Older Concert Reviews


Heart of Steel: Concert Reviews


By Michael De Los Muertos
Additional Commentary and Pictures by Ice Maiden

All photos ©Metal-Rules.com
Permission to use, copy and distribute documents and related graphics available from this webzine is only permitted with express permission of Metal-Rules.com
The majority of the pictures on this page are shown as thumbnails, meaning you can click on the picture to see it full screen!

dsc00256.jpg (196099 bytes)Once upon a time there was a little town in northern Germany called Wacken.  It was a quaint little Teutonic hamlet full of tree-lined streets and neat brick buildings, nestled in gently rolling hills checkered with fields where cows wandered lazily in the sun.  It was a most unlikely place to be the center of the world’s attention, but for one weekend in August of the year 2000 – and in fact for one weekend during each of the past eleven summers – it was the most important place in the world of heavy metal, for the festival that bears its name.  From all corners of the globe metalheads began to trickle toward the little Germanic village.  They came in planes, on ferry boats across the English Channel and the North Sea, in battered cars with Blind Guardian and Iron Maiden stickers in their back windows.  A few at first – but later, a torrent.  Like a ring of electric static closing toward a blazing shock of light, the world of metal surrounded and conquered Wacken, and made it its temporary capital.

That’s the image you have to have of Wacken to understand it.  It’s not just a metal festival, it’s a global reunion of our species.  Let me give you an example.  Thursday afternoon, August 3, the Hamburg airport.  We (Witch Hunter, Moonchild and I) had arrived late – Ice Maiden’s plane had already landed – and we were threading through a streaming mass of random metalheads as we searched for her.  Who should I see on the other side of the room but a guy I’d seen a few days before in a recording studio in Rome, who also happened to be the drummer for the Italian band Swords.  “Hey, man, what’s up?”  I almost couldn’t believe it.  But that kind of thing happened frequently.  Some metalhead you may have met in another country – or perhaps never met, but only talked to on e-mail – finds you among 60,000 other guys and girls in black T-shirts and ragged jeans, long hair, dreadlocks, weird piercings, tattoos.  The world is a big place, but the world of metal is comfortably small, I think.  [Ice Maiden's Commentary:  Case in point—as I was en route to Hamburg and waiting for my flight in the Amsterdam airport, I see two guys who are obviously metalheads waiting at the same gate.  They sat down right behind me and started talking with anticipation about Iced Earth and Gamma Ray.  A ray of recognition dawned on me as I asked them if they were headed to Wacken.  One of the guys starts to say that they are playing Wacken, when we both realized we knew each other from on-line—it was Kevin Lewis, guitar player extraordinaire for October 31!!!!  It was great chatting with him and Jim (their bass player) while we waited for the flight and then for my friends at the Hamburg airport.  Small metal world!!!]

oct31book_withlogo.jpg (145963 bytes)

Hamburg Airport.  Crisis Number One: once we found Ice Maiden, she told us that the hotel in Itzehoe most of our party was booked at – known colloquially as “The Schloss” – went bankrupt a mere two days before the festival.  Two days!  Of course, all the hotels in Itzehoe were booked.  Crisis Number One quickly led to Crisis Number Two, and Three, and Four.  We were supposed to meet some of our party at the Schloss.  We knew they were flying into Hamburg from London this evening, but we didn’t know exactly when, or what airline.  We waited at the airport.  Remember those amazing reunions?  Well, we didn’t have one.  The concert hadn’t even started yet, and two of our party were already missing in action.  Great start, eh?

Well – some crisis management to the rescue.  Good news: we booked a hotel in Hamburg, and a fairly nice one.  Bad news: it’s in the worst part of town, its front door continually awash in crack whores and drug dealers.  A 65-year-old German woman with no teeth eyed the several eligible bachelors in our party as we go into the hotel.  No thanks, lady – um, we have a concert to go to!  Cid can tell you about our interesting dinner.  All I’ll add is that if you’ve never had a German dressed as an Argentinian gaucho as a waiter, you’re missing out!

