Wacken Open Air 2008 Preview

author EW date 28/07/08

The Wacken Open Air festival held annually in the small, usually tranquil, town of Wacken (residents: 1850), Schleswig-Holstein, Northern Germany is about to kick off for the 19th time and Rockfreaks.net is here to introduce you to this years edition. Not only that but we will do all that really torrid stuff like drinking and watching bands all day to bring those of you that won’t be there (or those too drunk to remember from being there) all the highlights (and lowlights) from what is indisputably the world’s biggest Metal festival!

I shall be making my 6th pilgrimage to the Holy Land very soon and have noticed a dramatic increase in the size of Wacken from 2003 to my visit last year, with it guaranteed to be even bigger this year. 60,000 diehard Metalheads (and some not so diehard…) passed through its gates last year and WOA08 has seen a record set for it being the first year to sell out prior to the start of the festival; by some months infact. Undoubtedly related to the festival’s increased popularity amongst Metalheads, and especially those lingering on the edges that would have never previously considered it, is the growing number of 'popular' bands. Iron Maiden's headline performance this year is already set to be the biggest single event in the festival's history, and while 'commercial'-sounding bands such as Nightwish and Children of Bodom are gratefully welcomed by many thousands of attendees, the festival organizers have stoked the fires of many of its long-time fans with the inclusion of a number of bands that signal a change in direction from its strict Metal-only past, including Avenged Sevenfold, Job For A Cowboy, Killswitch Engage and Unearth. Watch this space…

WOA Features

So what has Wacken done to become the biggest and most desirable Heavy Metal festival in the world ahead of the likes of Party. San, Hellfest and With Full Force?

Clearly the band line-ups have been a key part of this, and while others have tended to focus on one or two (sub-)genres, Wacken covers nearly the whole Metal board (save for Doom). This year we’ve got Thrash (Exodus, Kreator, Holy Moses), Black Metal (Gorgoroth, Watain, Nifelheim), plenty of Death Metal (Obituary, Carcass, Grave), Power/Heavy Metal (Iron Maiden, Avantasia, Nightwish) and everything inbetween (Primordial, Negura Bunget, Opeth).

Efficiency. The word might as well as be a German one we've nicked, kinda like Kingeregg. Now they are efficient in their chocolatey and complimentary toy goodness... Anyway, from my 5 years I've found very little complain about – and when people do, those problems are often rectified the following year. You will usually find no problems getting into the site by car or foot (last years horrendous summer weather did affect this but the organisers coped the best they could). Wristband collection is as painless as it can be. There are food/drinks stalls in the all the right places. Bands come on when they’re planned to. Leave when planned to. The sound has nearly always been very good for an outdoor festival. Plenty of other festivals could learn from WOA…

And then there are all the other little things that make a Wacken festival such a joy. Being able to camp by your own car. Mambo Kurt. The Wacken Firefighters. The massively awesome Metal market. Metal karaoke. The Metal toilet. It is really a true Heavy Metal village!

Bands you should consider watching

Ok, opinions will differ greatly here, and I am and shall be reporting from a metalhead's opinion and point of view. So that means I will not even be considering watching Avenged Sevenfold (Ed. note: You're missing out!). Here is a run through of some of the key and noteworthy bands performing at Wacken Open Air 2008. Stage and performance times are those according to the latest release of the running order.

At The Gates [SWE]

Stage: Black Stage

When: Saturday 2/8 @ 2115

Genre(s): Melodic/ Death Metal

At The Gates have a lot to answer for, for in their time away, "Slaughter Of The Soul" has influenced a whole generation of bands most at Wacken would agree are unworthy of the label 'metal'. Of course we'll get "Blinded By Fear" so that should please everyone, but some more of the diehards attending will be looking for something older, especially from the under-rated "The Red In The Sky Is Ours" LP. Myself, it's just a chance to see a legendary band I hadn't previously seen.

Worth the effort rating? 5/5

Listen: Myspace

Watch if you like: Killswitch Engage, Carcass (latter)

Carcass [UK]

Stage: Black Stage

When: Saturday 2/8 @ 1820

Genre(s): Grind, Melodic/ Death Metal

Like At the Gates, reformed for a posse of live shows with it looking unlikely they'll record anything new. Like AtG, a hugely anticipated reformation for years that should go down a treat. Given the incredible variation between every Carcass album and the enormous influence they've had on so many bands it's bound to be a successful show. Expect original drummer Ken Owens to make an appearance at one point too.

