You may have noticed that I like, and write a lot about, the Wacken Open Air heavy metal festival. As a diehard “Wackener,” I’ve spent the last several years collecting live DVDs about the festival. My general objective is to own a DVD of every Wacken festival I’ve attended–I still have two more to go (2011, which I just haven’t bought yet, and 2014, for which I don’t think the DVD is out yet). But in late June this year, many weeks before the actual festival, I started watching all of my Wacken DVDs in order, back-to-back. I have never done this before. I thought it might make an interesting blog post, so here we are.
While I suppose you could call this a “binge-watch,” I didn’t watch the videos all in one sitting. In fact I did about 20 to 30 minutes at a time, with some multiple sessions on a few days. I calculate with all the nine editions pictured above, since late June I’ve watched approximately 27 hours of Wacken videos, captured over nine years from 2000 to 2009. It’s hard even to tally up how many band performances are on these DVDs, as some are partial, and are interspersed with interviews, documentary footage, clips taken in the campground, and all sorts of things. Indeed across these nine videos one really gets the breadth and depth of the Wacken experience, even if you’ve never been there. I thought I would say a little bit about each one of these, without belaboring any one of them.
Metal Warriors: Wacken 2000 Special Report
This DVD was produced by Metal Warriors, a video metal magazine from Australia, and distributed by Nuclear Blast Records. It’s interesting because it focuses mostly on Australians going to the festival, and let me tell you, they have a long trip. The centerpiece of the video is the performance by Vanishing Point, an Aussie band. I don’t recall watching their set in 2000, but there are other sets here by Stratovarius, Rhapsody, Angel Witch and Steel Attack that I do remember seeing. It’s amazing how small the festival looked 15 years ago and how niche it then was. I am also in this video! In one brief scene as an Aussie journalist is being interviewed–filmed in the backstage/VIP area–you can see me walking by in the background. It’s amazing how I only had one chin back then.
Wacken Metal Overdrive (2001-2002)
Of all the Wacken videos I have, this one is the weakest. It was produced, I think, by SPV Records from Germany, and despite a 117 minute running time features only ten bands: Holy Moses, Grave Digger, Vicious Rumors, Rose Tattoo, Sodom, HammerFall, Dimmu Borgir, Motörhead and Saxon. They’re decent sets, but not arranged very well. The video never lets you know which of the two festivals it covers, 2001 or 2002, you’re watching. The interviews are strictly paint-by-numbers and there’s no real attempt to investigate the festival experience for fans by going into the campground or anything. This one was kind of a chore to get through.
Armageddon Over Wacken–Live 2003
The first–and best–of the Wacken films by director Ronald Matthes, I reviewed it extensively here. This is far and away my favorite Wacken DVD and the one I’ve watched the most times. My poor husband is sick of it.
Armageddon Over Wacken–Live 2004
Matthes’s second outing is almost as good as his first. This video is much longer (over 3 hours as opposed to 2 1/2), but hits so many of the highlights of the 2004 festival including Brainstorm, Anthrax, Motörhead, Dio, Doro with Blaze Bayley, Death Angel and Cannibal Corpse. It’s shot beautifully, like a Hollywood movie. Audio is as crisp as the video. And Matthes does get down in the trenches–that being the campground, the village, even the little bars in Hamburg where metal fans gather in the days before the festival. There’s also great documentary footage of how they build and run the festival from logistics to security. This DVD also contains one of the most unintentionally amusing metal sets ever put on film: Mayhem, who played in the middle of a hot afternoon and whose black metal theatrics looked especially ridiculous. It’s good for some laughs even if you’re a Mayhem fan.
Armageddon Over Wacken–Live 2005
As great as Matthes’s first two Wacken videos are, the 2005 edition is not nearly as satisfying. Part of it isn’t his fault: the weather in 2005 was dreadful, very rainy and muddy, and not conducive to spectacular magic-hour visuals like in 2003 and 2004. But for some reason Matthes chose to shoot many of the bands in a weird, grainy color-leached style or even in black and white. The effect makes it look gloomy. There are good performances by Candlemass, Obituary, Overill, Stratovarius and Accept, but strangely Matthes cuts short some of the better songs–for example, giving us only the opening of Edguy’s “King of Fools.” The engagement with the fans, campground and party aspects of the festival isn’t nearly as strong. This is among the weaker of the Wacken DVDs, a shame because despite the weather I remember 2005 very fondly.
Live at Wacken 2006
For some reason Matthes and Roax Films (the production company that makes most of these DVDs) dropped the “Armageddon” title beginning in 2006, though Matthes was still at the helm for this one, which is a very solid, fun and enjoyable presentation. The documentary footage is beefed up again this time, going into the pre-party and the after-show party as well as campground excursions, interviews and glimpses of the logistics. The bands we see include Nevermore, Ministry, Amon Amarth, Scorpions (one of the best Wacken performances), Finntroll, Emperor, Soulfly and Carnivore. Two-thousand-six was a good one to have as a “middle” Wacken: not your first, not your last. So is this DVD.
Live at Wacken 2007
This video, again by Ronald Matthes, is virtually indistinguishable from the 2006 edition. The shots are beautiful, the audio is first-rate, and there are funny and interesting glimpses of fans, security guards, organizers, bands and press. Sacred Reich, Napalm Death, Rage, Lacuna Coil, Immortal, Cannibal Corpse and Saxon round out the main acts, but this one is so long (six hours on two DVDs!) that it would take forever to list all the bands. While I’m not visible anywhere in this video, there is a very brief shot of the campsite where I was staying. No one was home when the cameraman was there, evidently.
Live at Wacken 2008
This video is pretty solid, but it’s not one of the all-time highlights. I’m glad that the DVDs focus on some of the lesser-known bands that played on the WET Stage and other side stages, but would it have killed Matthes to put two Iron Maiden tracks on the disc instead of just one? The documentary footage on this one is a little less engaging than the previous two, for what reason I can’t put my finger on. Still, this is one to have, especially if you were there.
Live at Wacken 2009
This is the last of the DVDs I have, and easily the longest–stretching over three discs–the first of the DVDs to go triple. Consequently it takes a very long time to get through, but you really can’t complain. Highlights are UFO, Gamma Ray, Dragonforce, Rage, Cathedral, Testament, Machine Head and Korpiklaani but there are so many others too. This doesn’t hum quite like the 2003 and 2004 versions do, but it’s pretty good. Doro’s “We Are The Metalheads” is a thematic refrain. This is the only other of the Wacken videos in which I am recognizable; you can see me sitting at a table in the backstage area while a band is being interviewed, though I forgot to write down which one.
By the end of these nine discs I’d seen a lot of Wacken! It’s not the same as being there, but these videos are a lot of fun, and any serious metal fan with an interest in the W:O:A festival should own them. Caveat: these are all PAL (European) format, although since most people now play DVDs on or through their computers that’s starting to matter much less than it did before. I think all or most of them are available on Amazon or Metaltix.com.