Archive for October, 2010

Wacken Open Air Festival, Wacken, Germany, 5 – 7 August 2010: Day 3

Posted in Gigs, Travel with tags , , , , , on October 31, 2010 by Noise Road

As we stood in line for the shuttle bus back to Itzehoe station, young men brandishing tent poles circled the grounds.  A pointman briefly investigated tents.  If a tent appeared to be abandoned, he signalled to the rest of the posse.  The mob then charged, before wailing on the (hopefully) abandoned tent.  Three days ago, these same lads stood orderly in line for shuttle buses to the site.  It was a metal Lord of the Flies.  If the festival had continued any longer, we would have been worshipping a pig’s head on a stick.

Rather than carrying tents, cookers and mattresses back home, many festival-goers simply walked away with their tents still standing.  In other cases they smashed everything.  20 metres from our tent, punters decided to burn their tent.  They were not alone in this exit strategy.

Hellfest had been quite impact conscious.  Rewards were given for handing in rubbish and recycling.  In general people seemed to be quite respectful of their surroundings.  In contrast, the Wacken we left resembled a dump.

Whilst I can sympathise with the cathartic joy of running around, destroying shyte (and I probably would have joined in when I was 19), the waste and pollution did not sit well.

I’m sure that the organisers go to major lengths to clean up after the crowds leave, but still…  In some cases we are not even talking about outright laziness, we are talking about deliberate attempts to leave the place worse than you found it.  And destroying perfectly good camping equipment?  Who does that?  Who has the money to buy something and abandon/destroy it?  At least take it home and pass it on to someone else.  A tent isn’t that heavy, dude.

Cannibal Corpse

Before the campsite carnage, came the aural assault.  The previous afternoon, we joined 40,000 others for Cannibal Corpse’s set.  I’ve only seen Cannibal Corpse once before and that was in the 500-head capacity room of Fowler’s in Adelaide.  I still haven’t decided whether it’s a good idea or not to gather that many Cannibal fans…

…  but joking aside, Cannibal is a fun band.  I witnessed many more smiles in that crowd than aggression.  George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher sounds like an unholy demon on the mic, but his banter between songs in pure honed schtick.  With song titles that include “F_cked with a Knife”, its hardly a band to take a girl to on your first date, but my girl of four years took the band in the right spirit.  She knew that George was just playing.

The energy in the 40,000 strong crowd, created an immediate storm of dust.  It was at times difficult to breathe.  Maybe those bandanas that double as dust masks aren’t 100% lame after all.

Since our 18th birthdays, Noise Road’s good friend, Stavros, and I have heard death metal bands get lost in muddy mixes in tiny rooms.  So how could it survive being blasted out into cow paddocks?…  Surprisingly well.  Very well, actually.

A decent mix is important in a Cannibal set, as you would lose a lot of the dynamics in a muddle.  Their set is surprisingly varied with a discernible groove throughout.

The title track off Evisceration Plague, chugged along, allowing some of that groove to come through.  Off the same album, Priests of Sodom hammered from the get go.  Even with the hammering there is always time for the guitarists to wail.  Hammer Smashed Face even leaves room for Alex Webster to show his incomparable bass prowess, before the rest of the band joins in to hit hard.

Cannibal are a seasoned, professional unit that live on the road.  So their tightness and polish are not surprising.  But I think it is the strength and variety of their material that separates them from the death metal pack.  They effectively vary tempo and feel, ensuring that their set never sounds like one song played 12 times.

Soulfly

Sepultura were the first metal band that I got into.  And old Sepultura is undeniably great.  But former Sepultura frontman, Max Cavalera, has spent over a decade p!ssing on his legacy.

I saw Soulfly twice early on in their career.  And whilst I wasn’t hanging out for Fred Durst’s rap passage in Bleed, or ultra nu-metal songs, I did, in the main, enjoy those gigs.  Max has always played a high content of the Sepultura classics in his sets.

Night had fallen by the time Max and company hit the stage.  The screens flanking the stage reminded the crowd that there was no circle pits to be entered into.  Someone forgot to hand Max that memo.  I’n not sure there was a song that he didn’t call for a circle pit, or for the crowd to “jump tha f_ck up!”.

