white and we said to ourselves that this will never last and perhaps this will be his last show ever.

A few songs into the set, with a good mood the man told us that he was getting better along the road and that they will continue to play until they get crippled. Drummer Mikkey Dee was thundering and as always all in for the gig and a drummer that hasn't gotten the full recognition he deserves. Phil Campbell on guitar has a somewhat dull appearance, but that's just the way he is and it doesn't bother me.

About twenty-seven minutes into the set, after six not so well performed songs and a lately forced guitar solo, Lemmy said "That's all I could do. Bye bye." and off he went, and his companions had no choice but to leave the stage as well. Perhaps his time for retirement has finally arrived? If he quit his career right away, I would say it's just fair and a road that we all have to travel eventually. Kudos to the man for giving this one off festival appearance a shot, but in hindsight, they should perhaps have acted differently.

Performance: 2 chalices of 10
Stage sound: 6 chalices of 10
Best: The band just even being there
Worst: The band being there

I Know How To Die
Damage Case
Stay Clean
Over The Top
Guitar Solo
The Chase Is Better Than The Catch

Band: Doro
True Metal Stage 22:30-00:00

The German metal queen Doro Pesch jumps the gun when starting her 30 year anniversary a little early with a performance at Wacken 2013. With a huge crowd present, the tiny woman was totally determined to make this yet another memorable performance. She's almost excessively positive, happy and hard rocking, very similar to what I've seen her like on two occasions earlier this year.

The early anniversary show is stuffed with guest appearances. Grave Digger's Chris Boltendahl with his harsh voice performs a duet with Doro on East Meets West and so does Biff Byford on the cover version of Saxon's Denim And Leather. Für Immer is visited by guitarist Uli Jon Roth, who gives what he's got and find his way through the song with improvised licks and solo parts.

Metal Tango sees the appearance of Subway To Sally's Eric Fish and Phil Campbell of Motörhead joins the show for a rather faint version of Judas Priest's anthem Breaking The Law, before Doro and her boys play what we all reckoned would be tonight's last song, All We Are. A song that the crowd loves to sing along to, along with guests Corvus Corax, Eric Fish again and a rather lost Jocke Brodén of Sabaton.

Earthshaker Rock gets to finish off this set and Doro is overwhelmed by the response and she thanks everybody and everyone around. The set contained like many times before more than fifty percent old Warlock songs and I must admit that some of those songs could be replaced now and then in favor for a few newer songs from her solo career. A great show nevertheless by Doro and crew.

Performance: 7 chalices of 10
Stage sound: 7 chalices of 10
Best: Revenge and Doro herself
Worst: Breaking The Law

I Rule The Ruins
Burning The Witches
Rock Till Death
East Meets West
The Night Of The Warlock
Wacken Hymne (We Are The Metalheads)
Raise Your Fist In The Air
Drum Solo
Denim And Leather
Für Immer
Metal Tango
Breaking The Law
All We Are
Earthshaker Rock

With last year's wet experiences in mind, we checked the weather forecast early Saturday and found out that heavy rain was approaching and expected to land sometime in the afternoon. When carrying this information, me and my buddy took a crucial decision as we decided to split right after Fear Factory's performance and drive all the way back to Stockholm. A bit cheesy decision when looking back on it, but at that moment I was pretty exhausted from last day's heat and I recalled standing on the muddy ground last year and not having a good time. After all those years, I've been to tons of festivals where rain has ruined much of the event and I didn't find it worth the effort, because rainy gigs almost never turn out great.

Saturday August 03

Band: Fear Factory
Black Stage 13:15-14:15

With a lead vocalist that looks like he just stepped out of bed from a rough night before or else has been smoking a major amount of pot earlier this day, I can't close my eyes anymore. Fear Factory was earlier one of my all-time favorite bands, but now Burton C. Bell's vocals are way beyond the line of acceptance. The clean vocals are so bad that, I'm not kidding now, even I could do that job. He still does pretty well on the aggressive vocal parts though, but when entering the harmonic choruses that the band are so well-known for, it's just deafening.

It didn't matter that the drums were eerie and Dino Cazares' riffs were heavier and meaner than ever. Without a proper singer, you just don't stand a chance in this world. It's really time to cheat like a few other singers do. This was nevertheless the first time I got to hear Cyberwaste and the title track off Archetype performed live. An album that Cazares doesn't participate on and I've been longing for quite a while to hear a few songs off that excellent record. These two songs is also what definitely saved this show from a devastating result.

Performance: 4 chalices of 10
Stage sound: 6 chalices of 10
Best: Archetype and Powershifter
Worst: Burton C. Bell

Self Bias Resistor
The Industrialist
What Will Become?

To the top

The closing words

We went up to our camp to pack the last pieces in the car. We left at approximately 3 p.m. and we had barely left the camp sites before we saw the dark clouds approaching as we looked in the direction of Wacken. I had a look at a few pictures later and even though it wasn't muddy and soaked all over the place, I can't say our decision to bail out was something I regret.

Although we left early, the festival was yet another great experience in Wacken's history. It's definitely quite hard to party, to have fun and to try to be close to the stages all at the same when this amount of people is present though. Nevertheless, the lines to the food and drink stands are usually short and I met quite a few friends in the hot burning gazing sun, so perhaps I'll visit Wacken again in 2014.

~ Tobbe

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