Festival Review – HELLFEST 2012!

You gotta hand it to the people at Hellfest, no festival has grown faster in recent years and it’s easy to see why given their diverse but amazing line-ups. With an average of 20,000 attendees increasing exponentially every year, 2012 proved to be the year then this French festival would pull out all the stops to reach their record of 112,000!!

In order to accommodate the growing masses – which have seen this festival almost become a rite of passage for French youth – the arena was shifted onto the site of last year’s camp grounds. It was certainly more spacious although the grass of previous years had now been replaced by a spongy mud prone soil and nearer the stage, a gravel pit.

Still, with blocks of shipping containers accommodating the stalls and all kinds of metal sculptures adorning the site, at night Hellfest became a world within a world when illuminated in different colours.
Fri 15 June
I arrived in time to see old faves LIZZY BORDEN kicking out the jams with all the LA pageantry they could muster amidst star spangled flags, fire breathing chicks – LOL, it was almost a parade especially when they launched into the French national anthem ‘La Marseillaise’! I guess they had cause to feel happy given it was their first time in France as they belted out old faves ‘Me Against The World’ and ‘Tomorrow Never Comes’ and when Lizzy decided to slit the dancing chicks throat during ‘There Will Be Blood Tonight’ I knew it was time for a JD & coke – some things never change LOL!

Indeed, I’ve been a fan of MOLLY HATCHET since the early 80s but only seen ‘em a precious few times. With mainman Dave Hlubek back in the saddle of a cool album in “Justice” I couldn’t wait fer these boys to rip with opener ‘Whisky Man’. Vocalist Phil McCormack actually seems to nowadays resemble his predecessors given his girth in Jimmy Farrah and his voice in Danny Joe Brown – what a combination as these southern boys boogied to my personal fave ‘Beatin’ The Odds’ and ‘Flirtin’ With Disaster’. Hell yeah!

They say that Germans have no sense of humour. Well, Michael Kiske and UNISONIC seemed to be on a mission to prove otherwise! Opening to the Apocalypse Now intro ‘Ride Of The Valkyries’, Kiske and fellow Helloweener Kai Hansen brought their own brand of Kraut rock to Main Stage 1 in ‘Over The Rainbow’ and ‘King For A Day’. Throughout their set, Kiske kept jesting with the crowd, pulling some of the craziest faces and having some serious fun. Then it was time for our turn during the ultimate Helloween shout in ‘I Want Out’ – although none of us didn’t given the smiles all around.

Having seen Mexican chapa metal ‘supergroup’ BRUJERIA in action in Germany, I did wonder how the French would cope with the bizarre combination of Mexican death metal rap. Needless to say, as the intro to ‘Pito Wilson’ (anti immigrant US politician) gave way to Brujo and Peach’s Spanish vocals, the crowds’ jaws dropped although those that knew songs like ‘Division Del Norte’ and the rousing ‘Matando Queros’ sang along fanatically to their machete wielding mentors (if only they knew what they were singing about LOL).

In complete contrast were Norway’s TAAKE, basking in the strobe emanating from a massive (upside down of course) cross that was the lighting rig of the Temple stage. Not without controversy, vocalist Host was draped in a Norwegian flag but thankfully stuck to business tonite. Taake aren’t exactly black metal although they certainly incorporate elements of it in their riffing and deep, rumbling bass amidst a rock beat on songs like ‘Umenneske’ and ‘Du Ville Ville Vestland’. Definitely a Nordic affair.

They didn’t call it the Warzone fer nothing. INTEGRITY were in town. The last time I saw these guys there was a big fight and frontman Dwid has always been a timebomb. As the drummer chucked bottles of water full pelt into the crowd, even security looked intimidated as Integrity’s sonic barrage of feedback doom drenched noise assaulted us. Dwid is ugly. His voice is even uglier. And this was music to fight to. Like a metalcore version of John The Baptist, Dwid ranted and made speeches in between songs although I doubt if anyone understood him. Certainly the rest of the band kept well away from him but we were transfixed by the intensity and fear generated by this band. Integrity had brought the ‘hell’ to Hellfest!

In complete contrast were southern legends LYNYRD SKYNYRD LOL! I’ve always respected Ricky Medlocke since his Blackfoot days so it was a pleasure to see him in probably the best known Southern rock band ever although the way Van Zant waved that damned stars n bars flag I did wonder if he was trying to protect himself from the crowd LOL as the band closed with ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ and of course, their signature medley ‘Freebird’.

