I Love the Smell of Napalm in the Evening
Wacken Open Air
Wacken, Germany, 3-4 August 2001

by: Matthias Noll
Tips

Let me start with some hopefully useful information.

- Try to arrive on the day before the festival starts.

- Exchange your ticket for a wristband as early as possible to avoid queues.

- It will be better for you if you only feel the need to take a dump at night.

- Money: there were no cash machines on the festival area; don't forget there's the Metal Market and many merchandise and CD booths -- you might need more than you think.

- Bring an electric torch.

- Better have solid shoes.

- Bring a printout of the running order available on the Wacken website with you.

- Don't forget toilet paper and enough water to brush your teeth and wash your hands. The latter applies only if you're a wimp like me.

- Ear plugs: two days of constant metal barrage might be too much for such delicate organs. Don't forget you've only got two of them.

- A cape in case it rains, and sunblock in case it doesn't.

- Find a good meeting point early on.

- Be at the stages in time -- no bands will be late.

- Wacken is approximately one hour north of Hamburg. 90% of that distance is on a highway.

- Once you park your car, find some landmarks to help you find your way back in the dark.

- Once in the parking area, you won't get out until countless others leave. This means you won't get out in the evening to stay in a hotel. (The backstage area might be a slightly different story.) The further away you are from the entrance, the earlier you will be able to leave on Sunday.

- Aspirin and alcohol, or vice versa.

- Downtown Wacken is approximately twenty minutes away from the entrance by foot. The few shops that exist have extended opening hours during the festival (until 8pm as far as I can remember).

- Careful with drugs -- the police blocked the whole highway, directed everybody through a resting area and searched many cars when we left. The previous years they searched people on their way to the festival.

- Avoid bringing a rucksack to the festival area or it'll be searched every time you go in.

- Entrance controls are strict. Not even water in plastic bottles will get in.

Prices in 2001

- Ticket: 99,- DM

- Camping area: 30,- DM per car

- Fries with ketchup or mayonnaise: 4,- DM

- Grilled sausage and bread: 4,- / 5,- DM

- Beer: 4,- DM plus 2,- for the cup (which you'll get back when you return it)

- Noodles: 5,- DM -

CDs: 25,- DM or cheaper

Thursday

Since Paul and I were seeing most of the bands together, there's really not that much to add to his report [CoC #54]. I will try to focus a bit more on the event itself and comment wherever I think I have something to say that may add some detail or a different opinion. If you feel you already got a sufficient amount of Wacken info from the last issue, then don't bother with this article.

Being at the meeting point at Frankfurt airport on the same day as Paul came as a surprise, as well as a relief [see CoC #51]. We went straight to my place, readied our belongings for the trip, got my friend and neighbour Daniel into the car and left on schedule. Fortunately, we didn't forget to buy twelve bottles of mineral water for various wimpy purposes: washing, brushing teeth, drinking, etc. The six hour trip went quite well and at approximately 9pm we arrived at Wacken.

Wacken is a small town of approximately 2000 souls, many of which gathered in the street or in their gardens at this late hour and, sitting on comfortable chairs, watched the long queue straight from the entrance into Wacken all the way to the festival area on the other side of the town. I'm still surprised at the relaxed and friendly way these people reacted to the constant flow of dangerous-looking metal maniacs invading their home town. We even exchanged a couple of jokes with the people watching us and returned the waving of children as we slowly made our way to the festival grounds.

It took us another hour until we finally parked the car in the parking area most remote from the actual entrance. Immediately our vehicle was surrounded by other cars and tents, and only by some device straight out of James Bond's arsenal would it have been possible to move the car from where it was parked. After we all helped setting up Daniel's tent in the dark -- which would have been almost impossible without the miner's light Paul had fortunately brought with him -- we headed towards the entrance, where we were supposed to meet Dave Rocher. The path turned out to be a bit rough, because the different camping grounds we had to cross were separated by trenches filled with either water, barbed wire, or both. We safely made our way to the entrance, and baptized the last part of the path "Road of Piss" on the very first night, because of the horrible stench emanating from countless metallers' urine in that area.

