Sunday, August 31, 2008

Nightwish with Sonata Arctica [Worcester Palladium, 8/30/2008]

Somehow, I got my wires crossed on this show and thought Amorphis was opening here instead of a month later with Samael. Hence, I came out when I might have otherwise given this one a pass.

I got in a little early, so while there was a huge lineup -- comparable to the Pelican/Thrice show or the first night of Metalfest -- I was easily able to get parking in the normal lot. This was made possible by the demographics of the show; a lot of kids and one-band fans, who either got dropped off or don't go to shows and hence don't know the good parking areas and ended up in one of the neighboring garages. The negative of the demographics was that I was stuck in line for almost an hour with these people, and while I didn't have my knife on me, I unfortunately didn't have any beer either, and wasn't in a country where drinking on the sidewalk alleviates rather than increases hassle anyway. Somehow I made it all the way up to the door without anyone dying, and got inside.

As usual on shows of this type, the bar was mostly empty and the merch stand plugged. Fortunately, after discovering that Sonata Arctica, rather than Amorphis, was opening, I had zero need to do merch, so I stood around and drank a couple beers before the bands started.

Sonata Arctica [5/7]
Amazingly, the band was fairly on, and their sound wasn't terrible despite the board, for some reason, burying the guitar and turning their first song and a half into an effective duet between bass and keytar. (Yes, keytar. One suspects that they know what fans of heavier brands of metal think of them -- seriously, there's only about as many people in Finland as in greater Boston -- and are deliberately twisting their tails.) The guitar, when you could hear it, was in tune throughout, a major first for this band that calls into question exactly what the hell was wrong with their guitar techs in 2005. If they played as good a set as this at Wacken this year, I didn't entirely notice it; what it felt like here was that Stratovarius should be knashing their teeth in frustration, as they were 10 years too early with this Finnish-ultra-melodic power metal to gain mainstream American recognition -- and Edguy should be pissed off that they stole the chords and half the lyrics from "Painting On The Wall" and turned it into a lame power ballad. They closed with "The Cage", but didn't do "Wolf & Raven", and on the whole there was not a whole ton of speed on the program. This was about the best set that I've ever seen from this band, but what this good performance showed was not only the band's abilities, but the limits of their material, in terms of not only metalness but total quality. On tour with Gamma Ray or Stratovarius, they might not play quite this set, but it's difficult to argue that this isn't where they feel themselves most comfortable. This was the most metal set of the night, but with only two bands, and these two bands, that isn't saying a whole hell of a lot.

Nightwish [5/7]
Germany is a little weird, and Germans have weird tastes. This gets brought up because German musical tastes, as an important factor in Europe's largest market for metal, are a main reason in why Nightwish has come to prominence, and gets to play shows like this with people thinking they are mostly a metal band. There are still metal elements in their sound, but it's difficult to argue that stuff like "Bye Bye Beautiful" (the opener here) and "Wish I Had An Angel" (the obligato closer, even still) is more than a hair away from Schlaeger, the weird Germanic folk-pop-disco genre that translates exactly nowhere that was not part of the Holy Roman Empire. A lot of their material fits into this bucket to a greater or lesser degree as well, and the change in singers has only exacerbated this trend; Anette is a better singer than Tarja, but much more of a rock singer, and doesn't have her predecessor's operatic top-end range. The expectation, therefore, is that Nightwish will in the future move more mainstreamward, and introduce their American audience to what they haven't really been missing from female-fronted Eurock bands like Juli and Silbermond. The content of the set was much the same as in Germany, but longer with more emphasis on the new material rather than the old; it would ahve been awesome to hear them do "Deep Silence Complete" or, preferably, "Sacrament of Wilderness", but this is probably never going to happen. The execution was very good, but the content was only debatably more metal than the likes of Autumn Above or, for national audiences (admittedly ones with weird tastes), The Soil Bleeds Black. Six of one, half a dozen of the other at this show; not ultimately satisfying, but the music was at least uniformly entertaining.

Also, the show got out early, in order to make sure the audience got home by their bedtimes (ripping on the young never goes out of style), so I was able to blast along the highway and get back home shortly after midnight. They were passing out flyers for Rock & Shock on the way out, but I didn't pick one up; I've already got the dates in my show calendar, and the atmosphere is going to be much like this gig, except with fewer children and more juggalos. Not sure which is preferable, or if I'll make it to Zircon tonight, but Summoning Hate on Thursday is a cert, and then I've got a half-day on Friday to make sure I'm on site and pumped up when doors open for CARCASS!! on Friday.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Motorhead with Darkest Hour, Emmure, and Parkway Drive [Worcester Palladium, 8/15/2008]

Back to back nights at the Palladium -- not so kind to the wallet or the gas tank, but this one was a little easier on the ears (as regards mixing; overall quality is debatable) and definitely fun enough to justify the exercise.

I started out again directly from work, saving, over the two days involved, about a quarter-tank, but into a misting rainstorm that slowed up traffic, making an already tiresome drive longer but not especially more stressful. I got to the venue a little later than I anticipated; I was in by 7:45, but that was already late enough to miss Arsis on the second stage. Hence, merch and beer and trying to figure how many bands until Motorhead. Three bands to go, and even for Motorhead and even for the quality involved, $30 for a t-shirt and $10 for a patch (screened and gluebacked, but pretty good, considering) is a little rich. Good thing that I wasn't under any pressure to support any of this "(alleged) Thrash and Burn" tour.

Parkway Drive [4/7]
These guys started up to massive floor acclaim as I came down the stairs, and I couldn't figure why. My ears were working correctly again, so I knew that there wasn't anything I was missing out of the sound, and that the watered-down, pedestrian, second-rate In Flames tunes I was experiencing were also being heard with no extra flourishes by everyone else in the hall. Maybe you have to be below driving age to get this band or something. Regardless, they were kinda boring, playing moderately catchy riffs, but then not building anything particularly interesting on top of them, not driving hard on them or, really, being distinctive in any respect. And yet people still buy their stuff. What the hell.

During their set, I saw some dude walking around in a polo shirt with a popped fucking collar. Fortunately for him, the Palladium does some decent security, so my knife was back in the car. It's hard enough to keep from stabbing collar-poppers in normal life, but at a show headlined by Motorhead, it's particularly egregious. Funnier shirt antics were provided by some sxe kid with a crucifix on his front, and HE DESERVED TO DIE FOR TURNING WATER INTO WINE on the back....who for some reason was not starting fights with the many drinking and drunk people around him. Ah, youth, and its purity of purpose.

Emmure [4/7]
I ended up sitting over by the wall when these guys started, and was struck by how oddly similar they sounded to Korn. That was a good chuckle, and then I got up, moved a little right to clear the stairwell, and picked up the other half of the guitar tone that I hadn't been hearing. It's still in there, but you have to play a littl with the mix to bring it out. Moving changed Emmure's sound, but unfortunately didn't materially improve their music; boring metalcore tends to stay boring metalcore no matter where you stand, whether there's architectural features in the way making it sound like Korn or not. I sat down for the last couple songs of their set; I normally don't like doing so, out of respect for the bands, but I was really losing patience with how lame these openers were being.

In order to distract from the parts that I didn't like of Darkest Hour (basically, everything that meshes with the bulk of this tour) and enhance those I do (the ones where they successfully rip off In Flames and At The Gates), I set up to finish my drinking; two Jaeger shots in rapid succession from different bartenders to get around the lame one-drink-per-person, no-doubles policy, and a bottle of water to rehydrate. Darkest Hour would be a hell of a lot more fun than without the chemical stimulation, and I'd be sober in time to drive home.

Darkest Hour [5/7]
The great thing about seeing a band like this on a pure Jaeger buzz is that everything good that they do feels like it's being done better, and you tend to ignore their lame parts in favor of, say, throwing elbows into inoffending railings. I wasn't completely gone and snorting fire, though, so I still had the detachment to realize that this was a good, competent set; not great, but limited more by the material than by the band's performance. I'm still not too into what these guys have done since ...Sadist Nation, but it's good enough, and to pass the time before Motorhead, it was certainly better than this slot might have been considering the rest of the tour.