Let’s Go Murphys! Let’s Go Murphys! The crowd chanted amidst a sea of scally caps n sideburns. Boston’s skinhead crew the DROPKICK MURPHYS have grown steadily over the years from a rough n ready gang to becoming the Celtic rock successors to the likes of The Chieftains or The Pogues. Their fiery brand of Irish folk punk is irresistible mixing in their own songs like ‘The State of Massachusetts’ with traditional songs like ‘Irish Rover’. All decked in black looking like they’d just stepped out’ve an Irish pub, there’s now 2 chick violinists in the band as the Murphy’s continue to expand into the mainstream, no better displayed than on ‘Shipping Up To Boston’ as themed in the DiCaprio / Nicolson film “The Departed” but these lads still know how to throw a party!

Fuck me, how heavy was that sound coming from OBITUARY?! You could feel the vibrations from the bass and the drums all the way back so the sound guy musta got it perfect. Still with the Tardy bros leading the way, it was a real pleasure to hear these veterans grind out ‘Threatening Skies’, ‘The End Complete’ and ‘Chopped In Half’ once again just like they did during the 80s – sadly I had to do the same and cut their set short to catch one of the ‘big 4’.

Amidst a wall of Marshalls, MEGADETH were putting on a mega set befitting of their headliner status in assembling the largest crowd of the day and playing old chestnuts like ‘Peace Sells…’, ‘In My Darkest Hour’ and of course ‘Mechanix’. To be frank it was no different to any other Megadeth show – such is their professionalism – but as the occasional roar from Obituary could still be heard, there was a slight thought of regret of having forgone them for Mr Mustaine, kitted out with a twin Flying V no less but sadly without his surly self these days.

At the midnight hour ‘tis the witching hour! With that it was time for Mr Falsetto himself, KING DIAMOND. Well, if Megadeth’s set was epic, then KD was spared no expense for his lavish stage set, resembling a satanic church complete with a balcony and staircase although the iron bars in front of the stage gave me the impression the band were playing in a cage LOL. Still with an amazing voice, KD is almost as much theatrical as he is musical with his rock opera songs like ‘Voodoo’, ‘Welcome Home’ and the fitting epitaph ‘Halloween’ – it wasn’t my cup of tea exactly, but he was entertaining even in the rain and a fitting closer to this first amazing day.

Sat 16 Jun

Despite the fact that the heavy rain had turned the grounds into a mud skating ring – I was pumped to see Arizona thrashers SACRED REICH again. They have a great range of songs and have enjoyed a welcome resurgence of interest in the last few years. But where were they? The main stage looked devoid of any equipment and with only 15 mins to go I began to wonder if they’d cancelled. But no! The sight of a roadie in an SR tee rapidly followed by a gang of crew and finally the band themselves witnessed an onstage set up at grand prix levels LOL. Phil waved and wisecracked to the cheering crowd and soon a booming ‘Empire Strikes Back’ intro gave way to ‘Independent’, ‘One Nation’, ‘Love Hate’ and of course the ever raucous ‘Surf Nicaragua’. Even after all these decades SR are still thrashing with songs that still reek of political controversy!

In complete contrast to SR’s street level approach were Norway’s DJERV, who played a kind’ve neo gothic rock metal complete with a blonde vixen creature who cavorted around the stage. I got the impression they’d have been better suited to some suave electro goth club rather than a muddy tent in France but I guess they grew on me by the end.

Rooooaaarrrrraaaagggghhhh – came the sound from VOMITORY’s bassist Erik Rundqvist and fuck yeah, the Altar crowd duly roared back LOL! These Swedes play old school death metal and it’s about as meat n potatoes as that, nothing controversial or theatrical, just the blurring brutality of songs like ‘Hollow Retribution’, ‘Chaos Fury’ and ‘Blood Rapture’. I guess the only thing that made me laugh was seeing them off stage outta their army boots in slippers LOL

A lotta people had been laughing about SEBASTIAN BACH: I guess what with the likes of Axel Rose and Vince Neil, they were expecting some sorta corpulent rock diva to drunkenly stumble about onstage. Well, Bach is a rock diva, but the crowd could take a big fuck you to the lean, leather clad figure who swung the mike so viciously round his head like a lasso that I thought it would take someone’s head off! Wisely taking his cue from the string of hits engineered in Skid Row, Bach proceeded not only to wow but win the crowd over with ‘Big Guns’, ‘Monkey Business’ and ‘Slave To The Grind’. Holy crap, he even had me singing to ‘I Remember You’ and the immortal ’18 and Life’ – songs that reflected and defined us back then. Seb ruled man, he was king of the day.

