Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Review: Wacken Open Air 2012

I am fresh back from the 2012 installment of the Wacken Open Air festival. My overall thoughts were that the music/acts I saw were for the most part good, but the weather was absolutely shit. Before I start my review, I want to send my condolences to the friends and family of the person who died at Wacken this year. I will do a lot of complaining about the weather in this blog but I am aware that in the grand scheme of things, it is not as important as the fact someone lost their life at the festival. Peppered through the review will be the photos I took at the festival - there aren’t many.


Departure day started at 3.30am when my alarm went off, signalling that I had to get up and get to the airport. I was stressing over packing but I do every time I go anywhere. The journey to the airport was fairly uneventful as far as car journeys go (which helped matters). After getting dropped off at Heathrow Terminal 5, dropped the bags and strolled around to take a look. This terminal is massive. I have two observations about Terminal 5. Firstly, why are there so many WHSmiths? I can appreciate needing more than one in an airport terminal that size but there were 4 before security, and at least 4 after going through! Secondly, for a terminal that size, there did not appear to be a list of what was where. On the way to the gate I needed for boarding, I happened across a Wetherspoons. Would have gone there for breakfast had I known. As it transpires, I went to Giraffe for a breakfast and, while expensive, it was very nice. Much like the journey to the airport, the flight was uneventful. Arriving at Hamburg Airport was smooth as ever, in that we arrived, got straight through passport check and by the time we walked to baggage reclaim, we already had a belt assigned. Once baggage was claimed, we left the airport and headed to the main station in Hamburg. I travelled with Dave again this year and we were both more experienced in how to get from the airport to the train station. I seem to recall spending an hour at the airport in 2011 saying “so now what?” – Actually knowing what to do this time around was far easier. Emerging from the S-Bahn, the familiar sounds of classical music served as a reminder we had reached our first port of call, Hamburg Hauptbahnhof.

Not that it wasn’t a smooth journey between the airport and the train station but I was really impressed at how good the whole journey from Hamburg to Wacken was. Other than a fairly long-ish wait for the initial train to Elmshorn, the whole journey was near perfect. After arriving at the festival, we scanned tickets, got wristbands and headed to the same area we set up camp in last year. There had been some questionable weather before the festival but the grounds seemed fairly good (solid, but soft enough where a mallet wouldn’t be needed to put in tent pegs). Once set up and settled in, a decision was made to make a jaunt towards the arena. The idea was to get a general feel of the place before the festival really kicked off the next day, watch some of the Wacken football tournament and locate the new tent which held both the W.E.T stage and the Headbangers stage. While scoping out the arena, we managed to grab festival shirts which (helpfully) meant no more trips to official merch sellers over the weekend. The football was entertaining and just like in real football, there was some top quality over-reacting (including one bloke lying on the floor for 15mins to the side of the pitch after allegedly getting kicked in the shin). After locating the huge tent, headed back to the campsite and chilled as it became evening. Originally, I had wanted to spend the entire time we arrived watching Metal Battle bands. I did not take into account though how tired I would be after a 3.30am start and a day of travelling and watching extra bands didn’t happen, but that’s not the end of the world.


The bands on the main stages started at 4pm on Thursday, so before that, it was left to the W.E.T and Headbangers stages for entertainment. We arrived in the tent in time for Danko Jones (7) who was doing a spoken word set about his favourite band – Kiss. The initial part of the lecture was really quite entertaining when Jones discussed how he wanted to join Kiss and saw the death of Eric Carr and went into detail of the various characters he has suggested to replace the drummer, and how he has had no response. Each character came with a photo of Jones dressed up in the suggested outfit which at times really was hilarious. The bulk of the set though was dedicated to Jones’ theory that Peter Criss died in the car accident of 1978 and there has been a massive cover up since then. I’m not entirely sure I believe what Jones was saying but at times it was certainly funny. If I needed my ears cleaning out after that set, then that was well and truly done for me courtesy of Norwegian Metal Battle winners FaaneFjell (6) and the very good Dead By April (8). Dead By April is a band I’ve seen appear on festival line-ups but I’ve never had the chance to catch – they really were excellent. Following them it was Metal Battle winners from Belgium, Exuviated (5) up next, who were good but I found myself trying not to fall to sleep by the end of their set. This feeling was not helped by W├Âlli und die Band des Jahres (6) who entertained me at first but again started to bore me to sleep. I needed waking up before heading off to the main arena, and that is exactly what the Metal Battle winner from Japan, Hone Your Sense (7) did with their style of melodic death metal. Truth be told, I thought the changeover between songs was a bit rough, but other than that I thought they had a solid set and I really enjoyed their material.

