Sunday, December 17, 2006

Children of Bodom with Amon Amarth, Gojira, and Sanctity [Worcester Palladium, 12/16/2006]

This was probably going to be the last show of the year, no matter how China shook out, and it was definitely noteworthy. I was late driving down because I wasn't able to get the 4:30 train after Chinese class, and thus didn't get going from my apartment until past 6:30. I got in only a matter of minutes before Sanctity got on, though some of this was in finding parking; this show was brim-full up, even to the point where they had to open the balcony, a first for metal shows (that I've gone to, ofcourse) since I've been back full time. So I got my beer and paid out for merch from the undercard -- Bodom was going to be making their full share, and I'm not going to be the one letting Amon Amarth and Gojira go hungry -- and went on down to the last row above the floor; the floor was ofcourse packed, and having seen Amon Amarth from the front rail at Wacken, I didn't need to be hogging someone else's spot who hadn't.

Sanctity [5/7]: These guys had more than their share of problems with the sound, but it got better through the course of their set. Once the "mismixed PA noise" factor was dialed out, they were pretty much NWOSDM with some thrash grooves, which is a different feel for a Georgia band, but still pretty cool. Unfortunately, they didn't do a lot that was real distinctive, and the singer desperately needs to get some real vocal lesons; melodic vocals are fine and dandy, but you have to be able to stay on pitch consistently when you do them. Such was not the case here. They were decent enough, and improvement is definitely possible, but it's going to take a good deal of convincing to make me want to hear these guys again; we have quite a few better thrash and thrash/NWOSDM bands around this state.

Gojira [6/7]: These guys started up brutal, hit hard, and did not disappoint, delivering amply with both complexity and heaviness; a shorthand would probably be about equal parts Morbid Angel and Converge. The problem was that this made them both the most brutal and the most complicated band of the night, and in an auditorium full of people who want to hear Janne Warman play singsongy keyboard melodies, you're going to get a few literal "hate crew" yelling in undeserved abuse. However, most of the audience 'got' this band, and got into them as well, despite some of the oddities in arrangement and composition. They'd probably have done better, reaction-wise, on a more underground bill, or in areas of the country where this package is more underground, but they were still strongly appreciated.

Before Amon Amarth went on, we had a chance to contemplate their guitar sound during their soundcheck. Now, guitar tone, especially for metal bands, is often referred to as 'meaty', but this was something else. Amon Amarth's guitar tone sounds like MEAT itself, barely cooked meat dripping with juices, chopped and brought to the mouth with the same battle knife, and washed down with giant flagons of beer so thick and strong that you almost have to chew it as well. When Amon Amarth's guitar sound leaves the amplifiers, it soars out over the audience, then up into the heavens and across the Rainbow Bridge into Asgard, where it wraps itself around the bones of Thor's slaughtered goats, building the new flesh that is required to return them to life, so that they may be slaughtered anew the next night, to provide the Einherjer with the roasts and steaks for their feasting. That is what Amon Amarth's guitars sound like.

Amon Fucking Amarth [7/7]: I was prepared for a letdown. Of course, this turned out to be in vain, because they executed a thoroughly awesome performance, but since I'd last seen them at the world's biggest and best festival with the Jomsvikings, plus a bunch of selected totally awesome shows on Wrath of the Norsemen, I figured that I was due for an average Amon Amarth gig. Well, if 'average' for Amon Amarth is the same as 'massively awesome' for other bands, then yes, this was an average set. Despite some hardcore problems with Johan's mic crumpling up (understandable, the dude yells fucking hard), the sound was great, and the performance awesome. It weighted heavily towards the newer part of their catalog, and they didn't have enough time to work in "Victorious March", but this was still a high-class performance all the same.

I ran into Kenny from MPD back in the bar after their set and enthused significantly about Amon Amarth, but after I got back from the head, he was nowhere to be found, and so I just hung by the bar to get another beer. While in this spot, some guy in a Burzum longsleeve asked me if I was NS; I said no, and immediately started thinking, as I collared my Sam Adams and set off for the relative front, how he could have come to that conclusion.

The answer is that given certain gear on my jacket, it's quite possible to make the inference that it belongs to a rightist. My left shoulder is probably what he saw first, with the Slayer version of the Reichsadler as the top patch, and then behind that, on the same left side, are my Vinnland flag and an Iron Cross. Also on my back are a German flag and the Dresden city crest, all of which have meaning to people who choose to put political meanings to them. However, none of these means what suspicious people might think they mean.

The Slayer patch is just a Slayer patch, and gets its value not because of what it represents, but because it isn't available in the US. The Vinnland flag expresses, for European travel purposes, my pride in my homeland and my disagreement with many of its government's recent antics....and also highlights the fact that Type O don't have any good patches of their own. The Iron Cross is just there to look cool, like it is whenever Lemmy or bikers use it. I know enough German military history to realize that it's nothing special; by the end of both of their wars of aggression, it was basically only possible to avoid the Iron Cross Second Class by active insubordination or treason. The Dresden crest is to remember Dresden, yes, but the Dresden that I lived in for a year, not the Dresden that got burned down 35 years before I was born. It's a onetime home that I want to go back to, not a war memorial. And the German flag is just that: the flag of the democratic Germany that I like living in, and feel in many ways almost as comfortable in as my nominal homeland. It's a shame that so much German paraphrenalia 'belongs' to the right, but under no circumstances are other people's ideas going to make me cut stuff off my rig that I already feel belongs there.

As for rightists in general, my stance is basically the same as Amon Amarth's (who have had similar confusion in the past): I don't support them, but as long as they aren't stirring shit or starting trouble, they've got the right to their opinion too. At my age, extreme politics cuts into my sleeping time, and that's something to be avoided at all costs.

Ok, back to the show.

Children of Bodom [7/7]: Their performance wasn't quite at the level of Amon Amarth's, but it was very well-executed, the songs sounded great, and the visual presentation was staggering. They only had about half their festival gear for this run of indoor halls in North America, so the trucks and additional lighting trusses stayed home, but they did bring the lasers and the large metal backplates that spelled out the band's initials in mini-spots. They kept the crowd pumping in top form, which is admirable since it seriously seemed that Alexi had to change guitars after every other song. No idea if this was different tunings or the axes just getting driven out of tune, though I'll consider the latter more probable, since he was just pounding around the stage like a madman, throwing the guitar around his neck, crushing bends around, all the stuff that you expect from Alexi Laiho. After some brief and hoarse yelling, they came back out for a perfunctory two-song encore, then did some fan appreciation, and Alexi led the crowd in the chorus of the Beastie Boys' "Fight For Your Right" before spitting beer in the air and heading off for the last time. Good set, good gig, good way to end the year if this is how it goes.

