Heart of Steel: Concert Reviews

Like An Ever-Flowing Stream - Wacken Open Air 2003

The tale of Wacken has many authors, because one of the magic things about the greatest metal festival on planet Earth is that no two of the 50,000 or so people who go there see the same show or have the same experience. In many ways that's the daunting thing about writing about it: I can't tell you the whole story. Who's to say that my account of those three fantastic metal-filled days is going to be better or more representative than anyone else's? This year, flying home after my fourth Wacken Open Air festival, I was amazed at how the experience still seemed fresh and new, and indeed uniquely memorable despite four years of great moments, good friends, killer bands and epic heavy metal performances. In thinking about how to cover the festival again this year I keep returning to the same conclusion. I can't really cover it in a comprehensive way. I can only tell you what happened to me, for whatever it might be worth. So here we go again. Back to the sleepy hamlet in northern Germany, this year baking under the hot sun, awaiting the yearly assault of tens of thousands of metalheads from almost every continent on the globe. Stages are built, camp sites are slowly erected, and the piles of empty beer cans begin to grow. Even before the first band has gone onstage, Wacken is humming with glorious tension. The worldwide congress of Heavy Metal is about to commence.

This year we did it right. Ice Maiden and I, three-time Wacken veterans, and our friend "Viking God," a relative metal newbie who had never been to Wacken before, arrived in Itzehoe a day early, and thankfully we were not nearly as rushed in our preparations as we usually are. We drove to the press check-in area under a boiling sun. "I thought it was supposed to rain all three days?" I commented, having checked the weather on the web religiously in the days before our departure from the United States. No matter--at least it wouldn't be a repeat of last year's rain-soaked bogs of stinking mud! When the sun shines on Wacken, all is good…usually.

With an afternoon to kill and little else to do, the three of us wandered into the Itzehoe village. Somehow we wound up at an ancient bar populated entirely by elderly Germans, most of whom did not speak much English. "Sie kommen for metal festival?" said one nearly toothless old man, pointing to our metal T-shirts. We nodded yes. Conversations in broken English ensued, and oddly enough the locals began to take an interest in the strange young Americans that had invaded their town. A few more beers were served. We got comfortable. We had no idea what we were in for. Five hours later the party at the Itzehoe bar was still going on, and Ice Maiden, Viking God and I were quite blitzed from the free beers that they kept shoving over the counter at us, with my own Gamma Ray Powerplant CD blasting on the PA system. "Wacken, ja!" cried a 65-year-old man named Wolfgang, who had never heard heavy metal before in his life, hoisting a beer skyward. We were already the toast of the town! With a sendoff like this, who would doubt we were in for a great festival?

(Ice Maiden's Commentary: I can't say enough about how cool the ancient Germans in this equally ancient bar were. Interested in the repeat phenomenon of thousands of metalheads descending on their city every year, they asked me to play some of our music. Choosing what I thought would be the most palatable and accessible thing from Muertos' cd case, we popped in "Powerplant." "You make it loud!," one of the three Wolfgangs said with a grin, while proceeding to crank the stereo to ten. With smiles all around, they gave us dinner and endlessly flowing beer and shots, for which they refused to allow us to pay. When I mentioned that a friend was collecting beer steins, they gave us the antique one off the bar! Hours later, I realized that I was in Germany doing the "YMCA" Village People dance with half of the regulars at the bar. Woohoo!)


Thursday, July 31, 2003

Friday, August 1, 2003

Saturday, August 2, 2003