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Waken Open Air 2017 at Wacken, Schleswig-Holstein - live review

Live Review

Venue: Wacken, Schleswig-Holstein

Alice Cooper and Marilyn Manson head up Germany’s metal Mecca

THURSDAY

Fifteen minutes is all it takes. One short, biblical downpour, compounded by the churn of 160,000 boots, and Wacken is turned into a quagmire. Not that it’s going to affect the spirit of a festival that has long become both a place of pilgrimage and an annual national rite where for many; their allegiance can be summed up as ‘Live, breathe, go to Wacken’. It’s fitting that ACCEPT’s [6] two-hour, orchestra-annointed set should include Ride Of The Valkyries as if to rise above the conditions on the ground, but if the first half drowns out guitarist Wolf Hoffmann and his crew, when the band’s own songs do start to emerge, the strings only add a layer of schmalz. Before you know what’s happening, NAPALM DEATH [7] are in the tent to kick your ass with their frantic grindcore. Even their weakest performance is still better than most of the others’, thanks to the Barney factor – you can only adore this guy’s intelligence, gentleness and energy. Playing to a packed field, VOLBEAT [6] bring in thrash and even AC/DC-styled riffs to their all-ages rock’n’roll, given a certain potency by Michael Poulsen’s booming yet wistful vocals. But this is still a middle ground that feels compensatory rather than galvanising, despite a brief appearance from Barney during Evelyn. Currently touring with De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, MAYHEM’s [9] performance turns into one noisy, hazy blur. Necrobutcher and co seem like mystical shadow creatures from the underworld, while Attila Csihar creeps around his altar of death screaming, grumbling and hissing. NILE [8] reverse the polarity, all their technical density whipping up a sonic vortex that threatens to suck the crowd into the speakers adding further levels of intoxication to an ecstatic audience.

FRIDAY

Always musically immaculate, despite their bloody stage garb, LACUNA COIL [6] rouse a midday crowd with a strident set, but one that could have turned up flat-packed for all its organic expression. Offering a somewhat wider margin of error and emerging triumphant, EVIL SCARECROW [7] have the crowd doing the crabulon and robot squares in no time. The level of inventiveness that goes into their stage props, wedded to songs that manage to remain more metal than pantomime, suggests that there’s a level of diligence that might actually be a serious endeavour. The award for the most spiritless performance of the weekend goes to THE AMITY AFFLICTION [3], especially as shouter Joel Birch is so free of emotion and energy that it makes you feel physically aggressive to watch him. TRIVIUM [6] fare better, though the most interesting moment of their show is their pyro equipment catching fire. GRAND MAGUS’s [9] knack for making songs about nobility and steel actually sound both noble and steely enthrals a rammed tent, split into two halves to chant each part of the “Viking!! Metal!!” equation. If the constant trudging across, and largely under, fields is starting to take its toll, PARADISE LOST [8] offer a welcome retreat, even if the sound is intermittently whipped away by the cruel, cruel wind. Nick Holmes has looked like he’s been enjoying himself a lot more onstage of late, and the energy transfers to a set that traverses the crushing doom of Beneath Broken Earth and relatively upbeat, gothic trudge of Say Just Words with stately conviction. Having lost his guitar on the way, THE DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN [7] guitarist Ben Weinman is not in the best mood. The distance between the band and the audience also takes its toll, making the performance unusually tame. Playing the main Harder stage to an unexpectedly small crowd, EMPEROR’s [8] celebration of Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk widens the lens of the original, navigating the sweep and grandeur more than the tumult. There is magic being wrought tonight, though, Ihsahn still leading us across a threshold where all your senses are supercharged. ARCHITECTS [7] showcase a pretty perfect performance, matching great sound, an awesome light show and good energy, even if there’s not much fury or spontaneity. MARILYN MANSON [4] has plenty of that; his performance can simply be described as a disaster. After coming onstage almost on time and playing some OK first songs, the show quickly goes downhill, to the point where Manson is just wordlessly laying on the floor with Twiggy and then forcing a crew member to translate his shit-faced announcements. Go home, Marilyn, you’re drunk.

SATURDAY

Sounding like the final victory song of a fantasy epic, TWILIGHT FORCE’s [8] absurd exuberance doesn’t make sense so much as override it, as inflatable swords are raised aloft and massed choral chants forge a momentum where it would only be foolish to let go. MAX & IGGOR CAVALERA [7] bring Roots Sepultura’s album back to life. Twenty-one years later, it hasn’t lost any of its force and especially when the brothers get lost in their percussion instrumentals, you remember what a damn great record this was. They’re followed by two German favourites who could hardly be any more different: HEAVEN SHALL BURN [7] with their earthshaking metalcore, and POWERWOLF [6] with their primitivity and obscenity – and the audience loves both of them equally. That ORANGE GOBLIN’s [8] first Wacken appearance would win over the hordes was never in doubt, but as Ben Ward raises up moshpits as though through sheer physical will, today’s set feels like a celebration of something elemental. The best show of the weekend is played by ALICE COOPER [9], though. His performance is like an actual rock musical, with costumes, plotlines and everything. Also, the band sounds amazing. Look, Marilyn, this is how entertainment works! KATATONIA [8] create a beautiful emotional atmosphere on the third stage. You can’t dwell on their melancholy and Jonas Renkse’s angelic voice for too long, though, because AVANTASIA [3] are already set up. So! Much! Drama! Everything about their performance is over the top. Tobias Sammet’s squawking voice and long announcements quickly become unbearable. In the tent, BRITISH LION [7] offer a powerful counterweight. Steve Harris’s basslines of course thump and twang with a titanium pulse, but the richness of Richard Taylor’s vocals, aligned with subtly progressive dynamics and a vintage warmth, prove this is more than a one-man show as the course of heavy metal once more runs deep.

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