Wacken Open Air 2009

author GR date 21/09/09

So then, another year, another Wacken Open Air; this year being my fourth visit to the "Metal Holy Land" in northern Germany in as many years. Sadly this year was the first without fellow RF writer EW also in attendance, so you've got my experience from here on out. Having bought my ticket some time last year, before this monolith of a festival sold out on New Years Eve, my anticipation for a line-up to crush all others on the Euro circuit had been high. After all, this year saw Wacken celebrating its 20th anniversary; and an amazing "best-of" lineup had been promised after the conclusion of last years Maiden-fuelled triumph. As time moved steadily towards the end of July, band announcements were worryingly sparse and underwhelming, with the general vibe of internet forums moving towards disappointment and annoyance. Although the festival was officially sold out, tickets were easy to come by and selling for much less than the touting frenzy of 2008. Surely the Wacken organisers hadn't dropped the (metal) ball just before what could be their finest hour? Well, the 'quality' of the final outcome is certainly debatable. Personally, whilst the line-up was by no means bad - some amazing bands played for sure - I didn't feel the overall bill was as strong as previous years. That said, Iron Maiden are my favourite band, so maybe it was never going to be a fair comparison. I should point out at this juncture, however, that the organisation of the festival was as good as ever. I can hardly claim to have gone to Wacken before the masses, but even since 2006 there have been fairly substantial changes to the site layout and this year saw a few more tweaks to what was already one of the best organised festivals. Closing off the main road out of the pre-arena section and opening up an entrance/exit at the back of the Metal Market turned out to be a surprisingly good idea; and thanks to the separate Party Stage entrance/check point, getting into the arena was quicker than ever before. In fact, I think I only had to join a large arena queue once throughout the whole weekend; and even that didn't take long to pass through. German efficiency and all that, eh?

Before the music

Since taking the coach in 2006 - an experience I have little desire to repeat - I have always flown out to Hamburg and made my way on to Wacken with which ever merry band of metalheads I happen to be with. This year, like last, the journey consisted (after accidentally buying shandy instead of proper beer in the airport shop!) of a couple of trains and a taxi ride, with the friendly driver telling us that there had never been any trouble with Wacken-goers in all his years of ferrying them to and from the usually-sleepy village. This reminded me of just how good the atmosphere at the festival is each year; and had me looking forward to setting up and grabbing my first cold one even more. As this was Tuesday, the crowds had yet to fully gather and after a bit of walking about, my group managed to grab a great camping spot with quick and easy access to both the arena and village. With most of us feeling the effects of our journey, an early night (by festival standards at least) was in order. Disappointing, I know, but I had another reason for taking it easy Tuesday night: football. For the first time, myself and a few mates took part in the Wacken 5-a-side football tournament on Wednesday morning. I don't want to bore you with too many details, suffice to say we made it into the second round before crashing out. Of note, however, was a 5-1 victory over a German team in our opening match. We planned it that way, honest!

This year saw the organisers branching out from just the usual additional activities (football, metal market, big screen etc.) for the 20th anniversary; and a whole field behind the main arena was dedicated to a medieval market/village, complete with battling warriors; and "Bullhead City Wrestling " inside a large marquee. Unfortunately I'm unable to report on whether these features were a success, as I never quite managed to check them out...what can I say, the Beer Garden was calling to me! Although there were a few bands playing on the WET stage, my Wednesday evening entertainment consisted of the "Movie-night" courtesy of Iron Maiden's "Flight 666" documentary, plus plenty of drink in the much-loved Wacken souvenir cups. Nursing the inevitable hangover, it was time for the festival proper to start...

