= Wacken Open Air 2016 - The Review


Wacken Open Air 2016 - The Review

Wacken Open Air Festival, August 4-6, 2016
Oh boy, Wacken and the mighty rain: It seems impossible to write about the planet’s mightiest heavy metal festival without referring to the weather conditions, as it influences the outcome like nowhere else.
There is good reason for Wacken’s motto to be „Rain or Shine“ as the weather in the North of Germany is simply unpredictable. 2015s edition had brought heavy rain and flooded acres, going down in history as the worst conditions in 26 years. Needless to say, in 2016 everyone was hoping for a dry version. Forecast was pretty decent but reality a bit off, as in the end, it rained every day. Not as long and heavy as in 2015, but on and off. For those of you unfamiliar with Wacken, you must understand that a few minutes of dribble turn the holy Wacken grounds into severe mud and puddles that everyone remembers from the famous Wacken photos. Lucky are the ones wearing rubber boots!
It seemed that in the last few years, the Wacken crowd had once again changed – while in the mid 2000s it was dominated by 18 years olds who came for heavy drinking and partying, it was once again a mixed group with many plus 30/40/50.
While the infield with the main stages does not open until Thursday, the large Bullhead City Circus Tent with its two stages starts entertaining the early campers from Wednesday on. The afternoon held the international Metal Battle contest, while the night featured bands like the instrumental jazzy progressive Panzerballett and German Hämatom. Cult comedian Mambo Kurt’s popular electric organ one-man show owned the crowd as they passionately sang along songs from Abba to Slayer.
The band Skyline traditionally opened the infield concerts, as Wacken’s very own house band features festival founder Thomas Jensen on bass guitar. They were followed by Saxon, the first “professional” band ever hired to play in Wacken back in 1992, when ticket sales stalled at 3500. Over the course of three decades, the crowd has increased by ten thousands, yet the Brits seemed completely uninspired. Biff Byford explained that a balloon was released to enter the stratosphere and the attached camera sent a live broadcast to the Wacken screens. Motivation and fun is not about age, but attitude, as the following unusual Thursday line-up for Wacken standards would prove.
Foreigner, one of the bestselling bands of all times was a newcomer to W:O:A. In an interview at the press conference, boss Thomas Jensen would later admit that while he is not much of a fan of AOR, Foreigner nailed it and left the crowd stunned with a stellar performance. Charismatic singer Kelly Hansen, bravely wearing white pants in front of a sea of black clothed fans, was in top vocal shape and delivered their hits “Cold as Ice”, “Feels like the first time”, “Urgent”, “Juke Box Hero” and “I want to know what love is”. Quite a different scenery compared to the usual “bad boys” of death and black metal. Impressive indeed!
David Coverdale’s Whitesnake had last played the holy Wacken grounds in 2006 and was the perfect follow-up band, presenting hits like “Here I go again” and “Still of the night”. Unfortunately, Coverdale had a bit of a problem hitting the notes – not bad altogether, but not as smooth as we know him. Towards the end of their performance, the rain started to kick back in – but this time people weren’t running away, but kept pouring in – after all, it was time for the third Wacken show of the one and only Iron Maiden!
History was repeating itself when the infield filled up to the max – it has never been as crowded as during the Maiden shows (maybe one exception being the Rammstein show in 2013). Have you ever heard anyone say “Maiden? - Nah”. Of course not! Everyone just looooves them and the campgrounds must have been empty.
Unfortunately, their mighty Boeing 747 named “Ed Force One” had not landed in nearby Hamburg as singer and pilot Bruce Dickinson had accomplished his last flight as early as June to Gothenburg, Sweden. Nevertheless, they still managed to haul along 12 tons of their “Book of Souls” equipment for what would be the end of a 72 show tour that had started in February with stops all across the world.
While their very first Wacken show in 2008 had been a “Best of” show as part of their “Somewhere Back in Time Tour” and their 2010 performance part of their “Final Frontier World Tour”, this year’s edition was a mix of old and new - here’s the setlist:
If Eternity Should Fail woa17r02
Speed of Light
Children of the Damned
Tears of a Clown
The Red and the Black
The Trooper
Death or Glory
The Book of Souls
Hallowed Be Thy Name
Fear of the Dark
Iron Maiden
The Number of the Beast
Blood Brothers
Wasted Years
Bruce was in good shape and the band seemed to enjoy themselves. With Bruce’s 58th birthday coming up, drummer Nicko McBrain asked the “best heavy metal festival in the whole wide world’s” crowd to join in on an early birthday song for his front man. Bass guitarist Steve Harris will forever be an enigma, looking so youthful like he never ages. The night ended with a bit of rain, but no one really cared as we were “Always looking on the bright side of life”. It had just been the first infield festival night, but somehow it felt like the highlight of this year’s festival had already happened. The night ended with a special Lemmy Kilmister Tribute, remembering the Motörhead singer who passed in December 2015. W:O:A and Lemmy had been friends for years and the promoters will always honor his legacy.
Friday’s bands were a contrast to the music from the 80s, with bands like Bullet for my Valentine, Eluveite, Axel Rudi Pell and Swedish Entombed AD on the main stages. Parallel there was an attractive program in the Bullhead City Circus, with NWOBHM ladies power Girlschool, the very unique Israeli progressive Orphaned Land and Hungarian Ektomorf rocking the tent.
Ex-Nightwish serene Tarja Turunen presented her fifth studio album “The Shadow Self” on the Black Stage, while Blind Guardian were headlining the night featuring parts of their epic album “Beyond the Red Mirror. Just as Saxon, their Wacken history goes back to as early as 1992. Hard to believe that back then, promoters Jensen and Hübner were heavily in debt and almost quit their Wacken engagement.
Remember when industrial US metal Ministry had announced their retirement in 2008, just to reform for a special Wacken show in 2012 - and be re-invited for this year’s festival. However, this time they were struggling and did not deliver their best show. The sound seemed mushy and not loud enough (Hello!!! This is Wacken!!!), as if the underlying music samples were low quality. Al Jourgensen came across uninspired, quite sad for a band that can do so much better. Californian Thrashers Testament with Chief Chuck Billy on vocals ended the night with a solid performance on the True Metal stage.

