ENRAPTURED, WE ARE REBORN
By Michael De Los Muertos
Additional Commentary and Pictures by Ice Maiden
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Once upon a time there was a little town in
northern Germany called Wacken. It was
a quaint little Teutonic hamlet full of tree-lined streets and neat brick
buildings, nestled in gently rolling hills checkered with fields where cows
wandered lazily in the sun. It was a
most unlikely place to be the center of the world’s attention, but for one
weekend in August of the year 2000 – and in fact for one weekend during each of
the past eleven summers – it was the most important place in the world of heavy
metal, for the festival that bears its name.
From all corners of the globe metalheads began to trickle toward the
little Germanic village. They came in
planes, on ferry boats across the English Channel and the North Sea, in
battered cars with Blind Guardian and Iron Maiden stickers in their back
windows. A few at first – but later, a
torrent. Like a ring of electric static
closing toward a blazing shock of light, the world of metal surrounded and
conquered Wacken, and made it its temporary capital.
That’s the image you have to have of Wacken
to understand it. It’s not just a metal
festival, it’s a global reunion of our species. Let me give you an example.
Thursday afternoon, August 3, the Hamburg airport. We (Witch Hunter, Moonchild and I) had
arrived late – Ice Maiden’s plane had already landed – and we were threading
through a streaming mass of random metalheads as we searched for her. Who should I see on the other side of the
room but a guy I’d seen a few days before in a recording studio in Rome, who
also happened to be the drummer for the Italian band Swords. “Hey, man, what’s up?” I almost couldn’t believe it. But that kind of thing happened
frequently. Some metalhead you may have
met in another country – or perhaps never met, but only talked to on e-mail –
finds you among 60,000 other guys and girls in black T-shirts and ragged jeans,
long hair, dreadlocks, weird piercings, tattoos. The world is a big place, but the world of metal is comfortably
small, I think. [Ice Maiden's Commentary: Case
in point—as I was en route to Hamburg and waiting for my flight in the
Amsterdam airport, I see two guys who are obviously metalheads waiting at the
same gate. They sat down right behind
me and started talking with anticipation about Iced Earth and Gamma Ray. A ray of recognition dawned on me as I asked
them if they were headed to Wacken. One
of the guys starts to say that they are playing Wacken, when we both realized
we knew each other from on-line—it was Kevin Lewis, guitar player
extraordinaire for October 31!!!! It
was great chatting with him and Jim (their bass player) while we waited for
the flight and then for my friends at the Hamburg airport. Small metal world!!!]
Hamburg Airport. Crisis Number One: once we found Ice Maiden, she told us that the
hotel in Itzehoe most of our party was booked at – known colloquially as “The
Schloss” – went bankrupt a mere two days before the festival. Two
days! Of course, all the hotels in
Itzehoe were booked. Crisis Number One
quickly led to Crisis Number Two, and Three, and Four. We were supposed to meet some of our party at the
Schloss. We knew they were flying into Hamburg from
London this evening, but we didn’t know exactly when, or what airline. We waited at the airport. Remember those amazing reunions? Well, we didn’t have one. The concert hadn’t even started yet, and two
of our party were already missing in action.
Great start, eh?
Well – some crisis management to the
rescue. Good news: we booked a hotel in
Hamburg, and a fairly nice one. Bad
news: it’s in the worst part of town, its front door continually awash in crack
whores and drug dealers. A 65-year-old German
woman with no teeth eyed the several eligible bachelors in our party as we go
into the hotel. No thanks, lady – um, we have a concert to go to! Cid can tell you about our interesting
dinner. All I’ll add is that if you’ve
never had a German dressed as an Argentinian gaucho as a waiter, you’re missing
A nagging thought came to me in bed at the
hotel: where the fuck are our friends we
were supposed to meet at the Schloss?
They’re resourceful guys…they’ll find a place to stay tonight,
right? Oh, yeah. Um – they sort of have our tickets. If we can’t hook up with them tomorrow
morning, we can’t get into Wacken without paying for our tickets again. Crisis Number – what are we up to now,
Oh, man, this is gonna rule! We know our limitations. “Given last night’s experiences, we ought to
allow plenty of time to get to the show.
Vader starts at one. Let’s leave
at eight AM!” Such a thought would have
seemed pretty silly to anyone who hadn’t been as hardened to mishap as we were
by that time. It turns out we needed
every minute of it. Getting out of
Hamburg took an hour and a half.