Worth the effort rating? 5/5

Listen: Myspace

Watch if you like: At The Gates, Arch Enemy, Death Metal

Children of Bodom [FIN]

Stage: True Metal Stage

When: Fri 1/8 @ 2100

Genre(s): Melodic Death/Black Metal

Bodom have risen unendingly over the past few years despite an arguable drop in quality of their material from their albums of yore, in a very similar fashion to the way In Flames have gotten so big of late too. Despite this their older material is still brilliant, and amazingly in this day and age, they are still pretty much the only band to successfully mix Power, Black and Death Metal. Yes Alexi Laiho has more than explored the inner regions of his anus recently but they can still be a great proposition live, when they feel like it.

Worth the effort rating? 4/5

Listen: Myspace

Watch if you like: Arch Enemy, In Flames, Norther

Cynic [USA]

Stage: Party Stage

When: Fri 1/8 @ 1250

Genre(s): Technical Death Metal

Another recently reformed band, another in the Death Metal subgenre but massively different from AtG or Carcass. To possess such a legendary status having released just the one album, 1993's "Focus", is a testimony to it's technical brilliance and ahead-of-its-timeness. Whether the technicality conveys well in the live setting in 2008 remains to be seen, but given a new release is in the pipeline after 15 years and that few attending will have seen them live before, the anticipation will be feverpitch by the time Cynic take the stage early on Friday. Expect jaws to be hitting the floor watching the guys play.

Worth the effort rating? 4/5

Listen: Myspace

Watch if you like: Death, Atheist, Pestilence

Ensiferum [FIN]

Stage: Black Stage

When: Fri 1/8 @ 1455

Genre(s): Folk/Viking Metal

The Folk and Viking Metal genres have undeniably started to collapse under the sheer weight of bands joining its ranks but Ensiferum sit proudly in the premier league of bands, along with their Scando brothers Moonsorrow, Enslaved, Turisas et al. With fewer genuinely party-sounding bands on the bill than in the past years, it could be left to Ensiferum to provide some rollicking folky entertainment for the drunken hordes early on the Friday afternoon.

Worth the effort rating? 4/5

Listen: Myspace

Watch if you like: Korpiklaani, Moonsorrow, Turisas

Exodus [USA]

Stage: True Metal Stage

When: Sat 2/8 @ 1250

Genre(s): Thrash Metal

The Bay Arean's legendary status has only been solidified in the past couple of years with the amount of 'neo-Thrash' bands forming sucking on the Thrash teat Exodus so blisteringly created for themselves in the '80s. They are always a good bet for an intense live show, after all they were directly responsible for Thrash's live setting reputation all those years ago, and with a fat tattoed bastard fronting the band nowadays they ain't got no softer nor nicer.

Worth the effort rating? 4/5

Listen: Myspace

Watch if you like: Slayer, old Metallica, Anthrax

Gorgoroth [NOR]

Stage: Black Stage

When: Sat 2/8 @ 0200

Genre(s): Black Metal

Apart from if Wacken booked Varg Vikernes to perform upon his release at next year's festival, they don't come much more controversial than Gorgoroth. As if the controversy over their censored Polish performance of a couple of years ago wasn't enough, the band have got themselves into a hugely acrimonious split, resulting in this Gorgoroth being the Gaahl/King fronted version as opposed to Infernus' version. Hopefully the performance is worth the hype but expect pig/sheep's heads, blood and spikes. And plenty of them.

Worth the effort rating? 4/5

Listen: Myspace

Watch if you like: Darkthrone, Watain, Immortal

Grave [SWE]

Stage: Black Stage

When: Fri 2/8 @ 1100 (clash with Primordial)

Genre(s): Death Metal

Summed up by their fairly lowly position on the bill, Sweden's Grave have perhaps never really reaped the rewards for their years of solid Death Metal pummeling, arguably having always been in the shadows of Entombed (back in the day) and more recently Unleashed and Dismember. They have a new strong album out and some classic tunes to play but with a head-on clash with Primordial I fear a little for the prospects of Grave's performance.