As we arrived at the entrance, we heard W.A.S.P. playing "Fuck Like a Beast" from afar and had a first look at the options for buying food and drink. There were many booths and also the "Metal Market" -- a huge tent with merchants selling used and new CDs -- in front of which people started to queue up as early as 9am (the tent itself would only open at 10am, with an entrance fee of 4,- DM). To the right of the entrance there was the "Wet stage", a tent outside the "real" festival area in which bands also played on both days.

In order to enter the festival area, we had to exchange our tickets for wristbands. Close to the entrance, we finally met Dave. As no one was interested in seeing W.A.S.P., we then went to the backstage entrance (approximately a twenty minute walk), where I picked up my wristband. Everything went well, we walked back, had a few beers, chatted and temporarily parted ways with Dave -- we were supposed to meet him again the following day.

We made our way back to the car through the vast camping grounds, seeing some quite interesting tent constructions on the way (like for example a parachute, and even an old-fashioned fire brigade car used for transportation by some metalheads). With a good dose of luck we found our car again. I slept surprisingly well and the metallic neighbourhood remained relatively calm; the same also applies to the two nights that followed.

Friday

Deceased were on at 10am. Paul had set his alarm clock, but due to the sunshine the temperatures inside the car climbed into the 30s and we woke up at 8:30. After some very basic hygiene-improving activities like brushing teeth and washing face and hands, we headed towards the festival area, which we then saw during daylight for the first time. Once through the entrance, where Paul had to leave the mineral water plastic bottle, we decided to take a brief look and then head towards the stage.

Directly to the left of the entrance were many huts and booths selling clothes, leather, spikes, CDs old and new, food, etc. Straight ahead, a five minute walk away, the two big stages were located side by side. On the left hand side -- maybe another five minutes away from the main stages -- was the Party stage, which would feature most of the bands we wanted to see. As we would later find out, unfortunately the Party stage was so close to the main stages that, unless you got really close to the PA, you had to endure some of the sound from the main stages, augmented by almost constant wind from that direction. Every band at Wacken played a minimum of 45 minutes; semi-headliners like In Flames or Helloween for 60 to 75; and Saxon and Motorhead for 90 minutes.

For Deceased we went very close to the main stage, because there were only about 300 to 400 people awake that early who were interested in seeing the band -- meanwhile, many others walked around on the festival area to shop or just get accustomed with the area and its attractions. Personally, I wasn't overly impressed with Deceased. Their Kreator cover "Tormentor" triggered raised fists and devil horns everywhere, but besides that, Deceased didn't really convince me. I haven't gotten their point yet, and the experience felt like watching a second rate outfit which would better remain either in their garage or in very, very small clubs.

Carnal Forge were proof that competent thrash metal requires as much control and precision as it does aggression and speed. Their blasting style is just too over-the-top to really work, and what should have had approximately the same impact as a medium-sized atom bomb became just a harmless fizzle.

Soilwork were next on the Party stage. I expected the Swedes to be very static on stage, but they came across quite well, despite some rockstar posing and cliche announcements in between songs. The recent touring seems to have secured them a surprisingly large fanbase, and the band went down impressively well, playing 45 minutes of material from the last two records. What turned out to be really annoying, especially during Opeth's gig on the following day, was the sound from the main stage -- which was far too close to the Party stage. The only place where one was able to hear only one band at a time was in front of the PA on the left hand side of the Party stage, which was farthest away from the main stage.

Then I watched the reformed Holy Moses, playing on one of the main stages. The band did well and received an enthusiastic welcome from a considerable crowd. I especially enjoyed "Current of Death" and "Finished With the Dogs" from the band's second album. Sabina Classen was in top form and her voice sounded more inhuman than ever. Seriously: forget Karyn Crisis when it comes to the most un-female vocals in metal. Things got a bit cheesy when Holy Moses were joined by Germany's Metal Barbie Doll, Doro Pesch, for a mediocre cover version of the Dead Kennedys' "Too drunk to Fuck". I'm not too sure whether the new album is really going to be worthwhile, but the good news is that _Finished With the Dogs_, a minor German thrash metal classic, is going to get re-released.

Napalm Death were next, and their sound was gone with the hefty wind in front of the right main stage. Energetic action on stage didn't help me recognize more than one or two songs, and the band's performance was rendered powerless by the forces of nature.