Thursday 30th July

Skyline @ 16:00 on Black Stage

The Thursday at Wacken isn't a full day of music, with proceedings this year kicking off in the afternoon in the form of Skyline. "Who?" I hear you asking; well, the reformed band of Wacken organiser Thomas Jensen, that's who. These guys played a set of mostly covers, along with a few Wacken-orientated originals including the Wacken anthem "We Are The Metalheads" with Doro on vocals; and "Wacken Song" with Tom Angelripper of Sodom. Despite the cheesy and somewhat cringe-worthy nature of these tunes ("We are the Metalheads/You think we're crass/But we kick ass") they were a bit of fun and much better than some of the cover renditions. Presumably the band hadn't practiced much before hand, as they butchered Maiden classic "Fear of the Dark", even needing to stop during the intro and start again. Still, the Fuel Girls appeared and proceeded to writhe around the stage for our viewing pleasure. Despite looking a bit preposterous, I doubt many in the audience were complaining. [4]

Running Wild @ 20:15 on Black Stage

Thanks to the much-publicised Anthrax soap opera, the thrash legends were no longer playing Wacken and another 'secret set' had been added in their place. As this turned out to be German comedy metallers JBO, a band I knew little about and couldn't be bothered to watch, the next band proper for me was Running Wild. I'm not very familiar with the Running Wild back catalogue, but as this appearance had been advertised as their last ever gig, it would have been foolish to miss out on my first and last chance of seeing them. At first, whilst the songs sounded good, I wasn't overly impressed with the performance; the band being fairly static and unexciting. Luckily after a few songs the German demi-legends seemed to hit their stride and I was rather enjoying their brand of pirate-themed traditional metal. It was the few songs I had heard before that were highlights for me - the likes of "Back Hand Inn", "Conquistadors" and glorious sing-along set-closer "Under Jolly Roger". Considering this set marked the end of a career spanning more than three decades, I was expecting the band to be somewhat emotional, but they came across as fairly nonplussed about the event. Admittedly as a non-German speaker I couldn't understand what frontman Rolf was saying between songs, but there was no real sense that this was a special farewell gig. It might be because of this that a number of people I spoke to afterwards found the set boring and underwhelming. [7]

Heaven & Hell @ 22:30 on True Metal Stage

With Wacken's double main stage setup, I had been watching Running Wild from a position that gave me a good view of the True Metal stage, where headliners Heaven & Hell were to follow. Despite a ridiculous scheduling conflict (Grand Magus were on the WET stage at the same time) I was excited to see the Dio-fronted Sabbath, having missed out on the opportunity to do so when they toured the UK a couple of years ago. With the "E5150" intro tape announcing their arrival, Iommi, Dio, Butler and Appice launched into the classic "The Mob Rules" with aplomb. It really is a marvel that RJD's voice is still as strong as it ever has been, and from the off it was a pleasure to hear the diminutive frontman belting out some of the best heavy metal ever recorded. Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler have never been ones to run around the stage, but where an unenergetic stage presence can be to the detriment of some bands, such was the brooding power of their songs - and in particular the crushing fortitude of Iommi's riffs - that they somehow dominated the stage without breaking a sweat. I don't think it should be understated just how awesome most of the songs played sounded in the festival environment, with tracks from this years "The Devil You Know" release fitting in with the 80s material perfectly. In fact, lead single "Bible Black" was a personal highlight and "Follow The Tears" provided the heaviest riff heard all night. There was no doubt which song the audience had been looking forward to the most when the band started up their namesake, with everyone singing along to the epic opening riff and the general atmosphere rising a notch. The "Country Girl/Neon Knights" encore finished off a great set and had me hoping this particular configuration of Sabbath keeps their creative partnership going for a few more years yet. [8]

Friday 31st July

Vreid @ 11:00 on Black Stage

With the sun shining it was time to kick-start the first full day of music with a dose of black metal. I don't own any Vreid albums, but having seen them live a couple of times during the year, I knew what to expect from the Norwegian quartet - melodic black metal with hints of rock n roll and folk influences. Now, unless the drinking continues unabated by the changing of days, I think it's always going to be hard to really get into a set so early on; and this one was no different. Vreid put on a solid performance which saw much nodding of the head from me, but ultimately suffered due to the early hour. One notable thing, however, was the fact there were blasts of pyro every now and then. Usually reserved for the bigger acts, it seemed that the Wacken organisers had built the option for pyro into each stage, allowing even the smaller bands to heat up the crowd with a few well-timed jets of fire. [6]

