Released: 2004, Armageddon Music
Reviewer: Michael De Los Muertos
ARMAGEDDON OVER WACKEN – LIVE 2003 is one of the best metal DVDs I’ve ever seen. Not only does it beautifully and completely communicate the awesome experience of being at the largest heavy metal festival in the world, but even standing on its own it’s a terrific accomplishment, and it’s something that every metal fan should see.
This DVD is staggering in its scope. With two discs and 35 performances, the total running time is 3 hours and 48 minutes—which is about the length of the director’s cut of the average LORD OF THE RINGS movie! All performances were shot and recorded live at Wacken in 2003. They are not chronological, and there doesn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason to the order of bands shown on the DVD, but Freedom Call opens the disc, and numerous bands follow, including Running Wild, The Crown, Testament, Vader, Nile, In Flames, Metalium, Primal Fear, Rage, Sinner, Gamma Ray and Twisted Sister. Special emphasis is put on Testament (3 tracks—“Over the Wall,” “Burnt Offerings” and “Alone in the Dark”), Nile (“Black Seeds of Vengeance,” “Blessed Dead”), Gamma Ray (“One With The World” and “Last Before the Storm”), and Twisted Sister (“Like A Knife In The Back” and “I Am, I’m Me”). There are also performances by Victory, Saxon, Evidence One, Die Apokalyptischen Reiter, Subway to Sally, Holy Moses, Seventh One, Dark Age, Lordi, Onkel Tom, Dew-Scented, Kataklysm, Carpathian Forest, Diamond Head, and Sentenced. Like Wacken itself, the DVD showcases numerous bands cutting across all styles of metal.
The sets are filmed beautifully. If you’ve been to Wacken in recent years surely you’ve seen the large movie cameras swinging to and fro on their hydraulic arms in front of the stage, or even swooping overhead from the wire strung between the main stage and the sound booth—well, if you’ve ever wondered where all that footage goes, now you know. Every frame of this movie explodes with color, the sound is almost always perfect, and the direction and editing are timely and straightforward—cutting nearly four hours of band performances into a DVD must get taxing, but everything here is done very well. In addition to the bands playing onstage, there’s the requisite audience shots, showing pretty realistically the endurance test (heat, sun, dust) that Wacken fans go through, and their gleeful abandon when their favorite bands come on. Also the beginnings and endings of tracks are liberally strewn with funny encounters with Wacken fans, shots from the camp sites and backstage areas, and many other tidbits that really show you what the Wacken festival is like as a true experience. In my opinion it’s these items that truly bring ARMAGEDDON OVER WACKEN into the realm of something transcendental. I was present at Wacken 2003, and watching this disc I felt like I was right back there, watching it all happen again—with the added bonus of being able to see all the performances I missed, and to stop the action to go take a whiz in my own bathroom as needed!
There are so many awesome tracks here that it’s hard to pin down my favorite one. I love Gamma Ray, and their performances here are terrific. I also love the fast-motion point-of-view journey through the Wacken village and camp site that comprises a large portion of the Evidence One track (“In The Beginning There Was Fire”), and the quiet, almost exasperated dedication of the Twisted Sister guys as they prepare backstage for their set as headliners. But one track really stands out here, and I was shocked at which one—the very last track on the first disc, Onkel Tom’s “Bon Scott Hab Ich Noch Live Gesehen.” This disc is structured so that part one is supposed to be the “main” program, and disc 2 is the “bonus” disc—so the filmmakers obviously wanted to end the first disc with a bang, and they certainly did. I’m not a huge fan of Onkel Tom and haven’t seen him perform at Wacken since 2000 (though he seems to be on the bill every year, especially at the very end of the evenings), but if he’s there in 2005 I’ll be front and center. His “audience participation” style really shows the enthusiasm and madness of Wacken, and makes the viewer feel like he or she is in the front row or on-stage. It’s the perfect finale for a metal movie of awesome impact.
I must mention this: metalheads in North America may have a difficult time playing this disc. It’s encoded Region 0, code-free, but I believe it’s in PAL format, not NTSC as is used in the United States and Canada. I can only play it on my laptop computer, which is a tremendous shame because I’d love to see it on my big-screen television—but thankfully some of my friends have PAL DVD players, and what more excuse does one need to have a party? ARMAGEDDON OVER WACKEN is pure metallic bliss from beginning to end. You definitely won’t regret the extra effort to purchase it.