So while Max may or may not be a tool, he has undeniable stage presence.  He and the Soulfly unit had the crowd bouncing throughout.

We thrashed through Troops of Doom and screamed along to “Roots!… Bloody Roots!”.  I even allowed myself to enjoy a bit of nu metal as I remembered back to singing Eye for an Eye at the 1999 Big Day Out.  Oh, the youthful indiscretions.

Soulfly still have that nu-metal feel, but the new songs sound a little thrashier.  I still wouldn’t fork out my hard earned for another Soulfly record, but the live set has been worthwhile every time I’ve caught them.

Fear Factory

Fear Factory also played Hellfest.  Following that performance, I thought that it was great to reminisce about the music of my youth, but my time is better spent exploring bands that are pushing boundaries today.  After the Wacken set, there is still room in my life for Fear Factory gigs.

Fear Factory’s set was shorter than the one at Hellfest, and fortunately they cut out the nu metal fat.  It was great.

Like angst-ridden, 16-year olds we yelled along with Burton C. Bell:

“I’ve got…  No more…  God d@mn…  Regrets!

I’ve got…  No more…  God.. d@mn…  Respect!”

We bounced along with Martyr, pausing only to join in the chorus:

“Suffer…   b@st@rd!”

I’ll admit that I still haven’t investigated the new recorded material, but live, it stood up well against the awesome machine-metal of the Demanufacture era songs.  Even if those new songs don’t cut it outside of the live experience, I now believe there is room in my life for more Fear Factory gigs.  I see they’re touring Europe with High on Fire in a month.  I’m on it!

With the inner 16-year old in me once again satisfied, we ventured back for our last sleep in the tent, before waking to the carnage of the morning.  Another night in Hamburg, and we were unfortunately too soon returning to the real world.

I’ve attended a few festivals this season.  Whilst Wacken’s lineup wasn’t as strong as Hellfest, and the scale of the event prevented the communal vibe of a festival like Roadburn, Wacken is Wacken.

For sheer scale and metalness, Wacken can’t be beat.  Like Muslims required to pilgrimage to Mecca once in their lifetime, so every metalhead owes it to himself to attempt to assemble the funds and time, to find enlightenment amongst 75,000 Slayer fans.

Hop to it!…

and thanks for reading…

Wacken Open Air Festival, Wacken, Germany, 5 – 7 August 2010: Day 2

Posted in Gigs, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , on October 24, 2010 by Noise Road

So…  I saw more penises than I planned to throughout the festival.

A month before, at the Hellfest festival in France, I went without showering for nigh on 5 days.  I’m not in principle against cultivating a mean stink, but as I was dwelling in the same country as my girlfriend for a rare occasion, the odd shower didn’t seem like a completely inappropriate idea.

Wacken provided showering tents for the punters.  You lined up for 20 minutes, turned a corner and were immediately confronted with naked, pale, hairy dudes, wearing nothing but beards.  It was a little bit of a shock as I haven’t communal showered since my short lived Australian Rules Football career came to an end, due to a mixture of incompetence and a broken hand.

Unfortunately male nudity wasn’t restricted to the morning showers.  Nor was showering restricted to the shower tents.  Some punters weren’t going to waste their beer tickets on paying for a shower.  All sorts of improvisation using taps and water bottles was implemented to clean beer-and-sweat glued beards and hair.

The facilities at Wacken were top notch considering that 75,000 people had to be catered for.  A five minute stroll from our tent, a small market sold meat for bbq’s, water, booze, and anything your average metal camper is likely to have forgot or run out of.  We frequented the adjacent breakfast/lunch/coffee tent every morning.  The option of sandwiches and coffee was a much healthier start to the day than the exclusively grease and booze fayre peddled at most festivals.

It was at our morning coffee, sitting on the floor of the breakfast tent, that we met my Danish twin.  He was more of a kindred spirit I guess than a twin, as I am not quite a Danish giant, with piercing blue Viking warrior eyes.  It’s not often in this world where you stumble across a fellow traveller with such closely shared interests.  Yeah, there is a fair chance that we have the music in common… but then we liked the same angry-young-man authors (Bret Easton Ellis / early Palahniuk / De Lillo) and we even had friends that had the same nicknames (The Count).  Our new Danish friend, Kent, is good people.

