Paying for Energy

I just saw the Bohemian Rhapsody movie and it left me with this urge saying – when’s the next concert I’m going to? 😉 It will be only in two months when the Finnish melodic death metal act Wolfheart will come to Tokyo. When was the last concert I went to? That was German power metal band Primal Fear exactly one month ago. Before that I saw my new favorite band Insomnium, Finnish melodeath as well, in Switzerland. The Bohemian Rhapsody movie made me jittery – wanna bang my head and shout to bands I like or love! 😉 Music is one of the most powerful and wonderful things humans have invented. The energy music gives people is amazing. Music and also dance of course are much more let me call it “primeval” than reading books or looking at paintings, because they make you move. Well, not all music of course, sitting at a classical concert just listening is not very active. Such “passive” music does not appeal to me at all, I want stomping and shouting and head banging ;-). Music also brings like minded people together. It’s magic.
But: to survive as a musician or any kind of artist these days is not an easy thing (well, it has never been). Apart from the “real fans” of a band who buy CDs or Vinyls for their collections, most people use whatever streaming services (myself included). It’s quite shocking how little artists get paid per stream. This article here gives some insight in case you are interested. https://www.digitalmusicnews.com/2018/01/16/streaming-music-services-pay-2018/

It’s the same for books of course, you need to have a hell of a lot of downloads on Kindle to put bread onto the table.
I cannot understand people who want things for free. Art, whatever art it is, gives us so much and people want it for free? If artists cannot survive by what they make with their art, then who does that help? There still seems to be this illusion out there that artists make shitloads of money. Some, very few, big names do, yes, but those people are maybe 0.1 or whatever percent of those who produce art, which is one of the greatest sources of energy and joy in our lives.
I might be writing books, but music is the thing where I get most of my energy from and I’ll hella continue to support my favorite bands by paying for what they produce and I hope others will do so as well. Go out there and pay our artists! Thanks!

Wacken 2017 Report

After three times you can start to call it a tradition to go to Wacken Open Air festival. Two British friends of mine and myself have been going to Wacken every other year in 2013, 2015 and now in 2017. The first Wacken was superb, nice weather, hot, only a bit of rain on the last day and a tiny bit of mud. Our second Wacken was mud-hell with constant rain a week before the festival, constant rain on the first day and knee-deep mud. 2017 Wacken greeted us with only a tiny bit of mud and spirits were high until a flash flood in the afternoon of the first day, which I would like to call Odin’s Wrath. Everyone got wet to to bones and the holy ground of Wacken turned into a mud battle equal to the one of 2015. 2017-08-04 10.13.41
Nevertheless it was a great festival, because it’s Wacken 😉 I wonder what makes Wacken special. I have been to quite a number of festivals by now, Artmania in Rumania, Sziget in Hungary, Nummirock in Finland, Brutal Assault in the Czech Republic, Bloodstock in the U.K., Vagos in Portugal, Loud Park in Japan and the 70.000 Tons of Metal on the high seas. The only two festivals that have this special flair and air about them are Wacken and the boat (70.000 Tons of Metal). They are, for one, both truly international festivals, on the boat as well as in Wacken there are people from all over the globe. There are people from Australia, North and South America, Asia, all over Europe. They are (almost) all happy to be there and that they can enjoy their favorite music together with like minded people. This Wacken or 70.000 Tons atmosphere is special and no life stream can compensate for it. You gotta be there to feel it.
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A small highlight for me was the Grave Digger gig, which was excellent, 2017-08-04 15.27.25
but the big highlight was seeing one of my favorite bands, Amon Amarth live for the very first time. Despite them being super popular, I managed to sneak into the first row at the left hand side of the stage and it was a blast to see them live from a first row for the first time. Tons of crowd surfing interrupted the experience, but hey, that’s part of an Amon Amarth gig.2017-08-05 20.38.47
I thoroughly enjoyed myself and am looking forward to my next time in Wacken. For me the next time will be already next year, since I cannot stand to not go to Wacken if my number one band Amorphis is playing there 😉 Unfortunately, my two British friends will not be able to join, but we already made a pact to go again in 2019. It will be weird to go to Wacken without the boys next year and I still have to figure out a hotel and a means of transport, but it’ll work out somehow 😉

Loudpark 2016 Report – Day 2

The morning of the second Loudpark day saw heavy rain and again: thank goodness that the festival is indoors! I went there before opening, due to wanting to line up for signing session tickets and the guides and guards made us wait in front of the hall. They are changing the layout of things a slight bit every year in the attempt to improve I suppose, and while it was easier this year to get from the main hall to the side stage, they let people only in through gate A in contrast to opening gate B for the two-day ticket holders the year before. To open both gates is definitely the better choice, I don’t know why they didn’t do that this time.

Anyway, once inside I lined up for getting a ticket for the signing session of amorphis. Got one after an hour, which was nicely spent with chatting to other people waiting in line. Due to that, I missed most of the Savage Messiah show, a power metal/melodic thrash formation from the UK. The bit that I heard sounded nice. Next up were two Japanese bands “Kuni”, some musicians supporting a Japanese guitar legend and on the side stage, which that day was devoted to “extreme” metal, a band called Nocturnal Bloodlust, also Japanese only. I sampled them both, but they weren’t knocking my socks off. Neither did the Dead Daisies, a “super” band formed from members of bands like INXS, Guns N’ Roses and others. More hard rock than metal to my ears.

But then a first highlight. I pretty much liked Lacuna Coil from Italy. They go with a two vocal strategy, a lady singing clean vocals and a guy with rough vocals. Unlike most metal bands they dress in white and kinda look like staff from the asylum ward of a horror movie. The lady on vocals was excellent and I liked the whole atmosphere and sound of the band. I shall sample some of their albums.
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I had seen “Riot” before, didn’t care much for them and took a lunch break, then watched the beginning of “With the Dead”, a doom metal band with members of other former doom metal bands, but oddly their sound was “too slow” for my taste! So I went to sample “Sixx A.M.”, the second band of Motley Crue’s bassist, but guess what, my general fatigue took over again and I dozed off sitting in the ranks… lol.

