There is something special about the Grave Digger 😉 Though at the same time, sorry, Grave Digger, but you have never been my band number one. LOL. However, Grave Digger has always been there, somewhere, among my top ten bands. The band does have a special personal importance to me, since one of their albums was the inspiration for in total over one thousand pages of novel = my Hagen Patterson Trilogy: She Should have Called Him Siegfried, To Mix and to Stir and Give Substance to a Thought. Those musings were the result of Grave Digger’s take on the Ring of the Nibelungen Saga in form of their album Rheingold, which let me find a Nibelungen story of my own.
Also, one of their songs “Excalibur” is among my top ten songs of all times. The guitar riff of that song is a killer and has an undisputed place in my pantheon.
I missed their gigs quite often and only rather late, in 2017, I had the privilege to see the Grave Digger for the first time live during 70,000 Tons of Metal, then, the same year in Wacken (yeah!) and now finally finally in Japan. That band is around since 1980 (!), next year they will have their 40th (!) anniversary, or rather the singer, Chris Boltendahl will have his 40th band anniversary, since he is the only constant band member. The guy is now 57 years old. I am not sure why they did not come to Japan for a staggering 23 years. Last time they were in Japan it was 1996! Wow! But yesterday, finally, they played at the Evoked Fest with Alestorm as the headliner. Note the drums of Alestorm with the joke on it: Drave Gigger 😉
I hope it doesn’t take another 23 years for the Grave Digger to come to Japan again. I surely enjoyed banging my head to Excalibur and the Tunes of War last night. Well done guys! See you again soon, hopefully 😉 And thanks for writing that Rheingold album 😉
My fifth Wacken trip happened without a single of my favorite bands being present, which on the one hand was a bit sad, but which on the other hand, meant a very stress free and relaxed Wacken for me 😉 The weather was actually excellent, a bit hot, but not as hot as the previous year and not as dry and as dusty either. Nevertheless there was of course a weather-happening. On the Wacken Friday they suddenly stopped the gigs of Eluveitie on the Faster stage and Gloryhammer on the Louder stage because of a thunderstorm. With security people and do-not-enter bands, they drove the entire 75.000 people out of the holy ground, Wackinger village included, and into the tent town behind the venue. They asked people to return to their cars. Since daily parking was a mile away, I decided to stay at a breakfast/coffee place while my two companions returned to our car.
It then rained about for an hour and there was some distant thunder and lightning, but the show could go on after an interruption of about two hours in total. Trouble was that a few bands didn’t fit into the schedule anymore and were sent home! One of the bands, Tribulation, was one I had wanted to see. I was disappointed of course, but had this been one of my favorite bands, I would have been devastated and gone wild. You fly all the way to Wacken and then they cancel your favorite band because of a tiny storm?!??? I surely hope that this won’t happen again next year again. I can sort of understand that the organizers are careful after apparently several accidents with fatalities happened during other open air gigs that were hit by thunder storms. But it did feel a bit like overkill to send 75.000 people away from the venue.
Other than that we had an excellent time at Wacken. The atmosphere at the festival is awesome with everyone being happy to be there. I of course saw quite a couple of bands, but I shall only focus on the highlights. Warking looked fun and I shall download some of their stuff. Jinjer impressed me very much. That lady has a roar that knocks your socks off. I will definitely check out more about them. There were of course the Powerwolf and Sabaton gigs, though that business with the two stages for Sabaton worked only to a very limited degree with the Harder stage being empty the first hour of the set… The small highlight was Demons & Wizards for me. It was the first time to see Hansi from Blind Guardian on stage in Wacken and they even played some Iced Earth and Blind Guardian songs too. A very nice gig and a great show.
My personal big highlight though was Septicflesh. I had seen them once before at 70.000 tons of metal and had them in good memory, and in the meantime my taste has turned ever more towards rough vocals and melodic death metal and my ears were kind of prepared more for Septicflesh. I also managed to get into the first row (for the first time inside the Headbangers Ball tent) which always has a big appeal and the gig was exceptionally good. I shall most certainly listen in to more of Septicflesh’s albums. The gig was awesome.
