Monday, August 20, 2007

Loudfest 2007 [Haverhill Stadium, 8/18/2007]

With difficulty and without my kutte due to shoulder fatigue (how do I wear that thing for four whole days straight at Wacken every year? must be something different with Germany), I picked up my brother Mark and headed up to the first year of this festival. The watchword for this year was "every festival has to start somewhere", and though there was definitely a lot of stuff that could have been improved at this year's edition, this was a good start, and hopefully this fest will continue on next year and build on this year's foundation.

The setup was first-class all the way; picture two slightly shorter Party Stages taped together, with enough green space -- and police and security -- in front of them to bring in 5 to 10,000 people. Only about 300 or so showed up, but it's a start, and they'll be able to expand the audience significantly without moving the venue. The setup of the "beer garden" was, to someone who's familiar principally with the German implementation of the idea, little short of disgraceful, but basically mandated by the peculiar American laws and attitudes on alcohol, and basically what could be expected. The toilet supply was adequate, but it was a little bit of a tweak at first to remember that you had to use the portajohns here rather than the fence; this really drove home what a nightmare of filth and squalor a typical European festival is: if you want to go back to the Middle Ages, with all the not washing and risks of cholera and dysentery attendant, go to Europe for a summer and travel around from festival to festival.

Now, the bands:

Shavahawk [3/7]
This was not an auspicious beginning. The first band on a festival is often crummy -- or else why would they be playing first -- but this band was particularly ill-aspected, playing boring, staid, retread WAAF-core radio rock that was pretty much the antithesis of what I'm interested in. Technically, this band didn't suck in the regard of actually playing their instruments, but they totally failed at writing compelling music, or anything that was the least bit original. Other people seemed to like them, but if this festival takes this direction instead of the direction of basically every other band there, I may not be back.

I ended up in the beer garden during their set, eating a mis-prepared Italian sausage, and thinking, "It's all wrong, all ersatz. I'm at a festival and I have a beer and a sausage sub, but it's not a Krakauer and the beer is a Bud Light, barely deserving of the name, and the band is horrible. Where did I go wrong?" Fortunately, the music got better, even if the beer continued sucking.

Source of Contempt [5/7]
This band got off to a bit of a slow start due to problems with the sound, but once they got going, they definitely impressed; not world-breakers, but there's always room for more off-speed Testament in the world. They definitely have room to improve, but this was a nice set and a welcome interruption in the parade of less than stellar bands at the start of this fest. Unfortunately, they didn't have anything recorded yet, but I did get a patch; what remains is to take it off its more crust backing and find somewhere to work it into.

Kultur [4/7]
I saw this band warming up, a dude with a short mohawk, everyone in black shirts and camo pants, and a proper logo, and I thought to myself, "damn, wouldn't it be cool if they came out and ripped off Impaled Nazarene?" Then they started playing and only ripped off nu-metal bands, and it was back to the beer pen in disappointment. They had some credible moments, and the playing was moderately brutal, but at the last fundamentally uninteresting.

Mark said that I should have known they were going to suck, as he did, when the singer came out wearing skeleton gloves. I didn't notice, but it's certainly a maxim to be observed; as Aaron said later, you can't get away with wearing skeleton gloves unless you're in the Misfits, and if you're in the Misfits these days, you suck anyways.

A Pillar of Flames [3.5/7]
It took a bit of moving around at the beginning to figure out what the hell this band was actually doing, because the sound was beyond awful for much of the set, and did perhaps irreparable harm to the band's cause. Once you could finally hear them, they were doing decent but unimpressive NWOSDM, but somewhat lacking in the ability to turn riffs into songs. This was a really young band, and compositional ability will improve as they mature, but this was a sub-average performance further marred by a complete ass-up on the part of the sound board.

Bleed For Sorrow [4/7]
At this point, even doctrinaire, largely average metalcore would be a step up from the immediately preceding bands. This was exactly what we got from this ensemble from Rhode Island, who ran through a decent set of material that everyone who has ever been to a local show in New England has likely seen several times before, but did it skillfully and fortunately limited themselves to five musicians for most of the set. (As soon as their two guest vocalists showed, I did start laughing; seven-piece hardcore bands, man.) This was about the high point of the attendance at the fest, which receded as the afternoon wore into evening.

Bad Karma [5/7]
Meliah Rage cancelled, and these guys filled in, which was only a small step down. Bad Karma set up a nice set of thrash in a similar style (the band includes former members of Meliah Rage), with great execution, despite the fact that the guitarist had the use of only one of his hands. Seeing this performance was truly awe-inspiring, in both its uplifting testament to the human spirit as well as its provision of pure classic metal. As with a lot of the first wave of Massachusetts thrash, it was a little second-tier relative to what was going on in the Bay Area, but even second-tier thrash, when done well, is a guaranteed good time. The only problem was that they ended a little too soon for my tastes; another couple songs from these guys would have been great, but the fest needed to keep on schedule.

Run To The Hills [4/7]
This was about what could be expected from an Iron Maiden tribute band; songs that everyone knows from the first four albums with inconsistent performance and dudes trying too hard to look like the people they're portraying. It was a decent experience, but nothing next to the real thing -- though this is the only way that we're going to see a Maiden set in Haverhill. In points it verged on self-parody, but this is a problem of dedicated cover bands in general, and the actual music and presentation was good enough.

If I had an Iron Maiden cover band, though, I'd run it differently, and play only songs that people don't like or in most cases don't even know: "Alexander The Great", "Flash of the Blade", "Quest For Fire", "Childhood's End", "2 A.M.", "Gangland", "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner", all that stuff you can't drag out of the band with ropes and chains. We would wear replica West Ham jerseys, not try to look like the original band members, and generally confuse the hell out of people, leading to a total inability to get shows. This is a noble goal, but unfortuantely, the Iron Maiden songs that people don't like are just as hard to play as the ones that they do (and often harder), and I'm still lazy and employed full-time.

Mass [4/7]
This glam metal act got its original lineup back together for this fest after 15 years apart, and did a decent set, but given their style I had a difficult time particularly caring. In addition to the original material that came off, true to form, as the reserve team of the Sunset Strip heavy hitters, they did a cover of "Kashmir" that Led Zeppelin might or might not acknowledge -- as those who were there had a bit of a difficult time identifying it.

Candy Striper Death Orgy [5.5/7]
From second-run Motley Crue to second-run Nuclear Assault; every festival has to start somewhere, and if this wasn't the best set I've seen from CSDO, it was certainly the most varied. Their style doesn't have a whole lot of variety in it, but they showed of their full range here, and the brutal thrash that is their bread and butter was done well, and well-received by the crowd, even if people didn't get moving around too much to it. There was so little moshing that I felt compelled to do something about it....but unfortunately and totally predictably sprained a knee less than 15 seconds after going into the pit. This sucked for me, but it hopefully got a few other people in that some old guy in an Amon Amarth longsleeve is calling them out while requiring assistance to even stand, and CSDO now joins the honored company of Ensiferum in the exclusive caption of "bands during whose sets I have suffered major joint damage". It was a good set whether you got yourself hurt or not, and if you missed "Bat-thrash", your life is slightly the poorer.

As for the knee, it's swollen up, providing its own fluid cast to stabilize the damaged ligaments, and in a couple days it'll be fine again. The fact that I never get it looked at medically may be a contributing factor in why it gets reinjured, but it always comes back fine for normal use, and as long as I stretch out (which I didn't this time) and don't do anything stupid (also skipped this time around), it's usually fine as it.

Fallen Shall Rise [5/7]
This band was decent, and their newer material, when they played it right, was much superior to the old, but I had real difficulty caring about this set. There was something in their ironed-out At The Gates-biting that made them less memorable; the music was good, but not real distinctive. If they can continue to develop in the more thrash style that they presented on their new material, they have the potential to be really cool, but as yet it's imperfectly achieved. It's bands like this that give rise to the meme 'Gothenchusetts', but the fact that there's an audience for that sound independent of who's playing it that limits the bands involved and slows their development into being interesting for themselves.

