The preliminary rounds for the "Wacken Metal Battle" are currently taking place in 30 countries. The winners will perform at the world's most important heavy metal festival. It's world music - of a different kind.
Estefania Garcia is covered with tattoos, has long pink dreadlocks and wears a black leather corset. Her splinted leg doesn't stop her from leaping across the stage while singing about the pressures of society and how she wants to reclaim her life. Yet only die-hard fans could understand the words of the song, because the petite lead singer of the Spanish band [In Mute] sings in a deep and harsh voice.
Welcome to the Wacken Metal Battle.
"For the metal scene, this event is very important because you get to discover real gems," explains Miriam Hensel. She manages the international contacts and projects for the Wacken Festival. She can still remember the performance of the five musicians with the square brackets in their band's name.
"[In Mute] held a performance which unleashed this incredible energy," says Hensel. With their guitars, bass and drums, they build up a wall of sound to which the singer hurls her threatening songs. With their Melodic Death Metal, a Scandinavian style of music, the band from Valencia won the Metal Battle in 2014.
Tent ensures equal conditions for all
"Louder than Hell" is the motto of the festival, which takes place every year in August. As in previous years, the 75,000 tickets are already sold out. Music fans from all over the world will travel to the small community of Wacken in the North of Germany to celebrate their old favorites: Biohazard, Judas Priest or Sepultura.
Others will hang out on the campground with a few cans of beer for heated debates on the latest trends in Death Metal, Black Metal or Trash Metal. This category of festival-goers will certainly want to follow the two-day Metal Battle which takes place in the Bullhead City tent - although the word "tent" might be misleading in this case: it can fit in 6,000 fans.
"Other festivals would use the lighting and sound equipment we have on the competition's stage for their main stages," says Miriam Hensel. Each of the 30 bands has 20 minutes to put on the best show for the audience and the jury. Those who keep going for longer simply get their sound cut off. The tent structure is equally important, as it provides fair conditions for all participants: They can perform during the day and still put on great shows.
The 30 countries taking part in the competition are now going through the national pre-selections. Beyond the classic metal nations such as Finland, Sweden and the UK, there will be contestants from Bulgaria and the Middle East this year.
There are even national "Metal Battle departments" in China, India and Israel. These are led by music journalists, club owners or dedicated fans who want to promote heavy metal music in their country.
Wanted: German newcomer bands
However, some countries which have previously participated in the competition will not be on this year's list - and that includes Germany. The organizers explain this odd decision was based on the high quality standards of the event: the metal music scene is well established in Germany, but there are not enough interesting newcomers to set up a national metal battle.
Bands from Uruguay, Japan or Iceland have good chances this year. The audience is considered to be very open to musical experimentation. Bands even integrate traditional influences from their country, so the Wacken Metal Battle actually promotes its own type of world music.
Nevertheless, bands who want to score points should rather stick to the conventions of the genre. In Wacken, this means head-banging music which vibrates through the whole body. The Finnish band Battle Beast, with its Nordic blond lead singer who could effortlessly switch octaves, won in 2010. Hamferð, a band from the Faroe Islands, won in 2012 by integrating melodic intros into their songs.
The Metal Battle has a jury member from each of the 30 participating countries, as well as additional specialized journalists and musicians. They will pick the five best bands, who will not only get prizes in cash and sound equipment, but also a filmed portrait to be broadcast worldwide on Deutsche Welle's weekly music television show, PopXport.