My fifth Wacken was great and I immediately bought the Wacken ticket for 2020, since at least one of my favorite bands will be there, Amon Amarth! Let’s see if other favorite bands will join them! It will be sad again of course to go to Wacken 2020 without my British buddies, but they can only join me every second year. Guys, see you again in Wacken 2021! But before that Wacken 2020 for me with Amon Amarth! Muahahahahahaha!
All the Russian fans told me I should look out for the band because they would surely be staying in the same hotel as I did. So in the morning I did keep a look out at breakfast but nobody was there. I later found out that the poor guys must have left much much earlier than when I sat at breakfast at 9:30. They were going to Novosibirsk next and when I got to the airport myself the next day I saw that the flight to Novosibirsk left at 8:50. Uh… that means being at the airport before 7:30 surely. I suppose they left the hotel at 6:30 or something like that! So much for tour live. Since the Amon Amarth fan lady, just let me call her AA, promised to pick me up at 14:00, I wandered around some more, found a nice spot for a Vladivostok skyline picture and also found two more shopping centers, slowly finding out what looks like a shopping center and what not.
I confirmed already the day before that the Chinese and Koreans are coming for shopping. The rubel is apparently quite low these days, prices in Vladivostok are lower than in Korea for sure and apparently it’s even becoming attractive for Chinese mass tourism. AA also told me that the Koreans and Chinese don’t need Russian visas for Vladivostok and she does not need one either if she wanted to go there. It’s some special agreement for the Russian Far East as well as some areas in China close to the border. If they want to go to Moscow they need visas, but not for the Far East. Interesting, I didn’t know that. I bought some souvenirs and then waited for AA at the hotel. She was very punctual and then we drove off towards Russky island over the impressive two bridges.
At some point the asphalt road ends on Russky island and the adventure begins. We were not the only ones on the dirt path, it felt like a caravan at times. AA said this is nothing yet, in the summer there is traffic jam at these dirt paths!
There are several “parking” areas and we stopped at one with a beach and where a hiking trail starts to a scenic spot.
I was totally amazed by the amount of people there. Well, it was Sunday, but nevertheless. Much of the area is wooded, but was extremely dry and also dusty, it has been a super dry winter with not much snow even. There was actually a small bush fire a hundred meters away at one point. AA said the best time is in summer of course, when people go swimming at these beaches but also September and October, when the leaves change color.
We had a great walk and the last cliff looked really beautiful. I thoroughly enjoyed this unexpected adventure, that I never would have been able to do without a local and AA drove me all the way back to the hotel again. Very cool addition to an already great trip. To say goodbye to the place, I went down to the shore once more and was in for another treat. There were several elderly men who were actually, one after the other, taking a swim in the ice cold ocean!!! Kyaaaaaaa. I was walking around in arctic gear, these guys, jump into the ocean! Air temperature was around zero Celsius and water temperature… well look at the floating ice! OMG!!!
