Wacken 2014 Review

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1. Prelude

Although experiences vary, I can definitely recommend the use of the buses provided by eventtrip.eu. They take you safe and sound to the festival you’re attending and save you the pain of dealing with the overflowing trains and buses that make up the public transportation around the festival area. The price is also very reasonable, and much cheaper than doing the trip on your own.

Of course, we stop several times on the way, allowing us to stretch our legs, make some small talk and breath some fresh air. Occasionally we stop at highway restaurants and truck stops, where I just seem to confirm my suspicions about Germans being really fucking weird, and I say this as a person of German descent. They somehow saw it fit to sell alcohol at highway stores; you know, the stores where the only clients there are driving. This, of course, coupled with the fact that their highways don’t have speed limits seem to be a recipe for disaster… and yet, they seem to be doing OK.

2. Wacken

             Few places can call themselves a “Holy land”. Despite the obvious tongue-in-cheek of those who use this moniker to refer to WOA, I believe that it is well deserved. After 25 years, WOA has definitely become the most important metal festival in the world; testament to this is the fact that, for several years now, tickets have sold out months in advance (lately, only days after they go on sale) even without any headliner being announced, and despite having always stayed clear of “mainstream” acts like Limp Bizkit, Slipknot, Korn or any of the pieces of shit that tend to adorn the competing Graspop festival. There are very good reasons for this success; WOA tends to have the most important metal bands, a great atmosphere and an enviable location in a town that has truly embraced its presence, making you feel like you arrived to a devilish version of Disneyland.

Although the 25th anniversary of WOA promised to be something for the history books, I was not particularly captivated by the lineup. Don’t get me wrong, a lineup featuring Motörhead, Megadeth, Avantasia, Slayer, Arch Enemy, Kreator and Hammerfall is, without a doubt, amazing, but after going to Hellfest, with headliners Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath and Aerosmith, I expected a bit more from good old WOA.

Still, to look at WOA, or any festival for that matter, as simply a collection of bands is a big mistake. You see, you don’t go to a festival simply because you want to see a band (after all, most of them will play abridged sets and there will usually be no less than 50 thousand people between you and the stage) but because you want to participate of the festival “environment”. For a community that has, for better or worse, always felt in the fringes of society, it is always nice to go somewhere where you are no longer the outcast.

From the moment you step foot in this small German village you’ll feel like you’ve arrived at a place that was made just for you and your kind. From kids riding their bikes on the street offering to carry your bags and cases of beer, to the locals sitting on their porches wearing WOA shirts giving you “the horns”, everything seems to be about your metal journey.

WOA is a world of its own, with several stages, food stands, a metal market full of an assorted array of random crap, and a never-ending list of people whose sole mission seems to be to make you feel at home. If you’re camping, the WOA organization made sure that you have everything you need available, including in-festival supermarkets (with prices that were surprisingly reasonable), plenty of bathrooms, sources of drinking water and showers. Keeping in mind that you’re sharing these bathrooms with several thousands of people, they’re remarkably well kept. Still, there’s an option for “paid” bathrooms and showers, in case you want to avoid any chances of catching some weird strain of syphilis in a port-a-potty (I’d recommend this option).

Thursday

Although I arrived on Tuesday, my “Wacken duties” only started on Thursday, with Hammerfall, Steel Panther, Saxon and Accept (I spent Wednesday checking in to get my press credentials, eating a barbeque with the amazing family that hosted me and shooting the shit with some strangers at the press area).

As a fan of Hammerfall, I was pretty excited about their performance, as it was a visit to their Glory to the Brave days. What I didn’t expect, and which really surprised me, was that they brought along with them some of their former members and played those old tunes together. It was a truly memorable performance, and which really benefited from the experience and growth that they have acquired over the years; let’s be frank, Glory to the Brave might be a good album from a musical point of view, but it’s also an album by a young band that had not reached their full potential. I think that this performance of this seminal album (call it “power metal” or whatever you want) not only did it justice, but also went above and beyond what everyone expected.

