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.

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