Getting to Itzehoe took another hour.
Wrong turns, dead-end streets, bad directions – a neverending conundrum
of hassle. Oh, I might add I was one of
four guys crammed in the back seat of a tiny Peugeot. Not a pleasant
journey. Once we got going with the
signs, at least we knew we were going the right way. Toward the outskirts of Wacken we saw metalheads shuffling toward
town, wearing heavy backpacks clanking with tin camp cookware and bundled with
bedrolls. They looked like Civil War
soldiers about to make an infantry charge.
I saw a guy in a Gamma Ray shirt pushing a shopping cart down the
streets of Wacken. The cart was
completely full of cans of beer. Completely full. Well,
he’s gonna have a good festival.
But all of a sudden – another miraculous
reunion! “Hey, is that Cameron?” A tall figure darted across the street. One of our missing compatriots!
And our other friend with the tickets was with him! Finally
– a break! It was 12:42 as we
parked and started walking toward the festival entrance. We passed acres of campsites. It was a ramshackle little city strewn
between battered cars blasting all kinds of metal out their windows – old
Metallica, Judas Priest, Cannibal Corpse, Helloween, Mayhem, you name it. Flags of the world fluttered on poles above
some tents. A Swedish flag; a Union
Jack; even the Confederate stars and bars from a distant corner of the
campground. Did they come all the way from the U.S., from the South? Or perhaps they’re just Pantera fans. A little knot of grungy-looking metalheads
jabbered in angry French while opening up fresh cans of beer around their
meager little campfire, in the embers of which were the twisted remains of many
another empty can of beer.
At the ticket booth -- where, thankfully,
we did manage to get everybody in
without having to pay again -- we experienced the first instance of a recurring
Wacken tradition: the wristband. Once
they verified you were allowed to go inside, you had to thrust your arm into the
ticket booth, where a friendly German would put a little black and green ribbon
around your wrist, spangled with the ever-present cow-skull logo of
Wacken. Then came a little metal
nugget. The nugget was placed into the
jaws of a nasty-looking metal press. CRUMP!
The German would slam down the handle and notch the metal nugget to hold
your wristband on. That was your
ticket. It was the first of several
wristbands to come. [Ice Maiden's Commentary: The wristbands came to symbolize all that is
Wacken. In the airport on the way home
I met an Irish metalhead, and we recognized each other by our wristbands (well,
OK, and by his Rhapsody shirt), which we were both loathe to remove. Cutting them off was like recognizing that
the Wacken was truly over for this year.]
The queue leading into the festival area
was in many ways the worst part of the show.
[Ice Maiden's Commentary: I had a great time as we were headed through
the gates. The excitement was
incredible, and for me, as a sloppy American, it was simply INCREDIBLE to see
so many true metalheads all gathered in one place. For as far as the eye could see, there was hair, leather, and
black. Aaaahhhhh!!!!!] Thousands of metalheads, pressed against
each other, struggling to flow through the entrance gate -- and then after a
rumble and clatter, from somewhere inside we started to hear the loud but
distant drone of grinding death metal. Vader!
They’re starting! You had to
walk on a carpet of crushed beer cans, and past a gigantic dumpster full of
them, right by the entrance. A drunk
German metalhead was literally swimming in the discarded beer cans. Goddammit,
we’ve got to get in there -- Vader’s starting! You inevitably lose your friends in the entrance queue. You hope to find them again on the
inside. Nothing to do now but make your
way through, submit to the frisk-down search (those German guards are very
thorough), and then bolt toward the Black Stage.
Thus, VADER was the first band of Wacken,
and what an opener! My heart skipped a
couple of beats as I rushed up to the crowd gathered around the stage and laid
my eyes on the mighty Polish death machine.
Their set was a brutal, punishing assault, technically flawless, and the
band performed and conducted themselves in a completely professional
manner. You could tell just by their
stage presence the great amount of experience they have giving shows, and while
some bands could probably be intimidated by playing for tens of thousands of
demanding metal fans, Vader was not.
Both newer and older stuff graced their set list, which by the end had
the entire crowd transported into the Wacken mind-set. Great!
Happy reunions abounded after Vader. I found my friends I’d come in with, and, as
we had discussed in Rome about a week before, I met my Italian friends -- most
of them from the band Stormlord -- at the right-hand side of the black stage
right after Vader. Ice Maiden started
snapping pictures. Then, plans.
