After the folly of last year’s ill announced main acts, Ben Barbaud and his Hellfest crew not only regained lost ground by securing each and every one of them, but actually grew the festival to be acknowledged as now the 2nd most important cultural event in France – even Kronenburg sent 3 extra tankers of beer when they realised Hellfest drank more than one of their own sponsored events!
Despite being on the same site as last year, the festival grounds had been wisely re-arranged to accommodate the anticipated crowd growth along with some dramatic artistic structures and even a neon big wheel. But nothing could prepare everyone for the searing heat that truly made Hellfest live up to its name!
Fri 20th June
As we surveyed the outlandish new designs in the festival arena it seemed that POWERMAN 5000’s deafening electro rock groove was the perfect accompaniment to this weird new world located in the middle of one of France’s most lucrative wine regions! Led by Michael Cummings (aka Spider One) who also happened to be Rob Zombie’s younger brother, the band looked a tad out’ve place coming across as a boy band – with Cummings resembling Billy Idol – although songs like ‘Bombshell’, ‘Horror Show’ and ‘Supernova Goes Pop’ appealed to the crowd and reflected the festival’s motto of being ‘one of the most diverse and eclectic metal festivals in the world’.
Did anyone remember Billy Milano – aka ‘Mosh’ Milano from SOD? The Stormtroopers Of Death were a cult 80s crossover band featuring Anthrax’s ‘Not’ Ian, Benante and Danny Lilker but probably more remembered by Milano’s obnoxious demeanor – both onstage and off! MOD – affectionately titled Method Of Destruction – was its successor and arguably even fouler monster just looking at the 6’ 5’’ bearded n Skelator eyed frame of bassist Scott Sargeant, not to mention possessed Beavis n Butthead clone guitarist Mike De Leon. Even the band couldn’t work out why they were on Mainstage 2 but Milano was in full flow ‘..some of you people must’ve been sperm when MOD was around, I guess that fucking your mothers did pay off after all..’ as the band launched into ferocious renditions of ‘Pussy Whipped’, ‘Fist Bang Mania’ and ‘Kill Yourself’ although by the end, realization hit the 51 year old Milano who, tear in eye, duly thanked everyone for making this set the biggest thing to have ever happened to him or his band.
Next door on Mainstage 1 one of the biggest crowds of the day had gathered – for THERAPY? Gotta say that over the years I’ve learned that the Hellfest faithful do like a good n heavy indie band and these guys from Ireland didn’t disappoint! Led by the familiar shapes of guitarist / vocalist Andy Cairns and bassist Michael McKeegan who proceeded to bop and bounce around (crowd following) as Cairn’s ultra loud n raw sound blasted the trio through ‘Isolation’, ‘Die Laughing’ (dedicated to Kurt Cobain) and the finale of my favorite ‘Going Nowhere’. Still with skin tight black jeans a la the 90s, Therapy? left to huge applause from a crowd appreciating they’d lost none of their energy.
During Therapy?’s set I simply couldn’t resist checking out SLAPSHOT, an old time hardcore band that I’d first seen in the mid 90s. And they were still kicking it with old John ‘Choke’ Kelly funnily enough nursing a head wound just like back in the old days as the band gave us ‘No Friend Of Mine’, ‘Hang Up Your Boots’ and ‘No Time Left’ from the aptly titled Warzone – cool move by Hellfest to bring these boys back and give us some old time hockey Boston style!
Be fearful, be fearful indeed….. Mika Luttinen was in the house and IMPALED NAZARENE were unleashed in blood red fire. One of the pioneering bands of the Finnish black metal scene and notorious signees to cult French label Osmose, some twenty years on from when it all began and Luttinen hadn’t lost his decadence – or hostility for that measure – as the band sand blasted the faces of the Temple crowd with tasteful ditties like ‘Armageddon Death Squad’, ‘Motorpenis’ and the apt ‘Violence I Crave’ for which he certainly did – guess the man still has anger management issues.
