For more photos of this year’s edition of Wacken, head over to the gallery!
Unless you were there, or at least have experienced something as chaotic, it will be hard for you to really understand how fucked up the weather was. By the time the festival started, it had been raining for about a week already, and there were very few signs that it would stop at all. It was more than just rain; it was storm after storm, thunder and lightning, promising to make the festival an absolute clusterfuck.
Although rain isn’t exactly rare around these parts (those of us living in the northern parts of Germany and the Netherlands basically see rain at least once a week), this was something else. Fuck, it’s the middle of the summer, and so even though you can expect some rain, you never really think that it will be the German version of the great flood. And yet, defying all expectations, that is exactly what we got. So much rain, actually, that some of my contacts working at the organization of the festival told me that there had been serious plans to simply cancel the festival altogether. That’s right, a festival that has gone uninterrupted since 1990 faced so much goddamn rain that they seriously considered just telling everyone to go home. According to my source, if the rain had gone on for just one more day, cancellation would have been the only option.
I arrived to Wacken on Wednesday evening, knowing full well that I would not be able to check the bands performing that night. I wanted to, I assure you, but the amount of rain was such that the mere idea of finding my way in the darkness to get my passes was simply ludicrous. Hell, merely setting up my (easy) tent was complex enough (and it involved me getting soaking wet in the process), so I had absolutely no intention to swim my way into a concert. I could hear the music in the distance, but it might as well have been in a different continent. I’ve been told Europe put up a good show but, honestly, I wasn’t there.
The next morning I woke up to the cold German summer weather. My friend, who had put up her tent next to mine, found out the hard way that hers was a piece of shit, and spent the night in a puddle of water. Don’t ask me why she didn’t ask for help from any of those around her, since I wondered the same thing myself. There’s a lesson here: don’t get a shitty tent. “Discount” and “bargain” are definitely not the words that should precede “tent.” Throughout the weekend I’d meet many who did not follow that advice, having decided to save money by buying what can only be described as water-soluble tents. The results were predictable, and they were treated to a rude awakening, floating in puddles of mud and shit, as they discovered that neither the roofs nor the bottoms of their tents were waterproof, and that the grazing fields of the campsite have a lot of cow dung in them.
The good news (for the future at least) is that a good tent is not necessarily going to cost you a lot of money. I bought mine for about €60 and it works perfectly for this type of environment. Just make sure you get yours from a reputable vendor and, for God’s sake, make sure it’s waterproof. Also, if it’s an old tent, put it up in your garden and do a thorough check before you go. Splash it with water to make sure it isn’t getting in. It’s boring to do it, but it sure as hell beats the alternative of not having a dry place to sleep.
Day I (Thursday)
Despite getting up early-ish to get my press passes ready, my wishes to see Skyline and UDO were quickly thwarted by the chaos at the main entrance, which I had to use because the press entrance was completely flooded (I know I sound like an elitist asshole here, and I apologize). It was pure chaos, as Wacken‘s gates are a bit lower than the rest of the road, meaning that big parts of the passage were just covered in mud. To make things worse, even after I managed to pass through the gates and avoid sinking in the mud (which in some parts reached people’s knees), I still had to get to the main stage. It was a slow and painful trek, desperately trying to avoid falling into the mud and destroying all of my photographic equipment (some of which was rented). There were so very few places that were not completely covered in mud (although it still reached to the very edge of my boots) that you were always in some sort of line, following those brave enough to tread new ground. Of course, this also meant that there was no return, as there were always dozens of people following you, and over which you’d have to somehow climb if you wanted to backtrack your steps.
It took me over an hour to get to the stage. Even when the mud wasn’t high enough to drown you, the sludge on the floor made it impossible to walk at a normal pace. Plus, my boots were so caked in mud and shit that each one of them was about 3 or 4 times their already considerable weight. By the time I stood up next to the Black Stage, I was exhausted.
I enjoyed watchign In Extremo, although I can’t say I’m too familiar with their discography. It was a blast to see them live, since they put up a good show, but I can’t say I paid too much attention, considering all I wanted to do was to just sit down and die. I did see some brave people doing moshpits and jumping around, demonstrating a devotion to the music that I simply don’t have, never have had, and will never have.