“Hey, let’s go try to find our backstage
passes.” It meant missing Samson,
teeing up on the True Metal Stage, but hey -- I was a writer from
Metal-Rules.com and I had a job to do!
Trying to find someone who knew where to pick up the passes was an
extremely difficult task. Finally Ice
Maiden grew frustrated by the security guards and Wacken staff who gave us
conflicting answers. “Let’s just ask
somebody who has one.” She sidled up to
a tall, thin, dark-haired man with fierce eyes and a wispy little goatee. He had a black and green card on a halyard
around his neck. “Um, excuse me --
where did you get your backstage pass?”
The man, looking surprised, mumbled something inconclusive which didn’t
help us much, and then passed on. Cid,
one of the friends in our party, looked aghast.
“Do you know who that was?”
“No,” said Ice Maiden innocently.
“That was Peter Tagtgren! You know,
We all about lost our lunch. Peter Tagtgren -- member of Hypocrisy and
Pain, prolific producer, stanchion of the Swedish black metal scene and one of
the most important metalheads in the world -- and all we could find to ask him
was where he got his backstage pass?!? [Ice Maiden's Commentary: OK, the boys could not let this mistake
rest. I was teased incessantly for the
rest of the trip about this little faux pas.
In my own defense, lads, if it was not for my willingness to talk to
folks, we would still be lost in Hamburg, we would have no autographs or pics
with any bands, and you all would still be thinking that those two random guys
in the backstage area were Immortal without their make-up. And, hey, I recognized Jon Schaffer when you
cats didn't, didn't I???]
We found the passes. They were at a checkpoint about half a
kilometer away. Unfortunately they
weren’t smart black and green cards on halyards -- they were more wristbands! These ones were purple.
“Now I look like a patient at a mental
hospital,” I shrugged. But at least we
could get backstage, and Metal-Rules.com would get their story. Score!
The backstage area wasn’t what I expected, but it was quite nice. A neat little hard-floored patio with its
own bar, food stands, a string of party lights drooping in a graceful arc
across the entrance. Nearby was a tent
which contained long tables, another bar (sporting Jack Daniel’s bottles
hanging upside-down like IV drips), and what was to be the most important
commodity of Wacken: chairs. We sat and had a drink. The beer was pretty average, the food not so
good, but hey – we’re at Wacken. Who
[Ice Maiden's Commentary: I was back in time to see Royal Hunt. I have to say, I'd never heard of these guys
before, but was relatively impressed by their set. I'll definitely have to buy some of their stuff
Back to the festival! We saw the very end of Dark Funeral – but,
unfortunately, not enough to really report on. At 4:00 the Black Stage was the scene of one of the festival’s
only failures. UMBRA ET IMAGO were
behind the 8-ball from the first moment they appeared. Bad make-up, ludicrous clothes – even TBPPs
(Tight Black Plastic Pants), the traditional warning sign of a below-average
goth-influenced band. [Ice Maiden's
Commentary: HAHAHAHAAA!!!!!!] The
music was even worse. The metal
influences in their music, though present, were carefully sealed off behind
walls of cheap European techno. Add
annoying vocals and a desire to be Rammstein that borders on psychotic
desperation, and you’ve got Umbra.
Thankfully, they were the only band at Wacken to score in the “poor”
One of my few deviations from the Black or
True Metal Stages was a side-jaunt to the Party Stage to see OCTOBER 31.
What followed was one of the supreme
highlights of the entire festival.
Their set was an explosive ball of energy, combining the infectious
fist-in-the-air feeling of power metal with the riotous glee of a good old
80s-style thrash band, and serving it up with irreverence and fun that struck
an immediate and obvious chord with the crowd.
It didn’t even matter what these guys played – they rocked. Pure, raw, American
style metal that absolutely screamed “I LOVE METAL!!!” and showed everyone
why. I definitely hope to see October
31 back at Wacken next year, and from talking to the band later in the day, I’m
told there may be a pretty good chance of that. Hail October 31!
As the ringing power of October 31 died
down, a black metal band was setting up on the Black Stage. My program said it was
MARDUK. A couple of songs in, I began to think: hmm,
these guys sound awfully slow for Marduk.