Worth the effort rating? 3/5

Listen: Myspace

Watch if you like: Entombed, Cannibal Corpse, Dismember

Iron Maiden [UK]

Stage: True Metal Stage

When: Thu 31/7 @ 2130

Genre(s): Heavy Metal/NWOBHM

Anyone who wasn't planning on watching Iron Maiden despite being at WOA08 clearly shouldn't be at WOA08. It is due to them it sold out months in advance; unfortunately it is also due to them that Avenged Sevenfold and Lauren Harris are on the bill but we'll let them off of that heinous crime. Surely by now everyone knows what to expect from a Maiden performance: high energy (especially from Brucey), great showmanship, Eddie the giant mascot, classic Metal tunes galore - they've got it all. And with a tour focussing on the "Powerslave" era it can only be amazing, as Maiden just don't do anything less in the live setting.

Worth the effort rating? 5/5

Listen: Myspace

Watch if you like: METAL

Kreator [GER]

Stage: Black Stage

When: Sat 2/8 NIGHT @ 0030

Genre(s): Thrash Metal

It wouldn't be a Wacken Open Air without one of the 'Big Three' German Thrash bands would it? Kreator, Destruction and Sodom undeniably put Germany on the map when it came to extreme Metal in the 80's whilst the softer end was taken care of by Accept, Helloween and the like. Kreator made it the biggest out of the three thanks to 1986's "Pleasure To Kill" simply being one of the greatest Thrash albums ever. Frontman Mille Petroza always puts in a sterling performance and when you're talking about a band with so many classic albums & tracks, why would you want to be watching Axxis (on at the same time) instead? Will be a great (near) end to the festival.

Worth the effort rating? 4/5

Listen: Myspace

Watch if you like: Slayer, Destruction, Sodom

Massacre [USA]

Stage: Party Stage

When: Fri 1/8 @ 1945(clash with Opeth)

Genre(s): Death Metal

Massacre, I feel, may be a little unknown to many of the RF readers. If you like your Metal heavy, a quick introduction: Kam Lee (vocals) is generally recognised to have 'invented' the DM growl imitated by thousands; all 4 members of the original line-up were present in the early Death line-ups, who were almost a brother-band to Massacre; they reformed only last year to play a few select shows; and 1991's "From Beyond" is a classic you SHOULD own (despite its dodgy cover). Convinced yet?

Worth the effort rating? 4/5

Listen: Myspace

Watch if you like: Death, Deicide, Morbid Angel

NegurăBunget [ROM]

Stage: WET Stage

When: Thu 31/7 @ 1905

Genre(s): Black Metal, Folk/Pagan Metal

Hardly one of the big names on the bill but one of the bands I am personally looking forward to the most. 2002's "'n Crugu Bradului" and 2006's "Om" are both simply out of this world, with their BM-inspired mysticism, atmospheric genii and Romanian influenced passion. Despite widespread critical acclaim for the aforementioned albums they are still criminally under-known. For those still not swayed by all that, expect to see a variety of local/folk instruments including one rather large horn on stage!

Worth the effort rating? 4/5

Listen: Myspace

Watch if you like: Windir, Drudkh, Primordial

Nifelheim [SWE]

Stage: WET Stage

When: Fri 1/8 @ 2220

Genre(s): Black/Thrash Metal

Possibly an unknown entity to many Rockfreaks.net readers, Nifelheim insult the WET Stage with their brilliantly addictive form of 80's influenced Black/Thrash Metal, donning enough leather and spikes on stage to even outdo Judas Priest (!) and ticking every box, without a hint of shame or irony, of what a real Metal band is and looks like. With unconfirmed reports that the last hairs on the balding heads of the vocalist and bassist twin brothers' shall be a long one, you know that they're going to be nasty, dirty but downright brilliant.

Worth the effort rating? 5/5

Listen: Myspace

Watch if you like: Destruction, Sodom, Venom

Nightwish [FIN]

Stage: True Metal Stage

When: Sat 2/8 @ 2245

Genre(s): Power Metal, Symphonic Metal

Nightwish really are huge these days, a far cry from when I first remembering being alerted to them many years ago when Power Metal snuck its shiny slick head in to my listening rota every so often. Theres no point me professing reasons to watch or not watch Nightwish as theres little else on at the time. If you like your classic/Power/symphonic Metal you'll already love Nightwish.