Much like last year, opening the festival was Wacken favourites Skyline (8) (I don’t know if they play any other gigs than Wacken). Their set was made up of Wacken Hymns and special guests including Doro again. They didn’t play Over The Hills and Far Away this time which was a shame, but they did play Rammstein’s Engel which was superb and really got the crowd going. When they finished, we went to check out various shops that were inside the main arena as the next act was a comedian. We were back to catch the end of Jim Breuer (7) and I honestly wish now I’d stayed for the whole set. He was really quite funny. After Breuer, it was time for Sepultura & Les Tambours Du Bronx (8). Sepultura played the year before as well but this time it was with a twist, they had 16 extra drummers on stage with them. It really added an edge to their pre-existing material and the stuff the two bands wrote together sounded superb. I hope the two bands release a collaboration album together. I would have liked to see their whole set, however they clashed with a band in the big tent. Managed to get to the tent and catch most of the last song of a band called Winterstorm, who seemed quite good. I’ve not rated them because it would be a tad unfair to rate a band on most of one song. The band that I came  to see in the tent, Amaranthe (10), were up next and they were superb. Don’t know whether it being in the tent made it seem better, but it was a fantastic set. I’ve never seen a band with 3 main vocalists before (excluding Van Canto and they are a cappella, different!)

Got back into the main arena just as U.D.O (9) had started and what proceeded was a celebration of U.D.O and Accept music to mark the 25th anniversary of U.D.O. There were special guests peppered throughout the set including another appearance from Doro, the lead singer from Lordi, previous members of U.D.O and even Udo Dirkschneider’s own son to play drums on a few songs. It all had a really fun feel to it and was a great set. Also, they played The Bogeyman which is a superb song. The atmosphere was really good during U.D.O but it was not a patch on the atmosphere during Saxon (10). It was said on stage that their 2012 set was either their 7th or 8th appearance at Wacken (they said one or the other, I just can’t remember) and that they wanted to play their last ever show at Wacken. That would be immense to be at. Saxon signalled their intentions early on to rock the shit out of Wacken by kicking off with Heavy Metal Thunder. It must be a real challenge for Saxon to put together a setlist for a 90 minute show considering how much material they actually have, and Biff Byford actually said when putting the draft setlist together, they did not include Crusader (which they then played). The set consisted of songs from throughout their legendary career and I often found myself wondering “how is this band not huge in the UK?” It is something I still do not know the answer to. Their 40th anniversary is coming up in 2016. I wouldn’t be shocked to see them back at Wacken for an anniversary show then, if that isn’t the final one. That would also be really cool to be at. Considering both U.D.O and Saxon had 90min sets, it could be said that all 3 main bands of the Thursday night were joint headliners on what is known as “The Night To Remember” but the final band and advertised headliner for the night was one of my favourite bands, Volbeat (10). I had already booked a ticket for Wacken 2012 long before Volbeat were announced (now I’m thinking about it, long before I’d actually been to their London headline show) so when they were announced in a major slot, I was delighted. Their set consisted of the very best of their material, a new song and some awesome special guests. During 7 Shots, the band were joined by Michael Denner (Mercyful Fate guitarist) and Mille Petrozza which was cool (first time seeing Mille on stage without a guitar!) and for Evelyn, much like when I saw them in London, they were joined on stage by Barney Greenway from Napalm Death. Volbeat are a top quality live band and proved it once again with this set. Michael Poulsen announced that Volbeat had just received a Platinum record for their sales in Germany, which was a cool moment. The set closed on their cover of Dusty Springfield’s I Only Wanna Be With You, Pool of Booze, Booze, Booza and Still Counting. After a quick blast through the intro to Raining Blood, they left the stage triumphantly. It really was an outstanding set from Volbeat, spoiled for me only by someone I was stood near in the crowd. I won’t go into complete details as there is little point, but this person seemed more interested in acting like a twat with his group of friends than actually watching Volbeat. Frustrating for sure, but it didn’t completely ruin the set for me. Volbeat were the final band of the day on the main stages so it was time to retreat back to the campsite and rest up for the next day.