I woke up in time for the amorphis signing session though and got that done, then rushed to the extreme stage hall where Enslaved was playing which I wanted to see and to get a good spot for amorphis.
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Enslaved turned out to be the second discovery of the day. Enslaved is a Norwegian black/progressive metal band and very much of the kind that I like. They also have a two vocalist strategy, with one guy on the guitar doing rough vocals and the keyboardist doing clear vocals. Yes, I have a weakness for that combination 😉 I shall definitely sample their studio albums as well.

But then it was time for the highlight of this year’s Loudpark, at least for me, the master of rough and clean vocals who is able to combine both in one person – Tomi Joutsen from amorphis. They played a fantastic set, finishing it off with my favorite “old” amorphis song “Black Winter Day”. The audience was totally behind them and you could see how much fun they had playing this gig. The Japanese audience is simply a treasure. This show was one of the best festival shows I’ve seen from amorphis.
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Quite exhausted after the amorphis gig, I went into the big hall to see Nightwish, who also delivered an excellent performance. It was their last show of a long world tour and they were all quite relaxed about everything, I think 😉 The only thing that was odd about their show were these people in (bad) werewolf (?) costumes stumbling about on stage. That looked pretty ridiculous, but other than that, great gig!
The last gig of the day was Whitesnake, but I must confess I only saw the first two songs, way too soft for my taste. Considering the long way home, I called it a day.
The two Loudpark days were excellent and I’m already looking forward to next year – what will be the line up?? Who’ll come to Japan?? Hehe. Cheers!

Loudpark 14 – gig report

Since I’ll be at the Japan Writers Conference over the coming weekend (report will follow), my weekly blog entry already today instead of Saturday 🙂
It was Loudpark time again. The line-up this year was not the most thrilling for me but nevertheless Loudpark is a great opportunity to see a lot of bands in the comfy Saitama Super-Arena. (comfy because it is weather independent)
General fatigue from busy times at work made it “impossible” to get up at 8:00 to be in time for the first band and I only managed to get up at 9:00. Arriving an hour late, I unfortunately missed the bands Arion and Periphery, but such is life. I entered the hall for a band called Glamour of the Kill, which turned out to be the major positive discovery of the day. A relatively young band from the UK with two albums out. I really liked their sound and shall explore them further and buy an album.
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For the time being I stayed on the ranks and wandered from left to right depending on which stage the bands played on. Next up was the Gazette, the only Japanese band of the line-up. A visual rock band with a quite “typical” Japanese sound. There was a fan-girl on the ranks in front of me who made quite a dance and I was surprised why she didn’t venture down into the arena, but maybe she wanted some space!
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After the Gazette, I ventured to the other side of the arena again and for the second time sneaked my way into the actually reserved seats area to get a good look at Belphegor, a deeply deeply black metal act from Austria. Their looks and props were quite fascinating and I took a lot of pics of them, especially of the drummer. He must have had color contact lenses in his eyes, which, with the distance to the stage and the lightning made his eyes shine like live from the land of the dead (pun intended). Their sound is way too dark for my taste but they looked pretty awesome and how the singer said “loudpark” in growling mode was a blast too.
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The contrast could not have been sharper and from the depths of blackest metal we had rock’n roll next with another UK band called Thunder. I admit to have never heard of these guys before and I am also still wondering what they were doing at Loudpark. Grandpas in checkered shirts playing soft hard-rock (pun intended). Nice, but way too nice for my taste.
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To wedge Thunder between Belphegor and The Haunted was interesting too. The Haunted from Sweden somehow sounded American to me, I don’t know why. The singer was very moved by the as always incredibly supporting Japanese audience. His make-up looking like he had a bullet wound in the head looked pretty cool.
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Then another very old and traditional band was up – Riot from the US. Man, they started out in the seventies… I looked at their history in Wikipedia and they’ve had a hell of a lot of band member deaths and the current vocalist is their 5th. Therefore Riot V. The singer did a good job at falsetto but all in all their music style was “too old” to thrill me.
After Riot I went down to the arena finally to get a good spot for Within Temptation and found one at the edge of the “big rock stage” balustrades which provided also a good look across to the “ultimate stage” where a US band called Death Angel played. Thrash metal, nice, good thrash metal. Next to Glamour of the Kill, Death Angel is my second favorite discovery of this Loudpark day. Their singer (awesome head of hair, man!) was also very moved by the Japanese audience. It was their first time at Loudpark (and thus in front of a bigger audience here) and they seemed really happy to be there. Cool band, I shall explore them a bit more.
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Within Temptation did two ballads, which were probably too slow for Loudpark and I found the lady’s comment to whatever song – “we wrote this ten years ago and the world hasn’t become better”… eh? Of course it hasn’t. – rather inappropriate and off the point. I also found it very weird that their poor drummer was sitting behind a Plexiglas/plastic screen – is he too loud or what?
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I much preferred one comment from Kreator – fxxk religion and even more so fxxk politics! I stayed in my spot in the arena for half of Kreator – nice slash metal from guys who know their stuff. After half of Kreator I left the arena to be able to leave when I wanted to instead of being squeezed in by Dream Theater fans.
For Dream Theater I returned to the ranks and took it easy and I must admit I left before they were done, in order to escape the crowds squeezing into the train and also because I am not exactly a Dream Theater fan. They “fiddle” too much in my opinion and don’t come to the point (of the song).
So, two new bands discovered – Death Angel and Glamour of the Kill. Good result for a good Loudpark 14. Let’s see what the line-up will be next year 😉
The full set of pics you can find on Flickr.

