Heart of Steel: Concert Reviews

Wacken Open Air
31.7 - 2.8.2003

Text by Arto Lehtinen and Jani Koskela
Pics by Arto Lehtinen and Ann Kermans


Friday, August 1, 2003

Damn how the tent became suddenly so bloody hot indeed even though the night was a little bit chilly! Getting up to have an extremely refreshing ice cold shower definitely got the eyes wide open. After having eaten some so called breakfast, it was about time to enter to check out the first opening bands of the second day.



The Old British grind core mongers Extreme Noise Terror started the morning by kicking off an ultimate hyper blast grinding lesson. With the two growlers the British grindcore veterans terrorized with a less intense passion than usual as it seemed like the whole band hadn't got their eyes open when getting onstage so early. Starting out at noon with the utter brutal grinding stuff ain't the most idealistic start for the new day. Frankly Extmerers' chaos theory would work much much better in the more intensive smoky small club, playing in front of wild maniacs.



The Swedish retro thrashers unleashed a beast by doing a real kick ass set. The Swedes showed no mercy when hammering down a bunch of brutal thrashy tracks one after another like "Under The Whip", "Crowned In Terror", "Deathexplosion", "Blitzekrieg", "Witchcraft", "Satanist", "World below" and a bunch of other ones. Even though the clock had just hit 1.00 p.m, approximately 15-20,000 metalheads had gathered for the Swedish Crown thrashers. Thrash till Death indeed!



Diamond Head are the famous NWOBHM heroes adored by the Metallica guys. Well actually Diamond Head had basically altered to Diamond Pang Tang because of this temporary line up due to the scheduling conflict was quite weird the vocalist had been hired from Tigers Of Pang Tang and to be honest the one and only real originally Diamond Head member was basically Brian Tatler. The band's appearance appeared to be quite boring and breathless, the singer even had to check out the lyrics from separate papers. To be honest, Diamond Pan Tang's gig was nothing, but boring and absolutely a shame to desecrate the old cult metal legend. They could have cancelled the gig as planned in the first place.



"Are you ready for some old school death metal" growled the Dismember vocalist to the mic before the band unleashed their deadly strike. Both Karki and Estby have always been the most important factors to keep Dismember running even though the band has undergone changes - for example the new bass player and new guitarist recuited to fill the line up. The set was like returning back to the early days of the 90's when Swedish death metal used to dominate the genre since most of the tracks of the set had been picked up from the first Dismember album Like An Ever-Flowing Stream for example "Soon To Be Dead", "Skin Her Alive", "Dismembered", and of course other classics "Misanthropic", "Casket Garden" and surprisingly even a brand new track called "Tragedy Of The Faithful The new dudes handled the set with professional grip and attitude, and vocalist Kärki is as massive as usual!



The northernmost killers, Sentenced, offered Wacken a sort of "best of" set from the albums fronted by the singer Ville Laihiala. They started out with "The Noose" from the Down album and performed one hour of melodic & rocking suicide metal. This was the first time I saw them outside of Finland and it seemed like they were more concentrated (or less relaxed?) on stage than at Finnish shows. This might have been due to the fact that the show was also filmed. The show came to an end with "Nepenthe" off of the AMOK album and we also got the Sentenced cover version of Iron Maiden's "The Trooper". Overall, a nice & decent set. Of course some aggression and grimness of the early Sentenced could been have there as well...



Primal Fear's Ralf Scheepers must visit damn effectively the local training gym, or has started enjoying some stimulant, as the man's muscles have grown an incredible amount. Anyway, it is kinda weird that how Sinner and Primar Fear guys basically jump from one band to another -  Naumann has not been involved in the last two PF albums by the way, and of course Mat Sinner is in both bands. When Sinner got onstage a day later, the same dudes just switched to that band. Well as a matter of fact, it is quite simple and easy after all. But who cares, if the system works in the best way as hoped and planned like now when Primal Fear hit the stage by putting on one hell of "testosroids" metallic show! It was like having the "painkillerish power metallic bullet train" roll ahead with the full force. The five piece hammered with the true heavy metal passion through a 60min set by selecting an equal set consisting of tracks from each album and of course the mandatory Judas Priest cover titled "Metal Gods" for obvious reason, and then finally the brand new track "Sea Of Flames" sounding like a typical Primal Fear metal battle hymn! As for Ralf, the man didn't sing that bad falsetto. But the man's trained arm muscles…Huh.. It looked like Ralf would dressed up in too small clothes because moving appeared to be a little bit difficult.



Bay Area's thrashers Testament were definitely one of the most expected and awaited bands on the Wacken bill. The five piece received enormous attention and following. In part this was due to Chuck Billy's battle against the miserable disease, cancer, which he has fortunately defeated. Before the Bay Area metallers got onstage, bassist Steve Digiorgio unveiled a little bit in advance about the forthcoming setlist mostly based on the older material. Indeed the whole set was a real crossfire of the old Testament classics, which definitely delighted the incredible huge crowd by blowing them away. "Over The Wall", "Eerie Inhabitants", "Curse Of The Legions Of Death", "Raging Waters", "Practice What You Preach", and of course the newer material like "Low", "D.N.R.", "True Believer" got a great response from the huge crowd as well.

