Wacken Open Air Metal Battle

author MST date 09/04/12

Wacken Open Air is widely recognised as the world's biggest and most succesful metal festival. It is located outside the small German village of Wacken, 100 kilometres south of the border between Denmark and Germany. Every year, the festival hosts enormous concerts by the biggest names in metal, attended by somewhere between 60.000 and 80.000 people.

The Wacken Open Air Metal Battle started in 2004, and has since grown to an international competition involving over 30 countries and hundreds of hopeful bands. In each country a winner would be picked to represent the country at the Wacken Open Air festival, and a jury would then pick the overall winner of the competition. The prize is a record deal with none other than Nuclear Blast Records. In Denmark, the competition had grown larger this year, with five preliminary rounds finding five finalists among 25 young bands. The finalists were picked out by a jury consisting of experienced people from the Danish music scene, including seasoned musicians and reviewers. Additionally, the audience were given the opportunity to vote for the band they thought should move on to the finals, and the audience would thus act as an extra jury member. When all the participating bands had played their set, the Danish death metal band Dawn Of Demise would act as headliners and play for an hour while the jury took some time to discuss the evening, and eventually settle on a winner. Each band would then have the opportunity to receive feedback and constructive criticism from the jury.

I had the honor of being asked to join the jury at Studenterhuset in Aalborg and Fermaten in Herning. This article is a recap of those two shows. At the very bottom of the article is a brief conclusion including the announcement of the winners. There are no reviews of Dawn Of Demise's performances, simply because I wasn't able to see them due to my role as a jury member.

Studenterhuset, Aalborg, April 4th:

Vanir

The opening band for the Danish Wacken Open Air Metal Battle were coincidentally the band that I was looking forward to seeing the most after having reviewed their debut album "Særimners Kød" last year. Vanir's lighthearted folk metal makes for great drinking music, so the foundation for a great live performance is there. Clad in chainmail, leather armor and a bagpipe, the band started their set with a new song, and that's when my disappointment started. When their set was over, only a single song off their debut album had been played, and the rest of the set (from their upcoming new album) sounded generic and boring with cheesy lyrics that Manowar could've written and below average clean vocals. The band's performance wasn't bad per se as there was always action on stage, but the whole band remained stationary and partied with themselves throughout the set. Andreas on vocals tried his best to get the audience involved, but to no avail. Something else had completely ruined their chances in the first place: the sound was completely ruined by the booming sound of the bass blocking everything else out, and when it was fixed the bass just sounded like someone thumping two wooden sticks into each other. I'm going to cut the band some slack about the horrible sound, but uninteresting music and an average performance rewards them an average grade. [6]

Rotting Hope

From festive folk metal we ventured into slammin' territory. Rotting Hope play brutal death of the slamming kind, and as if the heavy mid- to fast paced guitars and drums and the guttural vocals didn't convince everyone about what Rotting Hope wanted with their music, song titles such as "Eaten While Raped" and "Deepthroating The Shotgun" did the trick. The guitarists and the drummer did their share of headbanging, and vocalist Thomas Fischer wandered about the stage while throwing around hand gestures and making an Immortal-like grimace. But there was a deal breaker: their bassist was arguably the most boring musician I have ever had the unpleasant chance to witness in a live setting. I guess whether or not his slap bass actually fits the music they play is a subjective thing, but forgetting the existence of one's limbs (hint: you're supposed to move them) is inexcusable at a competition such as this one. Fischer could have connected more with the audience, but that's it for the negative criticism for now. Four out of five members of Rotting Hope played 25 solid minutes of slammin' death metal. [6½]

Spit Rusty

Moving on to a completely different type of music. Spit Rusty play hard rock with progressive influences, and it doesn't sound half bad even though it's far from my favorite genres. Constantly smiling, the guitarists and bassist raced through the 25 minute set with energy in a convincing manner. In Martin Arthur, Spit Rusty have themselves a proper frontman for the type of music they play, as Arthur would move from the climbing the platform for the drum set to standing on the very edge of the stage and sing confidently in a manner that brings to mind people like Axl Rose and Chris Cornell. His demeanor could be described in the same way, as he went from a slightly feminine old school hard rock manner to attempting a more masculine approach. His charisma on stage was a joy to behold, but I missed a better connection directly towards the audience. Still, compared to many of the other bands competing, Spit Rusty played a very promising show. Limiting the banter between songs to a minimum to best fill the 25 minutes with music, the band plowed through their songs with energy despite the scarce attendance. [7½]

Process

The musical surprise of the day for me came from Kolding-based Process. The band mix an array of genres into their music, including some very interesting technical and progressive elements. The foundation is modern melodic death metal with healthy doses of thrash metal, and the end product of the mix makes for a catchy slap of technical metal that's both interesting and easy on the ears. The technical nature of the music ensured that watching the guitarists and especially bassist Paul Thomassen was an interesting experience, but it also meant that the aforementioned musicians had to concentrate on playing the music. That left it up to singer Lennarth Christensen to provide the action, and suffice to say, he didn't. Staying almost completely stationary at the middle of the stage, he would just stand still waiting for his turn when the instruments were doing their thing, thus ensuring a boring performance. Additionally, I found Christensen's Michael Poulsen-worshipping clean vocals to be completely out of place. His shouts and screams, though typical and nothing out of the ordinary, fit the music and sounded good. A disappointing performance from an otherwise interesting band. [5]

Electric Hellride

The final competitors in Aalborg were Electric Hellride from Copenhagen. Sludgy thrash metal with a groovy southern feel came booming out of the speakers, and we saw that it was good. As an entity, Electric Hellride both sounded and looked confident. There was headbanging and general activity on stage, and while vocalist Casper was locked in front of the microphone stand because he also played the bass, he performed when he was able to. It was a very simple formula both in terms of the music and the performance, but it just worked. The band knew how to work together to create the best overall expression of the evening. No surprises, no bullshit, it was just energetic and groovy music to bang your head to, and the band showed the way on stage. [7]







