Heart of Steel: Concert Reviews

Blessed by Steel: The Wacken 2001 Experience

By Michael De Los Muertos
Photographs and Commentary by Ice Maiden

 Day 3 - Saturday, August 4th, 2001
Saturday begins on a hopeful note. A good square breakfast in our hotel - the weather, just slightly overcast and cool enough to be comfortable - a feeling of excitement all over again as we get on the road and head back out toward the festival. Today’s acts are the real shit. The final climax of the metal world’s finest hour - if we can make it that far.

We arrive shortly before 11AM. DESTRÖYER 666 is about to get started on the Party Stage, but the feeling of being all together again at Wacken with our friends is a bit too much to resist. “I shouldn’t downplay that in my review,” I think. Wacken isn’t just about bands. It’s about getting together with friends - family, almost - and searching for that rare CD, or that T-shirt you promised you would get for EvilG, or that Scottish kilt that your girlfriend has talked you into buying! I find it at a little booth over near the exit to the festival site. Hey, Dispatched wear kilts on-stage and they’re one of my favorite bands. So why not?

VINTERSORG is the first Saturday band at which we spend substantial time. Vintersorg is a (mostly) one-man band, but Mr. V has brought a few friends to fill out the other instruments in the live set, and overall they work together very well. This band takes a while to grow on me but it finally does. The traditional Viking-esque elements of the music combined with its natural heaviness and power give the impression of a very strong and affectionate tie to the past, musically speaking as well as culturally. It’s great to see metal musicians really care about their roots and their history, and Vintersorg definitely comes through on that score! Melodic, powerful, yet very unique - in retrospect Vintersorg is one of the highlights of the second day of Wacken, another band in the “I-don’t-own-anything-by-them (him), but-I-may-just-check-them (him)-out” category.

VINTERSORG

 

Dark TranquillityThere’s no question what the next band will be. Sweden’s mighty DARK TRANQUILLITY have taken a lot of guff in the past few years for departing from the style of their awesome album “Projector,” but you wouldn’t know it by watching them on the Double Mega Stage. Absolute precision and technical mastery approached by almost no other band at the festival are the hallmarks of DT’s great set, which is studded with both older and newer material. If death has a melody, it must be Dark Tranquillity! A stellar, businesslike set with no complaints - I’d definitely see DT again and I hope I get the chance to.

(Ice Maiden’s Commentary: Most people I know harp at Dark Tranquillity for leaving behind the masterful death growls and melodic mastery of “Skydancer” and “The Gallery,” and moving to clean vocals and an overall less aggressive cast with “Projector” and “Haven.” Like Rotting Christ’s change over time from its first few albums, the old albums of Dark Tranquillity often sound nothing like the new. However, I, for one, like both styles, and was not disappointed seeing one of my favorite bands for the first time live. Any fan of Gothenburg death should have been happy with this set, although I think some fans wanted to hear more of the band’s older songs.)

DARK TRANQUILLITY

 

We stick around for METALIUM on the other half of the Double Mega Stage. The overcast clouds are now teasing us with brief rain showers - several mud puddles in the Wacken festival area are starting to grow by early Saturday afternoon, attracting the attention of rambunctious metalheads who decide it’s fun to wrestle and get filthy at the same time. Metalium’s space-age-slash-medieval set accouterments promise good things. The set starts out with a shock of rollicking power metal and several numbers from the “State of Triumph” sagas - but Metalium doesn’t really deliver on their promise. The prancing and posturing of Jack Frost, and in fact most of the guys in this band, gets tiresome very quickly. Metalium’s problem is not so much music, because they play power metal very well, but it’s attitude. As the set rolls on it’s clear they think they are Gamma Ray, or wish they could be. Unfortunately they’re just not that special. And I gotta be honest - the flimsy T-shirts with steel pecs and washboard abs painted on them really don’t give this band a lot of credibility. Metalium gets one of the lower marks of the Wacken festival, which is a disappointment since I was hoping their set would be particularly strong. (Ice Maiden’s Commentary: I gave them a big thumbs down, and left to go peruse the Metal Market.)