We then decided to take a walk around the festival area, buy CDs and have a look at the selection of food available. When I returned to the main stage, Exciter were already 1/3 into their set. A couple of old classics like "Pounding Metal", "Violence and Force", "Rising of the Dead", etc. almost managed to summon the spirit of the early '80s. Although their new singer's voice has strong similarities with a young Rob Halford, his extremely predictable usage of normal and high pitch turned out to be quite annoying after a couple of tracks. Exciter received decent crowd reaction, and as with their latest record _Blood of Tyrants_ [CoC #48], they were a lot more convincing than 90% of the horrible true/power metal crap which we were forced to endure from a distance later on.

Speaking of (German) power metal, we had our first exposure to this style when Primal Fear entered the main stage on the right hand side and Ralf Scheepers got a chance to do his "Judas Priest didn't want me and now I'm going to record Painkiller II without them" thing. After listening to a couple of versions of the fast double bass track with melodic chorus followed by slight variations of the stomping bang-your-head-and-shake-your-fist song, we headed to the Party stage to see Nasum. They turned out to be the first real surprise at Wacken due to their epileptic stage acting and great songs. The band seemed to be surprised that so many people had come to see them in spite of the power metal barrage, which was audible at the Party stage. Remaining in a really good mood due to the unexpectedly good crowd response, they unleashed one of the best performances of the whole two days.

Nasum were then followed by Exhumed, whom I checked out for wenty tminutes. Exhumed were surprisingly good initially, but started o get tboring after the first ten minutes (which included my favourite rack t"Necromaniac" from _Gore Metal_). I had a good laugh when the wo tguitarists and the bass player lifted their guitars to show that hey thad used some duct tape to write "Gore", "Fucking" and "Metal" on he tbacks of the three instruments.

Thinking something along the lines of "always leave when things are at their best", I left to see Nevermore, who were far better than with Dimmu Borgir in Stuttgart [CoC #53]. Warrel Dane's vocals were in top form, the songs sounded fresher and more energetic, and the huge, cheering and singing audience loved every minute of it. My only gripe was that although they did play a Sanctuary track, it was the cover version "White Rabbit" from the debut _Refuge Denied_. This, in my opinion, is the weakest track on this classic album.

Even though I was not very interested in seeing Overkill for approximately the tenth time in my life, we nevertheless stayed at the main stage, and surprisingly Overkill put on one hell of a show. Starting with one of my all-time favourites, "Deny the Cross" from _Taking Over_, everybody around us, including the incredibly fat Tankard singer Gerre (who was standing right behind us), was freaking out and heads were banging everywhere. Blitz is still a thrash metal frontman in a league of his own, with his agile movements and well sought-out conversations with the crowd. Overkill even played "Hammerhead" from _Feel the Fire_ (which I hadn't heard them play live since 1987) plus "Hello From the Gutter", "Evil Never Dies", "Elimination", "In Battle" and a couple of less impressive newer tracks. After everybody in the audience had the chance to sing "In Union" and "Fuck You", Overkill came back for an encore and played "Bastard Nation", which again had everybody singing along the chorus. An exciting show from these veterans, whose appeal seemed to have gone a bit stale after more than a decade with at least yearly tours in Europe.

After Overkill we decided to watch Mortician, who were slightly less brutal than a Stan and Ollie movie, but equally funny. Too tired to walk away again, we also stayed for Desaster -- who weren't lame at all in their corpsepaint, leather and spikes outfit, but musically sounded like another one of those bands who come across as a slightly black metallish second rate copy of second tier bands from the '80s.

After seeing The Haunted supporting Nile in Vienna early this year, my expectations were almost impossible to meet. Guess what happened: The Haunted were even better this time. Getting a comment such as "This is like Exodus" from my friend, metal dinosaur Daniel (which happened during the second song, "Bury Your Dead"), is the metal equivalent of being given saintly status by the Vatican. If there's one new band who plays thrash metal on the same intensity level as Exodus, Forbidden, Legacy, Testament, Vio-lence, etc. did in the '80s, then it is The Haunted. From opening track "Dark Intentions" to the last one, "Hate Song", their gig was perfect. In retrospect, to me Wacken was The Haunted's festival and from now on riffmaster Jensen is considered god.