In here there was a break for the set change and a wedding ceremony across the street, and in addition to taking a scurrilious picture to post on RTTP (not reproduced here, as it's not interesting if you don't know how the Rev normally spends his time at shows), I chatted a bit with Aaron about various stuff including the logistics of the event, Eric (CSDO)'s choice of attire, and whether boobs influence a drummer's style. (Verdict: yes. See Gene Hoglan and Mike "MSD" Butkiewicz.)

Joey Belladonna [6/7]
This is where professionalism comes out. It's difficult to think that when Joey was in his heyday with Anthrax, he ever thought he'd be doing a show like this, still playing those same songs to a mostly empty stadium in Haverhill with less than 200 people down front. Still, this was where it came out, and despite the circumstances (fit metier for a state-fair-esque billing of "Joey Belladonna's Tribute to Anthrax"), he did a solid set of both original material that nobody knew and classic Anthrax that people actually did know, principally the same as when I saw him with Doro a few months back, but slightly expanded -- probably adding in the stuff that got cut back at Mark's to give time to the 'paying' locals. It was a good time, and, again, the only way we're going to hear classic Anthrax at a fest in Haverhill -- no matter how much the original band slides, Scott and Charlie still have too much stubborn pride to go less than first class. (Though if they were being reasonable about this thing, they'd probably be available next year for this gig, provided it continues.)

So, all in all, a decent fest, despite injury and some of the initial bands, and Every Festival Has To Start Somewhere. The headliner could have been chosen a little better -- Joey wasn't going to draw anyone in this area who wouldn't've come for Meliah Rage and CSDO -- but the oddest thing is that this gig was booked into one of the relative metal hotbeds of Massachusetts, but included zero bands from the Merrimac valley. There was no Mortis Deveia, who would have brought in a horde of fans from Lawrence and the surrounding burgs, and no Indignation, who bring buses full of fans to their away shows in other markets, and would have drawn even more to just walk/drive/bike down to the river and spend the afternoon seeing their doods on a real stage. I can't fathom this, and can only think that the organizers booked the only stadium they could get a deal on, without doing any research as to what goes on in Haverhill and who can draw there. The undercard, also, didn't even include the cream of the rest of the scene from eastern New England; there are much better bands than played here, only some of whom were on tour or tentatively booked into Forest of Witchery on this date, so I can only put it up to a lack of research (Aaron mentioned that these are (as a subset of the fest) mostly the same bands that all play together on every show) or a disinclination to pay guarantees, especially since a lot of the bands were young in age or less experienced as ensembles. Every festival has to start somewhere, but a festival has to start with the people -- from the immediate area -- who are most likely to go to it, and that requires a little more understanding of who can draw in that locality.

Nile with Cthtonic, Daath, Excrecor, Eyes Sewn Shut, Severed Survival, Iridescent Exposure, and Tommy Coma [Mark's, Bedford, 8/17/2007]

Because I was coming right from work (dress shirt off revealing Wolven Ancestry shirt, kutte on, shirt into the trunk), and 128 is right there, I decided to try going down to 93 and coming up directly that way, instead of using the normal backroads. This worked great in that I got from work to the border in 45 minutes, about 10 or 15 faster than usual, and didn't encounter any morons going 65 in the breakdown lane because the DOT won't expand the highway. Unfortunately, going from the border to the turnoff for 101 took another 70 or so minutes. Let this be a lesson: don't go north into New Hampshire on I-93 on a Friday night in the summer and expect to get there with any kind of timeliness.

King Diamond [N/A]
This set isn't rated because it was performed, rather than merely witnessed, and the King obviously wasn't actually there. Given that I was stuck in a two-lane parking lot somewhere south of Manchester instead of seeing Putrescine when the King's songs on this Roadrunner comp-CD came up, it seemed only fair that everyone else should hear them too. So down went the windows, and those around my got a little dose of surreality in the form of "Abigail" and "The Family Ghost" in their traffic jam.

Eventually, I got in to Mark's, and was able to pick up some live bands instead of stuff recorded 20 years ago.

Tommy Coma [3/7]
This may not be an accurate representation of their quality as a band -- the lead guitarist was out attending the birth of his child and the bassist was filling in for him -- but it is an accurate representation of the set they played here instead of cancelling. The result was a consistent -- in the way that creamy peanut butter is consistent -- slurry of sameish, undifferentiated guitar following the lead of the NWOAHM, without a whole lot to recommend it as interesting, or even in a broader sense musical. The parts that were not straight-up riffing were either ill-done or ill-considered, but if the guy who normally plays them was out on a family emergency, this is somewhat excusable. I'm not going to go on record saying this bunch should disband, as many others have, but I can comment that playing a show a member down when there was no time to prepare and a legitimate excuse available was probably not the right decision; absent the financial investment they had to make to get on the bill, they could and should have cancelled; the guitarist could go birthe his kid without throwing the rest of the band into chaos, and the rest of us wouldn't've had to hear this boring and often crummy performance.

Iridescent Exposure [4/7]
I had a hard time keeping from breaking out into laughter through this band's entire set. This is, of course, monumentally unfair to them, because it has nothing to do with their qualities as musicians or the quality of their music, but everything to do with their circumstances as a band. If I closed my eyes, this was a decent, well-delivered but somewhat pedestrian hardcore outing, but with eyes open, there's a seven-piece hardcore band on stage, and that's just inherently hilarious. Six is dealable, but when you go to seven, you pass the laugh threshold; there was a five-piece act on Saturday, as detailed later, and as soon as they brought two more of their doods out of the wings for supplemental vocals, I just cracked up and couldn't keep a straight face the rest of the song. Iridescent Exposure brought a lot of people in and gave a decent performance, but the fact that they (allegedly) added an extra dood recently made me unable to keep a straight face, which is probably not what they were aiming for.

Severed Survival [5/7]
I went back to the rear stage and saw them setting up, after which the singer announced "we're Severed Survival, and we play death/thrash". I thought to myself, "yeah, you better play death/thrash, and you better be good at it, because there's no excuse for a band that sucks to name themselves after an Autopsy record". Fortunately, they were, on both counts, and the result was a surprisingly kickass performance. A more apt description of their style might be 'death metal Baujahr 1987', as it really was pure death metal in that thrashy style of the old days, and in this case it might be doubly accurate, as several of the band members were wearing black Xes, indicating their personal vintage as no older than 1986. If they weren't really good at this, one might question why they're reviving a style of music that was most current when they were in diapers, but like the retro-thrash revival, good music is its own justification.

True to form, they covered Death's "Zombie Ritual", and did a good job on it, but true to the critic's core values (i.e., to never be satisfied with anything ever), I almost immediately thought, "well, this is killer, but it'd be really cult if they did "Primitive Ways" or "Infernal Death" or "Archangel"." There will be more on this topic of "covering songs that people don't like, or may not actually know" in the comments on Saturday.

Daath [5/7]
If Goatwhore are turning into a black'n'roll band, rooted in black metal but adding rock grooves to their sound for either diversity or accessibility (depending on whether the observer likes them or not), the Daath are the other side of the coin, a rock band adding extreme metal elements, particularly from black metal, for extra edge and metal cred. We'll call this style rock'n'troll for purposes of symmetry, and also because I'm dog-tired and can't think of anything less stupid. They put on a good show, and it's good to see a band like this that has the potential to become flat huge still keeping touch with the metal underground on shows like this, but all things considered I'd personally rather still see Goatwhore. Daath will make a stir at Ozzfest, but I'm not in the Ozzfest audience.

Eyes Sewn Shut [4/7]
This band played a decent set of modernish metal, but didn't make a huge impression, perhaps because of all their material, they were most up for the Pantera cover ("This Love") that they closed with. I certainly didn't mind seeing them, nor would again, but this set was of the sort that is just kind of there, which isn't quite what a local band looking to get some traction would be looking for from a show that they had to fork out for. If you're going to pay to play, you'd better get people to want to see you again, and this wasn't the result that this band got.