METALIUM

 

Two rules we learned at Wacken on Friday: the first was, eat, and the second was, don’t get too tired. We retire to the backstage area following Metalium. Another plate of Tortellini Alla Panna suffices to kill the hunger pangs. Friends are backstage, including Black Goat of Barbarian Wrath Productions. Ice Maiden and I get talking to him. My back aches with a dull fury. I debate with myself whether or not to catch ANNIHILATOR. They’re one of those bands that you really ought to see - but then again, one of those bands whose albums don’t do much for me. We stay backstage for a while. One question arises among our group: “How do you get to the Wet Stage?” Everyone has seen the Wet Stage - it’s in a tent somewhere near the far side of the festival area - but no one has actually been there. We’d better figure it out, because one of the most-anticipated bands for me (and for several of the Metal-Rules.com staff back home as well!) is about to go on-stage there. We discover to get to the Wet Stage you have to exit the festival area! The line to get back in is dreadfully long, and involves an extensive security search. Thus, if you leave, you better make it worthwhile. My girlfriend and I decide to head over there. We’ve already lost Ice Maiden. She better make it for Lost Horizon - she’s got the camera!

(Ice Maiden’s Commentary: I actually headed over early to try to catch some of Annihilator. Thrash-masters of old, they looked, well, dorky. I know that how people dress shouldn’t affect how you hear the music, but somehow their hockey jerseys and short hair cuts affected my perception of Annihilator. Bottom line-the people who really love thrash seemed to be enjoying the show. I didn’t stay for long.) (Editors Note: Those Hockey Jerseys look kick ass to me...I want one!! ANNIHILATOR RULESSSSSSS!!!!)

ANNIHILATOR

 

A bathroom trip is necessary right after we leave the penned-in festival area. The nearest stall is in a bank of mobile toilets near the edge of the campground. While waiting for my girlfriend I look out over the campground. Flags - French, German, even a Southern stars-and-bars - flutter in the late afternoon breeze. The ground is an endless jumble of tents, battered cars, metal bumper stickers, beer cans, trash bags. An abandoned party tent is right next to me, beer cans still scattered on the cluttered ground. I can hear the drone of RAGE from the Double Mega Stage from where I’m LOST HORIZON standing. It’s an awesome barrage of traditional metal. I should be up front there! “Wouldn’t you know it,” I think, “we exit the festival pen and all of a sudden a great band goes up!” I didn’t plan this well. We should have gotten outside the pen later. Ah, well. We don’t have time to go back inside the festival area, get searched, go up to Rage, then get out and get to the Wet Stage by 5:30. Too bad!

The Wet Stage tent is hellish. It’s stuffy and smoky inside, and ten degrees warmer than outside. The ground is literally carpeted with crushed beer cans. You can’t walk without them crunching under your shoes. PARAGON is just finishing up. Here’s another band I should have planned to see! And they’re local boys too - these snappy power metallers are from Hamburg, only an hour away from where we stand. They end their set with a cheerful-sounding, eardrum-crunching song. Then we’re left to swelter in this terrible tent. Wasn’t the Wet Stage outdoors last year? I don’t remember.

The energy in the tent before LOST HORIZON is palpable. In a way it’s good that the Wet Stage is isolated and unpleasant - all the people here had to go out of their way to get here. The most awesome collection of power metal maniacs I have ever seen begins to mill about up at the front. A rogues’ gallery of Italians are, naturally, the most vocal and animated, their leader dressed in a sleeveless denim jacket covered with patches - HammerFall, Blind Guardian, Helloween, all the classics. Others have thoughtfully brought toy plastic swords to celebrate the coming of new power metal heroes. A third guy is over the top. He’s wearing homemade vinyl armor. Yes, that’s right - a sort of Naugahyde poncho, its back covered with studs and a Manowar “Sign of the Hammer” patch. This guy makes me look well-adjusted! With Lost Horizon’s band members and techs on stage preparing, the Wet Stage tent feels like it’s about to explode.

Lost Horizon - Swords!!!