No idea on when or what the next show is gonna be; nothing definite before God Forbid and Goatwhore up in Bedford.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

not going to China after all

Someone seriously needs to explain to our East Asia manager what the 'non-refundable' in 'non-refundable airline ticket' means. This aside, I'm glad that I don't have to go to China next week, even though this does mean that I'm going to have to do normal Christmas shopping. This doesn't put any new shows on the dock, but it will probably mean more sleeping in the immediate future, more drama early next year, and more expense for Wacken later.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

SYWTGTW: Stuff I forgot

This is some other stuff about Germany that is good to know, but which I forgot to add in earlier into the customs thing.


Most Germans will understand if you pronounce their currency unit like it looks you should. But unless they check themselves, they may well say it back to you sounding like "oi row", as per the punk subgenre and the thing you do with a boat. Since you're going to be doing a lot of euro-spending for transit, merch, and provisions, this is something you should probably be prepared to hear.


In Germany, the concept of 'disposable' is highly deprecated. All bottled and canned beer, all canned soft drinks, and almost all bottled soft drinks have some kind of return deposit on the containers, which is not included in the billed price. This return deposit, called Pfand, which you'd probably never associate as such, is also extended to drinks cups at gigs and festivals, at which Wacken is no exception. Thus your first beer will cost 4e, even though the beer is only 3e, because you also have to pay for the cup. If you trade the empty cup in for a full one, you're effectively paying 'only' for the beer inside, and it will be 3 euro. When you get a litermug of something, the deposit is 3.50e.

The upside of this, of course, is that you're allowed to keep the cups that you technically buy, and they're solid enough to make this worthwhile. Every year the logo design on the liter mug and hefeweizen glasses (from the beergarden) is different, and every year there are about 10 different designs used for the 0.4- and 0.3-liter cups used for beer and mixed drinks (respectively). If you are easily addicted to collectible-commodity games like Magic, Pokemon, or limited-edition vinyl, follow these with caution, because the effort of collecting the whole set will significantly obstruct your ability to actually see bands like you came to this festival to do.

Random Acts of Violence with Revocation, Deadlikedeath, and Medicine 4 Tim [Middle East Upstairs, Cambridge, 12/8/2006]

Sharp people who were actually there will go "wait, that's not the order, not the way it was on the bill or the way that you usually do review titles". Well, there's a reason for that, which will become clear as we look at the way the bands actually went down.

On getting in, I was struck really by how small this room is; despite being full way over capacity (194 yeah right) when I was down to see Sigh in 2002, I was almost sure that it was bigger. What the hell ever, it doesn't really matter. The order was somewhat surprising when considered in the abstract, but there are some concrete reasons why Revocation had to go on first.

Revocation [6/7]:
I'm not doing fractional ratings for this show (or any others that I can avoid), and so this stays a 6 rather than going up to a 7. Revocation still continues to get better and better every time I see them (so far, at about even two-week intervals), and with the newly finished "Ducttape and Buttrape" (the instrumental they debuted at the Skybar last time), they have enough material to do a full set of "7" material....albeit an extremely short set. To fill out their playing time, it's "5"-level stuff, and while this stuff is by definition solid, it comes off as down next to the absolutely brilliant stuff they're doing the rest of the time.
If you like thrash metal or prog-death, live in New England, and haven't taken it upon yourself to see these guys, you are missing out. To describe their sound accurately, I have to pull from my full range of cult knowledge: bits of Believer, Cynic, Atheist, mid-period Kreator, Imperium, and Converge all showed up last night, but it takes an experienced ear to discern the ingredients out of the surface impression, which is a totally original and totally awesome blend of basically everything good in technical metal since about 1985. Dave continues to pull out one or two guitar tricks that I didn't think were even possible every set, and Anthony continues to tease people with his occasional Choy/Patterson breaks when you'd normally expect him to be laying down rhythm behind Dave's soloing.
Bonus props to Anthony for his Out of the Dark... shirt -- I thought I was like the only person on this continent who had that EP.

So if these guys are so incredibly awesome, why are they opening this bill of local bands? The reason is simple: Phil is also on drums for RAOV, and as he has not yet been completely replaced with robot parts, he still needs to rest up between sets, and for as long as possible. He battled triumphantly through both sets, but if Revocation had gone on next-to-last, as they probably would have if they didn't share members with anyone else on the bill, about two hours behind the kit playing almost ceaselessly fast thrash metal would probably have taken an undue amount out of him.

Medicine 4 Tim [5/7]:
There's an unwritten rule in the NFL whereby black quarterbacks are compared only to other black quarterbacks, and white wide receivers only to other white wideouts, no matter how stupid or wrong the comparison is, or if there's a player whose attributes more closely match the guy with the exception of skin color. If we didn't have a similar "Female Vocalist Rule" in metal, it would be possible to state that this band sounds most like Pantera with a few gimmicks. Unfortunately, what people expect is more "Holy Moses crossed with Crisis". This is less true, but with so few female-fronted bands out there, comparisons are few and far between. M4T's style, apart from the bagpipe intro that their drummer blew while everyone else was setting up (usually a bonus for a Boston band, but here a little out of place because they didn't expand on it or anything), was somewhat mainstream-influenced thrash, not real technical or especially brutal, but still solidly delivered. The kilts, scally caps, and bagpipes suggested that there might be some trad-Irish influences at work, but there wasn't much to be heard after the intro. The weirdest part of the set, though, was when the vocalist took off her vinyl fetish-nurse costume and stripped down to a silver-lame' bikini top and hot pants. Again, some people may have found this hot, but to me it was just plain bizarre....though this may just be personal taste; 'skinny' is not a sell point on this end.
It seemed like their set got cut off short, either because they ran out of material or for some other reason; no idea over here. It just felt cut off is all, and this is probably accurate because of the circumstances that showed up later during RAOV.