Primal Fear Gig Report

Lots of bands in Tokyo this spring that are of interest to me 😉 therefore yet another gig report.
Primal Fear and I have some “history”. I don’t remember how I stumbled across the band but I had my peak “liking” of Primal Fear around 2007 when their New Religion album came out. After the in my opinion disappointing 16.6 album I turned to other bands. Seven Seals is my favorite album of theirs by the way. I’ve never seen them live before and now finally there was the chance since they came to Japan again (after a five year pause apparently and I missed them in 2009 – must have been in the wake of the 16.6 album).

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I don’t have their latest albums “Unbreakable” and “Delivering the Black” (yet) but was hoping they’d play some of their older songs too.
The gig happened in Shibuya’s On-air East, a 1300 people venue, which was not sold out but well filled. No pre-band and at 19:00 the gig was supposed to start and the drummer and one of the guitarists came on stage, but the rest did not show up and they played the intro (from a tape) twice, which was a bit irritating and I am not sure what kind of glitch had happened 😉

But finally the rest of the band appeared and things got going. Ralf Scheepers, the German vocalist, is already 49 years old, but wow… there is quite some body building going on and his voice is still impeccable. The guy is almost intimidating, at least 190 cm tall I suppose and one mountain of muscles. He looks like his chest circumference is two meters! Lol.

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Luckily they played some 60% “old” songs that I know and I got good headbanging opportunities. Somewhere behind me stood someone who was trying to compete with Ralf, a Japanese guy singing falsetto and while stuff like that is usually painful, this guy pulled it off and sang quite nicely along with Ralf, impressive!
Somewhere in between Ralf broke out into singing a Japanese folk song??? in Japanese. Oops? Very nice that he learned the words, but I am not sure about the pronunciation, at least I could not understand 😉 The audience was also rather perplexed and I wonder if they understood? The singing was beautiful though, despite not really knowing what this was all about.

The crowd was their usual enthusiastic Japanese self, even on a higher level than what I have otherwise experienced and they managed to scream the band back on stage for another bow even after the encore was over, which is quite rare here (the venue owners switch the light on and an announcement tells you to go home). Another interesting aspect for me was that while usually the ratio of men to women at metal gigs is 70:30 or so, for Primal Fear it was 80:20 if at all. I wonder what Primal Fear’s ratio is like in Germany or the US where they just toured. Why do girls not like Primal Fear??? 😉
All in all it was a great gig and I’m glad I finally saw them live and now I am inclined to buy their latest album and have a little Primal Fear revival 😉

Loud Park 13 Report

In contrast to the previous year, this years Loud Park was two days instead of one but I went only on the last day, the 20th of October. On the 18th they announced that the headliner of the 20th, King Diamond, had cancelled with the reason of not having managed to get their equipment to Tokyo in time. On the Loud Park homepage they said they had offered the band to play with spare equipment but the band refused. Not nice for the fans who paid for expensive tickets, but I guess this falls under the category of “shit happens”.

A few words on the organization of Loud Park which was in stark contrast to the festivals I just visited in Europe during the summer. Somehow this did not strike me as such the year before, probably because I hadn’t seen any big European festivals yet…
The amount of security personnel at Loud Park is insane. The number of places where you are not allowed to hang out for non-obvious reasons is equally insane. It smacked of the desperate try of the organizers to control the individualistic crowd. Oh god! These metal heads might want to have fun! We must see to it that they don’t completely freak on us!

To enforce such (stupid) rules, fences etc. are supposed to guide you around and the one and only cloak is at the end of the world outside the building and you had to go back through the main entrance once more after unloading your stuff there and it was just ridiculous and annoying how they tried to channel the crowd. A big minus for that for Loud Park … Sometimes less is more. You need some rules to channel 30,000 people yes, but we ain’t kindergarten kids… well, maybe we are worse? 😉
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Anyway:
The first band on the menu was a Japanese band called Metal Clone X, rough vocals, they invited a, I presume, famous enka singer lady for one song, much like Heino appearing on stage with Rammstein, only that she seemed to have more fun 😉 Later someone told me she is actually not an enka singer but a blues and jazz singer, well, but she looked like enka in her pretty kimono.
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Finnish band Mokoma that does mostly rough vocals in Finnish has played this year in May in Japan already at Loud and Metal Attack – by Finland fest.
They were a big hit there which is mostly due to the fact that most of the Japanese audience doesn’t really care whether they understand the lyrics or not. Most don’t speak English all that well, so it doesn’t matter that nobody understands Mokoma’s vocals. The guys are so wonderfully quirky and the Japanese audience just loves them.
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After an excellent Amorphis, who never really seem to get their sound right during the first few songs 😉 came something WEIRD: Baby Metal… Three Japanese teenage girls who are about 14 years old supported by “invisible” real musicians clad in masks. They hop around on stage like AKB 48 and whine in girlie fashion = a hundred miles away from any real female metal vocalist.
Nevertheless they are so popular that they had their own goods queue…
Totally weird and absolutely awful from my humble perspective, but you can’t argue about taste can you…

Apart from Amorphis, Stratovarius was my personal highlight, who gave a solid and great performance and as far as the gigs are concerned that I did not watch from the arena this one was the one that fired up the audience most of all.
Last In Line was good but the audience a bit lame, maybe due to an apparently new singer? Finally, Yngwie Malmsteen’s line up of some ten fat amplifier towers next to a lost looking drum set was not enough to generate enough sound? Just joking. They had sound issues and at times they seemed rather un-noisy and the mikes were not working well. Among those ten amp towers something created a feedback loop and an annoying “feeeeeep” made your teeth hurt. Nevertheless, I’ve never seen such an amp tower arrangement!

