wacken firebarrel

Wacken Open Air 2013 is history. I wasn’t there, but several of my friends were, and I spent most of the weekend either following the news on the Wacken website, watching the live and recorded streaming presented by NDR, or keeping up with my friends’ texts that they sent from the festival. Not having been there I can’t offer a definitive assessment of how the festival went from the perspective of being “on the ground,” but as a veteran of 11 Wacken Open Air festivals (2000-2009, and 2011), I think I can offer a reasoned opinion based on what I saw and what my friends have said.

My impression is that this was a pretty good festival, not the all-time best, but definitely well-executed, and it certainly maintains the W:O:A’s sterling tradition of being the greatest metal festival in the world. It seems to me that 2013 resembles more those past Wackens where there wasn’t necessarily a big-flash dominant headliner (2005 and 2009 are examples) than one where the festival was the coronation of an awe-inspiring lead act (like 2008 was, the year Iron Maiden first headlined). Isahn, Alice Cooper, Nightwish and Anthrax were the biggest and flashiest acts on the bill this year, but it seems like more of the load was carried by the support acts,  with which the running order was extraordinarily rich. I noticed that before they left my friends were not united on which bands they really wanted to see. Usually if there’s a big headliner like Iron Maiden or Judas Priest, they will say things like, “Besides Maiden, I really want to see X, Y, Z…” and I didn’t hear many of those comments this year.

Unfortunately 2013 may be remembered as the year Motörhead cut their set short due to the health issues of frontman Lemmy Kilmister. That was obviously beyond anyone’s control and as metalheads our first thought should be to wish Lemmy a speedy recovery. Last night as I was going to bed–it was early morning in Wacken–a rumor started on Twitter that Lemmy had in fact died, which would have made the partial set at Wacken 2013 Motörhead’s last-ever performance. Thankfully the rumor was not true–Lemmy is very much still alive at least as of this writing. Hopefully Motörhead will return in a future festival to finish their set.

The biggest contrast between this year and 2012 was undoubtedly the weather. It rained a couple of times this year, but it was absolutely nothing like the nightmarish quagmire of last year–which, I’m told (I was “in exile” for Wacken last year too) was even worse than 2005, which is hard to imagine. My friends didn’t complain too much about rain–I observed it was raining pretty heavily during the Sonata Arctica set–but more about heat. Super hot Wackens are pretty hard to deal with; 2004 was probably the worst on record, with temperatures routinely in the 90s during the day. I don’t think 2013 was quite that bad, because I did not notice that the firefighters were hosing down the crowd as they did in 2004 and have done on a few other occasions.

The performances I saw on live streaming looked to be very good. I really wish I had been there to see the Ugly Kid Joe reunion. They were one of my all time favorite bands of the 90s and I still listen to their stuff often. As always, Doro Pesch put on a great show. Sonata Arctica’s set was one of their better ones; in 2008 they were a little lackluster, but they were cooking this year. Candlemass often plays Wacken, and their set was pretty comparable to others they’ve done. Motörhead was a bit lackluster for obvious reasons. I unfortunately missed Anthrax, and I’m not a huge fan of Isahn’s solo work. But for the most part it looked like a very solid show.

One thing you simply can’t get from watching at home is the party, and that’s the essence of Wacken. The sense of bonding, of friends, of party and celebration and merriment, doesn’t come through a web stream or a text message. For that reason, while it was obvious everyone was having fun, this weekend was a little melancholy for me. For a decade of my life I spent every first weekend of August on those fields in Schleswig-Holstein, and some of the most epic moments of my life as a metalhead occurred there. As I’ve said before, I could live at Wacken. I could die at Wacken. Now, being married and having my life radically changed from what it was the very first time I went to the festival 13 years ago, my love for it hasn’t changed. I still want to be there.

I will be in 2014. I made that promise to my friends three years ago, and I intend to keep it–which is why I keep hitting “reload” on the Metaltix.de page where 2014 W:O:A Christmas package tickets went on sale just this afternoon. Next year’s Wacken report will not be the half-assed crap that this one is. I’ll be there, and it’s going to rock!

See you in Germany in August 2014!