Joacim Cans of Hammerfall
Joacim Cans of Hammerfall

I had seen Steel Panther recently, during their All You Can Eat” tour, so I more or less knew what to expect from their show. As usual, I’m surprised by the girls who seem to be really into their (hopefully) faux-misogyny, and who are eager to come on stage, get naked, pretend to be lesbians and show their tits to an audience of millions (thank you Internet!). Interestingly enough, when I was in the process of trying to get drunk off my ass in the Artist Village (one of the perks of being listed as an “Artist” due to my work with 5FDP as their photographer) I met with Michael Starr, who was out of character, and shot the shit with him about how people interpret his words, as if they were serious. He told me that Steel Panther represented an exaggerated version of themselves, one which probably belongs to the back of Motley Crue tour bus, but was quick to draw a line between Steel Panther and Spinal Tap saying that, first and foremost, Steel Panther were about the music, whereas the iconic comedic band were not.  He then proceeded to send a beautiful message to a friend of mine telling her to shave her vagina and that he knows girls from her country have a “pussy that is super juicy.”

Lexxi Foxx of Steel Panther
Lexxi Foxx of Steel Panther

Saxon are a band I’m a bit ambivalent about. For starters, they are the actual band that inspired Spinal Tap. Apparently they were fucking idiots back in the day, so they seemed like good source material for a band made up of airheads. When it comes to their music, the truth is that I’ve never been too excited about it; although tracks like “Wheels of Steel”, “Crusader” and “747” are very good, as a band they seem to be living off of the same setlist for years, without making up for it with very exciting shows. I mean, you know how Rob Halford often comes into the stage riding his motorcycle? Well, Biff Byford did the same, but sitting in the back of someone else’s bike. That’s pretty fucking lame. To make things worse, halfway through the show it started to rain, and I quickly realized that my motivation to actually stand there and watch the band was considerably less than the motivation to get the fuck away from there and find shelter in the press area.

The first day was closed by Accept. With a career spanning several decades, and several line up changes, they continue to kick ass in every performance. As Germans, Wacken is their home turf, and so you could clearly see the energy that was going into the whole thing. A truly great way to end the first night.

Friday

I started the day with Five Finger Deathpunch, with whom I had the pleasure of working as their photographer. Despite still being less important here than in their homeland, they are definitely getting quite a bit of traction on this side of this side of the Atlantic, as it was demonstrated by the many band tshirts that I saw in the (granted, teenage) crowd that filled the first few rows of their show.

Zoltan Bathory of Five Finger Death Punch
Zoltan Bathory of Five Finger Death Punch

I took advantage of my clearly undeserved ARTIST pass to have lunch in the Artist village (not nearly as glamorous as you might imagine) and abuse the free Jagërmeister that they had available. Since I’m not an obnoxious teenager, I wasn’t interested in Heaven Shall Burn or Bring Me the Horizon, both of whom would be hitting the main stages at that time, and so I just indulged myself.

I returned to my position as pit photographer / reviewer / mildly intoxicated person with an Artist bracelet for the show of Children of Bodom. Now that I think about it, it’s interesting to see that, just like the 3 bands that preceded them, they are clearly band that mostly appeals to the angsty side of teens. I mean, there was a time I liked Children of Bodom, and thought that Alexi Laiho was super total hyper badass, but I grew out of it. It was perhaps because of my increasing displeasure with the direction of the band (I feel that since Relentless… they don’t even try to hide their sk8r-boy pandering) that I did not enjoy their show at all. If you’ve seen one CoB show you’ve seen them all, and this was just a confirmation of that.

Apocalyptica were promising an interesting show, as they were joined on stage by an orchestra to perform some of their works. As great as it was to see them, some audio problems did a great disservice to an otherwise memorable event.

Motörhead were a great band to see, if nothing else because it is fucking Motörhead. Sadly, it gave me the feeling that this is not a band that can stay much longer, as I do not think it is advisable for Lemmy, considering his health problems, to continue touring in the same manner, and so I felt that this show was a special treat.

Lemmy of Motörhead
Lemmy of Motörhead

Slayer were as powerful as always. Boring, yes, but also powerful. Why boring? Well, I’m not the only one who feels that their music has not been the same for quite a few years now, and that they are now relegated to being a Slayer cover band. Tom Araya is powerful, and Kerry King seems as obnoxious and punchable as always, but the music does not seem to work so well anymore. Stil, I headbanged the shit out of “Disciple”.

