If last year’s Hellfest proved to France (and indeed the world) that Ben Barbaud and his crew could no longer be ignored and sidelined, then this year’s festival saw the businesses, administration and general public welcome it with warm embrace, prompting Barbaud to reflect that ‘…the Hellfest is a human journey..’. Indeed, I’ve been to many open air festivals in my time, but this year’s Hellfest had to be the most friendly and happy, with love exuding almost every aspect of it (with the possible exception of the gendarmes and the church ha ha)!
Now cemented (literally) into its new grounds, freshly laid grass turf had been placed on what used to hot and dusty grounds – the only place I’ve ever seen a dust devil in Europe! Paths were now paved and cobbled and clearly there had been a big think in the production tent on taking the comfort of the festival goers to a new high. While the speculation of AC/DC playing soon dissipated after it was learned that their fee would have consumed a big chunk of the budget (along with equally sizable stage demands) I’m really glad Ben Barbaud searched his conscience in favor of the festival and its legacy rather than chase the dollars.
Fri 19th June 15
OMG, was that really BILLY IDOL jumping up and down on Main Stage 1!? Despite being close to 60 and better known as a rock n roll crooner, a few may remember he was in Generation X and indeed, he brought his punk rock attitude big time, ably backed by guitarist Steve Stevens, running through super charged versions of ‘White Wedding’, a cover of The Doors ‘LA Woman’ and of course, the ultimate sing along in ‘Rebel Yell’ where fired up by the chanting crowd, Idol himself gave it his all and screamed himself out.
Meanwhile, down in The Valley…..all hell was breaking loose as Des Kensel’s pummeling drum work began turning heads as HIGH ON FIRE launched into a blistering set opening with ‘The Black Plot’. Hulking guitarist Matt Pike was already sweating buckets after one number but the pace didn’t let up for ‘Snakes For The Divine’ and only for ultra heavy plod of ’10,000 Years’. Having co-promoted these guys back in the 90s, it was an absolute pleasure to see how far they’d come and witness what devastation they could wreak complete with deafening levels of volume!
Given the sheer number of MOTORHEAD t shirts I’ve seen worn at Hellfest over the years it’s a wonder that Lemmy & co have not played here more often, but ill health and age may have something to do with it these days. Still soldiering on admirably through a more rock n roll set these days with the likes of ‘Damage Case’ sitting comfortably alongside old faves like ‘Orgasmatron’ and the ultimate ‘head classic – ‘Ace Of Spades’ – they predictably pulled the biggest crowd of the day, with Lemmy duly thanking us ‘bastards’. Motorhead, remember me, yeah Motorhead, alright….
Resplendent in his jaded monk’s cassock and covered in blood Paradise Lost’s Nick Holmes brought the death metal brutality of super group BLOODBATH to the Altar. With a booming bass that threatened to burst its seams the small but utterly possessed crowd basked in the blood red moon of songs like ‘So You Die’, ‘Breeding Ground’ and ‘Like Fire’, keeping death metal alive in all its brutality.
The strangely named PETER AND THE TEST TUBE BABIES took me right back to the days of English punk in the late 70s, where Peter Bywaters (and Peter Kay lookalike) took us through some strangely named songs like ‘Up Yer Bum’, ‘Moped Lad’ and the duly titled ‘Banned From The Pubs’ – which I’m sure they’ve been from quite a few in their time ha ha. Despite playing the Warzone, Pete’s humor and banter had me laughing my tits off in between their cheery brand of easy going singalong punk which even had the older ones in an all around friendly mosh.
Why oh why are CHILDREN OF BODOM never on a bigger stage – every time I see these guys there is just a massive crowd spilling out all over the place! Despite big time commercial success Stateside which explains their scripted Americanisms, Alex Laiho & co continue to mesmerise with their stunning material and Laiho’s breathtaking guitar work. With the roaring crowd saluting their heroes and chanting their appreciation to classics like ‘Are You Dead Yet’, ‘Hate Me’ and ‘In Your Face’, the band confidently basked on stage at the end assured that those oh so heavenly melodies would remain in our heads for days to come. Total Gods.
