Heart of Steel: Concert Reviews

The World's Loudest Acre:
Wacken Open Air 2002

Friday, August 2, 2002

It was a huge, staggering, swampy mess. The stuff was like Jello pudding, chocolate flavor, except when you stepped in it, you'd feel a violent sucking on the bottom of your shoe. The entire festival ground was covered with it. Like the Western Front in World War I: all it needed was barbed wire and machine guns. Some parts were worse than others. As I slopped through the stinking vile mess on the way to the Metal Market, trying to levitate above it so it wouldn't crest over the low tops of my Vans sneakers, I cursed the fact that my boots were sitting on the floor of my apartment next to my couch--six thousand miles away. In a fanatical effort to "travel light," I'd judged them too heavy to justify lugging them a quarter of the way across the planet. Note to self: BRING YOUR GODDAMN BOOTS NEXT YEAR!!!!!!!!!!

(Ice Maiden's Commentary: Ah! The beauty of combat boots with decent tread. Even though I was wearing a skirt, I found myself tromping through the mud with no problem in terms of traction because of my boots. Still, walking (wading?) in this stuff was like walking in deep snow-a little hard on the legs, which have to make it for another 12 hours at least that day alone. I'd mentioned at breakfast that the Wacken organizers might bring hay or sawdust to cover the site and was laughed down. Still, I maintained hope…)

Due to our misadventures in the mud and the still-falling drizzle--which finally quit around 11AM--we were late getting started with bands. At the end of the long walk around the festival grounds, mainly to avoid the sea of mud at the main entrance to the site, we ran into a grizzled-looking fellow with an Irish accent. "Do you write for Metal-Rules?" It was our own Punishment Due, who was already on his sixth or seventh beer of the day. After having another celebratory beer we navigated the mud toward the True Metal Stage and the real beginning of Wacken.

(Ice Maiden's Commentary: While Muertos, Nomad and the Punishment Due headed backstage for a drink, I decided to take in STORMWARRIOR. Although I hadn't heard much of their stuff, I'd seen their new album prominently displayed on vendors' carts, and with its obvious power metal cover, I was intrigued. I knew that these Hamburgers were playing to a "home crowd", and their energy was great! Tight traditional/power metal, very Helloween…and the album, I later learned, is very good. Pick it up!



Ah! The Wacken organizers have met their task. In the face of potential ruin, they bring in giant rolls upon rolls of hay. The security guards and Wacken crew started to roll it out in front of the stages, and soon Wackenites were joining in. It's a massive hay party! Hay is flying! Metalheads start reclining on soft, clean hay piles on top of nasty mud. A BIG KUDOS TO THE WACKEN ORGANIZERS!!!!


I hook up with the rest of the gang and try to head out to check out the Metal Markt. Since I have better traction than some of the others, I get separated in the crowd from our gang. The Metal Markt is outside of the main festival gates, and metalheads are standing in the long lines at the entrance gates to go through security. Too late, I realize that I've lost my group, the line at the Metal Markt is too long, and now I'm facing the long lines to get back into the Wacken site (which is still swampy with mud because they started spreading hay from the stages and working backwards.) Hmmmm…. Do press passes get you back inside through exits? Yay! One quick wave of my pass and I'm back in with no half-hour wait.

At the True Metal Stage I run into Francesco, our Italian Stormlord friend who is a pal of various members of the Italian band DOMINE. They call themselves "epic fantasy metal", and they live up to their name. This was a superb performance. The long-haired Italian vocalist flew across the stage, emoting his heart out with a strong voice and a fine wail. These guys smile while they play-I love seeing band members who clearly love performing. DOMINE probably was my third-favorite act of Wacken.



While waiting for IRON SAVIOR to take the stage I check out an aggressive death metal act (NECROPHOBIC??). Not bad, but I'm on a bit of a power metal high and couldn't give them the appreciation they were probably due.)



IRON SAVIOR played as the rain was ending and everybody was still trying to find their footing in the muck. I have to admit, as good as the combination of Kai Hansen (Gamma Ray and now no longer in Iron Savior) and Piet Sielck sounds on paper, their albums, while very well-done technical power metal, don't really grab me the way they should. Iron Savior made up for that during their live performance. They had a lot of energy, good humor, and a pretty snappy set list incorporating songs from across the spectrum of their science-fiction themed albums. On the whole I was impressed.




(Ice Maiden's Commentary: Shrug-I was pretty bored by IRON SAVIOR. I found myself watching the hay in the air more than the band and decided to wander over to the Party Stage to catch WOLF. I was glad I did! These guys were on fire! And they're Swedish? Whoda thunk it looking at them posing like '80's old school classic metal gods???