As Darkest Hour finished, I moved forward, down onto the floor. Since a lot of people had been saying previously that they'd only show up for Motorhead, ignoring the Thrash and Burn bands entirely, I figured that there wouldn't be a lot of floor campers, and the kids who'd been down for Darkest Hour would want to refuel before heading into the pit again, and I was pretty sure that I'd be able to get onto the rail. This impression was correct, and I ended up at about the same place that I'd seen Testament from the night before. I was a little nervous about the wall of cabs in front of me, but the mix had been good all night, and a properly balanced sound setup won't cause ear damage unless you basically shove your head into the speaker cabinet. Even if things went sideways, though, I figured that I'd be able to last for at least song, and get even just a sample of Motorhead from contact range.

Motorhead [7/7]
Fortunately, it wasn't one song, but a whole set's worth of them, that I got to see from the rail. And it was a pretty killer set at that; I'd last seen Motorhead from the beer garden at Wacken, which would be more of
not seeing them, given the distance and how much beer was in play at that point, and this outing was not only longer, but benefitted from a better song selection. I was on the rail, in the thick of things, but even those back at the bar should have enjoyed the hell out of this one. The band's lineup has been stable for a decade or so, and they were all old pros even before that; Lemmy et al knocked this one out like a well-oiled machine, and showed no signs that eventually they might slow down, let alone stop. The sound was also pretty much perfect, letting every note cut through from the first to the last. It was 90 minutes, including the encore ("Ace of Spades" ad obligato, and "Overkill"), but when they closed up at last and the chanting only brought stagehands out to start packing up, it felt like they'd barely begun. Hell of a time; the folks at Mohegan Sun really did their customers out of a good one when they pushed Motorhead north, no matter how good Priest and Heaven & Hell were.

Coming home, the rain had stopped, and the traffic was light; low stress on the return commute, which made for a nice conclusion to a stand of three shows in three days, all at significant distance. If I lived a little closer to these past three, it might have been four with Devourment in Fall River Saturday night; unfortunately, even I have limits on gas and merch money, and that would have been just one bridge too far. Next show's Metal Thursday and finally seeing Rampant Decay; after that, Finntroll again with Warbringer in a mosh-friendly setting -- now that's going to be some fun.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Testament with Graveheart, Birch Hill Dam, and What Lies Beneath The Tide [Worcester Palladium, 8/15/2008]

The world was a lot quieter this morning, but things are improving; my ears are only ringing a little now, and hopefully I'll completely recover by Motorhead without any permanent damage. Not super-optimistic about this, but I don't have a ton of other options. Any way, we learn things from our mistakes as we get older; tonight's lesson was that no matter how awesome Testament and Graveheart are, it's probably not smart to stand ten feet from an indoor wall of bass cabs without ear protection.

Due to the kind of early start, I left right from work and slogged down to the Pike, then out to the venue in time to get a decent parking space, despite kind of stopping to get some food down. I was surprised that there was actually a lineup outside; Testament is kind of the forgotten son of the Masters of Metal tour, and I was unsure whether this gig was upstairs or down initially, but apparently people are still up for them, especially since they've got 4/5 original members back (Chuck, Eric, Alex, and Greg, plus Paul Bostaph behind the kit), and, of course, are freakin awesome despite not playing in the area for 15 years. Inside, the usual round; touring merch is too expensive ($25 T-shirts for a US band what the hell), beer is dealing with price inflation as badly as gas (if Sam Adams is $5.25, why the hell would you buy a Coors for $4.25), and local bands' stuff is too good to snub them on it without feeling like a dick.

Eventually, I got my merch and realized that my wallet was practically empty, a kind of occupational hazard doing several shows back to back, so I went a little forward in order to keep myself from drinking up my toll and caffeine money.

What Lies Beneath The Tide [2/7]
This was probably the worst-sounding metal performance I've ever heard. Yes, the band got massively jobbed by the sound board, particularly at the start, which plowed their sound into an overly bass-heavy mess, but they also bear some responsibility; if you're going to play on the main stage at the Palladium, being out of phase on your initial breakdown is just unacceptable. Their material wasn't much to write home about: boring retreaded metalcore with little imagination or aspiration and more than a few plain old mistakes in addition to either out-of-tune or horrendously-composed solos. The band, with a proper sound, is probably at the 3 or 4 level; not really good, but not deliberately offensive either. Unfortunately, they did not have proper sound here; it took three or four songs for the board to get the bass PA dialed back to the point where the guitars could even be heard with the drums going. Yes, WLBTT kind of sucked, but the mismix is completely unacceptable; metal bands play here all the time, and most people have at least a rough idea what heavy metal sounds like. Sound this crappy, even from the Palladium and their legendary inability to mix anyone who isn't on tour, is completely out of line, and those responsible should be sacked, and then run over by a moose for good measure.

Having gotten my second and last beer, and seeing that the rail was still kind of open when Birch Hill Dam started, I decided to take a flyer and go down, in order to be relatively forward for Graveheart and Testament. This would have negative consequences for my ears, but as mentioned above, they're getting better, and it's kind of weird to be in heavy metal for more than a decade without permanent hearing loss anyways.

Birch Hill Dam [4/7]
This band was the pleasant surprise of the night; with their lower profile and WB-tween-show name, they could easily have been terrible, but instead were mildly decent, playing southern-fried Sabbath-and-BLS rock-metal that, if it wasn't particularly original, was at least entertaining and a little more properly balanced soundwise. I had previously passed up their free demo on the logic that since my CD-reviewing time is drastically reduced, I don't have the time for every single band's free demo, but I did pick it up later at the door. This band may not be worth going out to see on their own, but if they're opening on a bill that you're interested in anyway, they're at least worth a listen.

Graveheart [6/7]
The organizers kept the sets clicking right along to make sure Testament got their full time, and presently Graveheart was up, and in prime form. They did a fair mix of new material and Blistered Earth stuff, and the floor was full up and into it for them as well. While the other openers were clearly at the local level, Graveheart's prior experience showed strongly through in this set, and may have confused some people who later went up to get their 'tour shirt' and wondered why this excellent thrash/death band that Testament was apparently trailing around had so damn many off dates scheduled. Some of the newer material, such as the groanworthily-titled but still kickass "Axeident", I hadn't heard before, but will again as soon as I get around to listening to the sampler for their new record, which will allegedly be out in October or November, which in Screaming Ferret time probably means slightly after the Mayan Singularity. Wait for it, though; it's gonna be pretty cool.

Testament [6.5/7]
Testament justified the lineup to get in the door and the subsequently full venue (not sold out, but a good bunch of people) with an oustanding set, full of great performances from the classic lineup, that was only minimally damaged by the inabilary of the Palladium soundstaff to manage their bass firepower correctly. It was great to see classic Testament together again, and more importantly really looking like they were enjoying themselves playing the material (from "Alone In The Dark" up through "DNR" and some stuff off the new record, which I couldn't afford after buying their shirt), but until my ears completely shut down a couple of songs before the encore, I'm not really sure that I heard it as it was intended to sound. I'd've liked to get "C.O.T.L.O.D" as well, but I called "The Preacher" about 15 seconds before Chuck announced it, and got an hour and a half of great Testament besides; who am I to complain if it wasn't the best set ever?

As mentioned, the show got out about midnight, a welcome change over previous Palladium efforts that appeared to have a side agenda of getting all the kids to bed before curfew, even if I got a little loopy on 128 from exhausion due to being up since 5:30. Before this, I picked up a flyer for some show on September 12 in Salisbury from Eric CSDO; say what you will about his band -- and "not original", "dinosaurian", and "weird ideas of alleged success" are all popular -- the guy definitely has a talent for setting up shows in all manner of venues, some of which actually work out and start hosting metal regularly. If I've got nothing else going on, I might be up for it; CSDO's decent at any rate, and we need more metal venues north of Boston.

Tonight: Motorhead, Arsis, and like 10 bands that are in no way interesting. Doors at 5, show at 6, I don't show up till like 7:30, a wall of anklebiters at the merch stand, and plenty of elbow room at the bar.