Cthtonic [6/7]
My first thought on seeing this band before they went on was how tiny they all were; sterotypically, Asians are, but even the Taiwanese that I know personally are somewhat taller and more solidly built. Fortunately, this wan't the only lasting impression of Cthtonic; they put up an excellent set of quality evolved black metal despite a few sound problems. It was a great experience, and the use of the Chinese fiddle was definitely an interesting turn on the classical sound of the style, but I couldn't help thinking that this band's epic sound needs a larger tableau than a strip bar in New Hampshire can provide; they'll get that at Ozzfest, but they also need to be playing at night in that context, and I'm not sure they'll get that yet there yet. Maybe next time; hopefully, I won't need to pick them up in Europe for such. Great show, and if you missed it, you'd better catch them on Ozzfest, because Asian underground bands average about 5 years between American tours, and you may not see them again. Hopefully, they'll be back soon -- and bring along Oathean and either Method or Magwi, because Korea has some cool bands that need a look from metal sinophiles as well.

If you've heard that there are two female members in this band, whoever told you this is wrong. There is only one woman in Cthtonic; it may be confusing for some people, but I've spent a lot of time in east Asia and around east Asians in the course of my professional and academic associations, and I can reliably tell when Asians are dudes or not. ;) (This is mentioned because it came up on Saturday, from someone who is usually a lot more well-informed about who's in what bands than I am.)

Chthonic used to have a female keyboardist, who was in the band the last time Aaron saw them, but she's since been replaced with a dude keyboardist. So, used to be two women, now only one.

Excrecor [5/7]
Because their tone was so low-driven and stone-heavy, it took a little while to realize how heavy their Gothenburg influences were with regards to composition. They had some problems with their sampling rig, but very few with the rest of their sound -- and as students of Swedish death metal know, when you add the composition and melodic structures of Gothenburg to the solid low end brutality that you'd get from, say, Stockholm, you get mid-period Hypocrisy, and from my perspective at least, this is pretty much the opposite of problems with the sound. Though they did suggest Hypocrisy, they did so in putting forth a fairly original sound; unfortunately, they didn't have any CDs yet, which they had in common with the other local bands that I actively liked from this weekend. Hopefully, I'll see them again, and they'll have something recorded.

Nile [7/7]
While not as staggering as other tech-death acts I've seen in the past, Nile put up an incredible performance of crushing brutality that covered basically everything that I wanted to hear from them (well, except "Unas...", but expecting a 12-minute song in an 80-minute set where there's a ton of other classics competing for time is unreasonable), as well as stuff off the new album that I didn't know was so awesome yet. This was also a first in that Karl is the first guy I've ever seen play death metal on a 12-string guitar; most of the new material was done on 12-string, though the chorusing wasn't as immediately obvious as a lot of the other times that you hear people using 12-strings. I did get Ithyphallic, so it'll be interesting to see how it plays out on record. Overall, a kickass performance that definitely made up for the traffic and pain of coming up.

Nearly as cool was surviving the trip back; New Hampshire was a little slow due to the downpour, but 93 in Lawrence, etc, from the border to 495, was just flat dangerous due to a general absence of lane markings and some mismanaged bridge construction that made for a fair amountof hydroplaning. Fortunately, there was next to no traffic, so even if I had lost control, I probably wouldn't've hit anyone or anything. I like my car, but going fast on crummy roads with a lot of water on them is a lot more nerve-wracking than it strictly needs to be, especially at night.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Wolven Ancestry with Nefastus Dies and Zircon [Ralph's, Worcester, 8/15/2007]

The traffic wasn't so bad going down, so I got in around doors. However, Aura of Aquila, who were originally also on this show, had to drop, so I ended up sitting around reading Somber magazine and drinking beers for about an hour. I studiously avoided Jeremy's table as long as possible, because I wanted to be sure I could support the touring bands, and I have this tendency to be completely broke after browsing through Oak Knoll's goods for any length of time. In the end I gave in, but limited myself to four CDs and Abnormality's demo, leaving enough wallet padding to get CDs from both touring bands (and a shirt from Wolven Ancestry) and still have almost enough to cover expenses for Nile. Zircon was set up by then, and shortly kicked things off; by this time, I could have nabbed a beer with the crew at the Lucky Dog, left at the technical doors time, and still got in with time to spare, but of course, there was no way to know that.

Zircon [6/7]
They had the shortest set of the night, though not by a whole lot, and they definitely laid out a prime cavalcade of pounding black metal. The death influences seem more subdued every time I see them, but they're definitely still there, no matter how exactly-close they sound like Immortal on certain songs. (This may be an artifact of just seeing the originals like two weeks ago, but so be it.) Scott's guitar was pushed down a little in the mix at times, but overall the sound was killer, and the presentation excellent; this night had some pretty awesome black metal coming down out of the frozen north, but Zircon more than held their own here on their home ground. This is what's really great about DIY tours; you get three to five bands who should all by rights be touring as openers for much bigger acts and putting the fear of obsolescensce into them, right up close for a pittance.

Of course, there's the added tarriff of supporting the touring bands, but you get cool music and swag on the exchange, and they get the money to go to the next gig. If you're feeling reluctant, just remember: next time it might be your friends that just drove 300 miles to play a gig to 20 people on a Wednesday.

Nefastus Dies [6/7]
I wasn't certain how this bunch would work out without a bass player, but the result was admirably done, coming off with a strong Ukranian influence from the treble-high sound and both the relative prominence of the keys and how they were used. The fusion of east-European styles with other recognized currents in Canadian extreme music is really unique and fortunately came off well; the band seemed a little down at the lack of movement and energy in the audience on their first American show, but both sides warmed up to each other (definitely by "Failed Suicide Attempt", which was fucking sick but unfortunately isn't on their current/forthcoming album, which the goombahs who miss them on tour will have to wait till December for and I'm listening to right now), and the bulk of the set was as cool as could be desired. They're going to be distributed by Candlelight in the future, so if you miss on this band, it's your own fault.

I was thinking during each of the touring bands that they'd fucking destroy on a lineup with some of our other New England BM acts; Nefastus Dies teamed with Witch Tomb would leave a swath of devastation in their wake, and Wolven Ancestry alongside Cold Northern Vengeance would be similarly spellbinding. The oddity of Zircon not being included in these calculations, despite actually opening this show and doing a kickass job, was striking, but I quickly realized that this was only because in the black metal caption this part of the country has what might be termed "an embarassment of riches". Seriously, there are a lot of very good bands in this area, all across the black metal spectrum (which, of course, goes only from "very black" to "extremely black", but that's wider than it sounds).

Wolven Ancestry [6/7]
Six corpsepainted Canadians doing a credible job of giving the impression they're from 15 degrees further north and 90 further east, Wolven Ancestry pulled from the roots of the Norwegian scene (a lot of early Emperor and Satyricon) while adding their own mix on top and around, finally presenting something that might best be described to the layabouts who didn't come out as a blacker Borknagar or a a rawer Moonsorrow. The comparisons, of course, are tenuous at best, because this band is working a fully-developed and relatively independent pagan black metal sound that fits in with their Norwegian forebears but still is distinctly of this continent. As mentioned, with CNV they might start a new ice age, but here they were pretty damn awesome, and even without their nailed cover of "Mother North", they'd still have been the best band of the night, despite the technical problems. It was a slim margin, though, but this is because this was such a damn uniformly high-quality show.