My god, whose idea was it to invent EDGUY? With their joker backdrop I was expecting an even happier version of Unisonic. Well, I guess they were happy – in an insane sorta way! With a camp vocalist whose patronising quips made me wonder if his last job was a game show host I began to wonder if the backdrop owed more to the joker from Batman. Musically it wasn’t much better being a watered down Helloween that tried desperately to get the crowd going – well it did until the vocalist opened his mouth so songs like ‘Rock Of Cashel’, ‘King Of Fools’ and the aptly named ‘Lavatory Love Machine’ were destined to fester in the nearest toilet block (which this year were incidentally as foul).

Even as we get old, the inner child in us remains. So, why not go to the front for MACHINE HEAD? Great idea, except for the fact that a coupla hundred other people also thought they’d do so. So as the soothing melodies of Within Temptation played to us, we jostled, pushed and finally fought our way to the stage barrier. And there we waited for the next hour and a half. Facing the stage, I really didn’t have an idea of just how many people were behind me except that the pressure on my back was ever growing and soon, someone’s breath was on my neck. As the lights dimmed a huge roar and chant of ‘Machine Fuckin ‘ead’ broke out. And all hell broke loose. I’ve been in some crowd crushes, but this one will be told to my grandkids. Opening with ‘I Am Hell’ the band couldn’t have defined it better: my lungs were so crushed against the stage barrier that I nearly passed out. By the time ‘Locust’ rang out I nearly asked security to lift me out, but it was so tight there was no way of that happening. I think even the band realised what was goin on – it was certainly written on the faces of the photographers and security – and slowed things down. Man, there were so many people surfing over that one guy even knocked a security guard out and I got viciously kicked in the back of the head but luckily didn’t pass out. By the time ‘Davidian’ closed the set my adrenaline had kicked in and all the youngsters around me musta been wondering what was up with this old geezer thrashin LOL. The aftermath resembled a battlefield with clothes, smashed phones, abandoned rucksacs –man, you could’ve kitted yourself to a new wardrobe LOL

Wow, if Rob Flynn & co had literally taken my breath away, then AXEL ROSE blew me away. For a start, he actually showed up on time! I dunno what Hellfest said or did, but that itself speaks bounds about this festival, considering most people I spoke to that day thought they’d be going to sleep half way thru his set owing to his reputation for late starts. A ripping ‘Welcome To The Jungle’ saw a physically lean and spiritually confident Rose take to the stage amidst a blood red techno light show. As ‘Rocket Queen’, ‘Chinese Democracy’ and ‘November Rain’ were all delivered expertly so too did the confidence of the crowd in Rose amidst growing levels of elation and applause. Considering he was scheduled for a 2.5 hr set I did wonder, given the way the numbers like ‘Live And Let Die’ and ‘It’s So Easy’ were rolling out if he had an oxygen tent set up LOL but as lengthy solos from his new band followed it all made sense, even if I did ask why he hadn’t extended such a democratic approach with the original band. As ‘Don’t Cry’, ‘Civil War’ and ‘Night Train’ closed his set I did wonder which of the GnR variants I preferred, whether it was the solo efforts of the previous group members or this new band with clones of his former band mates – I guess they both have their merits and claims to the sound but ultimately it’s the material of the original band that sets it miles apart from the guys today. In that respect none of them have been able to recapture that old glory.

Sun 17th Jun

By now the cumulative effect of lack of sleep was starting to take its toll so after a late start I arrived back at the Altar stage for BRUTAL TRUTH. Despite the ground not drying out fully, it was insanely hot inside the double marquee tent and wacky drummer Rich Hoak was already sweating without having drummed a beat LOL. Still, Kevin Sharp couldn’t have been happier once he’d laid his hands on some beers and so began their industro grind noise of ‘Birth Of Ignorance’, ‘Godplayer’ and ‘Time’. You hadta wonder how bassist Danny Lilker was still in his trademark black jeans, tee n shoes after 4 decades and at the end of their set both band and crowd were glad for a breath of fresh air.

Man, it sure was funny to see this redneck biker with an Indian headress on LOL as ZAKK WYLDE cranked out ‘Crazy Horse’ and then proceeded to give us America 101 with his brand of stadium rock. Pounding drums, power chords from coffin shaped guitars and endlessly wailing guitar solos played to the air punching masses was what it was all about on ‘Fire It Up’, ‘Godspeed’ and ‘Hellbound’. It sure wasn’t pretty but it was rock in all its blood n guts glory.

