On the Silver Mountain
The Wacken 2004 Experience
By Michael De Los Muertos
Additional Commentary by Ice Maiden
Photos by Ice Maiden, Alison Jacob and Michael De Los Muertos
There’s not much that can be said about the Wacken festival that hasn’t been said before. You probably know all the basics by now: it’s the biggest metal festival on the planet. The world?s top bands, and a lot of lesser and even unknown acts, converge there for three days in August to play to a sold-out crowd of tens of thousands of metalheads from all over the planet. It’s as much a metal concert as it is a party, soaked in beer, streaked with mud, and remembered by the majority of its attendees as the time of their lives. Whether you like black, power, death or thrash metal, you’ll find plenty to listen to and almost more metal experiences than you can handle.
So the question presents itself: we know why people go to Wacken – but why do people go back? This was my fifth Wacken festival, and I met more “repeat offenders” this year than any one previously. This time I met numerous three-year, five-year, six-year, even nine-year veterans of Wackens past who still stream in vast numbers to the little village in Schleswig-Holstein, in the north of Germany, still pitch their tents in blazing heat and still guzzle vast quantities of warm Carlsberg whilst waiting for the first bands to start. Why? It can’t just be that this year?s festival was the 15th anniversary, with acts as diverse as Helloween, Dio, Mayhem and Arch Enemy. It’s more than just the bands on the bill. So what is it?
The answer is that Wacken is more than the sum of its parts. It’s more than the bands that play, or even the merchandise, the meet-and-greet autograph sessions, and the chance to see metal bands that you would never be able to see at home (especially if you happen to live outside of Europe). It’s the people. It’s the friendships, the metal brothers and sisters, and the experience of coming together to celebrate the music and the culture that defines us as metalheads. One of my Metal-Rules.com colleagues, referring to some of my past Wacken reviews, told me, ?I hope your review this year will be more about the show?and less about the party!? But you see, Wacken is the party. The bands are awesome?but chances are, if you’ve been to Wacken more than once, you didn’t come back for the bands alone. You came back because Wacken is an absolutely unique experience, and the metalheads who go there are never quite the same again. That’s a good thing!
Thursday, August 5, 2004
Ice Maiden and I arrived at the festival site fairly late this year – it wasn’t until after 5:00 PM on Thursday, with less than an hour before the pre-show bands got started. After collecting our press credentials, we quickly wound up in the backstage campground with our friends from the great Finnish on-line metalzine, www.imperiumi.net, who, as last year, had come out in force to cover the festival! I had been at the camp site for less than five minutes before several of these Finnish lunatics?including Imperiumi’s special guest, Henrik Klingenberg of Sonata Arctica had thrust beers and Jagermeister into my hand and were offering to help me put up my tent and get my own camp site organized. Yet another example of the instant camaraderie of Wacken.
Naturally there was another hallmark of Wacken at the camp site: one of the Finns, completely passed out, lying on the ground right where my tent would be. Classic!
Above: an early casualty of the Wacken alcoholocaust. Photo by Ice Maiden.
Below 1st picture: the combination Imperiumi/Metal-Rules.com camp site in the backstage area. Photo by Los Muertos.
After fussing for nearly an hour with tent poles, inflatable mattresses, sleeping bags and mosquito netting, and taking stock of our little nylon-walled village amongst a hundred parked cars and minivans blasting Manowar and Judas Priest and fluttering every flag in creation from the Jolly Roger to the Confederate battle ensign, we headed off into the festival area, eagerly awaiting the first band we saw of the pre-show, the mighty MOTORHEAD. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve seen Lemmy and company, but I do recall a particularly rousing show at the Roseland Theater in Portland in May 2000?thus I was quite stoked to see them again, and judging from the incredible enthusiasm of the crowd, so was everybody else. Sadly, however, Mot?rhead was not at the top of their game. They played some great songs including (of course) the inimitable ?Ace of Spades,? but for some reason it sounded kind of tired and forced. Lemmy’s voice was particularly hoarse and not very dynamic. Although Mot?rhead can easily give a five-star performance, I would rank their Wacken shot as ??? at best.
This year’s Wacken pre-show was surprisingly lackluster. I had no interest in the other two bands, Zodiac Mindwarp and B’HSE ONKELZ. The latter band was actually something of a controversy this year. B’hse Onkelz, a German band, was known in the mid-90s as a skinhead band, although they have repudiated this tag and its attendant philosophy, and in fact the theme of this year’s Wacken was Metalheads Against Racism. Nevertheless, the last time B’hse Onkelz played Wacken, in 1996, there were evidently some problems caused by some of the band?s former supporters, and I?d heard through the grapevine that similar scuffles might break out this year. I did not see B’hse Onkelz perform, but I’m happy to report that the show went very smoothly- in fact I’m aware of no violent incidents from the entirety of the Wacken festival – and the “controversy” regarding this band was apparently a tempest in a teapot. I retired to the backstage area for some drinks with the Finns, and busied myself in getting fully into the spirit of the Wacken festival and preparing for tomorrow’s onslaught of great bands!
After partying ’til the wee hours of the morning I finally came back to my tent, pried off my shoes, drank a lot of water, and settled down for a night’s sleep that was surprisingly restful considering the circumstances. There’s something very familiar and comfortable about Wacken once you’ve been there several times, and I felt completely at home?which is not an easy thing to do considering my home was thousands of miles away, across an ocean and the entire North American continent.
Read on for Coverage of Friday’s Wacken Experience!