It was my second time to Russia and both times I made nothing but good experiences. I thought also in St. Petersburg and Moscow that people were friendly, but I must give it to Vladivostok that people there were even more friendly than in the big cities. There was not one moment where I would have felt unsafe, despite the adventures in finding the concert venue. Okay, there was a shady “taxi driver” hanging around the hotel who kept on asking me if I need a ride every time I left the hotel. But even he never got rude or too close. There was less police and military around than in Moscow and St. Petersburg. There is of course also less to see than in those two big cities, since after all Vladivostok is a mere 160 years old. I wonder since when there are direct flights from Tokyo and how long they will keep those up. On the way to Vladivostok there were maybe 60 people on board, on the way back 40 people. I can totally see myself going to Vladivostok again though if some band of interest decides to come all the way there for a gig. And even if there is no direct flight anymore, there will surely be some from Seoul 😉
On the Amorphis website it read that the Vladivostok venue was called San Remo, apparently a hotel. On the ticket I somehow bought online the venue read Submarine Club. Hm. I asked at my hotel lobby, and the guy did not speak English too well. For standard questions he could somehow answer in English, but not such non-standard stuff like whether the Submarine Club is maybe inside San Remo. He pointed vaguely into the right direction and I thought oh, heck, I’m gonna find it somehow and went looking. It said 19:00 on the paper. I was not sure whether that meant concert start or start of letting you into the hall and the hotel guy couldn’t tell me either because of lack of English. So I went looking for the venue at 17:30 and good that I did so. At a sign which read San Remo, I actually ran into the two guitarists of the band and quickly addressed them and told them I’d see them later, they greeted nicely back, then walked down the road. Good, so it had to be around here somewhere if the band members are close! I ventured into a spooky alley and ended at a nightclub, all right, but it had another name, and the door was closed, nobody there. Some shifty looking dude wearing an indistinct hoody came out of a side door and I showed him my print out and asked where the venue is. No English really, he said, niet niet, and pointed up and right. Hm.
So I went up and right and landed on the roof of the San Remo building. It’s built kind of into a hill and you could easily walk onto the roof. some youngsters hung out there, but they didn’t look like heavy metal fans and were too young also. One kid walked into the roof access of whatever was beneath it and I thought, what the heck and followed him.
I ended in the seventh floor lobby of a super old style hotel way beyond its prime. Everything screamed seventies and that in Russian. At the reception I asked the lone lady present if she spoke English. A little. I showed her my paper and she was going, Hu? Never heard of it kind of “Hu”. She went into the office, asked someone, then came back. Go down and left. Hm. I went down with the elevator to the first floor, nothing but a shady restaurant. Outside of the building to the left, closed doors, no metal fans. Damnit, it must be here somewhere, even the band members were around.
Under normal circumstances I never ever would have gone near such night clubs, shady hotels and run down buildings! Lol. But there I was wandering, feeling like in a Russian spy movie. I decided to walk around the complex and went up the hill again outside of the building. And there! In a corner, next to a bar, “Submarine”! Yeah!
And there were a few heavy metal looking dudes around! I approached them and felt safe, ladies and gentlemen. To “normal people” Russian dudes in leather, with long hair, beards, whatever chains dangling from their clothes look scary. But I felt right at home, lol. I said “hi” and they immediately noticed I’m not Russian and there were actually three, four guys and girls who spoke English and immediately questions started, where the hell are you from? You came to Vladivostok for metal? Oh man! So cool! One girl had been to Europe several times, going to Amon Amarth gigs, so much appreciating I bothered to fly to Vladivostok. They were all super nice and friendly and we are all one big heavy metal family where it does not matter where you come from. The girl who had been to Europe and I exchanged social media stuff and then she offered to drive me to Russky island the next day so that I see some more of her home town. What? Seriously? Yes, yes, no problem! Wow! With the promise to pick me up at 14:00 the next day, we were finally allowed into the venue and since I had been early, I managed to get first row together with the other early birds. While waiting we talked about metal of course, but also the weather for example. It’s been the warmest winter ever they said, usually in March the west side of the bay is still frozen solid and not only a little bit, zero degrees is so warm! Okay. It’s all a matter of perspective. One of the guys said, he hates winter. Uh! A Russian who hates winter! I asked another guy whether he can recommend a vodka brand to me. I wanted to buy one bottle at the airport duty free before I leave. Hm, he doesn’t drink vodka and has no clue about the stuff! There go your stereotypes! He doesn’t drink even a beer before a gig, he wants to be in full capacity of his senses to enjoy the music. Yep, same here! One guy works for Mazda, another for Carl Zeiss, the Russky island lady and her husband are both programmers. The gig was great, the band was in a good mood, the crowd was screaming and going nuts, not too many bands bother to fly all the way to Vladivostok, so the metal community is happy and grateful when they do come. It was a fantastic gig and I made a bunch of great friends 🙂