Fermaten, Herning, April 5th:

Pariah Syndicate

6 days prior to opening the Wacken Open Air Metal Battle in Herning, Pariah Syndicate had opened Royal Metal Fest 2012, so I knew more or less what I was in for when the Århusian modern death metal band ascended the stage. Led by Kasper Hornstrup, the band raced through modern death metal anthems in the vein of The Black Dahlia Murder and Job For A Cowboy. Hornstrup is a very good vocalist and a decent frontman, but he tends to get a bit passive between vocal lines at times. In Jonas Sandager Møller the band have found themselves a powerhouse of a bassist who ensures that there is always something going on on stage. The guitarists could've turned the performance valve up a notch, and the only difference between this show and the band's show at Royal Metal Fest performance wise was that the longhaired guitarist had a lot less energy this time around. Otherwise, the band did a decent job at getting the crowd started, until disaster happened: the sound disappeared, and all we could hear were the drums pounding on without microphones, and the guitars through the monitors on stage. A shame, but the band just kept playing as if nothing happened even though it was clear that they knew what was going on. Thumbs up for handling that like pros. [7]

Dreadlord

More death metal was coming up, this time less modern and more brutal. Dreadlord play brutal death metal, and with Mads Lauridsen (Konkhra) behind the drumkit it's also ridiculously fast. Sadly Lauridsen couldn't keep up with his own tempo, so the drums were untight. Vocalist Mathias Junge sported some impressive guttural vocals, but other than spewing out lyrics he was pretty much useless. Standing completely still while waiting for another vocal line, much like the vocalist in Process had done the day before, makes for an extremely boring performance. In fact, the only redeeming factor was that Thomas Fischer (also the vocalist for Rotting Hope who had played the day before) did one hell of a job on the bass. But overall Dreadlord were forgettable at best. [5½]






The Vision Ablaze

It was time for some less brutal music. The Vision Ablaze played progressive metal with impressive melodic guitar arrangements and vocals going from shouts and semi-screams to clean vocals. It was immediately clear, however, that something wasn't right, and as I came to know later on vocalist Peter Kelkelund had recently ruined his voice somehow. Sadly I have to focus on the show at hand and not how the music was supposed to sound, and the horrible clean vocals ruined a lot for The Vision Ablaze in Herning. The vocalist started the first song by descending the stage and running around the half empty venue, something that he would repeat later on. The first time it was as interesting and promising move, but between the first and second time so little happened on stage that the second descending just came off as a desperate attempt at getting the audience fired up. The Vision Ablaze weren't bad per se, but there was very little effort given to establish a proper connection between the music and the crowd. An overall lack of energy and a singer with a crippled voice resulted in a very average performance. [6]

Caro

Caro from Frederikshavn in the northernmost region of the country had come to play some thrash/death metal to the attending crowd in Herning. Like Electric Hellride the day before, Caro were very secure in their overall expression, and they worked as a team to provide the audience with an energetic performance. The first thing that jumped at me was that the drummer provided vocals often, and most importantly he banged his head in a manner that usually doesn't allow a man to play drums properly. Singer Michael Olsson sported growled vocals not unlike a certain Mr. Piotr Wiwczarek from Vader, and that's a plus in my book. He wasn't the most active and engaging of frontmen, but compared to most of the vocalists at this competition he did a decent job. But what really made Caro's performance something special was how well the band worked together in making the performance an entity. The choir was there exactly when needed and only when needed, and the guitarists climbed their monitors to get their energy out towards the crowd, and Rasmus Munch Nielsen proved that he is another amazingly energetic live bassist among many. In my opinion, Caro's performance was the best of the day. [7½]

Chainfist

The last act of the night were from Slagelse, and played some good ol' hard rock-infused heavy metal. Chainfist have been floating in the Danish underground for a while without getting any real recognition. And if the band's performance in Herning was anything to go by, they still have some issues that need fixing before they're going to get anywhere, at least in terms of their performance. On the left hand side of the stage, Michael Kopietz on rhythm guitar did his part to create an energetic performance. But the rest of the band just weren't up to par. Vocalist Jackie Petersen could learn a thing or two about performing from Spit Rusty's Martin Arthur who had proved himself to be an excellent frontman the day before. And the musicians of the right hand side of the stage were just downright useless as they stood there gazing into oblivion for the entire duration of the show. It was a shame, because the guitarist on the right hand side of the stage actually played some delicious riffs seemingly without effort, so a bit of activity from him could've elevated the show enormously. In conclusion, Chainfist need to seriously evaluate their performance if they want to get anywhere, especially considering that this is the second year in a row that the band have failed to impress the jury at Wacken Open Air Metal Battle. [6]

Conclusion:

Two days had gone by, ten bands had competed for the chance to attend the Danish Metal Battle finals in Copenhagen, and two bands had succeeded: in Aalborg the jury and audience had three overall favorites, but with 4 out of 6 jury votes and the second most votes from the audience, Electric Hellride came out victorious. In Herning it was a completely different story, as the entire jury as well as the audience agreed that Caro were the best band of the night. Electric Hellride and Caro will be competing against three other Danish bands that will be found in Kolding, Århus and Roskilde on April 13th and 14th and May 3rd. The grand final of the Danish Wacken Open Air Metal Battle will be held at Pumpehuset in Copenhagen on the 5th of May.

More pictures from the shows can be found on Marika 'MH' Hyldmar's Flickr albums here (Aalborg) and here (Herning).

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