Wacken Open Air 2015 – Day 3 Part II

Monday, 26th October 2015

After Queensryche’s superb performance, it was time to head back to the Bull Head City Tent to see Thyrfing. This unfortunately meant I had to miss the majority of Annihilator’s set, who were thrashing the audience at the Party Stage. I stayed for the first few opening numbers before heading back to the tent and Jeff and the boys sounded in fine form. Annihilator opened with two songs of their latest album, Suicide Society, before launching into longtime set staple “King of the Kill.” Being from the U.S., it’s not often I get to see Annihilator, however it’s even rarer I have the opportunity to see Thyrfing.

Thyrfing

Thyrfing surprised right from the start, as columns of flame shot up from the front of the stage as the band launched into “Mot Helgrind.” The Swedish Vikings weren’t messing around; they came to conquer Wacken. Although the band was only allotted a 45-minute set, they used their time wisely, blasting from one song to the next with very little, if any, stage banter between salvos.

As the next 45 minutes slipped by, I lost track of time and place, as Thyrfing’s epic Viking metal has a way of transporting you to a faraway land. I may have slipped even further, if not for the constant head banging brought on by consistent, pounding rhythms, hammering riffs and thunderous drums. Vocalist Jens Rydén barked out harsh screams, as Patrik Lindgren, Fredrik Hernborg, and Joakim Kristensson all head banged in unison behind him. The pyro continued throughout the tight, powerful performance. Thyrfing were able to squeeze in eight songs, which closed with back to back assaults with “Storms of Asgard” and “Kaos aeterkomst.” Hopefully they get a longer set and a bigger stage the next time around.

Dream Theater

My stint in the tent was short-lived, as I returned to the infield for Dream Theater’s Wacken debut. I had never seen Dream Theater, so I was looking forward to their performance. Although I arrived late and missed opener “Afterlife,” I was just in time to catch one of my all-time favorite DT tunes, the nearly 10-minute epic “Metropolis Pt. 1: The Miracle and the Sleeper” – definitely a highlight of this year’s festival for this scribe.

Because I was late to the party, and also because I was planning to turn around and head back to the tent shortly after, I remained toward the back of the massive crowd that gathered in front of the True Metal Stage. I wasn’t bothered because large video screens offered an opportunity to see what was happening on stage, and James Labrie certainly has the pipes to project. Had I been closer, I’m sure I would have been drawn in to the intricate playing of John Petrucci and John Myung, but being at a distance allowed me to focus on the band as a whole and take in the music and performance overall. While I admit it would have been nice to see Mike Portnoy behind the kit, Mike Mangini is well qualified to fill his shoes.

Dream Theater possesses some of the most talented musicians at their instruments, and with that some brilliant technical skills, however the band does not let that be the defining factor of their music in the name of forsaking emotion. Quite the opposite in fact, as a number of people in the front row were visibly brought to tears during “The Spirit Carries On.” DT turned in an emotional and power-packed performance, full of technical skill and instrumental wizardry.

As it wasn’t quite time for Samael to hit the stage in the tent, I remained at the infield long enough to catch the intro of Black Label Society, who were continuing main stage proceedings on the Black Metal Stage. Following one of the more creative and fun intros of mashup “Whole Lotta Sabbath” alternating between “War Pigs” and “Whole Lotta Love,” BLS took the stage. Zack Wylde always surrounds himself with capable musicians, this time around featuring ex-Lizzy Borden axe-man Dario Lorina as his six-string partner in crime. I stayed long enough to hear “The Beginning…At Last,” “Funeral Bell” and “Bleed for Me” before heading back to the tent.

Samael

A rare treat getting to see Swiss industrial metal outfit Samael was made all the more special by the band celebrating its Ceremony of Opposites release by playing it in full. This landmark release saw the hardened black metal band start to introduce electronic elements to its sound, taking things in a more industrial direction, which the band would delve into further on future releases. Hearing it performed live is nothing short of pulverizing.

Pummeling riffs and metallic blasts bombarded the audience from start to finish, while a frenetic light show accompanied the proceedings. Vorph was front and center throughout, his raspy growls igniting the audience to move and jump. I was positioned toward the back of the crowd, as the space in front of the W.E.T. Stage had filled in nicely. Samael delivered a tight performance filled with energy and intensity that was capped off by “The Truth is Marching On” – the only song not from Ceremony of Opposites.

After witnessing Samael level the Bull Head City Tent, it was time to return to the infield to catch In Flames. In Flames is one of my favorite bands, but the handful of times I’ve been able to see them live, the set lists have been less than impressive, as the band chooses to steer clear of much of its early material – at this point, we’re lucky if they play something as far back as Clayman. That having been said, In Flames has never faltered in the energy department when it comes to the live setting, so I still enjoy seeing them.

