Review: W:O:A – Wacken Open Air 2007

Text: Joana Santos

Wacken was 18 years this year and pretty much sold out since around mid-July. For this reason, instead of going on Thursday as had happened on the previous years, this time we (me and the group) decided to go a day earlier to try avoiding much mess – the outcome was not as expected!… The distance between Itzhoe and Wacken, which one would normally cover in maybe 15 minutes or less, took something like 7 hours! Gladly it was sunny… We heard that loads of people had already started to arrive since Monday. The organisation was definitely not ready to deal with that amount of people – very positively, the problem seemed to be solved on Sunday morning, by diverting people through several different exists and accesses to the highway.

Wednesday night, without concerts, was pretty much used to meet friends and drink a couple of beers. It was also movie night on the soccer field, but I did not go there.

Thursday

A Night to Remember started on Thursday by 17:00 as always, with Blitzkried and then Rose Tattoo. I did not pay much attention to these two concerts, but did see for the first time the video the Wacken organisation had recorded to show to people how the last week had been on the ground – very, very difficult! The festival was on the verge of being cancelled, due to the incredible amount of water and mud, both on the festival and camping areas. A lot of investment and effort were put on this, being the greatest example the helicopter that had been flying with low altitude over the fields to try draining the water. Straw covered almost the whole ground in the festival area and in front of the stages there were also chips of wood. I did, unfortunately, while checking out the site, get stuck on mud till the knees (bad memories of 2005), but that only happened that one time; the ground was not the best, but it worked.

For the first time on a Thursday, the Black Stage was not the only one where concerts were rolling: the Party Stage, re-baptised Hellfest Stage for the night, was also active during the same time as the main one (meaning until midnight). However, I did not check any bands there.

The ‘old’ German trash metal band Sodom would be the first getting my attention. Rather heavier than the previous two, they played material from several stages of their career, reaching back to the very beginning (1984, if we consider the In the Sign of Evil EP). During about one hour and 45 minutes, Sodom mingled old songs with new ones, playing pieces such as Axis of Evil (06), Christ Passion (87, which sounded like black metal), Tarred and Feathered and another song from the Better Off Dead Album (90) featuring the then guitarist Michael Hoffman – the main feature of this concert was the guests of the band, mainly former guitarist members –, Napalm in the Morning (01), Sodomy & Lust (87) and Outbreak of Evil. During Sodomy, one of the guitarists held a big camera and started filming the crowd. The concert was quite good, but I have to criticise the fact that the front man, Tom Angelripper (Onkel Tom), only spoke in German to a international crowd (Wacken is known for its diversity); he was not the only one doing so, which I consider somehow disrespectful. I know they are German and that they’re home, but…

The headliners for the night, Saxon, are also a considerably old band, formed in the end of the seventies, who play something between heavy metal and hard rock. Their show was really good! The light effects were great, at a point a huge grand screen appeared on the back complementing the music and the guys, leaded by Peter „Biff“ Byford, are still full of energy. I think (not sure) they started with Heavy Metal Thunder (80), great entrance with the lights and smoke. “It is good to be back”, Biff Byford said. Let Me Feel Your Power (07), which is suppose to be about Wacken, featured on their latest effort, The Inner Sanctum, was full of pyro from start to finish. Byford stated that Wacken is the “craziest heavy metal festival in the world” and kept calling the audience ‘you crazy bastards’. The rest of the set list was more or less the following (one or two songs might be missing): Dogs of War (95), 747 (Strangers in the Night, 80) with Tobias Sammet (Edguy, Avantasia) as special guest – sounded quite well! Byford introduced it as a song that Tobi had probably never heard before, because he was too young; To Hell and Back Again (80) with the drummer having his opportunity to shine, Motorcycle Man (80, not sure though), Red Star Falling (07) about the fall of Communism, Witchfinder General (04), Solid Ball of Rock (91), Princess of the Night (81) during which the band recorded a podcast (that can already be seen on their website) with those thousands and thousands of people singing. They also sang I’ve Got to Rock (To Stay Alive) and a few more songs. Byford said that it had been the loudest they had ever been on stage – Wacken, it is very loud indeed!

