Friday, August 21, 2009

European Tour 2009 part 7: Wacken wrapup


Day 8
1 August 2009
Wacken - Schleswig-Holstein - Germany

This morning's been cool, hanging out with another under-30 "alter kuttenträger" (from Chörnyj Woron) also concerned about the lack of us-headliners and the future of the festival. It's convenient that I don't really have to go forward after dark, but at the same time troubling, too. (This was also the conversation where we went through the Running Wild setlist from Thursday and came up with nearly as many songs omitted that should have been played as there were actual songs in that list.)

Einherjer [5.5/7]
They took a while to get cooking, but they laid out a worthy opening set covering "De Sorte Sjoers Land", "Crimson Rain", "Dragons of the North", "Ironbound", a few others, and of course FAR FAR FUCKING NARTH! They seemed to have their keys on playback, but the live portion was indisputably killer.

401. Emobusters, seen while buying my Borknagar shirt.

402. Viking attack!

403. Einherjer chunking through "Sjoers".

404. Maybe past their moment, but the Dragons of the North are still fierce.

405. Jamming a folkic lock-in riff.

406. Doing the chorals on "Far Far North".

After this, I got cash, got hydration, and went to go hit up the Bullshirt stand via a rec from earlier. I landed the only Pantera shirt I can see myself in (a Power Metal-era bootleg) and then across the way about 20e of bootleg patches. Looks like I can finally finish that other vest - right after I get a new shirt from Revocation to hack into a DIY backpatch.

Shit apparently got fucked up; I want Kampfar (cancelled the day before, apparently), but Onkel Tom's flag is out on the Party Stage. What the hell ever; I'm not missing front for Borknagar.

nochma Onkel Tom [nochma 5/7]
Basically a longer version of the set from Thursday, this takeover of Kampfar's slot was dedicated to proving the proposition that punk bands are always awesome when covering someone else's melody, and not so uniformly so otherwise. We already knew this, though, and in this slot we really should have got some skullcracking Norsk black metal. Nothing against Angelripper, and he got a great crowd response, but this wasn't what I trekked over to this stage for.

407. Beerthrash!


You've got to wonder if they get cultural grants from the government for keeping traditional Kneipenkultur alive.

And now, missing Testament to sit on the rail. Shit sucks. After this, though, I'm quite comfortable with going back to stick. Festival mode or not, this loss of sleep takes a lot out of you; I'm not getting any younger, and the bands I came to see will be done.

It's for these reasons that I'm uncertain about coming back. We'll see how Party.San goes regarding self-destruction; maybe Headbangers Open Air and Wacken next year - if I do festivals rather than that Russia trip that's been postponed too long. I may be done with this kind of extended adventure for external reasons after this; if so, as long as I survive, this will be a hell of a way to go out, with fairly few regrets.

409. Drum checks.

410. Yes, that's an 8, and the front looks even more badass. And of course, it's a true 8, not just a doubled 4. Jan-Erik doesn't fuck around.

411. Øystein tries to hide, but sharp-eyed fanboys with zoom lenses are everywhere.

412. If I had seen this ten years ago, I might have had a heart attack. Messrs Brun and Tägtgren (Pain was on this stage next after Borknagar), just hanging out and shooting the shit.

On a different note, somebody finally got Peter a damn sammich. It's nice to see him looking a little less like a walking cadaver.

413. Actually checking tone and function.

Ruins of Future
Gods of My World
Oceans Rise
Inherit the Earth
The Black Token
Future Reminiscence
Ad Noctem
The Genuine Pulse
The Dawn of the End

Borknagar [6.5/7]
Perhaps my expectations were set too high, but this simply great set didn't cross over and become wicked epic. As can be seen on the setlist, there's a lot of good stuff from most of the band's history, but a little too much Archaic Course for my liking, and nothing from the self-titled. (Put that one up to language differences and Vintersorg not wanting to learn Norwegian just to sing "Dauden" or "Fandens Allheim" maybe once every other show.) No "Winterway", but there's a time limit on these things after all. I'm satisfied; not flattened, but this was still a Borknagar set worth crossing the seas for.