A nagging thought came to me in bed at the hotel: where the fuck are our friends we were supposed to meet at the Schloss?  They’re resourceful guys…they’ll find a place to stay tonight, right?  Oh, yeah.  Um – they sort of have our tickets.  If we can’t hook up with them tomorrow morning, we can’t get into Wacken without paying for our tickets again.  Crisis Number – what are we up to now, Eight?  Nine?

Morning.  Oh, man, this is gonna rule!  We know our limitations.  “Given last night’s experiences, we ought to allow plenty of time to get to the show.  Vader starts at one.  Let’s leave at eight AM!”  Such a thought would have seemed pretty silly to anyone who hadn’t been as hardened to mishap as we were by that time.  It turns out we needed every minute of it.  Getting out of Hamburg took an hour and a half.  Getting to Itzehoe took another hour.  Wrong turns, dead-end streets, bad directions – a neverending conundrum of hassle.  Oh, I might add I was one of four guys crammed in the back seat of a tiny Peugeot.  Not a pleasant journey.  Once we got going with the signs, at least we knew we were going the right way.  Toward the outskirts of Wacken we saw metalheads shuffling toward town, wearing heavy backpacks clanking with tin camp cookware and bundled with bedrolls.  They looked like Civil War soldiers about to make an infantry charge.  I saw a guy in a Gamma Ray shirt pushing a shopping cart down the streets of Wacken.  The cart was completely full of cans of beer.  Completely full.  Well, he’s gonna have a good festival.

groupshot.jpg (175838 bytes)

But all of a sudden – another miraculous reunion!  “Hey, is that Cameron?”  A tall figure darted across the street.  One of our missing compatriots!  And our other friend with the tickets was with him!  Finally – a break!  It was 12:42 as we parked and started walking toward the festival entrance.  We passed acres of campsites.  It was a ramshackle little city strewn between battered cars blasting all kinds of metal out their windows – old Metallica, Judas Priest, Cannibal Corpse, Helloween, Mayhem, you name it.  Flags of the world fluttered on poles above some tents.  A Swedish flag; a Union Jack; even the Confederate stars and bars from a distant corner of the campground.  Did they come all the way from the U.S., from the South? Or perhaps they’re just Pantera fans.  A little knot of grungy-looking metalheads jabbered in angry French while opening up fresh cans of beer around their meager little campfire, in the embers of which were the twisted remains of many another empty can of beer.

dsc00013.jpg (223130 bytes)

At the ticket booth -- where, thankfully, we did manage to get everybody in without having to pay again -- we experienced the first instance of a recurring Wacken tradition: the wristband.  Once they verified you were allowed to go inside, you had to thrust your arm into the ticket booth, where a friendly German would put a little black and green ribbon around your wrist, spangled with the ever-present cow-skull logo of Wacken.  Then came a little metal nugget.  The nugget was placed into the jaws of a nasty-looking metal press.  CRUMP!  The German would slam down the handle and notch the metal nugget to hold your wristband on.  That was your ticket.  It was the first of several wristbands to come.  [Ice Maiden's Commentary:  The wristbands came to symbolize all that is Wacken.  In the airport on the way home I met an Irish metalhead, and we recognized each other by our wristbands (well, OK, and by his Rhapsody shirt), which we were both loathe to remove.  Cutting them off was like recognizing that the Wacken was truly over for this year.]

dsc00137.jpg (142526 bytes)

The queue leading into the festival area was in many ways the worst part of the show.  [Ice Maiden's Commentary:  I had a great time as we were headed through the gates.  The excitement was incredible, and for me, as a sloppy American, it was simply INCREDIBLE to see so many true metalheads all gathered in one place.  For as far as the eye could see, there was hair, leather, and black.  Aaaahhhhh!!!!!]  Thousands of metalheads, pressed against each other, struggling to flow through the entrance gate -- and then after a rumble and clatter, from somewhere inside we started to hear the loud but distant drone of grinding death metal.  Vader!  They’re starting!  You had to walk on a carpet of crushed beer cans, and past a gigantic dumpster full of them, right by the entrance.  A drunk German metalhead was literally swimming in the discarded beer cans.  Goddammit, we’ve got to get in there -- Vader’s starting!  You inevitably lose your friends in the entrance queue.  You hope to find them again on the inside.  Nothing to do now but make your way through, submit to the frisk-down search (those German guards are very thorough), and then bolt toward the Black Stage.