Deadlikedeath [5/7]:
The organizers of this event, these guys played a nice, long, set of Boston hardcore that was just fun enough to take the edge off the length of it. Those more into hardcore probably enjoyed this a lot more, but for me, who's never been particularly into this scene, the set seemed to drag on a bit. It was uniformly well-executed, but there's only so many hardcore songs that I can stand to hear in a row, and DLD went over that number by about 3 or 4 on this set. Are they playing, though, for some git in a Hypocrisy jacket with Judas Priest studs on the shoulders? Hell no, and my personal reaction to this set shouldn't have a bearing on the assessment of the quality of the music that they delivered.

Random Acts Of Violence [7/7]:
Yes, this set was as good as advertised. The edge over Revocation here comes mostly from the general energy level, on stage and in the crowd. Where Revocation tries to blow your mind Atheist-style with technical brutality, RAOV mostly follows the Bay Area pattern of subordinating technicality to the groove, and just plain writing incredible songs, and the result is that it's easier for people to get into and get moving to. It certainly helped that the sound guys got their guitar sound right, because a lot of what they do depends on trading leads, and if the lead isn't cutting through the rhythm, a lot of stuff can get lost. Fortunately, almost all the leads cut straight in as they were supposed to, and the effect was truly transformative. There are still more than a few touches of their old hardcore style in their sound, but it's melded in with their melodic thrash attack almost seamlessly, providing just the right amount of color and shading to their sound. The next time these guys do a show with My Pet Demon, go, and watch out, because it's going to be a battle royale of melodic thrash leads, and neither band is going to be satisfied with coming off second best.

When you add it all up, it was a great show, especially for nine bucks, even if the mids were a little scooped set-order-wise. I picked up a RAOV shirt and buttons from them and Revocation, partly to support the bands and partly because I realized on Thursday while putting the Celtic Frost strip on my kutte that I had lost my Motorhead pig at Blind Guardian, and I needed something else to put in its place on the waist strap. The buttons are a temporary solution while I try to track down some similarly impressive chunk of tin from Slayer or someone, but will be moved up onto the collar and pocket areas once the new pin is in. These guys are awesome and deserving of a place on the jacket, and since neither band has put out patches (hint hint hint), buttons are how it has to go. They also look cool, which certainly doesn't hurt.

Next show is Bodom, Amon Amarth, Gojira, and Sanctity on Saturday, and then I'm going to China. This is much less fun than it sounds, trust me.

Friday, December 08, 2006

wo bu gaoxing, chu zai zhongguo

.........keshi wo chu le. ;_;

I liked China the last time, but it's a hell of a lot of bother to go through, especially since this is going to involve holiday travel through Chicago. NOT A FAN.

There is also a lot of peripheral shit being stirred around this, but eventually if we go to bat for our Asian organization enough, they will come back to bat for us. Hopefully.

I should be able to get some neat presents, but this is a LONG way to go for Christmas shopping.

Monday, December 04, 2006

SYWTGTW: Why not?

Why you SHOULDN'T go to Wacken -- or at least not this year

Sure, there are a whole bunch of reasons why you might want to go. However, there are also reasons why you might not want to go, and it's disingenuous to encourage people to go without mentioning them.
The first reason is that there's risks involved with any trip that involves as many transit changes as this one, and it's quite possible that despite the advice given here, you may miss a connection and find yourself lost in Germany. I've been lost in foreign countries where I didn't speak the language, and it can be pretty intimidating; it's tough enough just being somewhere where you don't speak the language, let alone when you don't know quite where you are. Add to that the risk of luggage getting lost, and it's clear that you have to be mentally tough and resilient enough to soldier on and get through in the case that something goes wrong.
Additionally, with this kind of financial commitment, you can't really just decide not to go if it's going to be a torrential downpour. My first Wacken was in 2005, the worst rain that the festival has ever seen, and while it was an awesome time, I got progressively colder and more miserable as everything in my gear got waterlogged. I planned smarter after that, but I did end up chucking out almost all of my camping gear because it had become unusable. Like on any other camping trip, the weather can get you down if you're not prepared for the foul-weather camping experience.
Also, this year Wacken is going to be changing. In 2006, the festival drew about 65,000 people and was more or less wall-to-wall people; there were additionally changes in the way that the camping/parking fee was handled that torqued off a lot of people. For 2007, the organizers are trying to work out the kinks in the Full:Metal:Bag system that caused the controversy, and they're also making radical changes to the infield layout, moving the Party Stage to accommodate more people. The campground will probably have to be expanded as well, but there's been little news on what the effect of this will be.

With that said, a lot of this stuff is kind of to be expected from a festival, and if the lineup is enough to make you want to incur the airfare expenses, you should consider this stuff in your plans, but not change them because of it. Pack a crash bag, put a box of trashbags in your main pack, and be decided to have a good time even hungry, cold, wet, exhausted, and drunk.

SYWTGTW: Navigation and Customs


Getting around the town of Wacken is pretty easy. There are maps available on the official Wacken site, so you'll be able to find your way around the festival, and also to the exit. From there, it's basically a "turn left" deal: the town's center is uphill to the left of the festival entrance, so while it's a decent walk, it's also hard to miss. In town, you'll see the yellow sign for the Edeka on the opposite side of the road from the festival, and then a little further up the road you have the town's two banks, Sparkasse and Raiffeisen, which have their ATMs usually accessible. You'll also see a bit of local color with the signs advertising drinks and stuff in people's front yards, but the prices are barely better than the festival, and if you don't speak German, it may be a little difficult communicating. Here in what used to be West Germany, nearly everyone speaks at least some English, but in a little farming town like this one, they don't get a ton of practice. This is basically all you need; everything else is within the festival grounds.

Customs and other inside baseball

In Germany, people don't generally tip. This is because there is a 16.5% VAT (value added tax) included in the price of everything that you buy from a human being. This is why you don't see tipping at the infield bars. Also, you don't need to worry about figuring tax on stuff you buy from stores; all taxes are included, so the price you see is the price you pay. What we call a cellphone, people in Germany and Scandinavia call a 'handy'; there is a handy charging station at the festival main office (on the road up towards town), which you may not otherwise associate with mobile phones. Not that your phone is tremendously likely to work anyway; in Europe the cell standard is GSM, and most phones from North America still don't respond to this standard. Most people in Germany can discriminate between individual Americans (who are people like them) and the policies of the US government (which nearly everyone considers irrational and destabilizing), especially at Wacken where people who make their way from other continents get extra respect for their dedication, but it's still not smart to go running around in downtown Hamburg in an American-flag shirt yelling "USA! USA!". Act like a metalhead, not a tourist.