414. Auftritt!

415. Vintersorg hypes up the crowd.

416. Lars, Øystein, and Mr. V.

417. Ø. Brun slashing out the riffs.

418. Jan-Erik and Jens teaming up.

419. The bandleaders deliver the imprecation.

420. Not a huge crowd, as this fest goes, but passionate.

421. Jan-Erik caught mid-bang.

422. Øystein forging ahead.

423. Vintersorg locks in with Jan-Erik.

424. Mostly a one-shot of Øystein, at least as the focus allows.

425. Jan-Erik, Jens, the logo, and a preoccupied cameraman.

426. Vintersorg looking out over the ruins.

427. The vocals get some backup from eight strings of subsonic devastation.

428. United.

429. Jan-Erik and Jens, in another two-shot with the poor hidden drummer.

430. The other half of the band.

431. Øystein digs in as Vintersorg screams over his guitar.

432. Jan-Erik being generally awesome.

433. The forgotten guitar genius of his generation.

Now, in this section - exclusive to this report (probably) - I completely nerd out about Øystein's guitar technique, and demonstrate why to never send a fanboy to do a job for general audiences.

If you're an old-time Borknagar fan, you probably heard the music, were struck by how radically different the guitar sounded, and researched/asked around about the band until you found out that Øystein never had any lessons, and effectively reinvented playing guitar from scratch for himself. Ok, that explains some of the weird chords, but not really. There's more to the big Ø's sound than that, and you're likely to only notice it seeing the band live.

What stands out about Øystein's style, first? In a phrase that would be picked off the cuff by a lot of musicians (not actually tested), that might be "weird chords with a lot of sustain". The weird chords come from making up your own guitar vocabulary from scratch, but the sustain has a simple reason: for the most part, Øystein Brun does not palm-mute. Yes, you read that right. Øystein Brun does not palm-mute, and that right there is in itself a substantial reinvention of metal guitar technique. When he does, it looks forced and unnatural: Øystein may be the one metal guitarist in the world who doesn't habitually keep the heel of his hand on the low string and riff off that.

Why is this, you ask? Because Øystein may have the loosest wrist in metal. Any other guitarist, the picking motion is primarily in their hand; with Øystein, his wrist is moving, and his forearm with it on the back hump of the guitar. This is a natural motion for hitting all 6 strings at a strum, but there may be a chicken-and-egg effect at play here.

In general, Øystein plays up near the neck pickup rather than anywhere near the bridge, which is of course a lot more conducive to this kind of open sound. However, looking at where the pick lands riff to riff, he's not deliberately trying to play on the neck; this is just where his hand naturally sits on the axe if his forearm's fulcruming over the top.

This comes to the crux of the issue. This position is natural, sitting or standing, for Øystein because he happens to be a very big man. Here's a size comparison with the infamously gigantic Jan-Erik:

434. For scale; Jan-Erik's about a step behind relative to the camera.

Øystein probably doesn't clear 2m, but he's close, and he has the powerful build needed to have his whole arm pumping on every strum. It slows him down, but his technique has never been about speed, just all the unique sound that these quirks create together.

No wonder Molested broke up. A death metal band where the main songwriter is a slow arm-strummer who doesn't palm-mute? How did that even happen to start with? (That said, all reports are that the one Molested record out there is pretty good and pretty unorthodox death metal, so it'll be worth trying to dig up.)

This concludes this ridiculous nerd break. I hope you learned something, because I certainly did: I think about this band a lot more than is either normal or natural.

Axel Rudi Pell [4/7]
"Strong As A Rock" and "Rock The Nation", and then I stopped listening. Does this band actually have any other songs, or do they just jam random '80s riffs together?

I'm in the beergarden, and everyone's dead. I've got no desire to go forward; half of this is being old, and half of it is kind of "no headliners".