Friday

Everyone that camps at Wacken is used to hear people calling out loud very typical things, such as ‘Helga’ or ‘Timmy’ or whatever. This year there was something entirely new: I guess people liked the Simpsons movie or trailer so much, that they completely adopted the saying ‘Spiderpig/Spiderschwein’ – it was all over, even during concerts. Crazy people…

So, 11 in the morning, loads of metalheads were already up, ready to party and Suidakra kicks off at the Black Stage. A bonus of this concert was that their friend Alex, in charge of bagpipes, would be making a special appearance. As the band started playing, it started to rain a bit, but it went away fast. After a song that I did not recognise, I think they played Gates of Nevermore (00), which had a very nice intro with guitar and the bagpipes. Forth Clide (06) followed, then Pendagrons Fall (02), The One Piece Puzzle (00), the instrumental Dead Man’s Reel (05), when they got everyone screaming ‘Hey’, first with the drums and then with the bagpipe. The next song might have been The IXth Legion and they closed their 45 minute set list with Wartunes, by the end of which they actually had the sound cut off. The guitarist Marcel did clean vocals and though is voice is quite nice, sometimes he was a bit out of tune.

Wacken, Rain or Shine is the motto; this year there was fire as well! While people were getting ready for Amorphis, we started seeing and breathing some smoke. Some cigarette, whatever you want to call it… irresponsibility! Members of the organisation came on stage and started talking to people, tell them to move to the area of the Black Stage, so that the firemen could do their job. The organisation guy did talk a lot in German though… After this, change of plans: Amorphis were postponed; Napalm Death started playing 25 minutes earlier and after Amorphis and Therion played in a row, followed by Possessed with no break.

The guys from Birmingham, Napalm Death (already on their 26 anniversary) played their aggressive tunes in front of an audience ready to party and mosh. Also trying to please everyone, they played (amongst others) Suffer the Children (89), Silence is Deafening (05), Scum (87), Persona non Grata (06) and Nazi Punks Fuck Off (93, originally from the Dead Kennedys).

I was a lot more curious about Amorphis, for I had never seen them and the whole fire situation had made me fear that they would be cancelled. It was, in fact, great and amazing that the organisation managed to pull it off and that by 15h00 all was back on track and punctual. Tomi Joutsen (vocals) sounds impressive on the records, being able to make lovely clean vocals and right after scream and growl his lungs out. He was not disappointing at all – great vocalist! They started with Leaves Scar (06), then The Smoke (06) while the sound was not so good and there was some feedback, Against Widows from the classic Elegy (96), In the Beginning (94), Signs from the North Side (93) from their first album, Alone (01) with the saxophone missing, the classic My Kantele (96), House of Sleep (06) and, finally, Black Winter Day (94). Their music was, of course, completely different than Napalm, but I guess that is the beauty of Wacken. They finished playing at 13h57.

Afterwards, the Therion guys helped setting their stuff up (as they always do – one of the few bands that I see having that behaviour). For the band and the fans, the particularity of this show was that it was the first time Thomas Vikström (formerly featured in Candlemass and Stormwind works) joined the line-up, also constituted by other three vocalists, after Mats Léven ended is collaboration with the band a few months ago. Having seen them live this year, it is easy to make comparisons and one thing was for sure: they all seemed a lot more relaxed. All the singers were at ease, smiling a lot more on stage than what I had previously seen. Very nice set list, starting of with the Rise of Sodom and Gomorrah (98), Schwarzalbenheim (01) with Lori Lewis very comfortable and flawless (as she was during the whole concert – brilliant!), Blood of Kingu (04), with Vikström having the opportunity to show for the first time the tricks in his sleeves and they are good ones! Then the great Wine of Aluqah (98), Son of the Staves of Time (07), another test for Thomas, seeing that Léven was not only responsible for recording the original, but also composed the music – he passed the test and his tone is actually quite similar to Léven, but I still prefer the original, though it is all a matter of time. Snowy Shaw, a very particular and strong presence on stage, got people saying “Kaun” as the opening of the bombastic Muspelheim (01), then took the lead with Tuna 1613 (07), with the concert having a slower moment with Lemuria (04) – here there were also some changes, seeing that Shaw covered the chorus that was normally sung by Léven. The closing songs were Ginnungagap (01), the classic To Mega Therion (96) and the Cults of the Shadow (96). Great concert, one of my favourites. I think they played ca. 50 minutes.

