Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Review - Wacken Open Air 2013

Wacken 2013 concluded on Saturday and once again, it was an excellent festival. This festival was going to be a unique one in that it was the first festival I was going to by myself. You’d think I’d be sensible and choose one in my own country to go to as my first solo festival, but never mind! One of my major concerns before going to the festival was what the weather would be like. I’m sure this is a concern (albeit brief for some) when it comes time to pack but after last year, I wanted an improvement. Looking at the forecast, it was due to rain a bit on the Wednesday and Thursday, and there could be a storm on the Friday. That wasn’t exactly the improvement I was looking for but one major difference would be the temperature would be much higher. I left for the festival last Wednesday, so it seems an appropriate place to start there.


My journey to Wacken started at 3.30am when I woke up in order to make my flight. I departed for Hamburg from Heathrow Terminal 1. After a Wetherspoons breakfast and a stroll around the terminal, it was time to go through security. In my line for security, the alarms went off for one of the blokes ahead of me in the queue which of course got staff on the security line interested. He then was checked for any metal and it transpired he just hadn’t bothered to empty his pockets. Thankfully I’d decided to go through security with plenty of time to spare so this didn’t cause me much of a delay. It was at this point that I was in duty free and wanted to spend a lot of money. As a smoker, I always feel sad about this because I cannot buy cigarettes from duty free as usually I’m on an EU bound flight. There is very little to report from this stage of the journey other than the flight from London to Hamburg was a smooth one. Outside Hamburg Central Train Station, I was approached by a couple of English speaking people asking if they had the right train ticket to get to Itzehoe (they did). I saw them again later on the train when they told me they were from Canada and were celebrating their honeymoon with a month long tour around Europe. What an awesome thing to do for a honeymoon. Anyway, this travelling was all really simple as well but quick as well. The times of the various trains worked out really well for me. Before long, I was on the bus from Itzehoe to Wacken. There were a few funny people on that bus exchanging stories, telling jokes (including one which was so bad I have to repeat it – “what is red and bad for your teeth? A brick”) and generally making the journey pass quicker. Amongst maybe 8-10 people drank nearly a whole 700ml bottle of Chivas Regal whisky which is impressive considering the bus journey is little more than 30mins. There were many stories told but the one which has stuck with me was a guy who was on the bus who flew to Hamburg from Australia without a ticket and spent the night on the Reeperbahn. I recall thinking that was a brave move considering ticket personalisation that was introduced this year (more on that later) but also, flying from Australia to Hamburg is a massive flight. To do that without a ticket sorted is crazy. In a really small world moment, there was another couple on the bus from Canada on their honeymoon.

The arrival at the festival was met with a loud cheer. I stepped off the bus on to the familiar stones and it felt good to have arrived at the festival. I looked around and noticed there was nowhere to collect wristbands from. After strolling about a bit looking lost, I headed to the main entrance. I figured, if they ask where my wristband is, I can explain the situation and get one then. However my ticket was scanned and I was in the festival. With flashbacks of Rock AM Ring 2008 running through my mind (where I was dropped in the middle of nowhere, with no information on how to get a wristband), I asked for assistance and was told that the wristband building had become much bigger and relocated to the Wackinger Village. I decided to get set up and then go and get a wristband. I put my tent up in the same spot I had for the last couple of years and headed off to get a wristband. It was at this point that some signage might have been helpful as I walked around lost for some time, trying to get through security points which I wasn’t allowed through without a wristband. Eventually I ended up in the right area and got a wristband sorted out. After that it was all plain sailing really. I had planned to watch bands from the moment I was set up until they finished that day, but it was significantly hotter than forecast, so I opted instead to buy a festival shirt and go for a lie down at the tent before doing anything else.  After a nap, I headed off back to the Wackinger Village to watch some of the Metal Battle band winners from around the world.