Despite how tired I was (and, believe me, I was exhausted) I was absolutely looking forward to seeing Rob Zombie. Although I saw them once in Amsterdam, this would be my first time shooting them, and that’s always a huge plus. Sure, the guy’s band is a bit of a gimmick, and his decisions regarding what movies to make/remake are usually terrible (The House of 1000 Corpses being the sole exception), but the music and the visuals kind of make up for it. Plus, just like everyone else in my generation, I really got into Hellbilly Deluxe back in 1998, so it’s always nice to sing “Dragula” and “Living Dead Girl.”
The funny thing about Rob Zombie‘s music is that so many people associate stuff like “Living Dead Girl” with strip clubs that a biiiiiig chunk of the girls that were dancing to the music were doing what they, in their minds, thought qualified as “sexy.” In reality, it wasn’t, and neither them nor the premature-ejaculating pimple-faced boys next to them were able to make any sort of coordinated movement to the music that had any semblance of rhythm. Still, at least I had fun watching them.
I spent the next hour trying to get to the press area to get something to drink, and returning (slowly and painfully) to the main stage. Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Savatage were about to perform, and I didn’t want to miss it. Many of the fans, myself included, had never had the opportunity to watch a Savatage show (although I had seen TSO in Amsterdam during their Beethoven’s Last Night tour) and so this was unique opportunity. Plus, both bands would perform at the same time, on both stages, promising a truly unique experience.
Despite the cold (and, believe me, it was freezing!) I stayed until the end of this amazing show. The Black Stage had John Oliva on piano and vocals with Savatage, while the True Metal Stage had people like Russell Allen of Symphony X lending their voices to the TSO project. It was really beautiful, and I’m sorry to see that there don’t seem to be any plans to officially release the footage. Their version of Savatage‘s “Believe,” performed by both bands in conjunction, aided by amazing visuals covering both stages, was really something special.
As if it wasn’t cold enough, the skies opened up and even more rain started falling. My hands hurt because of how incredibly cold it was, but I didn’t want to leave. This was a show I wanted to see to the very end. I stood next to the stage in shorts and trekking boots, my large camera bag on my back, and covered with a rain poncho. A sight to behold, I’m sure.
I spent so much time standing around like this that I almost forgot how incredibly ridiculous I must have looked (not to mention dirty, considering that my boots, now covered in special plastic sleeves, were caked in mud). On my way out via the backstage I saw one of the girls that had performed with TSO, congratulated her for a great show, and talked a bit about the performance. Only later did I realize how incredibly fucking weird I must have looked, the backpack under my poncho making me look like the hunchback of Notre Dame, and how polite she was not to shoo me away at first sight.
It was a great way to finish what had otherwise started as an absolutely chaotic and regrettable experience. I marched back to my tent with cramps in my legs, took a shower, grabbed a bite to eat, and passed out.
Day II (Friday)
The early morning cold woke me up, and I had to put on a hoodie on top of the shirt I was using to sleep in. In my slumber I was sure that if I didn’t cover myself I’d end up dying from exposure. Unlikely, sure, but knowing that the cold of a summer morning would probably not kill me wasn’t exactly helping to stop my teeth from chattering.
I spent the morning and early afternoon catching up with my friends. I had already seen Epica, Sepultura and Ensiferum pretty recently, and so I felt confident that I wasn’t really missing out. It was a bit frustrating to miss the opportunity to shoot Simone Simons‘ hair with decent light (particularly the wonderful defused light you get on a cloudy day) but I think festivals are not just about the music. Actually, if you go to a festival exclusively for the music, you’re missing out on a lot of good things. Not to mention that issues like weather, distance and time (and liver failure) will make it pretty hard for you to see every single band you like. The best you can do is to set some priorities, and just leave the rest to chance. Maybe you’ll see them, maybe you won’t, but that shouldn’t stop you from having a good time.