If Powerman 5000 had given us an early precursor of things to come, then ROB ZOMBIE brought the main show on in style to Mainstage 1. Having reviewed ‘The Zombie Horror Picture Show’ I was truly in anticipation although this was open air and a somewhat cut back affair. Still, the Boris Karloff and King Kong B Movie screens along with Zombie’s wacko dance move and flailing dreads were the perfect backdrop to his man machine tunes like ‘More Human Than Human’, ‘Dragula’ and even a cheeky cover of Diamond Head’s ‘Am I Evil’ to which the crowd replied – of course – ‘Yes I am!!!!’! A slick mixture of electro meets cow rock, John 5 soloed out as Zombie did his walkabout along the stage barrier before closing out to great aplomb on ‘School’s Out’.
The temperature, although dropping weather wise thankfully, was about to get cranked up again by SEPULTURA who a coupla years back delivered one of the best sets at Hellfest. This time around though, there was less anger but more of a spiritual build up as the band worked themselves up into a state before launching into the aggro protest of ‘Refuse / Resist’ as the stage divers took to the air guided by a shaven headed Derrick Green. There’s something about these guys that everyone loves and its gotta be their honesty, whatever their vibe, be it during the tribal drumming of ‘Ratamahatta’ or the raucous singalong of ‘Roots Bloody Roots’, you know that it’s for real from Sepultura, and straight from the heart.
Equally wearing his heart on his sleeve, Gary Meskil’s PRO-PAIN left nothing to the imagination as the Warzone continued to live up to its name as he bark blasted aggro crossover all over the sand strewn arena, by now kicking up mini whirlwinds of dust thanks to the many mosh pits circling along to ‘Johnny Black’, ‘Un American’ and ‘Make War Not Love’.
By now due for a break, I decided to watch IRON MAIDEN from a distance and whilst I didn’t miss the sight of Bruce Dickinson’s face there were clearly many who did! Needless to say Maiden pulled the biggest audience of the day playing well delivered and thanks to the quality PA clear sounding crowd pleasers from throughout their career like ‘Phantom Of The Opera’, ‘Aces High’ and ‘The Evil That Men Do’ to huge roars, plenty of singalongs and many a happy face.
By now into the championship rounds, who better to duke it out with than WALLS OF JERICHO’s Candace Puopolo, who since her terrifying performance a few years back in nearly inciting a riot, is even more pumped and buffed out thanks to intense weight lifting. To be frank I liked her as the lean n mean She-Ra although that fearsome beast might not have been content to have been caged on the smaller Warzone stage as the band tore into favorites like ‘A Little Piece of Me’, ‘Playing Soldier Again’ and ‘A Day And A Thousand Years’ although by now the waning crowd (including myself) were close to death.
After having overlooked them often on previous live occasions, I simply had to see SABATON although frontman Joakim Brodén’s constant teasing to the fed up if still trying to be faithful crowd were seriously pissing me off – I mean, who really wants to do ‘Y-M-C-A’ at 1am in the morning having had your epidermis burned off?!!? It really amounted to time wasting but when the band did play, the majesty of ‘Carolus Rex’ and ‘Screaming Eagles’ did go down a storm as Brodén sprinted back and forth across the stage, posing and gesturing heroically almost teasing Bruce Dickinson (as if he was there – probably past his bedtime too) as the band culminated in triumph to ‘Primo Victoria’ along with my own that I’d lasted the first day.
Sat 21st June
Kicking off Day 2 came the veteran 80s hard rockers SKID ROW! Although playing early it was good to see how many people turned out and even better that the younger fans knew the words and sang along air punching just like back in the day to classic kick ass numbers like ‘Slave To The Grind’, ‘Youth Gone Wild’ and my personal fave, the anthemic ’18 & Life’ with smiles all around and especially the band, relieved that plenty of people still remembered them.
Although relatively unknown, WE CAME AS ROMANS won a whole new buncha fans with their amazing blend of melodic metalcore that mixed boy band harmonies and aggro vocals from dual singers Kyle Pavone and Dave Stephens amidst a chopping hardcore death rhythm. Along with their youthful energy constantly bopping and bouncing around onstage it didn’t long for the pits to get going along with a wall of death that kicked up so much dust I couldn’t see the band, although they were certainly a pleasure to hear on songs like ‘Fade Away’, ‘Glad You Came’ and ‘Hope’ – definitely a band I’d like to see again!