SYWTGTW: Food and Drink

This part of the guide will explain how to keep yourself fueled and thrashing through the festival, and help you navigate the maze of overpriced and often crappy food vendors.

General Rules:
Do not buy pizza in Germany. Do not buy doner at a metal festival.
The explanations for these are simple. Pizza in Germany, especially if you grew up in one of the Italian-heavy sections of the US, like I did, is simply and uniformly godawful. It is crappily made, and at Wacken, often poorly cooked. The doner are a slight improvement, but pale in comparison to the real thing from a real city donerladen. They're less likely to make you sick and will deliver more vitamins, but this is a very relative comparison, and you can pretty much put vitamins by for a week or so, can't you?

Eat the set breakfast (Fertigfruhstuck) from the breakfast tent with either OJ or coffee, depending on how messed up you still feel. This includes two nice tough rolls, butter, cheese, salami, fruit preserves, and nutella. Eat all of this, though you can save the nutella for later. This will fuel you up with immediate energy as well as real nutrition and keep you going for an hour or two until the infield opens up and you can start eating from the Schwenkgrillen.

Infield Food:
While thrashing, you will burn energy and eventually get hungry. At that time, go get yourself a Krakauer Wurst. The Krakauer is moderately inexpensive (3 euro), and you get a foot-long, inch-thick sausage full of meat and some nice peppers that go well with the beer being served everywhere. They are one of the great reliables of Wacken, served simply on another roll, and as such they combine the complex carbs and protein that you'll need for long-duration energy release.
Also recommended are the Wiking Burger (everyone who goes to Wacken should have at least one, but they're expensive), the giant hotdog (loaded up with pickles and other veg, it's like a doner that doesn't suck as bad), and the famous Knobi-brot. This I tend not to favor because it's not quite real garlic bread. The grills where you will find the Krakauers are also the closest food to the most of the musical action and to the infield bars, making them the most efficient way of keeping your motor running whether you're rocking or drinking.

The cheapest place to get food (and alcohol) in Wacken is at the Edeka-market in town. This is a fair bit of a walk to get to, but will allow you to stock up on eats for your campsite if you consider the breakfast tent too expensive, or the beer to be a ripoff. Good options include fresh bread, which will keep more or less until Sunday morning if you buy it Thursday afternoon and eat it piecemeal in the mornings, and the ingredients for vodka-tea.

Making Vodka-tea:
This alcoholic beverage keeps your buzz on at a discount and keeps you hydrated as well, and you'll probably be able to bring it into the infield. To make it, you will need to bring to Wacken a small funnel and to buy at the Edeka two liters of vodka and five 1.5-liter tetrapaks (most non-carbonated drinks in Germany are sold in square cartons rather than bottles) of cheap iced tea, while someone else gets or brings a standard 0.4-liter Wacken cup.
From each tetrapak, pour out 0.4 liter of tea into the Wacken cup. You can drink this if you don't want it to go to waste, or just dump it if you don't care. Now, pour out a full 0.4-liter measure of vodka into the cup and put the funnel over the opening into the first tetrapak. Pour the vodka in, close the cap, shake it up a little, and obviously repeat for the remaining four boxes.
This should take care of a significant portion of your drinking needs for the three days of the festival, if you take one pack down on Thursday and two on each of Friday and Saturday. Tetrapaks are allowed into the infield as long as they aren't of alcoholic stuff, and you've got boxes of iced tea, not booze. The security doesn't check such very carefully, and at the tincture suggested above, the paks aren't going to be exuding an obvious booze stench that will cause the secus to take notice.

Get a Mass as early as possible; this is the liter-mug, and they nearly all vanish very quickly. Out of the deal, you get a nifty souvenir mug (3 euro deposit) and the ability to significantly moderate your drinking. You'll be much more able to remember how many you've had, and when you got your last one, and the pure size of the vessel will make you pay a little more attention to how much beer you're putting down. The bands start at like noon on the two main days, and you don't want to be so totally trashed by 2 AM that you can't remember how the headliners were. It also becomes substantially braggable to the home folks who think of beer in 12-ounce increments: "THIS is how we drink in Germany!"

Expect to spend about 40 euro on beer per day, and another 20 to 30 on food. This assumes that you are not being parsimonious, but eating and drinking like a Viking on his king's tab, which is overwhelmingly the case at Wacken. This makes about 180 euro in food and booze expenses (splitting the difference, and since Thursday is a short day), before we even get into merch. Plan accordingly! Don't be that guy running around on Saturday night with a sign begging for money to help with alcohol research or food!
With this in mind, you can moderate this by buying breakfast stuff from the market instead of the breakfast tent, and you can shave about 20% off your beer bill by using the vodka-tea recipe given above.

SYWTGTW: Gear, Packing, and Documents

Now, you know how to get to Wacken. What you may not know yet is what you'll need for gear once you're there. The following is a general guide to Wacken equipment that I did a while back.

Wacken-gear for the international traveler

- frame or military pack
You don't want to be stuck dragging a suitcase around the campground, looking for somewhere to pack your tent out. Your pack should be big enough to stow all your gear, and have enough straps or lashing points to allow you to tie other stuff onto it. It also should have well-padded shoulder straps and some kind of hip belt. This allows you to carry your gear easily around without breaking any part of your body.
If you haven't ever backpacked before, do some practice walking around with your pack under its full load to get a feel for it. You will likely have to carry your pack about a kilometer to get to somewhere where you can tent.

- light tent
If possible, make friends in Germany or other European countries who are going to be driving, and share a tent with them, as they'll be able to bring in a larger sleeping structure, and it's one less thing you have to pack. If this isn't possible, or if you don't feel comfortable in such a situation, you need your own light tent. This should have, if possible, a plastic tarp bottom in order to prevent leaks to the underside, and a moderate degree of waterproofing. Those two-second tents are good for anyone who is not flying, but will usually be destroyed in a typical airplane.
Your tent should be small enough to fit into your pack with the other gear. When you set it up, be sure to also set up the rain fly. Most of the time, the weather is fine, but when it rains, it fucking pours.

