My Day at Wacken, by Senior Editor Kory Grow
The Wacken Open Air festival is legendary: It’s the world’s biggest metal concert. Over the past 20 years, the German mud pit–cum–village has become metal’s Mecca, attracting nearly 100,000 headbangers every summer who camp out for four days to worship the bands as their Kaaba. This year, I made my metal Hajj to see thrash prophets Slayer, who headlined the main stage on Friday, August 6.
I arrived at Wacken from Hamburg in the early afternoon. What happened from that point on was a blur. I’ve been trying to make sense of it for the past month, so I’m glad I got some pictures to explain what happened. That said, here’s the best—and worst—of my day at Wacken.
Lifetime cake topper (step-by-step): Watching Slayer…headline Wacken…from the side of the stage…in Jeff Hanneman’s guitar pit. I’ve been a Slayer fan ever since I was able to make the devil horns, and I’ve never been able to very close to the stage. (Too many mosh pits full of severed limbs to wade through.) So watching one of my favorite bands from the second-most important spot on the stage was a dream come true. There are few sights as intense as watching Hanneman and drummer Dave Lombardo lock eyes during “Dead Skin Mask.”
Fun fact: Hanneman’s amps have his name on them designed to look like the Heineken logo.
The set list was great, too!
Lifetime Sheiße moment: Forgetting my American batteries at the hotel in Hamburg. At first I was stoked that the Wacken supermarket (that’s right, a festival with its own supermarket) had AA batteries…until they died within five minutes. Thus, the number of Slayer shots I got from my perch in Hanneman’s guitar pic is few.
Thankfully, we had Thomas Schlein shooting them from the pit, so you can see these.
Wanna get high? Another highlight (sorry, had to) was going up in the Jägermeister sky bar. The fine folks at Jäger were kind enough to have invited me to Wacken in the first place, so how could I say no to taking a trip up some crazy bar dangling from a string a couple hundred feet above Germany? I made this video of the trip up. Acrophobes should just move on, but those of you who want to see what Wacken really looks like, check out the below. Now watch the video again and imagine seeing that while drunk on Jäger.
Most Metal Rumor about Jägermeister: That Jäger contains deer blood as an ingredient. Well, I asked their PR person if that's true, and this is what I learned: Basically in 1985, Jägermeister was the drink of choice for most bartenders in Louisiana. They would take shots to stay awake at night and keep the party going. Then a story came out in the Baton Rouge Advocate saying that Jägermeister was “liquid valium” and had mysterious ingredients in it such as deer blood (because of the picture on the bottle) that made it act as an aphrodisiac.
Full Metal Village: Perhaps the thing that wowed me most about Wacken was the community of metalheads. People camp out for days there—literally—and one of the guys backstage was telling me that the campsite stretches into neighboring villages. (By the way, check out what Wacken usually looks like here, and for an even better look, check out the documentary I stole thes subtitle from, Full Metal Village, which features interviews with the farmers who live here year-round and sell their jams to metalheads.) One of the regular events at Wacken is this strange little village, sort of a mini-Wacken where small bands play covers and they grill meat on the engines of cars.
This guy: Yeah, that’s all I got for this one.
Black metal in broad daylight: My third-favorite band of the day that I got to see was black-metallers Endstille. They live about an hour from Wacken, and they had the crowd playing in the palm of their hands. Mostly because they had fire in broad daylight.
Oh, and here’s bassist Cruor hanging out backstage.
It’s good to be the King: Second only to seeing Slayer play onstage, was getting to meet Kerry King backstage. But leading up to that, I got a tour of the whole backstage from the festival’s production manager. He explained that they set up for two weeks before and clean up for three weeks afterwards. They had two stages this year (which were 50 meters high) and they may have three stages next year if the band they’ve asked to play Wacken (rhymes with Metallica) agrees to play. He showed me the electric generators that power the whole fest and explained that they have to dig trenches to get power to the sound booths, or the fans might wreck them. I knew it was a huge production, but I never knew the work that went into it.
After the tour, I went into the artist’s area and met with Kerry King, who was feeling a little under the weather. Didn’t show it though. We talked a little bit about Revolver’s Slayer special, which he said he liked. I asked him about the early Slayer fliers that say “black metal” on them and he explained that they didn’t have the word thrash back then. I’d never imagined a world without thrash before, so it was cool to get some perspective.
Band I’d never heard of that blew my mind: Corvus Corax. This group of opera-loving, uh, Vikings closed out the night. They had men dressed as knights, women dressed as queens, and an orchestra onstage. Best yet, they had more fire than hell. We’re talking moats of fire around the stage, fireballs shooting higher than the stage from up front, and fireballs behind the audience near the sound booth. The band played their interpretation of Carl Orff’s classical piece “Carmina Burana” (Ozzy’s opening music). It was breathtaking. They might not have had any guitars with them, but next to Slayer, they were the most metal thing there.
Extras: And just because I did more in Germany than go to Wacken, here are the best things I saw around Hamburg.
Speeding Down the Autobahn on the Way to Wacken 2010
Poorly translated: "Shit on Politics and Religion!"
A Gargoyle on a Bombed-Out Church in Hamburg, Germany
What a happy pig!
Random 5:00 A.M. Shenanigans in Hamburg's Red-Light District
Thanks to Thomas Schlein for the pics.