To escape long queues at the cloak corner and full trains, I left before Yngwie was finished. Sorry! Would have liked to see Carcass and Angra on day one, but too busy with books and work I was and am.
Despite the police state character of the event, I guess I’ll go there next year again, depending on the line up if course 😉

Metal Festival Nikki: Part 6 – Dinkelsbuehl to Narita

Since it was Saturday, breakfast times were extended until 10:00 in the morning at our hotel, and we finally had breakfast there and it was astonishingly luxurious. Then I packed all my stuff, hid the pink brick in my sister’s trunk and we went back on the road to look for Summer Breeze. The landscape remained unchanged, lonely, middle of nowhere farms and some sleepy villages and finally in the middle of all this nowhere, metal heads again!
The daily parking lot was just outside the daily ticket gate and my sister had luckily no problem getting a ticket and thus something to do for a day 😉

Luckily, or unfortunately, it was insanely hot again if not as hot as in Wacken or Jaromer. At least in the shadow it was a bit cooler than in Wacken, but in the sun it was more or less unbearable. It had been dry in the south of Germany for quite a while and instead of mud, Summer Breeze fought with another problem – dust! So, in a way I’ve had it all, heat, rain, mud, dust – it feels like I’ve spent my holidays in the wilderness 😉

My sister and I did some reconnaissance and went onto a shopping spree afterwards. I got two of the silver rings on my fingers here, notably the long one on the left pointer finger and yet another black t-shirt and also my sister got into shopping mood and bought a black t-shirt, a pendant and a leather bracelet.
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We fled into the party tent where there was beloved shadow and hung out there, waiting for the sun to go down. The party tent is Summer Breeze’s smallest stage. The main stage is simply called Main Stage to set it apart from the Pain Stage. The main bands alternate between those two stages.

Summer Breeze is a “normal” festival in metal terms and though of course smaller than Wacken, has a Wacken-like atmosphere and the crowd behaves like a metal crowd should. They scream, they shout, they mosh-pit and they crowd surf. I had the impression crowd surfing was very popular at Summer Breeze. Somehow you need mud to properly mosh-pit and not dust 😉 So the Summer Breeze crowd compensated for the missing mud with loads crowd surfing and sings tribute songs to the security guys in the pit. The crowd calls them “Grabenschlampen” = pit sluts, lol, and they take it with a smile and bowed to us and fired us up to sing “Grabenschlampen” 😉

By now the festival atmosphere felt refreshingly normal to me, but alas, not for everyone. Like Wacken, Summer Breeze gives for-free tickets to locals and while I had not seen any locals in Wacken, my sister and I discovered a not clad-in-black elderly couple wandering in wonder around the tents and stalls and stages, looking a bit scared at the aliens that had landed among them. I can understand that they felt as overwhelmed by us as I felt the day before, glimpsing into their world…

The notable acts of the day were Devildriver, Hatebreed, Ensiferum, Amorphis and In Flames, though my sister and I had to leave during In Flames, since I had to get back to Frankfurt that night. My flight back to Japan went the next morning.
Somehow I forgot to take a lot of photos that day, maybe because it was too hot or I had gotten used to the scenes before my eyes at festivals but here are a few on Flickr again.
Alternating stages are the open secret to a festival’s success. The bands have enough time to set up while another one plays next door and the audience is constantly occupied. Summer Breeze was excellently organized in that fashion and left nothing to complain about.

It felt unreal to leave the metal world to go back home but I could sober up a bit during the long ride to Frankfurt. Germany is bigger than one might think. We were in a hotel at Frankfurt airport only at 2 in the morning. Thanks to my sister for all the driving!

After having slept only for some four hours, my sister and I had to get up again and I flew from Frankfurt to Paris and then on to Tokyo. As expected getting from one terminal to the other was no fun at Charles de Gaulle airport and I made it to the gate to Tokyo just ten minutes or so before boarding started. The machine to fly me home though was as hoped for an airbus A380. My first time on board the big whale. I must say I am surprised at the lift off. While it seems a Boeing 747 takes forever to get off the ground and rattles like it’s coming apart, the fat airbus lifted off like it was nothing and that in what seemed a ridiculously low speed. Seats in economy are as crammed though as in other aircrafts. Anyway, nice to finally have been on board an A380.

In total, what a trip. From Germany to the Czech Republi, to England via Germany and back to Germany.
It was good to meet my sister again and it was awesome to get this overview over European metal festivals and to have been for the first time at the legendary Wacken Open Air. I am not tired of festivals and already have the ticket to “our” one here in Japan – Loudpark: 19./20. of October 😉

And my very own and personal festival ranking (SB = Summer Breeze, BA = Brutal Assault):

Category: Ranking: 1st = excellent, 2nd = good, 3rd = soso, 4th = hmmmmm
Best line-up: Wacken, SB/BA, no 3rd, Bloodstock
Best organized (for the audience): BA, Wacken/SB, no 3rd, Bloodstock
Best sound: SB, Wacken/BA, no 3rd, Bloodstock
Coolest audience: Wacken, SB, BA, Bloodstock
Best merch: Wacken, BA, SB, Bloodstock
Best goodie bag: Wacken, BA, SB, Bloodstock
(in Wacken every guest got: a rucksack, fridge magnet, badge, key holder, ear plugs, poster, shower gel, detergent, rubbish bag, sticker, condom, cloth patch),
(at BA: plastic festival schedule on neck strap, DVD from year before),
(at SB: earplugs),
(at Bloodstock: nothing)
Best toilets: Wacken, SB/BA, no 3rd, Bloodstock
Best food: BA, SB, Wacken, Bloodstock
Best drinks: BA (0.5l), SB (0.4l), Wacken (0.3l), Bloodstock (no cups, just plastic bottles)
Best venue: BA, Wacken, SB, Bloodstock
Best pit sluts: SB, Wacken, BA, Bloodstock
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Cheers!

