Heart of Steel: Concert Reviews

Like An Ever-Flowing Stream
Wacken Open Air 2003

By Michael De Los Muertos
Pictures and Commentary by ICE MAIDEN


Thursday, July 31, 2003

Our first mishap of the trip occurred precisely because we had too much time to kill. Driving into the backstage parking area, I suggested, "Let's look around at what's open here, and if nothing is, we'll go back to Itzehoe and relax before the bands start tonight." Well, nothing was open, but we didn't count on the festival security guards prohibiting us from taking the car out of the backstage parking area before the main gates opened! I have no idea what the rationale is behind this silly rule, but that's what happened. We were forced to catch a cab back to Itzehoe, and then pretty much stranded at our hotel until the festival started several hours later. Well, not totally stranded. Ice Maiden went on ahead with some friends she ran into from the ProgPower festival last fall, but somehow I'd missed them all. While lamenting this fact over a drink at the hotel bar I saw a van pull up to the front of the hotel and none other than In Flames got out, lugging all their gear. Despite a language barrier (I wasn't sure whether the guy spoke German or Swedish) I managed to talk the driver of In Flames' van into giving me a lift back to the Wacken site. After this stroke of amazing good fortune, I found myself once again trodding the hallowed ground of metal's holiest place.

(Ice Maiden's Commentary: I had decided to do a little reading in the lounge of the bar. When I got up to get a drink, I heard a New York accented, "I know you!" Turning around, I ran into Markgugs, editor and writer extraordinaire for Royal Carnage. Damn, the world of metal is small. I had first run into one of Markgugs' compatriots in Atlanta the previous year at ProgPower, where, to take refuge from a storm, we had both ended up chatting with Kai Hansen and the rest of the Gamma Ray crew. Then, I ran into him again in New York last year at an Amon Amarth show. And here we were, running into each other again, again unplanned, in Germany.

Since none of the Royal Carnage crew had ventured to Wacken before, I offered to guide them to the press area. Mostly, I wanted to see their initial reaction to the site. Like getting to experience Disneyland anew through the eyes of a child, watching any metalhead's reaction to seeing the swarms of black clad true metal folk descending on this small German town leaves one with new wonder.)



Thursday night was the Wacken pre-show, and ANNIHILATOR was the first band of the festival that I saw. The Canadian thrashsters were much better than I recall seeing them the last time they played Wacken, which I believe was in 2001. They had a lot of energy and the guitars in particular were thick and crunchy. With a pretty good shout back at their great late-80s stuff, Annihilator set the tone well for the mayhem that was to come the next two days.

(Ice Maiden's Commentary: When I last saw Annihilator in '01 I was relatively unimpressed. This time I found myself banging my head and appreciating both the guitars and vocals much more. Very good job from Jeff Waters' baby…)

After Annihilator, I was reunited with Ice Maiden in the backstage area, and I tasted the first sweet sudsy beers of Wacken. Tastes exactly like last year! I suppose it's too much to ask that they'll start serving Black Butte Porter on tap at Wacken, but one can always hope. Also that evening, thanks to fellow Metal-Rules ace Arto Lehtinen (known as Archtur on the message board), we began to fall in with the infamous crew of Finnish metal reporters--most of them write for the Imperium web zine--that would be our constant companions at Wacken. Once we hoisted the first beer with our new friends from Finland, we were doomed. The party had begun and wouldn't stop for three days!

Somehow I still had time to slip out to see VICTORY, the next band on the pre-show bill. I'm not too familiar with this band, and because their style is more straightforward hard rock than real heavy metal I was surprised to see them playing Wacken. Nonetheless I really enjoyed their set. It was well-played, light-hearted and good-natured, and the very classic 80s-style hard rock took me back to the days in the mid-80s when I was but a young tyke dipping a timid toe into the ocean of hard rock and metal music. I doubt a lot of festivalgoers would rank Victory as an exceptional set at Wacken because they weren't as "metal" as everyone else, but I give them excellent marks.

I heard only a smidgen of RUNNING WILD, but definitely liked what I heard! The world's preeminent pirate metallers were obviously riding high on a wave of renewed interest in pirates probably caused by this summer's release of the Pirates of the Caribbean movie, but I doubt Running Wild would have given any less enthusiasm to their performance even if two people were standing in the audience. I wish I had seen more of the set--everyone I talked to said it was a real highlight.

Our party with the Finns consumed much of the rest of the evening. We returned to Itzehoe in good spirits, only to go back to our hotel to find another party in progress there--including members of several Wacken-bound bands, not the least of which was Twisted Sister! Unfortunately when I finally returned to my hotel room to crash gratefully on my bed I found the room ominously hot, almost too hot to sleep. If last year's major Wacken tribulation was mud, I was beginning to get a clue what this year's would be. Suddenly a brief cool rain shower didn't seem like it would be such a bad thing.

(Ice Maiden's Commentary: I stayed up very late on Thursday night, chatting with the band members of Evidence One, a German rock n' roll style band, and Jesper of In Flames. Since I had consumed a few adult beverages, my tongue was perhaps a bit looser than is ideal, and I asked Jesper why In Flames had started wearing the "stupid jumpsuits." I also asked him if he felt the band had "sold out." He told me that the band was trying to evolve, but was staying true to what they personally believe. He felt that any band that starts selling albums is branded a sell-out. He was a very cool guy, so I didn't feel like saying anything about the fact that Reroute to Remain was an abomination, and that any band that tells me to "Jump motherf#cker, jump" inherently annoys me.)



Friday, August 1, 2003