Imagine standing onstage, playing to a crowd of heavy metal fans in a foreign country thousands of miles away from home. If that isn’t enough pressure, you’re also playing the biggest metal festival in the world — Wacken Open Air in Germany. On top of that, you’re officially representing the Philippines after deservingly taking the top spot out of many other metal bands from Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. This is story of ORCA — the grand champions of Wacken Metal Battle Philippines 2022.

ORCA are a Filipino progressive metalcore band — currently composed of vocalist Zoren Fernandez, drummer Gelo Sibal, and guitarists Zyme Sanchez and Kiko Hernandez — hailing from Metro Manila. If you have yet to hear about them or their music, you should know that they’ve been around since late 2012. ORCA has released two EPs: Creation in 2015 and Engender in 2018. More recently, they’ve put out a full-length album, The Invitation, in 2021, as well as two singles — “UNSLF” and “11th Hour” — last year.

wacken open air wacken metal battle philippines orca

Courtesy of Finite Fam

In 2022, the band’s trajectory changed forever when they were crowned as winners of the inaugural Wacken Metal Battle Philippines — the Philippine iteration of a worldwide battle-of-the-bands spotlighting unsigned metal bands from across the globe, and giving them the chance to perform at Wacken. Since the festival’s inception in 1989, ORCA was only the second Filipino band to ever play at the festival, following metalcore veterans Valley of Chrome, who were invited in 2019. Eventually, ORCA fought well and took home 8th place against more than 40 bands from other participating countries.

With the Wacken Metal Battle Philippines 2024 finals happening on June 16, Billboard Philippines linked up with ORCA to look back on their entire Wacken 2022 experience, to gain first-hand insight and much-needed wisdom to benefit the competition’s future challengers and champions.

Why they joined the battle

Admittedly for the band, it was a no-brainer. After all, it was a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” stated Hernandez, for a chance to play the biggest metal festival in the world.

With the COVID-19 pandemic finally easing up, the group made use of the momentum they’ve built up during the lockdown, having never stopped discussions on “producing songs” and “the future [of] the band,” according to Sibal.

“We just [wanted] to seize the opportunity to perform on a bigger stage,” shared Fernandez. “We had to do it regardless of the outcome.” Ultimately, while the band was simply looking for a show to play, it became, according to Sanchez, “life-changing” and “one of the best shows we played.”

Preparing for the finals

Despite a certain pressure that was undoubtedly present, as Sibal admits, the band reveal that they simply went about what they would normally do to prepare for any other gig, including making sure that all their gear was working, and clocking in a couple of practices while having fun. “I don’t think we did anything special because you can only bring [who] you really are at that point,” shares Sanchez.

“To be honest, there was nothing special or different during our preparation,” adds Hernandez. “We did what we normally do during our practices: we set up, goofed around, practiced the set a few times — the same way we prepare for our gigs.”

As they went about their preparations, what was ultimately left for them was to simply live out one of the biggest moments of their career so far.

wacken open air wacken metal battle philippines orca

Courtesy of Finite Fam. Photographed by Alvin Chan.

What playing at the finals was like

Excitement, nervousness, and everything in between — that’s what it felt for ORCA.

“At the start of the day, the excitement to play [at the] Amoranto [Stadium] [was] what’s [at the] top of our heads,” recalls Sibal. “While waiting for our set, the venue and amount of people watching emphasized the pressure at hand.”

Fernandez admits that a bit of anxiety was present at that time. However, upon stepping onstage, it faded away. All he felt was that they were already lost in the moment.

“It was overwhelming at first but once we got to the stage, all of that was gone,” narrates Hernandez, also sharing that seeing a gigantic circle pit composed of dozens of metalheads made their set even more memorable. “That was the first time I saw a circle pit that big,” he continues.

“That was the biggest crowd that we ever played [to],” adds Sanchez. “The most memorable moment was when we asked people to come close and they did, and they kept coming.”

“We were really grateful seeing people enjoy our set at that time,” says Sibal. “It made sense that our bodies were aching [afterwards] because we performed the best that we could.”

Becoming champions

Eventually, the effort the band put in — both technical and physical — would prove to be absolutely worth it. Besting other acts from the rest of the Philippines, ORCA would deservingly emerge victorious that night. Filled with happiness and relief, it was a “surreal” moment for the band that, as they describe, continues to give them chills to this day. According to the Fernandez, it was the “perfect definition of ‘dreams into fruition'” — one that left Sibal thinking, “Damn, is this real?” as the music and the voices all around them became muted in his mind.

Preparing for Germany

As the dust settled in Amoranto Stadium, ORCA’s battle was far from over, as they now set their sights on the true final battle on the hallowed lands of Wacken Open Air in Germany.

Aside from putting in the usual work of practicing and rehearsing whenever they could, the band reveals that the most challenging hurdle they had on the road to Germany was more on the governmental side. When asked what future champions should be aware of and prepare for the most, the members of ORCA unanimously agree: processing such necessary travel documents as passports and visas alongside other related requirements like vaccine cards — a not-so-difficult yet an absolutely time-consuming endeavor, according to Fernandez.

wacken open air wacken metal battle philippines orca

Courtesy of Finite Fam. Photographed by Alvin Chan.

“I didn’t have my documents prepared, so that was the biggest challenge,” remembers Sanchez. “I had to account for that outside work hours and how time consuming it was.”

“Since we’re the first band to experience this, everything was really a test run on how it can be improved for the next ones,” states Sibal, who also shares how they used the free time outside of their day jobs to rehearse their set for Wacken, with Hernandez adding that they held practices weeks ahead of their flight to “refine small tweaks.”

