How big is Wacken Open Air (W:O:A)? The annual hard rock and heavy metal festival draws almost 100,000 headbangers to the small German town of Wacken in Schleswig-Holstein the first weekend in August.
It is a powerchord pilgrimage destination for global metalheads. For bands in the genre, there is no other festival you want to be performing at.
Four years ago, the event's promoters recognized this and started the Wacken Metal Battle competition. The Canadian version of this sees bands in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Regina, London, Hamilton, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal participate in showcases to win the overall prize of performing at W:O:A as well as representing their country in the 30 nationwide grand finale.
Canada has managed two world champions out of this, Crimson Shadows in 2013 and Vesperia in 2015, who perform in Sudbury on Sunday at The Asylum.
Vocalist/bassist/keyboardist Morgan Rider is in the unique position of playing in both Crimson Shadows and Vesperia. Clearly, this is a fellow who knows his metal. He's been through the super tight, 20-minute judged elimination set twice.
"Attending Wacken is a dream come true, but playing it is a dream come true and one which not only boosts the band's confidence but also the confidence of people in the industry about the band," said Rider. "It's not called the Holy Grounds for no reason. It changes everything for the artists who perform there."
Rider left Crimson Shadows, who are signed to Austria's Napalm Records, to pursue his first love and group he started, Vesperia. The group has two full-length albums and its latest release is 2015's The Iron Tempests EP. Its sound represents the musician's multiple tastes. Heavy metal has a notoriously complex number of sub-categories, each with its own fan base, which often don't cross-pollinate.
For Vesperia, Rider wanted to be sure to reach a wide range of listeners with songs such as the lightning fast The Western Tempests or In the Hall of the Mountain King, which incorporates portions of Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg's Peer Gynt into its arrangement -- albeit using screaming distorted guitar rather than symphonic strings. This is clearly a band that has the chops to play a variety of styles.
"I wanted to make Vesperia have this fantastical sound which brought together my love of Tolkien and Viking-based lyrics and taking them into creating a fantasy version of history with real people and events meshed with other stories," he said. "The whole drive to create this band came from my desires to develop and explore this with elements of death, thrash, power and even symphonic metal. It's working."
Vesperia is also a job for Rider and his bandmates, and they take it seriously. While winning the Wacken contest has both monetary and marketing benefits, the reality for any artist is that you tour to survive and you depend on merchandising sales to keep yourself afloat on the off times.
Vesperia is no different, but the group displays the same ambitious character with its product line even including Rider's home-brewed mead. He has been making the medieval drink for about the past four years.
"It's honey wine that takes about six months to ferment and then another six to eight to mature, and I make an alcoholic and non-alcoholic (sold on tour) version using slightly different recipes," he said.
"We are sort of opening a secondary business owned and operated by the band involving beer and wines. I can't say who the brewer is we are working with at the moment, but there will be an Iron Saga Porter, an old school style English Ale called Olden Ale and, of course, the Vesperia Mead."
When the band plays, it will be displaying the professional, fireproof backdrops that were part of its prize winning package, as well as numerous other stage features to "take the visual element of the show to the next level." Unfortunately, the musical instruments and gear the group also scored in the prize are not on the road.
"The Washburn guitar is beautiful, but unfortunately since we are all under exclusive endorsement contracts with other manufacturers, we can't really use the stuff on tour," Rider said. "I'm endorsed by Ibanez and my 2015 six-string SRFF 806 bass is a beautiful instrument, as well."
As to the goals of the group, playing W:O:A as a featured act would be pretty awesome. In the meantime, the group has a Marshall Fridge in its practice pad. Yes, they won a fridge, which looks like a Marshall amplifier.
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The Asylum presents Vesperia, The Tempests Over Ontario Tour, with Catharcyst, Buried Out Back
Where: Live at The Asylum, 19 Regent St.
When: Sunday, 9 p.m.
Tickets: $10 at the door.