UFO @ 11:45 on True Metal Stage

With a short stroll across to the True Metal side of the main stage structure, it was time for some traditional hard rock from 70s stalwarts UFO. Last time I saw these guys, at Hard Rock Hell, legendary bassist Pete Way was performing. Unfortunately, due to a medical condition the stripy-trousered one has been absent from UFO activities (including the recording of recently released album "The Visitor") for most of 2009 and has yet to return to the fold. Founders Phil Mogg and Andy Parker, along with long-standing member Paul Raymond and most recent guitarist Vinnie Moore, haven't let the loss of Way hold them back and this performance was no different. Kicking off with "Saving Me", a number from the aforementioned new album "The Visitor", the band demonstrated they still have the knack of writing a catchy tune, with plenty of bluesy groove and occasional guitar histronics from Moore. In fact, throughout the set it was the shredding ability of Moore that really impressed, which should come as no surprise to those familiar with his playing. The vocals of Mogg have diminished little over the past 30 or so years and his delivery was both strong and soulful; sounding great on classics such as "I'm a Loser" and "Lights Out". A smile was brought to my face as he announced everything was "lovely jubbly" and sincerely thanked the crowd for their enthusiasm so early in the day. After some extended instrumental noodling from the band, the set finished with a double-barrel of classics (that word again!) in the form of "Too Hot To Handle" and "Rock Bottom". There was no "Doctor Doctor" but maybe it was for the best, as that song usually signals the arrival of Iron Maiden, who were definitely not in attendance this time round. [7]

Endstille @ 13:00 on Black Stage

I must admit that I knew very little about Endstille, besides the fact they played black metal, before this performance. Before they hit the stage there was amusement to be had, with a very drunk, old German man buying two beers from a roaming seller and gifting one of them to me whilst muttering to no-one in particular. At first I thought he just wanted me to hold onto one of the drinks whilst he sorted himself out, but a clinking - well, more like clashing - of the glasses indicated otherwise and I had my first free beer of the weekend! He then proceeded to chant "Edguy! Edguy!" as Enstille were about to come on, much to the amusement of myself and everyone else in the vicinity. Unless Tobias Sammet and co had taken a sudden liking to corpse paint and spikes, it most certainly wasn't the power metallers upon the stage and even a confused drunk must have realised this when they started up their pure black metal racket. It had been a while since I had seen a 'proper' black metal band and I quite enjoyed the all-out aggressive extremity of Endstille's sound, despite knowing none of the material. Whilst Black metal isn't my favourite genre, and Endstille weren't doing anything original, in a live environment I find this sort of thing works well and others obviously agreed with me, as the big screens showed circle pits breaking out elsewhere in the crowd. [7]

Gamma Ray @ 14:15 on True Metal Stage

If there's a place to see a band like Gamma Ray, then it's definitely Germany. Their set in 2006 had been one of my highlights from that year so I was looking forward to seeing them on their home turf once again, after witnessing a great gig in London with Helloween last year Unfortunately it was at this point that the dreaded sound problems reared their ugly head, as had happened far too often in 2008. Luckily whilst the awful sound mix was somewhat off-putting, it didn't abate any of the energy and enthusiasm of the band or crowd, as Gamma Ray ripped through a set containing some genuine power metal classics. "Heavy Metal Universe", "New World Order" and "Man on a Mission" were as strong a start to the set as anyone could have wished for; Gamma Ray clearly breaking out the 'festival setlist', with only one song from last album "Land of the Free II" and a sample of their (as yet untitled) upcoming album in "Hail to the Metal". I had hoped that the sound gremlins would be sorted out after a few songs, but it wasn't to be and did end up impeding my enjoyment of what could have been a glorious set. Still, with songs like "I Want Out" and "Send Me a Sign" providing great sing-along material, I was never going to be totally disappointed, and the uplifting nature of such songs perfectly matched the fine weather. [7½]