Exumer, in my opinion, had one of the most unfortunate time slots of the whole festival. They had to play at 1am, after The Haunted and at the same time as Saxon. Having practiced for three months but played only one gig in Frankfurt before Wacken, it seemed likely that the show would not be very good. Fortunately, that was not the case. Exumer had a good to very good sound, and a decent amount of thrash metal zombies -- clad in jeans covered with patches -- had gathered to see the reunion gig. I should have known that the band was not completely forgotten despite disbanding thirteen years ago, because the last offer from a fan for my tour shirt from '87 had been "I'll cover it with money bills" in the early morning. I refused. The band started with "Fallen Saint" and played all tracks from _Possessed by Fire_ with the exception of "Reign of Sadness" and "Silent Death", one crap so-called "new" song and a superfluous Black Sabbath cover. Their own material sounded great and surprisingly tight after all these years -- especially "Winds of Death" (the only track from _Rising From the Sea_), with its crushing slower sections, was killer, just like three days earlier in Frankfurt. Except for original front man Mem, who moved around more than three normal singers at the same time and came across very energetic and convincing, everybody on stage was very static and non-metal looking. The music was good enough to compensate for a certain lack of stage presence, though, and if these guys just did not feel like sucking up to their fans by wearing wigs, spikes and metal shirts, then so be it. The time tunnel has spewed out Destruction already. Overall, it was a very worthy reunion gig from these German veterans. And, for a change, this is not a permanent reunion and we're not running the risk of having to endure disappointing new records. On an Exumer related topic: anyone with an interest in thrash metal should check out singer Mem's new band at www.sundescends.com.

Paul and I left after the gig and Daniel went to check out Dimmu Borgir. After the boring performance on their last tour, I just didn't have enough energy left to endure another hour on the festival area. The fact that during our fifteen minute walk to the car all we heard was keyboards (leaving me with the impression that Jean Michel Jarre was filling in for Dimmu Borgir) seemed to indicate that leaving was a clever decision.

Before we went to sleep, I was in for the only bad experience I had during the four days. It consisted of the sight that unfolded when I opened the door to the next toilet. Shit was piling up on top of what normally would be the seat. I took my toilet paper, jumped over trenches and barbed wire in true World War I assault style, and disappeared into the foggy, fortunately dark night. To all you potential Wacken tourists: never assume there will be a usable toilet when you need one.

Saturday

Saturday began with sunshine and Warhammer. Warhammer are German Hellhammer worshippers, and their sound and songs are of a kind which could easily have been on Hellhammer's _Apocalyptic Raids_ EP. It's 100% well done Hellhammer worship and absolutely nothing else.

Cryptopsy went on stage at 11am, and I've got little to add to Paul's Wacken report [CoC #54]. From my perspective, they were a bit less impressive than during my last encounter with them in 1999, and I felt that the new tracks didn't work as well live as older material up to _Whisper Supremacy_. As expected, the band's technicality (especially the drumming) was breathtaking and Mike DiSalvo put on an impressive last performance with the band.

Dark Tranquillity were the next interesting band to play. However, I'm getting the impression that either I've seen them on a bad day twice or they are rather mediocre musicians. Once again, everything they played from up to _The Mind's I_ sounded extremely sloppy, and Mikael Stanne's vocals were simply horrible. On record the guy has a really cool, distinguishable voice, but on stage he sounded like some below average growler filling in for the real singer. With the old material not sounding overly good, there were only _Projector_ and _Haven_ songs left to save the day. Although I really like those two albums, Dark Tranquillity came across as a rather boring act.

After a long break, during which we had to endure power metal wailing from various stages, we checked out Krisiun. Having achieved an average status through permanent touring and three good records, the Brazilians turned out to be as exciting as Dark Tranquillity. More than ever before, I had the impression that Krisiun only have one track: it's the hyperspeed one, where the cascading riff is repeated over and over again in different scales, and about 2/3 into the song the guitarist does as many trills as possible in the shortest period of time. I definitely prefer listening to _Black Force Domain_ on my home stereo, rather than the unimpressive live versions of their material that Krisiun offered today. It's about time the Brazilians get a second idea of what to do with their outstanding technical skills.