Autumn Above on Loud Street Live [ADC Performance Center, Southbridge, 8/13/2008]

On the one hand, this was a long damn way to go for little reward that I couldn't've gotten over the bridge in Salem. On the other hand, I did get AA's new demo, the band made some of their costs back, and this rather pitiful and annoying excuse for a festival got a touch of class, some good music, and an actual crowd watching at least one of the bands.

Thanks to a car pool put together for the traveling support, I headed down to Southbridge with a bunch of other fans, finally getting to see this venue, which has been rumored about for like a year or so. The drive down wasn't too difficult, just long as all hell; as has been remarked in other posts peripherally mentioning this place, it is practically in freakin Connecticut, and thus, for the kind of venue it is and the bands who normally end up booked into it, way too far from the North Shore to be worth my while.

Finding the venue wasn't tough, and going in was pretty much a joke; tickets barely checked, I guess on the supposition that anyone who actually showed up only did so because they'd heard about this from a band, and bought a ticket from them -- and anytime you've got bands doing ticket sales, it's likely a p2p show, and the organizers can thus let people in basically for free, since they've made their money off the bands up front. Yes, it's bullshit, but that's why people don't like p2p shows and support them as little as they can get away with. When we got in, there was a fairly crummy radio-rock band playing in the bar that Autumn Above was going to do their set in, so after a few minutes I went over to the other bar to see if there was someone playing there, and if so, if they were any better. There was a middle-of-the-road jazz combo on stage, and they were decent if largely uninteresting. At this point, I was glad that I'd come down here on a ten-dollar ticket with friends rather than for Testament or Obituary in the past.

The setup of the individual bars that provide the two stages!!!1!one is pretty simple, on the lines of Harper's Ferry or the Middle East if they were designed by someone with their eyes screwed in backwards and a disturbed concept of usable space. The industrial heritage of the building is readily apparent with the long halls, but the stages are placed rather poorly in them, maybe due to the short supply of usable exits. Each room, on its own, has a useful capacity similar to Ralph's or Jerky's, but might have more if they were better arranged.

Eventually, after a lot of beer, popcorn, and subpar music, Autumn Above started setting up, and the "traveling support" formed up as well; partly because any band is always better seen front and center than over some weirdly-sited bar with the Red Sox game on, and partly to suggest to any of the other people (mostly other bands, and a few hangers-on) that this was a band that was worth watching front and center.

Autumn Above [6/7]
The band also did their part, putting out a strong set that even if you didn't come down with them, was definitely worth watching from up front. Like on Sunday, they started with the heavier songs first, kicking off with "Trail of Roses" and going sort of backwards...well, backwards enough to do "Burn With Me"/"Autumn Lullabye" before switching gears into "Heaven Without"/"My Everything Above" and closing -- since several of the songs mentioned so far are comfortably over eight minutes, and they only had about an hour set -- with their Opeth break (Chris has called it "Screwdriver" twice now, but I'll wait for official release before making the band's decisions for them) into "Skydiver", which now closes with a fairly developed Opeth break of its own. From about the middle of the set on, people not affiliated with the band also joined up with the crowd, hopefully getting into the music and, regardless, cluttering up the lines of sight for the festival photogs and videographers who based on prior samples were pretty used to getting right on top of the bands they were shooting without a lot of difficulty. Not so here. The performance was more solid than superlative, but a lot of this, I think, came down to technical stuff; Tone had some problems getting his sound right playing through the club's bass amp, and since we were standing ahead of the PA, what vocals we got were mostly coming out of the monitors. Good stuff, and, considering the carpool setup, worth going down to freakin Connecticut for, but a few other good bands would have made the trip substantially easier to take.

Unfortunately, that was out of the band's control, and solely on the festival's. When the next band finished setting up, and proved to be pretend-reggae instead of punk, which might have been cool, it was about time to split. (The other option, on the other stage, was a nine-man ska band complete with porkpie hats and checkered belts. Did we step through a time-portal to 1995, and if so, is there any way to get to Sweden and keep Jon Nodtveit from going completely insane in prison?) First, though, we made sure to get the promised free CDs from Jim, which turned out to be a new demo; three songs that depending on perspective are either "the rest of To The Inferno" or the seeds of a new record resolving the story; we'll likely have to wait and see on that front. Regardless, it's pretty cool stuff, more progressive and contemplative than a lot of their current material, but there's also signs that if this is the first part of a new disc, there'll be plenty of the fast-picking leads and crunching palm-muted rhythm guitars that we've become accustomed to.

The trip back was long, and not too arduous; I'd've stopped for gas and coffee had I been driving, but even without it all worked out ok, despite the distance involved. Any Texans or people from other sparsely populated regions are probably scoffing at the grousing about going only two hours to a show, but this close to Boston, there is such a variety of show choices and decent venues that to some people, going out to Worcester, barely 75 miles away, is a long stretch not worth it save for arena shows. I'm not one of them, but since I'm not really into hardcore -- with the stages raised barely eight inches, this is pretty much an ideal HXC venue -- it's going to be difficult justifying going to freakin Connecticut to see bands here that will likely be playing in New Hampshire (much closer) as well.

Monday, August 11, 2008

2 shows 1 day

Sunday was a rather epic day for music, in which I first finally got my butt in gear and got down to the NEDF, and then closed out the day with a friend's band in my home stomping grounds. It was a fair bit of driving, but definitely worthwhile in terms of the music.

New England Deathfest (day 2)
Jerky's and Club Hell, Providence, 8/10/2008

After missing the first day while recuperating from Wacken and planning to go to a show that I actually ended up missing, I finally got my shit in gear and headed down 95 to Providence for the first half of the second day of the NEDF. Under ideal circumstances, I'd've stuck for the second half as well, but I had to work in the morning, and driving the 80 miles back while exhausted was tough enough when I ended up doing it. Finding the venue was easy enough; the place is pretty much right off 195 just as this road splits off 95, and there were parking lots everywhere, which being Sunday were completely free; dunno how good the parking situation here is mid-week.

Though I got in right about the time Strappado was supposed to start, I ended up hanging on the sidewalk for a while; Hivesmasher cancelled shortly before the fest, which meant that everything got shifted back about half an hour. So I stood around, got pumped for Wacken info, and generally shot the shit until the club people had their stuff ready to start letting us one-dayers in.

Since Strappado wasn't starting until like 2:25, I had a bit of time to browse the merch stands and begin my day-long descent into an empty wallet and full vest pockets. Highlights include Toxik, Master, Witch Trap, Vomit Remnants, Crucified Mortals, and a bunch of other stuff that I still have to listen through; no Intestine Baalism, but you can't have everything.

Strappado [5/7]
This group, featuring members of Sexcrement and Revocation, has been a 'band in being' for a long time, though mostly in theory and in name as opposed to one that plays music. This was, according to Anthony before the event, their first show ever, and it showed; not a lack of practice, cohesion, or technique, but only that they had a total of five songs prepared, and thus didn't run for their full allotted time. This might see some raised eyebrows, but only if you're mental and don't take into consideration the fact that most of the lineup is also in some of New England's most active and well-liked extreme metal bands. Strappado may be an incidental side project, but the material that they had ready here was good stuff, old-school brutal death that made a nice start to the day, and if it was short, definitely left the audience wanting more.

Composted [6/7]
Slam-diculous as usual, New England's masters of absurdist extremes took the stage unfortunately without Rich, but dressed to the nines for the occasion: Mark and Dave taking a swipe at the "wiggerslam" criticisms levied at this festival by those who somehow missed Skinless, Dying Fetus, and Mortal Decay at the top of the bills, and Eliot, to remind any out-of-the-loop old bangers that this was in jest, wearing fairy wings, scuba flippers, and a pink pool noodle out the front of his crotch. The set was as bizarre, hilarious, and brutally tight as might be expected; killer stuff, including some newer material that they haven't done live as much, but unfortunately marred as an experience by something out of the band's control.