dsc00055.jpg (112884 bytes)

Thus, VADER was the first band of Wacken, and what an opener!  My heart skipped a couple of beats as I rushed up to the crowd gathered around the stage and laid my eyes on the mighty Polish death machine.  Their set was a brutal, punishing assault, technically flawless, and the band performed and conducted themselves in a completely professional manner.  You could tell just by their stage presence the great amount of experience they have giving shows, and while some bands could probably be intimidated by playing for tens of thousands of demanding metal fans, Vader was not.  Both newer and older stuff graced their set list, which by the end had the entire crowd transported into the Wacken mind-set.  Great!

Happy reunions abounded after Vader.  I found my friends I’d come in with, and, as we had discussed in Rome about a week before, I met my Italian friends -- most of them from the band Stormlord -- at the right-hand side of the black stage right after Vader.  Ice Maiden started snapping pictures.dsc00026.jpg (194430 bytes)  Then, plans.  “Hey, let’s go try to find our backstage passes.”  It meant missing Samson, teeing up on the True Metal Stage, but hey -- I was a writer from Metal-Rules.com and I had a job to do!  Trying to find someone who knew where to pick up the passes was an extremely difficult task.  Finally Ice Maiden grew frustrated by the security guards and Wacken staff who gave us conflicting answers.  “Let’s just ask somebody who has one.”  She sidled up to a tall, thin, dark-haired man with fierce eyes and a wispy little goatee.  He had a black and green card on a halyard around his neck.  “Um, excuse me -- where did you get your backstage pass?”  The man, looking surprised, mumbled something inconclusive which didn’t help us much, and then passed on.  Cid, one of the friends in our party, looked aghast.

“Do you know who that was?”

“No,” said Ice Maiden innocently.

“That was Peter Tagtgren!  You know, from Hypocrisy?”

We all about lost our lunch.  Peter Tagtgren -- member of Hypocrisy and Pain, prolific producer, stanchion of the Swedish black metal scene and one of the most important metalheads in the world -- and all we could find to ask him was where he got his backstage pass?!?  [Ice Maiden's Commentary:  OK, the boys could not let this mistake rest.  I was teased incessantly for the rest of the trip about this little faux pas.  In my own defense, lads, if it was not for my willingness to talk to folks, we would still be lost in Hamburg, we would have no autographs or pics with any bands, and you all would still be thinking that those two random guys in the backstage area were Immortal without their make-up.  And, hey, I recognized Jon Schaffer when you cats didn't, didn't I???]

We found the passes.  They were at a checkpoint about half a kilometer away.  Unfortunately they weren’t smart black and green cards on halyards -- they were more wristbands!  These ones were purple.  “Now I look like a patient at a mental hospital,” I shrugged.  But at least we could get backstage, and Metal-Rules.com would get their story.  Score!  The backstage area wasn’t what I expected, but it was quite nice.  A neat little hard-floored patio with its own bar, food stands, a string of party lights drooping in a graceful arc across the entrance.  Nearby was a tent which contained long tables, another bar (sporting Jack Daniel’s bottles hanging upside-down like IV drips), and what was to be the most important commodity of Wacken: chairs.  We sat and had a drink.  The beer was pretty average, the food not so good, but hey – we’re at Wacken.  Who cares?


dsc00035.jpg (131987 bytes) dsc00029.jpg (155255 bytes)

[Ice Maiden's Commentary:  I was back in time to see Royal Hunt.  I have to say, I'd never heard of these guys before, but was relatively impressed by their set.  I'll definitely have to buy some of their stuff soon.]