Worth the effort rating? 2/5 [Ed note: more like 4/5 based on what they did at Rock Am Ring]

Listen: Myspace

Watch if you like: Epica, Within Temptation, Sonata Arctica

Obituary [USA]

Stage: Party Stage

When: Sat 2/8 @ 1600

Genre(s): Death Metal

You can always rely on Obituary for a good ol' show of pure Death Metal glory. Like Bolt Thrower, whom I so wish had accepted their invitation to perform at WOA08, they have very much stuck to their strengths on record over the course of a 20 year career and it works a treat. Put simply if you have any interest in Death Metal make sure to watch Obituary, you'll only be missing Hatebreed over on the Black Stage at the same time (?!?!).

Worth the effort rating? 4/5

Listen: Myspace

Watch if you like: Cannibal Corpse, Morbid Angel, Death

Opeth [SWE]

Stage: Black Stage

When: Fri 1/8 @ 1945 (clash with Massacre)

Genre(s): Black/Thrash Metal

Opeth present a slight problem in determining their watchability at WOA08 - on record they are an unstoppable beast who can seemingly do no wrong, continually creating masterpiece amalgamations of Prog Rock and Extreme Metal and are so unique it hurts. In the smaller live setting it comes across quite well but from having seen them at Wacken before, it really just doesn't work on the huge festival stage in a (fading) daylight setting. The long, windy songs of varying levels of power and aggression, as well as Michael Akerfeldt's increasing tendency to have equally long speeches in-between, means Opeth come with a health warning. If you choose to watch and are then bored of your tits don't blame me! I'll be watching Massacre instead ;) .

Worth the effort rating? 3/5

Listen: Myspace

Watch if you like: Dream Theater, Rush, Katatonia

Primordial [IRE]

Stage: Party Stage

When: Fri 1/8 @ 1100 (clash with Grave)

Genre(s): Folk/Pagan Metal, Black Metal

Despite being on-stage at the disgustingly early time of 1100 (THE timing error of the entire festival) Primordial are still more than likely to be one of the bands of the festival if their London performance earlier this year is anything to go by. Last year's "To The Nameless Dead" is without doubt one of the greatest Metal albums I have ever heard and the band play with such passion and convinction that is hard not to enjoy them, even if you don't know any of their songs. I know it will be difficult to be arsed at that time but if you're going to the festival do not miss Primordial, it's as simple as that.

Worth the effort rating? 5/5

Listen: Myspace

Watch if you like: Skyclad, Windir, Turisas

The Rotted [UK]

Stage: WET Stage

When: Friday 1/8 @ 1625

Genre(s): Goregrind, Brutal Death Metal

Having recently changed name from Gorerotted, the music style of Britain's arguably most brutal band has changed too. Their two first albums were crazy deathgrind/goregrind jewels, but their third and especially fourth album (the recently released "Get Dead Or Die Trying") saw a shift from the grindy elements towards a sound that is closer to more traditional brutal death metal. I myself prefer the older material for the tongue-in-cheek, chaotic brutality, but it will nevertheless be a show worth seeing if you're into drunk and humorous brutality.

Worth the effort rating? 4/5

Listen: Myspace

Watch if you like: Carcass, Exhumed, Amputated

Watain [SWE]

Stage: WET Stage

When: Sat 2/8 NIGHT @ 0000

Genre(s): Black Metal

When it comes to appearance they don't come much filthier than Watain. The same could be said of the smell emitted when they perform - Watain shows consist of copious amounts of pig's blood and other unmentionables spread throughout to give the venue a horrific smell of, well, blood and death. Their raw and primal take of Dissection-influenced Black Metal fits this mess completely and with a modern BM classic in 2003's "Casus Luciferi" they should be worth a watch. Even if you don't like BM, check 'em out anyway purely for the spectacle, I can assure you it'll be worth it!

Worth the effort rating? 4/5

Listen: Myspace

Watch if you like: Gorgoroth, Glorior Belli, Funeral Mist

Epilogue

And so we have reached the end of Rockfreaks.net first preview of a Wacken Open Air festival. Of course there are many more bands playing than the above mentioned ones, so make sure to check the running order and check out the ones that attract you the most! Having checked forecasts the weather is looking promising at the moment so it can only be another great festival.

If you see me around, come say hi (and buy me a beer). Ill more than likely be stumbling around in my heavily patched up jacket sporting a Death backpatch. That should narrow it down (not!). Have a great festival to all those going, don't cause any trouble otherwise you'll be hated by everyone eternally, and check back for the review soon after the festival!

Written by EW & AB

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