If Black Label Society represented the rock god world of the USA, then the next few bands would define its dark underbelly, a dark world of an underclass with its own dark music no better defined than by WALLS OF JERICHO. I’d caught a glimpse of these guys at Hellfest a coupla years back and they’d made a lasting impression, but nothing could prepare me for the furor of frontwoman Candace Kucsulain. Even before she was a mouthful, but 2 years on she’d been on some GI Jane workout program cos man, this chick now had muscles! As she repeatedly screamed ‘circle pit!!!, circle pit!!!!’ the crowd duly obliged with some of the biggest pits I’ve ever seen. Nursing my bruised ribs from the previous day I was glad to be watching this but it was no less an awesome spectacle as Candace bayed the crowd more to storm the barrier pointing to security saying ‘..that’s what they pay these guys for..’! She sure is one angry woman, even the rest of WOJ seemed to give her a wide berth onstage. As the band shredded thru ‘And Hope To Die’, ‘A Trigger Fulla Promises’ and ‘Playing Soldier Again’ I got the impression the style of moshcore being played by not only WOJ, but subsequently Hatebreed and Devildriver was music deliberately created for the pit, bereft of any melody but boosted to the max by raw, primordial aggression.

After the intensity of the last few hours I was really looking forward to one of the classic bands of the 70s: BLUE OYSTER CULT. I’d never seen these guys before but songs like ‘Godzilla’ and ‘Don’t Fear The Reaper’ remain timeless classics in the annals of rock history. Still with Donald Buck Dharma and Eric Bloom, BOC was welcomed to huge applause but sadly seemed to dissipate thereafter like a deflated balloon. I’m not sure why as the guys seem to be having a ball and so were the folks around me but mebbe their connect to the crowd wasn’t quite there despite playing those aforementioned classics along with ‘Buck’s Boogie’ and ‘Burning For You’. Still, I might have had the fear of Candace Kucsulain still resonating thru me LOL

No such apprehension for retiree rocker Bobby Liebling! This dude might be pushing 60 but cult US doomsters PENTAGRAM rocked the ‘Valley’ tent! Opening with ‘Sign Of The Wolf’, Liebling must’ve been invigorated by all the youngsters around cos he was like grandpa running wild all over the stage and pulling faces at the photographers – the man was having a ball LOL! ‘Death Row’, ‘Relentless’ and ‘Dying World’ all rocked out to the small but energised doom crew who cheered out Bobby to much love.

MOTLEY CRUE too seemed to be having a ball. Word must’ve got to them about GnR and Seb Bach’s performances so the pressure was on for Vince to kick out the jams amidst a cheerleader chorus of strippers to accompany predictably ‘Girls, Girls, Girls’, along with ‘Dr Feelgood’ and the anthemic ‘Shout At The Devil’. Despite the band looking old even with all the make up – and me wondering if Mick Mars might keel over at times – da Crue brought it all La La to the fields of France as they basked in the evening sunset.

And the 80s classics rolled on – next up was SLASH with Miles Kennedy on vocals who really does do justice to songs like ‘One Last Thrill’, along with GnR songs like ‘Paradise City’ and ‘Sweet Child…’. I did wonder if this was a bit overkill given GnR’s lengthy set yesterday but I guess Hellfest believes in piling them on in order to give every Euro’s worth to the crowd so who am I to argue with that 112,000 gate figure?

With Black Sabbath sadly cancelling we were left with Ozzy headlining for the 3rd year running amidst the returning rain. Thankfully Alexi Laiho and his CHILDREN OF BODOM came to my rescue in a packed to the gills Altar tent with many seeking refuge from the by now cold bucketing rain. I could barely see the band but songs like ‘Everytime I Die’, ‘Angels Don’t Kill’ and ‘Needled..’ were delivered with the intensity and passion that soon warmed everyone up. COBs material has evolved over the years and today it probably contains one of the most diverse ranges around ranging from power to melodic death to even symphonic metal – whatever the case it remains entertaining and uplifting for me at least.

Brooklyn in da house!!! With Ozzy cutting his set short in view of the escalating rain, it was back in the Warzone for BIOHAZARD. This really was the last stand amidst the now cold, miserable conditions and muddy quagmire that had become the site. Most people had fucked off home and in a way it suited me – only the die hards, crazies or homeless remained – the perfect crowd for the aggro core of Brooklyn’s street rats, now devoid of Evan Seinfeld, but still in fine hateful form as they knocked out ‘Tales From The Hardside’, ‘Reborn’ and ‘Wrong Side Of The Tracks’. Billy now sings but Bobby still skanks around the stage, and it was all love baby as the band eventually invited all onstage for the classic hardcore singalong finale.

As I walked back thru the mud, I looked back on the site, certainly tired and wet, but also content that my pilgrimage to my annual mecca of metal had once again been fulfilled to the max.

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