Friday is where things all started to go a little bit wrong with the festival, but I’ll get into that later. The day started off with a jaunt to the various shopping areas again (some of the places that sold shirts had a big bin with discount shirts in, so it was worth a look). Walking into one place, I noticed they were selling DVDs of the previous year’s festival. Not wanting to carry it round all day, I opted to try and swing by that shop later. During the browsing, there was a band called Betontod (8) on the Party stage and they were really good. Once I gave them my undivided attention, I was suitably impressed and entertained. The next band saw me moving from German punk rock to American thrash metal in the form of Sacred Reich (8). Still touring on the back of their reunion, they played a set packed with their best songs which made me happy as they were a band I wanted to check out at Hellfest before I had to sack it off. The band made light of the fact that they hadn’t recorded an album since 1997 but were blown away they still get invited to play their old songs at festivals like Wacken (and receive the response they get). They also paid tribute to Black Sabbath with a cover of War Pigs, which I thought was very good. Following Sacred Reich was a band who I discovered following their set at Rock AM Ring 2008 (RaR) and hadn’t had the chance to see them live again until this day – Oomph! (9). On stage at RaR, the lead singer wore an untied straight jacket. This time around he, and the rest of the band, were dressed as sailors. To go with his sailor outfit, the singer had make-up on similar to Heath Ledger’s Joker. The band played a really good set including all of my favourite songs of theirs and concluding with a sing along of Always Look On the Bright Side Of Life – class. Over on the True Metal stage, it was time for Kamelot (8). The original Kamelot vocalist had retired from music and Wacken 2012 was one of the first shows for the new vocalist. I thought he did a really good job considering a lot of Kamelot’s sound was crafted by the voice of Roy Khan. The show in itself was superb. Well...

During Kamelot’s set, the sky clouded over and then it started to rain. The rain became stronger and stronger (and there were bolts of lightning in the sky). It seemed as though this rain was not going to ease off any time soon, and due to the glorious weather that morning, I had not packed a poncho and was getting soaked through. After a quick conference with Dave, we opted to head back to the tent to try and dry off. Standing out in this rain was not helping matters and we were just getting more wet (if that was entirely possible). In one of those annoying moments of life, the rain eased off by the time we reached the tents (but we were still soaked through so whatever). We would later learn that in the 30-45mins of this rain, 50 litres of rain per square metre fell. No wonder we were wet! Wanting to keep a set of clothes completely fresh for the flight home, I opted to allow my 3/4s to dry out and hope they would dry in time to head back to the arena. Retiring to the tent to stay dry seemed like a quality plan. Looking at the plan we had laid out for bands we wanted to see, we opted to head back into the arena several hours later. During our time of being out of the arena and under cover, it rained again quite severely. When we eventually did head back into the arena, the grounds all over definitely resembled the conditions at the Download festival from earlier this year, which was not a good thing. Anyway, we had missed Overkill, The Boss Hoss and Coroner by being out of the arena when we were, which is frustrating for sure but not the end of the world. When we got back, it was time for Hammerfall (8) who really picked up my spirits quite a bit. I think after the rain and the missing of bands, a bit of Swedish power metal was exactly what I needed. They really were very good as well which helped matters. The main reason for coming back into the arena though was to see something really quite special, as Dimmu Borgir (10) were the main act of the day and they were performing with an orchestra (Czech national if memory serves) and a choir. I saw Dimmu barely fit on a little stage in a 450 capacity room in Manchester, so to see them on such a grand scale was quite something for me. Their music really sounded good when they played with the orchestra and choir. The orchestra/choir also played Dimmu songs without the band which sounded superb as well. All in all, this was a really unique and fantastic set, making symphonic black metal bigger and bolder than it had ever been before.

