Heart of Steel: Concert Reviews

Blessed by Steel: The Wacken 2001 Experience

By Michael De Los Muertos
Photographs and Commentary by Ice Maiden

 Day 2 - Friday, August 3rd, 2001
Friday morning goes smoothly. We arrive at the grounds on time with no hassle - the efficient Wacken ďMetal GuardsĒ are still in a good mood. The first moral choice of the day presents itself precisely at 10 AM with the first bands of the day: shall we wallow in pools of grinding death with Deceased, or hoist our swords to the sky on the clean tones of Nostradaemus? The answer, of course: ďWhy not do both?Ē

I find it interesting that DECEASED is the first band we saw - because HammerFall was the last, and Deceased is fronted by King Fowley, the man who, if he did not start the ďHammerFall Sucks!Ē crusade, at least gave it his voice. We stay for only a few minutes. The music is standard, brutal death metal. Nothing tremendously special about it, and Fowley is very energetic, but he seems to forget the crowd watching his band is mostly German, not American. Nonetheless, itís not bad, but not enough to keep us interested for more than a little while.

NOSTRADAEMUS, on the other hand - the first band I see on the ďParty StageĒ - is another matter. This is a great Swedish band with a classic Gothenburg-esque background, but they lean toward power metal, and their assault was certainly powerful! Melodic, catchy, fast, and energetic are the best way to describe their set. Iím tempted, on the strength of their performance, to check out their album, WORDS OF NOSTRADAEMUS - the planting of such a desire thus marking the first true success of a Wacken band, which is to open you up to new metal. Iíd definitely see these guys again.

HmmÖwatch bands, or wander? Thereís so much to see at Wacken, including the awesome Metal Market, billed as the planetís largest sale of metal CDs and merchandise. Witch Hunter has already been there - so why not? NIGHTFALL - the next band on the Party Stage - doesnít do much for me. In fact theyíre completely limp, in my opinion, and not much worth sticking around for. Iím interested in CARNAL FORGE up on the Double Mega Stage, since Iíve heard so often that their gut-churning album is such a triumph, but hearing them across the field as we walk toward the Metal Market I comment, ďOh, so thatís what Carnal Forge sounds like.Ē Itís not enough to tempt me. The Metal Market is indeed impressive. Itís a hot, humid, stuffy browse inside a tent full of smelly metalheads who are all about the most discriminate shoppers you could imagine. How many times are the racks of metal T-shirts rifled and the CD stacks browsed? Itís so dazzling you donít even know where to start.

(Ice Maidenís Commentary: For those who havenít been to Wacken, it is interesting to note that in addition to Metal Market, which is full of cds, t-shirts, banners and other metal paraphernalia, there are loads of booths dedicated to other goods metallic: goth clothing, renaissance clothing, metal jewelry, leather clothing, books, etc. A person can wander the booths for hours!)

LACUNA COIL is the next major band we see. When itís over, several in our party grumble disappointedly about them. Did we see a different band? I think Lacuna Coil is excellent. Snappy guitar work, excellent melody, and considerable heaviness - not to mention competent female vocals, which is a tough plate to serve up to a Wacken crowd expecting Nightwish merely a day hence. Indeed Lacuna Coilís set is very enjoyable and Iím not quite sure why the others in our party carp at them. This is not the first time my perception differs radically from my compatriots - see Nevermore below.

(Ice Maidenís Commentary: I thought the set was OK, but Cristinaís voice was often off-key. I liked the melding of the clean female and male vocals, and the melody lines were nice, but her voice was sometimes great and sometimes justÖwrong.

Lacuna Coil was followed by another band female-fronted band, HOLY MOSES. Fast-paced and with raw death vox, Sabina Classen did a good job getting the crown excited. I hadnít really listened to them before, but found myself thinking that they did a pretty good job.)


Catherine Zeta Jones??  




Back to the party stage! We manage to catch quite a bit of CAGE and a fair amount of KAMELOT, and both are excellent. Both are traditional-sounding, Cage with a much more meaty sound to it, Kamelot with the crispness of soaring power metal that is rapidly becoming a staple on the Wacken stages. Iíve never heard Cage before but I like them very much. In retrospect I wish I would have seen more of Kamelot, but having to skate off in mid-set to meet folks over by the Jack Daniels tent (some Metal-Rules folks, no less!) illustrates one of the great disadvantages of Wacken: not only can you not see everything, but itís difficult to even get to see everything you want to see. (Ice Maidenís Commentary: Kamelot sounded much like they do on their albums, which, with power metal, is kind of nice. The primary thing that stuck out in my mind about them, though, is that their lead singer looks like a metal Ricky Martin. I kept waiting for him to bust out with ďLiving La Vida LocaĒ.)




5 PM. Back: aching a little bit. Feet: starting to tingle. But now itís time for the heavy hitters.

A shudder of excitement goes through me as PRIMAL FEAR bursts onto the main stage. Chrome-domed like the Halford he nearly replaced, Ralf Scheepers acts like heís got scores to settle, and he settles them. A blasting assault of fanatic power/traditional metal sprays over the Double Mega Stage crowd like water from an exploding fire hydrant. ďNuclear Fire,Ē title track from Primal Fearís newest triumphant album, is a highlight of the set, but my favorite by far is ďFinal Embrace.Ē Not a note goes wrong, not a second does Primal Fear falter. This is the first dose of metalness at Wacken that truly transcends to a higher level. You canít help but get swept away. If they werenít before, the sizable crowd gathered for the set all go away Primal Fear fans.

(Ice Maidenís Commentary: Primal Fear had my favorite set of Wacken. They were on, they were having fun, the crowd was having fun. I loved it.)