Metal Festival Nikki: Part 5 – Lichfield to Dinkelsbuehl

After sleeping in at my sister’s home following my arrival from the UK, some family action, and a very important piece of work: washing clothes, my sister and I traveled south with her car to a city called Crailsheim. Crailsheim lies in the middle of the triangle formed by Wuerzburg, Nuernberg and Stuttgart, almost or over 100 km away from either city and is sort of the center of German nowhere. Crailsheim itself has an amazing 33,000 inhabitants.
Why did we go there? Well, because it lies 20 km from my eventual goal, the even smaller town of Dinkelsbuehl, host to the Summer Breeze Metal festival.

Our hotel was okay, but the staff, a grandpa of over 60, was monstrously German, meaning being ridiculously unfriendly and grouchy at the check in. We explored the town on foot for a bit to find it completely dull, deserted and provincial. Well, other people might call it idyllic, quiet and peaceful… But, not my sister and me… We ate at a Greek restaurant, one of three decent eateries we could find, two of them being Greek, one Italian. I had wanted some German food for a change, but…

Breakfast in our hotel happened on weekdays from 6:30 till 9:00. Since we were on holidays, however, 9:00 was about when we got up! We didn’t bother with getting up earlier to meet the breakfast slot. Instead we went to a bakery we had discovered the night before for coffee and pastry. That satisfied, we rode by car to the “romantic road” town of Rothenburg, which is a famous tourist spot, especially popular with Japanese and American tourists.
It’s a medieval town which has not been destroyed during WW2. We had seen everything after about half a day, the town not being that big 😉 and spent the time with eating ice cream and later on having a German dinner.

The main points to mention about Rothenburg were climbing onto the very steep and narrow mayor’s house tower, walking on the city walls around the town and discovering an enormously big “forever Christmas shop”, which allowed no photos (understandably) and was really huge and amazing to see. It contained easily two million Christmas related items if not more. The shop seemed to stretch on for forever and to be tunneling half of Rothenburg. 😉
Here are some pics of the town.
In one of the tourist traps my sister almost bought a Klingon-like looking dagger and I ended up buying a toy stuffed dragon whose pic I tweeted from our hotel 😉
In the evening, back in the hotel, we looked in the Internet for more stuff to do for the next day, but actually found nothing much! Wuerzburg etc. seemed a bit far away and we tried to find something close by but in this middle of nowhere this seemed quite a daunting task.

After the same pattern of the day before, having breakfast at a bakery instead of the hotel, we bothered a clothes shop, since the lady from the toy shop where I had bought the dragon had not bothered to un-clip the non-stealing magnet device from the wing of my poor beast. The dragon promptly beeped when we entered the shop but then a more or less friendly lady at the cashier managed to get the security thing off the dragon’s wing and we brought the freed dragon who by now listens to the name of Draki, back to the hotel and started our adventure of the day.

We had decided to drive to the city of Ansbach which promised a residence of the former earls of the area. We arrived in time for a tour through the residence at about 12:00 and it took an hour and a tour guide lady showed us some 30 rooms of the 500 rooms building. Unfortunately, but also here understandably, you were not allowed to take pictures. From outside the residence looks like nothing special and half of it is used for the district government. The other half though is more or less original from the 18th century. The earls demonstrated French style and the residence seems like a mini-version of Versailles. Most of the stuff was original and some 250 to 300 years old and I was mightily impressed with the modest building’s grand interior. You would not expect a castle like that in this town and inside this building.

After the tour we had lunch in the small but pretty garden of the place and were faced again with the question of what to do next. We had more or less seen what was worthy seeing in Ansbach (here are a glorious four pics). After some more ice cream, we decided to try to find the “nature preserve” advertised in the map of the area and to take a little walk there. On the way we found a castle called Colmburg in a small town of the same name and drove up there spontaneously, only to find that it was in private ownership and tours could only be arranged if you were the guests of the castle hotel. From outside it looked pretty cool though, see Flickr pics.

We rode on, in soaring heat by the way, and tried to find that nature preserve but instead found nothing but fields and villages. We even dared to drive off the main road in search for some nature but only found one village after the next between fields. Those villages consist of ten to twenty houses and I felt completely immersed in deepest and most conservative German country side. It was interesting, but my sister as well as myself were sorts of horrified. Neither of us would ever want to live in a place like this. Again, others might find it idyllic, romantic, quiet and beautiful, etc., but for me (and my sister as well) places like this mean, shackles, dead end, adhering to norms, being policed, dying in provincial horror… Such are the different perceptions, I suppose.
In the end we went back to our hotel place where we had dinner at the Italian restaurant.

Out of sheer frustration about having nothing to do in this provincial nothingness, my sister decided to dare to join me on the next day for Summer Breeze, trying to get a day ticket at the box office…

Metal Festival Nikki: Part 4 – Jaromer to Lichfield

It was a potential day for disaster considering the enormous travel schedule from Hradec Kralove, Czech Republic to Lichfield, UK. The journey went like this: From Hradec Kralove to Prague via train. From Prague’s train station to Prague airport via bus. From Prague to Frankfurt and Frankfurt to Manchester via plane. In Manchester I had a mere half an hour to get from the plane to the train station to catch the last reasonable connection via Crewe to Lichfield Trent Valley and ran across the aiport with my pink brick after finally getting out of passport etc. inspections.

I managed to catch the right train in the end and had to change trains once more in Crewe to get to Lichfield Trent Valley. Amazingly, everything worked and was on schedule, and when I got to Lichfield Trent Valley there was one single taxi waiting there as if I had ordered it. The taxi driver, a Dutch guy of probably Indian or Bangladesh origin who lived in the UK since 2005, he told me, turned out to become my “personal driver” during my short stay in Lichfield. He gave me his phone number and told me to call him when I wanted to go to the Bloodstock festival site on the 11th of August. He also told me that I had made a “mistake” by flying to Lichfield via Manchester. Birmingham airport would have been closer. Well, good to know for next time, but alas, will there be a next time concerning Bloodstock for me? I am not so sure!
For that night I stayed in the hotel though, quite exhausted from a 12 hour journey.