- sleeping bag
This should be rated to about freezing, and should pack up into as small a space as possible. Compressibilty is probably more important unless you catch cold easily. At night in this part of Germany, a 40-degree (Fahrenheit) bag will not cut it, but you don't really want the weight or expense of a full winter-weight bag in your backpack.

- ground pad
This is not strictly essential (I did my first Wacken without one), but going without will tie your back in knots, and you'll need to be a lot drunker to get to sleep. There are pads out now that will auto-inflate on being unrolled; I had one of these and it was a perfect solution, compressing small and light for packing in and out while being nice and soft to sleep on. Anyone who claims that sleeping outside on anything other than the hard ground and/or a cloak is unmetal has never tried to do so in real life.

- longsleeve t-shirt or patchjacket
Most of the time, Wacken is too hot for most people to wear a kutte over their normal black shirt. However, once it gets dark, it's fucking cold if you're in a shortsleeve t-shirt. With a longsleeve, you can push the sleeves up for daytime operations, then pull them down after dark. This is probably the optimum solution; a full patchjacket is comfortable at night, but will probably induce too much heat during the day.
I built a patchjacket instead of a kutte because that's where my inclinations lay, and it's that jacket that I wear to Wacken, because it also provides better weather protection, and my first Wacken was 2005; weather protection accordingly looms large in my mind. The heat is more or less bearable.

- cargo shorts
If you think you can get by with the normal allotment of pockets and no straps, go ahead and try. However, if you aren't wearing a kutte or some other jacket, you're going to need the extra pockets to store cups, running order sheets, free CDs, your camera, your phone, your lighter and cigs or rolling accessories, etc, etc, etc in addition to your wallet, passport, and normal accessories which normally travel in your pockets. It is for this reason that most other people you see, especially natives, will be in a black longsleeve and cutoff military pants. Blend in, it's optimal! The other option is to wear a mini-pack, but then there is the risk of getting beaten up as a fucking Eastpak metalcore emo, which they also have in Germany and like just as little.

- boots
If you don't normally wear boots or other heavy footgear, start doing so to toughen up your legs. If you aren't used to wearing boots, they will drag on you and wear out your legs long before the end of the day. Most of the time, boots are not necessary, but they make you more sure-footed when carrying your pack to and from the campsite, and they will be a lifesaver if there is significant rain and the ground starts dissolving. Because Wacken is held on a field that is normally a cow pasture, there are not a lot of really deep roots, and the trampling of 30-60,000 metalheads rapidly destroys any structure in the soil. At Wacken 2005, where it rained basically without letup, the organizers laid down several tons of straw in front of the stages every morning, and the infield was still ground to a fine paste by mid-afternoon. The campgrounds, especially those in lower-lying areas, were in places more or less underwater by the end of the festival, and many more cars had to be towed out by tractor than got out under their own power. This is not a usual situation, but it's always possible.
My boots are all-leather-top Chippewas with Vibram soles and ten-inch uppers. Boots less tall will probably not provide sufficient ankle support. If you won't be using these as everyday footwear, you can buy a pair of army-surplus jungle boots for about $20, but you should be prepared to discard them after the festival; I tried wearing surplus boots once, and completely destroyed them in the space of five weeks. Rotten for sustained use, but they will probably do good service over your break-in period plus the festival weekend.

- extras
Pack one pair of underwear for each day you're going to be at the festival, and 2 extra pairs of sturdy socks. You should accordingly be sure that you've got at least 3 pairs of hiking socks before going overseas; regular socks will not stand up if you're going to be on your feet thrashing for 10+ hours a day. Similarly, have at least one extra shirt in case you don't find anything cool at the merch stands. You won't need spare shorts, but you should be mentally prepared to discard your shorts on returning home if they become too destroyed.
The reasons for these are as follows. Your underwear will likely smell like concentrated butt and gym locker after you've been out and sweating into it all day when you first strip down to go to sleep. Your immediate and correct instinct will be to tie it off in a plastic bag and bury it at the bottom of your backpack. If it's wet out, it's not smart to put socks on wet. The proper technique is to spread out the previous day's socks out to dry on your pack and put on a new pair; on the following day, you can swap the wet socks for the dried-out ones, leaving one dry pair in reserve. Spare shirts are less essential because they can be easily bought on location; these will be dry and won't stick cold wet compresses to your torso. Spare shorts are unnecessary because they won't be in constant contact with your body, and the area they're on isn't as sensitive as your torso. This allows you to get out of bringing spares.

- 2 tarps
Pack two tarps with you; if you've got a change of flight, one should go in your crash bag. One of these tarps will go under your tent as a ground cloth to be extra-sure that water won't get into it, and the other can be used as an emergency supplement to your rain fly if things get bad enough. The tarp in your crash bag has an additional use.

- crash bag
If you have to change planes at any point, there is the chance, though slight, that your luggage could be lost. If this happens, you will be without tent or other camping gear -- unless you buy some in Germany at inflated prices, reducing your cash supply for merch, food, and beer, or unless you brought a crash bag for a carryon. My crash bag is a messenger-bag style design that when I'm not on the airplane can be strapped easily to the top of my pack; this year at Wacken it carried one tarp, six all-purpose wire tent stakes, one fleece blanket, a coil of nylon rope, a roll of duct tape, and my camera and notebook. If I had landed in Germany without my field pack, I would have purchased a knife and a lighter locally, then used the tarp to make an open shelter, staked down with the stakes and tied down with lengths of rope cut and sealed to length and held open at the head end with a stick support found and shaped on location.
The crash bag, if you use one, should contain the absolute minimum of stuff needed to shelter yourself at Wacken. In the event that you have to use it, you should also be prepared to leave everything you brought in it in-country so that you can use it to carry back merch and other souvenirs. If your main pack makes it, it should be possible to pack in all your crash bag stuff so that you can also use it to make sure your Wacken souvenirs get home in one piece, even if your backpack is a little delayed.

