12 Aug 2011

W:O:A 2011 - The Wacken Report

This year's Wacken Open Air in Northern Germany has finished and all the metalheads have gone home. The 22nd festival housed a lot of bands from different genres, the headliners being Ozzy Osbourne, Motörhead and Judas Priest, but was also guested by bands such as Blind Guardian, Triptykon, Hail of Bullets, Mayhem and Sepultura. The bands I've chosen to highlight in my festival review are here because they did something to make me remember their performance.

Judas Priest
What struck me first with these old-timers was the vocals. I've seen Judas Priest twice before, once at Roskilde Festival in 2008 and once at Priest Feast in 2009, but I've never seen frontman Rob Halford deliver such a stunningly impressive piece of vocal performance. Their stage show has always been fantastic with the coordinated headbanging and Halford's constantly changing of clothes, but on this last world tour of the legendary Judas Priest the entire band really went all-in for a terrific performance. The setlist was amazing, really capturing the essence of the title of the world tour "EPITAPH", as they played Priest classics from their entire carreer, from Rocka Rolla to Nostradamus. Even though the founding member K.K. Downing quit the band in early 2011, his replacement Richie Faulkner fit well within the band and you didn't really think about the missing Downing.
The overall performance was really good, although the typical Halford-songtraining (though shorter than normal) sort of ruined the flow of the set. The famous Painkiller song was a bit below par - vocal-performance-wise - compared to the other tracks, and though the crowd went wild with a vocal-less Breaking the Law, I feel that the audience could have needed a little more guidance on this particular track. All in all a good performance with great sound. Judas Priest did not disappoint on their last world-wide tour.

Dir En Grey
I had no idea what to expect. What I got was a Japanese quintet with a song catalogue ranging from heavy growl-driven metal to emo-ish rock with shrieking eardrum-shredding vocals. I was surprised at how easily lead singer Kyo could go from deep growls to high pitched screams in a split second, and even though the songs were greatly varied, Dir En Grey maintained a good flow in their performance. This was especially helped by the lack of talking in between songs, but I can't help but think that this language barrier-induced silence also made the band more alienated from the crowd. This lack of crowd contact didn't stop the album-current Japanese band from getting the message through, though, and they delivered a good show that most people probably wouldn't have seen coming on Wacken Open Air.

The legendary frontman Tom G Warrior from Hellhammer, Celtic Frost and now Triptykon finally guested WOA again, and this legend must be experienced first hand. What I got was not what I had expected. Triptykon delivers the most impressive wall of sound I have ever borne witness to. Starting out with the Celtic Frost classic "Procreation of the Wicked" in a slower and much heavier version set the tone for that night's performance, which was to be slow, heavy and mindshattering. Warrior did very little talking, but this only helped the atmosphere of the show. Never before have I experienced a performance that in such a way made the darkness seem claustrophobic, like the darkness was closing in on the audience and nothing other existed at that very moment. Tom Warrior is a very scary looking man, and with more timeless classics from the Celtic Frost era and new masterpieces the small audience was made up by dedicated fans of Tom G Warrior. The soundguys did an outstanding job on the sound of Triptykon, but I feel that the performance and the songs in general became a little monotonous during the later parts of the show. Nonetheless this was truly a show of the mighty force that is Triptykon and its' creator, Tom G Warrior.

This Finnish black/folk band suffered from having a large audience who were just waiting for other bands, but in spite of that delivered a headbang-tastic performance with lots of crowd-involvement and sing-along. The soundguys really did a number on Moonsorrow and got them some of the best sound I'd heard on the entire festival, and even the keyboard managed to shine through the heavy bass. Moonsorrow is a band known for playing songs of great length, often surpassing 12 minutes in length, and I was surprised to see how well they executed the performance of these length-wise behemoths, making no audible mistakes whatsoever and still maintaining a high level of on-stage activity. The only problems I saw was that most of the songs, because of their lengths, were hard to recognize and sing along to, and the keyboard player wasn't doing much on his podium. Other than that, Moonsorrow delivered a fantastic performance with their mix of black and folk metal, though I feel they should've played a smaller stage than Black Stage.

Rhapsody of Fire
Rhapsody of Fire, formerly just Rhapsody, is a band that has great potential to be either horrendous or fantastic live. The Italian power metalheads did much to help it be the latter rather than the former, and their performance was generally good. Semi-sloppy guitarplaying by the otherwise phenomenal shredder LucaTurilli and bad sound put them more to the first, but a strong song selection, a nice flow in the setlist and good onstage activety saved them from utter failure. At first I thought that a band of this caliber were too big for a smaller stage like the Party Stage, but during the show I realized that it would've been a mistake to put them on either of the two larger stages as there wouldn't have been an audience big enough to fill the grounds. With sing-along on classics like Emerald Sword and Dawn of Victory the orchestra-driven Italians made it clear that they belong amongst the true kings of power metal.

Along with other power metal titans like Rhapsody of Fire, Blind Guardian, Avantasia and Iced Earth, Helloween was one of the bigger names on the power-filled program this year. Helloween's 28 year long existence has brought with it loads of praise and experience, and though this shines through in their very entertaining and professional show, there were still some elements that I really don't understand the purpose of. Right from the beginning what I assume was a power outage put a temporary stop to the show that otherwise started out wild. Helloween handled it pretty well and continued the show once the power was back. Their contact with the crowd was outstanding and, as I said before, their experience made this show rather memorable. This mostly fantastic performance was in turn ruined twice by extremely long pauses where they'd break down the song into a simple beat where the lead singer Andi Deris would talk to the audience and have them sing along to the chorus. Normally I'm all for this kind of sing-along, but this was poorly executed and way way way way way way WAY! too long. These pauses completely ruined the flow of the set, and it even seemed like they were loosing the audience at times. The very entertaining and fantastic drumsolo performed by the skillful drummer Danny Löble semi-saved the concert, though.
Helloween will forever be remembered as one of the most influential European power metal bands, and their might is clearly visible to one and all who see them live, but overly long breakdowns and talking in between songs ruins even the best of flows in live performances.

The British legends are back once more. I've seen Motörhead before, but the set list they brought with them this time was beyond comparison. Almost every track was a Motörhead-classic. With tracks like "In the Name of Tragedy" and "Bomber" the British trio got the attention of everyone on the festival grounds. Though not as loud as one would expect from the loudest band in the world, the sound was phenomenal and probably some of the best on the entire festival. I was surprised when the living legends broke down In the Name of Tragedy right before the solo and then picked up where they left after a backbreaking drum solo by Mikkey Dee. What was undoubtedly the coolest thing about this entire performance was the airplane of lights during Bomber. The performance of this song, I think, few saw coming. Lemmy isn't one to talk hours on end, especially not on stage, and Phil Campbell actually also did alot of talking on this year's Wacken Open Air. As always their terrific show ended with them going off the stage and then coming back to play Ace of Spades and Overkill.
Motörhead have been around since the 70's and they never fail to entertain. While not doing anything out of the ordinary, except for maybe performing Bomber with the airplane, they're sticking with what works, and it really does work.

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