Wery Wicious Wacken Wiolence
Wacken Open Air
Wacken, Germany, 3-4 August 2001

by: Paul Schwarz

I went to Wacken with fellow CoC writer Matthias Noll and his good friend and metalhead Daniel Griessmeyer. I flew to Frankfurt, we drove about six or so hours to Wacken, and each of the three nights we slept in the car. There's the outline of my time in Wacken, so let's get onto what happened that's relevant to the music, shall we.

Though we arrived on Thursday evening in time to catch some of W.A.S.P., none of Matthias, Daniel and I could be bothered to get our wristbands to enter the arena to see W.A.S.P.; it didn't seem in any way a worthwhile use of our time, considering the fact that we could hear W.A.S.P. playing, and were uninterested in it getting any louder. In the end, we met up with David Rocher outside the main arena, had a look about some of the festival site, his campsite, and got our wristbands when W.A.S.P. were finished and everyone was leaving to go to sleep; it was a short queue, and we were glad of that.

Friday morning we were up early; Deceased were to be the first band onstage for Wacken proper, at 10am. Happily, I arrived before Deceased began -- despite lame-ass rules on "security" which meant that I was held up at the arena entrance with getting a bottle of water out of my bag. I was surprised to find Deceased equipped with a stand-in drummer, allowing King Fowley the run of the stage and only one of his usual two parts to perform. To my even greater surprise, King Fowley announced that this was Deceased's first ever performance in Europe. I thought at the time that it was a good thing King was out from behind his drumkit; the unusual, front-personless nature of Deceased's usual sets would not, in my opinion, have gone down that well with this German audience, who -- judging by the bands, both good and bad, at Wacken -- are favourable to bands who mostly have instrumentally unhindered, and -- at least supposedly -- very mesmerising frontmen. King Fowley was mildly mesmerising; with his considerable girth and generally unattractive appearance, he looked the part of your proverbial heavy metal uncle or cousin, the bad influence "caring" parents would steer you away from. To the small crowd assembled he proclaimed that Deceased had "45 minutes of speed and thrash" to play, and he wasn't lying. Two things marred what was otherwise a pretty damn pleasing performance. Firstly, the sound. Of course it would be idiotic of me to expect a clear and powerful sound of the first band on at a two-day -festival- -- renowned as they are in general for dealing out bad sounds left, right and centre. However, some of the intricacies of Deceased's work were lost. This reduced their impact, as of course did the fact that their sound was mushy and ultimately did not have that much power. Second problem was the setlist. Maybe it's just me, but my impression from two times of seeing Deceased is that they don't generally choose to play their best songs. We get "Night of the Deceased", "The Silent Creature" and "Fearless Undead Machines" itself from Deceased's 1997 album [CoC #23]; but where is, in my firm opinion the best track on the album, "The Psychic"? Similarly, we get "The Premonition" from last year's _Supernatural Addiction_ [CoC #47], but where is album stand-out "A Very Familiar Stranger"? Similarly, why is there nothing from their short-song-laden, brilliant 1992 EP _The 13 Frightened Souls_ [CoC #48]? Only the new Deceased EP, _Behind the Mourner's Veil_, is well represented; we are treated to "The Mausoleum", its standout. I understand that this may all seem a bit of a subjective matter, this quibbling about a mere setlist, but it has frustrated me twice now because -- much as I have enjoyed watching Deceased -- I have had this itch both times of imagining how much -more- I could be enjoying their performance if only they'd represent their recorded work better, as I see it. Still, they played a fine first European performance, pulling out not only their old favourite cover of "Voivod" (recorded for _T13FS_), but also a surprise "Tormentor" (yes, the one by Kreator) as a closer. Before they got to their closing song, Deceased proudly and plainly pledged their metal allegiance: "Deceased are proud sponsors of heavy power metal. We love denim, we love leather, we love beer... we love sluts", said a here-paraphrased King Fowley. Deceased weren't just talking big about being on the same level as their fans, either; at the end of their set, King Fowley tossed multiple copies of their new EP into the crowd.