About halfway through the set, this big dude starts spinning and thrashing around, and he ended up spin-kicking a guy in the face, who was standing on the edge of the floor and didn't see him coming. The combination of 'huge guy', 'foot to the jaw', and 'completely unprepared' resulted in an immediate knockout; the band kept going, but the club guys with first aid training and a couple metalheads (including me) moved him out of the line of fire and tried to get him stabilized, once we established that he was still alive and there wasn't much chance of spinal damage, while his kid called in the paramedics. The incident ended up looking a lot worse than it actually was; within 10 minutes, he'd come around and was talking, moving his appendages, and trying to sit up by the time the ambulance arrived. They still collared and backboarded him, though, and took him out for evaluation; even if he got away with only a concussion and a bitten lip, it's still worth the medical attention rather than just leaving him at a metal show.

There was some scuttlebutt at the fest that this might have been an intentional attack, but this is bullshit circulated by people who didn't see it go down; unfortunately, circumstances combined that gave such scurrilious rumors credence. First, the guy who got knocked out was standing in the back, on the side, away from the part of the floor where you're likely to eat a flying fist or foot; he was being a smart non-mosher and standing somewhere where there was as reasonable an expectation of not getting hurt as you're likely to have at an underground show. Second, the dude who hit him was not in among those of us holding his hands and keeping his head still until the rescue team arrived; while if you don't know the guy, and maybe are coming from a scene where the expectation is that the friends of a guy who gets hurt are on a hair trigger, this is slightly understandable, there were still a lot of people here who believe that if a guy goes down near you, whether you were the one who put him on the floor or not, he becomes your responsibility, and not picking that responsibility up looks suspicious. There was no malice here, just maybe not as much forethought as might have been desired.

Fortunately, word came in later that Allen was doing all right, and his kid eventually did come back to the festival, though not before I left. Horns up, Mr. Chen; finish getting well soon.

After recovering my jacket from under Allen's head when the paramedics picked him up, I went back upstairs to try and watch some more death metal.

Without Remorse [4.5/7]
With your eyes closed, this Long Island combo sounded much like a decent ripoff of Long Island's most famous death metal export (and if you don't know who the band in question is, why are you reading this far about NEDF?); unfortunately, I'm too much of an old stick-in-the-mud to not get cognitive dissonance seeing such performed by guys in flat-billed hats and basketball shorts, talking like rappers between songs. It was decent music, but they'd've done better if there was more hardcore or deathcore on the bill -- and if most of the audience hadn't just been down at Composted and seen one of their own get knocked out, which probably suppressed the mosh impetus a little, and which the band probably wasn't themselves aware of. Some people did get violent, and I ended up accidentally getting punched in the head by Paul from Proteus, but overall this was the down set of what I saw, though likely more due to complete exhaustion than to just non-inspiring music.

Somewhere around here I significantly injured my left wrist; not sure if it was during Composted and I was concentrating on someone with a much more major injury and didn't notice, or if I got socked during Without Remorse. Whatever; it now hurts like hell whenever I try to bend it in certain directions, but I'll live.

As they finished, Blue, the headman of the fest, announced that Behead The Lamb wasn't going to be able to make it; this freed up some time to walk around, get some eats, and generally decompress from the events of the morning. I ended up going up the street a ways to get some pizza; this part of Providence is flat dead on a Sunday afternoon, the streets silent and empty of traffic, only a few people walking around here and there. Despite the sour taste of some of the morning, there were little bits of larger metalfests present as well; normal establishments invaded by black-shirted longhairs, people grilling at their 'campsite' (on the sidewalk by their car, but what the hell), hot girls in Endstille shirts -- wait, what again? Her boyfriend was in an Obscene Extreme lineup shirt, so it's pretty clear that other people from around here also go bang their heads in central Europe; the more we can bring that spirit back here, the more future iterations of this fest will go from strength to strength.

Abacinate [5/7]
Now this was a pleasant surprise; a band from New Jersey that didn't sound like Waking The Cadaver. They brought one of the WTC guys up for guest vocals on one song, but mostly stuck to kickass old-school brutality in the vein of a less-evolved Decrepit Birth. It made for a good restart after the downtime, and some fun headbanging, along with a few breakdowns for the ninjas. Good stuff from a traveling band; I picked up one of their shirts later, a merch Spende that I didn't make for the New England acts on the bill...mainly because I have shirts from most to all of them already, and Dwyer didn't seem to have his table out so that I could drop the last of my change on a Goreality hat.

Revocation [6.5/7]
Another fucking amazing set from Revocation, but unfortunately the sound wasn't super-kind to them. The upstairs sound was clean and sharp, while downstairs in Club Hell often came off fuzzy with overdriven bass. Most of their sound got through, though, and the Empire material is so completely dominating you could play it to your friend over the telephone and it'd still rule. They covered "Symbolic" (Dave: "It's the Deathfest, so let's play some Death!"), and interestingly Dave did his own solos rather than following Chuck's as he's done in the past; it takes a lot of confidence in your abilities as a guitarist to play your own notes over Chuck Schuldiner's changes, but if you can pull it off, as Revocation did here, it's massive win in getting to the real heart of the material. Great stuff, great time.

I finally bought Empire of the Obscene, and it is currently on repeat in my car. What an absolutely incredible album. No words, just get it; no idea how they haven't been picked up yet, though with the standard "dry buttrape" contracts available to bands putting out their first full-length, they may have decided to just DIY it for a while until a major (CM, Relapse, etc) makes them an offer with some actual meat in it.

Proteus [5.5/7]
I went upstairs, then, and saw Proteus with my back against the bar. This is the outcome of one of those tough decisions that you have to make every once in a while; I love how Proteus mixes up post-rock and extreme death metal, but hate getting spin-kicked, and it's pretty much a given that at any Proteus show in New England, at some point Will from Dysentery is going to flip out and completely destroy someone. Thus the bar thing, and the set went pretty much as expected; Proteus was great, though not quite as overwhelming as when I saw them in Haverhill (Drew's bass still sounded a little low in the mix), people went crazy in the pit, Will shoved half a dozen people nearly out the door, and I didn't get kicked by anyone. If I still had a functioning knee, maybe I'd've been in closer, but that's not something I can count on at this point.

During Proteus' set, I finally finished the Narraganset that I picked up in the downstairs bar before Revocation went on. That stuff is absolute swill, worse than PBR; I swear it smells like vomit even coming out of the can, but that may just be me stinking from sweating all day, and the corollary stench of hanging with 30-70 other metalheads who've been doing the same.

Goreality [6/7]
Back downstairs for Goreality; I'm not sure I'd seen them with the new singer previously, but the performance was still everything you could have wanted from them. The sound hit like a ton of bricks, and though it was still a little fuzzed, the sound board did better for them than for the other bands I saw down here. This was some good shit, front to back, and while immensely brutal, not a whole lot of mosh going on; everyone was too dialed in on the band, which, at least for us old people, is the way it oughta be. Killer set; shame that I wasn't able to stay longer.

Every single comment I've seen on this festival has been immensely lauditory, and it should be; even for the brief time that I was able to participate, it was almost without exception an awesome experience, full of quality death metal of all kinds, in a good environment with ready cameraderie and inexpensive beer. Blue and those who assisted him did a great job on the organization, keeping everything rolling despite the really large bill for a first-year fest and the vagaries of DIY bands who may just not be able to make the show for reasons totally outside their control. This wasn't a perfect fest, but it was damn good, about as good as we're going to get on this continent, and the organizers are definitely smart enough to look at what worked and what didn't, then make the necessary changes to make next year's even better. This gig won't be moving outside anytime soon -- blame the alcohol laws for this, and those in change of enforcing them for their zeal and enthusiasm -- but for a club fest, this one is as close as we're likely to get.

As I drove north, I closed in on a huge electrical storm that was moving west to east, and barely managed to get across the front of it before the rain arrived in force. The views of the storm were just unbelievable; someday when I get a car I care enough to customize, I'm going to get a camera built in coaxial with my line of vision, focused lens-to-infinity, and not miss out on this cool stuff just because I have to keep my vehicle from crashing into others or driving off the road or such.

In the end, I got back home in good time to fit out again, and head down to.....