Acknowledged by some to have paved the way for Britain’s Oi! Movement in the early 80s, COCK SPARRER’s fiery brand of street punk has been going since the early 70s, a rough n tumble mix of pub and upbeat 60s rock made for the working man. With a suitably charged tempo and even more angry lyrics, there was nevertheless enough melody to appreciate and singalong to the likes of ‘Runnin’ Riot’, ‘Argy Bargy’ and the anthemic ‘England Belongs To Me’.
Despite rumors that metal gods JUDAS PRIEST had called it quits during their Epitaph World Tour (the last time they played Hellfest), Halford & co were anything but done, releasing a new album last year and playing a set befitting their close to half a century legacy. Their classic material like ‘Beyond The Realms Of Death’, ‘Victim Of Changes and ‘Hell Bent For Leather’ still shines magnificently to this day and well worth seeing again bringing the day’s events to a close at the chimes at midnight.
Sat 20th June 15
I did wonder what the crowd would make of riot grrls – and now probably moms – L7. Definitely ‘alternative’ and with a past reputation for tampon throwing and dropping their pants on TV, they certainly encouraged a large female participation with Donita Sparks’s frantic run-arounds and Jennifer Finch’s barefoot skanking. Still with their original line up, it confirmed that some things never change as Suzi Gardner dedicated ‘Monster’ to those people ‘..fucking in their tents..’, along with classics like ‘Shitlist’ and my personal fave, the balls out rocker ‘Everglade’.
In stark contrast came Japanese death noise band COFFINS, bringing their relentless cacophony of bestial vocals, raw feedback guitar and distorted bass whether in chopping frenzy or blast beat furor. Reminding me a lot of early Napalm Death, I would say Coffins are somewhat darker thanks to the death element and despite their minimalist DIY approach the awesome power of their music was enough in itself to keep the Altar crowd satiated, if not awed.
With an army of warriors mustering at the Temple, it was clear that ENSIFERUM were about to lead their charge. Playing an irresistible brand of battlefield folk metal with passionate melodies and moving singalong choruses, it didn’t take any encouragement from front man Markus Toivonen to get the crowd going as everyone punched the air and sang their hearts out to the epic glory of ‘Heathen Horde’, ‘From Afar’ and my personal fave ‘Warrior Without A War’. It was a thoroughly moving set, and I was close to tears at the end, both from the music and the camaraderie shown by my metal brothers and sisters. Again, another band that deserve to be on a bigger stage.
God, had I died and gone to heaven, because there was a brilliant white light on Mainstage 2 – in fact, everything was gleaming in white except for the generous floral arrangement befitting a funeral. And then I saw a figure in white, was it Jesus? No. It was Mike Patton. Notorious wind up merchants FAITH NO MORE, looking at lot older and arguably ready for that death shroud – or the Hare Krishna’s – were here to bring their fusion funk rock to a large, enthusiastic crowd who responded appreciatively to the general quirkiness of ‘Epic’, ‘Be Aggressive’ and the one that started it all for me ‘We Care A Lot’. Even the band looked like they’d pulled off a miracle, closing with the crooning love of ‘This Guy’s In Love With You’.
As the midnight hour approached the entire arena was treated to an extravagant fireworks display that not even Angus Young’s pants on fire could better. Wisely opting to go for the brilliance of illumination rather than noise (well, we already had that) it allowed the crowd to bask in the vivid colours and was a splendid interim event to take us into the witching hour.
With Trevor Peres pulling some seriously ugly faces at the crowd, John Tardy’s trademark hoarse drawls and Terry Butler’s rumbling bass, old school Florida legends OBITUARY were working themselves into a barn burner of a set threatening to reduce the Altar finally to rubble. With some serious grooves propelled by Donald Tardy’s double bass drum work, Obituary took us back to the good old days of ‘’Til Death’, the nihilistic ‘Don’t Care’ that got the devil horns raised by the crowd and an all death metal assault by the band on ‘Slowly We Rot’.
I guess I couldn’t have ended the day (or rather begin Sunday morning) better than with VENOM. Having seen this band several times in the 80s in their classic guise of Cronos, Mantas and Abaddon, these days it’s just Cronos with the other two now regretting having given him permission to use the name ha ha! Although aged and looking less bulky, Venom’s charismatic front man has lost none of his nerve and is still wearing the same tacky wear as he did back then! A lot more confident musically, Cronos took us through a set spanning Venom’s career and I particularly liked the less visited material like the crushing ‘Warhead’, the visceral ‘Bloodlust’ and a suitably mayhemic ‘Witching Hour’. Apologizing about the lack of pyro, Conrad seemed to overlook the power and addiction of Venom’s material as being the prime reason that the multitude faithfully remained until the very end for these (still) black metal gods.