I cleared out almost immediately after they wrapped up, though; I wanted to make sure they were actually closing up because I didn't want to miss anything, but I still had to go because it was still an hour and a half to drive back in order to get the three and a half hours of sleep I totalled before going in to work today. It was a high-quality show, and as such I have no regrets, but the exhaustion unfortunately means that I won't be able to repeat the trek tonight for Metal Thursday; those who didn't go out last night have no excuses, since it's Summoning Hate (formerly Downfall, but still Boston's best South American death metal band) and Mortalis with touring doods from Connecticut and Florida. I'll be on my couch nursing sprains from soccer while sewing two more patches on my rig and watching the MLS Thursday ESPN game; next show on my docket is on Friday, with Nile and Chthonic headlining over an impossibly fluid bunch of locals. The prospect of selling enough tickets to cover three to four (Daath is definitely on, Devildriver may do a couple songs since they're stuck with the same tourbus) Ozzfest-level nationals on the same night as Porphyria and Goreality are playing a camp-in show an hour or two further north has driven a lot of the area's better death metal bands off this bill, so I'm feeling a little wary of this total lineup, but the upside of expecting an undercard to suck is that the surprise of hearing one or two good bands you didn't know about before is the more pleasant for it. And, of course, there's friggin' NILE and CHTHONIC at the end of the chain, so they could open with Maniac Mattox and the show would still be cool.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Wacken 2007 - Sunday - Quintessence, or, Fucking Metal

As referenced above, this year's Wacken (from my perspective) breaks out with a minimum of levering into an elemental concept: on Wednesday, the problem was water everywhere; on Thursday, the waters receded but the land was still trying to eat your feet. On Friday we had the fire, and Saturday is a kluge, but there was enough Stimmung of various kinds throughout the day that I could use the title.

This brings us to today, the last of the five elements -- and it works whether you're using the Western or Eastern tradition. The quintessence ties everything together, and what it binds here is Metal. As every newbie I met here said -- and there were a bunch -- this is what heavy metal is: awesome bands, good beer, easy camaraderie with other fans. Because other scenes don't have a festival quite like this all to their own, they're still stuck on "if the kids can be united"; all metalheads have to do is come here and see what unity really means. The crowd for Immortal is the crowd for Blind Guardian is the crowd for Heaven Shall Burn; we all take a smaller slice of the whole as our personal preserve, but never forget that we belong to the whole as well as the parts.

In the course of this festival, I met and talked with people from Britain, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Sweden, Mexico, of course Germany, the Netherlands, Canada (for reals, not Lisa-Simpson-style), New Zealand, Spain, L.A. and Philly in my own land, and renewed an acquaintance with an expat Ozzie, among likely several more nations to whose members I spoke only in German or German-accented English. I shared beers with and gave crowdsurf support and initial boosts to countless people I didn't even know. I traded email addresses with a graphic designer and former Bundeswehr soldier from the Ruhrpott, and sweet nothings with a silicon foundry worker from Bavaria. I heard a Brit's hopes for sane government under Gordon Brown, Germans' relief that a lot of Americans are as dissatisfied with the policies of the current US administration as they are, and a Swede's dream to drive across the US, Atlantic to Pacific. I heard a fuckton of great bands, but there's so much more to Wacken than the music. We're all together here: we endure the traffic together, survive the mud together, thrash to the music together, drink the beer together, and in the end, every single one of us is connected through the vast web of smaller interactions to every other thrasher among the tens of thousands here. If you want to get sociological about it, this is where heavy metal goes to rediscover and reestablish its core values; if you're a normal person, it's the biggest and craziest party of its kind on earth.

That being said, it's also a model to be imitated. This for-real metal idyll with 70,000 residents, its own newspaper, and the top bands of the genre from the head to the tail of the bill started out as a biker party in a sandpit that maybe 300 people, tops, came out to, where a couple of bands played, including the organizers, who couldn't get an open-air slot anywhere else. The implication is obvious: support your local open air, because this could be your town. Go to Forest of Witchery (unfortunately canceled; Pam and Loki didn't have as much luck with their host as Holger and Thomas have with Uwe) or Loudfest if you're in New England; unfortunately, they're on the same weekend this year, and since my camping supplies are still going to be arsed up, it's up to Haverhill for me. Someday, we may have a festival in America that approaches this level, but even if and when we do, I'll still come back here if possible in addition to supporting festival culture locally.

Full circle; the worm bites its tail and the traveler flies back to whence he came. I'll be back next year for Maiden and Kreator and whoever else awesome comes by, to see old friends again and make new ones. The only question is, kommst Du auch mit??

31 July - 02 August
Rain Or Shine

Final Wrapup/Gesamtbetrag
bands seen: 28
bands seen from the first row: 9
patches: 34 + festival strip
CDs: 28 + 2 freebie samplers
beers: lost count
new friends: Monika, Andy (IE), Kurt, Thorsten, Timo, Dick, Janini
hours sleep: <10 overall experience: Weltmeisterklasse
coming back: fuck yes 2008

Bands Thursday: 23 points, average score 5.75
Bands Friday: 55.5 points, average score 5.55
Bands Saturday: 71 points, average score 5.92
total festival: 149.5 points, average score 5.75

This was written originally shortly after the fest, and a bunch of other stuff has passed in between; Forest of Witchery got cancelled -- though it'll hopefully be back for another try next summer -- and closer to home, I put this year's strip and six other patches on my jacket, got the Boston underground issue of Metal Maniacs (reviews of Revocation and the Watchmaker/Hirudinea split, plus half a page on Shroud of Bereavement, so you should get it too) and Ramming Speed (nee Despotic Robot)'s single, saw THIS IS BOSTON, NOT LA on a sheet hanging over the side of the stands at a recent Revs match (good to see we're getting more of the right people into soccer in this country), and put in an order for my 2008 ticket; I was going to wait, but Iron Maiden and no expansion means there are going to be a lot of nervous people ordering early, and it'd suck if I got frozen out. (also, how likely is it that the dollar's going to gain against the euro any time in the next 12 months? might as well just cut my losses.) Normal show updates will return shortly -- at least 3 gigs between now and Sunday, maybe 4 if I'm not feeling beat Thursday night after soccer and the MLS prime-time match isn't compelling, and slowly life will go back to normal.

Wacken 2007 - Saturday - In The Air Tonight

On my way up to the bank in the village to get my last euros out, I ran across this little kid, standing in the door of an outdoor-goods shop. He jumped out with a green astroturf rug over his head and back like a shaman's ritual cape, and gave me the double horns, Norway style, arms crossed, and he grinned like hell when I shot him one back.

Someday, this kid will grow up, but even if he forgets what he used to see as so cool in metal and metalheads, he'll still remember how he lived it up as a kid in this most unique place. Hopefully, though, he'll remember, and give metallers the benefit of the doubt as good and social people. And if he stays in this region (not real likely, everything demographically is against it) after growing up, he'll see that impression rather more reinforced than it is tarnished.

Ultimate badass award: Andy (spelling? no idea.) from Ireland, who I met at breakfast today. He rode a motorcycle over here from Eire, which is pretty fucking amazing. Come to Wacken, meet the craziest adventurers metal has to offer!

37: This is what it looks like when you pwn everyone and get front for SACRED FUCKIN REICH.

To the right in the pic above, there are actually people stacking up (wtf) for Sonic Syndicate (wtf wtf) on the Black Stage (wtf wtf wtf). Behold the power of Nuclear Blast marketing.

Sonic Syndicate
Even admitting that they made some decently entertaining music, this band would be a lot more accurately called Children At The Edge of Dark Flames; take a bunch of huge-selling Swedecore acts, blend thoroughly, and don't add anything new. The most fun part about this band was seeing how long it took to figure out whether the song they were playing was originally by In Flames or by Dark Tranquillity. A follower-band doing DT B-sides shouldn't, abstractly, be playing Wacken, but DT B-sides are pretty damn good for noon on Saturday...leaving aside that I saw Metal Church in this timeslot last year.

38: Sonic Syndicate passing the time.

39: Sacred Reich checking and setting up.

40: Sacred Reich kicking ass -- front row again, bitches!