Slow Fuse Burning with Autumn Above, The Real Smokin' Power, and Cape Terra
Dodge Street, Salem, 8/10/2008

This was not a metal show, and will not be rated as such, but I still showed up to this bar, recently highlighted as one of the best live music venues north of Boston, stinking of NEDF and wearing my Sodom-enabled flak vest. Part of it was the timing dimension -- I barely had the chance to take the CDs out of my vest before heading over -- and part of it was deliberate, but there was no fear and revulsion, so I guess things were ok.

Cape Terra [NR]
I got in about midway through their set, and drank part of a Guinness listening; decent but nothing to write home about as long as you had rock radio on at some point between about 1996 and 1998. Post-grunge, vaguely indie, peripherally interesting and mildly entertaining, they never really stepped out and established themselves, but in this genre I'm not exactly sure that bands are supposed to. I don't have much of any point of evaluation, but they weren't terrible, so if you like alt-rock from that period, you may want to check them out.

The Real Smokin' Power [5/7]
An instrumental collaboration between Sean (drums) and Tone (bass) of Autumn Above, this band showed some interesting promise and some cool lines, but wasn't quite as developed as perhaps they'll be if it turns into a real project instead of just a guaranteed undercard for the members' main band. The bass was too low at the start, a right problem when there's no other non-percussion instruments, but this was rapidly settled, and the short but definitely thoroughly cool set rolled on.

Autumn Above [6/7]
They changed up the order for this set, doing their heavier songs earlier instead of later, but aside from some clammed notes early where Ryan's voice wasn't completely warmed up, this was another great performance from a band that continues to be solid in everything they do. This wasn't as apex a performance as they've done in the past, but for a non-headlining slot, it was rock-solid.

They finally had shirts available, and also mentioned a couple times the anti-drunk-driving fest they're playing at the ADC in Southbridge this week; hopefully people hit them up for merch and tickets, because between them and Slow Fuse Burning, the nominal headliners, the venue kind of emptied out. It was a Sunday night, but seriously, sticking around another half hour isn't going to kill you. The sensible thing might have been to rearrange the lineup as has been done at a couple O'Brien's shows I can recall where the headliner was going to be outdrawn by the top local support, but unfortunately the fact that RSP was playing -- and, of course, using Autumn Above's gear -- kind of complicated this. More people might stick later, but some might just leave with the extra time needed to tear down and build up Sean's kit twice.

Slow Fuse Burning [5/7]
Again, not especially germane for rating, but they were a good time; punk bands who like late Bad Religion (and probably some other canonical influences, but I'm not a punk guy) a lot are seldom unwelcome, and even though they were playing to a handful of people, most of whom were in Autumn Above, they didn't let it affect their professionalism or their performance. Pretty decent; I sprang for a CD as they were going for a largely optional $3, then split; Slow Fuse Burning may not have been quite like the band who, also, had only five songs prepared with whom I started the day, but they provided a good enough finish to it.

Now that's a day worth recording; eleven bands in three venues with some impressive separation between two of them. The road continues later this week; after Autumn Above Wednesday, I'll be out in Worcester for Testament and Motorhead (with a bunch of crummy undercard bands and Arsis) on Thursday and Friday respectively. After that, I can sleep, and feel a little less down about not doing more German fests this year.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Wacken Open Air 2008 - On The Turning Page of History

Hopefully not too late, here's the report from this year's W:O:A festival.

This year saw Wacken in flux, still strugging with the growing pains of being a mass-festival and at its own attendance cap. Some, like me, wish that the festival was still cult, free from
Massenfest bullcrap, but you seriously can't turn back time, and it's best just to face it and move forward. Infrastructure-wise, this year's fest was much better than last year's. Musically, it may have been the best Wacken ever. Even those few who got their tents burned up will likely agree that they'd do this one again, even with the loss involved.

-- journeyman's day has begun --

still in Beverly

When I was doing up the ghetto watchlist in the back of my notebook, having forgotten somehow to print out a real running order, the Wacken site was groaning under the load of everyone in Europe printing out their running order sheets as a last preparation for the trip tomorrow. Right now, and continuing all over the world, in little towns like this people in black shirts, packing kuttes and camping gear, are straggling into the capillaries of the world transit net, trains and buses to airports and railheads, being the exception for now

Then we concentrate: a handful in Boston, NYC, DC, and Newark, more in Frankfurt and Amsterdam and London. And then Hamburg, and the Hamburg Hbf, and the Metal Train roars in, and the metal diaspora roars on behind it, turning everything pointed vaguely at Itzehoe into the Metal Train. Wacken's shadow population is reassembling, and aint it nice to be coming home.


1. A comparison shot, Hamburg Hauptbahnhof. On all the other tracks, it's all normal people, but on this one, weirdos in black and boots are the rule. Not all Germany is all metal all the time, but in this pic, the population of festival-Wacken happens to be passing through Hamburg.

On the train north, I inadvertently separated a Spanish (I think) couple by figuring out how to operate the seats in the passage between cars before they did. I felt bad about it and wanted to give them some stickers as a peace offering (though they weren't mad about it or anything), but I wasn't sure we really had a common language.

2. The vastly-improved bus stop. While we made it fun last year, it really was a complete fucking mess; now, there's a beer tent and you get your ticket before trying to get on the bus, which runs a lot more frequently. It's perfect for every purpose except hanging around and passing out stickers.

3. Neublick W:O:A -- already all camped up. The picture's a little misleading; I was able to get my tent up in area A, the camping-only part, without much difficulty or crowding.

4. Victims of Madness, the W:O:A forum-band, doing "Restless & Wild".

5. The outside areas were dry, though...

I set up in good time enough to go get some food and try to see Sweet Savage, and these guys were on first, probably the very first band (well, technically) of the festival.

Victims of Madness [3/7]
This was a band with a floating lineup organized out of internet forum participants, probably without a whole lot of practice, so while some of their covers were decent, some were downright atrocious. Then again, it's a bunch of amateurs who don't practice, warming up in a tent while people drink and try to get a handle on the festival; not much expected, so the good parts were welcome.

Nur in Wacken nr. 1:
A guy appears a "Jesus" in a serape, then goes running over tables naked. He kisses some dude, and nobody calls him a homo for it. Because even though Euro metalheads are only marginally more gay-friendly than their American cousins, streaking on tables is fuckin' awesome.

6. "Jesus" kissing some dude.

It's only Wednesday, people; things are only going to get wilder and weirder from here.

-- living in the golden years --


7. Iceland in da house. Sure, it looks like just Norway, but I think it's just backlit; it was a blue field and a red-on-white cross live.

8. Perimeter defense.

A general tip: Hessians are cool, but their wine is garbage. It is a very good thing to not drink a 750mL of, especially if you've already been drinking beer previously and will drink beer heavily afterwards.

Instead of seeing Sweet Savage, I ended up going back into the campground and drinking entirely too much apple wine with some random German dudes. Not the world's most optimal pickup, but besides the shit wine, it was a pretty fun time.

As the sun went down, I decided to go back to my tent, but first made a stop to meet the American friend of one of the guys from a neighboting site. He turned out to be from Maine (and subsequently, Rostock), and this led to a lot more alcohol consumption. We were going to go on an Entdeckungsreise to see where else the party was on, but I think that fell through because everyone was too drunk. Hey hey US-Ossis!

This left me with the problem of stumbling back to my tent completely potted. Fortunately, I had planned ahead and camped way on the side, making it relatively easy to find. Unfortunately, it was way on the other side of the campground, which is long even when you're not drunk in the middle of the night. It took a while, but eventually I got it handled. Good times in Wacken.

9. Infrastructure improvements everywhere.

The foregoing pic is a bit of a joke, but the truth is that this year's services setup blows away even last year's. Last year, Wacken was a city; this year, with ATMs on the grounds, the festival is more or less self-sufficient. On the one hand, it's good that we can get whatever we need without leaving the grounds -- or bothering the locals -- but I'm worried that the isolation will result in a loss of the cultural identity of the fest, which makes Wacken Wacken and not Metal-Camp.

Things rock now, but I've still got a bit of W:O:A-Ostalgie for the way things used to be. I was here in '05 for the last "small" Wacken, probably the last under 40K that there ever will be, before the newspaper, before Wacken-Beer, when the Metal-Battle was small and before branding took over to the point here everything that can possibly have the cowskull on it does. Fortunately, we've still got good people and good music -- "Kommerz" and "Profi-Fest" are just words.

