Wacken Open Air

Festival Report 2014

Text: Tobias Nilsson Photo: Lunah Lauridsen

25 years. A quarter of a century. That is how long Wacken Open Air has ruled the school of metal festivals.
Or, at least that’s how long the festival has been around by now...

Nobody can deny that W:O:A is the now largest and most international metal festival on the globe. With some 75000 visitors, plus bands, crew, press and all the rest living their lives for a few days on a German field every year the first weekend of August, W:O:A has surpassed the mere normal standards of a festival and has truly become the Holy land for headbangers, the Mecca for metalheads, the pagan point of no return – once you go Wacken, you don’t go back.
But it wasn’t always so. Once, this behemoth began much like every other festival as the brain- and love-child of a dedicated few. Back in 1990, there opened a two day festival for some 800 visitors in a small country town in northern Germany, and it was headlined by the local act Skyline.
Through dedicated fans, good choices and clever marketing the festival then grew, year by year, to the place so many metal fans around the globe now call home. Wacken became WAAKKÖÖÖÖNNN!!!!!!
And Skyline? They still come by, year after year, opening the festival with a festive performance on the Black Stage.

A lot can be said about the changes W:O:A have seen through the years, good and bad, but for your mental health’s sake, we’ll try and focus on what has happened since last year up to and including this 25th anniversary that was celebrated this year. If you want to delve back further than that, feel free to check out our earlier reviews here at Metalmoments, That’ll bring you at least some of the way in good hands.
W:O:A 2014 was sold out within 48 hours after W:O:A 2013 had closed, making it the fastest sold out festival in the history of Wacken, and also the ninth sold out festival in a row – not bad, huh?
For the anniversary edition of the festival, the W:O:A organisers wanted to pin together a program that paid homage to the long history of the festival, going all the way back to some of the first line-up’s to find bands to fill the bill – together with Skyline and Ax’N Sex from the first year, other visitors included such varied talents as the mighty Amon Amarth, the left hand of the Devil himself in King Diamond, and Tobias Sammet’s metal opera Avantasia, and these were just some of the 135 bands and artists who visited W:O:A this year.
As always, in recent years at least, several of the bands brought special shows for the Wacken fans to feast upon, like Avantasia who brought an entire symphony orchestra to strengthen their already one-of-a-kind sound, or Emperor who did a reunion show combined with an anniversary show for their renowned album In The Nightside Eclipse, much like Swedish power metal heroes Hammerfall who also did a reunion show, though from a much shorter break than Emperor, combined with an anniversary show for their debut album Glory To The Brave.

So, the bill was set, the tickets sold, and Wacken was once again ready to rock, rain or shine.
Changes have been touched upon, and now’s the time to get a little more into detail about that. Since there isn’t much that can be done about the size of the festival area at Wacken, at least not without pushing the camping area even further away than it already is, something else had to be done to facilitate all those visitors moving about, and the W:O:A organisers thought up a way to give faster access between all of its seven stages – instead of having a large security check between the biergarten and the inner plain with the main stages and the party stage as has been the deal for al years up till now, the large checkpoint was now moved to stand between the camping area and the Wasteland/Wackinger Village, and another one was placed between the camping area and the Metal Market area, so as to have all the lengthy proceedings only happening once you left the camping area, leaving all of the inner areas quickly connected and only having minor checks in relation to each stage area. Having only read about this in a newsletter before, it was hard to imagine exactly how it would turn out, but in hindsight this might just have been one of the smartest moves Wacken has made in recent years – ever since they installed the Wackinger Village and the Bullhead City Circus, moving about has been a pain, but that’s a pain that has in a large way been alleviated by this new change.

Well, so much for groundbreaking changes – there were more, smaller things too of course, but this was the big thing that could really be felt – but how did the rest of the festival go by?
As always, you check the program, you plan ahead, and you build expectations about what you’re going to see and how these shows will be. It may not be the smartest thing to build expectations as they rarely pan out the way you expect them to, but it’s hard to steer clear from doing so.
Here at Metalmoments, we were mostly dissatisfied by the fact that almost every band we were planning to see overlapped with another band we wanted to see. This is the usual norm at W:O:A by now, what with the many stages and bands, but it’s still pretty annoying seeing how Wacken pull in a lot of bands who aren’t really playing anywhere else. The worst one this year was without contest the overlap of Avantasia and ICS Vortex – Lunah was well set on seeing Avantasia as she is a big fan of the two first albums, and I’d be damned if I missed out on y first chance to catch ICS Vortex live as I’ve really fallen for his solo album. Luckily for us, this particular choice was made easier by the fact that shortly before the festival, Avantasia announced a warm-up gig in nearby Pahlen on the Tuesday before Wacken. We weren’t allowed to cover it as press, but at least we got to see the show so that nothing stood in the way of watching ICS Vortex at the festival.
Another annoying mash-up, and one that wasn’t fixable in the same manner, was the simultaneous gigs of Motörhead, Carcass, and Hell. We actually had our sights set on reviewing our first Motörhead gig, seeing how Lemmy might not outlive us all after all, but Carcass spoke more to us both musically, and Hell had impressed the hell out of both of us the last time we saw them (supporting Carcass interestingly enough).
We ended up going with Carcass, and we’re happy for it as they were really on top of their game, but we have heard from reliable sources, i.e. our colleagues of Devilution, that Hell played an outstanding gig as well.