During the late 80s New Yorkers NUCLEAR ASSAULT were one of the most talked about underground bands around. They seemed to have the winning formula mixing hardcore punk with metal to form crossover as well as lyrically singing about political and social issues in their fast n loose style. Still with John Connelly, Danny Lilker and champion drummer Glenn Evans it was an absolute delight to once again hear ‘Game Over’, ‘Critical Mass’ and ‘Betrayal’ played with the same ferocity as they were back in their heyday. As the sonic waves cascaded across the Mainstage 2 field and Evans’s drums thundered the crowd grew significantly attesting to the fallout of this still very cool band.
Yarrrrr!! Ever since I heard the cheesy pirate metal of ALESTORM I’ve always wanted to see them and thanks to Hellfest I got my wish. Another band who pulled a huge spilled out crowd to the Temple, it was clear that everyone was keen for a hearty knees up and Cap’n Christopher Bowers and his crew duly obliged with the likes of merry, singalong numbers like ‘Walk The Plank’, ‘Shipwrecked’ and the all unifying ‘Rum’. As the mascara melted, inflatable sharks surfed the crowd as Bowers nattered seafaring tales that no one could understand. Yes folks, if you wanted to party, then these lovable, totally mad Scots brought it in bunches to France.
Another cult band who were massive in the early 90s, LIFE OF AGONY were famed for mixing dark groove and crossover in what was a very cutting edge style that few to this day have replicated. In no small part were Keith Caputo’s melancholic baritone vocals that definitely gave the band a distinct sound. These days of course, Keith is now Mina having undergone a sex change, so I was curious to see how this might affect the band. Vocally, Mina still has a deep voice even with a now feminine look. But did it really matter? Clearly not to the adulation of the fans (some of whom had waited 22 years to see her) and the sheer love between songs like ‘Through And Through’, ‘This Time’ and ‘Method Of Groove’ even bowled Caputo over to the point where she threw herself into the warm embrace of the crowd, and about a dozen dudes started clamoring over her! Like I said, it was a human journey and a moving one if a little strange at that….
And things could only get weirder as LIMP BIZKIT was in the house muthafuckas. From Ennio Morricone’s ‘For A Few Dollars More’ intro to chocolate starfish to Metallica medleys to vocalist Freddy Durst philosophizing ‘…Hellfest….that basically means..um… there’s Hell..’. Heh heh, it doesn’t get any better than that! If you weren’t drunk or high by now, then Limp Biscuit got you there (un)naturally with their 90s brand of angry whiteboy rap rock mixing their own cool grooves in ‘Rollin’ to ‘Break Stuff’, the latter spawning a giant moshpit that sucked people in like a human whirlpool, along with an array of covers from RATM’s ‘Killing In The Name’ and Ministry’s ‘Thieves’. With the band leaving Durst to dance off to the Bee Gees ‘Staying Alive’ I did wonder if Limp Biscuit were up there with the greatest piss takers or just a hugely entertaining band. Whatever the case, as Durst himself says ‘…I’m just a crazy muthafucka livin’ it up there in the fast lane..’ and for just over an hour about 100,000 muthas were there too bro.
Still reeling from the daze of Durst I decided to collapse the last vestiges of my sanity journeying into the night with TRIPTYKON, Tom Warrior’s band. Befitting the surrounding night with their own darkness, they had it all from weeping mascara to Tom G’s raw vocal drawls and his still visceral guitar sound. Not a million miles sound wise from his famed band Celtic Frost, it was nice to see him throw in the likes ‘Circle Of Tyrants’ and ‘The Usurper’ for old fans like me that got both band and crowd head banging ferociously to these timeless classics. More charged than their last stint at Hellfest, it was nice to close out the festival to their black energy, which perversely brought back some reality to my senses after the curse of Durst (that was, until I met him in person at the airport the next morning!!!).
Now firmly consolidated in their location as well as being a recognized and respected cultural entity, Hellfest has moved up big time to not only make its name in history as France’s greatest festival by embracing all, but moreover creating an ambiance seldom seen at other festivals, based on value for money, camaraderie and most of all – FUN.