After Dimmu Borgir, the original plan had called to see In Flames and Kobra & The Lotus, however I had sacked both of those off in favour of going to sleep. After the rain earlier in the day, and the fact I had no idea if more was due, I wasn’t fond of the idea of getting colder listening to a band I’m not massively fond of, and a band that I’d seen 2 months earlier. The rain really screwed things for the Friday at Wacken and made the rest of the time there quite uncomfortable. Still, rain can be a right bastard at times. Only seeing 6 bands in a day at WOA is unheard of (unless it’s the Thursday I guess and both the main stages aren’t operating all day) but that is what happened. A shame, but nothing I’m losing sleep over. When leaving the arena, i swung by one of the shops I was in earlier and grabbed a Wacken 2011 DVD.


The Saturday began much like the middle of Friday – rain and rubbish conditions. The rain was certainly not as heavy but it still wasn’t good. The Wacken crew did an amazing job overnight with the arena considering the condition it was in when we left. However, due to the conditions, the entrance into the arena got delayed for a short while. This meant that Delain (7) who were the first band I was aiming to see were late on. I saw some of their set (including announcing a song from their album April Rain which at the time, I thought was fitting). Delain were really good in the short time that I saw them though. I didn’t like the idea of leaving early – but sometimes at festivals, acts I want to see clash, and this was no exception. On the way to the big tent, we walked past the Wackinger stage where Santiano were playing. They sounded quite good but I might have heard them for 45 seconds at most. Arriving in the tent, I managed to hear the last song of a band called Manticora, who also sounded really quite good. I wasn’t in the tent though to see a band this time, I was here for more spoken word. This time, it was Henry Rollins (10). I’ve seen Henry Rollins before a few times and he is really entertaining. He spoke about (amongst other things) how old he is, his current tour, politics, various interesting emails he gets from fans of his and fascinating filming experiences for the National Geographic channel. There is no way for me to do it justice at all in this writing, but he was absolutely superb again. Henry Rollins live has always a must for me at a festival since I first saw him and I can’t wait to see him again. Hopefully, Wacken will book him again!

Back in the main arena now, it was time to see a British grindcore/death metal band in the form of Napalm Death (8). I’d never seen Napalm Death before this day and for the longest time really wasn’t that interested in them. I think it was Barney Greenway’s appearance on Volbeat’s Evelyn in London which made me realise that I had to see this legendary band, and so I did. I really enjoyed them as well. Napalm Death is a crushing live band. Following Napalm Death was the not so crushing but almost as enjoyable Axel Rudi Pell (7). They were entertaining enough to attract an above average rating but I did find myself getting bored at times. I guess that could just be unfamiliarity with the material they played. However, I did like the nod towards Led Zeppelin during one of their long songs though. Following Axel Rudi Pell, I needed a band to wake me up a bit. I headed over to the Party stage to see American hardcore punk legends Sick Of It All (9). Before they came on stage though I observed (although it wasn’t exactly something that really needed observing) that Wacken had a new lake. Sick Of It All were amazing at Sonisphere 2010 in the Bohemia tent and this set on a big open air stage was no different (although obviously, you cannot always create the same small club/small tent stage atmosphere on a big open air stage). Sick Of It All smashed through newer material and classics in their one hour set and were superb. I particularly enjoyed Scratch The Surface.  Moving back to the True Metal stage but moving from Hardcore Punk to Thrash, Testament (10) owned the stage. Blasting through several tracks from their brand new album while still playing other newer material and classic songs, this made for a stunning set. Testament is a great live band on their worst day, and this seemed to be one of their best days. Towards the end of their set, they paid tribute to Randy Blythe, lead singer of Lamb of God who has recently been incarcerated in the Czech Republic on charges of manslaughter. By far and away, Testament’s set was the best on Saturday.