It had rained a bit less, which allowed the organizers to open up some of the roads that had been closed. This let me avoid the swamp that had formed at the main gates. The infield was still covered in mud though, and the fans, looking Dickensian due to the amount of mud covering them, provided pretty good evidence of this. Even some of the photographers at the pit were showing the effects of the weather, as several of them smelled like rotten flesh, unable or unwilling to take a shower, and complaining about how much water had entered into their shitty discount tents. Some of them had also discovered that they had set up their tents in mud, so that as soon as they got inside, they started to sink. Nothing quite like waking up in a tent from which you are unable to leave without getting covered in mud and shit in the process.
I enjoyed Queensryche show, even if I’m not really into them. Todd LaTorre is doing a great job taking over vocal duties (after the departure/sacking of douchebag extraordinaire Geoff Tate), and his communication with the audience is really good. I wasn’t exactly converted to a fan, and I didn’t plan to go check their back catalog after the show (like I had done with some of the more obscure Savatage tracks), but it was definitely worth sticking around for it.
Now, as proggy as Queensryche are, I feel that nowadays, Opeth are doing a much more interesting job for the fans of the genre. Although they’ve been going at it for a while, adding proggy stuff into their material, their latest album, Pale Comunion, is basically the stuff of dreams for prog fans. Because of this, having Queensryche followed by Opeth and then Dream Theater seemed like a pretty good deal,delivering all the proggy goodness in one big chunk.
Personally, I enjoyed Opeth way more than Dream Theater, as Mikael seemed much more interested in putting up a good show. For some reason, James LaBrie of Dream Theater came off as just doing his job, not really giving too much of a fuck about whether or not the people in front of him were having fun or not. Some people really don’t care about this but, to me, it hurts the performance. If I wanted to see an interaction-free performance, I’d just watch a video at home and save myself the trip. Opeth seem to get this. and they make damn sure we feel connected to the performance; Dream Theater… not so much.
Although Black Label Society were not the headliners, that was In Flames’ position, their show seemed more suited for that slot. I say this even though I’m much more of an In Flames fan, and don’t even like BLS that much. Zakk Wylde and co. put up a great show, with huge visuals in the background, and demonstrating the kind of prowess that have made them a staple of modern heavy metal.
In Flames were pretty fun too, although since I had recently seen them at Hellfest I wasn’t too excited about them. Anders was pretty drunk during his performance, to the point that he tripped and fell, and also rambled a lot about nothing in particular. He was pretty happy about headlining the festival, and it seems like he went a bit overboard with the celebrations. I can’t say I blame him.
The night was closed by Running Wild, but i was too tired to stick around for the whole thing. I snapped some shots, saw the first pat of the show, and called it a night. I stumbled back to my camp and, after cleaning myself up and getting my first/last meal of the day, I passed out in my tent.
Day III (Saturday)
Festivals give you a pretty good opportunity to break your routine. Behaviors that anywhere else would be considered as clear symptoms of some sort of disorder, are actually well-received in this environment. Take the issue of alcohol, for example, the consumption of which is normally frowned upon when it happens together with your breakfast cereal. Not so at a festival.
I could hear the sound of cans being opened as soon as I woke up. It was breakfast time, for sure, but this wasn’t stopping my Teutonic friends from chugging down some beers. Although I drink alcohol, I can’t really stand beer, so the idea of starting the day with what, to me, tastes like watered down piss, was definitely not an option. I did, however, have some Jager shots later with the dad of one of my friends. Don’t judge me, at least I had eaten breakfast already.
I started my day with Amorphis, one of my favorite bands. It sucks to see them playing at such an early slot (14:00), since they absolutely deserve a later one. I mean, hell, the incredibly generic Danko Jones got a later slot, and that band is boring as fuck.
After shooting the first Danko Jones song, and checking whether they actually did suck (they did) I just went to get a bite to eat at the press area, and catch up with some friends at the organization. It was a pretty generic burger of some sort (at least, I think it was a burger… that’s how forgettable it was), and I just found a corner with WiFi to check my emails (some interviews got cancelled at the last minute) and eat in silence. The press area is always a weird place, since too many people seem to come to the festival just to be there, without ever leaving its relative comfort. For some it’s an issue of being seen as part of the “in” crowd of metal; an opportunity to parade themselves as insiders in this world. It’s even weirder when it comes to the press, since most of my fellow journalists and photographers are unpaid, and yet many are just running from the stage to their laptops at the press area, desperately trying to edit as many photos as possible in the shortest period of time, blissfully unaware of the fact that this isn’t exactly hard-hitting journalism.