Orphaned Land

I’m not massive fan of the folk end of metal – whether it be of the european folk or eastern folk stream.  I think the european stream definitely has a fun side to it – there doesn’t seem to be anyone having a better time at a festival than a man jigging.  And I do appreciate connecting to one’s history and feeding into something centuries in the making.

Middle eastern music has been rearing its head in rock since the 60’s and 70’s.  The middle eastern folk/metal of Israel’s Orphaned Land seemed a natural fit.  I enjoyed sitting on the turf with a beer while a bearded, white-robed, Jewish man, looking very much like Jesus entertained us.  At one point, the frontman actually had to state “I am not Jesus”.  It made me wonder if watching Orphaned Land at Wacken was at all similar to the sermon on the mount.  I bet Jesus could rip a double kick solo to equal even Slayer’s Dave Lombardo.

Voivod

Voivod were much punkier than anticipated.  Not knowing much of their work, I was expecting a much more experimental set.  They were somewhat hampered by the worst mix of the festival.  It was always a bad mix at the Party Stage, but for Voivod’s set it was actually hard to discern the instruments.  Muddy.  Still the lads put everything in.

Evile

Evile do thrash as well as any of the new wave of Metallica/Megadeth worshippers.  Well, we think Evile do.  We can’t actually confirm that Evile was the band that we could hear.

The cow paddocks are obviously not drought resistant, and they are certainly not mosh-pit resistant.  Due to the energetic thrash launched from the stage, the mosh pit left a permanent wall of dust between us and Evile.  The band could not be seen.

Exploring Wacken

Clearly Wacken is not just about watching bands on stages.  Wacken is bigger than just the music.  If you don’t take the time to walk the grounds, you are not soaking in the true experience.

The site is massive.  Our little field was restricted to tents, but when we strolled the outer perimeter we spied caravans, school buses and some camps that bordered on compounds.  Whilst our field consisted of minimalists wanting to carry the bare minimum on their backs, out here on the borderline, punters had brought generators, fridges, couches, fences…  a kitchen sink.  Someone actually brought everything and the kitchen sink.

Looping back towards the centre, and you pass through the viking village of traditional cooking, crafts and of course viking sword fights.  The northern gods were most definitely embraced at Wacken 2010.

Arch Enemy

Eventually, we found ourselves back at the main stage for Arch Enemy.  A long way back at the main stage, as they were very popular amongst our giant German friends.

I have a greater appreciation for Arch Enemy since I’ve been digging on the back catalogue of Carcass.  The harmonised guitars and the melodic death metal make more sense with that informed background.

Arch Enemy are tight and talented, but they do lack a little of the grind and nastiness of a band like Carcass.

Angela Gossow is as good a metal front lady as I have seen.  Like her friends in the audience there is an absolute lack of irony to her “pure fucking metal” approach.

And just to remind us of the “pure metal” approach, Grave Digger were up next.

Grave Digger had pipers, 4 back-up male singers (who air-guitared when they weren’t singing), and songs about being heavy metal, Heavy Metal Breakdown…  I was willing to dismiss them as cheese and power metal cliches, but songs about being metal is something that I can support…  Anyways, good luck to them.

Slayer

Watching Slayer play with sixty or seventy thousand other Slayer fans is something that I will never forget.  I’ve seen Slayer on every Australian tour cycle since 1998.  Every album they land in my hometown to play to 2,000 people.  But screaming “RAINING BLOOD!!!!” with Tom and 70,000 other Slayer fans?…  Amazing, dude.

It doesn’t matter that it really wasn’t the best performance I’ve seen of Slayer.  Tom Araya looked understandably stiff, restrained and under duress, given his recent string of illness and injuries.  And there has to be a level of disconnect from the audience when they resemble a faceless sea in the dark.  Still, Slayer on their worst day is better than most on their best.  Kerry King shreds no matter what day of the week.  And I could listen to Lombardo’s extended double kick solo at any moment of my life.

