WACKEN XXX BRINGS HEAVY METAL THUNDER
Wacken, Germany. 31st July to 3rd August 2019
Thirty years Faster Harder Louder! It’s hard to believe that this festival started off in the small field behind the main stages where I’m currently sat writing this. It is now a truly massive festival, with such a status that it can sell out before even announcing any bands. The 30th Wacken continues to deliver in the same vein as it always has, offering a wide variety of awesome Metal bands, for fans from the fans and creating an atmosphere around the site which for so many has grown into an annual Metal family gathering.
Words: Nikki Rohlfing
Already on Tuesday evening the campsite party was in full-flow, with the traditional sites where people have set up their own beer garden with all the gimmicks of small garden fences or sofas, and large speakers pounding out the tunes.
Wednesday, and the day kicks off with a visit to the new History Stage, which this year featured next to the Bullhead City Circus tent. This stage is initially exclusive for the annual Metal battle, where the winners of each country come to battle it out to be crowned the winner. With an extended set of thirty minutes this year, the winners of each country battle it out to see who is world champion and the energy, enthusiasm and sheer epic variety of the bands make for an onslaught of Metal.
This year’s winners are Varang Nord from Latvia.
In contrast, the WET and Headbanger stages featured a number of seasoned veterens, starting with Skew Siskin, described in the programme as one of Lemmy’s favourite bands, so it comes as no surprise when the Nina C Alice fronted band pull out Motörhead covers. A great opener for the big tent.
Following Skew Siskin were a catalogue of well known classics: The Damned (43 years on the go), Axxis (30), UFO (50), Sweet (51), Rose Tattoo (43) and Sisters Of Mercy (39) – all still rocking out as if it was still the 20th century, oozing experience and professionalism.
It was hard to distinguish which band the crowd were loudest for on average, but, the one distinct memorable moment was the start of ‘Ballroom Blitz’ by Sweet which got an almighty roar.
Thursday saw the Faster, Harder, Louder stages come into the game, making the choices tough for who to see. Bloodywood are Bollywood meats Heavy Metal! This was a successful chimera of sounds from traditional Bollywood, hip hop and Heavy Metal. I suspect if you delve into the individual influences there was nothing necessarily ground-breaking, but the combination is the real hit here, with the tent going wild for more.
German band Versengold represent a genre within the German market which has been successful over the years. Initially, the sound reminded of In Extremo, although it would be unfair to say they are an immitation as they do clearly have their own sound and style. It doesn’t take long before the words beer, drinking, and more beer have been uttered a number of times, giving a theme to their often catchy folk-esque rock songs. Some of the choruses were still bouncing round heads the following days.
Next up were Testament. Having just flown in to start a tour, and gigging at seemingly 4.00am in the morning (their home time), you might think it might not quite be top draw stuff. It was, with some excellent old-school heavy sounds and a slick performance from another very experienced band.
With a number of the older bands on the Main Stage, a sound was provided which is increasingly lost in the modern world of technological advances, and was therefore definitely a pleasure to listen to.
Airbourne ripped up the Main Stage with their no-nonsense rock’n’roll. It’s eleven years now since their first appearance here, and you feel not a lot has changed, and why should it? Joel was using blue guitar picks instead of green, had slightly longer facial hair perhaps, wireless guitars, and oh, a new guitarist, but you might not have noticed unless looking carefully. They remain the same band, and deliver the goods.
Friday is the day the fest really felt in full swing, with live music running from 10.00am until 3.00am. First on the Louder stage were Jinjer, and wow, what a frontlady. Dressed in a gold onesie, she delivered ferocious Metal growls alongside more traditional vocals, often within seconds of one another.
Following this on the Faster stage were Queensrÿche, who performed a great set – in particular, after all the technically sharp delivery of most bands over the weekend, it was an ‘up to eleven’ moment to hear a band who could match the technicality, but also add a real natural groove to the songs, making the headbanging totally irresistible.