Back to the festival!  We saw the very end of Dark Funeral – but, unfortunately, not enough to really report on.  At 4:00 the Black Stage was the scene of one of the festival’s only failures.  UMBRA ET IMAGO were behind the 8-ball from the first moment they appeared.  Bad make-up, ludicrous clothes – even TBPPs (Tight Black Plastic Pants), the traditional warning sign of a below-average goth-influenced band. [Ice Maiden's Commentary:  HAHAHAHAAA!!!!!!] The music was even worse.  The metal influences in their music, though present, were carefully sealed off behind walls of cheap European techno.  Add annoying vocals and a desire to be Rammstein that borders on psychotic desperation, and you’ve got Umbra.  Thankfully, they were the only band at Wacken to score in the “poor” category.

dsc00140.jpg (189297 bytes) dsc00039.jpg (146315 bytes) dsc00041.jpg (148949 bytes) dsc00042.jpg (113723 bytes)


One of my few deviations from the Black or True Metal Stages was a side-jaunt to the Party Stage to see OCTOBER 31. 

dsc00043.jpg (134460 bytes) dsc00046.jpg (150371 bytes) dsc00048.jpg (173411 bytes)

What followed was one of the supreme highlights of the entire festival.  Their set was an explosive ball of energy, combining the infectious fist-in-the-air feeling of power metal with the riotous glee of a good old 80s-style thrash band, and serving it up with irreverence and fun that struck an immediate and obvious chord with the crowd.  It didn’t even matter what these guys played – they rocked.  Pure, raw, American style metal that absolutely screamed “I LOVE METAL!!!” and showed everyone why.  I definitely hope to see October 31 back at Wacken next year, and from talking to the band later in the day, I’m told there may be a pretty good chance of that.  Hail October 31!

dsc00047.jpg (241290 bytes)

As the ringing power of October 31 died down, a black metal band was setting up on the Black Stage.  My program said it was MARDUK.  A couple of songs in, I began to think:  hmm, these guys sound awfully slow for Marduk.  They must not be playing anything from “Panzer Division”!  “Silly  Michael,” you say.  “Don’t you know that was IMMORTAL?”  Blazing geysers of ice-cold Scandinavian black metal spurting into the sky, along with clouds of smoke and a thick shower of sonic evil.  Their set was impressive, very technical, and extremely competent.  No complaints, except for my Marduk confusion.  I never did quite figure out where Marduk ended up on the Wacken bill – thus, I missed them.  Inexcusable on my part.

dsc00049.jpg (87153 bytes) dsc00050.jpg (129736 bytes) dsc00052.jpg (108404 bytes) dsc00054.jpg (166285 bytes)

Next adventure: the Metal Markt.  A vast, sprawling tent – acres, in fact – into which one had to pay admission, and receive yet another wristband.  This one was blue.  Entering the tent, I got a feeling similar to John Carter shining a dim candle into a hole to reveal the gilded treasures of King Tut’s tomb.  Treasure!  It was stunning.  Row after row after row of CDs, vinyl, T-shirts, accessories, posters – all metal, much of it rare, the vast majority impossible to get on North American shores.  It was so overwhelming that I just had no idea where to start.  Staggering through racks of T-shirts – all advertising great European bands – flipping CD cases, Ice Maiden, Cid and I were utterly stunned.  What do you buy in a place like that?  More importantly, what do you not buy?  It was pretty much an insoluble conundrum.


dsc00068.jpg (191303 bytes) dsc00061.jpg (235646 bytes) dsc00071.jpg (126900 bytes) dsc00070.jpg (139608 bytes) dsc00066.jpg (168432 bytes) 

Back to the festival, midway through the RHAPSODY set.  Two of our friends had their hearts set on Rhapsody and Stratovarius as their personal highlights of the festival.  I confess, Rhapsody didn’t move me that much.  Again, technical precision that would shame most pop “metal” acts to land multimillion-dollar record deals in America – but I can’t say I was really amazed by their music.  Still, it’s hard to find fault with their set; I’m probably just not a fan of their style.


dsc00075.jpg (113163 bytes) dsc00077.jpg (113099 bytes) dsc00087.jpg (131186 bytes) dsc00084.jpg (233631 bytes)