Tankard's singer Gerre constantly flaunted Europe's fattest beer gut shortly after Paul had left, and his performance was the only good thing about Tankard's gig. I'd been wondering why later Tankard material sounded so lame, and I thought that Harris Johns was to blame for that. The fact is that the band itself has got a shit sound that is not at all comparable to their heyday in the mid-'80s anymore. Their new material came across as sub-par funpunk bullshit, and even old classics like "Maniac Forces", "Chemical Invasion" or "Empty Tankard" sounded like second rate cover versions of the originals. Hadn't it been for Gerre -- who is still one of the funniest and craziest frontmen in German metal --, this would have been 100% utter crap. From my point of view, Tankard have become a parody of themselves. The fact that they can still attract and entertain quite a lot of people only shows how good they once were and how good a frontman Gerre is.

In Flames were entertaining, but never reached the intensity of their recent club gigs, and so we had to wait until Opeth appeared on stage before we were blown away again. Despite miserable conditions caused by HammerFall's main stage sound mixing with Opeth's acoustic sections, this was an awesome show. Band and audience seemed to connect immediately, and even if Mikael Akerfeldt stayed calm and quiet in between songs, he seemed to be deeply moved by the enthusiastic cheering and clapping from the crowd. "Demon of the Fall" was absolutely breathtaking with its heavy beginning, and all my doubts that a band that relies as much on atmosphere as Opeth does could be convincing live had disappeared. The musicians were in top form, the vocals never faltered (be it in normal or growling voice) and the gig, despite the fact that Opeth only played four songs, was stunning.

After Opeth had finished their set, we walked towards the main stage. From a distance I saw the skinny HammerFall guitarist running around on the stage. He wore a batman cape that almost touched the stage and also an armor that reflected the light from the lighting rig. They performed the Accept metal ballet and the Manowar clash of guitars held with outstretched arms; they ran around with torches; and they also did some black metal style fire breathing. Next time they'll probably have Dio's plastic dragon on stage. Disgust is probably a word which isn't strong enough to describe my feelings about HammerFall. I don't fully understand why the band makes me react in such an overblown negative way, and maybe I should just chill out and see them as a joke -- but I really can't. During this almost physically painful experience, Daniel and I were imagining Motorhead coming on stage and kicking all the poser asses up there, taking over the instruments and playing "Ace of Spades". As our frustration was growing, we envisioned the Motorhead bomber stage set taking off and dropping napalm on HammerFall and their fans, so bad was the experience. Unfortunately that didn't happen, but this gig strengthened my opinion that HammerFall and their music represent almost everything that's crap in metal. Buy _Keeper of the Seven Keys Part I_, _Battle Hymns_ and _Restless and Wild_. Buy two, three or four copies of each if you must, but why anything by HammerFall? I'd rather step barefoot into dog shit than see something like this again.

Paul had hoped that Motorhead would say something about HammerFall, but Lemmy seemed to have spared himself the sight and sound of them. Had he witnessed their circus, I'm sure he wouldn't have kept quiet. Motorhead's set began in very energetic fashion, with a very good, full sound and amazing drumming, and stayed exciting until after the sixth song, "Shoot You in the Back", from the immortal _Ace of Spades_. The Sex Pistols cover that followed was the lamest thing I've ever heard done to a Pistols song, and somehow Motorhead never recovered from that low point. The audience was there in masses but completely lifeless, which made for a very strange atmosphere, and Lemmy's jokes about the lack of response also failed to break the ice. I left with Daniel, hearing "Killed by Death" on my way to the car, while Paul stayed to see the bomber.

Sunday

At 8am the first few people started to move. Now the fact that we were parked so far away from the entrance would pay off. Miraculously, everyone who was blocking our path left, and we were out of the festival area within a couple of minutes. As far as I heard, Dave and his friends were trapped inside for another couple of hours. We made our way to the highway, only to get directed to a parking area by the police after ten clicks. They looked at every car and the people inside and searched some of them. Only a short distance from this first bottleneck, a car was lying on its roof in the middle of the dual carriageway. Fortunately, this had happened only seconds before we arrived, and we managed to avoid the traffic jam which was definitely about to develop immediately after. We had another very positive encounter with a middle-aged German in Itzehoe, where we asked for directions from the gas station to the highway. Despite the fact that it was a bunch of dirty, smelly metallers talking to him, our newfound friend led the way in his own car.

Overall, Wacken was a very well organized, outstanding event. I recommend the festival to everyone, no matter where he/she might come from.

(article submitted 19/10/2001)


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