Sacred Reich [7/7]
If you were behind the pit, maybe this is a six; there were rough parts, and Sacred Reich's music was never at the top of the Bay Area pigpile. However, I was on the rail, and spent the last three songs as an acceleration and intensification of the first part of the set, ceaselessly throwing people over to the secus while getting blasted by crunchy, grooving thrash. They weren't the best thrash band of the weekend, but they were damn awesome and in this set provided a hell of a killer comeback.

There was a camera in my face for almost the whole set; if you get the DVD from this year, this is the band to look for me in; the jacket studs are pretty unique and should be a tipoff.

Heaven Shall Burn [7/7]

41: HSB im vollen Effekt.

42: The crowd rides the waves.

43: This is Skinless getting one-upped
Janini ist toll -- na, klar so iss sie. Janini ist toll und dazu supergeil.

The music was about at the 6 level, but still the best metalcore has to offer, solid and honest hardcore mixed with competently executed and grounded death metal, which forms the basis of Heaven Shall Burn's almost unique attraction outside their own scene. Plus, the band successfully invoked a circle pit, as shown in pic 43 above, that went all the way around the mix stand and the bar complex behind it, for a total circumference somewhere in the vicinity of 100-200 meters. This may be a world record and certainly was fucking astonishing to behold; those who weren't nearly 2m tall naturally were hopping on other people's shoulders, hoisting themselves on the fence, standing on the urinals, anything to see over the crowd to check that shit out. The pit ran for nearly the entire song at nearly full strength, which is something really special.

The interruption above is from this girl whose crew I ran into while writing up HSB and Sacred Reich during Stratovarius at the True Stage infield-wall bar; she literally took the pen out of my hand and wrote the first bit herself, then pressed me to write the second. I don't remember if this was before or after I helped her boyfriend mess with her and the rest of their posse by hiding the second of their inflatable drinks trays on the roof. Weird, weird people, but this was just the beginning of a long sequence of weird people and weird events that would go on through the day and into the night.

44: Mudman attacks! This guy is a crazy Dutchman who had his girl recently break up with him after three years, and the chick that he saw Sacred Reich with ran off. The descent into beer and madness was expected, but the mud was not. I talked with him for a while, and drank the Bruderschaft, but didn't get his name. I don't know that he went to see the strippers (this year, new, Wacken had its own occasional strip show in the Metal-Markt and a poker tent in the same area, as well as the newspaper; there's very few small-German-city services that aren't provided by the fest) later, but he dug the idea when I showed him the paper to help get his mind off his romantic woes, and despite or maybe due to being covered in mud, he may have picked up another girl later. Skol! To craziness and the true festival spirit! As I said when we raised our glasses, there may not be anyone at this festival who's going to pick up a girl he didn't come with, but we've got cold beer and loud metal, and two out of three aint bad.

Stratovarius [4/7]
I took this band mostly off, but was right next to the stage; they were OK, but not, to me, particularly inspiring, despite playing a fair bit of stuff off the Infinite album, which does happen to be my favorite. The time was better spent with the music as a backdrop to watching - and talking with - crazy dudes and cute girls. This may have been reversed as well, but I'm not qualified as a judge of male beauty, and none of the girls were throwing waste-contaminated mud at people or hopping around backwards, trying to INVERSE RAEP people with their bare butts.

The Vision Bleak [6/7]
Too short! Too short! Whoever gave this amazing band only 30 minutes should be shot. This was one of my most anticipated sets of the festival, and it didn't disappoint....until after only 30 minutes, they closed up without doing "Sister Najade", even though they did about half of Carpathia and it was all wicked awesome. They did a new song from the upcoming record, which was as kickass as the Carpathia and ...Deathship... material in the set, and the musicianship of the numerous session doods (of two guitarists, vocals, bass, drums, and keys, only two of the six members, the vocalist and one of the guitarists, appear the CDs, doing everything) was superb in playing up to the standard of the full members on record. Great stuff; here's hoping they do a US tour (not likely) with a longer set time.

45: The Vision Bleak in The Tentstage Packed.

Outside the WET stage, before the band started, I sold my liter-mug to these kids who were looking for a souvenir. I already had one, and they were saying that the bars were out, which may well have been the case. The organizers should know by now that nearly everyone who gets one fo these things will want to take it home.

46: Peavey, Rage, and a few of the Lingua Mortis Orchestra.

Rage, with the Lingua Mortis Orchestra [5/7]
I missed a bunch of their set due to The Vision Bleak, but still caught a good idea of this combo, real progressive and genuinely innovative. It's hard to keep an orchestra in time with a rock band, but here it was done with skill and aplomb. Without the orchestra, Rage isn't really in my favorite style, but very well done regardless.

47: Christmas in August! These skinny Santas with death metal T-shirts under their coats come to give Destruction and Type O Negative to all the bloody-minded little boys and girls camping the front rail.

48: Destruction kicking off. Unfortunately, there was a fucking camera crane in the way that I couldn't shoot around.

49: The Alliance of Hellhoundz -- or as many as were at the festival for other reasons, anyway. Bobby Blitz and the guy from Communic were supposed to be in this shot, and Peavey and Tom Angelripper showed up to chime in as well.

Destruction [6/7]
This wasn't as good as their set at the Middle East back in February, but it was a lot more colorful with the Mad Butcher and Satan's cheerleaders running around, and the same composite-lineup thing that Sodom did earlier; this involved three drummers playing for most of the second half of the set and the resulting sound was immense. It was fun, but I was majorly footsore at this point, and I was on Type O's side of the stagefront as well.

50: Johnny Kelly soundchecking. Type O got one of their amp flags (the one up in this picture) from the same place I did.

51: Type O, take 1. No idea how these got so overexposed.

52: Peter Steele on full power.

Type O Negative [7/7]
Pete got drunk during the set and fucked some shit up, as well as tossing a 750-ml glass wine bottle into the crowd, for which for a second it seemed like the security might break up the performance. Nevertheless, the total performance effect was ace; that element of true self-destruction is what makes Type O, beyond other goth bands, really true and essential. If you haven't seen something like this yet, do it quick; how long these legends are going to be alive and functioning correctly is in definite dispute. Peter's lost a lot of weight (probably a result of being in jail) and would look really cadaverous if not for the facial hair he's got now; no idea if his substance problems are coming back to bite him again or what, but he had to take two long breaks in the middle of the set, and seemed a lot less together than he was last year with Carnivore.

If you see video of this set and someone in the crowd is holding up a green banner with a black vertical stripe, that's me, using my Vinnland flag like a football shawl. I couldn't get up close enough to put it over the rail, so I did this instead.

I went up front for Immortal to prove I could get fence. I did, then went back to sit on the bar and drink beers, instead. Immortal will be awesome all the way to the back of the house, and I was hungry, tired, and short on fluids. Also, the part of the fence that I was able to get to was right the fuck on the side, and it was debatable how much of the guys I'd actually see.

Immortal [7/7]
If there was any idea that this score would turn out otherwise, go and have a good laugh at yourself; Immortal's material is awesome, and their professionalism is legendary. I came all this way mainly to see these three men hold 70,000 spellbound, and the place for that is the back, not the front -- and of course Wacken, not B.B. King's. Unfortunately, they weren't able to make it snow during "At The Heart Of Winter", but it was pretty damn sublime all the same...and we did have a nice north wind throughout.....

I was going to take In Flames' set off to hit the head and get some food, but they took so long setting up and the line for the toilets was so relatively short that by the time they started up, I was out, doner in hand, walking back to the bar. However, I didn't really get the chance to pay much attention to the band -- or to Cannibal Corpse, following them -- because Monika's boyfriend and his pal went up front, leaving her in the bar, and she struck up a conversation.