Nevermore @ 16:45 on True Metal Stage

Nevermore were another band I had very much enjoyed at Wacken 2006; that particular occasion being my introduction to them. Since that performance, and the last time I saw them at Bloodstock 2007, there have been a few changes within Nevermore - guitarist Steve Smyth left the band a couple of years ago and various touring members have been utilised (most notably current Megadeth guitarist Chris Broderick). This time around the band was back to a 4-piece, with Jeff Loomis handling all the guitar duties - a fact that I was slightly dubious about given the technical nature of their music. I needn't have worried though, as the lack of a rhythm player didn't seem to affect their live sound in any noticeable way. They took to the stage with an acoustic intro tape before launching into "This Sacrament", which unfortunately suffered slightly due to a poor sound mix, although thankfully one that wasn't as bad as it had been for Gamma Ray. Much to my relief the sound improved as the set progressed and by the last few songs the levels were more than acceptable, if not perfect. My favourite Nevermore song "Enemies of Reality" was, as expected, given an airing during the first half of the set and was followed by other slices of epic/progressive/technical/thrash/power/neo-classical metal, performed with aggression and intensity. Frontman Warrel Dane - sporting the usual baseball cap - possesses one of the most emotive voices in metal and sounded great whether he was singing slower numbers like "The Heart Collector" or the more extreme set-closer "Born". My enduring memory of their 2006 set is of Warren asking to see 'bodies' and the enthusiastic audience obeying his command with a sea of crowd surfers. This time around was no different, with the frontman even referencing the previous event and the crowd once again providing a spectacle with a constant stream of flying bodies. [7½]

At this point, I'm unable to pass proper judgement on the next couple of bands I saw - Dragonforce and Airborne. Not because I don't like them - despite both being at the more commercial end of the Wacken spectrum I own albums by each - but because I only witnessed small parts of their sets. I saw the British power metallers leaping aroud on the far-too-quiet party stage, florescent green trousers and all, before taking a trip across to the Black Stage in time to see Airborne frontman Joel O'Keeffe once again worrying the health and safety marshals by climbing to the top of the stage rig for a few classic rock solos. This time he even dangled by just his hands from the highest point he could reach, seemingly determined to keep the 'live fast, die young' mantra alive and kicking.

Hammerfall @ 19:15 on True Metal Stage

Despite not being listed as so in the 'About' section of the Rockfreaks site, Swedish power metallers Hammerfall are one of my favourite bands, so it's fair to say I was looking forward to their performance. Making my way from one of the peripheral bars towards the True Metal stage I discovered the arena had become fairly packed-out, with many others obviously as hungry for hyper-catchy heavy metal as myself. Taking up station quite far back, I didn't have to wait long for the Swedes to appear and kick things off with the anthemic "Bloodbound". although not before a cheesy spoken word intro had announced who we (the "Templars of Wacken") were about to see ("Hailing from the wastelands south of Heaven, north of Hell...this is Hammerfall!"). Well, you wouldn't expect anything less, would you? The thing that became immediately clear was that whilst the mix was fine, the sound was far too quiet and sadly it stayed that way for the whole set. This point was highlighted succinctly when I heard in a broad Scottish accent; "turn it up! I can fart louder than this!". Quietness aside, Hammerfall put on a great performance, Joacim Cans' voice sounding as strong as ever on song after brilliant song. I know this sort of metal isn't to everyone's taste, but for those that do enjoy it, Hammerfall have an arsenal of tunes that stand head and shoulders above most in the genre. With an incredibly strong setlist, favourites are hard to choose, but a personal highlight was "Life Is Now" from latest album "No Sacrifice, No Victory", as Hammerfall didn't perform this on their tour earlier in the year. Closing with fan-favourite "Hearts on Fire", Hammerfall left me, and presumably most others, very satisfied indeed. [8½]