- garbage bag
Bring at least one sturdy plastic garbage bag to put over the foot of your sleeping bag. This is the part that is most likely to come in contact with the side of the tent, accordingly the part that is most likely to get wet, and the part that you most strongly do not want to get wet, because your bare feet will be in close contact with it all over. The garbage bag will keep the water out as long as your tent doesn't flood.

- plastic shopping bags
These will hold your laundry, which will in many cases (as mentioned above) be unbearably stinky. They will contain the stench and isolate it from other parts of your kit.

- carabiner
The most cost-effective way to drink at Wacken is from the highly souvenirable liter-mug (Massbier). However, these are usually impossible to put in a pocket, and if you've got one in your hand all day, it can get tiresome and awkward. A decorative carabiner attached to a belt or tool loop on your shorts will allow you to keep your mug to hand wthout it actually being in your hand the whole time. Tip the mug over so that the open end faces down; this will prevent it from inadvertently catching other people's cigarette ashes, which is always a good thing.

- camera
You will be able to get into the infield with any camera that looks sufficiently non-professional, and of course you ought to, in order to get pictures for the home folks. These can be a powerful inducement to get people to come the following year, and ofcourse more is always merrier (as long as the organizers are prepared for it, which they usually are). Shoot cool one-of-a-kind pictures that you won't get in the metal mags, and they'll know that you were really there at the world's greatest metalparty instead of just banging hookers in the Reeperbahn.

- cap
More people wear boonie hats than caps, though there are some in attendance. However, one won't just make you look like a metalcore kid, it can actually be useful. When you pass a drinking water tank in the campground, draw yourself a hatfull and drink it on the way down to the festival grounds. This gives you some refreshment and also a cool towel on your head that will prevent the early heat from getting to you as much.
This assumes, of course, that you're a normal metalhead and using some variant of an army or painter's cap rather than a baseball-style hat that has holes in the top. This will still cool you off, but is kind of useless as a drinking vessel. Trucker caps are right out and will probably get you beaten up for a fucking emo anyways.

- pellet chocolate candy
This may be underestimated, but it can make a definite difference if you need a quick shot of energy. Before any significant trip on which I may need such instant power boosts, I lay in a pound or so bag of peanut butter M&Ms; nothing else is quite as effective at pure get-up-and-go delivery, as they contain both sugar and chocolate for an immediate hit and fats in the peanut butter to sustain the burn a little. Peanut stuffs, especially peanut butter stuffs, are probably the best; those who have peanut allergies are I guess kind of screwed.

This should about cover it; it's nearly everything you're likely to need and it should be eminently air-portable.

Of course, you have to be able to get onto the airplane for any of the foregoing to be useful. For that, since this is an international connection, you will need a passport, and if you're one of the nine in ten Americans who don't hold a currently-valid US passport, you're going to need to get one. You can fill out the forms at many post offices, and if your local post office won't let you do this, they will know where you have to go to do them. In addition to the paperwork, you're going to need to submit two standard photos, which you can probably get taken at any photo-supply shop. Ask about passport photos; if they don't do them, they'll probably know somewhere that does. The post office, if they do passport applications, will also usually know of a couple places to get photos taken.

Adult passport applications cost a $45 processing fee (check payable to the State Department) and generally take about six weeks. Do this right now if you think you might want to go to Wacken any time in the next decade; some airlines require a passport to be able to purchase international tickets. As alluded, your freshly minted passport will be good for ten years from date of issue, and will get you into most countries that you might want to go to without an additional visa.


So now that you've gotten your airfare money set up and ordered your ticket from Metaltix, you need to set up your trip logistically. The important decision is when you want to go over, and when you want to come back. If you can't get much time off work, you'll want to fly out Wednesday after work; given the flight time and that Germany is six hours ahead of the East Coast, you'll get in to Hamburg in the morning on Thursday and over to the festival in time to get set up before the bands go on. Similarly, you'll probably be able to get a flight back from Hamburg by Sunday evening, which will allow you to at least technically get back to work on Monday.

The problem with this is that if you don't sleep on the plane, you will be dead from jetlag and almost definitely miss some bands on Thursday night. If you don't care about Thursday's bands, fine; if not, and if you have enough vacation time, you may want to try flying over after work Tuesday. You'll have a better chance at a good tenting spot, and also get some time to acclimate to the timezone and/or see TSV Wacken get their butts kicked by the St Pauli Old-Time All-Stars. Of course, the appeal of this game is limited for people who aren't familiar with German soccer, but there is beer and cool music, and it's a decent way to get an advance look at the culture of the festival. Similarly, if you can take Monday off and have a little room in your budget, you may want to put up for a hotel room in Hamburg and catch up on your sleep before you fly back -- and also to wash all the grime and grit of the festival off. There are washing facilities onsite so that you don't make your transit vehicles totally unlivable, but they're nothing like the real thing.

Ok, so let's say that you've got all your travel arrangements lined up. You find yourself in Hamburg, but Wacken is actually in a whole different federal state, more than an hour to the north by rail and road. This is how you get there.

We'll assume you start from the airport in Hamburg. After you clear customs and immigration (notes on the passport process will follow later), find an ATM to get out your first allotment of cash. Look for a sign like this:

Now that you have your weirdly-colored Euros, follow the directions to the bus to the main train station. Directions are posted in English as well as German, but the bus sign may not be; the huge German word to look for is 'Hauptbahnhof'. This may be abbreviated 'Hbf' elsewhere, but this bus is a special that just goes to the train station, so it'll be spelled out. This bus costs 5 euros and is the simplest way to get over.

When the bus drops you at the train station, go inside and start looking around the tracks for groups of metalhead-looking people. These long-haired, black-shirted crazies are your natural compadres, even if their native language is German, and more importantly, they know which trains are going the way you need them to. If you find yourself on your own, you'll need to look for a train going through Itzehoe, or, failing that, any train stopping in Altona. Itzehoe is the station stop for Wacken, and Altona is another train station in Hamburg that handles most of the regional connections from the north. At Altona, look for a train going through Itzehoe. It should be noted that going through Altona, you'll be on regional rail rather than an inter-city express, which will naturally be cheaper. Depending on train and travel class, the ride from Hamburg to Itzehoe will cost between 10 and 25 euros; get in a car with a 2 on it if there are numbers on them. These are second-class accomodations and cheaper. You may have to change trains at a place called Elmsdorf; in this case, just wait for the Itzehoe train. This town is pronounced almost exactly like "it's a ho", so if you're listening, it's tough to miss. The inter-city avoids the train change.

