The first thing I noticed on Friday morning was that Spencer, our American friend, hadn’t reappeared at the hostel. We finally got hold of him and discovered that he’d been taken to hospital after being knocked out by a crowdsurfer! Thankfully, he was OK and was making his way back to Wacken directly after being discharged. We managed to get our tyre fixed, but due to waiting ages to check with Mark’s insurance company about coverage, we were once again delayed and finally arrived on site around midday. Again. I swear, next year we’re getting a camper van or something and staying closer.
As we queued up to buy our festival shirts (only €20 for the majority of them – well done, Wacken, for being very reasonable on merch) another weather warning was announced and the skies darkened. Crowd headed for their cars and we legged it back to the press area and its nice tent. This time, things were serious. I mean, it didn’t really rain much but they stopped serving beer. So I slept on the floor for half an hour to calm my nerves. The other unfortunate side-effect of the weather was that the Body Count press conference was cancelled, and we’d really been looking forward to hearing the new album. Dammit.
Eventually the all clear was given and a revised schedule made its way onto the screens. Fortunately, this was in time for Black Stone Cherry to play a very slightly reduced set. As I walked from the VIP area, they were kicking things off with “Burnin'” and one of the security staff (a lady a few years older than me) was absolutely giving it some while she stood by one of the gates! By the time I got to the Faster stage, there was a bit of a crowd but certainly not the huge ones you’d expect. I had thought that it was a bit of a gamble putting a “non-metal” band on one of the main stages, a bit like Mr Big appearing at Bloodstock last year, but my fears were unfounded. As the word got around that the skies weren’t going to unleash electric hell, the people poured forth and soon enough the Infield was rammed.
Kentucky’s finest put on one of the best shows I’ve seen from them in some time, perhaps because they had less time to muck about. Instead they focussed on chucking out the songs with great rapidity, barely a breath between each one. When I interviewed Ben a couple of weeks ago in Glasgow, I asked if they would be targeting the more metal audience at Wacken. “No,” he’d told me, “There’s no point in going up there and pretending to be a band we’re not”. In fairness I’d actually highlighted the band’s “metal credentials” at their Royal Concert Hall appearance in 2016 and they certainly didn’t need to put on any airs, graces, corpse paint or spikes to drag in the Wacken crowd.
I do feel that they “metalled up” the endings to the last couple of tracks. Hell, “Cheaper To Drink Alone” ended as if it had been remixed by Metallica back in the old days before they went soft. The ideal band to get the party going again after a few drops of rain, they really weren’t the risky choice I thought they were and walked off stage as if they’d headlined.
While I waited for Body Count to hit the stage, I wandered over to see Life of Agony and got a really good view from right at the edge near the front. A band with a long history, they’re actually not one I really got into but I definitely recognised final track “River Runs Red”. A huge pit and multiple crowdsurfers show that Life of Agony are still as popular, if not moreso, than they were back in the day.
Fashionably late, Body Count arrived on stage – a band I’ve been wanting to see live again since I saw them touring with Carcass back in 1994! Perhaps unusually, they opened with a cover of Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades” before hitting their own material. Seconds into “Bowels of the Devil” I clashed heads with another pitster and started bleeding, but hey. The number of people who stopped me to ask if I was OK was heartening – thank you all, but honestly it looked a hell of a lot worse than it was!
They split the set between older and newer songs – plus three other covers. The music and Ice-T’s charisma will be well known, but it was the between-song “patter” that sold the show (and always did). We got a cry of “There’s a bitch in the pit!” as a lady selling ice-creams ran across the open space between two songs. Fortunately she seemed to know the band and took the comment with the humour intended. A shame we didn’t get the song, though. Also, partway through, Ice (sorry… “Ice-mutha-fuckin’-T-bitch” as he prefers to be known) located the youngest fan in the audience, a young girl near the front who it turns out was only ten years old.
A lovely speech followed – how this girl had an Uncle Ice-T, awesome parents and a field full of aunties and uncles who would help her if she… wait… the mother is shouting something… Oh. He’s a boy? Oh dear. Ice acted suitably chastened, but the moment was not lost and the young lad received a handshake or high five from pretty much every crowdsurfer making their way back into the audience (as well as a t-shirt from the band).