The combination of 'cute', 'buxom', 'funny', 'in the semiconductor industry', 'dressed as a Bavarian dirndl', and 'into metal and will headbang to Cannibal Corpse' hits so many of my known weaknesses that it is not funny, though it is eminently understandable that I'd be distracted from the bands on stage. That she'd be first noticeably, then extremely into me as well, was not forseeable, especially since she already had a boyfriend, but this led to the totally unanticipated experience of making out with someone else's girlfriend in traditional peasant dress during a Cannibal Corpse concert. In the end, she went back -- though seemingly with great reluctance -- to those she came with, and I was left there confused, euphoric, and with a lot of crowd to cross to see Vital Remains.

In Flames [5/7]
An In Flames fan would have been in heaven for their set. I'm not a huge fan, though, as I can recognize that at times they can be pedestrian and barely clear the threshold of nu-metal, but this shouldn't stop anyone from also noting that In Flames have some pretty fuckin badass songs in their catalog, and when they play that shit, old or new, they're among the best mass-bands in the world. They'll never be cult again, but if they can spring from here to doing stadiums on their own while keeping the old material in the setlist, it's another victory for metal. I was glad of the distraction, especially by someone so appealing, but also glad that we still got good music as a backdrop.

Cannibal Corpse [6/7]
Unfortunately, the nature of progressive flirting means that my impressions of Cannibal Corpse are a little less solid -- in no small wise because the band's sound is so thick and dense that we were basically wrapped around each other the whole set, cheek to cheek and shouting in each other's ears to be heard. The band was fucking on, though, no doubt about that, and the songs that we took off to headbang to -- including "Make Them Suffer" in an absolutely killer take -- were balls-out awesome. However, there's still the impression that I'm somewhat irredemable as a fan of the brutal, and a truly top-flight set from these legends would have commanded more of my attention, no matter who was cuddling up. If I was instead, as usual, among sweaty, hairy, dudes for this set, I'd likely have enjoyed the time just as much, if for a decidedly different balance of reasons.

So after this little operetta played itself out, I finished my beer and went walking over to the tentstage to see Vital. Unfortunately, there was a scheduling cockup and the set times were shifted about an hour later than planned. in the meantime, I caught some rumors and the first half of 1349.

Rumors first: while I was watching The Vision Bleak and everyone else was seeing Rage, the organizers made an announcement, which was broadcast live on the internet, but at the festival spread only by rumor as everyone was at the damn bands. The scuttlebutt that night was focused on two lines:
line 1: Metallica in '09.
line 2: Iron Maiden may not necessarily be the top headliner next year.

The second of these is more interesting, because it's slightly more likely to be true; all that's confirmed is that they're talking with Metallica, AC/DC, or a full Sabbath reunion with Ozzy, those being the only acts in the heavy-metal world who could legitimately headline over Iron Fucking Maiden. Of course, these are just rumors, and even Florio wouldn't print something sourced solely to "some drunk kid standing outside the tent stage". As it turned out, the "big announcement" was Avantasia for 2008; huge news to those power metal nerds who were at home watching from their couch and may need to buy some outdoor gear for the first time ever, but a letdown in expectations to those who were already out at an unbelievably awesome festival.

Also while we were waiting for 1349 to start, the singer of Subway To Sally made remarks to the effect that there were a hundred thousand people in attendance. This was self-apparently ridiculous -- but if we had 70K this year for this lineup, six figures for Iron Maiden, Kreator, Bodom, and whatever other top acts are added in the next 11 months isn't out of the question....unless tickets, as they ought to be, are strictly limited. As it turns out, there were 60,00 paying attendees and 12,000 volunteers, vendors, bands, security, and other staff, which is the limit that the authorities will allow. Get your '08 ticket early, they won't last.

1349 [6/7]
In some ways this was a little flatter than their set at Mark's, but the atmosphere was incalculably better. This was one of the few black metal performances at this fest that could be unambiguously rated as true, perhaps the single most so, definitely the most so of those I saw, the band roaring out of a hellmouth of smoke and red lights to lay waste to this packed cave in the midst of utter darkness -- and the music was as kickass as might be expected. It wasn't a worldbreaker performance, but it was a great set regardless, and I'm glad I went over after CC.

Unfortunately, I was dead on my feet and needed to get moving homeward the next morning, so I turned away around 2:30 and didn't stay for Vital Remains. Oh well; I didn't see them or Municipal Waste or Kampfar or Moonsorrow or Chthonic or Swallow The Sun or Communic or Belfegor or Dimension Zero, but by the end of the fest I'd seen a ton of kickass bands and had, overall, an awesome, awesome time.

Wacken 2007 - Friday - Trial By Fire

I woke up from my unsleep this morning to the roaring of a guy who'd been apparently jumped or something, and the vain protestations of another dude trying to calm him down. The fest has never been absolutely violence-free, and even the best of us sometimes get mixed up in bad situations, but when metalhead strikes metalhead, it's still, to use the Bard's words, "a unto another Fall of Man." Sad morning; with bands and gemuetlichkeit the day will hopefully improve.

17: Refilling the taps. With 70,000 visitors, you need a fuckton of beer. Note that this is Beck's now, not Hasseroder; Beck's took over this year and must have paid through the nose for the concession, because their advertising was all over the fucking place, as later shots will show.

18: Metal-Tigger and his mini-kutte. Shot outside the Metal Markt waiting to get in; the girls with Tigger have been taking him around to the shows they shoot and taking his picture with various musicians. The patches on the vest are not real-ssue merch, but photo-reduced versions of extant patches.

19: Suidakra taucht auf.

Suidakra [5/7]
If you can't get Ensiferum, these guys are a pretty good second choice; not hugely memorable over most of their stuff (or separable from Ensiferum in that regard), but decent, and they covered some Skyclad in their set, which is always supercool and shows that they know where they're coming from, at least. I've been ignoring this band as a product of Nuclear Blast hype for a while, but I've got to at least get whatever record they do their version of "Loch Lomond" on, because that was pretty damn sweet.

20: The fire, before it became a problem and caused a half-stage evacuation. Better than the official shots that went into the paper, and probably better than everyone else's except the people with their cameras up center frame.

While Amorphis was soundchecking, someone dropped a burning cigarette in the straw of the infield -- required because the ground was soaked, dry because it wasn't raining now, still piled and fluffy because it was the first band here. The result was a fast-moving, smoky blaze that fortunately didn't have much of anything else to burn. It was controlled fairly quickly, but it was pretty fucking tense for a while for those of us that were up on the stagefront in the fire's path. Credit's due for the smooth resolution to the organizers for managing the evacuation well, the fans for not panicking even when the smoke was making it tough to breathe, and of course especially to the firefighters for getting the blaze controlled, then out, then taking the initiative to hose down the straw all over the rest of the grounds so that it wouldn't happen again.

The source of the fire was in the unusually schitzophrenic weather this year; the ground was saturated, requiring the straw, but the straw itself is bone-dry until it's been trod down -- and this was the first set of the weekend on the True Stage. Regular smoke-out cans may have helped, too; the SOP for smokers here is to toss the butts, and it's easy to forget the carpet's flammable. After this, though, people, even those who didn't drop the cigs, were a lot more conscientious about treading them out.

The smoke created by the fire was billowing and particularly noxious, which isn't usually the case for straw. However, the stuff in the straw was also burning: mud, cigarette filters, and at least one shoe that was trapped in the ground when I walked over it to get to the stage, and found burned up when I walked up again after. We were in a way really fortunate that the straw was so dry: as such, it burned itself out almost as soon as it was lit; a little wetter, and there might have been flying embers to touch off fires in other places, which would have produced a much bigger problem and almost definitely casualties from smoke, trampling, and crushing.

21: Napalm Death -- seriously.

22: ...and why I couldn't get a closer shot. Due to the fire, gates were closed for about half an hour, and I had gone up to the foot of the beer garden in the course of the evacuation, both to clear the danger zone in case the blaze got bigger and to recover from the smoke inhalation I sustained by being right on top of it for the first ten minutes.