Ok, let's assume that you've overcome the German rail system and gotten off at Itzehoe. When you walk out the front, there should be a sign along the road to your right in the shape of the famous steer's head, and probably a clot of metalheads standing around waiting for the shuttle bus. This bus will take you right to the festival gate, and costs 3 euros. Now all you have to do is join the lineup and get your wristband and the swag bag that goes with your camping fee. For the latest on how this is going to be managed, see the official Wacken site; there was kind of a clusterfuck with the bag/fee situation in 2006, so there may be changes going into the festival.

Going home, you pretty much just reverse field: on Sunday morning, you take the Wacken-bus to Itzehoe, then take the train to Hamburg, usually changing at Elmsdorf and then again at Altona. From the main station, you can take the airport shuttle back to HAM, or make connections to wherever you need to go. The bus will probably say 'Airport Express'.

SYWTGTW: Finances parts 1&2

The first and most major part of getting to Wacken is the finances. The ticket is going to cost you 100 euros after everything is added in: camping fee, Metaltix's service charge, etc. This is going to work out to about $130, but will include your accomodations, so it's going to be significantly cheaper than going to a multi-day festival in the US and paying for several hotel nights. However, the killer is airfare. No matter how you cut it, getting a flight in to Hamburg is going to run you about $1000. Experienced travelers might be able to get a flight into one of the other major cities in north-west Germany and then get over on the Deutsche Bahn, but if you don't speak German, it's best to minimize your time in the German rail system, and the costs will probably come out pretty similar. Book your flight well in advance, and you'll save a little bit of money, but the best way to handle this is just to budget well. A good time at Wacken, counting flights, ticket, food, beer, and merch, is going to run in the neighborhood of $1500, which is a stiff bill for most metalheads, but usually manageable. Remember, you've got a year to save up, and there'll be a few little tricks later on to save money at the festival.

The second important part of finances is on-site cash. DO NOT bring US money over and try to convert it. The dollar is critically weak with regard to the euro, and "assraping" is too kind to describe the shenanigans that go on at the exchange counters. If you've got an ATM card that's on one of the major ATM networks, it'll work just fine in Germany, and most ATMs, including those in the village of Wacken itself, have the option to display instructions in English. This way, you pay only your normal transaction fee instead of getting screwed out of 10-15 percent of your beer and merch money. Be sure to check with your bank on your daily overseas withdrawal limit before you go over: this will determine how much cash you're able to have on hand. If you try to withdraw more than this on any single transaction, the ATM will complain, and you will neither get any cash on that transaction OR for the rest of the day. This can ROYALLY fuck you up, so take care. I got messed up by this when I was trying to pile up the cash to make my apartment deposit, and I had to sleep on the floor at the office for a couple days before I got the cash together.

So You Want To Go To Wacken

So, you want to go to Wacken. You've maybe heard me gush on about the experience, or you maybe saw Headbanger's Journey and were obsessed by it, or maybe you just saw the billing for this year, and said, fuck, this is awesome, I gotta be there. This is good; though sometimes the hype is a little excessive on the "Holy Land" angle, Wacken is like no other festival in the world, and if you're a truly dedicated metalhead, you should eventually make the pilgrimage at least once in your life. However, just as some Muslims get fucked up on their once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca, it's quite possible for you to get fucked over at some point in the transit to Wacken, especially if you don't speak German or don't know how things work in Germany. This is where I come in; I've been to Wacken twice, and I lived in Germany for the better part of a year as a normal citizen, so I'm going to try and explain how things go so that you, also, can be smart and prepared and have your once-in-a-lifetime trip go so well that it threatens to be come a once-a-year addiction.

This post is the first in a series, and as the other posts go in, this one will be edited to reflect links to the new parts.
SYWTGTW: Finances parts 1&2
SYWTGTW: Gear, Packing, and Documents
SYWTGTW: Food and Drink
SYWTGTW: Navigation and Customs
SYWTGTW: Why not?
SYWTGTW: Stuff I forgot

These may be updated later, and definitely will be edited in response to any questions, so fire away.

Blind Guardian with Leaves' Eyes [Worcester Palladium, 12/1/2006]

In contrast to normal shows, this one formed up with a sort of posse: me, my brother, one of his friends who was up from DC, and two other friends, Ryan and Danny, who also happened to be 2/5 of Ruin -- the now-defunct Massachusetts band, not the one from Maine that's still around. Pat McNeil from My Pet Demon was supposed to be in the crew as well, but Ryan kind of forgot to invite him. In the mist that turned into annoying rain, we set off for Worcester with Danny at the wheel, leaving Ryan and James to trade ridiculous stories about some of their gay (both out and in total denial) and/or stupid friends, which made the drive in decently enjoyable despite the weather and other Massachusetts drivers on the road.

We got in about 15 minutes before doors, and came around the uphill side of the Palladium to find that there was an actual lineup. What the hell? This was seriously the first time I've seen any kind of lineup for a normal show at the Palladium, and it was so long that after security forced us down the block instead of wrapping bag up to the gate, the end was seriously almost all the way down to the DCU Center. We ended up at the front of the "second line" behind the buses; James ran into one of his frat buddies, who ended up hanging with us inside, and we shot the shit with the security guy monitoring the gate, who was buddies with All That Remains and had a couple stories about DragonForce's outlandish road drinking habits to pass along. (Another DragonForce moment, eariler: Random parking attendant: "So, what does this band sound like tonight?" Ryan: "Power metal. Par excellence." RPA: "Oh, like DragonForce?" James: "Kind of, but less gay.")