After Hammerfall were another selection of bands that it would be unfair for me to try to score, as once again I saw little of their performances - although not always because I wasn't actually watching the stage... On my way out of the arena following Hammerfall, I stuck my head into the tent (W.E.T. stage) to check out a song or two by reunited classic thrashers (and hot sauce entrepreneurs) Whiplash, which sounded like just my sort of thing. In need of nourishment and a good sit down, I headed back to camp just in time to avoid hearing any Bullet For My Valentine. Phew. Wacken house-band (along with Saxon) Motorhead started up and even from the campsite it was clear that they were LOUD! Wandering into the arena for perennial set closer "Overkill" I was glad to be wearing earplugs, as they must have been twice as loud as Hammerfall earlier in the day and probably left masses of people with hearing damage! I'm not a fan of In Flames, but with little else to do and in the knowledge all of my friends were somewhere in the arena, I thought I may as well stick around for their performance. Unfortunately I'm unable to tell you anything about their set - apart from the fact they had a firework display and lots of pyro - as a combination of lack of sleep and beer saw me completely disengage from my surroundings and I have little memory of that particular hour. In fact, I'm pretty sure I spent a fair chunk of In Flames' set asleep on my feet - something I seem to be doing worryingly often at festivals these days! Next up was 'Metal Queen' Doro, whose support slot on the Saxon UK tour had been enjoyable, but my need to wake up stopped me from heading towards the stage and instead saw me walking towards the food and drink stalls. I did, however, manage to enjoy most of her set from a distance, with Warlock classics "All We Are" and "Für Immer", as well as a cover of "Breaking The Law" being the highlights.

Amon Amarth @ 02:00 on Black Stage

When Viking warriors Amon Amarth last played Wacken I fell asleep and completely missed their set, so with another early hours set time this year I was determined to be fully awake for their performance. Feeling rather dodgy, presumably thanks to the pre-Doro kebab, I was conscious but not really feeling in the mood any more. I'm happy to report, however, that any such feelings disappeared as soon as the band strode on stage and broke into "Twilight of the Thundergod", the title track of their latest album. Once again there were sound problems and the overall mix was pretty damn awful for the full hour, but the fact I knew every song played - plus the sheer brilliance of Amon Amarth as a live act - meant this seemed but a small concern, when usually it's something that bothers me. This was more than your standard Amon Amarth live show however, as the stage sported a Viking ship platform and drum riser, along with intermittent sword fights (check out the videos on Youtube), which made for the ultimate Viking metal spectacle. Following much the same setlist as on their tour early in the year, which focussed mainly on recent material, we were treated to blistering renditions of "Asator", "Guardians of Asgaard" and "Runes To My Memory", with the band using the stage set-up to great effect. At one point imposing frontman Johan Hegg asked of the crowd "do you like heavy metal?"; can you guess the answer he received? The audience, like Johan himself, were in fine voice, particularly on the traditional 'sing' along epic "The Pursuit of Vikings" and brilliant set-closer "Death in Fire". As if ships and warriors weren't enough, liberal use of the pyro facilities described earlier added even more to the overall visual feast, but importantly never overshadowed the music being played. Despite the poor sound, Amon Amarth were one of the best bands of the festival for me and I'm very much looking forward to their upcoming UK tour - I only hope they change the setlist slightly to include more material from their back catalogue. [8½]

Saturday 1st August

Rage @ 13:00 on True Metal Stage

Billed as "Rage & Friends", I wasn't sure which way my opinion of this performance was likely to swing - at Wacken 2007 Rage played with an orchestra and I became bored fairly quickly, yet when I saw them headline an intimate London show they were fantastic - but I approached their set with a sense of hope. Luckily that hope wasn't misplaced, for as the German trio started the title cut of their last album "Carved In Stone" the sound was, at last, perfect. Victor Smolski's guitar tone hit the ideal balance between heaviness and melody and was thick and full, while Peavy Wagner's distinctive vocals were strong and crystal clear. For anyone who was either unfamiliar with or uninterested in Rage beforehand, the one thing that must have stood out was the guitar playing of Smolski. There are plenty of players who can shred all day long, but less so that many manage to achieve a style with personality and feeling as well as face-melting technicality; thankfully the cheerful German is one of those. As mentioned above, Rage had brought a few friends along with them and the first of these guests turned out to be Blind Guardian's Hansi Kursch, much to the delight of the audience. Even better for me was the fact they broke into "Set The World On Fire" followed by "All I Want", two great tracks from the only Rage album I own, "Unity". I'm pleased to report that Hansi's recent haircut (shock, horror!) hasn't affected his vocal prowess, with his unmistakable power metal voice fitting well with Rage's muscular heavy metal. After a couple of songs with a female guest vocalist - less to my liking in the sound department, more so in the looks - a real surprise was in store as Destruction frontman Schmier appeared on stage. This might have meant less to the majority of power/melodic metal fans gathered, but to a big thrash fan such as myself it was a nice addition. Schmier's harsh vocals mixed surprisingly well with the more tuneful approach of Wagner and they performed another song I recognised, the catchy "Down". The penultimate song was performed with the singer from Subway To Sally, which didn't hold any special interest for me, but sounded good all the same. Coming to an end with "Soundchaser", Rage had managed to pull off a great set and win my award of 'biggest surprise'. With no unnecessary orchestral instruments blunting their sound this time around, the pure power of the music had been allowed to make it's full impact. [8]