Which seems strange, because when STRATOVARIUS came on forty-five minutes later, I was riveted from the first second.  Sweeping blasts of epic power metal, with an extraordinarily strong vocal performance, Stratovarius never forgot that for all their majestic vocals and progressive influences, they were still a metal band with a job to do: rock the audience.  Stratovarius worked impressively well together as a unit, with each guitar, drum or vocal part seamlessly flowing into the next.  This is probably an effect of excellent music-writing as much as it is competence on stage.  If nothing else, Stratovarius had fists in the air and choruses on the lips of nearly everyone present.  Again, a highlight of the festival!  [Ice Maiden's Commentary:  For me, these guys were the surprise of the festival.  I've always been rather bored with Strat (unpardonable, perhaps, but true).  Much like Dream Theater, I recognize their proficiency, but I'm left cold and unmoved by their albums.  I take it all back after seeing them live—these guys were amazing. Tight and heavy, their set was truly a special metal moment.]


dsc00093.jpg (65983 bytes)

By now a twinging little ache in my back had become an almost debilitating spike crunching into my spine.  It’s difficult to be on your feet for that long.  Overkill had cancelled, and in their place came ARMORED SAINT, which I was happy to see on the bill – but not so happy to see on stage.  Despite an amazing performance at Portland’s Satyricon in early May, Armored Saint just didn’t have the presence to compete on the Wacken stage with the European bands.  John Bush’s voice – it always reminded me of tearing cloth – seemed a little less powerful than it did back in May.  Ice Maiden, Cid and I decided to retire backstage for a little while.  Chairs!  A miracle!  More beer.  A good rest.  Essential for the assault to come.


dsc00103.jpg (89241 bytes) dsc00104.jpg (105292 bytes) dsc00106.jpg (99326 bytes) dsc00111.jpg (87541 bytes)

Assaulting it was!  Watching ICED EARTH set up and prepare for their set was like sitting on a volcano about to erupt.  This fine American band had two obstacles against them: first, Jon Schaffer was injured, and appeared in a neck brace, and second, their set list was a little odd, missing some obvious highlights such as “Night of the Stormrider” and others.  Nonetheless, their performance was amazing.  [Ice Maiden's Commentary:  Pout!  No "Pure Evil!"  Still, this set was my personal Wacken highpoint.]  With twilight finally falling on Wacken, Matt Barlow’s powerful vocals, Schaffer’s amazing guitar work, and the astonishing song-writing talent of the entire band made for a set that was eagerly devoured by the whole crowd.  It was my first time seeing Iced Earth and I now understand why they’re one of the preeminent metal bands on the planet.  They were in their element at Wacken, and they knew it.


dsc00112.jpg (65402 bytes) dsc00113.jpg (69279 bytes) dsc00115.jpg (101409 bytes)

Hey, who’s that setting up on the Black Stage?  It’s Peter Tagtgren – perhaps we should ask him where the bathroom is, or if the fries over at the food booth are any good!  [Ice Maiden's Commentary:  Oh, you’re just hilarious, MDLM!!!]  HYPOCRISY roared forth with some of the most powerful riffs of the entire night.  Imagine being spontaneously broadsided by a butchered side of beef – that aptly describes the effect Hypocrisy had on the crowd.  Little to say, and absolutely nothing about which to complain.  What do you think you’d get from a Hypocrisy live performance?  Well, you got it.


dsc00132.jpg (87229 bytes) dsc00121.jpg (61110 bytes) dsc00129.jpg (107988 bytes) dsc00130.jpg (93271 bytes) dsc00119.jpg (105592 bytes)