Gloryhammer. The more I think about the name, the more I suspect 16-year-old me would have found it the best band name ever, and it does sum up the band pretty well. Imagine what you think a band called Gloryhammer might look like… got it?… exactly, various fantasy themed costumes with alternate egos and songs about unicorns, right. There is still a clear market for these fun Metal bands, as the crowd of inflatable sword and unicorn waving fans prove. A crowdsurfer was even seen in a unicorn onesie! Although the music might not have blown you away, there is no doubt there was some serious fun here and the kind of band who go down well at festivals.
Later Anthrax took to the stage, as always a professional unit oozing confidence and knowing exactly how to interact with a crowd of that size, creating excellent atmosphere. The other thing which stood out was the sound, which although really heavy, managed to also maintain clarity, which can get lost at these major events as the sound booms over the fields, so well done to the crew on this as well for delivering.
Antrax also had, for the first time at Wacken, an interpreter on stage, who was signing the songs live for anyone who is hearing impaired. This happened with a number of bands on several stages over the weekend, although it was Joey who naturally engaged and rocked out with her the most as if she was part of the band. This might be a good time to point out how impressive the increased provision for people with particular needs was; not only were a number of bands accompanied with a sign language interpreter, but the wheelchair facilities were improved. I’ve ever seen so many wheelchair users at a festival, and especially not users also doing a wheelchair moshpit.
Later in the evening, Demons & Wizards took to the stage on their Wacken debut with the distinctive voice of Hansi Kursch majestically singing over well written melodies, with some very lush guitar solos ripping up the airwaves. This was a band who are not only very able, but were genuinely relaxed and enjoying themselves, soaking up the Wacken atmosphere.
Last, but not least, were D-A-D and their truly unique style. This band repeatedly do things their own way, most famously perhaps the bass guitars, which are all custom made with only two strings and come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, such as a rocket, or an iPhone with a working screen which leads to all sorts of fun, or the new one – an olive on a stick look. Conjuring up images from the cover of their ‘Riskin’ It All’ album, the drum-kit was raised on a massive sofa, covered in a pretty D-A-D pattern, which wouldn’t look out of place in your Granny’s living room were it not for the skulls).
And, obviously, at the end of the drum solo the last hit triggered the drums to go up in flames. Thankfully a second one was ready to provide the encore with the classics: ‘Sleeping My Day Away’ and ‘It’s After Dark’.
Saturday: still trying to digest the sheer volume of quality Metal from the day before, it was tough to get out and see all the bands. Nevertheless, I Uriah Heep should not have been passed without a look, and they were well worth it. Yet another band who just ooze confidence and know how to pull off a show, and the stage performance defies the boys’ ages. Mick Box’s guitars also get the vote for tastiest looking axes of the weekend; just gorgeous.
Before going to the festival, a good friend strongly recommended I see Parkway Drive, and although I can still say it’s probably not my preferred style of music, they have nevertheless gained my full appreciation for the mesmerizingly atmospheric show, even if Jia O’Connor was wheelchair bound for the entire set.
With a live violinist and cellist and some great light work, there was never a dull moment, and I can now thoroughly recommend seeing them live.
Given the tragic events of recent years with storms at music festivals, the organisers were naturally on high alert as storm clouds circled during the festival; twice, everything was put on hold and everyone told to seek shelter as lightning flashed in the distance.
Thankfully, each time Wacken was only on the edge of the storms in the end, but, you might think that was obvious, as we knew we had to wait til Saturday evening before we got any Heavy Metal thunder. Saxon, who share key anniversary years with Wacken, are now 40-years-old, and celebrated in true Saxon style with the flying eagle, Marshall walls and raised platform all along the back of the stage.
When you have such a back-catalogue as Saxon do, the whole ninety minute set is nothing but stonking classics. They rocked thunderously through the night and saturated the sky with pure Metal.
And that was Wacken’s 30th birthday, and what a time it was! It still has a vibe and atmosphere I’m not sure I’ve ever feel at other festivals, with the annual pilgrimage a consistent routine. I look forward to next year – maybe see you there, rain or shine!