DEBRIS, INC.I ran into Black Goat and Skyklad watching WOLF, and while we admired the hay bails being spread we noticed an aging hippy-looking guy taking the large True Metal Stage. Who are these old farts? They started playing…Hmmm, very nice, slow groove to this doom metal. I look at my program: "DEBRIS, INC." Stupid name, but nice, plodding riffs. Black Goat, Skyklad and I exchange pleasantly-surprised nods. This is some good stuff! Black Goat finds out later that this is Dave Chandler of St. Vitus fame…no wonder! Glad we wandered this way!)



AngraThe next band we saw was ANGRA, whom I was very interested to check out. Despite being a power metal junkie I've had only flirtatious brushes with the albums of this South American power outfit, and I've never actually taken the plunge to buy one for myself. Surprisingly, their set was very flat. The guitars, drums and vocals were all there and reasonably well done, but there just wasn't a whole lot of enthusiasm or energy coming out of these Brazilians. Punishment Due and I gave up the ghost midway through the set and shuffled back to the backstage area for more beers. There was now something new to celebrate. Not only had the rain stopped, but tractors hauling large bales of hay had magically appeared at various places in the festival grounds, and the inevitable "hay fights" of juvenile metalheads tossing straw at each other had the commendable effect of spreading the stuff evenly around the grounds, for the most part ending our mud problems immediately. Nearly everyone I talked to was quite impressed with how fast and how efficiently the Wacken organization responded to the conditions, and prevented the festival from becoming little more than a musical pig pen for 40,000 mud-covered metalheads. Hats off to Götz Kühnemund and the rest of the organization for this one!

(Ice Maiden's Commentary: Although I haven't listened to much ANGRA, I was interested in seeing these Brazilians from Sao Paulo. After all, this was kind of turning out to be a power metal Wacken for me-these guys should fit right in with their Gamma Ray-esque style of play. The vocalist looks like a wood nymph-first but certainly not last of the "pretty boy" vocalists at this event. Meh…they were fine, but nothing special.)



Before our next band a rather bizarre incident occurred backstage. I was walking toward the bar to get another beer when a long-haired dude in a soccer jersey tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Excuse me, could you come over here and help us with something?" Naturally I said sure, whereupon two other guys suddenly grabbed me by the arms and legs and threw me down on top of one of the large picnic-style tables in the backstage area. I was then dragged bodily across the table, knocking beer cups, trash and cigarette butts onto the floor, and set back down on my feet at the other end. "Thanks!" the guy in the soccer jersey said. "We needed somebody to wipe off our table with, and you looked like a good choice!" I noticed he had an artist badge on, so I said, "Which band are you with, so I'll be sure to miss it?" As it turned out he was Ted Lundström, the bassist for AMON AMARTH! While he wasn't exactly apologetic at having used me as a human paper towel, he did say it was just a joke and offered me a shot of whisky as compensation. Hey, I can take a joke! So obviously could Punishment Due and Nomad, who were laughing hysterically through the whole episode. Actually I had the last laugh. Due to the rainy conditions I'd put on nylon rain pants that morning, and the gallons of beer I wiped off the table with my ass rolled off like water off a duck. No harm done, and at least I got a picture with him…

With the Amon Amarth Beer-Wiping Incident behind us, we moved on toward the Party Stage. On the way we passed the Black Stage where DYING FETUS was performing. I confess I've had a certain amount of curiosity about this band, as I've heard they're as brutal as they come, and contrary to my public reputation I do love death metal. However, I wasn't even interested enough in what I heard from Dying Fetus to stop and give them a substantial listen. All I heard were boring washing machine riffs. I didn't hear enough to really give them a fair review, so I'll refrain from making any firm conclusions; I'll leave it to one of my other festival-going mates to give a more detailed explanation of their impressions.



The Party Stage was the temporary home of NOCTURNAL RITES, our next band. They kicked some major ass! Their set was extremely powerful, and the melodic elements of their music really brought out the best of the traditional Gothenburg sound that can tend to get muddy (no pun intended) at outdoor festival performances. The vocals in particular were very strong, and the crowd was enthusiastic from the get-go. This was certainly one of the highlights of the first day.


(Ice Maiden's Commentary: I was looking forward to NOCTURNAL RITES, the band that metalized Pachelbel's Canon in D. Straight-forward power metal competently played, I can't say that I heard anything particularly "Gothenburg" about them, since I associate that tag with melodic death. Nonetheless, this was a solid performance.)