While I waited for Soilwork's set on the Party stage, I caught glimpses of Carnal Forge on the left Main stage where Deceased had been. A mushy sound and essentially rather boring super-thrash songs didn't spark my interest, although I did laugh when the singer introduced "Covered With Fire (I Am Hell)" in his lilting Swedish accent.

Soilwork's sound was bad to begin with, and it was during their set that I first noted the sound clash between the Party and Main stages, which plagued many bands over the festival's duration. However, shoulder-to-shoulder axe-work from the two guitarists and the audience's impressive response helped to alleviate the pangs of irritation that came whenever the band stopped play, and another band could be heard. It seemed to be Soilwork's first time using wireless guitars, as bald my-left guitarist managed enough ecstatic rock-star antics to prompt Soilwork's vocalist to bring him to attention before one song by saying: "Hello Yngwie? Mr. Malmsteen? Could we play the song?" The singer himself managed to create some, possibly unwitting, comedy. He introduced "Neurotica Rampage" thus: "This song is about a bitch... a real nasty one". As the assembled audience joined voices to sing the band's final number, it was obvious that they had indeed also been "ready for some Soilworking".

Lacuna Coil were a convincing, physical live act over on the Main stage. They didn't quite equal their performance at London's Metal Odyssey to my mind, but seemed good all the same, and less biased in focus towards lead female singer Cristina Scabbia. However, they weren't any more a band I was that interested in listening for an extended period of time; so I left, and returned to the right-side Main stage for Napalm Death.

The sound for their set was very poor -- and not helped by the wind, which constantly changed direction during their set. This basically meant that although they played many of the numbers off _Enemy of the Music Business_ [CoC #50] that I'd been -dying- to hear live ("Taste the Poison", "Next on the List", "Volume of Neglect", "Necessary Evil"), they weren't really that captivating. Only their cover of Raw Power's "Politicians" came off well, though the DK's "Nazi Punks Fuck Off!" fared decently. Ultimately, I wasn't that bothered that they failed to play anything from _Fear, Emptiness, Despair_; I wouldn't have wanted to hear it with this sound.

Later, I hear the sound of drums from the right-side Main stage. "Is that "Painkiller"?", I wonder. No, it's Primal Fear. AAAAAH, time to run screaming from Ralph Scheepers, Mat Sinner, and their hordes of Teutonic morons. The second-worst true=shit metal band performance of the weekend.

While Primal Fear continued to wank away at ripping off 'Priest, the Party stage next played host to the antidote to the case of "Napalm Death sounded shite, I want my grindcore!" that I had contracted: Sweden's Nasum. "Do you like power metal?" asked guitarist/vocalist Mieszko A. Talarczyk. "This is an anti-power metal song", he followed on before anyone had a chance to answer. Isn't every Nasum song an anti-power metal song? Certainly yes, but evidently as the set continued Mieszko realised that he wasn't so much competing with Primal Fear, as giving a large gathering of people who enjoyed his music a break from the noise of it. "I love all you PM fans", he later commented after Nasum had reeled through "Mass Hypnosis", "Shadows", "Corrosion", "The Professional League", a selection of old material from a soon-to-be-released 2CD compilation cataloguing the band's early years, and a rendition of "The Masked Face" with Shane Embury playing bass. "Sir Shane Embury" was how Jesper Liverod introduced the gigantic bassist, and he left the stage with the title of "The king, the legend". Barney had similarly given props to Nasum during Napalm's set earlier on. Nasum totally kicked ass, they were one of the best bands at Wacken. A crisp sound, a menacingly tense and spastically physical performance, and some of the finest grindcore ever written leaves you with one hell of a blasting din, and a shit-eating grin!

It seems that metal posturing can -- sort of -- work. That is, if you have a long history behind you and put your tongue substantially in your cheek mid-posture, as Exciter did. The likes of "Stand Up and Fight", "Rule With an Iron Fist", "Pounding Metal" (with its chorus of "Poun-ding me-tal") speak for themselves, I think. The guitarist's ludicrous solo (think the bit of Spinal Tap when Nigel Tufnel comments "My solos are my trademark") seemed the crowning glory of silliness, but no! There was still "Long Live the Loud", and then there was a pause. "Last year it was the one hundredth anniversary of the death of one of your greatest thinkers", begins Exciter's singer as my mind goes "Oh no, not another horribly crude Nietzche reference from a heavy metal band!". "Friedrich Nietzche" was indeed the bald-headed squealer's next words, and he went on to "explain" that Nietzsche "had something called the "will to power"" and metal expresses power, and if you express power, you should do it with "VIOLENCE! AND FORCE!". Dumb but very entertaining, head-nod worthy fun.

