Wacken. One of the largest metal festivals on Earth. And this is my first visit, alongside Mark who’s covering photos this year. It’s also their 30th anniversary. Are we excited? Hell, yes!
Wednesday is a “light” day, the calm before the storm, if you will. We drove past the huge queue of traffic waiting to get in and used the press entrance, so a word of warning if you’re coming via car sometime – get there early. Or very late. And have food in case you’re queuing for a while. I’d guess the queue was at least a mile, probably longer. Not long after parking we were in the VIP and press area, sorting out our payment cards and stuffing kit into lockers before exploring the site.
The first band we got to catch were Aussie pirate metallers Lagerstein. I’ve seen them twice before, opening for Alestorm and on their own tour with Red Rum, but never outdoors and in front of a crowd this size. They owned the stage, upping the ante to take in the large audience and gave as many laughs as they did reasons to headbang. Many would argue that they’ve pinched a bit from Alestorm, and maybe back in the day they did. However, they’ve taken all that and made it their own… and then some.
With a new album out later this month (it’s great – review when I have the time) they threw a couple of tracks from it to the audience who lapped it up. Dancing, singing, swigging beer from footwear… and all this in the blazing German sunshine. Lagerstein put on the best show I’ve seen from them to date and I’m so looking forward to seeing them again later this year when they tour with Footprints in the Custard. Also, they owe me a beer!
We quickly popped over to the beautifully-decorated Wasteland stage to check out Irish thrashers Gama Bomb (great as always) before nipping to the History Stage to check out the Wacken Battle of the Bands competition. Bands from 40 countries compete each year and this year they hosted the finalists on one stage. The only act we managed to see were Indonesian hardcore crew Taring who were simply superb. If all of the acts on this stage were of this standard, I don’t know how the hell the judges were going to make a final decision.
Shortly after this, we were taken on a tour of the grounds by one of the WOA staff. A thunderstorm passed overheard, necessitating a temporary halt to all proceedings. Bands stopped, beer stopped pouring and all fans were directed to head for their cars and offer spare seats to others. This sounds like an over-reaction but a quick check of news from recent years will tell you of people dying at festivals where lightning and/or high winds have resulted in fatalities at festivals. Thankfully, a brief spattering of rain was all we suffered before the clouds passed by.
Some free Jäger at one stall, German wheat-based spirits in the campsite and a visit to see the group who have a camping space reserved for them each year (they’re very long-term attendees) followed. What came across throughout was the absolutely wonderful atmosphere and sense of belonging. People were just amazing. For those who go to Bloodstock… you know that feeling? The fun, the togetherness? Imagine if someone managed to spread that successfully through a crowd 6-7 times the size. Wacken has done this. It’s big… but still feels small.
Indeed, the site itself crams a huge amount in. Yes, there is a stupid number of stages, but you don’t have to walk for hours to get between them. From the absolute arse end of the campsite it’s maybe 45 minutes to the arena. Long – but not as long as some others.
Hell, they even have a supermarket! Not a little one… this thing’s huge. And it doesn’t even look like a temporary structure. You’d be forgiven for thinking that they’ve based the festival in a field where a supermarket already existed! If buying things doesn’t suit you then you could always join the German army. Each year they assist by laying big steel plates on the ground to help vehicles get around on the grass, so this year they’ve been rewarded with a recruitment office on site.
Add to all this the Future Zone (where you can discuss thoughts for the future of the festival with organisers), a gaming zone, knights in armour, competitions, a football pitch, showers for cooling you down when it’s too hot, a great market (I got three patches for €10, cheaper than Amazon) and so much more, you can see why this is genuinely a metal Mecca!
Photos by Shellstar Media