There were definitely high-lights in the program this year – Devin Townsend Project came close to stealing the show by the frontman’s singular presence of mind, but the band was sadly shot down a few notches by an equally singularly bad effort by the sound guy – DTP had without comparison the worst sound of any band we saw at the entire festival, and that is quite a shame as both their music and delivery deserved so much better.
Instead the top position may very well go to Amon Amarth. No one reading this site should be surprised by the fact that we like the Swedish Vikings very much, but lately it seems they have been running a bit too much on routine, and while making enjoyable concerts they haven’t really hit the high-notes of their potential. This was not the case for their Wacken gig however, where they not only displayed a new and beautiful stage setup, but more importantly a band that was actually making an effort to be outstanding, something which especially frontman Johan Hegg succeeded in in big way.
We can’t go without mentioning our good friends, and an amazing band to boot, of the Danish Metal Battle winners Huldre, who after delivering 20 minutes of rocking Nordic folklore at the Headbanger’s stage took home a well-deserved third place in the Wacken Metal Battle competition after being up against no less than 30 different countries. We had the fortune of sharing camp with them as well as a choice cut of other Danish metal media, and had a good time throughout the festival there.
On the flip-side of this, you’ll find, without a contest, Hammerfall. This was a band that had every opportunity in the world to deliver something amazing, and amazingly enough they blew practically every opportunity they had. A few guest musicians are all that’s worth remembering about this show that was a disaster on par with the Gaza conflict.

You know how all of this running from stage to stage will wear down your energy, and here W:O:A offers up a veritable cornucopia of different dishes – most of them include either one or both of onions and sauerkraut though, so if that doesn’t tickle your fancy your pickings are a bit slimmer. My personal favourite from last year was still there, a fish-van with a penne dish with spicy sauce and either scampi or crayfish, but for some reason the meal had halved in size while still retaining the same price...
Out in the Wackinger Village we found a very price-worthy contestant in the local speciality Baurnbrot, an oven-baked bread with four varieties of toppings – we went for the potato/bacon combo all the way, and it was really good. The Asian box wasn’t too bad either, a little bit pricier but well filled for the hungry metalhead.
Since this years’ edition of Wacken was leaning very heavily towards shine instead of rain, constant drinking was a must in order not to keel over in the midday sun – the organisers were kind enough to inform us on the big screens between bands that beer alone wasn’t enough to keep us hydrated (really?!) and that plenty of water was advisable. Also hats. And shoes.
Anyway, for this purpose W:O:A delivered their second huge win this year. In the metal bag which is handed out to all visitors, it has been a tradition for some time to have a practical gadget with all the promotional stuff – at one point there was a flashlight, at another there was a pouch to put on ones belt, and another still a travellers money-bag to have around the neck – and this year was no different. The item, which was seen on nearly everyone visiting the festival, was a one-litre sturdy plastic bag for water, with a quality mouth-piece to drink from and a snap hook so that it could hang in your belt. I can’t tell you how many times this thing saved my life, but I can tell you that out of all the clever stuff Wacken has come up with over the years, this is beyond a doubt the smartest one yet!

Yes, the 25th W:O:A saw many improvements over the previous years, but the one thing that hasn’t been changed, and certainly never will, is that the festival is exhausting. Even with the improved festival area access, there are still sooo many people to move around, there are sooo many events to take part in – one odd one this year was a camping cooking class with guest chefs like Onkel Tom Angelripper and others – and there are sooo many bands to see, that a whole week wouldn’t be enough, and still it is all cramped into a puny three days. Yours truly feel very old.
But the festival isn’t going anywhere; even before the 25th edition was over, no less than 15 names were announced for next year, and the tickets were reported to have sold out in less than 12 hours! A new record, and the 10th sold out W:O:A in a row! Not bad for a festival that could hardly gather 800 persons for its first edition, in a field, in a small country town in northern Germany.

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