Wacken 2009: 20 Years of METAAAAL
Festival Dates: July 30 – August 1, 2009
Venue: Wacken Open Air, Village of Wacken, Germany
Bands Reviewed: Airbourne, Bring Me the Horizon, Bullet for My Valentine, Endstille, GWAR, Heaven Shall Burn, In Flames, Machine Head, Motörhead, Napalm Death, UFO, Vreid, Subway to Sally
(via Youtube, via http://www.Wacken.com)
I won’t even pretend like this article has anything to do with music. The music is there, somewhere, far below the fraternity of sweating metalheads, the mud, the bipolar weather, the mead, the circle pits, the drunks curling up in the sun, the menfolk marking each foot of fence with a puddle of piss… I think you get the point. Wacken Open Air is united by music. Its existence is based on it’s line up, but that is not really what it is about. I learn this fact all over every year.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of Wacken Open Air. It has began as a few trailers and a few campers–an intimate collection of mostly German bands and folks who could drive over from neighboring towns and villages. Today it hosts anwhere from 70,000 to possibly almost twice that number of attendees, journalists, band members, hangers on, and of course villagers hocking goods. People come from all over the world to take part, especially since “Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey” has named this festival the mecca of metal in 2005.
(What it’s really about is puppets… metal puppets! Oh, and the occasional metaller getting tossed in the air.)
Personally, I had an amazing time. But many people this year did not. Violence and thievery infiltrated the strangely laid back atmosphere. As we sat beneath our pavilion waiting out the hot sun and torrential rains in turn, a distraught man came over to tell us his car was broken into, as did a few other cars in our campsite. Last year my wallet was stolen, as well as my passport, and you can read the outcome of that here. I always thought these festivals would be impossible in the U.S. because people would simply break into tents and beat each other up in the night, but I guess when there are enough people getting together, that’s bound to happen no matter where you are.
But on to happier things! The line up this year was probably as amazing as in the years past, though some drama happened over Bullet for My Valentine, which many felt could have been part of any other more mainstream festival in Europe. This was seen as just another road to the beginning of the end. Admittedly, I saw a few other bands that, though I enjoyed a great deal, I would not have classified as metal or even industrial in any way. The following was this year’s line up, with bands I actually remember seeing in bold:
Axel Rudi Pell
Bring me the Horizon
Bullet for my Valentine
Coheed and Cambria
Heaven & Hell
Heaven Shall Burn
Subway to Sally
Victims of Madness
Walls of Jericho
That’s a lot of damn music, yeah? I had a grand plan to see a great deal of these, but I still missed more than I managed to see, and half of the bands I did see happened by accident. After W:O:A I spent another 2 weeks in Europe and along the way lost a bunch of stuff, like bits of paper that told me on what day which bands played and what I thought of them. I’ll try to reconstruct to the best of my ability.
In previous years (2007a, 2007b, 2008) I made my way to Wacken with my tent on my back and settled down upon hostile grounds, amongst unknown peoples, trying to make the whole experience a little less terrifying with booze. I struggled with wanting to befriend those around and feeling that if I started talking to people they might get a little too friendly and follow me into my tent despite my protestations. I still had a good time, mind you.
This year I was greeted at the gate by my best friend (d42 ) who took me to an already established campsite with a bunch of cars and an ice box as well as an enormous pavilion. I was introduced to a half a dozen people and saw a few folks I knew from previous years. Most of my time was spent with a couple of guys who were completely into battling in the pit and were willing to follow me around from stage to stage, meaning no one accosted me with drunk hugs and offers of penis this year. I have to say, this was much appreciated.
The layout was the same as years previous, except that the Viking Market has expanded into its own entity. Food, bathrooms, and showers were all available on and off campgrounds (which grew a great deal too). We still made the long track to the village market, but this time we had at our disposal a device for making water hot! This meant soup and and tent-brewed coffee were added to our diets.
The days were long and full of the three dependable M’s: music, moshpits and mud. Here is a quickie review of the bands I managed to catch despite being rather busy becoming a functioning alcoholic and and then sleeping it off in some scant shade:
- Airbourne – very lively. Joel O’Keeffe (lead vocals) ran and climbed all around the stage and got pushed around by the stewards who thought him a crowdsurfer who managed to get on stage and was refusing to leave. This band made me realize that staying awake was very worthwhile this year.
- Bring me the Horizon – you would think a band naming themselves after one of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies would not bring it… but they did. I believe I was beat down during their show. This was good.
- Bullet for My Valentine – I wasn’t going to go on principle. Damnit, you are mainstream enough to book any damn show ever. Why come here? Well, one of my friends wanted company and you really can’t help but enjoy a catchy tune. When people around you are enjoying themselves, you end up doing the same unless you’re just too much of a douche to go with the flow.
- Endstille – classic representation of all that is death metal, but left me unimpressed and uninspired.
- GWAR – were ridiculous. I felt embarrassed for my whole country. None of my companions were willing to get caught dead in front of the GWAR stage and so I watched them on the big screen, listening to the music from afar. I enjoyed this band a great deal when I last saw them, but this time they were just sort of sad in their silly spikey underwears and masks, trying to make political statements through puppet dismemberment and fellatio.
- Heaven Shall Burn – rocked my world as expected. I sure didn’t understand any of their metal growl lyrics, but I knew they were being socially conscious and that made the tree-hugger in me happy.
- In Flames – I am completely biased, as this is one of my favorite bands. The best part was that while we rushed over to the stage talking excitedly about the moshing we were going to engage in we were informed that there are no pits to be had with In Flames. Yes, OK, considering all the other music around us, In Flames is a bit on the mellow side, but they have their fast songs, and we found them, and we opened the pits ourselves and let them swallow us whole.
- Machine Head – These guys have been around a good long time and there is a reason they’re still around. The reason is that they are friggin good; live and just blasting from my car stereo.
- Motörhead – Saw these guys while waiting at the neighboring stage for In Flames. The set made me want to listen to Pantera and learn to ride a motorcycle. Half-naked backup dancers, aka Fuel Girls, were hot. This means that not only did they have lots of sex appeal, which they rubbed all over the appreciative band, but they also ruled the stage with actual fire. The girls reminded the audience of the reason a bunch of guys got together and learned to play a guitar in the first place. Motörhead closed with “The Ace of Spades” and the song reverberated through my head for days after.
- Napalm Death – is a piece of crap. I wanted to see Suidakra, but there was a time slot change I didn’t find out about until it was too late.
- UFO – were really really fun and really really not metal at all. Not even a little.
- Vreid – I made a point to see this band, but they didn’t make an impression. Maybe Black Metal isn’t my thing.
- Subway to Sally – was and still is the traditional closer to Wacken Open Air. They come on at about 1am on Saturday/Sunday morning and I head-banged faithfully, half asleep. They were much loved by the loyal crowd, but I was so tired that all I could do was wait for the end so I could hang on to my companion’s shoulder and be led back to my tent and pass the hell out already.
I had a great time this past year and now, like any sane person in a casino, I will walk away with my winnings instead of betting it all again. This was, by far, the best time I have had at Wacken Open Air, and this will also be my last. Good bye Wacken, I wish you well. I might drop in if things calm down, but Mera Luna, Metal Camp, and Summer Breeze along with many other summer festival beg for my attentions.
In closing, here are some pictures of people beating up the pavilion we left behind and then burning crap…