It’s a bizarre spectacle, as a parade of unpaid and often untalented people struggle to meet deadlines for photos that nobody cares to see, write articles nobody cares to read, for a magazine that pays them nothing. This doesn’t mean that I’m paid or talented (I started this very unprofitable magazine, and my talent is definitely up for debate), just that I think it’s bizarre that they work so much for nothing in return, and miss the opportunity to have fun. I do this because I love the music, I love the friends I’ve made doing it, and I have fun attending shows, photographing, etc.; the minute it became a chore, a duty that I’m forced to perform, then I’d simply drop it. We all want to feel important, I know, but I think it’s really essential that we stop pretending this is something that many people give a shit about. And I say this knowing full well very few people will actually read this page all the way down to here.
Rock Meets Classic are kind of weird. It’s a bunch of mostly class-b musicians performing songs by popular bands. They normally perform theater shows a la TSO, with banners announcing their members by highlighting some of the big bands they were once a part of. They are backed by an orchestra, which gives the whole metal experience a civilized feel to it. It’s a place to bring mom and dad to listen to some metal music sans the rebellion. I can see the point of their existence, and I know that many of the performers (like Michael Kiske, Oli Hartmann and Dee Snider) are terrific on their own right; I just have a hard time understanding what exactly is their target audience.
Still, in all honesty, the show was pretty good. For all the mockery that I can throw at the project, their choice of Dee Snider as their main singer was definitely a good one, since he not only communicated well with the crowd, but also got them going. Lots of singing and dancing made for a pretty good experience. Too bad the photo pit had been emptied by the time Dee Snider came up to the stage, since I was eager to photograph him.
Now Bloodbath, that was something else. Seeing Nick Holmes show up covered in blood, looking like a deranged homicidal priest, was simply amazing. He absolutely looked the part, and so did his bandmates, including Jonas Renkse and Anders Nyström of Katatonia, both of them also covered in the red, sticky liquid.
The task of following on the death metal of Bloodbath was given to Sabaton. Besides being Swedes (like most of Bloodbath), there aren’t many similarities between the two bands, so you’d expect some kind of pushback from the audience that was there just for the brutality. Of course, Sabaton are very experienced at the task of handling a crowd, and as soon they opened their show with “Ghost Division” they had the dozens of thousands of fans in attendance eating from their hands. They are a real example when it comes to engaging the fans, and you could see how happy they were making everyone. It’s cheesy metal, for sure, but it’s really fun to listen to, and they really know how to get everyone going.
The headliners for the evening were the metal gods: Judas Priest. Just like In Flames, I had recently seen them performing at Hellfest, but I was still excited to see them again. There’s something about the feeling of witnessing a living legend, as in the case of Rob Halford, and so it was definitely worth it to just stick around for the duration of the performance. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the band was playing as tight as always, and that Richie Faulkner was pirouetting around his guitar (to the delight of the photographers).
Cradle of Filth were in charge of following Judas Priest and, as usual, they fucked it up. It has been years since the last time Dani Filth was able to give a decent live performance (this 2011 rendition of “From the Cradle to Enslave” will give you nightmares) since he no longer has the range to do so. In the studio he seems to get away with a lot of shrieks that he can’t imitate on stage, and I honestly don’t know why he keeps doing it. It’s really frustrating, because you can clearly see that the band is performing really well, but that his voice is preventing them from delivering the kind of material such an ensemble deserves.
After the traditional “farewell” message from the organizers of the festival, Subway to Sally took the stage and delivered the last show of Wacken 2015. It’s always refreshing to see the forefathers of folk metal killing it like this, even if they were covered in the kind of red light that makes photographers cry themselves to sleep. They played to their strengths, and to a loving and appreciative audience of their countrymen, serving as a terrific closing for yet another edition of this amazing festival.
The boots will get cleaned, my back and legs will, I’m sure, recover sensitivity soon. The memories will, as always, last a lifetime.
See you at Wacken 2016, rain or shine!