Wacken Open Air 2018 Review

Unlike previous years, which were largely shaped by different amounts of rain (from intermittent to “OH MY GOD, PLEASE MAKE IT STOP!”), 2018 promised to be a dry year. While I’m not particularly fond of extreme heat, not being knee-deep in mud is absolutely preferable.

Wednesday

Due to a number of traffic delays, including a police stop where I was repeatedly questioned about drugs (I blame the Dutch license plates!) I got to Wacken in the late afternoon of Wednesday. After sorting out my credentials and embracing my Wacken family (I’ve been unofficially adopted by an amazing German family that lives there), I went to the holy ground. Although this first day was supposed to be just to chill and maybe check some bands, I knew that I couldn’t miss an opportunity to see Heilung again.

Having just discovered them at Hellfest a couple of months ago, I was eager to see their amazing amplified history again. It’s a really fascinating look into indoeuropean paganism that brings together many instruments and performers, creating a simply fantastic show. Performing at the tiny Wackinger stage wasn’t even a problem for this band, who managed to squeeze everything there.

Thursday

I started Thursday on the Harder stage with Vince Neil, Motley Crue‘s former singer. As a man who has made a career out of playing a heartthrob, it was a bit bizarre to see how time has taken a toll on him. Noticeably overweight, out of breath, and struggling with singing his own songs, Vince‘s show failed to impress. This despite the fact that he was accompanied by extremely talented musicians, particularly the very entertaining Zoltan Chaney on drums. Even their couldn’t carry the show.

Despite having discovered them over almost 20 years ago, this was my first time seeing Oomph! Despite being relegated to the slightly smaller Louder stage, and competing with the household name of Dirkschneider, Oomph!’s brand of industrial metal, coupled with a very entertaining and energetic show, was more than enough to gather a huge crowd, and to get every one to sing the likes of “Gott is ein Pop-star” and “Augen Auf.” A real treat!

Few things can be said about Behemoth that haven’t been said yet. A truly legendary band in its own right, these Polish demons are partly responsible for the increasing popularity of black metal. Despite their commitment to the darkness in their music, theirs is a band that has gathered a huge interest even outside of the usual confines of the genre. Nergal himself is, of course, a terrific frontman, and his appreciation for the music and the fans is clearly felt throughout the show.

As a photographer, I was a bit nervous the Danzig show, since I knew that he had a reputation to not allow photographers in the pit, or to randomly attack them. Surprisingly, photographers were actually allowed this time around, and Glenn delivered a terrific set. Notwithstanding the fact that, at times, Danzig seemed slightly out of breath, which negatively impacted his ability to sing his songs, his delivery of hits like “Mother” was simply amazing.

Closing the night with Judas Priest is always a good idea, and Wacken knows full well that their audience is always happy to welcome the metal gods. Rob Halford continues to defy the passage of time, maintaining a truly enviable ability to reach high notes, and to deliver their classic hits in style. Judas Priest’s ability to entertain the audience is certainly helped by Richie Faulkner‘s incessant pirouettes with his guitar, and which manage to keep our eyes glued to the stage at all times.

Friday

I started Friday with the symphonic metal legends of Epica, who defied the scorching heat and delivered a fantastic show to the overheated masses. Even though it was one of the hottest days of the week, but they didn’t let such a small thing keep them down.

Children of Bodom are one of the most energetic bands out there, and their visit to Wacken was welcomed as such. Moshpits started right away, and crowdsurfers defied the odds approaching the stage in one piece. Few things get a crowd as crazy as the opening chords of “In your Face”, and this time was no exception.

As much as I like CoB, I continued to the Louder stage to catch the Croatian duo of 2Cellos, who were visiting the festival for the first time. Reminiscent of Apocalyptica, 2Cellos take a more classic approach to the instrument, stripping the songs down their core. Perhaps aware of the kind of comparisons that could be made between them and the Finns, the show of 2Cellos is much more energetic, with Stjepan Hauser headbanging, jumping, and even playing on the floor. Not to mention, of course, that their source material tends to come from completely different areas!

The undisputed Queen of Wacken, Doro‘s show was like witnessing a family reunion. Doro‘s connection with the festival and the audience is well-known, and you could see how moved she was by the love she was getting from the crowd. A very talented performer, as well as a true legend of the genre,  Doro was really a sight to behold.

Although I’ve seen them many times over, Nightwish were something that I knew I couldn’t miss. The quality of their shows continues to improve, their sound is better than ever, and everyone in the band seems to be living their best lives. Floor is one of the most talented performers out there, and she is the best singer that the band could ever hope to get; she can do justice to Tarja‘s classics, while also providing her own energy and personal touch with the songs that were written with her in mind.

