By Greg Hasbrouck
The second in our series of reports from Wacken is Greg Hasbrouck’s summary of the festival, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly - RG
The Festival Grounds
For those who have never had the good fortune to make the pilgrimage to metal’s holy land, it’s important that you first grasp the magnitude of Wacken’s layout. In essence, the festival grounds form a small city. And based on the spiked body wear and war paint sported by many of its attendees, it’s a well defended city at that. Aside from its four stages, there are literally dozens and dozens of food, drink and merchandise vendors. You can purchase everything from raw fish and camping supplies, to lace panties and metal t-shirts for toddlers, albeit not from the same vendor. You can sit down and play a few hands of blackjack or kick back in the immense Bier Garden. You can chow down on Thai, Chinese, cheeseburgers or a large assortment of mystery meats. If you have need of it, rest assured, it can be found on the grounds.
Wacken from above.
The (not so) Bad
As I said, the festival grounds constitute a small city. And since Viking ships are of little use on dry ground, be prepared to walk several miles each day, moving from stage, to bathroom, to stage, to Bier Garden, to stage, to food vendor, etc.
Although the Wacken staff do a great job keeping the bathrooms clean, the perimeter of the festival grounds are, in essence, a urinal. Often, this is the intent, as there are multiple outdoor troughs that will save you from standing in line for a port-a-john. However, consider for a moment how much beer 40,000+ metalheads can consume over the course of five days. Then consider all that beer must be subsequently expelled from its consumer, much of it on the perimeter of the festival grounds. Combine this sea of days old urine with the not too faint musk of cow manure that permeates this swath of farmland, and no one is going to mistake Wacken for the perfume isle at your local mall.
Who wants to make a garbage angel?*
Never too hot or too cold, the weather was as pleasant as one could hope for this time of year in Germany. We had absolutely no rain, and a fair amount of cloud cover from the mid-day sun.
Wacken on a sunny day*
Germany was pounded by rain the weeks leading up to the festival. To make the festival area accessible the basement had to be ablated. 5,000 square meters of fleece were laid out, 1,500 tons of wooden chips were spread on top of the fleece and the whole area was covered with 600 bales of straw. In an attempt to further dry the camping grounds, a helicopter flew over at a height of two feet, to blow excess water away. Had it not been for the intense, hard work of 350 crew members, this festival may not have happened.
Despite the crew’s incredible efforts, the grounds had more than a few weak spots. There were sizable patches of real estate, especially in front of the True Metal Stage where no one could stand, because you would simply sink. While making our way to Overkill, one member of our team went nearly knee deep into the earth. After a hard-fought battle, said leg was extricated from the earth, shoe still attached.
… But thankfully (or otherwise, depending on your viewpoint) Jesus didn’t drown.*
It’s impossible to overstate just how cool this crowd is. To think you can cram 40,000+ passionate (often intoxicated) music fans onto a festival ground for several days and not see a single altercation, is simply amazing. However, it goes well beyond that. During our trip we met people from Australia, Belgium, South Africa, Ireland, Scotland, England and of course Germany. Quite honestly, given the current state of the world, we had concerns we might encounter some anti-American sentiment. Nothing could have been further from the truth. If anything, people were impressed that we would travel such a long way for the music we love. We must have had a chance to hang with / speak with / drink with well over a hundred different people, each one of them as cool as the other side of the pillow. To everyone we had the good fortune to hang with… Prost.
Now that’s a lot of cups…*
The (not so) Bad
Making your way from stage to stage can be a bit of a chore. Gaining passage through the sheer mass of humanity that stands between you and your next destination can be time consuming to say the least. Moving a hundred yards can take twenty minutes. Granted, this isn’t exactly a hardship. However, it may keep from you catching the entirety of the next set.
Watch your step or you may step on someone you shared a beer with earlier. No matter where you walk, you will find bodies strewn across this metal battlefield. There are people lying down, in a bed of mud and straw, everywhere. Some are passed out, others are just recharging their batteries for the next set.
… And a lot of people.*
The (very, very) Good
To simply state that Wacken Open Air runs like a well oiled machine, would be akin to saying Metallica’s self-titled release was only a slight tweak of their sound, in hopes of selling a couple more discs. Bands take the stage when they’re scheduled to take the stage and exit when they’re scheduled to exit. The sound system, for the two main stages (the True Metal Stage & the Black Stage), is beyond words. And we’re not limiting our comparison to other outdoor venues. This is quite simply the best sound system… ever. It is crystal clear, not too loud and the mix is flawless. The same can be said of the stunning, giant screen T.V. that hovers between the two main stages. It allows the festival attendees all the way in the back, to get a great sense of what’s taking place on stage.
Security keeps things running as smooth as silk. You hardly know they’re there. They don’t hassle anyone, they don’t bust balls. The same can be said for every member of the staff. They simply do their jobs… flawlessly.
Wacken’s two main stages.*
The (very, very) Good
A quick glance at the official flyer reveals that Blind Guardian
and Iced Earth
were billed as the headliners. And suffice it to say, no one was stealing their show. Both bands tore through flawlessly executed sets. It was quite the treat to hear 40,000+ sing the chorus of ’The Bard’s Song’
. However, the bigger treat may have been Iced Earth’s
stage production, which was reminiscent of the 1980s, when metal bands had the budget to put on large scale stage shows.
If Friday belonged to Blind Guardian
and Iced Earth
, than Saturday belonged to the return of Immortal
. After a four year layoff, Abbath, Demonaz and Horgh are back. There was a palpable energy in the air, created by great expectations. Judging by the crowd’s reaction, there wasn’t a single disappointed person in the audience. Immortal
blazed through a well chosen selection of tracks, that spanned their legendary discography, that left everything that followed seem anti-climatic.
I would say three bands surprised me with their performances; TYR
and Fair To Midland
. With respect to both TYR
, I was shocked to see just how well they drew and just how frenzied they got the crowd. The W.E.T. Stage was quite literally overflowing with those trying to get in and see the show. While not quite as packed, Fair To Midland
put on one of the more energetic shows of the weekend. And while their music seems more appropriate for U.S. college radio than it does a German metal festival, their energy and sincerity won over even the most extreme metal fans.
As would be expected, almost everyone brings their “A” game to Wacken. So, there aren’t many uninspired performances. Type O Negative’s
performance had the air of an inside joke… that the crowd wasn’t in on. They seemed to take forever between songs. Mind you, this wasn’t due to technical issues (at least none that were readily apparent), but because the band was more interested in joking around with each other than playing music.
Type O Negative – making taking the piss with their (lack of) performance an art form.*
The Big Finale
All in all, Wacken is a unique, intense and incredible experience. If you like metal, be it power, black, death, NWOBHM or prog, there’s something here for you. Hell, even if you don’t like metal, you could still have a great time at Wacken. The wide spectrum of people, sights and sounds, come together to create a unique and amazing atmosphere. As with most things in life, Wacken is as much about the journey as it is the destination. And if you’re a fan of metal, this is a journey and a destination you owe it to yourself to make at least once.
Starred photos (and that above) used with thanks, courtesy of metaltix.com.
Official WOA website
Britt’s Wacken 2007 Picture Story
Wacken 2007 – UM’s report