Cathedral @ 14:15 on Black Stage

With the temperature steadily rising it was time for British doom legends Cathedral to show Wacken what they were made of. Waiting for Lee Dorian and co to grace the stage, I took up a position only a couple of rows from the front as the crowd was fairly sparse -something I assumed would change once the music started up. Unfortunately, throughout the set it was very noticeable that Cathedral had drawn one of the smallest crowds - considering their time slot and stature in the metal world - either of the main stages had seen all weekend. This was a shame and probably reflects the intrinsically underground nature of doom metal, relative to other sub-genres. Those that did have the good sense to gather before the Black Stage were certainly appreciative as Cathedral blasted out their down-tempo anthems, during a set which took in such classics of the genre as "Soul Sacrifice" and "Cosmic Funeral"; reminding just how important the Black Sabbath legacy really is. It must be said, however, that despite Frontman Dorian being a consummate performer, Cathedral didn't manage to achieve the sort of stage presence that is necessary for an outstanding performance, as the static nature of guitarist Gary Jennings and bassist Leo Smee became a hindrance on such a big stage, whereas it can be effective in a more intimate setting. Finishing off with the traditional one-two of brilliance that is "Ride" and "Hopkins (Witchfiinder General)", Cathedral left the stage having put on a decent performance, but not one that will stick in my mind as anything special. [7]

Testament @ 15:30 on True Metal Stage

Bay Area legends Testament are having a purple patch of late, with an excellent last album in "The Formation of Damnation", sold out shows and the renewed interest in thrash of the last few years certainly doing them no harm either. Combined with the fact they were the only major thrash band still on the bill, anticipation for their set was high, not least with myself. I'm therefore disappointed to have to mention the sound once again; this time as a factor which really took the shine off what could have been a brilliant set. We were basically treated to an hour of kick drums and bass accompanied by a few riffs hidden somewhere in the background. OK, so maybe I'm being a little melodramatic, but it really was a very poor mix and something that surely could have been easily sorted out. This issue aside, Testament put on a show with their usual ferocity, inimitable frontman Chuck Billy thankfully being audible in the mêlée and spitting out the lyrics to classics and new songs alike with a voice that has matured into one of my favourites in metal. My enduring memory of the set is just how hot the weather had got by this point in the afternoon; with no breeze to provide respite, it was clear a lot of those around me were being driven to the point of distraction by the high temperature, and I was no different. Whilst watching a band in the pouring rain isn't much fun, at that point I would have welcomed a sudden downpour from the clear blue skies. Moving on from the weather (what can I say, I'm British!), Testament followed a first three quarters that combined bona fide classics and songs from "The Formation of Damnation" with a couple of lesser-known songs; "D.N.R." and "3 Days in Darkness", before bringing things to a conclusion with the ultra-heavy title track of their aforementioned latest album. Much like Cathedral before them, it had been a set full of potential that hadn't quite been realised, although this time fault wasn't with the band. [7]

Later on in the day I popped into the W.E.T. stage to check out a bit of old school doomsters Trouble, mainly to see if new frontman Kory Clarke (of Warrior Soul fame) fitted with the band's sound. Striking a classic rock, Robert Plant-esque figure, his raspy vocals certainly differ from the voice of Eric Wagner, but actually worked quite well on the old material and new songs suggested there's life in this band yet.