My tenting neighbors are Canadians, and not just any Canadians -- they're from frickin' Calgary. And if you think that's hardcore, they had another random Canuck come by, one who was on a personal mission to find other countrymen. He came from Whitehorse, which for those of you who weren't geography-bee champions in middle school, is in the Yukon Territory. I don't know whether coming in from the North American Siberia is more or less impressive than the trip from Korea or New Zealand, but it's damn close.

10. Spelling matters. There's big meatballs, and then there's big meaty balls.

11. Eddie taking pictures. If you're going to show up in costume, be prepared to be the center of an ongoing photo shoot.

Most shirts here are from at least moderately well-known bands internationally, but I still just hailed a Finn in a Devourment shirt. Horns up for the underground.

12. Proof I did something useful -- RTTP stuck to a hot Danish girl.

13. What the hot weather is good for.

Among the Danes, I also met Martin (not pictured) from Dawn of Demise, who I hope to see circulating in the US imminently; I've yet to hear a bad band on Deepsend, so they'd probably do quite well in the US underground. If you wear a Deepsend or Pathos shirt out in Europe, expect to get called over. Good times.

Additionally, I got a tip about Slogstorm, potentially Norway's answer to Composed (a thoroughly competent death metal band whose lyrics are mostly about fish) and also likely the very northernmost band in the world, based on the north coast of Norway and thus substantially more poleward than Murmansk's Old Wainds and Nav', from Bjorn, a freelance photog/album art director. If you'd like cheap art direction for your band's album, he might be able to do some up for you; drop me a line if you're interested in his contact info, so I don't have to put it out in public and draw him spam.

14. Nashville Pussy showing some.

Nashville Pussy [4/7]
They came off better than that one record that I had from them a long while back, showing that they've gone beyond the name gimmick and into the quality provision of dirty rock'n'roll. Unfortunately, they don't really set themselves apart in this regard. They're better than Lauren Harris -- also playing in this slot -- but that aint saying a hell of a lot. and they won't be headlining much on their own any time soon.

Concept Insomnia [4/7]
Concept Bodomfans must have been taken. There were also a few In Flames elements, but not enough ot sufficiently original to make any kind of difference.

15. Negura Bunget and the stage crew working out some strange micing requirements.

16. It's Negura Fuckin' Bunget!

17. With the pipes!

18. The flute guy gets into the act.

Negura Bunget [6/7]
A tremendous set to a packed house. A few tech bits held it back from absolute perfection, but the music was fucking ace, and the band truly overwhelmed by the magnitude of the reaction. This is why there's a tentstage -- and like Primordial before them, the next time NB comes back, they'll have an infield in front of them.

19. The audience goes bananas before Alestorm.

20. "They have a keytar."

21. Alestorm rocking from behind a camera crane.

22. As above, but out of focus.

Alestorm [6/7]
This band is going places. Their extreme-tinged pirate power metal draws largely from Blind Guardian and Running Wild (to the point of them stealing Rolf's intro -- got to admire the balls that it takes to crack out "We're Running Wild, from Jamaica" in the heart of the Brotherhood's catchment area) with little bits of Ancient Rites (the Dutch one) and Bodom in around the edges, so it's good stuff, but more importantly for their prospects, they get into it and are genuinely glad to be where they are. The drummer and vocalist/keytarist can -- and did -- just jam on "Drunken Sailor" and get the whole room jumping. Though they haven't reached their full development as a band yet -- there's still a fair amount of Battleheart material in the set, and some of it is pretty basic -- they already have huge presence; they looked at this sideshow like an arena, played like it, and got an arena reaction. If Cap'n Rolf doesn't sue them for trademark infringement, we'll see these guys on a mainstage soon enough.

23. 70,000 wait rapt.

Being at Alestorm meant that I couldn't get any closer to Maiden than I'd seen them from in Boston. So I fought my way out of the infield with no little difficulty and decided to see them from the beergarden. This turned more into not seeing them from the beergarden; first the Irish underground legation arrived, and then some Germans, among whom Anneke felt like using my back for a chair back. When one thing leads to another, it generally doesn't start this strange, but there's Wacken for you.

First, the Irish. If there is a funner ethnicity to be part of, I am not aware of it yet. This bunch, who had assembled themselves on Mike's initiative (I'd seen him running around earlier under the flag, yelling "Irish! Irish people!"), were for the most part deep undergrounders -- Neville mistaking my TYAG shirt for Waking The Cadaver, and not going lol wut when I corrected him -- and definitely displayed the power of synergy: ridiculously amped up on festival and going off in all directions, consensus by volume and adrenaline. "We hate Aiern Feckin Meidin! Let's feckin drink some more! Where can we git some feckin weed? Oh Lord, I'd fuck that so hard -- show us yer tits! Can't fecking wait for Carcass!" The foregoing is a paraphrase, but gives a pretty decent picture into the converstion. Fun fuckin dudes; maybe we'll meet again, maybe not, but if so it's gonna be a blast.

Anneke, though, I definitely hoped to see again, though I didn't; there seemed to be a little more there than there was with Monika last year, but as previously other things somehow managed to get in the way. Oh well, oh well; and seriously, you don't go to this festival to try and become romantically involved with people from other continents.

Iron Maiden [6/7]
It was hard to not consciously watch this show, especially after they got the sound sorted out so that it would carry all the way back. Maybe not as good as it would have been on the rail, but I'll take Alestorm, Negura Bunget, affectionate girls, hellacious dudes, a ready supply of beer, and still Iron Maiden from half a mile back all the same.

-- sing to the slaves that Rome burns --


It's pretty clear that after last year's trial run at max capacity, the organizers have radically redesigned the infrastructure of the festival. From better provision for international guests (more tenting-only space) to expanded breakfast points subcontracted out to local merchants to wider spaces and more signage, the entire support system of the festival has been reworked. This is a true A-line setup all the way, as it should be when it's for certain the hottest ticket in metal. One expects that this well-oiled system will become a major draw as the satellite fests expand.

Yes, that's right. Faced with a global fanbase and the hard reality that moving out of this literal one-horse town would kill the festival, Wacken is now branching out worldwide, with W:O:A Rocks , beginning probably with Australia, maybe before the end of the year. Failing that, Brazil (German-language article) is on the list for May 2009, and the US is reportedly a target as well. Hopefully, they can make it work and not have it come off as corporate franchising, but we'll have to see.

24. Primordial messing around on "The Soul Must Sleep" during soundcheck.

25. Primordial step out.

26. The Prophet Nemtheanga on "Gods To The Godless".

Primordial [7/7]
Until Carcass demonstrated what a score would really have to mean, this set was under consideration as a potential 7.5. At any rate, this was an impeccably delivered performance of life-altering material that cannot really be explained after the fact, merely experienced live, right in the middle. This outing was heads and shoulders above their already really good set from 2005 here, which while great wasn't as absolutely awe-inspiring as this. And the Irish guys I'd hung out with Thursday night see them so often that they passed this one up to go watch Grave. Ridiculous, but other people might say the same about Revocation in a few years.

I wanted to see Mortal Sin rather than just hearing them incidentally, but camping the first row for Cynic is much, much more important.

27. Cynic checking.

28. Cynic, together again.

Cynic [7/7]
There's little that can capture the feel of this one beyond just "pure joy". There is no metal like this anywhere in the world, and Cynic haven't missed a beat in the decade-and-more since they originally hung it up. The new stuff is as worthy as the old, so the new record's gonna be intense -- here's hoping they do a proper tour, so that others can get this amazing experience.

29. Paul Masvidal, metal hippie. There's also a cropped version of the original of this, which I'm using as my desktop background; maybe it'll be released later.

These last two sets were of such amazing quality that on top of Carcass (to come on Saturday), three of the best four performances I've ever seen were encountered at this festival. Cynic closed with light rain, which blended sublimely with the music, but became heavier during the set change and as Unearth got started.