23: The Burned Lands. I walked up across here to get back to the front for Therion (actually Amorphis, the organizers trimmed sets but did not cancel any band due to the fire), partly to exorcise the remaining mental stress, and partly because it was empty, as usual.

Napalm Death [5/7]
Killer as always, especially the great response to "Nazi Punks Fuck Off" at the end, but I was way back for most of this one, and Napalm Death is just not a band to see from half a mile away. Someone in their crowd might have a better experience, but as described, I was high and dry and coughing out carbon.

Amorphis [5/7]
So ist es Deutschland: the fire is out, and the setup is speedily re-ordanized so that even the burned-out band gets most of their set. "Play old shit"-dude (see very old Infernal Combustion at the Wayback Machine if you can) got "Son of the North Star" out of them, and they closed, of course, with "Black Winter Day", but most of the set was new-style material; good, but a lot of it sounds a lot like Sentenced, and I'm not sure who came first. I am sure, though, that just as I like Amorphis' death metal period more than Sentenced's, I also like Sentenced's post-death stuff more than I do Amorphis'.

24: Amorphis defying the fire.

On the way over to rest through Therion while waiting for Possessed, I helped drag a guy out of the mud who had gone in nearly to his knees. He wasn't as tall as me, but he looked to be nearly as heavy, and his feet weren't nearly as wide. big spread feet and moving them quickly, before the mud can cover over the tops, will save you every time. I feel really bad for anyone who tries to do this festival without wide-soled, tall, tough logging/farm boots, because the ground will otherwise just eat you alive.

25: Therion being boring from a safe distance away.

Therion [4/7]
When I saw him in the campground earlier this morning, Dick was really up for this band, but unfortunately for my part, they did nothing to disabuse me of my long-held conviction that they've done nothing of note since about 1998. Seriously, this shit could put me straight out if I wasn't camping the rail for Possessed. The execution was decent, but the material top-heavy and kind of dumb.

26: A little paraplegia can't stop Jeff!

Possessed [7/7]
A little rough around the edges at times, and of course, it'd be better with the full original lineup (due to a bunch of dramas, this performance might have been described as by Sadistic Intent feat. Jeff Becerra), but this was still a crazy badass set that further demonstrated how little anything external -- like whether your legs work or not -- has to do with metal. Jeff's still awesome, and this was a complete command performance.

Not pictured: Jeff's NYDM vest; I didn't know he was a member. It may be thought of as a little silly back in Boston, but out here it's as good as home colors and every bit as welcome.

Also not pictured: two chicks mudwrestling by the True Stage-side infield bar complex. Why? Partly because it's exploitative (to take pics, not for the girls to do it freewilled and fully clothed), partly because it'll probably be in the paper tomorrow (it wasn't), and partly because the mud there is largely from piss; I don't want to take pictures of innocent people getting cholera. WTF MATE. Seriously, there is enouugh non-piss mud in the infield to wrestle on.

27: These furries showed up during Grave Digger. You really get all kinds at this fest. (not saying anything about the band not saying anything about the band not saying anything about the band)

Grave Digger and Turbonegro, both of whom I saw a couple songs from, aren't rated because I didn't really see them as such. Both were decent, but I caught much less than full sets from both due to other priorities.

28: Martin, Andy, and the boys are back!

Sabbat [6/7]
A little rough in places, but in total a nice thrash set for the time allotted. No Skyclad material, but the band's own originals are eminently cool enough. This was a great Wacken for classic thrash metal, and Sabbat put on a performance that could stand proudly with the more high-profile bands on the big stages.

29: Grutle et al fusing Thought and Act. Probably my best picture from this festival; the light is perfect, and the color and detail is like you're right there.

Enslaved [6.5/7]
I hate split scores, and as such this is the only one of the festival. This one is the result of leaving for logistical reasons after 3 songs spent at the front...only after which did they do "Storre en tid, tyngre en natt", which is pretty much my dream Enslaved experience. On the other hand, they sounded a little peaked on the tunes that I heard from the rail, rather than the line for the washrooms; awesome, but not superlative. This is not really a band, even now, for heat and sunshine. Still, STORRE EN FUCKING TID. I hate my colon. >[

30: Blind Guardian!

31: Hansi does the air clutch to pump up the crowd.

32: Hansi screaming his guts out.

33: Hansi comes over to our side.

34: Das Publikum, seventy thousand strong, horizon to horizon.

Blind Motherfucking Guardian at the Wacken Fucking Open Air [7/7]
If you've been to a good Guardian show in the States and think you know what this is about, three words: you. are. wrong.

If you haven't seen the Guardians live yet, take it serious when I say that seeing them at a major German fest has to go on your list of things to do before you die. It is an experience unlike any other show I've ever seen, anywhere, even Amon Amarth and Emperor on this very stagefront, from almost this exact spot, last year. The kids who in the US are too cool for Blind Guardian are here throwing themselves over the barricades, even the xHxCx doods and the guys in Burzum shirts and corpsepaint that are supposed to despise this. But THIS IS HEAVY METAL. THIS IS REAL. THIS IS GERMANY. And if that don't resonate like a koan, get your ass on a plane and get over here to get drunk and muddy; there's still time for Party.San, and more fests after.

In sharp contrast to their set at Worcester, they played three songs from Tales... in this set: "Traveler In Time", "Welcome To Dying", and "Lord Of The Rings", though unfortunately no "Lost In The Twilight Hall" or "The Last Candle", which I can see getting changed out as a set closer in favor of "Mirror Mirror" these days, but which I still love the hell out of. Come to Germany, see Tales... material live -- or just let the band know we like the record here in America too.

Unfortunately, they didn't amend their set to be more timely by including "Trial By Fire".

I was thinking about staying down for Iced Earth, but on my way to refill my beer, I realized that the ground wasn't getting any firmer, and trying to make it over across the flow of traffic in the pitch dark to see Kampfar would be a great way to brew up a joint. It was then or never to get out, and this way I got to sit down civilized-style in the beergarden for Dimmu and then the Tim & Jon Show -- for Matt-Iced Earth I'd have forsworn the beer and just pushed on up to the rail.

Dimmu Borgir [5/7]
What a great festival this is. What a fucking luxury to be able to say "oh, Dimmu? Bo-ring. Fuck them, wake me up for Iced Earth." This is the metal equivalent of bitching because your free tickets are in coach instead of first class. While I find Dimmu boring (especially when they aren't playing "Progenies..." or "Broderskapets Ring"), they do put up a solid show. As far as black metal goes for me, this is just a Vorspeise to Immortal tomorrow...and something to listen to while waiting for Iced Earth.

35: The ladies of the friendly BAC patrol- new this year. What'll they think of next?

Iced Earth [5/7]
The sound was a little fucked, probably largely because of the distance involved, but the impression of a band past its moment and without its definitive voice would probably remain even if I was up front where I'd seen the Guardians from. Regardless, though, Jon Schaffer hs written some great fuckin' metal songs in his day, and the execution thereof is good enough to continually draw you in. Matt ain't coming back, and if you haven't seen Iced Earth yet, you still need to, but this is the echo, not the shout; the smoke, not the flame.

Oddly enough: I met another "deep-cover man" while watching Iced Earth: a Brit who, being fluent in German, was talking exclusively in that language and passing mostly for native. It took about five minutes of conversation for it to come out that neither of us was using his first language...after which we had a good laugh and switched mostly to English, except when his friends chimed in (in English, which we answered back auf Deutsch). One wonders how many others of us there are out there, without recognizing marks or overseas accents, fitting in and admitting our outlander status only reluctantly. It's not hiding because we fear being discovered; we just like Germany and go undercover to dig into it a little more closely.

36: Dresdner Dudelsacker! Sure, "gonfallon, gonfallon", whatever, but having the state crest on your vest (unfortunately not visible here because the light was bad; it's on his right front pocket if you see him in person) shows certain pride here in the West that both real Ossis and pretend ones like me are only too glad to get behind. And this dude was a pretty mean piper, too.