This year, instead of trying to see a bit of everything, I decided to focus on specific concerts and get some rest in between. For that reason, the next band for me would be Lacuna Coil at 20h00 on the Black Stage. Had not seen them with Karmacode (06) live yet; the songs work pretty well. They actually centred their performance on the album, adding some older songs. Everyone knows Lacuna Coil these days, they have become quite big; as a result, the audience was extensive. I admit I tend to mess up the first three songs of Karmacode all the time, but I think I got them on the right order here. Set list: after an intro, they started with To the Edge, followed by Fragments of Faith, Swamped (02), In Visible Light, Fragile with those thousands of people really adhering to the concert, Closer with Andrea’s voice sounding not so good, Senzafine (01) – one of my favourites –, What I See, the great Depeche Mode cover Enjoy the Silence and, to end, Heaven’s a Lie (02) and Our Truth, the first single from their latest. Christina did a good job, but I could not understand why they finished 10 minutes earlier. Don’t know if it was the organisation or the band’s decision, but it is not right to finish a concert earlier, especially not in Wacken!

After, it was time for Blind Guardian, one of those bands that for a long time I know exists, but that I had never paid attention. They started playing about 7 minutes earlier, around 21h08, with Into the Storm (98). Born in a Mourning Hall (95) followed and during Nightfall (98) the big screen (that had already been present during Saxon the night before) came up, adding some nice effects to the whole stage presence. The set list proceeded with The Script For My Requiem (95) and later, after a couple of songs that I did not track, Welcome to Dying (90) – for me, standing by the tower in front of the Black Stage, things started to get a bit confusing, because I (and the others around me) could listen to Dimmu’s sound check -, then I think (not sure) The Morning Sun of Dune (90), The Bard’s Song – In the Forest (92), Time Stands Still (At the Iron Hill) (98), after which they left the stage for about a minute. They came back for the final part of the concert playing Imaginations From the Other Side (95) with a very nice rhythm, Punishment Divine (02), Lord of the Rings (90), This Will Never End (06) and finishing with Mirror Mirror (98). I was positively surprised with Hansi Kürsch varied vocal abilities, easily shifting from clean, to growls, scream and so on. They had a very large legion of fans there and it was a good concert.

Now, the one I had really awaited for: Dimmu Borgir. After giving up on being in the front middle, I eventually decided to go to the left side, where things were ‘calmer’ but where the sound was a bit funny on the first couple of songs. Brilliant set list, they started with a little intro, followed by Progenies of the Great Apocalypse (03) and Vredesbyrd (03) with no break, then introduced themselves saying “For those of you who don’t know, we are Dimmu Borgir from Norway” – I wonder how many people there did not know that. They continued with Cataclym Children (03), Kings of the Carnival Creation (01) where Vortex had the opportunity to show his (in my opinion) great clean vocals, the new version of Sorgens Kammer – Del II (05) from the re-recording of Stormblåst, IndoctriNation (01), A Succubus in Rapture (97), which Shagrath dedicated to all the beautiful girls there that night – I would have had In Death’s Embrace also from the Enthrone Darkness Triumphant album (97) instead, but we can’t have it all. After it was time for the first single of their latest (In Sorte Diaboli), The Serpentine Offering, where Vortex chose to do the low tones, then The Chosen Legacy (07) and that classic The Insight And the Catharsis (99) after which they did a small pause. They return to the stage, thanking the crowd for the support and closed the concert with two titles from the Enthrone album: Spellbound and the amazing Mourning Palace. Very good concert, they are very good technically and those old long songs sound great live.

Finishing this second day, already at 2am of Saturday, Samael played on the Party Stage – unfortunate decision to put them there, for the sound capacity did not match the one of the two main stages (at least during this concert). After an intro, Solar Soul (07), homonymous of their latest effort, took place, followed by Reign of Light (04), during which in some parts I could barely hear Vorph’s voice. On the Rise (07) was next and after the band took a tour through older material, starting with The Cross (99), the mythical Rain (96) and Baphomet’s Throne (94). Another breath of ‘fresh air’ with AVE! (07) and the set list continued with Year Zero (99), Infra Galaxia (99), On Earth (04), Moongate (04) by which there was a horrible feedback, Oriental Dawn (04), Slavocracy (07, the song from their new video) and the strong The Ones Who Came Before from the groundbreaking album Passage (96). The band came back for an encore, closing up the set and the night (at least for me) with My Saviour (96), finishing up at the pre-established time. Some sound problems, a small stage and only one hour available to play, but a good concert.