Despite the gig starting with unclear sound, it got better and better piece by piece and finally turned to be one hell of murderous ass kicking gig indeed. Both guitarists Steve Smythe and Eric Peterson, being the most active person on the stage, handled their parts damn well. Sadus bassist Steve Digiorgio was the right man in the right place. Chuck sounded excellent...dangerous...brilliant! New album out now, guys!!!!



The Greek dark metallers Rotting Christ's gig in an inhuman sweaty hot tent stage was without any doubts an entirely wrong decision. The amount of people attempting to invade the small tent caused an enormous temperature rise giving a feeling even worst than in a sauna. But instead, Sakis and the dark company delivered a solid set mostly consisting of different albums from Non Serviam via Triarchy Of The Lost Lovers to the latest effort Genesis. The band's live sound is definitely raw and even unpolished compared to their album being so highly skilled and polished. Even though the Greek dark metallers suffered from the sweaty hot atmosphere, the audience seemed to enjoy them a lot!



How many times has Gamma Ray visited the WOA event before.. Hmm? At least they finally got a suitable schedule to spread their melodic power metal message with the nice looking light systems giving a cool visuals. It was obvious that this was the final gig of the long tour and some special things had been set up to get the audience surprised. The set was basically based on the almost same tracks, (with a few exceptions) as on the just released the Skeletons In The Closet live album. But the surprise to point out was when Ralf Scheepers showed up to do "The Silence" along with Kai Hansen! Gamma Ray had also added the keyboard player Nils Neumann from Freedom Call to their ranks to give a more melodic perspective to the New World Order metal march. At Wacken, the band sounded so damn tight and Kai appeared to be in the bloody good shape. As stated above, the set was quite the same as on the live album, let's pick up a few of them for example "Gardens Of The Sinner", "Last Before The Storm" (which works damn well live), "Heart Of The Unicorn", "New World Order", "Heaven And Hell", "Armageddon"...

The massive audience during the Gamma set was damn great, but doing crowd surfing during a power metal band is really weird cos somehow it doesn't just make sense and fit to that sort of stuff at all!! As a matter of fact, it was kind of absurd to note that some drunk Finn doing crowd surfing had the Finnish flag in his hand and even managed to loose it once and desperately crawled back to get it and continued the surfing until getting over the security barrier.



It was a damn hard problem to decide: In Flames or Assassin...Argh!!! Assassin won this time as this was their first gig in over 13 years, whereas In Flames has been testified on stages more than a couple of dozen times by now. Getting onstage after such a long break is a real challenge for anyone. However, the same thing has been faced by the Assassin guys as well, cos the start out wasn't any ground shaking experience despite the opening track called "Abstract War" being a real kick ass song (from the band's second album Interstellar Experience). The set had been equaled to cover both albums of Assassin and of course the irritating Junk Food belonged to the set list. Step by step the reunited Teutonic thrashers got more and more thrilled about finding enjoyment to play in front of the surprisingly huge crowd. Of course vocalist Robert Gonnella's funny speeches like "we are not old enough to play thrash and prove thrash must be back" with a strong German accent were quite fun to listen to. Obviously all of the Assassin guys hadn't agreed to team up with the reunited band as the former Violent Force, Living Death, Sodom battery man, Atomic Steiff, seemed to handle the drums.


This year's Swedenrock festival was a world premiere show for the return of the reunited Twisted Sister. At Swedenrock some mistakes in the playing of the classic hard rock combo were kinda obvious and discernible, and in general the much expected come back show of TS turned out to be sort of a rehearsal gig where the band's skills and playing methods were tested for the first time in the real situation. Twisted Sister got a surprise call from the Wacken organization to replace last minute cancellation Iced Earth. It was definitely worth of every penny! Holy hell, the twisted sisters literally blew the whole Wacken countryside up with a real ass kicking dynamic show. From the first opening track it could be perceived the sisters have undergone hard training. They have put in more effort to the rehearsal factors because the whole set proved the band's high ambitions. Everything was done with a better attitude and a tighter grip though their 90 minute set. Dee was, like at Swedenrock, in dangerous looking great condition....jumping and running all around the stage. The rest of the band has found the missing link and appeared to be more eager to make a real unique show. The set was the exact same as in Sweden by starting with "What You Don´t Know (Sure Can Hurt You)" and of course the whole gig was one hell of crossfire of the immortal TS classic tunes covering every album apart from their last one. But the highlight peak was experienced when "We´re Not Gonna Take It" hit. When the song itself reached the end, the audience carried on the song by singing it all over again! Dee and his company didn't have any choice left, just continue with it.

Twisted Sister did an absolutely outstanding and definitely unforgettable gig with a very professional and excellent attitude. We are gonna take it….

Huh what a day!!! When hanging around in the VIP area I came across the guitarist of Vicious Rumors, Ira Black, who was promoting the Wacken guitar designed and made made by Ira himself. The guitar model looked that great indeed. I couldn't believe my eyes when seeing it for the first time.

The day was long and truly metallic to the bone. Time to crawl to the tent to have some sleep for the next day's metal party.



Saturday, August 2, 2003