Unearth [4/7]
Due to the weather, I couldn't really circulate and rttp people, so those who missed Killswitch's set on Saturday may come away with a bad impression of Boston metal: formulaic and self-pleading. It's reading a bit much into the atmosphere to consider it of any meaning, but the heavy rain largely both started and stopped with Unearth. It may have discouraged movement on the field, but that didn't mean that the band had to pretend to be playing their last song like five times.
I was going to do a weather adjustment down, but really, it's not their fault.

Ensiferum [6/7]
A good set, but from back in the beergarden, they kind of lose something; at least there weren't any adjustments for injury that needed to be made, unlike the last time I saw them here.

Kamelot [4/7]
Decent, but not super inspired. The tech execution was pretty much first-rate, but Kamelot, like a lot of other power metal bands, pretty much leaves me flat; like Symphony X, but not as good or as aggressive.

Sabaton [5/7]
I was expecting more than a more solidly grooving Bodom based on their prior press, but good neo-death is decent no matter what. They've got more potential than they show, but all this means is they've actually got room to develop.

So I put a couple RTTP stickers out on the bar and was going to split, but before I could make a clean getaway, these dudes came up and took them all, entirely; "ruining hardcore" as a sleeve stripe on each, and the big "bleed for the camera" is currently covering up the heart on some guy's Nightwish shirt. Wacken, man; strange things happen.

Soilwork [5/7]
Still pretty much so much Krach, but they still know how to play it. It may be a gut reaction to the devolution from decent NWOSDM to average modernistic melodeath, but it's probably not super useful to blame these guys and their career trajectory for what's happened to Cryptopsy and Kataklysm.

Sonata Arctica [4/7]
I'm still not terribly into them, and they didn't play any of the songs I do dig, but at least they were all in tune throughout this time around, which quite discouragingly is a notable update over the previous live appearances I've heard from them.

I tried to survive Sonata in order to get to Opeth, but decided to call it an early night. Lack of sleep fucks you up, and with the end of Saturday being what it was, I needed to be up to full strength on the turnaround.

-- worlds within us, waiting to be born --


30. Somebody got the wrong impression from "Lords of the Weed". It's not that nobody here smokes, but there's no haze over the fest of "24/7 Flash", as implied by the minute of two of mention in said German online video.

I got up too early again today, but the weather looks better -- hazy but cool -- and a rigorous schedule will keep me functioning. If I can get to Carcass, I win; they're sadly under-famed in Germany, so I can camp the rail until Kreator finishes. So it's Holy Moses, then Exodus, then sleeping on a picnic table through Obituary. Oh well; sometimes sacrifices have to be made.

I dunno -- if this is the price of success, it may not be worth it. If it isn't, then I guess it just sucks. I'll explain:

A while ago, I wrote a Wacken guide for the international traveler, which included a recipe for vodka-tea. This morning, the supermarket onsite was out of tetrapaks. It's probably not just me, but letting others in on how to drink cheap in the infield may have come around to play some small role in biting me in the butt. At least I have water, and while it isn't chicken, at least it's ohne Gas.

The best part of going to Wacken on your own is that you're free to fall in with whoever, whenever, and just go along for the ride (well, as long as you can speak German, which goes a long way in rolling out the welcome mat with a lot of those present). This morning started with a good rest-up, then some drinking with a bunch of Germans, including the only Madball fan of the festival, who also couldn't stop talking about Slapshot. This led into a quest with a local boy -- proud wearer of a DORF wristband -- to find an ultimately nonexistent bodypiercing stand. (People are forbidden to produce wounds that frequently get infected in normal settings in an environment filled with mud and filth? Who made that rule up?) Note that this is the non-shaggy-dog version; everything seems longer and dumber when you're drinking in the morning.

Among the organizational changes: mud is now solidified with sand and wood mulch, probably due to the fire last year. Issues with crowd pressure during Maiden may drive a change in crowd control measures next year in a similar fashion; we'll see.

31. How lazy people waiting for Exodus see 3 Inches of Blood.

3 Inches of Blood [5/7]
Even the band must wonder sometimes how they've gotten out to this point, from HXC kids doing a piss take to serious (but not fahkin serious khed) dudes drilling out thrashed-up NWOBHM at the world's biggest metalfest. It's still good, of course, but they're definitely in that "why again?" category with much of the rest of the thrash revival.

32. Wait, this bunch of old guys isn't the same bunch of old guys as Exodus.....

Sweet Savage [5/7]
The first late-lead replacement (for Stone Gods, who dropped, not like anybody cared) I can recall at ths fest,they didn't silence the EX-O-DUS! chants, but they did play some decent rock-NWOBHM and managed to hold interest despite doing "Breadfan" as their second song. They did hold onto "Killing Time" for the closer, but it's just not as good a song.

33. Sabine and the boys start some shit.

Holy Moses [6.5/7]
Split scores? At Wacken? Say it aint so! Regardless, this was an awesome performance held back only by the fact that Holy Moses' catalog material isn't exactly among the world's best or most diverse. But boy do they have some fucking awesome headbangerriffs. Total neck anihillation, and you love every minute of it.

Holy Moses' set was so balls-out that I had to go back to the beergarden on my previously established schedule, even though Exodus was up next on the True Stage. I'm not so young anymore -- and even with a broken knee I don't know if I'd be able to restrain myself if they did "Piranha".

34. Gods of Wacken; to stand on tables with beer in hand is a privilege granted to few.

Protip: if you're at a Euro festival and an Italian asks you if you're from Italy, don't answer "no, I just haven't washed my hair in three days". I was thinking of doing so but reconsidered.

Exodus did play "Piranha", and despite being back in the beergarden, I banged my head like a maniac and got beaten with a sandal. Wacken, man; good times.

Exodus [6/7]
Another blasting good time; I'd've loved to have been down front, but really good music is really good from the front all the way to the back.

Because I wasn't thinking, going back had an unforeseen consequence: instead of Obituary I got Hatebreed, because in a weird reversal of norms they were on the Black Stage (probably for capacity reasons) and Obi was over on the Party Stage. With de facto three main stages, you'd think they'd be able to align the bands a little better.

Hatebreed [5/7]
Hatebreed's Hatebreed; what more do you want? They did a fucking badass conclusion to the set ("Defeatist"/"I Will Be Heard"/"Live For This" in I think that order) but the rest of the set was just the same brutal hardcore that they innovated initially, but have been mostly content to just grind out since. It was decent, but if you're from the East Coast, you don't need to go any farther than your local VFW to see this, much less out to Wacken.

35. Hatebreed cranking through "Doomsayer".

Maybe those asking for more antifa in Wacken are actually onto something -- just saw some guy in an Odin's Law shirt. Seriously, Odin's Law? Why do you have to go and be a hardcore racist? The hell's wrong with Graveland or Skrewdriver and just being a standard-issue dickface?

It's pretty scary how many people moved for AILD and how few are camping Carcass. Was wird mein W:O:A? Maybe you can't get 70,000 hardcore underground troopies at 100 euro a head, but with Maiden, At The Gates, Carcass, and Kreator, not to mention Cynic, Negura Bunget, et al, you fucking ought to be able to. Less Kommerz, more metal!

The Carcass infield is so empty that some wannabe Erotikmodell is doing a photoshoot amid the tiny knots of death metal crazies. Tits or GTFO -- preferably the second, as she hasn't got much going on in terms of the first. Seriously, I don't understand anyone here who isn't also on the rail -- though it does make for less fighting for places.

In Flames [4/7]
As I Lay Dying [4/7]
I thought In Flames wasn't playing this year, and what a crummy set -- wait, this is AILD? Oh, ok, alles klar. It's not my fault if they sound exactly like second-rate modern In Flames, and it's not my fault they were playing while I was camping the rail for Carcass, and thus disposed to toss all subpar Swedecore into the same rubbish bin.

Carcass [7.5/7]
Wow. If all Carcass shows were like this in the days of old, then how far, how far have we fallen. Even the Swansong material sounded incredible, and though they were up for over an hour, at the end the infield was still running in peak form, ready for them to just ignore the start of Killswitch and just keep roaring on until their inheritors (Jeff: "Here's a riddle for At The Gates and the organizers -- which came first, the chicken or the egg?") in ATG came up behind them. With some special guest appearances, this was definitely an experience on its own, and if you only see the touring version, you'll likely miss half the sense of the Carcass reunion. Split scores north of the cap? Better believe it; this wasn't, by a hair's width, the equal or better of Atheist's epoch-making performance two years ago, but it was better by a long shot than any other gig that's been scores a 7 -- and we had two of the 'highest' sevens in history just yesterday.