Kamelot sucked from a distance. I dared not go any nearer and find out if they sucked from close up too.

It was embarrassing to hear Paul DiAnno trot out old 'Maiden song after old 'Maiden song with his "Killers" -- yes, that's really the backing band's name! I laughed as he tried to get crowd to guess what song he was about to sing. "Phantom of the...!" he declaimed. I didn't hear the audience, but just pissed myself when the next words from the stage were "Phantom of the fucking what!?". He took pictures of his audience "being metal" at him; DiAnno is obviously aware that it may be a long time -- like maybe till the afterlife... -- before he sees an audience this size again. It was sad to watch, but I can't knock the guy for enjoying it while it lasts, I guess. Still, twenty years flogging one dead horse is always going to end you up with an ungodly mess, isn't it?

Serious, real, traditional metal finally came my way when Nevermore took the right-side Main stage. They'd taken a while to come on and in true German fashion chants of Nevermore began, died away, were replaced by chants of Slayer, and silence then prevailed until Nevermore's apocalyptic intro began. As the band took the stage, I could hardly see them for all the devil-horned hands raised in their salute. This was gonna be good. Compared to the UK, where they played their first show in May, Nevermore have a large and loyal following here in Germany; that they're on after Primal Fear speaks volumes about how much they obviously sell or draw, and it also gives me hope that Germany has the ability to temper its well-documented enthusiasm for metal with a pleasing degree of good taste. For Nevermore are modern-metal-from-traditional-roots of the highest order. And they had Wacken's crowd in the every palm of their hands. "Narcosynthesis", "Inside Four Walls" and "Ophidian" had made the first assault when Warrel Dane commented that we'd "all know this one..." before the band plucked the first acoustic notes of "The Heart Collector". Everyone knew it so well that, shouting, I felt like I wasn't even making a sound as I attempted to "sing" the chorus and most of the rest of the song -- as did the majority of the rest of the crowd. As "The River Dragon Has Come" opened, I caught a snapshot of the band on stage which could have been framed and given the by-line "ready to strike", such was Nevermore's poise. Only "White Rabbit", the (supposedly worst) track from Sanctuary's album _Refugee Denied_, marred their set. As Nevermore finished up with "The Seven Tongues of God" and "The Sound of Silence", I couldn't help but wonder when I might see them live again. I hoped it would be soon.

Maybe I'm just being a bastard cynic here, but I don't think Overkill -- next on the Main stage, left-side -- could pull 500 people if they came to the UK. However, in Germany they are welcomed like veterans returning home victorious from a bloody war -- and in a sense, they are, though the "army" was the Eighties thrash scene, and the war was the Nineties. Daniel is a living-proof explanation of how Overkill have stayed alive over all those years. He has been to see them on pretty much every tour they have done since 1985, when he bought the "Feel the Fire" T-shirt he wears at Wacken the day after; today it's Holy Terror who adorn his chest. Judging by the audience, Daniel isn't the only one who has taken pains not to miss Overkill over the years. Before the band began, Matthias was saying they sucked, but once the band were turning out spectacularly tight performances of "Deny the Cross" and "Evil Never Dies" with a powerful production behind them, he was banging his head just like all the other maniacs. Someone in front of me had a T-shirt of a festival which featured Destruction called "thrash metal evolution". Judging by the overwhelming response to Overkill, such a statement is oxymoronic to the Germans. "Welcome to the Gutter" and "In Union We Stand" were just some of the tunes that continued Overkill's charge before they capped off their set with "Fuck You!". Within the song they managed to smoothly flip into "War Pigs" for its first verse -- which had us all singing along -- and flip back into their own song to quickly cap it off with one final blast of the defiant chorus of "We don't care what you say... fuck you!" As Overkill left, Matthias commented that "Overkill with a good sound only playing songs off their first four albums would beat just about any other band live". Overkill put on a performance so powerful that I think it would have converted even the most cynical, self-loathing, self-pitying nu-metal fan to their thrash metal cause.

