Wacken Open Air – Day 3 Part I

Monday, 5th October 2015

As I made my way to the Party Stage at the infield in preparation for Angra, I passed the Black Stage, where Epica had already started proceedings. I heard Simone exclaim, “We’re here to serve you an epic breakfast!” On any other day, I would have stayed at the Black Stage and gladly taken in the performance, as Epica delivered my favorite performance of Wacken 2009, but it’s a rare opportunity indeed to see Angra.

Angra

By the time I made it to the stage, Angra was already in the middle of “Spread Your Fire,” meaning I had missed “Newborn Me” off their latest album, Secret Garden. Although a decent crowd had turned out for Angra, it was by no means overcrowded and I was able to find a spot close to the stage and revel in their progressive power metal.

One of my first thoughts was how much vocalist Fabio Lione (Rhapsody of Fire) resembled “Weird Al” Yankovic, with his long curly locks. However, that was quickly dismissed with the dazzling antics of guitar tandem Kiko Loureiro and Rafael Bittencourt. What a joy it was to watch these two at work up close and personal. The rhythm section of bassist Felipe Andreoli and drummer Bruno Valverde provided a strong foundation throughout the all-too short 7-song set. Lione sounded great, his soaring vocals ringing out and carrying across the wind as he bounded about the stage. Highlights included “Angels Cry,” “Nothing to Say” and closer “Carry On/Nova Era.” Angra provided a great wakeup call and we couldn’t have asked for a better start to the first full day of music.

Ensiferum

Next up on the True Metal Stage were one of the few pagan metal bands on this year’s lineup, Finnish folk metal partiers Ensiferum; always a popular fan favorite. The anticipation built as “March to War” played over the speakers and the band soon ran out on stage and charged into “Axe of Judgment” from their excellent One Man Army album released earlier this year.

Petri Lindroos has a great stage presence as a frontman, growling and barking into the mic while taking plenty of guitar solo poses. Guitarist Markus Toivonen and bassist Sami Hinkka took turns jumping up on podiums either side of the stage to headbang and thrash away, constantly running from to side to side and playing to the audience, which saw fists pumping, heads banging, and unison shouts and chants. Janne Parviainen bashed away at his kit, while keyboardist Emmi Silvennoinen provided just the right amount of melody and atmosphere when she wasn’t windmill headbanging. The band were clearly enjoying themselves, as they fed off the audience, which heartily welcomed Ensiferum back to the holy metal land.

The Finns delivered a 10-song set that spanned their discography, with favorites such as “Twilight Tavern” and “Ahti” and treats such as “Treacherous Gods,” “From Afar” and the crowd sing-along “Lai Lai Hai.” “Burning Leaves” and “Two of Spades” closed out a thrilling set that had the crowd dancing in the mud and surfing overhead. It’s impossible not to have fun during an Ensiferum performance. Although we didn’t get to hear “Iron,” I don’t think anyone was complaining.

Falconer

Falconer’s power/folk metal was the perfect follow-up to Ensiferum, so back to the Party Stage I went. With the band announcing that its final live performance would take place at ProgPower USA in September, their Wacken appearance was one of the last chances to see them in a live setting.

One of the hallmarks of Falconer’s sound is the rich, powerful vocals of the incomparable Mathias Blad. Delivered with crystal clarity and sharp precision, he sounds just as good live as he does on record, if not better. Similar to Angra, guitarists Stefan Weinerhall and Jimmy Hedlund were all over the stage, running from side to side, posing at the front of the stage with bassist Magnus Linhardt, or joining drummer Karsten Larsson for some tradeoffs. Falconer finds the perfect balance of playful folk melodies and speedy, heavier tempos with double-bass intensity.

The Swedes opened with the infectious “Halls and Chambers” from Black Moon Rising and followed it with “A Quest for the Crown” from the band’s eponymous debut. Half of the set consisted of material from these career bookending albums, as we also got “Upon the Grave of Guilt,” “Royal Galley” and “Mindtraveller” as well as “Locust Swarm” and “Age of Runes.” The Swedish language “Vargaskall” from Among Beggars and Thieves and a pair of songs each from Northwind, with the title track and “Catch the Shadows,” and Chapters for a Vale Forlorn, with “Enter the Glade” and closer “The Clarion Call,” rounded out the 12-song set. It’s a shame the band is stepping off the stage for good in the live arena, but hopefully we’ll continue to get new studio output.