The tracks from the latest album, World Painted Blood, Hate Worldwide, Psycopathy Red stand up well against the classics.  I think their ability to write at least 3 or 4 good tracks on every album since the golden period is why they are still such a great live act.  The set is reinvigorated every time you catch them.  Of course you really want to hear Angel of Death, Raining Blood, South of Heaven, War Ensemble, Seasons in the Abyss – but the new tracks add value to the set each time.

Ihsahn

The beginning of Ihsahn’s set clashed with the end of Slayer’s set.  So I found myself straddling worlds.  I hovered by the small tent waiting for Ihsahn, whilst trying to catch as much of the Slayer set as possible.

In a similar situation the night before, straddling Maiden and Gojira, Dee Kay and I spotted Sam Dunn (the Headbanger’s Journey and Global Metal dude) stroll past.  Whilst emptying my bladder before Ihsahn was due to board stage, I believe that Dunn may have been standing next to me at the urinal.  What’s the social etiquette in this situation?  Are you allowed to scrutinise a man’s face while you both have penises in your hand?  You certainly couldn’t shake his hand or slap him on the back in that situation.  Especially if you had to switch hands to do so.  Man I’ve said penis a lot in this post.  Penis.

Anyways…  Ihsahn was awesome.  I caught Ihsahn three times within a bit over a month – at Hellfest, Wacken and finally in London.  London was the best of the lot, but I thoroughly enjoyed each show.  Read Noise Road’s review of his show at Hellfest for more on what Ihsahn is pushing these days.

Like every other act in the tent, the mix was off for the first song.  It was the first time I have heard keyboards be the most prominent instrument in a metal show – but the mix was quickly restored and I could finally hear the vocals.

Competing against Slayer, the crowd was understandably small, but it was appreciative of one of the most creative men in metal today.  Genre pushing, intricate music played flawlessly and with passion.  Excellent.

I headed back to the tent, thankful that I had learnt my lesson from Hellfest.  Never wear a Slayer T-Shirt to an all day festival, unless you are willing to scream “SLAYER!!!” every 10 minutes.  Slayer fans are unable to control themselves when they lock eyes on a Slayer t-shirt.  “Slayer!” fires from their diaphragm, as involuntarily as you and I breathe.  Odin help you son, if you don’t scream “Slayer!” back.

SLAYER!!!

Wacken Open Air Festival, Wacken, Germany 5 – 7 August 2010: Day One

Posted in Gigs, Travel with tags , , , , , on October 17, 2010 by Noise Road


A coffee and a berliner bun in Hamburg and we were boarding a train to Itzehoe.  The process of transportation between Hamburg and the festival site displayed nothing but German efficiency.

I’ve been to other festivals where the hordes are dumped at a train station in a small town.  Then begins the fight to get the last spot on the only bus for an hour to the festival site…  Wacken had regular buses from Itzehoe, where people orderly entered the buses.  What else do you expect from Germany?…

That order would erode over the coming days.  Society was no longer supervising the passengers.  We were up the river with Kurtz.

Things seemed innocent enough at first.  We received free cokes as we strolled in and pitched our tent with ease amongst the endless tent city.  We passed through the massive metal market of t-shirts, boots, bars, food and then onto security.

Turns out that we shouldn’t have a SLR camera onsite.  So Noise Road’s guest photographer had to stash her camera.  One day Noise Road will be huge and every promoter on the globe will scramble to issue us press passes.  On the following 2 days we were able to time our runs to smuggle the SLR in.  Who need press passes?

Alice Cooper

Even with the slight stall, we were in time to catch Alice Cooper on the main stage.

I’ve never been to Glastonbury or any of the mega festivals.  Wacken was the biggest festival I have attended.  Camping with 75,000 people is a unique experience – but amassing 75,000 metalheads in one area for 3 days is perhaps a once in a lifetime experience.

Wacken is very much a main stage set-up.  There is a very small side tent stage, and another side stage.  At times, only the main stage was operating.  This lead to 50,000 – 60,000 people watching Iron Maiden and Slayer, and maybe 40,000 watching Cannibal Corpse.  I still haven’t decided if congregating that many Corpse fans in one space is a good idea.