If I still needed to wake up at this point, and I probably still did, then Kill With Hate (6) were just the band for the job. One of the great things about the Metal Battle sets is they are only 20mins long. I’m not sure I could have enjoyed much more of this band, but for the time they were on stage, I thought they were good. As were the next band, Midnight Scream (7). Count To Six (8) blasted through their 20min set and it was an excellent showing. Trallery (6) were another good band but the best band of the day for me was from India. Devoid (9) were outstanding. You could tell to a degree how much it meant, being on a Wacken stage, to these bands, but Devoid attacked what I imagine to be their biggest show to date with such passion that it was just obvious how important this show was to them. These band ratings are based on my own personal enjoyment of a band, not what I actually think of them. Well, usually that is the case but when it comes to Utopium (3), it is both. I didn’t enjoy their set and their music really isn’t for me. The next band really shocked me. Not because they were amazingly good or rubbish (for the record, they were alright), but they bought their whole stage show with them – for a 20min set. Bit of an odd decision by GOD The Barbarian Horde (6) but no matter. They had dancers, knights, pyro – all sorts of stuff going on. They somewhat reminded be a bit of Turisas. The final band I saw were Karma Zero (5) from France. They were alright although I thought they were going to be exactly like Utopium when they started, They weren’t though so all was well. I’ve just discovered while typing this review that Santiano were on the Wackinger stage doing a 90min set which started after Devoid. I kinda wish I’d watched that instead of the other things I saw. All weekend they had adverts on the big screen for their huge tour of Germany later this year. I walked by as they were playing a song and it sounded quite good. I couldn’t tell you anything else about them though. I departed from the general area as next up in the tent was Mambo Kurt, who did nothing for me in 2011 and Masters of Comedy, which was in German and thus lost of me. I appreciate that occasionally that’ll happen given that Wacken is a German festival but still. I called it a day at that point.


The first day of the festival proper was here and it started for me just after midday. On my walk to the Wackinger Village, I saw someone with a potato on a string, as if it was being taking out for a walk. Bit of an odd one but it was something that would reappear throughout the course of the weekend. I had planned to arrive at the Bullhead Circus tent to miss Russkaja (6) but ended up catching their last song. I wasn’t really into what I had heard on Spotify but actually hearing a song live was very enjoyable and much like standard ska (it doesn’t sound that way from the studio version). Anyway, I enjoyed that one song and wondered if I could fit in seeing them again over the course of the weekend. After Russkaja, I saw four more bands who were in the Metal Battle finals. These were La Chudra (7), Behold The Grave (8), Rotten Souls (6) and Gnida (4). I didn’t watch all of Gnida though, instead opting to head back to the tent for a break before the main event (so to speak) kicked off. Before heading into the arena (or Holy Land as it is called), I watched some of a band called Mandowar (7) on the Beer Garden stage. They were a country covers band that reminded me of Hayseed Dixie in some ways. I’m not sure if they have their own material though. What I do know though is that they were very enjoyable.

The first band that was on one of the main stages was the Wacken house band, Skyline (7). They also did a set full of covers but that is because they do not have their own material. Some of the covers that made up their set this year included Strong Arm Of The Law (Saxon), Turbo Lover (Judas Priest), Paranoid (Black Sabbath), Kashmir (Led Zeppelin), T.N.T (AC/DC) and Paradise City (Guns’n’Roses). It was all very enjoyable and as a result, there were a few good sing-along’s. Up next on the Black stage was Annihilator (10) who delivered an hour of flawless thrash metal. Their set was just immense and their new material sounds superb. Thunder (8) followed them and were excellent. They pretty much played the same set from Download 2013 with two added songs. I’m not complaining about that though. The first of the two big hitters of the night were then on. I wondered why there was a 45min change over for this band, who didn’t have an elaborate stage show (or even a back drop) but it turns out that Deep Purple (9) recorded their set for a live album, which is pretty cool. I was a tad disappointed that for this tour, they weren’t playing Highway Star. They recorded an album from this set though and in it, was Highway Star as the opener. I was delighted with that! It was great to hear some of their classics live. The new album sounds pretty decent as well.