Despite being one of the lightest acts on the bill (considering Gorguts were hammering the Altar just across the way), veteran 60s rock boogie merchants STATUS QUO amassed a huge crowd that even seemed to surprise them – along with me – but proceeded to oblige all belting out harder than normal versions of ‘Caroline’, ‘Whenever You Want’ and by the time ‘Rocking All Over The World’ sounded, everyone was singing along. By no means alien to festivals having headlined Donnington back in the 80s, the Quo nonetheless have seen changes in their line up that have seen them distanced from the rock scene, so the classic sight of an energised mop haired Rick Parfitt and spread legged Francis Rossi shredding his long time Telecaster once more affirmed to both rock fans and the band where their roots lay and to fast get back to them as one of Brit Rock’s giants.
As the feel good factor of the Quo subsided, the ‘Rocky’ intro heralded the entrance of HATEBREED’s Jamey Jasta who roared ‘..I wanna feel the earth shake!!!..’ and all hell broke loose. With a massive backdrop of their last album cover “The Divinity Of Purpose” Jasta took off where Walls Of Jericho left off last year on Main Stage 2, kicking off circle pits everywhere as mosh pit anthems like ‘Honor Never Dies’, ‘The Language’ and the prophetic ‘I Will Be Heard’ resounded like a barking dog around the arena – when Jasta finally said ‘…nobody, I mean nobody should be standing still…’ looking menacingly around the crowd he wasn’t kidding – or wrong.
Alas the end was in sight for BRUTAL TRUTH, a Hellfest stalwart over the years, but now sadly in their final year as a band, so this penultimate gig was moving for both fans and band alike. As the sweat drenched Altar crowd basked in the illumination of mind opening songs like ‘Godplayer’, ‘Fuck Cancer’ and my fave ‘Evolution Through Revolution’ Kevin Sharp and Danny Lilker made respective speeches in between numbers to thank all who were dearest to the band’s heart while trying to cram in as much chundering grind noise as they could before going into overdrive for the end, not even stopping for applause as songs were belted out in the last 24 minutes to reflect the last 24 years these guys have been on the road. How drummer Rich Hoak was alive was still beyond me as the smiling, splattered faces of the crowd raised their arms in salutation at the finale – Lilker and Sharp were so close to tears they couldn’t bear to bask in their glory, the genuine sadness all too much although they’ll have a gut full of memories to last them the rest of their lives.
Folk metal comes of age at the Altar! Although there have been other folk bands at Hellfest in previous years, ELUVEITIE were undoubtedly one of the cult bands that everyone wanted to see this year, and their crowd spilled not only into the rest of the double marquee, but even outside. Equally so were the band – I think there were nine of them – who took up the entire breadth of the stage! Playing a mixture of Celtic folk and melodic death metal, they certainly used plenty of traditional instruments ranging from pipes n violins to mandolins to the Hurdy Gurdy, all of which barraged the enthusiastic crowd with some of the most amazing folk melodies on passionate and epic songs like ‘Inis Mona’, ‘A Rose For Epona’ and ‘Thousandfold’. Fronted by the charismatic Chrigel Glanzmann, whose dreadlocked n tattooed Pied Piper look complemented his multi instrument bouzouki, pipe playing and gruff vocals, Eluveitie took us all on their journey to a world beyond our own but where we were all part of it living in harmony as one family – a moving experience to say the least and a natural high.
As the midnight hour approached the blood red lights of the Temple turned into the fires of Mordor itself as GORGOROTH brought their unholy mayhem straight from Bergen! Still with guitarist founder Infernus at the helm shredding out unspeakably evil songs like ‘Incipit Satan’, ‘Unchain My Heart’ and ‘Protetens Apenbaring’ along to a spike adorned Atterigner’s cat drawling vocals. Nevertheless, with a fair amount of mid tempo material and even dark, Nordic melodies gracing their songs, Gorgoroth’s entertainment value along with their pedigree was enough to amass yet another over spilling crowd – and was that Obituary’s former bassist Frank Watkins (aka the corpse painted Bøddel) on bass?!?!