They must not be playing anything from “Panzer Division”! “Silly
Michael,” you say. “Don’t you
know that was IMMORTAL?” Blazing
geysers of ice-cold Scandinavian black metal spurting into the sky, along with
clouds of smoke and a thick shower of sonic evil. Their set was impressive, very technical, and extremely
competent. No complaints, except for my
Marduk confusion. I never did quite
figure out where Marduk ended up on the Wacken bill – thus, I missed them. Inexcusable on my part.
Next adventure: the Metal Markt. A vast, sprawling tent – acres, in fact –
into which one had to pay admission, and receive yet another wristband. This one was blue. Entering the tent, I got a feeling similar to John Carter shining
a dim candle into a hole to reveal the gilded treasures of King Tut’s
tomb. Treasure! It was
stunning. Row after row after row of
CDs, vinyl, T-shirts, accessories, posters – all metal, much of it rare, the vast majority impossible to get on
North American shores. It was so
overwhelming that I just had no idea where to start. Staggering through racks of T-shirts – all advertising great
European bands – flipping CD cases, Ice Maiden, Cid and I were utterly
stunned. What do you buy in a place
like that? More importantly, what do
you not buy? It was pretty much an insoluble conundrum.
Back to the festival, midway through the
RHAPSODY set. Two of our friends had
their hearts set on Rhapsody and Stratovarius as their personal highlights of
the festival. I confess, Rhapsody
didn’t move me that much. Again,
technical precision that would shame most pop “metal” acts to land multimillion-dollar
record deals in America – but I can’t say I was really amazed by their
music. Still, it’s hard to find fault
with their set; I’m probably just not a fan of their style.
Which seems strange, because when
STRATOVARIUS came on forty-five minutes later, I was riveted from the first
second. Sweeping blasts of epic power
metal, with an extraordinarily strong vocal performance, Stratovarius never
forgot that for all their majestic vocals and progressive influences, they were
still a metal band with a job to do: rock
the audience. Stratovarius worked
impressively well together as a unit, with each guitar, drum or vocal part
seamlessly flowing into the next. This
is probably an effect of excellent music-writing as much as it is competence on
stage. If nothing else, Stratovarius
had fists in the air and choruses on the lips of nearly everyone present. Again, a highlight of the festival! [Ice
Maiden's Commentary: For me, these guys
were the surprise of the festival. I've
always been rather bored with Strat (unpardonable, perhaps, but true). Much like Dream Theater, I recognize their
proficiency, but I'm left cold and unmoved by their albums. I take it all back after seeing them
live—these guys were amazing. Tight and heavy, their set was truly a special
By now a twinging little ache in my back
had become an almost debilitating spike crunching into my spine. It’s difficult to be on your feet for that
long. Overkill had cancelled, and in
their place came ARMORED SAINT, which I was happy to see on the bill – but not
so happy to see on stage. Despite an
amazing performance at Portland’s Satyricon in early May, Armored Saint just
didn’t have the presence to compete on the Wacken stage with the European
bands. John Bush’s voice – it always
reminded me of tearing cloth – seemed a little less powerful than it did back
in May. Ice Maiden, Cid and I decided
to retire backstage for a little while.
Chairs! A miracle! More
beer. A good rest. Essential for the assault to come.
Assaulting it was! Watching ICED EARTH set up and prepare for
their set was like sitting on a volcano about to erupt. This fine American band had two obstacles
against them: first, Jon Schaffer was injured, and appeared in a neck brace, and
second, their set list was a little odd, missing some obvious highlights such
as “Night of the Stormrider” and others.
Nonetheless, their performance was amazing. [Ice Maiden's
Commentary: Pout! No "Pure Evil!" Still, this set was my personal Wacken
highpoint.] With twilight finally
falling on Wacken, Matt Barlow’s powerful vocals, Schaffer’s amazing guitar
work, and the astonishing song-writing talent of the entire band made for a set
that was eagerly devoured by the whole crowd.
It was my first time seeing Iced Earth and I now understand why they’re
one of the preeminent metal bands on the planet. They were in their element at Wacken, and they knew it.
who’s that setting up on the Black Stage?
It’s Peter Tagtgren – perhaps we should ask him where the bathroom is,
or if the fries over at the food booth are any good! [Ice Maiden's Commentary:
Oh, you’re just hilarious, MDLM!!!] HYPOCRISY roared forth with some of the most
powerful riffs of the entire night.
Imagine being spontaneously broadsided by a butchered side of beef –
that aptly describes the effect Hypocrisy had on the crowd. Little to say, and absolutely nothing about
which to complain. What do you think
you’d get from a Hypocrisy live performance? Well, you got it.