The headliner of the Night To Remember was Rammstein (10) and they have always been outstanding when I’ve seen them live. This was no exception. If anything, this show was possibly better than others due to the sing-along’s just making the atmosphere even more special. When seeing them in England, you have people singing to what they can, and some people guessing at the rest (myself included at times). In Germany, it is completely different (given that they are a German band that sings, unsurprisingly, in German). The show was identical to Download aside from two things. They teased playing the song Rammstein, which was cool. They also had a special guest during Sonne – someone called Heino. I have no idea who he was, and he seemed to get a reasonable reaction from the crowd. The people stood in front of me, who had enjoyed the whole set, were very unhappy with him being there. They turned their backs to the stage and held up middle fingers. When Till Lindermann asked the crowd to give it up for him, one of these people yelled “fuck you!” very loudly several times. I’m guessing he’s done something wrong but I’m not sure what. After a bit of research, it appears he is a very famous pop star in Germany, but could well have far right wing sympathies. Awkward! Rammstein were the last band of the day and they kicked off the festival in a solid way.


Before this day started, I made a number of changes to where I was going to spend the day. I had planned to be constantly moving between the Holy Land and the Bullhead Circus tent, but it was blisteringly hot, and I wanted to be as near as possible to the water point in the main arena. This meant finding a gap in my schedule to watch a full set by Russkaja (8). They were a lot of fun again and I’m glad I went to go see them. Tristania (6) were the first band on the True Metal stage and they were alright. Truth be told I found myself getting bored during their set and waiting for the next band. I also found myself losing track of bands members as some disappeared for different songs. I saw Gojira (9) in a small venue in my home town a few years ago and they were superb. They were even better on the Black stage at Wacken. Up next were the black-metal looking power metal band, Powerwolf (8). When they came out in corpse paint, I thought “have I listened to the wrong band? What am I to expect here”. They then broke into the power metal I was expecting and all was well. They had a really good set. The lead singer had a rock on a bit of string. I wondered if the person I saw the previous day with a potato on a string was trying to imitate him.

Up next was Ihsahn (6) who had a really small crowd. I was shocked about that. I know Ugly Kid Joe was clashing with him, but I would have thought the front man of Emperor’s band would have had a few more people there. During this set, I saw a different person with a potato on a string. I also saw someone dressed in a vest similar to the one the lead singer of Sabaton wears. I couldn’t help but think “it’s over 30 degrees centigrade! Why are you wearing extra clothing?!” I didn’t stay for the whole set as I was off to the Bullhead Circus for the one time I definitely had to go there for, and that was to see Henry Rollins (10). I will recommend to anyone to go see him speak. His talks are inspirational, informative, emotional and funny. He said he loves coming to festivals like Wacken so with any luck, he will be back again next year. He did 3 sets this time around, so I suspect if he is free and wants to, he’ll be back. I headed back to the Holy Land after Rollins for more main acts and on my way out of the Wackinger Village, I saw a guy with a broken leg being dragged out the village on a sack truck. That is pretty mental. I can’t imagine being a festival with an injury, let alone a broken leg! When back in the arena, Pretty Maids (7) were finishing off their set on the True Metal stage and sounded pretty decent. I was back though for one reason and that was to see Soilwork (5). I was very happy when they got announced for the festival and actually felt a tad disappointed. Part of the reason was my own fault – there is a sound bleed issue between Black stage and Party stage, but I was stood in an area where it was particularly bad. I also felt the Party stage was quieter this year than in previous years. I could hear the band on Black stage and decided to go check them out. This was a good decision as Agnostic Front (8) were superb. Didn’t know anything by them before heading over but that didn’t matter. They finished their set with a cover of Britzkrieg Bop by The Ramones which went down very well. They seemed to end their set early which was a shame, but I enjoyed what I saw of them.

