The Wacken Diaries – 04: As Muslims go to Mecca...

The busiest day of Wacken yet... more bad weather, showering, drinking, international negotiations, interviews... oh, and some music in between all that.

This morning we woke to rain – again. It’s kinda sad that at the world’s largest open air heavy metal festival, with over 70 of the world’s top metal bands and no shortage of other entertainment, that we spend so much of our time sitting around bitching about the weather. But such is the lot of the European summer festival-goer – it could be stinking hot, it could be freezing fucking cold, it could be pelting down with rain or hail or gale force winds or thunder and lightning. Usually a combination of some or all of ‘em. About the only thing that I don’t think it’s ever done is snow at Wacken... and I’m not crossing that off the possibility list, summer or not.

Anyhow, today was the second day of the festival, and we had a delicious day of killer music to look forward to. Today’s bill would include Motörhead, In Flames, Amon Amarth, and three bands I was very much looking forward to: Swashbuckle, Nervecell and Sarke. As well as about a million others that we wouldn’t get to see.

After we had been down to our favourite pub for breakfast and back, the Metalbeast and I decided it was time to take the plunge and shower. When it comes to facilities, Wacken is run with a special German brand of military precision. There are shower/toilet blocks in every camping area, and for 50 euro cents you can use a toilet that is regularly cleaned by an attendant who also makes sure there is plenty of bogroll. I’ve been told that Wacken’s exemplary facility management is almost unique among metal festivals.

Men, being equipped with “portable” equipment, shall we say, are able to use any tree, ditch or out of the way corner (or, after much alcohol, any not so out of the way corner) as a urinal. And they do – the irrigation ditches that divide the camping ground into zones are not called “piss ditches” without reason, and by the third day the whole camping ground smells rather rank. However, at certain “peak” times of day, the men decide the line outside the men’s toilet gets very long, as the blokes decide to queue up for a more, shall we say, extended ablutionary visit. Ladies, being fewer in number and less prone to lengthy bowel movements,  generally don’t have to wait at all – kind of a reversal of the typical situation!

The toilet blocks in the camping areas also have showers, for 2.50 euros. They’re communal but clean and the water is hot! Luxury. Washing two days of dirt and sweat off felt good. Hygiene is not very metal... but satisfying none the less.

Washed and breakfasted, we headed down to the arena to catch some morning metal. Metalbeast watched Vreid on the Black stage while I popped down to the Party stage to check out those lovable English grind pioneers, Napalm Death, who delivered exactly what you would expect from a Napalm Death show: a bit o’ friendly banter from Barney Greenaway, and then a ton of blisteringly fast full frontal assault grindcore. It was a splendid way to start the day.

Endstille in the harsh light of day the grounds

Meeting back up, we  checked out Endstille – who played impressively, although it was odd seeing a black metal band in full black metal regalia in the sunshine in the middle of the day (yes, the sun came out from behind a cloud briefly, probably purposely to annoy Endstille). Not being power metal aficionados we had some lunch while avoiding Gamma Ray, then while Metalbeast got into Nevermore – a band that I would have liked to see – I headed into the press area to catch up with and interview the guys from Nervecell.

Mission accomplished, I went back to the tent and found Metalbeast and Vagrant concentrating their full efforts onto something we had been rather neglecting – some serious drinking. The previous day, I had forked out quite a large sum for a bottle of Jack Daniels and had also sourced some coke, so I settled in with them to get good and pissed (remember, we are Australian) before our next agenda item – Swashbuckle at 8pm – a whole two hours away.

Metalheads from Australia, Portugal and Brazil Cachaca

While knocking back beers and spirits, we somehow wandered into a nearby camp and made the acquaintance of two gentlemen – one from Brazil, and one from Portugal. The Brazillian dude revealed he had been to Wacken nine years running. This amazing dedication was brushed off with a simple “Muslims go to Mecca, I go to Wacken”. If that doesn’t sum up the entire festival, I don’t know what does.

Our new friends introduced us to their drink of choice, Cachaça:  a Brazilian spirit that is apparently made from sugarcane, although we found it closer to tequila than rum – both in odour and facial expressions pulled following a shot of it. The obligatory horn-throwing photographs followed before we left to catch some pirate metal.

