Wacken 2015: Day One

Wacken is muddy as fuck this year. But mud cannot kill metal – or fun. Weather can’t defeat this festival.

Today is less about the jam-packed crazy onslaught of A-grade metal stars that make you um and ah over who to see when they clash, and more about spectacles you are unlikely to see ever again, and certainly haven’t seen before. And in an era of repetitive headliners, this is an achievement in and of itself. That doesn’t necessarily guarantee fun, though. U.D.O. playing with the German army’s band, for example, has a touch of the Metallica S&M feel; sure, the band playing have some killer songs and are astute, accomplished and charismatic performers, but exactly what the wind and brass add to the metal is open for debate. It’s particularly clunky when classical music is added – Puccini’s Un bel di vedremo from Madame Butterfly borders on the cringe-inducing – but no one in the huge crowd is bored.

In Extremo’s combination of metal, and harp, hurdy gurdy, shawn, bagpipes and other assorted folk instruments then proves enormously popular. They are less obviously party-friendly than their musical comparisons, but playing to a crowd that both knows and gets them (and is vast and up for a party) means the entertainment factor is high.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Rob Zombie. While it’s not the band’s fault that most of their gear is AWOL and their sound correspondingly less than perfect, the cumbersome, shouted performances are less forgivable. Ropey covers of Metallica, Ramones and James Brown (YA RLY) don’t help, nor does the absence of the spectacular production Rob has become so popular for. Understandably, there’s a few people heading for elsewhere.

The flipside is that the thoroughly excellent Combichrist have a packed tent, and they aren’t just there to get out of the intermittent rain. The Norwegian-American troupe are abrasive and crunching and thoroughly danceable. There’s not a huge amount of visible evidence to support the latter adjective, but there are plenty of nodding heads and tapping feet, at the very least.

The stage managing masterclass of tonight’s headliners takes more getting your head around – and a little logistical explanation. Wacken’s two main stages sit right next to each other, meaning you don’t need to move to see one if you are at the other – a la Hellfest. So it is, theoretically, possible for two bands to play together on different stages. Tonight we see if this is practically possible. First, the newly returned Savatage – playing their first show in over a decade – play a sumptuous selection of prog metal greats on one of the main stages, combining crunch and melody with artful texture. Then Trans-Siberian Orchestra – who of course share key members with Savatage – perform on the other stage. Then, mixed between the stages, the two troupes perform together, a small army of guitarists, keyboard players, backing singers, violinists and assorted other musicians coming together to put on a spectacular display of showmanship. The only slight drawback is that, even if you can follow what’s going on, you have to be an expert on both bands to truly appreciate what you’re watching – and from the expressions on the crowd’s faces and the absence of singing along, not that many here are. Still, it’s so crazily ambitious, you can’t possibly be bored or miserable, even in the ankle deep squelch.