After a quick trip to the backstage to wolf down some dinner, we eagerly sunk our teeth into the next band on the Black Stage, the mighty BORKNAGAR. By now the festival had truly become a lot of fun. The weather was perfect; not too hot, not too cold, no mosquitoes, and the mud was well under control. Thus nothing stood in the way of enjoying this great band, one of the bands I'd been looking forward to the most. Øystein G. Brun is a charismatic frontman and obviously the creative powerhouse behind the band, and his performance was stellar. Both the black metal elements and the more melodic passages of Borknagar translated well to the crowd. There was some old stuff in their set as well as a few nods to my favorite Borknagar album, "Quintessence." After the festival was over and we were discussing what the best sets of the past three days were, the name Borknagar kept coming up. Great work!



Mr. Brun left the stage only to be followed immediately by Mr. Oliva and the indefatigable SAVATAGE on the True Metal Stage. Much to the chagrin of fellow Metal-Rules.com reviewer Night of the Realm, Savatage's studio albums have never been very high on my most-wanted list, and their music, while undeniably good, never crossed the line to become a band I could truly love. Judging by this performance, however, a live setting is truly the way to appreciate Savatage, as their set was terrific! I don't know a tremendous amount of Savatage songs but the one most familiar to me--"Edge of Thorns"--was one of the highlights of the set. Borknagar was a difficult act to follow, but Savatage rose to the occasion, turning in still another performance that had most of the backstage crowd abuzz with adulation.


(Ice Maiden's Commentary: I've never been a huge fan of recent SAVATAGE albums, finding them a little too "flat" for my tastes. Sergio, our Basque friend, told us that the new vocalist had really put new life into their live performance. Turns out this new vocalist ("pretty boy vocalist" number two, if you are keeping score) first took the stage in Nashville with his mom as a wee tot, singing on the same stage as Minnie Pearl-the old hag with the price tags in her hat-remember her??? Well, he's come a long way, baby. THESE GUYS WERE AWESOME! Skyklad and I tore many a neck muscle as we banged our heads to this incredible set. "Hall of the Mountain King", "Gutter Ballet"-they hit all the old classics No Al Pitrelli, but who is that guy playing guitar? He looks vaguely familiar----I remember! The hockey jersey guy from ANNIHILATOR last year-Jeff Waters. This was my second-favorite set at Wacken this year. Much like after seeing Strat live, I left the SAVATAGE set realizing that this was a band who SLAYS live, and whose albums I had better re-examine.)


Did I skip DESTRUCTION to go have another beer? Moreover, if I did, would I admit it? Well, perhaps--but if it's any consolation, from what I heard of them, they were loud, they were tight, and they were great! Unfortunately my blood alcohol level was reaching a dangerous low, and I figured I could con Punishment Due into buying me another beer. I was right!

(Ice Maiden's Commentary: While Muertos went to drink with Punishment, I checked out DESTRUCTION. "The Antichrist" had gotten more than one spin from me and made my list of Top 20 releases for 2001. Very tight thrash, I was happy to hear my personal favorite played from that album, "Nailed to the Cross"-and was happy to sing along to the chorus-"Nailed to the cross, nailed to the cross, nailed to the fucking crooooooooooossssssssss!" I'm looking forward to seeing these guys on tour in the U.S. with Kreator.

I decided to go and take a quick break while waiting for (the) Bruce Dickinson to take the stage. Sunset over Wacken is a beautiful thing, in more ways than just the visual, and I took a moment to just soak in the atmosphere and reflect.

I also went and checked my email in the "Press Tent", a new addition this year. In you go and, lo and behold: computers, internet access, current up-to-the minute set lists, candles on low tables surrounded by lounge chairs for interviewing bands, electric outlets for re-charging digital cameras and cell phones, free water and candy. Damn-sweet set up! The organizers once again did a very good job addressing needs that had been lacking in previous years.

The Wacken organizers got a lot of bad press this year. I think, for the most part, that press was NOT warranted. They were accused of raising beer prices to an unacceptable level. In point of fact, they increased the beer sizes and only raised the actual prices by 10%--an adjustment to take into account inflation caused in large part by the shift to the Euro from the Mark. They were blamed for charging 50 cents for the bathrooms in the backstage area-but they also had someone keeping those bathrooms clean and stocked with toilet paper and soap. They were damned for the mud, which, as a natural occurrence, seems like a bit of a stretch since this is an OUTDOOR festival, and they brought in hay to the site almost immediately.

The one valid criticism in the planning nightmare is that they changed the band running order without publishing it. Although the changes were caused in large part because bands were delayed by rain, highway accidents, etc., people missed bands because they didn't know about the changes. Apparently, the Wacken organizers have promised to remedy this issue next year by having large digital displays that will update the running order as changes are made. I just want to say "THANK YOU" to the folks who make Wacken possible for all they did.)