SwashbuckleSwashbuckle were playing in the Wackinger, and were a ton of fun, especially on the small stage which allowed punters to get up nice and close – great swashbuckling costumes, blow up sharks in the pit, and someone in a parrot suit on stage amongst other general shenanigans made for a great show. I’ve been listening to this band for a couple of years now, after finding them while on a pirate metal discovery bender,  and I’m very happy indeed that they are now signed to Nuclear Blast and taking their music to a wider audience.

I left before the end of the set to meet Markus, who I’d been corresponding with over email. Markus was the creator of the Wacken running order tool, and had found our Wacken blog in the lead up to the festival. He was keen to have a beer and practise his English, so we met up in the press area and I also met his friend Jones, singer and lead guitarist of thrash band Wasteland.

Next it was over to the WET stage to catch Nervecell’s set. Having just spoken to these guys hours before – and being one of the few extreme death metal acts in the line-up - I was pretty pumped to see them, and they did not disappoint. While they played with the intensity and precision of their recordings, they also brought an enthusiasm to be playing Wacken that was really infectious. I’ve never seen a band post for a photo on stage with the crowd throwing horns in the background -  that’s one for the family album I’m sure!

And then Motörhead. There’s not much you can say about Motörhead that hasn’t already been said. Lemmy is a living legend, they always puts on a good show, and I guess I would have to say I’m a fan... but at the end of the day, it’s not the most exciting addition to a metal festival, and I don’t think that this set was particularly memorable. But that’s the thing with Wacken... with four major stages, there’s enough on at any particular time that you can go three days without seeing anything that you don’t like (and I’d certainly done that thus far). I guess I wanted to watch Motörhead out of respect. And maybe out of respect I won’t say anything more.

By this point it had gotten properly dark and with the dark came the cold. The bitter, biting, nasty, horrible cold – so much cold in fact that I ducked back to the tent briefly to rug up. And by rug up I mean pretty much putting every single piece of clothing on that I had brought as well as some that I’d since bought.

Motorhead drunks

The first real headliner’s set that we saw was In Flames. One of our English mates is probably the world’s largest In Flames fan – and also their harshest critic. Apparently the last few times he has seen them they have, in his estimation, sucked. He went so far as to describe one experience as “like my whole family had died”. So after their set, which featured a good mix of old and newer material and pretty good sound, as well as shooting flames and fireworks, I was curious to hear the verdict. And the result? ‘They didn’t suck’. Breathe easy boys, you’ve satisfied Thrashbestos Stu.

In Flames... quite literally Amon Amarth

the mythical beer peopleIt was during In Flames’ set that Vagrant made the discovery of the beer people – which was probably the highlight of his Wacken experience. These were bar staff who wander the crowds with beer tanks on their backs, selling refills to thirsty punters who couldn’t be bothered fighting their way  to an actual bar. For greater visibility, these god-sent individuals had little flags above their tanks, and seeing a bobbing Becks or Jager flag had Vagrant pointing excitedly, regardless of the current state of his beer mug.

Most people come to Wacken looking forward to one band in particular. Last year for me, that band was Obituary. This year, it was Sarke – the Norwegian “supergroup” whose lineup reads like a Norwegian black metal version of the “6 degrees of Kevin Bacon”. My reasoning was simple – Hellhammer/Celtic Frost/Tryptikon legend Tom Gabriel Warrior was performing one Celtic Frost song with the group. In fact, this one song was my entire reason to go to Wacken this year.

What I wasn’t expecting was that the rest of Sarke’s set would blow me away – but it did. Even for someone not familiar with their album at all – it hasn’t had an official Australian or even US release as yet – it was a killer half hour. And Tom G Warrior was everything I was expecting: scary, charismatic, fucking awesome.

The last must-see act for the day was Amon Amarth. The Vikings were on at the obscenely late and obscenely metal hour of 2am, and before they came on the freezing wind picked up as if to make the Norsemen feel at home. Even though by this point I was feeling the negative effects of a long day or drinking and the freezing cold, hearing the opening riff of the ridiculously catchy Guardians of Asgard was all the pick me up I needed to get me through.

Next up, the third and final day: will Festival Fatigue be our undoing?