With the main stage focus, the scale hit as soon as we walked through the gates.  We were a long way from Alice Cooper when he boarded the stage.  There are the obvious disadvantages to a crowd that big.  You become detached from the performance, the sound loses out…  but to have a communal experience with that many people who dig similar music to you?  That’s a rare experience for a metalhead.

This isn’t Glastonbury. This isn’t the Big Day Out.  You aren’t getting casual listeners here, or people camping just for the experience.  The average person isn’t going pay 120 euros to be blasted by extreme metal for 3 days.  No one who doesn’t like metal is going to sit through an hour of Corpse.  The fans here were like veterinarians birthing a calf – they were in it up to the shoulder.

Alice started late and the mix was off for the first couple of songs.  The drums were way too loud and I couldn’t hear the guitars.  It was the same set as I had heard a month previous at Hellfest – including a somewhat odd choice to both open and close with School’s Out.

I like Alice Cooper’s songs, but the theatrics weren’t as impactful under daylight, and it was a repeat performance for me.  Still it was enjoyable.

Iron Maiden

After Alice I had my first of many Wacken bratwursts and I washed it down with a glass of Beck’s.

Despite the international popularity of Wacken, most of the attendees are German.  German is still the most frequently heard language.  It’s nice to feel that you are still in a foreign country, rather than a field that could be anywhere in the world.

Some characteristics make the festival distinctly German.  From a viking village full of chain mail craftsmen, endless formats of cooked pig (wurst, schnitzel, knuckle) and wheat beer.  Even the international and local bands on the bill displayed the German vibe….  The Germans love power metal.  Their appreciation of metal is without a hint of irony.    Iron Maiden is a perfect fit for the country.

Night was falling for Maiden’s set.  We were a long, long way back in the crowd and the Germans are a tall people.  As a consequence, for the first time in my gigging career, I had to watch the screen.

Maiden vocalist, Bruce Dickinson, knows how to work a big crowd.  I like Bruce.  He is a renaissance man – vocalist in one of the biggest metal bands on the planet, and a commercial pilot.  Nothing is beyond Bruce.  Men like Dickinson and Deniz Tek (guitarist of proto-punkers, Radio Birdman, navy pilot and emergency ward doctor) remind me to think big.

For many years, despite my good friend’s insistence, I didn’t listen to Maiden much at all.  This was of course hypocritical, as now that I have listened to Maiden, I can see their influence all through some of my favourite bands.  Still the soaring power metal vocals, and the overall cheese level has stopped me from being a devotee.

However I do enjoy the older stuff now.  Unfortunately this was not the Somewhere Back in Time tour.  The focus was on the last few albums – The Final Frontier, Brave New World…  And we did have to leave the set early to weave our way through the massive crowd.  So while they probably finished strong with the classics, the only one we caught muffled from inside the side tent, was the eerie sound of 60,000 people singing the guitar line to Fear of the Dark.

I am still am glad to have been Madeined.

Gojira

Iron Maiden classics had to make way for the new wave.  Gojira are Frenchman who play death metal with an environmental lyrical focus.  From Mars to Sirius is a favourite of mine from the last few years.  Those first two songs crush.  Gojira have never made it to my homeland and so they were a must see for Wacken.

This was our first visit to the small side tent.  Uninformed, we had poorly positioned ourselves in the hilly tent crowd.  Luckily Dee Kay was shown a more ideal viewing spot by a local giant.  I followed.  No one has ever helped me and my 1.77m body find a better location amongst the northern european giants.  Turns out feminine charms can be used for good and not just evil.

Gojira in a tent was a massive energy shift from the big stage.  This is what I wanted –  extreme metal’s intensity confined within a space.

As we were to find out throughout the festival, the mix in the tent was always shyte for the first song.  I struggled to even pick what that song was in the muddy mix.  But the sound was solid after the initial hiccup.

Gojira soon had the packed tent jumping on the uneven surface for Backbone.

Gojira played mainly tracks from their last album.  Much of the material changes up so much, that I almost felt as retarded as when I tried to bang my head to Meshuggah.  It was the highlight of the day for me.