If a band can't be good, then it's at least relieving that watching them -- or being near the stage they are playing on even if you choose to read the Nuclear Blast catalogue rather than -actually- watch them -- is entertaining. And it doesn't get much more laugh-at-them-not-with-them than Mortician. Every song was called something along the lines of "urgh urgher urgh urrrgh ur!", most were preceded by samples, and nearly every one of the over-twenty numbers was dedicated to a different person or group of people, such as "Everyone in the "House By the Cemetary" shirts" or "The guy who just threw the banner on stage". Musically atrociously boring, but a great laugh was had nearly every minute nonetheless.

If Matthias was translating properly, Desaster claimed: "We are not like normal people because we have metal running through our veins". This was their spiel to open the unexciting, repetitive rendition of a song called "Metalised Blood", which closed their set. Matthias and I both marvelled that the band hadn't brought their garage with them, such was our surprise that they had ever left it in the first place.

But thrash was not to go out on a bad note for Friday because of Desaster; The Haunted were next up on the Party stage. The sound they got could have cut through steel were it turned into a physical force -- and I'm sure many in the audience were wishing like myself and Matthias that it would run off and slaughter Saxon so that they'd SHUT UP! The band were tighter than the proverbial duck's arse, and fully belted out the likes of "Undead", "Hate Song", "Chasm" and "In Vein" with such a fury that I imagine even Saxon's audience were nodding their heads to The Haunted's furious beat. "Are there any ladies in the house?" asked Marco Aro about halfway through the band's set. "Also some transsexuals too, it seems", he added after the audience had responded. He later added "Oh man, I'm too fat for this shit" to his humorous utterances of the evening after the band had whipped their way through something particularly devastating. Nothing from the weekend at Wacken has burned a mental image into my brain quite as profoundly as Jensen, his laid flat on his knee, thrashing with visual aggression.

The Haunted should have proved the proverbial kiss of death for returning German thrashers Exumer -- playing the second of three "one-off" reunion shows -- but somehow the band managed to pull off a performance that was not only powerful, but did them justice. It wasn't surprising to see a crowd gathered for the band despite their fourteen-year absence from the metal scene; on Friday morning, Matthias was offered 200 DM (about $100 US) for his 1987 _Possessed By Fire_ tour shirt. Having been in practice, the band were suitably tight as they reeled off the likes of "A Mortal in Black" from their debut album and "Winds of Death" from their second _Rising From the Sea_ effort. Unfortunately, the band chose to reduce the amount of original material they would play by including a cover of Black Sabbath's "Symptom of the Universe". It was competently executed and sounded heavy, but it didn't possess the impact that a live cover needs, in my opinion, to justify its inclusion over an original number. However, worse was that Exumer wasted a good few minutes of our time with a "new" song they'd written -- or was it a "nu" song they'd written? It began with the worst Korn-a-like two-note riff I've heard since I used it five years ago in a Korn rip-off song I helped write for the only band I've ever been in. I was sixteen and had just got into Korn and Sepultura's _Roots_, okay! Yeah, it was the one that goes "dun-da, dun-da, dun-da, dun-da, dun-da-dun-da"! Apart from that embarrassment, Exumer were very worth watching. The band may have been plain-clothed apart from vocalist Mem Von Stein's Death Angel T-shirt, but they were not lacking in metal spirit. Mem spiced up proceedings very nicely by rushing around the stage throwing karate kicks and punches in time to the music -- looking for all the world like Tekken character Martial Law brought to life -- which made up for the rest of the band's almost entirely static stance.