On a bum note, my wallet vanished from my pocket early into the set. I swear I felt it drop out, but whether it was lifted or fell out, I can’t confirm. I find it a bit odd that I felt it leave but couldn’t find it on the floor, though. Several others turned up during the set and every one I spotted – or which I saw other people find – made their way over the barrier to security. I retrieved mine the next day from the police compound where it was missing €40, but at least everything else was intact. Score one for Metal Days where the same thing happened last year and I got everything back!
I skipped Anthrax as I went to report my wallet stolen, but could hear and watch them via video feed in the press area. They played a by-the-numbers set, mainly of classics, and it was no surprise to see a huge crowd getting down to the mosh. When you can rattle off a bunch of classics like this, without even looking like you’re trying, then you’ve nailed it. The band spent the set laughing, smiling and goofing around while the huge audience went wild.
While we missed Body Count’s press conference, we did catch that for Doch Chkae, the Cambodian band who weren’t granted a visa to appear last year. The resultant campaign for them to play this year was huge, backed by politicians as well as the Wacken Foundation. This bunch of kids from, for want of a better word, the slums around Phnom Penh found a release in music, specifically in their case very heavy metal. It was humbling to hear them talk about their experiences as festival owner Thomas Jensen posed questions to them. In addition, The Wacken Foundation has announced a scheme to help other children where they come from get access to instruments and tuition. When Jensen was asked if he had any final words, his response was “Final? No. This is just the beginning.” Sir, this writer applauds you.
From the fledgling to the legendary, the next band we caught after a later dinner were to be Slayer. Playing their last ever German festival show, and their second-last ever European show (they played the Hanns-Martin-Schleyer-Halle, Stuttgart the following evening) this was to be a bittersweet occasion. The Infield was absolutely rammed and we began the set roughly level with the sound desk. When the band came on, we managed to leg it about 30m further forward at which point I was offered a leg up to crowdsurf. I made it around ten people from the front before someone managed to drop me, but I was hardly complaining as I ended up in such a plum spot. Surprisingly, and by happy coincidence, a few minutes later a familiar face passed overhead then landed at my feet as Mark has surfed forward to join me!
The show was absolute chaos. While there was nothing new compared to the Glasgow show in November (the setlists were similar though not identical), the occasion was that much greater. Of the three headline bands over the weekend, Slayer had the most modest stage set, instead focussing their attention on the brutality of their music. Frankly, if they had the world’s greatest light show I’d have missed most of it in the pit carnage anyway. Carrying people over large gaps, running in circle pits, walls of death, carrying surfers overhead round a circle pit, queuing other surfers up as they ended up coming over three deep… I swear, if you could do this twice a week it would outdo any gym workout.
Two things made this performance for me. The band and the audience. Watching so many people go so mental and be so happy in front of one of the best bands of all time, who played an absolutely fucking blinding set with possibly the best sound I’ve ever heard at a concert indoors or out. As I said, bittersweet. A wonderful, joyous, exciting, brutal, violent, amazing show… and the last time I and many of the 70,000+ people here will ever see this band play live.
As with Glasgow, the band spent an age on stage after they finished playing. Tom in particular looked rather emotional and the usual cries of “Slayer! Slayer!” morphed into chants of “Thank you, Slayer”. When the hell was the last time you heard a crowd thanking a band in unison? They’ve earned it, though. Progenitors of a whole genre of music, always at the top of their game, consistently good live and managing not to be arseholes for the entire length of their careers, Slayer will never be forgotten in this household. I wish I could have made it to their final show in LA, but I wasn’t even expecting to be at Wacken so I’ll cherish this memory as much as that of seeing them for the first time on the Decade of Aggression tour at Newcastle City Hall. I still have the poster for that one that I nabbed from the venue the night before!
Both of us were utterly knackered. Bone weary, we made it back to our accommodation (via McDonalds, oops) with ears ringing, and scabs forming on the minor pit wounds.
Thank you, Slayer.
Photos by Shellstar Media