Saturday

Saturday started (for me) with my countrymen Moonspell – one of my favourite bands for years, so, a bit hard to be impartial. The guys rocked from the start, banging their heads, calling out for the crowd the whole time. After the In Memoriam intro of their last year’s Memorial, they followed the album order with Finisterra and Memento Mori. Blood Tells, also from their latest, came next and then the old classics: Opium (96) and Vampiria (95), songs which the audience demonstrated to know quite well. Their 45 minute set was completed with Everything Invaded (03), the hymn Alma Mater (95) and then Full Moon Madness, a slower song that still maintains its mystic at two o’clock in the afternoon. Fernando Ribeiro (vocals), whose voice was sometimes wavering a bit while singing the clean lower tones, did not leave before thanking the presence of people from several countries individually (I guess he took the guess from the several flags around) and the guys did a lot of bows and smiled, appearing to be very happy with their first ever concert at Wacken. I heard mixed opinions about this concert: some people thought it was great, while others said it was too slow for Wacken. I personally enjoyed it a lot.

Later on, at 17h15, Rage took the lead at the True Metal Stage. I can not give details about this concert, because I do not know their work and I was not paying enough attention, but I can summarise it in two words: great and bombastic! Surely one of the best concert of this year’s Wacken. They were accompanied on stage by the Lingua Mortis Orchestra and the fusion between the two worked great live. I dare to say that the fans probably loved it.

By 19h10, with about 5 minutes delay, Turisas took on the W.E.T. stage. Seeing that back in 2005, after releasing their first album, Battle Metal, the band was playing at the Party Stage, it almost looked like they were being demoted. To be honest, their new album, The Varangian Way, did not convince me; I think it is light years away from their debut. Anyway, the crowd was very enthusiastic and started screaming for them several minutes before they came on stage. The opening song To Holmgard and Beyond (07) sounded pretty well, followed by A Portage to the Unknown. One More was the first song they played from Battle Metal and after In The Court of Jarisleif sounded, in general, just messy, difficult to follow. After they decided to get the public doing some ‘activities’: they divided the audience in half and got the people singing, basically seeing which half was loudest. It was not that bad, but I think they lost too much time with that, seeing that they only had 45 minutes available. They wrapped up with Battle Metal and Miklagard Overture. I am sure a lot of people loved it and had a good time, but I liked the concert in 2005 a lot better.

Getting closer to the end, Type O Negative took the True Metal Stage at 20h15. Their entrance was quite good. Pete Steele appeared with a beard (!), a top hat, sunglasses and his hair hidden on the back. But… the excitement was not long-lived. I think they started with an instrumental, then We Hate Everyone (93), a song I could not identify and Anesthesia (03). The combination of Pete and Kenny’s vocals, with all the screams included, is great. But then the band had a break. The drummer, Johnny, went to fetch a camera and started filming the crowd screaming ‘hey’. They eventually came back and did, what appeared to be, a very boring long jam, while Pete screamed stuff like “bitch”, “I’m sorry, I really didn’t mean it” and “fuck you” an abusively great number of times. Then they had another break. People started to leave the concert, while we could see them chatting on the back through the big screen in the middle of the stages. They came back for a last time and the concert finally seemed to get back on track, with Love You to Death (96), after which Pete stopped the whole thing and said something like “This is so fuckin’ traumatic!” Oh yes, that gig was traumatically disappointing. They continued with Christian Woman (93), some song or whatever it was during which Pete sang something like “You’re trying to find JC? JC is like me” laughing. He was severely drunk or high and at a point started throwing red wine to the camera man close to him. They finally finished that excuse of a concert with the original 11’ version of Little Miss Scare-All (aka Black No. 1) that, for us who were considerably annoyed with the evolution of the concert and who are more used to the popular short version, sounded like a pretext to complete the hour and 15 minutes they had signed for.