Nomad and I are both huge BRUCE DICKINSON fans, and both our expectations for his performance were extremely high. I've seen Mr. Dickinson perform twice with Iron Maiden, but never solo. There is a certain élan that he has when he's onstage with THE GREATEST FUCKING HEAVY METAL BAND OF ALL TIME, and I have to say he lacks it--just a little bit--when he's out there on his own. That aside, Bruce's set crushed. Absolutely crushed! One smashing anthem after another--stuff from "Accident of Birth," "Tattooed Millionaire" and "Chemical Wedding" was all represented. The highlight of his set, and in fact one of the high points of Wacken overall, was the amazing performance of "Tears Of The Dragon," which I still maintain is one of the best metal songs of the 1990s, criminally underrated as a modern classic. I have only two bones to pick with Mr. D. The first is that he did not play either "Machine Men" or "Chemical Wedding"; and the second was that, after going back onstage for an encore (a rarity at Wacken), his final song was a loathsome and completely ridiculous oom-pah-pah number! I don't even remember the title of it, but it was not metal and not even vaguely entertaining. Why would he ruin such a great set by ending that way? I don't know, but given the strength of everything else he played, I might be able to forgive him.

(Ice Maiden's Commentary: In usual Bruce form, he didn't stay in one spot for more than a split second. We photographers in the pit exchanged rolled eyes as shot after shot was lost as he darted from spot to spot, rarely resting. I should probably post all the blurred images of Bruce body parts caught as he dashed to the opposite side of the stage just as we got him in focus. Solid performance, but, sadly, nothing to write home about. What WAS up with that polka number at the end? I don't care if we are in Germany-keep the beer hall songs in the beer hall, Brucey.

The sign this Dickinson fan is holding reads "Bruce. Give me a Sign. Please!!"


CANDLEMASSBy this time my feet were unhappy with me. I approached the Party Stage to catch the re-united CANDLEMASS. Yup-there he was in this monk robe and frizzy halo of hair-Messiah. The words "doom" and "high energy" are rarely used together, but they must be this time. A classic set that I didn't want to miss, so I finally asked the security guys if I could sit with them-my feet insisted. Thankfully, they let me remain there in the front of the stage even after the set ended and they started the set up for what was listed on the program as TORFROCK, some sort of folk metal. Sitting there, I was approached over the barrier by some German lads. I guess my two quarters of German 101 did nothing, because we could communicate not at all, though not for lack of trying on their part. The most I gathered was that: (i) they wanted me to go watch a sex show with them; and (ii) they wanted to know if I knew Bart Simpson. I answered with the appropriate "no" and "yes." I live in America, after all.


Up starts the fog machine, down go the lights. Out comes a long-haired, leather-clad guitar player. This doesn't sound like folk music. I start to laugh as rest of the band comes out, trying to emanate evil as the lead singer skulked (minced?) around the stage. First couple of songs I was unimpressed, and rather amused by the attempts to look "evil." I left to go to the backstage area to grab a drink and Muertos to come watch MY DYING BRIDE with me. Grabbing the drink (they have a full bar with Tequila Sunrises! Woohoo!), I hear the strains of a version of "Sear Me." Wait a minute! That band was MY DYING BRIDE, whose albums get much play from me as nice sleep music and who I was greatly anticipating? I rushed back out to the stage. By now, they had warmed up and I actually enjoyed the rest of the set as more was played from their most recent album. Although the final result was a solid set, I realized that some bands are not meant to be watched in an open air festival after standing all friggin' day. This was a band for a dark, intimate club where people sit and smoke looking bored. Any "oomph" they had was lost in the setting.)


MY DYING BRIDEBy this time it was getting late and a mite chilly, so we retired backstage for--you guessed it!--more beer. We saw only one other band Friday night, that being MY DYING BRIDE, much anticipated by Ice Maiden--and a colossal disappointment. I found them slow, plodding, and completely bereft of the energy a band needs to successfully pull off a Wacken Party Stage performance at nearly midnight. I've not generally been tempted by MDB before, and after seeing part of their set here I think I'll pass on their albums in the future. Too bad; they're a well-respected name with a lot of fans. Ah, well.


Tonight Witch Hunter was smart enough to park off the Wacken site, on dry pavement. Score! Returning home was a quick trip. I fell into bed and slept heavily. One more day remained. This Wacken was already awesome, but we still had twenty-four hours to go before it could truly take its place in the flaming Valhalla of legendary metal festivals.


Read on... Saturday, August 3, 2002

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