Wacken Metal Battle - The long road to Wacken!
Wednesday, Wacken Bullhead City – this is the place where it will happen. On two stages, 30 aspiring bands from as many countries all around the globe will battle it out over two days. They will compete with guitars, bass, heavy riffs, drum assaults, growls, singing – and most of all in the high spirit of comradeship and good old-fashioned fun.
The Wacken Open Air is making a singularly massive effort to support the up-and-coming talents of the Metal scene. Fans are flocking in droves to the tent to discover and enjoy those amazing newcomers, who have made it to the final round. They will give their very best in front of an international jury to win tons of goodies.
To get to this point, the contenders have to make an impression at home first. Let’s take a closer look at one of these earlier competitions to give you an idea of how this generally works.
Iceland, an island of active volcanoes, hot-springs, ice and fire, literally torn between Europe and the US as well as home to just a little more than 320.000 people might not be the number one location to expect Metal to thrive. Yet this cold and rocky place offers a stunning range of groups and musicians that cover about any style our genre of heavy music has to offer. Sólstafir, The Vintage Caravan, Skálmöld and Beneath have carried their banner across the seas to international audiences. The local Black Metal scene is buzzing, its protagonists such as Svartidauði, Misþyrming, Sinmara, Zhrine, and others are emerging from the underground onto the radar of the media worldwide. And the small but unique Eistnaflug (“Flying Testicles”) festival gathers more visitors from abroad every year.
Þorsteinn Kolbeinsson has been the good spirit behind the scenes of Iceland’s Wacken Metal Battle. The restless promoter has been a huge asset of his local scene by inviting foreign journalists, booking agents and other professionals to the island. A most generous host, who – around the day of the competition (April 8th) – takes his guests on trips to the many stunning sights that Iceland has to offer.
Battleground is the nice venue Hlégarði a little outside of the capital Reykjavik in the town of Mosfellsbær. Local prominence and members of the jury like Eistnaflug instigator Stefán Magnússon and Dimma drummer Birgir Jónsson are already present, but many fans are still arriving straight from work, when last year’s winners In the Company of Men serve a taste of their mathcore constructions including a slightly deranged stage acting. Judging from the cans of beer in their hands, the jury is ready. Lightspeed Legend are first out, trying to convince the critics of their virtues in just 20 minutes. These keyboard enhanced progressive rockers deliver a solid performance, but fail to impress the observers beyond a respectful nod. There is always a band that seems to think they deserve the victory and their critics are plain wrong. In the aftermath, the six-piece from Reykjavik leave the impression it’s them. Well, ignore professional advice at your own peril. Grave Superior represent the universally most present style at these battles. They local four-piece plays classic Death Metal. Although this is only the second gig of this formation full of veterans, their flawless performance gets them enough votes to go third place. Next up are the Churchhouse Creepers. These vintage rockers go nuts on stage as their singer keeps diving into the audience. A touch too much, one might say, but more importantly the band does not yet have that little extra musically, which catapulted their colleagues The Vintage Caravan onto the international scene. But the Churchhouse Creepers receive the second place of pride quite rightfully. With their brand of progressive Death Metal, Aeterna are obviously still at the beginning of their career. Although around for five years, these troupe needs to focus more and clean up performance and songwriting in order to take the next step. As opposed to this, the crazed kids from While My City Burns have something different to offer: Their style does not win them the popular vote of the elder members of the jury, but their postcore assault sticks out tonight. A band to watch out for in future for sure. Last on stage and clear winners in the opinion of nearly every voting professional tonight are Auðn. This suit-clad Black Metal outfit knows how to act on stage, has well composed songs, and despite some slight wobbling, generally has its instruments under control. Count them in as top favourites for the main event in Wacken.
While each band receives advice from the jury, the audience is treated to a headliner performance of local heavy metal heroes Dimma with their outstanding frontman Stefán Jakobsson and his emotional vocals constantly inciting sing-alongs of the enthusiastic crowd.
There is more applause and roared approval from the crowd as Þorsteinn Kolbeinsson announces Auðn as the winning band. The happy blacksters take bath in their moment, but now a more difficult task is waiting: winning against 29 other great bands in Wacken! Auðn will perform Wednesday on the W:E:T Stage at 17:40 CEST. See you there and check out all the others bands too. It is well worth the effort, and they all have a similar trial behind them.
In many countries, local sponsors are lending a helping hand to give the next generation of metal acts a chance. In Iceland for example this honourable task was shouldered by WOW Air, which serves German destination such as Berlin, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt and other European airports at low cost.
Photo-credits: Halldór Ingi & Gunnar Sauermann