By now – nearing one o’clock in the morning
– the body was ready to go home even if the ears and the mind (and the heart)
were not. We were all in the same
shape: legs, back and feet all an angry mass of excruciating pain, eyelids
about to close of their own volition, stomachs growling, and clean beds back in
a Hamburg hotel calling our name. No!
You can’t give up yet!
Indeed we couldn’t. If there was
only one band I came across the ocean to see, GAMMA RAY was it. When they started, you immediately forgot
your physical misery – this was Gamma Ray, man, Kai Hansen and the rest of the
reigning kings of German power metal!
And you’re seeing them in Germany! A double-bass driven charge of electricity
had fists in the air in seconds, and the mighty Kai Hansen punished his guitar
with the technical skill we’ve come to expect from the godfather of modern
power metal. Their set was heavy on Somewhere Out In Space and surprisingly
light on Powerplant, but it was still
very snappy and delivered on the exciting promise of, “Wow, you’re gonna see
Gamma Ray in Europe?” Kai did a little
too much audience sing-along – the “noise meter” (“Come on, I can’t hear
you! Louder, louder, louder!”) antics
wore thin very quickly – but the encore more than made up for it. My all-time favorite Gamma Ray song, “Send
Me A Sign,” was the last. There was
nothing like it. Add to it Moonchild,
the youngest in our party, catching a Gamma Ray drumstick at the end of the
set, and you have the makings of a legendary, remember-it-all-your-life metal
moment. [Ice Maiden's Commentary: I was
bummed, I tell you, that so few songs were chosen from Powerplant. I love Somewhere Out in Space as much as the
next person, but, damn it, I wanted more songs from Powerplant! Still, all the fists raised and people
singing along to Send Me a Sign—I can't put in words the feeling of metal
I’d like to be able to say I stayed for SIX
FEET UNDER, and that they kicked as much ass as they did in the little clubs
and cafes where I’ve seen them in America, but we just couldn’t do it. We still had an hour of driving ahead of us
to get to Hamburg, and it was 2:15 AM.
Like blinded victims of a World War I gas attack, we followed each other
in a ragged, limping line toward the festival exit, and through the campgrounds
to our little Peugeot. A strange fog
was falling. It’s pitch-black out
there, mind you, except for the lights from the festival blazing in the
distance. One of the strangest moments
of my life was walking through the Wacken campgrounds, in the fog and the darkness,
surrounded by distant rustles and soft voices from tents and cars on all sides
of me, and hearing the distorted, garbled drone of Six Feet Under and Chris
Barnes’s croaky vocals from far in the distance. It was very cold. Had we
perhaps been at Wacken enjoying the metal all summer, and now it was somehow
October? No – that was northern Germany
at night in August. Two of our party,
who had no hotel to return to, faced a chilly night sleeping on the ground or
in doorways. Damn that Schloss! Why the hell did they have to go out of
business at a time like that? [Ice Maiden's Commentary: Actually, I experienced another supreme
metal moment on the trek back to the car.
I wish I could transport you all back to experience it first hand. The moonlight streaming down on the
fog-coated tent city, the strains of SFU mixing with stereos and the hum of
conversation from the tents. It was
surreal. For a moment, it felt like being
on another planet—our own metal universe. It almost looked like we were all refugees from another place—which, in
a way, we were.]
The trip back was brutal. Again crammed in
the back of the Peugeot with three other guys – if Cid and I were any closer
together, we would have been eligible to get married in Vermont – half of my
body lost circulation. More wrong
turns. More confusing street signs,
highway exits that don’t seem to go where promised – the clock ticks away. 3:30, 4:00, 4:15. I don’t think we’re going
to make it – I really don’t. If we
weren’t so crammed in the car with so many people, maybe pulling over and just
sleeping ‘til morning would have been an option. The river, however, finally led us to our hotel. Hookers still swarmed outside the door, even
at 4:15 AM. The desk clerk was so drunk
he could barely stand, could barely hand us our keys. I’m glad this festival is
Sleep beckoned. A conversation: “Do you want to see Freedom Call in the morning?”
“What time do they come on?”
Let’s just go to bed. We’ll get
up when we get up – we’ll get there when we get there. I’m not getting up at eight, after the night
we’ve all had.”
We missed Freedom Call. Have
mercy on us! We had no choice!