Being in Germany, and performing at Wacken Open Air

“Before the show, we roamed around Hamburg for a day or two before heading to Wacken,” shares Hernandez. “Upon arriving at Wacken, we set up our tents, which was also fun.”

Sibal notes some memorable experiences from their time at Wacken, including the struggle of dragging all of their gear on a cart with a broken wheel across a long road just to register and get to their designated camping spot. He then recalls setting up and living in their so-called “ORCAmp” — the band’s HQ for the whole duration of their stay at the metal festival. “Our first night was [one of] the most chilling nights we'[ve] ever encountered in our lives,” he recounts. “We woke up at around 4 AM to 7-degree Celsius weather. We thought we were done there.” Hernandez adds that the weather was so cold that when they left their beers outside the tent, they chilled to almost freezing point.

“We met incredible people from all over the world — from Metal Battle champions from their respective countries, to the people who go to Wacken annually,” reminisces Hernandez. “The place is so metal that the first thing you hear is either Meshuggah’s ‘Rational Gaze’ or Metallica’s ‘Master of Puppets’ blasting at 7 in the morning. We also [gave] hundreds of horns up and shouts of ‘Wacken!’ every day since that’s how you greet[ed] people there.”

Sibal also recalls the day before their performance, where they did a pre-show warmup with a 15KM walk. Because of this, the band found themselves “calmer than what we had expected” on the day of their performance. “We performed and enjoyed our set to the best that we [could], and we didn’t expect people who [didn’t] know us to watch,” he shared. “But they showed us their support, and we’re really, really grateful for that.”

Hernandez also notes that, during their set, he was touched to see that the people they had met in their first few days at Wacken had come to watch and support them. “The overwhelming support of the people at Wacken was a humbling experience for us,” he affirms, “especially since we [came] from a third-world country and traveled thousands of miles to be there.”

Sanchez, on the other hand, fondly looks back on how people reached out to them following their set. Meanwhile, he also advises to expect cold weather even if if people say that it was summer, as well as to respect everyone else’s time.

wacken open air wacken metal battle philippines orca

Courtesy of Finite Fam. Photographed by Alvin Chan.

“Our mindset back then was just to get the feel of the different world and live every second of the moment,” concurs Fernandez, noting how different their culture was from our own. “Be punctual and polite at all times. Establish connection[s] and friendship [with the] other bands,” he adds, while reminding the future Philippine champions to enjoy themselves: “Eat their food, talk to people, drink beer, and have fun!”

Ultimately, Sibal sums it all up by saying, “It’s really a once in a lifetime experience.”

What they learned from Wacken

Following their time at Wacken, the band went home with pride, armed with countless learnings and eye-opening experiences that would eventually fuel their resolve and inform their artistry from that point onwards. “After Wacken Open Air, we listed things that we needed to apply to our band in terms of songwriting, improvement, and band upgrades that we all agreed on moving forward,” shares Hernandez, with Sanchez noting the need to work even harder when one crosses borders.

“Every good thing takes time and maximum effort. It takes mutual understanding and commitment from every member to effectively push their careers forward,” affirms Fernandez as he reflects on his own learnings from their experience. He adds that being at Wacken helped open their eyes to a “system that works if you want longevity and efficiency in your music career.”

wacken open air wacken metal battle philippines orca

Courtesy of Finite Fam. Photographed by Alvin Chan.

Sibal ultimately learned that there really are no rules when it comes to creating one’s music. He says, “It should be something that you can enjoy, so other people can also enjoy listening to it.” He also shares their experience getting to watch and becoming inspired by fellow metal acts Monuments and The Dali Thundering Concept during their short stay in Hamburg. “It made us realize the gravity of showing energy while performing,” he recounts. “Showmanship may not be a priority in the Philippine music scene, but we learned that it is what connects the band to the crowd.”

What it meant for them to represent the Philippines as a metal band

In the Philippines or anywhere else in the world, metal and other forms of heavy music have never really been considered mainstream. Thus, for a band like ORCA to officially represent their country on a big international stage like Wacken, it’s a badge of honor they would wear on their sleeves for the rest of their lives. As Hernandez puts it, this honor was meant to not only “showcase our music on… the biggest stage we have ever played on as a band,” but also “to showcase what Philippine metal has to offer.”

“This meant everything [to] me as I wasn’t just there as a member of ORCA. I was there as a representative of the Philippines,” shares Sanchez. “Personally, that comes first before anything else, because we were gonna do what we were meant to do as a band regardless — [we] always [put our] best foot forward so we can make the Philippine metal scene global.”

wacken open air wacken metal battle philippines orca

Courtesy of Finite Fam. Photographed by Alvin Chan.

“It is also a very significant achievement for us, who only dreamt of playing [at] an international show, what more to represent the country in a big metal festival,” agrees Sibal. “It is a core memory for us.”

“I am absolutely grateful for the opportunity to show my band on a larger scale,” Fernandez states proudly, commenting on how the experience helped them make meaningful connections with so many other like-minded artists and music enthusiasts from all over the globe. “When you are there, everything is united. Yes, we wear flags from our countries, as winners and as representative[s]. But everyone just wants to play their music — music that is universal — which is what this festival is all about.”

“After playing at Wacken Open Air, even though we didn’t win and ranked 8th, we are grateful just to have played there,” says Hernandez. “We’re proud that we gave our all and represented the Philippines at the biggest metal festival in the world.”

Listen to The Invitation by ORCA below: