Like the festival from which it is spawned, "Armageddon Over Wacken" is a mammoth undertaking, not for the faint of heart or elitist in spirit. A died-and-gone-to-metal-heaven bacchanal where DIO and MOTÖRHEAD slot next to BAL-SAGOTH, MAYHEM and CANNIBAL CORPSE — and they all end up sharing a stage with off-the-radar-screen bands like FEINSTEIN and GUTBUCKET — is no place for turning up one's nose, either at the field full of sweaty, drunken, exuberant Euro-fanatics lining up for the portable toilets, or the vast spectrum of metal on display.
The sound is just the way live albums should be — clear, forceful, yet unadulterated. With 46 tracks from almost as many bands, there's no time for prettying things up in post-production — and while that may lead to FEINSTEIN's backing vocals being a little pungent, or VANGUARD's bassist hitting a couple of howlers, it beats the hell out of most overtweaked "live" albums released these days. Americans used to seeing these bands in small theaters, if at all, will be astonished to hear tens of thousands of people not only singing along to DEATH ANGEL and NEVERMORE, but to songs from their newest albums — not just the golden oldies.
Individual highlights are too numerous to mention. This is a great mix of established names and D-list bands for whom an appearance at Wacken will likely be a career zenith. Hell, I can't believe I now own a live HOBBS ANGEL OF DEATHtrack! The outlook here is very European — lots of death, thrash, power and traditional metal, but nothing in the way of Americanized metalcore. If I had to quibble at all about it, I'd fault the lax layout and design (so many typos, not to mention obviously incorrect song credits — I doubt Joey Belladonna had a hand in writing "Only"). And who decided EKTOMORF and DR. ROCK got two songs each, while DEATH ANGEL, UNLEASHED, MAYHEM, and the vastly underrated ORPHANAGE make do with one?
That's minor gripes, though. Anyone who lives and breathes heavy metal is gonna want to own "Armageddon Over Wacken 2004" on general principles. You'll have some new favorite live cuts, you'll learn about a few undiscovered bands, and you can rock out to it in the safety of your own home without being tackled and hugged by overzealous Germans in sleeveless denim jackets (with DEATHROW back-patches on them) every time DORO launches into weepy anthem "Fur Immer". Who could ask for more?