I had never seen King Diamond, and so I was very excited for the show. Although his extreme falsetto isn’t something I particularly enjoy, the show was incredible. It’s pure theater, and you get the vibe that, despite his supposed affiliation with Satanism, the whole thing is just a drama to him, but it is still a great show to bear witness to. I just wish the first 3 songs, which are the ones we were allowed to shoot, were not performed from behind a goddamn fence!

WASP were… sad. I’m no fan of glam and hair metal, but just seeing the state of disrepair of the people who were behind “Wild Child” was just sad. I opted instead to move to the W.E.T. Stage and watch the 20th anniversary show of Vreid, and which was absolutely amazing.

Saturday

Like many, I had never seen Alissa White-Gluz fronting this new incarnation of Arch Enemy, and so I was pleasantly surprised to see how at home she felt. While The Agonist seem to be doing well in their chunk of the market, the “legions” of Arch Enemy fans are considerably larger, and it was nice to see that Alissa seemed to be able to direct them without any trouble. Maybe it is because it was a transition planned by Angela Gossow herself, and which allowed her not to be seen as someone usurping a throne, but rather as someone who simply rose to the occasion. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that, as a photographer, Alissa is really the kind of person that you want to photograph; you almost have to make an effort to make her look bad.

Alissa White-Gluz of Arch Enemy
Alissa White-Gluz of Arch Enemy

Sodom delivered a heavy dose of thrash metal… but at lunch time on the 3rd day of a massive festival. It’s easy to see why that power may not have been as appreciated as it should have, with the strengths of many having been left at the bottom of a glass (or jug) sometime in the previous couple of days.

Behemoth were interesting to see (I had seen their show quite recently, in Helfest). It’s always weird to see a “Satanic” band performing in broad daylight (particularly in the scorching heat of that Saturday) and analyzing how well they are able to convey the darkness of their music in spite of that challenge. Well, they seem to have done quite well in achieving that goal.

Nergal of Behemoth
Nergal of Behemoth

I had never seen Devin Townsend before and, goddamn, did I enjoy it. The dude is hilarious to watch, and seems content to demonstrate that he does not take himself too seriously. He spent a big chunk of his set just mocking himself, making idiotic faces and joking with the audience, and that was really great to see. A true performer.

Emperor, just as they did in Hellfest, were demonstrating their raw power as they revisited their classic In the Nightside Eclipse album in front of an eager Wacken audience. Despite the many problems that they have encountered in their career, they continue to be an extremely powerful force in the black metal world, and also a refreshing change from the usual run-of-the-mill corpse painted assholes that are now filling the genre to the brim.

You know Amon Amarth are going to kick ass when you see that they’re setting up two gigantic dragon heads on the stage.  That’s right, the Viking metal stylings of these Swedish powerhouse were delivered while standing between (or atop) a couple of dragons. That’s just the kind of thing that makes you love heavy metal and Wacken, the batshit insanity of it all.

As headliners, Megadeth had a lot to prove. In a day in which the main stages were featuring mostly younger acts, the thrash metal legends had the task of demonstrating that they really deserved such a great slot. Well, despite Dave Mustaine’s usual distance from the audience (the man isn’t exactly known for being a showman after all) the show was heavy and powerful enough to make everyone in the audience sing to the tune of “Trust”, “Symphony of Destruction” and “Peace Sells”.

Dave Mustaine of Megadeth
Dave Mustaine of Megadeth

Avantasia, followed by Kreator closed the last day of the festival, but I was honestly exhausted by then. As much as I headbanged to “Sign of the Cross” and “Endorama”, respectively, my mind was already pretty much checked out of the whole thing. After saying good bye to old and new friends, and making a last quick, and undeserved, stop at the Artist Village to get a bite to eat, I slowly marched back to get my stuff and get to my bus.

Exhausted, destroyed and, most of all, certain that I’ll be back next year.

Special thanks to the great PR team of the Wacken Festival, without whom our coverage would not have been possible!