We went to bed and somehow managed to sleep a little through the constant drunken cries of “Wacken!”, which were then answered with “Wacken!” from multiple voices in the field.  This was repeated until daylight.  Although they were occasionally broken by some dude yelling “Timmy!”

It was year 9 camp at Mt Crawford Forest all over again.

Read the upcoming Noise Road post on Day 2 of the Wacken Open Air Festival for words on Voivod, Evile, Arch Enemy, Slayer, Ihsahn and showering with a bunch of dudes in a field.


Wacken Open Air Festival, Wacken, Germany 5 – 7 August 2010: Are We There Yet?

Posted in Travel with tags , , , on October 17, 2010 by Noise Road

Or…

Hamburg Whores


“Where have you booked us into?”

As we climbed the steps of the underground, we were confronted by an unbroken chain of Hamburg whores.  Their outfits would have put any 80’s aerobics class to shame.

Our professional friends blocked the main entrance to a square of bars and restaurants.  You could not gain access to this square without having to break the formation.  Head down, not wishing to give any encouragement by accidental eye contact, we briskly moved around the corner and found that the chorus line continued.  It turns out we booked a hostel half a block from the red light district.

I have no justification to have been surprised.  The hostel was selling itself as a former brothel.  Still, I have never seen a line of pro’s block access to a busy nightspot, or form a human chain several blocks long.  Welcome to Hamburg’s Reeperbahn.

The lovely Dee Kay (Noise Road’s official photographer for the weekend – see her photo essay here) and I had just trained up from Berlin.  We were pausing in Hamburg for a few days before heading to the 2010 Wacken Open Air Festival.

Over 75,000 metalheads displaced the cows from the grazing fields of the small town, Wacken, in Northern Germany.  Most of the international attendees rolled into nearby Hamburg with us, a few days prior.

Hamburg

The Reeperbahn and it’s colourful ladies backs hard up on the theatre district, St Pauli.  As we were looking for a kebab, middle age women were leaving evening theatre shows, passing the s3x shops to get to their cars.  10 minutes walk from the Reeperbahn and St Pauli, is the revamped water front, full of restaurants and bars…  and a new city within a city.

Hamburg has a long history as an important port – a key in Northern European trade.  Previously this required massive warehouses for storage.  Now a new city is replacing the abandoned warehouses.  Already exclusive apartments have risen.  Architects have had a conceptual field day.   Cranes surround the many canals, and avant garde yuppie buildings.  By 2020 these new district will house tens of thousands of people.  I have not seen such growth in an established european city.

Follow the right canals back into the heart of the city and you find an extremely exclusive shopping and eating area.

Hamburg throughout history has often enjoyed such wealth, but not always.  Initially in the 9th century, a castle/church was built in this northern outpost to convert the savage northern hordes to Christianity.  The Vikings responded by sacking the outpost and burning the church to the ground…  9 times.  That piece of info raised a cheer from the fellow metalheads on the walking tour we joined.

Jump a millennia forward and a slightly bigger Hamburg was once again burnt to the ground.

During a state of total war in the depths of WWII, the allies firebombed the city for 8 consecutive nights.  The temperature outside of the bomb shelters reached 1,000 degrees celsius.  Nothing stood a chance.  A single remaining, fire-blackened tower of St Nikolai looms above the city as a reminder of the costs of war.

Inside the crypt of the church lays a very balanced memorial to the second world war.  Sometimes I think of German citizens to be the real losers at the end of the war – Berlin, Dresden and Hamburg were all flattened.  But everyone lost.  This memorial pointed out that London was bombed for 76 consecutive nights during the blitz.  As an Australian, I find that experience hard to comprehend.

The Australian continent has known no wars by internal conflicts or by invasion.  I sometimes forget how real and recent the history is to Europeans.  I write these words from my current base of Southampton in the UK.  Apparently Southampton was a pretty place before the war.  A pretty place it is no more.

In the upcoming post, read of Noise Road’s experiences at day one of Wacken and the sets of Alice Cooper, Iron Maiden and Gojira.