Kvelertak

I was a bit surprised to see Kvelertak were playing the True Metal Stage, as the last time they played Wacken in 2011, they played in the Bull Head City Tent, but it was great seeing the Norwegians continue to grow and move on to bigger and better things. The mud may have been thick at the infield, but that didn’t stop people from moshing and thrashing to Kvelertak’s unique blend of hardcore, crust punk, black metal, and rock ‘n’ roll.

During their 2011 wrestling tent performance, vocalist Erlend Hjelvik used the surroundings to his advantage and ran across the catwalk and jumped into the wrestling ring during the performance. Although there was no wrestling ring in front of the main stages, Hjelvik didn’t let that stop him from diving out into the crowd and surfing during one of the songs. Kvelertak put on an entertaining show, full of attitude and energy, delivering a set equally balanced between their two studio albums, including “Kvelertak,” “Evig Vandrar” and “Bruane Brenn” from sophomore effort Meir and “Blodtorst,” “Fossegrim” and “Mjod” from their self-titled debut.

As Kvelertak wrapped things up on the True Metal Stage, At The Gates were preparing a Swedish melodic death metal showcase on the Black Metal Stage, while Stratovarius were executing a power metal party on the Party Stage. Although I had seen both bands before, I opted for Stratovarius being the rarer opportunity, as At The Gates tours the U.S. more often.

Stratovarius

Stratovarius kicked things off with “Black Diamond” and “Eagleheart.” Timo Kotipelto may be small in stature, but he’s got a big voice and he sounded in fine form, as he ran about the stage with a big smile on his face. While Jens Johansson always looks like he’s having a good time behind the keyboard, it was clear the band was enjoying its return to Wacken as much as the fans. And it must be said Matias Kupiainen has been a more than suitable replacement for former longtime guitarist Timo Tolkki, who left the band in 2008. Kupiainen can shred with the best of them, his fingers dancing across the fret board as he displayed some impressive guitar acrobatics.

Stratovarius took the stage at 4 p.m., and by this time the sun was out and warming things up nicely, which provided a great backdrop for the band’s speedy yet happy power metal sound. The majority of the set focused on Visions and Nemesis, with “Legions” and “Paradise” from the former and “Dragons” and “Unbreakable” from the latter. We also got “Speed of Light” and “Against the Wind” in addition to the live debut of “Shine in the Dark” from the recently released Eternal album. Stratovarius ended things with “Hunting High and Low,” in which Kotipelto led the audience in one final rousing sing-along.

Queensrÿche

Ever since Todd La Torre (ex-Crimson Glory) joined Michael Wilton, Scott Rockenfield, Eddie Jackson, and Parker Lundgren, Queensrÿche has been on fire. With Todd in the fold, the band has returned to its roots by not only performing the classics from its early era, but also writing current music that fits more in line with gems such as Rage for Order and Operation: Mindcrime.

Although the band has a new album coming out very soon, their set at Wacken was heavily focused on their early albums, specifically The Warning and Operation: Mindcrime, as we got four songs from each. Opening with “Anarchy-X,” the band tore through “Nightrider,” “Breaking the Silence” and “The Whisper.” Whip and Parker traded leads, licks and solos, while Eddie and Scott laid down a rock solid rhythm section. What’s great about Todd is that he can reach back and hit those highs that Mr. Tate is, unfortunately, incapable of these days, while also adding some flare to make the songs his own.

A simple nostalgia act, Queensrÿche is not. Far from it, in fact. Putting the, at times, ugly divorce with Tate behind them, the band have a renewed energy and new found spirit, which is evident in the performances. “En Force,” “Warning,” “The Needle Lies” and “NM 156” were aired one after the next, resurrecting past glories and the crowd ate it up. Deciding to treat the audience to a new song from the upcoming album, Condition Hüman, next came “Arrow of Time,” the only song in the set post-Operation: Mindcrime. The new song sounded great and shows the band picked up where they left off from the previous self-titled album, which introduced La Torre to the Queensrÿche recorded output. “Eyes of a Stranger,” “Queen of the Reich” and “Take Hold of the Flame” closed out an excellent set of Queensrÿche classics. Believe it or not, this was Queensrÿche’s Wacken debut, but if this performance was any indication, they will surely be back to ‘Ryche ‘n’ Roll the holy land.

Wacken official website