After breakfast the next morning, again being not the only metal head who stayed at that hotel, I got into gear and called “my” taxi driver, who did not expect me to call him I suppose and was astonished and happy that I did. It took him a while to come to my hotel, since he was on another job, but I didn’t mind too much, because during my wait it started to rain rather heavily, sigh… When I got into his car it was about to stop though and turned out to be the only rain of the day :-).

The Bloodstock site is even more in the middle of nowhere than Wacken or Jaromer, which are both more or less located in or next to their respective towns. Bloodstock is on lawn a mile or so away from any town or village.
It turned out that there is only one main stage and sorry, but that’s just not “up-to-date” anymore. In my opinion a festival like that needs two main stages and “everybody” except for Bloodstock already has them. The change over and set up time between bands is too short for the bands and too long for the waiting folk.
It also results in the bands getting only some 40 min or so of playing time. Many bands have sound issues since the set up time is too short.

The crowd “shocked” me even more than the lonely main stage though. What a lethargic gathering of people!
In Wacken there is mosh pits and crowd surfing and the crowd raises their hand and fires up the bands. There was more or less no crowd surfing at Brutal Assault, but there were huge mosh pits and more hands in the air to fire up the bands.
This last day of the Bloodstock festival though was completely lame. No cheering crowd, no surfing, even the people in the first row were hardly moving. Unthinkable in Wacken or Jaromer, camping chairs and stools were on sale inside the festival venue for 15 and 4 pounds respectively and masses of people were sitting around the Ronnie James Dio stage on their seats during gigs.

For me, this crowd was the strangest metal crowd I have ever seen and it does not compare at all to the fire and enthusiasm of Japan, and also of Wacken and Jaromer. This was too laid back for a metal festival for my taste but I shall book it under “interesting experience” or “now I know which festival to skip for future excursions”. Also the bands, notably Amorphis, Fozzy and Anthrax had a hard time with that audience as well as the afore mentioned sound problems and cannot have been entirely happy with this festival.
After Anthrax I got some food–I wanted “traditional fish and chips” but the booth advertising that was out of fish and I only got a horrible “fishpie”, so even the food was disastrous (laugh).
Upon leaving, I headed to the exit with the intention to call “my” driver again. It turned out he was already waiting at the festival site for customers and so I didn’t even have to wait for my ride back to the hotel.

After packing up the suitcase and breakfast the next morning, I left the luggage in the hotel to make a short visit to the quite large, pretty and impressive cathedral of the sleepy little town of Lichfield. Amazing, that such a big cathedral can be found in such a small town. I took some pics of the cathedral of course as well, apart from the Bloodstock pics.

Following the cathedral visit, I rode by train back to Manchester airport, where I arrived much too early and had thus some time to work on Hagen 3 while waiting for my flight.
My sister picked me up from Duesseldorf airport and we reached her house a bit after midnight. We had planned some German sightseeing before I would head to the last festival – Summer Breeze in the very German sounding town of Dinkelsbuehl. More on that day after tomorrow 🙂 (since I am planning to FINALLY see Star Trek – Into Darkness tomorrow!)

Metal Festival Nikki: Part 3 – Prague to Jaromer

Unfortunately, a thunderstorm at night did not help to cool things down and another monstrously hot day burned down on the Czech Republic on the day I was scheduled to move to the city of Jaromer some 130 km north-west of Prague. I asked the hotel to order me a taxi and the driver brought me through a town that is not designed for all the cars that inhabit it now. This is a medieval town and its roads are small and mostly one way.

Nevertheless, I arrived at the station after some traffic jams and a cursing driver and was immediately surrounded by metal heads going towards Jaromer like me and I felt safe 🙂 In fact the metal heads totally took over the train and the locals gave us raised eyebrows. 😉 I sat together with a girl from Italy who was also on her own and we chatted nicely.

I jumped off the train at a place called Hradec Kravole 20 km before Jaromer (which is bigger than Wacken, but nothing but a village after all) and luckily my hotel was just facing the station and no taxi actions were needed. Also the hotel was completely occupied by metal heads. I guess some 200 of us or so in total. Thus the check in took about an hour. Next came the bus to the festival site check in. Actually I had wanted to take a look at Hradec Kravole, but the center of town with its biggest church looked far away. It was just too hot to walk there and people and taxi drivers in Hradec Kralove looked like they wouldn’t speak English (or German) and understand where I wanted to go, as I judged from visiting a super market where I got a plastic bag only with hand signs. So I decided to take the bus to the festival site at 17:30.

They provided even two buses at that time and some 100 people left the hotel for the festival site. The grouchy bus driver threw us out in Jaromer at the Fort Josefov location without giving us directions and at first a few Finns and I got lost before we asked some more metal heads where the site actually was. Finally arrived there, I must say the site is impressive.

Tugged away between the old walls of the fortress were the two main stages and along the walls myriads of food stalls, bars and shops lined up. Opposite the stages was another wall with a path in the middle and a hill beyond where the festival organizers had put up benches from which you could see both stages, neat. Also, at the food stalls they put pallets onto the floor for people to sit on. The seating situation was thus much better at Brutal Assault compared to Wacken.

On the first day only the “Jaegermeister stage” operated with breaks in between for set up of the next band, from day 2 onwards the stages would alternate and we’d get metal all around.

After another epic thunderstorm during the night (man, was I happy for my hotels instead of a tiny tent!), the sky cleared again for another merciless day of heat. I’m not an outdoor person and have never been one and I am as white as a bleached wall and just cannot stay in the sun for long. Thus I chose to get on the bus to the festival site only at 15:00. Since my room’s windows faced east, it was hot since sunrise and I fled the heat in my room with my computer and settled down in the lobby after breakfast and wrote some 1000 words for Hagen 3, before heading out to the festival site.