By now – nearing one o’clock in the morning – the body was ready to go home even if the ears and the mind (and the heart) were not.  We were all in the same shape: legs, back and feet all an angry mass of excruciating pain, eyelids about to close of their own volition, stomachs growling, and clean beds back in a Hamburg hotel calling our name.  No!  You can’t give up yet!  Indeed we couldn’t.  If there was only one band I came across the ocean to see, GAMMA RAY was it.  When they started, you immediately forgot your physical misery – this was Gamma Ray, man, Kai Hansen and the rest of the reigning kings of German power metal!  And you’re seeing them in Germany!  A double-bass driven charge of electricity had fists in the air in seconds, and the mighty Kai Hansen punished his guitar with the technical skill we’ve come to expect from the godfather of modern power metal.  Their set was heavy on Somewhere Out In Space and surprisingly light on Powerplant, but it was still very snappy and delivered on the exciting promise of, “Wow, you’re gonna see Gamma Ray in Europe?”  Kai did a little too much audience sing-along – the “noise meter” (“Come on, I can’t hear you!  Louder, louder, louder!”) antics wore thin very quickly – but the encore more than made up for it.  My all-time favorite Gamma Ray song, “Send Me A Sign,” was the last.  There was nothing like it.  Add to it Moonchild, the youngest in our party, catching a Gamma Ray drumstick at the end of the set, and you have the makings of a legendary, remember-it-all-your-life metal moment.  [Ice Maiden's Commentary:  I was bummed, I tell you, that so few songs were chosen from Powerplant.  I love Somewhere Out in Space as much as the next person, but, damn it, I wanted more songs from Powerplant!  Still, all the fists raised and people singing along to Send Me a Sign—I can't put in words the feeling of metal camaraderie].

I’d like to be able to say I stayed for SIX FEET UNDER, and that they kicked as much ass as they did in the little clubs and cafes where I’ve seen them in America, but we just couldn’t do it.  We still had an hour of driving ahead of us to get to Hamburg, and it was 2:15 AM.  Like blinded victims of a World War I gas attack, we followed each other in a ragged, limping line toward the festival exit, and through the campgrounds to our little Peugeot.  A strange fog was falling.  It’s pitch-black out there, mind you, except for the lights from the festival blazing in the distance.  One of the strangest moments of my life was walking through the Wacken campgrounds, in the fog and the darkness, surrounded by distant rustles and soft voices from tents and cars on all sides of me, and hearing the distorted, garbled drone of Six Feet Under and Chris Barnes’s croaky vocals from far in the distance.  It was very cold.  Had we perhaps been at Wacken enjoying the metal all summer, and now it was somehow October?  No – that was northern Germany at night in August.  Two of our party, who had no hotel to return to, faced a chilly night sleeping on the ground or in doorways.  Damn that Schloss!  Why the hell did they have to go out of business at a time like that?  [Ice Maiden's Commentary:  Actually, I experienced another supreme metal moment on the trek back to the car.  I wish I could transport you all back to experience it first hand.  The moonlight streaming down on the fog-coated tent city, the strains of SFU mixing with stereos and the hum of conversation from the tents.  It was surreal.  For a moment, it felt like being on another planet—our own metal universe.  It almost looked like we were all refugees from another place—which, in a way, we were.]

The trip back was brutal.  Again crammed in the back of the Peugeot with three other guys – if Cid and I were any closer together, we would have been eligible to get married in Vermont – half of my body lost circulation.  More wrong turns.  More confusing street signs, highway exits that don’t seem to go where promised – the clock ticks away.  3:30, 4:00, 4:15.  I don’t think we’re going to make it – I really don’t.  If we weren’t so crammed in the car with so many people, maybe pulling over and just sleeping ‘til morning would have been an option.  The river, however, finally led us to our hotel.  Hookers still swarmed outside the door, even at 4:15 AM.  The desk clerk was so drunk he could barely stand, could barely hand us our keys.  I’m glad this festival is worth it. 

Sleep beckoned.  A conversation: “Do you want to see Freedom Call in the morning?”

“What time do they come on?”


“Hell no.  Let’s just go to bed.  We’ll get up when we get up – we’ll get there when we get there.  I’m not getting up at eight, after the night we’ve all had.”

We missed Freedom Call.  Have mercy on us!  We had no choice!


Click Here For Day Two


All rights reserved and contents ©2004 Metal-Rules.com
Keeping the Metal Faith Since 1995!