Wacken 2007 - Thursday - Heaving Earth

07: The new staging setup, from the hill entrance to the area closest to the festival grounds. The Party Stage is just a little out of frame to the right.

08: Memorial in Wacken for the dead of two World Wars - Let Us Rest In Peace. It's odd to look at memorials like this; these are men who suffered and died for their country, often far from home, but in wars that were started by their side for fundamentally bad and unjust reasons. Weird, weird feeling; Americans aren't used to separating the sorrow of the loss of life from the belief in the cause of the conflict, and for our sake and the sake of the rest of the world, I hope we never do.

I just ran into Andy again, for the third year running, while sitting around in the beer garden waiting for official entry. If you're a Stammgast and the people you know are as well, even among 70,000 people you'll usually run into them sooner or later, but this was really damn early. The pictures above were collected earlier in the day, on my shopping expedition into the village, which netted a loaf of bread that I would be eating chunks of the rest of the week, three boxes of iced tea, a Wacken-beer whose bottle is now starring on James' beer-wall at our place, a shirt from this year's Black Stage, last year's DVD (still need to go through this and see where if at all I'm in it), and before any of this, another carton of iced tea to drink while standing in the huge line to get into the Edeka.

Because the fest sold out so relatively far in advance, it seems like everyone is here already - though more will doubtless come on Friday and Saturday. Thursday's been more relaxed in the past, but this place is already brim-full of metalheads; it's gonna be an intense weekend.

09: Boston is NOT gonna stand for this.

See the address in that picture? Spam them. Spam them to fucking DEATH. Wargasm is used, posers, pick a new name.

10: Blitzkrieg kicks this shit off.

Blitzkrieg [5/7]
They did a couple tunes that Iron Maiden might -- and in some cases, by virtue of similar subjects, already has -- have done better, but they rocked nonetheless, and their well-practiced NWOBHM resurrection represents about the best openers that I've ever seen on this festival; they're a lot better than Tristania, and last year Faster Inferno was just a fucking joke.

Rose Tattoo [6/7]
Not AC/DC junior, but more like AC/DC part II; not super-original for Ozzie rock'n'roll, but damn cool stuff, like it was intended for the first day of this fest and the attendant heavy alcohol consumption. The set got better as it rolled on, and this is one of the bands that I've definitely got to try to get some recorded stuff from in the future.

11: Rose Tattoo rock'n'roll avalanche.

Sodom [7/7]
Sodom exists to destroy you. Never forget this. Awesome, awesome, awesome show that involved nearly everyone who'd ever been involved with the band, and covered a ton of complete classic material, old as well as new, and if we didn't get "Agent Orange", we got fucking Grave Violator and Frank Blackfire back in harness, so who the fuck is going to complain?

12: Sodom, scrim and setup.

13: Sodom in full cry.

14: Grave Violator joins up for "Blasphemer" -- my side and first row, bitches!

15: Frank Blackfire rips it up on "Christ Passion".

16: Sodom starts combi-ing multiple guitarists, leading up to the finale.

On "Bombenhagel", the closer, they ended up bringing out everyone living who's ever played guitar for the band, just a complete wall of thrash annihilation. Fucking killer set.

Saxon [5/7]
Since my feet were hurting and I wasn't going to be up front, I decided to just repair to the beer garden, and nearly dropped my beer when Biff announced the attendance figure from the stage. 70,000 wtf. Bloody amazing. The music was ok, though the sound wasn't great that far back (it's about 300-400 meters from the stage to where I was sitting) -- and they did do "Solid Ball of Rock", which I wasn't expecting, so this was a night to remember after all.

The figure of 70,000 is from the police (who have been inaccurate in the past), and was later allegedly topped, but feels about right for the number of people present. There were more than last year, but it didn't feel as packed because there was a lot more space for them to pour out in; moving the Party Stage added room for about 15-20,000 people, and the infield had a lot fewer islands in it than the last two years. The hundred thousand announced by the guy from Subway To Sally on Saturday night, though, is completely bogus.

The title for today has to do with the liquid ground in the infield; due to heavy rain all through July, the ground was waterlogged, requiring helicopters and drainage ditches to clear the campgrounds, separate parking and camping areas for the first time in history, and, as in 2005, tons on tons of straw in the infield. The weather was clear, warm, and dry, but the ground, once trod on even a little, rapidly turned into a morass, a set of conditions that led, in retrospect, somewhat predictably, to one of the singular events of Friday.

Wacken 2007 - Tuesday and Wednesday

These now somewhat delayed reports cover my journey to Wacken 2007 and what happened there, including reviews of the bands and commentary on various events. Since these were documented in running fashion, they are presented similarly, in a "you are there" style, with a few exceptions where stuff has been edited, either for clarity or because it serves more to fill space than add anything relevant. The days proceed chronologically as follows.

Tuesday - Into The Pentagram

So I got in a little early to the airport, but fortunately I've got a full mp3-player of Cock Sparrer, among other bands, so I don't have to listen to the bullshit Logan radio and its constant advertising. This time, I'm going through Zurich; a little longer and more expensive (on Swiss), but it's on civilized carriers the whole way and doesn't involve Newark. Also, I add another country to my list of touches. Slowly but surely, the map is filling in.

I left on Thursday night, and due to the vagaries of time zones I ended up in Switzerland on Wednesday morning, having slept precious little. I was thinking of taking some pictures of the country around the Zurich airport through the windows, as it's really picturesque, but the terminal was filling in and I had a Bundesliga-preview magazine to occupy myself with.

Wednesday - Unholy Water

It's tough to describe how good it feels to be back in Germany again. It's not quite Dresden, but it's close enough to stir the old feelings again -- and I was sore tempted to take that train down towards Prague that will clear this platform (this portion written at the Hamburg train station) before the train to Itzehoe comes, to go down to the banks of the Elbe again and try to go back in time. Even here in the northwest, though, Germany is just fine.

The public transit is already thick with festival-goers, and I shudder to think how crowded it'll be next year. We had a fair number of Wacken-Pilger on the plane from Zurich, more on the airport bus, and the station here isn't as brim-full as it's been on the Thursdays in the past, but for Wednesday morning it's still a lot. Here's hoping I still manage to beat the crowd and get a decent tenting place.

01: The Metal Train pulls in.

02: The inmates of the Metal Train agitate the populace before pulling on to their next stop at Itzehoe.

This was about 3 million times more impressive in person - a train of 20 or so cars, packed with just metalheads, going to just one place. There's no possible way to write AWESOME large enough to cover this. Picture this train moving, people waving, roaring, giving the horns - and now put the beyond-epic chorus of Kreator's "Enemy Of God" behind it, because that was what was on my headphones at the time. Amazing. Even if everything else had sucked, this year would still have been awesome, courtesy of this one moment.

03: Jamming out on the hardboard.

04: The plywood Immortal axes and the dudes who brought them. There were a lot of props in evidence in transit, but these were about the coolest and most noteworthy.

Unfortunately, it was a 6-hour wait between arriving at Itzehoe and getting on the bus for Wacken. More unfortunately, I don't have any pictures from this time of Dick Wang (his real name, from Philly) or the very cool British people, including the hot South Asian girl who could do polytonic burps, that we hung out with and ran through half a case of Holsten with. It was an entertaining way to pass the time, but too damn much time to pass. With my tent set up, Mambo Kurt was playing, but by that time I'd been up for about 46 hours with almost no sleep; I hit the hay soon after getting everything set up, hoping that exhaustion would trump the noise, fireworks, and floodlights.

05: Night from my tent.

06: Dawn from my tent, six mostly sleepless hours later.

In between these two pictures, I went to use the portatoilets, and en route ended up walking through a part of the field that looked like a normal bit of waterlogged ground, but was actually a ditch filled brim-up with nearly two feet of rain; hence the name for the day. In the course of the festival, as we'll see, there was a certain degree of elemental theme to each day.