There I continued life in the shadows and stayed mostly in the shade of the castle wall. Sometimes I feel like a vampire or some other creature of the night 😉
I talked for a while to a Turkish guy who was staying in the same hotel as I did. We also talked about the Turkish uprising and it made me feel good that he is as uncomfortable with religious fundamentalists as I am! Metal heads are by nature freedom fighters 😉

The music program highlights of the day were for me Ensiferum, good old Anthrax and Fear Factory. During Anthrax hell broke loose again in form of yet another epic thunderstorm. I managed to find some shelter at one of the bar tents, however I of course was not the only one with that idea and during some death squeezing I lost my treasured sun hat. And not only humans sought shelter from the rain but also an aggressive mosquito. Of all people under that bloody shelter the beast had to bite me… and that in the face. It swelled some but not to epic proportions as in Japan.
The metal heads were not deterred by the rain though and kept on without fail or pause.

During the night things cooled finally down and the next morning saw rain and clouds and after breakfast I decided to do the same as the day before, this time fleeing the cold, not the heat. I went back to bed and around noon we had the next thunderstorm. In total the temperature drop felt like some 20 degrees from 35 to 15.
I did some writing on Hagen 3 in the afternoon and headed to the festival site during yet another thunderstorm. Luckily it was the last of the day. After arrival, I escaped from the rain another little bit and had dinner at one of the excellent food stalls, then bought a new hat to replace the lost one from the night before. After buying the hat it finally stopped raining, hallelujah. The festival site had succumbed to the water and was a mud bath, if not as bad and thick as Wacken, but once again I was happy for my rubber boots.

I finally met the Australians who had helped me in Prague and we had a nice chat. The bands of interest on that day for me were In Flames, Meshuggha and Amorphis.
I will do a festival comparison at the end of this blog entry series but I must say that Brutal Assault was the best organized one of the festivals despite being the cheapest. Best organized (for example): the buses to and fro the hotel, showers for the mosh pitters or against the heat. Cheapest: Wacken plastic cups: 0.3 liters, cost for beer and non-alcohol: 3 Euro. Brutal Assault plastic cups: 0.5 liters, cost for beer and non-alcohol: ~ 2 Euro!
Since Brutal Assault runs under the label “extreme” metal the audience was maybe 80% men vs. 20% women, while Wacken was more in the range of 70% to 30% or maybe even 65% to 35% and the mosh pits looked pretty rough. Of course, the festival is much smaller than Wacken, 75,000 as opposed to 15,000. Nevertheless Brutal Assault manages to create a quite special atmosphere thanks to its awesome location in the old Josefov fort and I’ll keep the festival in good memory. You can find some photo impressions on Flickr again.

Metal Festival Nikki: Part 2 – Wacken to Prague

My onward journey led me to Prague (after two days of sightseeing in Prague I’d be moving on to the town of Jaromer for the next festival called “Brutal Assault”.)

The train journey from Hamburg via Berlin to Prague became an unexpected drama. Everything went fine until about 100 km before Prague, where we got into a massive Wacken-like thunderstorm and the train started going in snail speed.
After many conflicting announcements, they stopped the train altogether at a station called Prague Liben. Not on any of my maps… it turned out to be a local suburb station with nothing much around it. There had been a blackout in Prague and nothing worked anymore. When the train arrived at Prague Liben, it was already delayed for an hour.
I had no clue how to get downtown, everything was written in Czech only… But there were a few metal heads around! Doing the same thing like me: going from Wacken to Brutal Assault. One Danish guy on his own and three Australians, who have come all the way from Down Under to see Wacken and Jaromer. Wow!

We checked the tram, no clue where it goes. We checked the bus, no clue where that goes either. The bold Danish guy hopped on a tram but I stayed with the three Australians and we managed to find a cab and squeezed all four of us including our luggage into the thing. The driver was super nice and even spoke five words of English.
The Australians had a hotel close to the station and they jumped off there and the taxi then brought me on to my hotel. So far so good, but my hotel was deserted and I stood before closed doors and about 21:00 (instead of 19:30).
There was an “emergency” number but that led only to an answering machine in Czech …

By the way, blessed be iPhones, though I had no wifi at Wacken, at least the phone always worked, also in the Czech Republic (don’t know what my phone bill will look like, but I’m darn glad I had means of communication). I asked at a pub next door, nobody knew anything about the hotel but at least they allowed me to use their bathroom. Then somebody came out of the hotel and let me in, though they did not speak much English and shrugged shoulders.
There was a bench in front of the closed reception and I already saw myself sleeping on that bench not knowing what to do for toilets…

Finally, three Russian girls came home and they were so super nice it was unbelievable. They spoke some if not much English but understood my plight. They went to their room and searched for another phone number (I kept calling the official one without result). They came back with another phone number and the hotel’s wifi password and I managed to reach somebody who cooly told me: oh, there you are. Your room is in the attic, number 10, the key is in the lock… Argh.

I brought my hand luggage up four flights of stairs, then went back down to get my big suitcase (called the pink brick) and one of the Russian girls even came to help me carry the suitcase! So awesomely nice! Saved by Aussie metal heads and three Russian girls, I got into my room at about 21:45 or so. Hallelujah!

The two Prague sightseeing days went almost too smooth then 😉 loads of churches, one more beautiful than the other, kilometers of old houses, again one more beautiful than the other, loads of tourists on the Charles Bridge in wonderful (hot, so hot) weather and the as expected sightly surreal Franz Kafka museum were my main points for the first day.

The second insanely hot day in Prague started for me with the Strahov monastery and its beautiful library. One cannot enter but buy a photo permission and shoot stuff. (See the pics on Flickr.) The main room has 38,000 volumes, the smaller one 21,000 volumes. It’s a beautiful place that has surely featured in some movies already. Then I went on to the castle and its St. Vitus cathedral. This is of course one of the major sightseeing spots of Prague and was bursting with people. Despite the heat, I decided to climb the cathedrals weird side tower which houses some bells from the 16th century. Though the climb of 287 stairs was tough, the view over Prague was well worth it (see Flickr pics).