36. Carcass' guys checking.

37. The security huddles up to prepare for the coming storm.

38. Carcass, reunited at last.

39. Angela Gossow chips in on guest vocals -- either the feud's over, or the rumored million-euro guarantee has made Jeff more sanguine about the whole business.

40. More of Angela and Jeff not killing each other.

41. Mr. Kenneth Owen playing his drums.

42. Ken comes up to receive the acclaim of the 70,000.

Ken's solo wasn't super long or complicated, but considering what he's had to come back from, it was pretty fuckin' amazing. If he tours along to where you're at, be sure to stand up and give him a hand.

Just missed the most meta shot ever -- a picture of a pro photog shooting some fans shooting the video wall rather than the band. Now that's some fuckin postmodernism.

I don't think I've heard it before, though admittedly I haven't heard much Killswitch, so if Howard doing New Bedfid BREE BREE BREE growls is new for KSE, it is officially the most hilarious thing ever. Emo took them to the top of the charts, and now to stay there they need to imitate people imitating Dan Pevides.

Killswitch Engage [5.5/7]
The second of the True Stage bands to get the "'83 Metallifan" treatment (back turned, sitting down, at least for the first half of the set), they were surprisingly decent, if silly in places. You really forget, especially living in New England, how little of their catalog is written to suck on the radio, and how narrowly removed they are from the Boston underground. There's a reason I was sitting down -- that I'd be sitting down in the beer garden if At The Gates wasn't on next -- but as metalcore goes on this, they blew AILD out of the fucking water.

43. The video wall at the soccer field. From the end of the Black Stage, the angle is just right to see all the way across. Note the clouds; there was rain from this but no storm.

44. ATG Im Effekt.

45. At The Gates, as it was.

46. The crowd puts 70,000 horns up. This was lit differently when I set the shot up, but stage lighting, what are you gonna do?

At The Gates [7/7]
Klasse. Indeed, super-klasse, as they did "Unto Others" here, which had been cut from at least some Stateside gigs. The sound was great as usual, but the total effect wasn't as absolutely dominating as Carcass was. Just a shade of style maybe, but there was no way you could justify being onside and missing this.

47. In the flames of the end...

The outro was obligato -- the synchronicity with the cowskull maybe not.

48. You don't get to be the #1 thrash metal band in Germany by fucking around on your cab allocation.

I promise these and following festival shots from tonight are what they claim to be; this is the inherent problem of using a non-profi camera at night and at a distance, especially without anything to rest it on.

49. 100% old-school fuckin set dressing -- you got your three-up Marshalls, and "scrims" and "banners" can go fuck themselves.

Nightwish [5/7]
Mostly a long distraction while waiting for Kreator, Nightwish did play a decent set within the parameters of what they can do as a band. The setlist was all hits, and Anette is an unambiguous upgrade over Tarja, but this band just doesn't interest me that much; the material isn't worth watching live, rather than on the video wall waiting for...

50. ....KREATOR!!!

Kreator [7/7]
Another incredible set from these guys, and surprisingly very different from the last time around, even though they're still technically touring on Enemy of God. Mille must have seen that idiot with the Odin's Law shirt too -- we got not only "People of the Lie", but also "Europe After the Rain" and a strong antifa position between songs. Not sure, but I think it's been a while since they did "Betrayer" live as well. Add an encore with "Impossible Brutality" and "Flag of Hate" into "Tormentor", plus pyro almost strong enough to melt the first row, and what the fuck more do you want from an incredible closer to an incredible fest?

I was going to hit the beer garden for Lordi, but by that point (1:45 AM), I'd been on the rail, mostly standing, since about 4:45 -- nine hours, and completely worth it. Unfortunately, turning off several biological systems for that length of time kind of fucked me up, and with Kreator over, I was completely drained of energy -- back to the tent to try and sleep a little and not die on the way home.

-- stranger in a strange land --


51. More postmodern folk art, this time on the way to breakfast.

52. Letzter Blick -- see you next year.

Next year is allegedly a best-of for the 20th anniversary, but no bands have been announced yet; we'll see how this goes. If it's anything like this year, though, another early sellout is assured, especially since they .

Leaving was actually pretty easy; the buses came fast and regular, and the line was controlled for more order. There was still a pigpile on the train, but what are you gonna do? The regional train authority hasn't made clearing Wacken-traffic a priority -- yet.

53. An old wooden spire on the way from the subway to the hotel. It's not Wacken-related, but if you cross oceans for a festival and don't notice anything else, you're a twit. I walked past what looked like a jail about a block later, but took no pictures, not wanting to look any more suspicious than I already did.

54. The loot; not too much merch this time -- too many good bands to waste time shopping. The shirt, though, may very well have been the very last shirt from this year with the whole lineup on it, and I was damn lucky that the choice of the last two was XL and XX, so I could give the bigger shirt to the fat guy and still end up buying one that I could fit into.

Logan again

Dude, was that seriously just The Acacia Strain picking up their axes from the oversized-baggage window? For Boston, for Boston, huh. Unfortunately, this was in the international baggage zone, and accordingly crawling with bored cops seeking to justify their existence, so I couldn't very well pull out my camera and get some proof.

In the last analysis, this definitely felt like the last year of Wacken as it was and the first year of Wacken as it will become. It was a great experience, and probably the musically best that I've attended, but so much changed in the infrastructure -- and so much is yet to change with the demands of dealing with 70,000, not all of whom are the old Kuttentraeger cult that the festival was built on -- that it really seemed like a different fest. Cheerful but solid organization replaces cheerful anarchy; it's what they have to do for sustainability, but what was so special in the past was learning the ins and outs of the holes in the system, conquering difficulties, so that by the second time you're on site, you are part of Wacken, and can help out the noobs as they muddle their way around. You learn what's where in the village, and when's the best time to get money from the ATM, and what your bare-necessities camping supplies are -- and which little kids to pay to pedicab your beer back to the gate. You learn patience -- and practice for the train -- managing the pigpiles at the bus stops, and drink a few beers with people you might not have talked to otherwise. You still have to master the art of standing on the edges to get to the rail and move smoothly between bands, but that's about it. To a certain degree, it's good to get people up to speed in what it is to be a Wackener faster, but seriously, one fest is all it takes. Yes, the traffic improvements were necessary, but you get used to stuff being a burden, and then it suddenly isn't, and the skills that you developed to ease that burden and work around the difficulties feel devalued.

In the past, Wacken was a cult fest, and a pretty hard fest. Not super-hard, but about as hard as you can make a festival that has its own bus connection to the train stop. Now, winning national awards for best festival and hosting Iron Maiden, it isn't exactly 'cult' any more, and making it hard, still, would be rather egregious. With the international expansion coming next year, maybe it'll get more German, but I doubt it; Wacken will continue to grow into the most elite gathering of 70,000 the metal world can provide, and those like me who want a still-cult festival will stay another week and do some bumming around Germany before arriving in Bad Berka for Party.San the following weekend. Actually, this is going in the official plan -- a bigger pack, a night in Hamburg to wash up, Monday in Berlin, Tuesday and Wednesday hanging out in my old haunts in Dresden, then on Thursday on to Weimar to pick my way in; on Sunday retracing my steps to fly out from the DD Monday morning. Who's in? Passport, good attitude, and your own camping gear required, everything else is dealable. Russia to around the world can wait another year.

Final totals
Wednesday: 1 band, 3 points, average 3/7
Thursday: 4 bands, 22 points, average 5.5/7
Friday: 8 bands, 43 points, average 5.38/7
Saturday: 11 bands, 63.5 points, average 5.77/7
total festival: 24 bands, 131.5 points, average 5.48/7

This is the fewest bands that I've ever seen at Wacken, due to missing so much of Friday night, but there's so much quality in the mix that is still has to be respected.