“Explode” is right. Lost Horizon knows how to rile up a power metal crowd, and they do it from the word go. Launching into the fist-pumping anthem “Heart of Storm” as their first song, these war-painted, bizarrely-costumed, totally insane power metal field marshals wage a ferocious war on everything false, and in the process whip up the crowd to a virtual frenzy. I was not quite sure how Lost Horizon’s keyboard-heavy, well-produced sound would translate to a live setting, but I’m not disappointed. The essence of METAL! resonates from everything they play, all from their debut album AWAKENING THE WORLD. For a brand-new band with one album out, Lost Horizon absolutely slays everything in their path. Their set is so immense that merely singing along and pounding your fist in the air just aren’t adequate to react to a band like this. Easily crossing the line into the “transcendental” category that makes the very best Wacken experiences, getting a chance to see Lost Horizon is alone justification for my plane fare to Europe. We will hear more from this band - hopefully a lot more, and for a very long time. If they stick around, Lost Horizon are going to be one of the most important names in power metal before long.

LOST HORIZON

 

Go ahead...JUMP!The clouds are clearing; the sun is setting; there’s a bit of nip in the air as we get back to the main festival area and reunite with our clan backstage. As we head back to the Double Mega Stage for IN FLAMES, it’s evident from the weather and the mood that Wacken is as much an ending as it is a climax - one of the last true weekends of the summer, the last of the big good-weather festivals, the last time many of us will be together until next year. A bronze-colored sheet of sunlight bathes the crowd during the In Flames set. They certainly get the crowd moving. Their set is not quite as engaging (or nearly as emotional) as when they played Satyricon in Portland in December, but you can’t just help grooving along to the catchy, crowd-friendly melodic death that these Gothenburg veterans spew forth. Unfortunately I see signs that In Flames might be cracking. Anders Friesen is wearing a tie. He jumps up and down and commands the crowd to do the same thing. Creeping hallmarks of mallcore - and this from me who loves CLAYMAN, which continues to be roundly denounced despite its brilliance. A great set, but I wonder if we’ll ever really see the “real” In Flames again or if they’ll be tempted by the foul poison of commercialism. (Ice Maiden’s Commentary: Damn it, I’m starting to believe the folks who say that In Flames is selling out. They told the crowd at WACKEN to jump up and down! And they did it!!! I’m all for enjoying a show, and I’m not saying it isn’t right to dance, move and have a good time. But jump up and down? What next? “The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire???!!!??”)

IN FLAMES

 

We’re getting toward the end. The NIGHTWISH banner that rises on the other half of the stage sends a ripple of excitement through the crowd. It’s very rare for a band to play Wacken two years in a row, but Nightwish was at Wacken 2000 and I’m curious to see how they follow their set. The crowd is much larger this year. If they’re not headliners, they’re getting damn close. Progressive metal and a lovely operatic wail signify the entrance of the gently-conquering heroes. As night falls, Nightwish’s set is literally stunning. Everything is absolutely perfect, and the glory of Tarja’s voice coupled with well-crafted progressive metal in fact takes the wind out of the sails of every other band at the festival except Lost Horizon. Plenty of stuff from WISHMASTER, their newest opus, as well as older albums - but the highlight of the set comes midway through. “We’re going to play this song for the first time in Germany,” says Tarja. I’m thinking, don’t tell me they’re going to attempt - yes, “Sleeping Sun,” one of the most perfect metal ballads ever written. The crowd is mesmerized - the same crowd that has clattered, splattered and growled along to brutal bands like Carnal Forge, Cryptopsy and Exhumed. When Nightwish plays, you stop and listen - period. It’s as if the metal world is going to sleep when Wacken is over, and Nightwish sings its lullaby. You had to be there! (Ice Maiden’s Commentary: I was there, and I can’t glow about the set as much as Muertos. Yes, Tarja’s voice is angelic, but I didn’t think the set had the same power as last year.)

This is the way we want it, this is the way we need it.....10:45 PM. Wacken is almost over. The last band whose complete set we’ll witness - we just can’t make it any longer - is going on, and that band is HAMMERFALL. It’s been four years since their very first slagging as Helloween clones playing musty clubs in Gothenburg, and, although the slagging hasn’t abated, at least HammerFall are now headlining Wacken. They deserve to. Joacim’s vocals aren’t perfect, Oskar’s guitar playing isn’t the best in the world, and, let’s face it, they do take the “glory of metal” thing about as far as you can take it without having the advantage of being Manowar (or Lost Horizon!), but HammerFall still rule. Their set is pretty equally divided among their three albums, but, like those albums, the best stuff comes from the first two. The stage show is fairly corny and Joacim, like poor Anders Friesen, is beginning to suffer from rock-star syndrome. But how can you not love anthems like “Heeding the Call,” which rounds out the encore? Now it’s dark, and chilly - your body hurts, you’re exhausted and hungry, you want to go home - it’s time for the end now - but you’re reminded that you’re still here for metal, and it’s impossible, no matter how desperate your situation, to not be carried away by it. (Ice Maiden’s Commentary: Cheesy or no, there is an incredible power in thousands of people singing and swaying along with Hammerfall. No, they aren’t my favorite band, but it is awesome to look around and see happy faces, fists in the air, and thousands of metalheads enjoying the moment together.)