We have to break for dinner. No choice; weíve gone hungry since morning. We shuffle to the backstage area. Visions of last yearís dreadful gyros and soggy French fries dance in my head. We take a weary seat at a backstage table. ďHey, you know, thereís a menu here.Ē Hmm. Pasta dishes, pizza, even a steak! Could Wacken have improved their food? We order a pasta dish - tortellini alla panna - and itís excellent. On a real plate with a real fork! A square meal at Wacken! Can you believe it? I couldnít, but it was exactly what I needed. Onward to the rest of the evening!

Itís nice to see your fellow countrymen get a good response, so when the American power/prog metal band NEVERMORE tees up to an enthusiastic crowd, itís a good feeling. Iím an old hand at reviewing Nevermore, having seen them open up at the amazing In Flames show in Portland in December. Nevermore is, in my opinion, far substandard tonight. Warrell Dane just never seems to get it together, or to appreciate that heís playing Wacken. The music is competent, but the rock-star prancing gets a little tiresome. The set list isnít even that exciting. I remember heavy stuff from ďDreaming Neon BlackĒ and lots of stuff from THE POLITICS OF ECSTASY front and center at the Portland show, but Nevermore seem to wander through some pretty random songs at Wacken. I lose interest. Time for another beer. Backstage later on I hear Ice Maiden, DethToFalseMetal and others gushing about how awesome Nevermore was. Did I miss something? (Ice Maidenís Commentary: Clearly, you did miss something. I thought Warrellís voice was incredible at this show-full of the tortured rage for which he is known. His is a voice you either like or hate-either way, it is very distinctive.)



SONATA ARCTICA - one of the most-anticipated sets of the festival for me! More power metal! Soaring vocals! Melodic keyboards! Itís not quite the amazing jaw-dropper that I expect, but then again Iím back at the Party Stage and Iím still reeling from Primal Fear. Still, Sonataís progressive metal is quite compelling. Thereís one problem, though. OVERKILL is playing on the Double Mega Stage at the same time. These fuckers are LOUD, and their sound conflicts with Sonata. Itís the only example of annoying sound-conflict Iíve observed at Wacken either year Iíve been there. I confess Iíve never been a tremendous Overkill fan, which is why Iím more interested in Sonata Arctica. But I just canít hear the finer nuances of their sound. Too bad; I think I would have had a better impression had they not been drowned out by Overkill.




Luckily the next band on the double stage is one that everybody is anticipating - THERION. They donít disappoint. Unfortunately when they booked Wacken, Therion was supposed to have a full orchestra with them, but itís since been downgraded to merely a choir. No matter! Therionís symphonic metal is impressive to say the least. They pump a hell of a lot of power into all parts of their performance - guitars, vocals, choirs, everything. The unbreakable bond between metal and classical music is the spine and support of Therionís performance. They pull off the set flawlessly. A tremendous achievement, and clearly one of the best sets of the festival.

10:15 PM. Back: agony. Feet: not so good. Itís getting dark, and chilly. The crowd is beginning to close in uncomfortably. Metalheads are appearing out of nowhere, most jabbering excitedly in German. The reason is quite clear - HELLOWEEN, probably the biggest band of the festival for the mostly-German crowd, are about to begin. We lose one of our party in the thick crowd. One minute heís there, the next heís gone. We donít have time to search for him. Pure power metal is soon unleashed.

Helloweenís set is tremendous, and itís everything youíd expect from one of the original power metal bands. That they wrote the book on classic power metal is evident. Thereís a good mix of old and new stuff, from the brand-new ďThe Dark RideĒ to the age-old crowd pleaser ďI Want Out.Ē I confess Iím not a fan of post-Kiske and post-Hansen Helloween, but this stellar set just about wins me over. The power and technical mastery of their set rivals, if not excels, the awesome presentation of Gamma Ray at Wacken in 2000 on the very same stage. My arm gets tired from pumping my fist in the air during the set. But itís rough going. Itís downright cold now and endurance is catching up with us. My girlfriend is falling asleep on her feet. We have no choice - we have to retire backstage, and from thence to our hotel. We have to live to fight another day.



We never do find our missing friend. It turns out he was experiencing the power of THE HAUNTED over on the Party Stage. Despite numerous attempts to find him in virtual pitch-darkness, with puddles of mud treacherously arranged everywhere, we fail. Oh, well. We make arrangements to have Ice Maiden and her party pick him up after the final bands - if they can find him. This attempt fails too. A cab ride back to the hotel at 4:15 AM is his fate. By that time weíre sound asleep - with metal pounding in our dreams.

(Ice Maidenís Commentary: The rest of our group canít leave quite yet. DESASTER, the incredible German black metal band, will be taking the stage in a little while, and DIMMU BORGIR is scheduled to go on stage at 1:45 am. We hang out in the back stage area for awhile, resting.

DESASTER SLAYS!!!! Aggressive black metal, they played some of my favorites, including the title-track off of Hellfireís Dominion, and the supremely-catchy ďMetalized Blood.Ē I had met some of the band members, who knew some of our crew, earlier in the day and Black Goat purchased some Desaster shirts for us. Woohoo! Check these guys out if you get the chance.

I was still very excited after the Desaster set, and was settling in for the almost 2 hour wait for Dimmu. I have missed seeing Dimmu live twice in the last six months, so I was psyched to see the band that put out the excellent albums Enthroned Darkness Triumphant and the recent Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia. Whether you call it black metal or not black metal, I wanted to see Dimmu. Sadly, the rest of my crew got too tired and cold, so I was forced back to the hotel. Boo! I missed them again!)


Onto Day 3 - Saturday, August 4th, 2001

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