PHIL ANSELMO still remains a cult (anti?) hero after all these years and there were plenty of admirers at the Valley to party along with his Illegals to songs spanning both his current interests in ‘Usurper Bastard’s Rant’ to Superjoint Ritual’s ‘Fuck Your Enemy’ and a much craved ‘A New Level’ from his classic Pantera era. These days he’s bearded and a little heavier but still commands a presence and remains as hostile as ever amid the drug hazed black metal, deathcore meets southern groove of the Illegals – ‘…I love flags..’ Anselmo drawled like a drunk Vin Diesel amidst the Dimebag guitar squeaks and Joey Gonzalez doing his best Vinnie Paul drumbeats, but I guess that Pantera flag will never quite fly as high south of Texas.
Sun 22nd June
By now after 2 days and the relentless heat, the crowd was looking a little peaked so it was just as well that the haunting, atmospheric black metal of THE RUINS OF BEVERAST was opening the final day in a somewhat laid back fashion. The solo project of ex Nagelfar member Alexander von Meilenwald, there was minimal talking and songs like ‘Daemon’, ’50 Forts Along The Rhine’ and ‘I Raised This Stone As A Ghastly Memorial’ blended seamlessly into one another, the whole set being somewhat surreal and even ritualistic in its vibe although probably more suited to some dank, dingy dungeon club rather than a steaming hothouse of a tent!
‘…we’re CROWBAR from New Orleans and WE’RE GONNA KICK YOUR ASS!!!!..’! Whoa, Kirk Windstein (now looking like Moses lol) was cutting to the chase and brought his wrecking ball of a band to Main Stage 1 as they unleashed their NOLA terror in the form of crushing songs like ‘Conquering’, ‘High Rate Extinction’ and ‘All I Had I Gave’ and not even the blistering mid day sun could shatter the effect of such a blunt force trauma to the senses.
Next door Attila Dorn was giving a confident smile over to his massing crowd as the gothic intro unleashed POWERWOLF on the masses! I love these guys, cheesy as they may be but so catchy they are with songs like ‘Sanctified With Dynamite’, ‘Raise Your Fist Evangelist’ and my howling favourite ‘Werewolves Of Armenia’ that they bring so much fun to any show. Led by Attila’s operatic vocals his limited command of English actually works in his favour in being able to communicate with the French crowd in simple talk like ‘..do you have cocks, you can be louder than this ja?..’ as organist Falk Maria Schlegelalso takes to whipping up the sun bleached crowd in their singalong set. Great guys, great laughs, you can’t go anywhere without the wolf!
By now the fierce sun has got everyone running for cover so we catch fleeting sets from Brazilian power metallers ANGRA, who remain on top form judging by Fabio Lione’s top notch soprano vocals and Rafael Bittencourt’s stupendous virtuoso guitar playing on songs like ‘Nova Era’, ‘Spread Your Fire’ and ‘Angel’s Cry’.
Next up back in at the Altar are Johnny Hedlund’s Viking metal raiders UNLEASHED who bring the temperature down a notch with their frozen death metal from the wastelands in songs like ‘Midvinterblot’, ‘Death Metal Victory’ and my personal fave ‘Hammer Battalion’. A furious set no less from these veteran Swedes who have played many a festival and are always a crowd pleaser.
Aye, aye wot do we ‘ave ‘ere then? The LAST RESORT are a name synonymous with the British Oi! Movement and not in the least for being blamed for the Southhall Riot back in the 80s! It was with some trepidation that I journeyed to the Warzone (what better place for more beer and brickbats) wondering if there’d be hordes of booted, Sta Press skinheads – well there were, but as soon as the pirate intro piped through than the spectacle of vocalist Roi Pearce was enough to make anyone do a double take. Talk about the painted man, he was covered in tattoos – and only had one eye!!! Still, their tuneful brand of street smart rock was played from the heart as Pearce sung timeless songs like ‘Working Class Kids’, ‘Violence In Our Minds’ and the lovely ‘Cockleshell Heroes’ with Brit passion n pride, leaving the stage with beaming smiles all around for a job well done.
Back at the Temple and German folk metallers EQUILIBRIUM were clearly going for Eluveitie’s crown! They must’ve heard about the performance of the Swiss and brought their own brand of more straightforward but equally melodic – German folk style – and arguably catchier material to the crowd who were clearly up for more. Employing a modern approach i.e. no traditional instruments and a faster tempo, songs like ‘Blut Im Auge’, ‘Wingthors Hammer’ garnered immediate audience participation in German style oom-pah singalongs with arms held high and a well deserved encore in ‘Unbesiegt’. Between these two bands, Folk Metal has come of age and made its presence felt at Hellfest, judging by the highly enthusiastic audiences I expect to see both these bands back on the Main Stages soon.