The boys of Dragonforce had the honor to open Saturday’s infield performances, and lucky they were that the morning rain had stopped and the long awaited sun finally appeared.
Progressive music is still underrated at WOA, so having Symphony X play the True Metal Stage was a highlight. The New Yorkers have been around since 1994 and have played around the world, but bassist Mike LePond revealed to me that he had never seen any festival as huge and impressive as Wacken. Similar words would later come from Twisted Sister’s singer Dee Snider talking about drummer Mike Portnoy, who has played in so many bands all around the world (Dream Theater, Winery Dogs, Adrenaline Mob, Flying Colors…just to mention a few) – but 2016 marked his first time ever in Wacken.
Afternoon bands included Metal Church, Borknagar and Steel Panther, who had made their Wacken debut in 2014 and turned out to be so popular that they were quickly reinvited. Imagine high class 80s glam metal and sexually funny provocative overstatements serving stereotype clichés while Lexxi Foxx applies his lipstick holding a pink leopard Wacken designed mirror - and the crowd bringing blow-up dolls and showing their titties.
To be honest, I did not quite understand why Therion and Triptykon were playing the evening spots on the Black Stage. For once, they aren’t mainstream enough to serve the masses, yet the infield was untypically empty. And while you can’t argue about music taste, these bands were playing to a crowd that, after Steel Panther, wanted to party on with Twisted Sisters. So the remaining crowd seemed bored and sat it out, waiting for Dee Snider’s final party in Germany.

Twisted Sisters’ Wacken show marked the end of their German tour career as they will truly stop playing, as a witty Dee Snider repeatedly insisted. They performed their greatest hits and dedicated “The Price” to their late drummer AJ Perro and Lemmy. “We’re not gonna take it” seemed to never last long enough as their fans did not grow tired of singing on. The Sisters surely love Wacken and their “sick motherfuckers” and left with a worthy bang. If you ever feel sad, there is just one cure: Go get the 2003 TS edition of “Live at Wacken: The Reunion on DVD.”
Next up was Swedish Arch Enemy who had celebrated their 20th year of existence. The new singer Alissa White Gluz looked perfectly styled and pleased her male admirers. Her voice started strong, but after 10 minutes the growling became weaker and remained at that level for the rest of the show. Yet her performance was energetic and charismatic, a compliment that can’t be given to the rest of the stoic band.

The festival ended with Dio Diciples, who had brought Ronnie’s wife Wendy to the occasion. We all know and love the Dio songs, yet the majority of the performance seemed distant, lacking dedication and passion. The musicians were so busy focusing on their technical finesse that they forgot what Ronnie James was so famous about: Bringing across positive emotions. The highlight was a projection of Dio’s holograph onto the stage, a technical feature moving some fans to tears.
Wacken 2016 is history, again all peaceful as metal people are simply the best!
The next edition of Wacken will be held August 3-5, 2017. So far, Amon Amarth, Avantasia, Candlemass, Hämatom, Heaven Shall Burn, Kreator, Lacuna Coil, Mayhem, Paradise Lost, Powerwolf , Saltatio Mortis and Sonata Arctica have been booked. Tickets go on sale starting August 8th – be fast for it sells out quickly!

Review and photos: Äfa Angelhardt
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