Another frequent visitor the festival Running Wild are a band that, if I’m honest, I never really got into. It’s not that I don’t recognize their talent or reputation… it’s just that the music really doesn’t really make me feel anything. So, after shooting them, I went to get something to eat.

One of the originators of melodic death metal, In Flames are nothing if not divisive. The massive changes in their style that have taken place since they were working within the early Gothenburg sound, all the way to their current metalcore-ish output, have earned them gazillions of new fans… but plenty of detractors. But purists be damned! Their show at Wacken was just as good as could be expected from such legends, and the audience certainly knew how to appreciate them.

Playing at a truly unholy hour, Ghost took the stage to celebrate their new album, Prequelle. This first appearance in Wacken of Tobias’ new incarnation as Cardinal Copia saw them conquer the stages not just as an interesting newcomer, but as well-established superstars. This was more than evident by just looking at their fantastic stage show, as well as the sheer size of the band, which worked perfectly to convey the larger-than-life cathedral-esque atmosphere.

Saturday

The last day at Wacken (and I know this is a cliché) is bittersweet. As I grow older I realize that my tolerance for camping has decreased enormously over the years, and I simply can’t wait to get back to my comfy bed. Being a bit tired, I use most of the morning to spend time with my Wacken family and enjoy a pretty damn good barbecue with them (following a similarly epic Bavarian breakfast).

Skindred were the first band of the day for me, although I have never really been interested in their reggae-metal styling. Still, they did a pretty energetic show, and the crowd was happy to headbang and dance along.

It was my second time seeing Der Apokalyptischen Reiter, having seen them once before at Metal Camp, in Slovenia. They continue to be just as bizarre as they’ve ever been, down to their very own gimp on keyboards, and a truly histrionic guitar player.

There are few bands that really deserve the title of groundbreaking, and I’m damn sure that  Gojira is among them. Their virtuosity, made evident in their progressive and technical death metal style, this French band continues to turn heads after almost 20 since their debut. The reasons for this are made evident during their performance, managing to commandeer an army of metalheads, who mosh and headbang like there’s no tomorrow. I’ve seen this before at Helflest, and it’s amazing to see at once again at Wacken: Gojira are an unstoppable force!

Returning to Wacken once again, Steel Panther delivered the kind of hilarious show that we’ve grown accustomed to. Thanks to the fact that they never wanted to be “just” a gimmick, opting instead to ensure that their music spoke for itself, the band has stayed at the top with every new release. Their presence at Wacken is interesting, since even the most hardcore purists among the fans can’t deny that Steel Panther are an extremely entertaining band. For the rest… Steel Panther are really the perfect soundtrack for a festival: sex, drugs and rock and roll, turned up to 11!

Speaking of energy, Arch Enemy really know how to deliver an atom bomb of pure power. As I’ve said plenty of times before, Alissa White-Gluz is the best thing that could have ever happened to this band, as she has really taken them to new heights of popularity. She can really carry the crowd and get them going with an energy that is really incredible…. it’s no wonder that even I ended up crowdsurfing (amazingly, without killing anyone or breaking all my bones).

What can be said about Helloween that hasn’t been said yet? The true creators of the power metal genre delivered a real treat to Wacken, performing their Pumpkins United tour, featuring Michael Kiske and Kai Hansen. For many, this was their first opportunity to watch Michael Kiske performing Helloween songs (outside of the occasional rendition in Unisonic), so that alone was already worth the price of admission. This tour is also a great chance to confirm that apparently old fights have died out, and that Hansen‘s collaboration with the band he started… might not be over just yet.

We ran to to the WET stage to watch Samael deliver one of their legendary performances. Having long abandoned the pure black metal sound of their early days, Samael are now representatives of a genre of their own. Mixing some industrial elements with traditional, old school black metal, they deliver a truly amazing show. Although this one was slightly more stripped down than some other shows I had seen by them, it was still worth it!

I closed my Wacken experience for 2018 with Dimmu Borgir, another divisive-yet-legendary band. Despite its origins being in the True Norwegian black metal, black metal purists cannot overlook the fact that, by incorporating more and more symphony elements into their music, and devoting more attention to their melodic output, they made black metal accessible to the masses. For a genre where being kvlt and obscure is seen as a mark of quality and talent, making black metal “mainstream” (as “mainstream” as something like this can ever be) is the ultimate sin, the biggest scarlet letter. Looking into the Wacken audience, you’d never even guess that Dimmu Borgir have any detractors. On the contrary, the audience is full of fans and devotees, all of whom defy the late hours of the night and the exhaustion caused by 3 days of camping, to celebrate Norway’s biggest export: Black metal.

As every year, I crawl back into my tent, knowing that I will be back.

Wacken 2020, here I come: Rain or shine!

… assuming, of course, another goddamn cop doesn’t want to question me endlessly about drugs.