After the rest of the castle was visited I went on to the museum of alchemists whose sign I had discovered the day before.
The museum itself was a bit ridiculous but they allowed pictures and I will decorate my Hagen Patterson series homepage with them 🙂
I promptly returned to the hotel since it was way too hot to keep on wandering around outside and did a bit of Hagen 3 writing 😉 before moving on into the countryside of the Czech Republic for Brutal Assault festival.

Metal Festival Nikki: Part 1 – Narita to Wacken

I’ve been on the road again and shall report about the contrasting program of European sightseeing and heavy metal festival attendance in a weird, combined fashion 🙂

Start: Narita to Wacken
The adventure started with the flight from Narita to Amsterdam via KLM. The flight was fully packed. What a difference to my last flight with KLM in April 2011, some six weeks after our big earthquake. At that time the plane was deserted since “all” foreigners had already left and the Japanese were staying put. Now though, the 747 was full and in the window row next to me (I always get aisle seats for long distance flights if ever possible) sat a mother with her two young children. Her girl was maybe six or seven, her boy was four and one bundle of energy. I don’t think he slept for one second during the flight, much to the plight of his mother. Completely unnerved, she slapped at him with a book several times, short before hitting him, but the boy did not even blink, maybe he was too used to the “empty” threats.

At one time they had to reboot the entertainment system and I whipped out my iPad and started playing around a bit and he was standing in the aisle watching me. Well, not me, but the iPad 😉 I offered him to play and the kid promptly beleaguered me for the better part of an hour, much to the distress of his mother, who was worried he was bothering me. I asked him how old he is and the answer was four. Man, the kid was smart! He tried Archanoid, but that was too fast for him, I guess.

Then he tried Paper Toss, he managed to get the paper into the bin quite a few times. Bored with that he tried Smoody, a puzzle game, and he managed the first few levels without problem. But then he discovered “his” game – Angry Birds. Man, the kid was amazing! Just four years old! Impressive. I told his mom so and she said he plays sometimes with papa’s iPad. Still, the kid left me highly impressed 😉 and I think his Mom was happy that he was occupied for a little while and thanked me very Japanese style so much for having played with her kid. Cute guy, but a handful of work, I can understand his unnerved mother! 😉

The logistics worked out perfectly and I met my ride to Wacken at Hamburg airport after waiting for only ten minutes: two British friends came in from Bristol by car, I via plane from Tokyo. After a relatively smooth ride despite a bit of a traffic jam on the way to Buesum where our hotel was, we arrived there at about 9 in the evening. On the road between Hamburg and Buesum lies Wacken, and half the highway was full of metal heads with W.O.A. = Wacken Open Air written on the back windows etc, of their cars. Most of them left the highway at Wacken to stay at the campsite.

My British friends and I chickened out of camping and stayed in a hotel in Buesum as mentioned already, which is 30 km north of Wacken at the North Sea (and we were not the only metal heads in the hotel).
In Buesum we found our hotel promptly since the town doesn’t happen to be very big and during the last bits of daylight we went in search for the beach, however, the entire seaside of Buesum seems to be under reconstruction and was one huge off limits construction site.
After a late dinner in a pub on the Main Street, we fell into bed, ready for Wacken day one.

The site is huge to say the least since it includes a vast field for campers and the “Wackinger Village” with food stalls and shops and goodie stalls, as well as the main arena that has three stages, the Black, the True Metal and the Party stage and we had quite a ride to find a place where to park our car. During that we passed of course already tons of metal heads and also noticed that every single house in Wacken has a flag hanging out its door. The village truly embraced the metal heads 🙂

Everybody knows that already in the metal world but now I know it too. Wacken is awesome: metal from noon till three in the morning. Great bands, big bands, Stone Age bands (e.g. Alice Cooper and Deep Purple), medium famous band, small bands, Wacken has it all.
On the vast field next to the village black clad people create a unique and a bit magical atmosphere.

It was reconnaissance for my two British friends and me on the first day, exploring the village and the stages and finishing the day with Rammstein (yes, Heino was there for one song).
This year Wacken had everything in store. Soaring heat on Friday, a monstrous thunderstorm on Saturday, with the ensuing mud bath later on and rapidly dropping temperatures.
The metal heads are rough but have their hearts in the right places. Dudes are pissing into the mud not bothering with toilets but carry you across the mud when you ask them to.

On the first night, someone close to me collapsed during Rammstein. Immediately, metal heads ran to the closest security guys who wired the rescue squad and within three minutes someone was there to help. The security guys are like the metal heads, tough and nice at the same time. They are tough when it comes to the festival rules but they also heave the crowd surfers to safety and provide the first row with cups of water.
Every metal head is happy and appreciates to be in metal holy land. People randomly just shout “Wacken!” at each other or sing “Wacken is only once a year”. The bands are happy to play there as well (of course) and many do special shows and some record their shows, etc. It’s all one amazing atmosphere that makes Wacken the special place it has become.

The shows that impressed me most were Rammstein, Powerwolf, Sabaton, Nightwish, Agnostic Front and my favorite Amorphis of course, who did an awesome special acoustic set before the head-banging songs.
Maybe the funniest gig was Alestorm with people crowd surfing in rubber boats, on their bellies and two on top of each other and the mosh pit suddenly sat down and pretended to row their pirate ship.
You can find some 30 or 40 or so pics of the hundreds that were taken on my Flickr account.

It was a rough three days and I wonder just how many people got sick, had heat strokes and alcohol or other drug overdoses 😉 and caught colds on the last day during the thunderstorm, the mud and suddenly 15 degrees Celsius.
It was over all too quickly and on the 4th of August my two British friends brought me to Hamburg’s main train station from where I would be heading to Prague and they to Calais to catch the tunnel train. All in all, Wacken was awesome, and I don’t think it will be the last time I have gone there.
Stay tuned for part two of the journey tomorrow 😉