HammerFall


 

So Wacken ends. We stumble back across ground covered in litter, past swamps of human urine behind the overtaxed backstage toilet trailer, into a pitch-black campground that’s a lethal obstacle course of trash, tent poles, and cars with fogged-up windows. We’re too tired to stay for the last few bands (hey, I’ve seen Motörhead twice), but are we too tired to mourn the death of Wacken? Never! There’s always a lingering sadness, no matter how badly you want to get home to your own bed, your own CD case, your own soft freshly-laundered pile of metal T-shirts. Even on the drive back to the hotel Wacken begins to take on a mythic, epic quality in your mind, enhanced even more so when you talk about it, particularly to those who weren’t there. Metalheads talk of Wacken the way war veterans talk about battles and campaigns in which they fought, and it’s no wonder why. It’s the ultimate bond among our people - metalheads, I mean - and those who have shared it know what a powerful experience it is.

(Ice Maiden’s Commentary: There are still some bands I need to catch, and I don’t have to be on a plane at 5 am the next morning like Muertos. Some of us stay to catch a few more acts. I watch DEATH SS, the mildly bizarre Italian black metal band. The lead singer is dressed like some sort of twisted shaman, but they actually have a pretty solid set. Very energetic. It is hard to describe Death SS, because it is such a combination of styles-gothy, black, heavy, but with keyboard interludes that are reminiscent of some 80’s “alternative” music.

DEATH SS

 

ARCH ENEMY, a band I was REALLY looking forward to, has cancelled. I had hoped to see Angela live and watch those male-sounding death growls come out of a woman, but she caught a cold and they were forced to cancel. Just as well, I suppose, because they were scheduled to play the Wet Stage. You have to understand-ANY stage that is enclosed at Wacken is bad, bad. Many metalheads are camping-they have limited access to showers, and often don’t bother seeking out the human “body wash”-like a car wash but for people. People have been drinking. People have been playing in mud that was created by the overflow from the toilets seeping into the ground. You don’t want to be in an enclosed space with these people. Believe me.

My final Wacken act is the incomparable MAGO DE OZ. Their album “Finisterra” has not left my cd player since I first put it in earlier this year. Their music is a combination of heavy metal, folk and Celtic music, and incorporates violins and flutes. Unfortunately, they are late setting up, one of the only late bands at Wacken, so they only got in part of their set before the plug is pulled promptly at 3 am. While they set up you could hear Sodom raging on the Double Mega Stage. Incredible and tight! I debate whether to stroll over there but worried about missing Mago de Oz, which, along with Primal Fear, Lost Horizon, and Desaster, ends up being a real highlight for me.)

MAGO DE OZ



A wide, deep ocean stretches between me and home, and on Sunday, August 5th, I’m on a plane high above it - on to new adventures, friends old and new, the next metal concert, the next review for Metal-Rules.com. I have little time to ponder what I’ve been through. But there’s a Wacken T-shirt on my back, a Wacken beer cup in my luggage, a package of Wacken-bought CDs and T-shirts in the mail on its way back to me, and, most importantly, Wacken memories rattling around in my head - along with many Lost Horizon choruses!

In the spirit of the great bands who were there, I end the review with something very corny, very cheesy and very melodramatic. Lost Horizon, one of those bands whose major job, lyrically speaking, is to extol the virtues of metal, has a fitting lyric: “Life baptized in metal, by the secret of steel you are blessed.” Wacken is one of those glorious things that makes you realize how true that is, and how lucky are all of us - those who have been to Wacken and those who have not - whose hearts have been touched by metal. (Ice Maiden’s Commentary: Amen, my metal brother. Amen.)

Ice Maiden with the Stormlord guys
Ice Maiden with the Stormlord guys

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