One of the most expected concerts took place after 21h45 at the Black Stage: Immortal. I know of people who came from far away just to see them, on their short comeback tour. Having a very technical hard black metal, I never followed their work. So, can only name a few songs of their set list: after an orchestral intro, they started with The Sun No Longer Rises (93) and later played One By One (02), Wrath from Above (00) with some nice pyro effects and Unsilent Storms in the North Abyss (93). The area was full! The singer also spat fire at some point. They left the stage for a bit, leaving some ambience music behind, and come back for a two song encore. The crowd was loving it, screaming, supporting the band all the way through. Abbath said “Thank you very much indeed” and they finished with Blashyrkh (Mighty Ravendark) (95) and a lot of fire effects. Not really my kind of music, but the concert seemed to be very good.

About 23h10 the crowd was already clapping their hands and screaming for In Flames, a band I sometimes make fun of, saying that they turned to Nu Metal. The guys kicked off with Leeches (06) and Anders Fridén (vocals) thanked the crowd for having them and asked everyone to provide them with the best concert ever. He also asked people to “help each other out”, seeing that the mosh pit was apparently being violent. They continued with Crawl Through Knives (06), Dead Alone (04) where Anders voice sounded particularly great and Pinball Map (00). Then Anders took a moment to thank the people who had been on the signing session, saying that they would have stayed longer if they could. He also called attention to the ‘guy with the white t-shirt’ and asked everyone to sing the next song, even the security people. That song was Trigger (02); then Episode 666 (97) and a song from The Jester Race, which they dedicated to Nuclear Blast for its 20th anniversary. The people clapped through the beginning of Colony (99), though Anders’ voice could not be heard at first. The set list continued with System (02), Bottled (04) and Egonomic (02). The pyro effects were quite constant and the huge screen had some brilliant effects as well, complementing the music perfectly. Anders, who while not singing held the micro like a comedian, told the crowd he was a “sucker for power ballads” and that he wanted a “power ballad moment”. So, he asked everyone to get lighters and cell phones out, so the crowd could be the light show for the next song: Come Clarity (homonymous of the last album) – definitely a highlight! They got everyone jumping with Only for the Weak (00), some more nice pyro during Cloud Connected (02) and The Quite Place. Anders took another moment to call to attention that one of the band members, Jesper Strömblad, had had a full day, for he had also been playing earlier with Dimension Zero. They wrapped up the concert with Take This Life (06) and My Sweet Shadow (04), highly complemented with pyro and fireworks. At 00h39 (with 9 minutes extra) they finished what was for me the best concert of this year’s Wacken. Good entertainment, wonderful set list, they are amazing technically speaking… just great!

After such a good and up tempo characterised concert, it was difficult to get into the pace of Haggard. I had been wanting to see them for a long time, but it was not exactly what I expected. Once again, putting such a big band (really big, 17 members or so) in the Party Stage is not the best choice. Their hour set list began with All’ Inizo È la Morte, a sightly different version of Of A Might Divine and then The Observer, all from Eppur Si Muove (04). Then they greeted the audience with a song from their yet to be release (for two times delayed…) Tales of Ithiria album called Prologue, followed by Per Aspera Ad Astra (04), one of my favourites, that did not sound as good and strong as I hoped. Asis (vocals and main character of the band) presented the whole band fast and did a supporting remark to the Wacken people, saying that the festival was “super organisiert”. Eppur Si Muove followed and Asis called for the Italian people present to fulfil the Italian parts (what do you know, there was a group of Italians by me). There was still a considerable amount of people around and it was funny to see that the sopranos also headbanged. They played another song from the new album and completed their set with Awaking the Centuries (00). People called for an encore, but apparently they did not have the right to do one. People continue calling and screaming and a few minutes later Asis came to the front, trying to say that there was no more. Two rows of people did not move away and about ten minutes later Asis came back, now without mic, saying that 20 minutes later, he and the band would come down and they could all talk. I was not there for that. The concert was ok, but it was at a very late hour, after a whole Wacken, so, difficult to enjoy.

I did not stay for Subway to Sally.

Overall, it was a great Wacken, though it was really really crowded. I sincerely hope they do not try to fit any more people in there, because it would just be too ambitious, though it still is the festival were I feel the safest (and I have been to seven different ones in two countries). Next year, Iron Maiden! I will be looking forward for that.