Eventually, we got in, got beer, got merch, and got down onto the floor, waiting for Leaves' Eyes to start, so that they could finish so that the Guardians could go on. The audience was pretty well mixed, not only over age and gender but also in metalness level: there were quite a few people who looked as though this was probably the only show they went to all year, and that this bill would be the only one that would get them out and onto the floor, and then there were the usual stalwarts that I see at every show that I go to, and in pictures on RTTP from all the shows that I don't go to. While we were standing around, I got engaged in conversation by this kid who was the perfect stereotype of the introverted power metal fan: overweight, unkempt, wearing a tye-died T-shirt with an upraised arm holding a sword on it; he commented on my jacket and my Swashbuckle shirt (I thought I was being original, but I saw at least 3 other people in Swashbuckle kit at this gig -- here's hoping it's a general trend and a bigger label picks them up), and I responded to be nice, even showing off the back design, but he lost interest and tried to start up with some other people. When the pit started (more on this later), he cleared off the floor, and I thought I had seen the last of him.

However, before you write this kid off as a pathetic fish-out-of-water nerd, you need to hear the end of the story. I did see him again, later, throwing down in the pit for BG, hitting and getting hit, passively getting the kind of acceptance for just being that he'd been actively looking for earlier. There is a moral in this story, and it's about the transformative and redemptive power of heavy metal. Will this dude get into the underground and go to more shows, listen to Swashbuckle and start getting into heavier music? Who knows, but the seeds for such are there. In the abstract, metal does not automatically make people better people, but it will make them different people, and the change from the perspective of the person changing is usually a positive.

Anyway, Leaves' Eyes started, and they played their own music, despite some idiot (who is also writing this showreview) yelling at them to do Todessehnsucht.

Leaves' Eyes [4.5/7]
They were better than I expected, but I had some catastrophically low expectations. Their boring material was somewhat less boring live, but outside of "Farewell Proud Men" (which they opened with) and "Elegy" (which they closed with, and which was actually good for a change), there was nothing at all distinctive about it. One could ask what the hell is wrong with Alex Krull to consistently choose to make lamer and more boring music over the course of his career, but this is probably a lost cause at this point; instead, ask what the hell is wrong with him to let his wife use the bedroom voice on the audience. This may have come off as hot to some people, but to me it was freakin' creepy. If there was a unilateral good point to this set, it was the bassist, who laid down a real barrage of thumbslaps in places; the tops of his 24th and 23rd frets were hammered so flat that they caught the light differently, and if he didn't have that silver thumb ring, his knuckle would probably have gone just to pieces a long time ago. Fuckin' brutal.

Speaking of fuckin' brutal, we need to address the pit that developed during this band, which went more or less continuously despite the fact that they played a total of maybe five minutes of moshable material, salted in 30- to 60-second bursts through the 45-minute set. There were a lot of fists and elbows extended out from the pit wall in this case, and while I don't advocate harming people for expressing themselves, I also don't advocate moshing for moshing's sake, especially during a gothic metal band that isn't particularly possible to mosh to. I can understand if you don't want to listen to the music and want to do something else, but you have to understand that the rest of us don't want to listen to them either, and if we have to be stuck listening to them, we'd rather not do it while having to keep our arms up to football-block some idiot who's dancing around like it was Slayer up on stage. This is a moshing country and a particularly moshing scene here in the northeast, but really, show some sense -- and save your energy for Blind Guardian's thrash metal flashbacks.

So Leaves' Eyes finished, and we cheered because they were going away and the Guardians were coming, and then it was time to stand around in the press of the floor, waiting for them to finish re-dressing the set. The high excitement level and low average attention span led to some fun spontaneous outbursts of European soccer chants, bandname yelling (GUAR-DIAN!, Euro-style, as well as the more American GUAR-DI-AN!), and a LOT of warmups for later singalongs. Of course, the lack of general vocal skills meant that this a capella stuff could not last really long, and presently we were in the situation that Ryan described as such:

"When I finally die and go to hell for all those sins I did, this is what it's going to be like. I'll be standing in the middle of a crowd of smelly, sweaty men, and they'll be playing Van Halen over the PA. And I'll be waiting for Blind Guardian to go on, but they'll never go on. Ever." Fortunately, though, this was not precisely our situation, because eventually they did go on.

Blind Guardian [7/7]
I was forward, though not at the front, and got caught up in the press that immediately developed as soon as the band came onstage, let alone hit into "Into The Storm". It was an amazing experience, but a thoroughly stressful one for a 250-lb man with two bad knees who has been to several Euro festivals, including this year's Wacken where Children of Bodom caused this effect over the whole infield, and who accordingly can't keep himself from thinking "OH SHIT ROSTOCK" when he is lifted from his feet by crowd pressure. I hung with it through "Born In A Mourning Hall", but realized that in my condition and the crowd circumstance, injury was a question of "when", not "if". I ducked out through the pit to the more-breathing-room area behind it and spent the rest of the gig tossing people back in -- and of course totally rocking out.

This was not the best set I've ever seen. However, it was completely stupendous, and the reason I'm not disappointed that they didn't do anything off Tales is that everything else was so incredible. This set was everything you'd expect from Blind Guardian and more besides: singalongs, including the Euro-typical take of "The Bards' Song" where Hansi doesn't really have to sing, and intense moshing on the old blasters ("Valhalla" was just plain sick), but also spontaneous folkdancing in "Skalds and Shadows" and true chills running all the way down your body during "Iron Hill" and "And Then There Was Silence". This performance set a high, high standard for their headlining slot at this year's Wacken to live up to; I'm hoping they beat it, but I can't help thinking that they won't beat it by much: in large measure, Blind Guardian took this American club audience and brought them out onto the plains of Germany over this set, and cut off a small but vital slice of what it's like to be out under the sky, united in metal. Does it get better than that? Maybe it does, but I don't know who'd be disappointed if it doesn't.

On the way back, it was more drunk camping stories, a listen through the new Haunted record (which had Ryan jizzing all over the back seat), and some Slayer-reminiscing as we came down the home stretch. I also talked up Wacken a bit, which made it three times on the day that I encouraged people to go to the festival. Doing this without providing full information, though, is a little disingenuous, because while I have the cultural and logistical knowhow to just get on a plane and go to the show, it's not this easy for most people, and if there's something that they don't know that they ought to, it might royally fuck them up. So I'm going to try and write a guide to Wacken travel for Northeast Corridor metalheads, which will be applicable to other American headbangers with the added initial instruction "move to the Northeast Corridor". Or just "get there", but seriously, it's easier to live here, because there's more shows year-round and both MDDF and NEMHCF are within reasonable driving distance. The Wacken guide will take form in a series of posts a little later.