Meanwhile, back on Main Stage 1 a band that I had not seen for 30 years were about to make their presence felt – and I don’t think Hellfest knew what to expect. In fact, DARK ANGEL were a last minute substitute for Megadeth, but having seen these guys play for two and a half hours non stop at the new Marquee Club in London in the late 80s, I hold that as one of the most intense shows I have EVER witnessed! The last of the great thrash bands, Dark Angel were formidable to say the least, having a young Gene Hoglan cut his teeth with them although the band’s shows always seemed to be beset by dire sound problems and even more issues between band members. As such the band folded and re-unions have been problematical to say the least. Even the announcement of this tour had infighting that was thankfully quelled although I was hedging bets along with the Hellfest crew on whether the line-up – made up of the “Leave Scars” crew – could keep together before imploding again. Well, if Hellfest proved themselves, then they achieved both in bringing that awesome force to France and with a sound that brought in the ultra destruction of ‘We Have Arrived’, ‘The Burning Of Sodom’ and ‘Merciless Death’ as Ron Rhinehart prowled the stage as Jimmy Durkin and Eric Meyer shredded with Gonzo and the mighty Gene Hoglan smashing two bells outta their instruments. Clearly too much for some as expected, Dark Angel certainly made new friends amongst others and for sure made this old man feel their foreboding presence once more – not even the cute strippers on the T34 ‘ornamental’ tank could distract me (much) lol!
With Jerry Only now being the sole member of the MISFITS, I did wonder how he would fair especially when he had a roadie pour a bucket of ice into the back of his reptilian costume! Now in his mid 50s but still with his trademark devilock, I guess he musta been pumped for this show cos he piled thru 25 songs no sweat (lol) including all the old favourites like ‘Teenagers From Mars’, ‘She’, ‘Halloween’ and my fave ‘Skulls’. With Dez Cadena on guitars and drummer Eric “Chupacabra” Arce both providing fine support and hitting those backing harmonies just like they did when Danzig n Doyle were there, it was a good enough rendition of that classic horror punk band that made me stay for their whole set, gladly encoring them to ‘Die, Die My Darling’. Whilst their newer material, which ironically is more technical, didn’t really get me there’s still enough of their legacy intact to keep Jerry going to retirement and I wish him luck.
Whilst the masses opted to party with Ozzy and Sabbath or be grim with Emperor, I was really looking forward to seeing FLOGGING MOLLY, a band whose music I simply love! I guess not being as heavy as the Dropkick Murphy’s relegated them to the Warzone, but man, it couldn’ve been better, just like a small party (although the field was filled) for the family. As Dave King came out equally bemused as to how his brand of Irish punk pop would go down he needn’t have worried cos songs like ‘Salty Dog’ and ‘Devil’s Dance Floor’ got the crowd heaving and dancing wildly to their fiery, passionate beat. I went bananas and lost my phone during ‘What’s Left Of The Flag’ cos I was so caught up in the emotion of it all and even the Irish lads next day at the airport were talking all about Dave King’s boys – man, they were fucking awesome. When at the end he jokingly questioned whether we knew an acoustic guitar could do all that we knew that be it through the luck of the Irish or the miracle of Hellfest we had been truly touched by a spectacular 3 days that will remain with us for the rest of our lives.
Undoubtedly now one of the premier festivals in the world, I’ve seen Hellfest grow to an event drawing people from all over the world and even the ordinary youth of France as a sort of coming of age event rivalling the cult appeal of established festivals like Glastonbury. Capacity and infrastructure issues question whether the festival will remain in Clisson but despite problems in the past with the locals, a giant guitar had been erected at the entrance roundabout this year – perhaps an acknowledgement to Hellfest according to the Mayor of Clisson (bet he can smell the money lol). Next year will be the 10th anniversary of the festival and one can only wonder what delights Ben Barbaud and the Hellfest crew will be planning – anyone for AC/DC?