Enslaved @ 21:45 on Party Stage

Electing to give the circle-pit bothering mosh anthems of Machine Head a miss, as I have on several occasions, and noticing I still had Euros to spend, I bought myself a beer and waited in front of the party stage. Actually, that's not an entirely accurate statement - my decision wasn't based around missing Machine Head, rather making sure I saw the magnificent Enslaved. Having somehow been absent from their Wacken 2007 set, which fellow Rockfreaks.net scribe EW tells me was utterly brilliant, and having witnessed two fantastic performances from them in London, Enslaved were another band I had high hopes for. Thankfully I wasn't disappointed in the slightest; the sound was great and the band were even better, captivating me for the full hour with their progressive black metal. Coming on stage as dusk was descending upon the gathered masses, creating an atmosphere that fit the music perfectly; Enslaved demonstrated the strength of latest album "Vertebrae" by launching into "To The Coast", a song which sounds as though it has existed forever, even if you haven't heard a single note of it before. Enslaved's current direction owes as much - if not more - to Pink Floyd as it does to their black metal roots and has made for very entertaining and interesting listening of late, but it is a live setting where the songs really come alive. The contrasting vocals of growling frontman/bassist Grutle Kjellson and clean-singing keyboardist Herbrand Larsen, along with the hypnotic guitar work of Ice Dale and Ivar Bjørnson, had me locked into the moment like only an amazing performance can. The word that always springs to my mind when describing Enslaved live is majestic, and this is something they certainly were at Wacken. A stunning version of the epic "As Fire Swept Clean The Earth" was possibly the highlight, but there really were no weak links in an outstanding set which ended with the awesome "Isa". As my friend, who had not heard the band before, put it; "they're like black metal, but different". In this case, different is very good indeed. [9]

Saxon @ 23:00 on True Metal Stage

So then, onto the other Wacken house band, British metal legends Saxon. By this point I was well-oiled and completely in the mood for the sing-along anthems of a band I've seen about a dozen times and have yet to get bored of. I don't think it would be possible for Saxon to put on a bad show at this point in their career, but with a huge crowd before them and the 20th anniversary of their favourite festival to celebrate, they really kicked up a gear and unleashed track after track for nigh on two hours. Considering their set was only supposed to last an hour and a half, it wasn't bad going! Biff told us that they were playing at least one song from each of their albums, as picked by fans on their website, which meant the setlist really was a 'best-of', in keeping with the theme of the festival (the "best of Wacken") and providing a few lesser heard songs the chance to shine. With material ranging from "Stallions Of The Highway" from their 1979 debut to opener "Battalions Of Steel" from 2009's "Into The Labyrinth", 30 years of sticking to their guns was on display and highlighted just how important Saxon are to the metal world. With such a long setlist it's almost not worth mentioning particular songs for praise - basically, if you think of a classic Saxon song, it was played and sounded fantastic. Bringing everything to a climax with a rousing rendition of "Denim and Leather" accompanied by plenty of pyro, Saxon made it clear that their recent renaissance may well continue for some time yet. [9]

My final band of the festival was self-styled alien overlords of the universe GWAR. Unfortunately the weekend's events really caught up with me and I once again found myself falling asleep on my feet for most of their set. In my brief moments of consciousness I recall seeing Michael Jackson having his face and arms ripped off, resulting in copious amounts of fake blood gushing in all directions, and a dinosaur stomping around the stage. Oh, I think Obama and Clinton may have made an appearance too and I'm sure they didn't leave with limbs intact either. As for the music...does anyone really care?

Final Thoughts

Another Wacken was over and had seemingly passed quicker than ever before, despite my being there for five days. Once again I had had a brilliant time; making new friends, drinking beer and listening to metal is a combination that every metalhead festival-goer knows is hard to beat, and Wacken proved itself still to be one of the best places in the word to do just that. Internet forums and groups reveal there are those who feel Wacken lost it's greatness this year, with a below-par lineup and atmosphere, but I think they are probably in the minority. Sure, it's no longer as 'exclusive' as it used to be, with a guaranteed capacity crowd and more mainstream acts on the bill, but for me it still retains that special 'heavy metal village' feeling that will be hard to lose. Clearly the organisers are doing something right, as all 10,000 "Xmas" packages for 2010 sold out in 10 hours the day after the festival ended. Immortal have been confirmed for next year, so I expect I'll be typing something similar to this having returned from the Holy Land once more, "come rain or shine" as they like to say!

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