After seeing two superb live bands in a row, and some really good ones earlier in the day, it only seemed fair to see a really bad one. Credit where credit is due, Cradle of Filth (4) is not an awful band. I was digging their take on black metal but my main problem lies with Dani Filth. I’m sure many people have written bad words about this man and I am about to join them. His growling and guttural vocals were fine and actually enjoyable, but he started the set of with a shriek that can only have been the result of smashing your testicles between a brick and the sharp side of a hedgehog/porcupine. If that shriek was a one off, I would have gotten over it, but he did it over and over - at the beginning of almost all their songs, at points during and at the end of almost all of them. It was like he was screaming because he had the image of his best male friend ejaculating permanently burned into his brain. It was really very distracting and left me feeling nothing but negativity towards Cradle of Filth. Still, now I know this, I’ll never see them again. I don’t know if my ears could take it. My advice to Dani Filth would be to remove the lobster that appears to have an everlasting clamp on his testicles from his underwear, because that really can’t be healthy. But then he did say after the last song he was going into the back and turning into a cloud of dust. Either that was some odd imagery he was trying to create or he intended to fall into a massive pile of coke/other powered drug, I don’t know. Does cocaine help with pain? I’m finding it hard to care. Moving on!

After Cradle of Filth, it was time to move into the realm of death metal and Vikings with Amon Amarth (9). They were really quite good despite me knowing a lot less of their material than I thought I did. They seem like a really fun live band which I didn’t really expect to be honest. On reflection, I don’t know why. They were really quite good though. Following Amon Amarth, it was time for the headliner of the weekend really when you consider this festival is in Germany. In their final open-air show in Germany, Saturday at Wacken played host to Scorpions (8). I did enjoy their set although I didn’t get to see it all. I had really high expectations of them and truth be told, they didn’t meet them. That could be my fault for having such high expectations but Scorpions are huge in Germany and I expected this show to slay. It was very good, don’t get me wrong, but it wasn’t superb. I didn’t see the whole thing because of the weather. At one point, I saw a flash off in the distance and said “what was that?” A German girl next to me said “that was lightning; I think we’re going to get another thunderstorm”. Maybe 5mins after she said that, the heavens opened and the rain bucketed down on us. Deciding that we’d seen most of Scorpions set, it was time to head back to the tent and call the day quits. This did mean missing the last few acts we had planned to see that day – those bands being Machine Head, Ministry and Edguy – but the rain was ridiculous and a poncho can only do so much! Getting back to the tent, it was a case of getting muddy/wet clothing off and sleeping. Annoyance took over that weather cancelled play but if it just starts hammering it down, there is little you can do about it but stay and get wet or leave and try to get dry.


Sunday was the day we travelled home. My new tent stayed at Wacken because the doorway completely failed, which I am annoyed about because it was new, but oh well. Not flying home with a duff tent. Some other stuff stayed as well but nothing as major as the tent. Next festival will require some expensive shopping. Ach well. The journey home was fairly smooth as well (aside from a 45min wait at Elmshorn for a train back to Hamburg). Got back to the airport 6 hours too early but I’d rather be there 6 hours early than 1 hour.


Wacken really is a good festival, and I had a great time this year. There is nothing the folk from Wacken can do if it decides to hammer it down on ground that 80,000 people are going to walk over though. The weather somewhat spoiled things for me this year, but then the same happened at Download. If anything, it’s just a shame. I’d say my two favourite bands of the festival both played on the Thursday, and they are Saxon and Volbeat. I cannot decide between the two of them.

Wacken announced 9 bands for the 2013 festival. They are Amorphis, Anthrax, Arch Enemy, Deep Purple, Doro, Nightwish, Rage, Sabaton and Subway To Sally. A very good start for Wacken 2013 but it is not enough to get me to part with my money just yet. Hoping a major act like Iron Maiden or Metallica get announced, but really I’d like to see acts like Turisas, Korpiklaani, Carcass, At The Gates, Lacuna Coil, Cannibal Corpse, Death Angel, Devildriver, Exodus, Within Temptation, Grave Digger, Die Apokalyptischen Reiter, Sonata Arctica, Twisted Sister, Sirenia, Evile, Unisonic, Fozzy – some of those would likely get my ticket confirmed. I will wait by the announcements with baited breath.

Until next time, Wacken.