One of the highlights of the day (for me anyway) was up next. Sabaton (10) were announced to a huge cheer in 2012 and they did not disappoint. They were just outstanding. At one point, the lead singer changed vests with someone in the crowd. I wondered if it was the same bloke I saw earlier wearing a similar vest. Sabaton seemed genuinely blown away by how many people had come to watch them and the reaction they were getting. I can’t imagine what it must have been like on stage but from in the crowd, I can say it was loud. I wouldn’t be shocked to see them be in an even better slot next time they play. Up next was a moment of sadness and worry really. It was announced before the festival that Motorhead (NR) had to cancel all their summer dates as Lemmy underwent a medical procedure and was very unwell. There was no word on a replacement from Wacken until eventually; they said that Motorhead were still playing. It turns out that was not a very good move. They played slower than usual. Lemmy went off stage after the 5th song, when Phil Campbell improvised with a solo. Lemmy didn’t come straight back on stage after this which suggested it wasn’t planned. When he did, they played one more song and the set ended – Lemmy couldn’t continue. The festival organiser came out and told everyone to applaud Motorhead for coming and doing their best. I did, but I can’t help but wonder why they didn’t get a replacement in. Some people looked upset, and others looked downright angry. I was annoyed as well, not because I felt short changed or anything, but because it meant I could now hear Corvus Corax Meets Wadakyo (4). Bad news for me! In all seriousness though, they probably had a month to book a replacement – they should have. The final band of the day for me was a celebration. Doro (10) was celebrating her 30th anniversary of being active in the rock circuit. I didn’t stay in the arena for the whole set as my body nearly quit on me, but what I saw was immense. I could also hear the set almost clear as day from where I was camped which was good. She had a number of special guests come out including the lead singer of Grave Digger, Biff Byford of Saxon, Uli Jon Roth and others. It was a superb set and a great way to celebrate your anniversary. I was a bit sad to miss Grave Digger as I had been looking forward to them before the festival, but I was just too tired.


When I first emerged from the tent, the day was cooler and there was some cloud cover. I thought this meant we were in for a cooler final day of Wacken. I put some sun spray on and headed to the arena to arrive during Callejon’s (5) set. After being told I couldn’t take my sun spray into the arena (despite having done so for the 2 days previous), I headed in to catch the end of Callejon and take a spot for the next band. I didn’t mind Callejon but they didn’t do a lot for me. Over on the Party stage after Callejon were Alestorm (8) in what could easily have been their biggest show and they didn’t disappoint. A set packed with the best off all their albums, they really got the crowd singing and dancing along with them. I had hoped they would play their cover of The Wurzels “I Am A Cider Drinker” but alas it was not to be. I thought it was cool they did “Wenches and Mead” half in English, half in German. After their set, I took a pew with a view of the True Metal Stage for the German band Die Apokalyptischen Reiter (8) (I’m sure I spell that differently every time I type it). They were really good which I am glad about as I hadn’t listened to much of their stuff before the festival but I liked everything they did, Next up was a tough call for me. The worst clash of the festival for me was between Sonata Arctica, who lost out, and Lamb of God (9). I don’t regret seeing Lamb of God, or missing Sonata Arctica so in the end, I think I made the right call. Maybe I’ll go see Sonata Arctica next time they have a gig at Islington Academy or something. Anyway, Lamb of God are a quality live band and this set was them at their best. I was surprised when they came out for two reasons. I was surprised about the size of their crowd. I know there was a power metal band on the Party stage, but I would have thought Lamb of God’s first appearance at Wacken would have drawn a bigger crowd. I was also surprised at the response when Randy Blythe came out on stage. I expected a hero’s response (due to his legal troubles earlier in the year) and it was about the same as any other reaction to a middle of the afternoon band. Back to the point that matters though, they were superb.