The giants are dying, but the festivals won't die, because the giants growing are not ones that we (the grumpy old ones dividing everything into Sounds Like Kreator or Garbage, and those younger ones who are accelerating their development toward this point) care about. Children of Bodom, In Extremo, Nightwish; these are the headliners that will replace Motorhead, Iron Maiden, and Doro in the run of ages. What we forget is that it was an accident of birth|history that Maiden and Motorhead survived; Def Leppard and Whitesnake made it out of that era too. Amon Amarth has another 10-20 years left in them, and they are in that headliner class already. So is In Flames, no matter how dead to us they are. Metal will be fine. And us hardcore kuttenträger may not have any headliners to back, but in some ways, we were never meant to.

Headliners need to draw. To draw, they need to either be mainstream or change the mainstream. The first is easier, but only the second will bring in us kvlter-than-thous. We'll see who can; I suspect Heaven Shall Burn may, forging on after the metalcore tide goes out and forging their own paradigm, but history may have other ideas. Wait ten years and laugh at the naivette.

435. Best. Idea. Evar. A chilled tank of Jäger roving around kicking out 2e shots. It's like we're in some platformer video game that just has powerups sitting around the screen for no reason.

In Extremo [5/7]
Sure, this was from the beergarden, but everything but the impact and flame of the pyro carried this far back. Good music, but from the point of view of one like me, their mainstream success is showing. Still a fine time though.

436. The Smack Ballz jamming some AC/DC with an unconventional setup.

Achtung! Besoffene Cougar - Angriffsmöglichkeit hoch.

Volbeat [6/7]
If this is the metier of rock'n'roll vended in the future, things are looking bright. There's a lot of Misfits, but also deeper, crunchier elements similar to Calmsite (if you've ever been near an Oak Knoll distro table), and the result is fuckin you'd know if you have any of their records, as that's the sound delivered - and well - live. Seriously, if you don't have Rock the Rebel/Metal the Devil yet, I don't know what more I can say....other than, well, you're WRONG, and need to get said disc posthaste.

437. The boneyard - emptied kegs piled high in the back of the bar area.

Seen but not shot: dude in a CFC shirt. First so far; a lot of Werder and St. Pauli and Barcelona gear, but you know you're not going to see anyone supporting TFOD at a proper metal show.

438. Machine Head and the burning skull. It's just as well that you can't see anything.

Machine Head [3/7, was 4/7]
I was trying to avoid this band, but was unable to. Maybe I'm older, differently chemtwisted, or just paying better attention, but they seemed to be more actively crap and annoying than last time, and I don't think they're put out a new record in the meantime.


The worst part of this, and the cause of the point deduction above, is that Rob Flynn was in Vio-Lence, and knows what kind of riffs you need to start a circle pit and keep one going. And yet his brain-dead band keep writing brain-dead nu-metal bullshit, and he keeps yelling for circle pits like the Ape King of the Idiots. YOU WILL NEVER BEAT HEAVEN SHALL BURN'S EPIC 2007 PIT. STOP TRYING. STOP PLAYING.

Saxon [6/7]
As expected, a lot of good songs....and a lot of title songs, because people are in the main ignorant of large stretches of Saxon's back catalog, and with a vote for some song on each album being compulsory (the set was a one-from-each-record selected by internet voting), people had to click some button. Hence "Dogs of War" and "Unleash The Beast" in favor of respectively, say, "Walking Through Tokyo" and "Ministry of Fools", but fortunately also "Solid Ball of Rock" (ahead of [shudder] "Crash Dive", even if it's not "Requiem (We Will Remember)") and "Crusader" (ok, people know that song for real too). Not my optimal set, but the internets picked this one, not the band, and Saxon had the sense to pretend to be pressed for time (presumably) and drop whatever steaming pile got picked from Destiny.

439. Saxon Unleashes The Beast.

440. Campgrounds; harvest moon and insufficient light.


Day 9
2 August 2009
Wacken - Schleswig-Holstein - Germany

441. Dawn breaks; time to break camp.

Thus ends another Wacken; it remains to be seen how many more of these I have in me. However, this is only the end of the second stage of the current adventure. Tomorrow is on to Berlin, and after, to Bad Berka; now, though, just to pack up and make for the HH.

442. Schlangen in Stangen: the line to get on the bus back to Itzehoe.

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