As the light of 11 in the AM struck the right-side Main stage and I waited for Cryptospy to play, I noticed the large Wacken skull placed in-between the two stages was charred and burnt from the night before's proceedings. A pity it had mostly burned for bands who didn't deserve the spectacle. I wished they'd light it for Cryptopsy; damn the fact that it's not even dark: this was to be Mike DiSalvo's final performance with the band. I caught a little bit of Warhammer's set, which came before Cryptopsy on the left-side Main stage, but apart from the amusement of them introducing "Shadow of the Incapitator" -- a song naturally not exceeding the velocity of anything on Hellhammer's _Apocalyptic Raids_ -- as "this is as fast as we go...", they did nothing for me.

Cryptopsy, on the other hand, did marvellous things for me despite the fact that their performance was, by their standards, merely above average. The flaws were the sound quality as it stood, the fact that the show was outdoors, and the fact that the band -- playing on other people's amps and with a muddy sound -- lost timing for a brief few seconds. Basically, Cryptopsy were technically perfect by just about anyone else's standards, and though they could have sounded better, were nonetheless extreme as hell! Mike DiSalvo turned in a damn fine performance for his (unannounced at the show itself) epitaph. "Are you awake?", he asked the crowd after "...And Then It Passes" had, ahem, -passed-. "Well, you will be after this fucking set!" And I doubt anyone could have proved him wrong on that one. "We Bleed", "Defenestration", "Cold Hate, Warm Blood", "Slit Your Guts", "Shroud", "Emaciate", "Phobophile" and "Screams Go Unheard" composed the rest of the set. That sums it up: it was Cryptopsy, they may not have been at their finest, but they were Cryptopsy.

Germans Brainstorm seemed to be doing OK with the power-thrash thrust of one of their songs, but then the -- I don't know, -eighth- -- Halford-clone of the weekend began singing. It almost worked for one song, but then the band started playing a lame-ass ballady number. Ugh!

Judging by their performance on the right-side Main stage, Dark Tranquillity are suffering from the belief that they are rock stars. I can't say I care much for Dark Tranquillity's post-_The Mind's I_ material, but it did sound reasonable live. However, unfortunately that's because it's pretty damn simple to play. "Punish My Heaven", on the other hand, is not easy to play, and Dark Tranquillity executed it sloppily, like they couldn't be bothered to put in the practice and would rather spend their time on stage posing-out with their well-trimmed haircuts than take some pride in playing their material as it was originally intended. "Wacken should be every day, right?" Maybe, Mikael, but I wouldn't book you at it every day except to keep you and your band practicing your instruments and training your voice.

A more shocking disappointment were Krisiun. I had been close to praying that Krisiun were good since 1) my confidence in them had been shaken by my having listened to _Ageless Venemous_ -- a cum-rag of a death metal album -- and 2) they were the only band I was really interested in seeing before Opeth, who were on at 10:30pm! They went on about "real fucking metal", making a "united stand for metal" and how they were "the warriors of real metal", but unfortunately turned in a very lacklustre performance. I don't doubt that Krisiun's hearts are forged of pure steel, but unfortunately having a steel heart doesn't change shit when you're playing songs as generally uninventive and unnecessarily repetitive as "Perpetuation", "Dawn of Flagellation" and "Evil Gods Evoke". A sound which mostly brought out only the sound of Max Kolesne's bass drums did not help matters; even songs I liked from _Conquerors of Armageddon_ [CoC #47], like its title track, "Soul Devourer" and "Hatred Inherit", didn't really light my fire because of the bad sound mix. Max also tried to impress us with a drum solo towards the end of the set: Flo Mounier's drum check was better -and- got a greater round of applause. It became plainly obvious very quickly during this performance that Krisiun desperately need to engage their creative side and come up with some new ideas for song constructions. The band are, in the bare technical sense, extremely good at playing their instruments, but their abilities are presently utilised blindly. Playing the drums -really- fast or playing loads of -really- fast trills on the guitar is not interesting; though we might be impressed that Krisiun can play their instruments in such a way, I doubt many of us care to listen to them do it more than once -- and that means for one song! "Whatever happen, real metal never fucking dies" [sic] says Alex Carmago near the close of the band's set. That may be so, Alex, but don't sit on your laurels and let interesting metal die: you are definitely capable of much better than repetitions on one theme. At present, Krisiun's four albums could be condensed into one thirty or forty minute document and include everything worth hearing of their material; it would only include material from _Black Force Domain_ and _Conquerors of Armageddon_.