Before this point of the weekend, while I had been at Wacken, the weather had been pretty much glorious. There was a spot of rain on the Thursday morning but it was so minor that I didn’t mention it until now. I was genuinely concerned about sunburn at this point as well after my sun spray got thrown away. I saw a big grey cloud loom over Wacken and thought a little rain might be quite nice. I was prepared for that eventuality – I had a hoodie and a poncho with me. What happened was quite amazing. It hammered it down with rain for about 40-45mins. It must have been fairly close to the rain we got during Kamelot during Wacken 2012. After Lamb of God left the stage, the sun shined again and I once again was worried about sunburn. What a crazy moment. As a result of this, several large puddles appeared. 

Anthrax (10) had the unenviable task of entertaining a soaked through Wacken crowd but they absolutely killed it. It was 75 minutes of the very best of Anthrax and was probably the best I’ve seen them play (or at least level with when I saw them support Motorhead). The set was packed with newer songs, classic hits and cover versions including a superb version of T.N.T by AC/DC. Closing out on their cover of Trust’s Antisocial, they proved why they deserved one of the longer slots of the day. Devildriver (8) were the last band of the weekend I saw on the Party stage and they were very good. I’d heard that they were not the live band they once were. I cannot agree with that after this set – I thought they were excellent. It was the first time I’d seen them since 2007 and I think they are just as good now as they were then. The only two things I could say negatively about Devildriver’s are that they were affected by the fact the Party stage was quieter than in previous years (not their fault) and they didn’t play a few songs I had really hoped to hear (Pray for Villians and Bitter Pill the main ones). That aside though, they had a great set. Next up on the True Metal Stage was one of my favourite bands when they played in 2011 and that is Trivium (8). They in my mind had a lot to live up to but they were never going to achieve it - not least because I was sat down towards the back just enjoying the music. I thought they were good and enjoyed the new song they demoed. There was something missing to make it as good as the 2011 set but it was still really very good.

The final two bands of the festival were just stunning. It was the perfect way to close Wacken 2013 in my eyes. First up was Alice Cooper (10) who did the same set he toured in arenas in the UK in 2012. This is such a good show and he is just an excellent performer. I’m not sure how it is possible for him to have topped what I saw him do in Bournemouth, but he did. The band is a tight live unit which really helps. I was thinking at the time that this could be one of the best things I’ve seen ever (that is a long list). Then Nightwish (10) came out and were better. I will say this now, I truly hope Floor Jansen remains with Nightwish – she is an excellent front woman and did a fantastic job on all of the Nightwish material. The set list contained songs I’d not seen them play live before which really helped me enjoy the set even more. They also used a lot of pyro, which I just love. Their Wacken set could easily be the best I’ve ever seen them. In a nutshell, everything came together for Nightwish to have a stunning set – they chose the right one to film for a DVD – which is a must buy when it comes out. I walked around the arena blown away by how good it was - an excellent way to end Wacken 2013.


I wanted to get up early so I could be at the airport as quickly as I could be to have a shower. I was very aware of my own presence after 4.5 days of no shower. I was awoken from my slumber at about 5.30am by someone shouting about something. That was a tad earlier than I wanted to wake but what the hell. I tried to fall back to sleep but others started yelling so I just decided to get up. After going for a quick walk and declining joining strangers for a beer (hey, it was 5.50am!) I got packed and left. My day would then be mostly travel based but I got my times sorted so well that I ended up spending about 7.5 hours in Hamburg Airport! Not the best idea I’ve ever had. Still, no matter.

I wasn’t going to do any festivals next year, but I have been convinced to go again to Wacken. The first announcement of bands has convinced me to go. There will be another blog following this one of the 12 bands that have been announced and then bands I’d like to see get announced. Until then, this has been Wacken 2013 in a large, over 4,500 word nutshell. Roll on Wacken 2014 – rain or shine! (but preferably, shine).

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