Disclaimer: The press team at Wacken Winter Nights was kind enough to give me press access to the festival, and I was in close contact with Argon Events, but I am not affiliated with Wacken Winter Nights or Argon Events, nor am I being paid in any way to promote or review the festival or the service provided by Argon Events.
There was just so much going on over Wacken Winter Nights that I just had to put this review in a 2-parter. I also wanted to include a review of the journey there and back with Argon Events, as they did an absolutely fantastic job of looking after us all, and keeping us informed of what was going on, and even reserving some heated huts on our behalf for the weekend. Argon Events also provide coach trips to other European festivals, so check their website out for the full range of tours and packages.
The Journey There and Thursday Night
My journey started at about 14:00 on Wednesday, with a drive to York station, and then a 2 hour train journey to London. After struggling with a giant suitcase and getting slightly lost in Victoria station, I finally made it to The Willow Walk for a traditional pre-gig/festival Wetherspoons. Can you tell we were going to a festival?
The coach arrived only a few minutes after the stated time, which you would expect since the coach was travelling through central London to get to us, and it had been travelling in South England traffic in rush hour. We had one driver who we said goodbye to at Maidstone Services, and said hello to the two Dave’s who would be our drivers for the festival weekend. After a few rest stops and nearly 20 hours on a coach, we dropped the hotel stayers in Hamburg, picked up David (who runs Argon Events), and took the short drive up to Wacken. David was on hand all weekend to help with any problems, and also sorted out two huts for us.
The weather was a little poor on the Thursday, but the ground was still pretty good, and those camping seemed to not have many issues setting up. For me in one of the two huts, the heater was already on, there was fresh bedding, and the hut was lovely and clean. There was the option to get some free accessories such as cutlery and cleaning equipment, and there were tables and chairs for each hut as well. They also looked beautiful at night all lit up.
There was plenty of time for a wander around the campsite and to meet people before the warm-up party began. Just around the corner I met a very generous bunch of Danes who were giving away cans of beer, and they were playing a game involving a tree stump, a hammer, and nails, which I can only assume goes well after many beers and shots!
The warm-up party was at Wackinger which was at good 15-20 minute walk from the campsite. This was my first (and one of only very few) annoyance about the festival. For the size of the festival, the walks between venues was just too long, and the shuttle buses were more than a little unreliable. The warm-up party venue was absolutely packed, and although I got in to see a little of Forgotten North (Facebook, Spotify), who were amazing and have such energy on stage, I know a lot of people were unable to even enter the venue itself, let alone the room in which the band were playing. Perhaps next year opening part of the arena and using the Theatre of Grace as the warm-up party location might work better? I did buy myself a Forgotten North patch to add to my growing collection of logo patches to add though. I left early with some friends, and ended up in bed early like a little old lady because the travelling had tired me out!
I woke up bright and early on Friday morning, had a nice relaxing morning, made use of the free showers (which were incredible, great water pressure, and lovely hot water). It was luxurious to have flushable toilets with running water at a festival, and to have free showers too was just bliss! I definitely felt more refreshed after the long coach journey the day before. Myself and the Heavy Metal Entertainment contingent headed down to the festival site early to grab our press wristbands, and we were lucky enough to be able to enter the festival site early. It was really amazing to see the site before the general public entered.
The very first band I saw was MacCabe & Kanaka (Facebook, Spotify, music and merch), who were playing several times over the weekend on the acoustic stages. They started as soon as the gates opened, and it was a great introduction to the festival, with some lovely folk songs and a close knit atmosphere with no barrier between the performers and the audience.
The first band on the main stages I saw, and probably band of the weekend for me, was TrollfesT (Facebook, Spotify, music and merch). The live set was amazing, it was so much fun, I danced myself silly at the barrier with my friend, and we have so many laughs. The instrumental was so polished, and the conga line which went all around the Ice Palace, headed by the bass player, was absolutely insane. I haven’t enjoyed myself that much during a live show for a very long time, and I was a little sad that I wasn’t seeing them in London on the Monday supporting Turisas and Korpiklaani, who were also playing the festival that day. What other band are you going to find wearing giant balloon hats and princess dresses on stage and totally owning it?
I missed a couple of bands in order to interview my good friend Ted from Grimner (more about their set in Part 2). We had a good chat about all things Grimner, and a good laugh on top of that.
The next band I managed to catch some of was Skiltron (Facebook, Spotify, music and merch), I saw them for the first time at Bloodstock Festival last year, and I was excited to see them again. As before, they were very enthusiastic on stage, and really got the crowd engaged in the set, and bagpipes are always welcome in folk metal. They even had Sami from Korpiklaani join them on the stage for a song. My only regret was not being able to be there for the full thing.
My issue with the Theatre of Grace stage popped up here. Due to the orientation of the room, unless you managed to go between bands playing the stage, most of the time it was impossible to get through to the Wacken Foundation, merch stalls or bar in that area. The main door into the Theatre of Grace was at the end of a long wall with the stage directly ahead, leaving the entrance bottlenecked during bands, while there was still a lot of space by the bar and merch stalls that was not being utilised. A discussion with my friends led to the conclusion that if the whole setup was rotated 90 degrees so the stage was along the wall where the merch was, it would allow more people to watch the bands performing, and for everyone else to get to the bar and merch.
Next it was a quick run over back to the Ice Palace for Heilung (Facebook, Spotify, music and merch), and although I didn’t see much of the set, it was still just as good as the first time I saw them in London. My main issue was the noise from the crowd, which of course the band are unable to do anything about. Heilung for me is like a ritual performance, and the drums send you into an almost trance, but to really experience Heilung you need the atmosphere to go with it, and at a festival environment sadly this tends to be lacking. However, they are definitely a band that I want to see again at their own show.
Sadly I was unable to see most of Turisas (Facebook, Spotify, music and merch), however what I did see reminded me of how good Turisas are live. Their performance is tight, they engage with the crowd, and everyone in the Ice Palace were singing along and having a really good time. I also got to finally see Rasputin played live, after missing it the last time I saw them at HRH Vikings.
Korpiklaani (Facebook, Spotify, music and merch) were the Friday night headliners of the festival in the Ice Palace. They are very much a hit-and-miss band for me when they play live, and I was really sad that this time around was a big miss. They began their set with a lot of tracks from their latest release, Kulkija, which for me in itself wasn’t an issue as I love that album, but the lack of enthusiasm from the band in general was. The only band member who seemed to be happy to be there was Sami, the accordion player, and their fiddle player seemed to want to be elsewhere; when he wasn’t playing he would be standing completely still. I feel that if you’re not playing, you should be interacting with the crowd or at the very least moving in time to the music. The enthusiasm picked up a little towards the end when their more well-known and drinking songs were played, but sadly for me it was too little, too late. While I still love Korpiklaani’s recorded music, it leaves me questioning whether I would buy a ticket to see them at their own show, at the risk of being disappointed with the performance again.
And thus ended the first half of the Wacken Winter Nights for me. There was plenty of drinking happening during the evening after the bands had finished, but my less-than-three-hours sleep on the coach on the Wednesday evening had sadly left me lacking in energy. I needed to be prepared for Days 2 and 3 of the music.