Not long after I'd been disappointed by Krisiun, I heard the announcement that Annihilator had been held up on the highway and would not make their 4pm slot. However, we were told that: "Annihilator will play, maybe tonight...". Helpful. Apparently they did play. I missed it. I'll live.

Upon finding not Arch Enemy but Naglfar about to take the Wet stage in the boiling tent where it's situated, Matthias and I decided it wasn't worth staying.

We caught snippets of German Skyclad-ish band Subway to Sally on our trips from beer-tent to food-tent to metal market in this point of the day. I was very glad I didn't understand most of the lyrics; Matthias translated one particularly crap line which came whistling to us on the wind: "Master, master: put roses on my white skin!" I say, for the second time in this piece, ugh!

Never have I seen a bigger beergut that the one the hung from the body of Tankard's singer as he waddled the Party stage singing refrains like "Fear of Tattoos". Admittedly, earlier material sounded marginally better, but this still was definitely not for me. I left while that gut was still covered by a beer-soaked T-shirt -- I made sure my back was turned before he could go topless; I have no interest in looking at men's breasts.

There was a huge gathering for In Flames' set -- some of their followers were even crowd-surfing with tinfoil swords! -- and a good thing it was that there was too, for them, since they were filming the show for a DVD release. Having already sold out their live album at the festival, it was no surprise that In Flames were so warmly welcomed, but it was pleasing that the band delivered such a solid set. A great sound in terms of clarity lacked only in punch as the band reeled off "Food For the Gods", "Behind Space 1999" and more of their ilk, including "Artifacts of the Black Rain", a track that -- according to Anders Friden -- had not been included in the live set for some time before the show. Of course there was no "Everdying" or "Stand Ablaze", but no-one expected there to be, and however much In Flames' present direction seems disappointingly under the par of their first two releases to me and some others, it's undeniable that to many more they have become one of the most worship-worthy metal bands on the planet. And they got my head nodding many a time, especially when they played "Only For the Weak".

Seeing Opeth on the Party stage was a truly moving experience, despite the constant interruptions from HammerFall -- Matthias and I took a look at them after Opeth's set. Rarely had either of us witnessed such lameness: I would rather watch a three-hour Mortician performance than sit through one hour of HammerFall; at least the former would send me to sleep instead of just frustrating me until I curled up into a little ball and expired. Daniel's description of them as "Manowar featuring Yngwie Malmsteen" is pretty apt, and scary just to think of. So forget Hammerfall, and think of Opeth. Halfway through their four song -- remember, it's ten minutes a song... -- set, Mikael Akerfeldt looked with disdain at the Main stage and seemed to be trying to do the same. Yet he did not seem bitter that Opeth's wondrous music-making was marred by wailing and wanking at mammoth volume. He thanked the audience humbly for their increasingly positive responses as the band played through "White Cluster", "The Drapery Falls" and "Advent". Then there was a pause. We all knew that realistically one more song was all Opeth were going to play. But what would they play? "We've got one more song for you", began Mikael "and it's the obvious closing song for this Wacken set..." Most of us had guessed it was going to be "Demon of the Fall", but yet the confirmation was comforting. The song itself was masterfully executed, and the applause Opeth got was greater than any other band I remember. They deserved every clap, and I await seeing them again eagerly.

I also saw Motorhead. Basically, apart from having the Bomber lighting rig -- which dove down, steered from side to side and moved in a few other ways -- at this show, Motorhead's London Forum show back in May was much better. The band tour Germany constantly, and have for years. The Bomber has been on a good number of tours with them in Germany. No-one was that bothered about Motorhead, and the atmosphere of apathy even rubbed off on Lemmy and his motley crue who seemed noticeably deflated compared to their exuberance when they performed in London. Also, Motorhead are not an outdoor band. So basically, I stood on my feet for an hour and twenty minutes to hear "Killed by Death" and watch a huge lighting rig go up, down, left and right. It was more-or-less worth it, but it was no great hell as Motorhead performances go.

(article submitted 12/8/2001)

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