My original plan was to watch the first half of their set and then head back to Bull Head City to see Nuclear Assault, who I have never seen. However, once I got to the infield and saw the size of the crowd gathering for In Flames, plus with much of the ground still a thick mud mixture to slog through, I decided to stay for the entirety of In Flames’ headlining performance and over the next 75 minutes, I was left with no doubt I had made the right decision.

In Flames

When it comes to headlining festivals of the magnitude of Wacken, something In Flames has become accustomed to over the years, the Swedes don’t mess around. The band might as well have been playing a hometown gig, as this was easily the most vicious I’ve seen and heard them. Anders even said as much when he said “it feels like we’re home.” They were on top of their game and eating up every minute of thrashing the throngs of metalheads that filled the field in front of them.

The band was firing on all cylinders right from the start, as confetti exploded from cannons lining the front of the stage as they ripped into “Only for the Weak,” kicking things off in grand fashion and sending the masses into a sea of bouncing bodies. Dressed from head to toe in white, Anders stood out like a sore thumb from the rest of his bandmates, who were clad in black (shadows? – sorry, couldn’t resist).

Although the band didn’t reach back further than Clayman in constructing the setlist (it wouldn’t kill you to throw us something from The Jester Race, Whoracle, or Colony), one of the two selections from Clayman was “Bullet Ride,” one of my all-time favorite IF songs. Like a well-oiled machine, pulsing and chugging from one selection to the next, it became apparent that on this night, it didn’t matter what the band played because they attacked every song with a fervor and hunger as if they were 10 years younger. Many have complained about Anders leaving behind the harsh vocals and choosing to “sing” more on later albums, but that signature roar, seldom seen these days, showed up repeatedly throughout the unrelenting performance. Anders also knew when to dial the aggression back and turn up the emotion, as he did during “The Chosen Pessimist.”

An elaborate light show, plenty of stage fog, flash pots and fireworks added to an impressive headline performance that proved In Flames came to take Wacken by storm. The set closed, as always, with back to back salvos of “Take This Life” and “My Sweet Shadow” and loads more fireworks.

Running Wild

Setting up shop next on the Black Metal Stage was one of the reasons I returned to Wacken – “Rockin’ Rolf” Kasparek and his merry mates in Running Wild. Although I was fortunate enough to see Running Wild at Wacken in 2009 for the festival’s 20th anniversary, I never thought I would have the opportunity to see them again since that performance was billed “The Final Jolly Roger,” as it was supposed to be the band’s final live performance. But thankfully Rolf decided to wrestle the band from Davey Jones’ locker and bring it back from the depths.

As special as it was to see Running Wild take the stage once again, decked out in full pirate regalia of course, the real gem of this 90-minute performance was the setlist. Where most bands these days deliver a predictable setlist filled with standard staples and hits, with a few more obscure songs as curveballs if you’re lucky, Running Wild did the opposite and unleashed a performance filled with surprises.

How about setting sail with “Under Jolly Roger,” a quintessential encore song for the swashbucklers over the years, for starters? This was followed up with the rarely played “Jennings’ Revenge” from Pile of Skulls. Newer albums such as Resilient and Shadowmaker got plenty of attention with the live debuts of “Soldiers of Fortune,” “Bloody Island,” “Riding on the Tide,” and “Locomotive,” for which smoke columns were used to great effect to resemble train smoke stacks. As if that wasn’t enough, there was also the world premiere of “Into the West,” a new song off the band’s upcoming untitled album. Old favorites such as “Genghis Khan,” “Riding on the Storm” and “Bad to the Bone” were aired next to additional rare treats, including “Raw Ride,” “White Masque,” “Diamonds of the Black Chest” and set closer “Little Big Horn.”

Although it was late and had grown quite cold by the time the band left the stage, it was such a joy to see Rolf and the boys back in the live setting, delivering those familiar galloping rhythms, rumbling bass lines and infectious riffs so synonymous with Running Wild’s pirate-themed metal. Let’s hope that new album isn’t too far off.

Although I could have easily called it a night and headed back to camp, I decided to stick around the infield and take in The BossHoss, a German cowboy-themed party band of sorts. I watched from afar and while they really weren’t my thing, the audience that endured the chillier temperatures seemed to enjoy the band’s cowboy shtick. The band closed their set with two covers, one of which was Cameo’s “Word Up.”

Wacken is known for booking a variety of bands, even those that aren’t all that metal. Taking chances on unknown bands like this can often pay off in discovering something new and exciting, as was the case for me in 2011 with the Finnish humppa band, Eläkeläiset, which delivered one of the most crazy yet fun performances of the festival that year. Although this was not the case with The BossHoss, I returned to camp more than satisfied with my fill of metal, ready to rest up for the final day of the festival.

Wacken Open Air official website