Man, this French festival just gets better year after year! Now onto my 7th trip here and with the likes of Black Sabbath, Rammstein, Megadeth and Twisted Sister headlining a 180,000 record breaking long weekend, not even the torrential rain could put off this mecca of metal events, and beyond that, what has become a rite of passage for many French youths.
The growing infrastructure of the festival site (including a new statue of Lemmy and an absolutely insane zip wire over the main stage areas) as well as the general joie de vivre has not just seen greater numbers of international fans make the pilgrimage, but also more women and disabled fans too, proving that Hellfest welcomes all in its diversity both on and offstage.
Being long acquainted with the better known bands, this year I opted to see some of the most promising up and coming groups – another specialty of Hellfest – and I was not disappointed!
One of the earliest bands to kick off the festival, renowned Irish folk metallers CRUACHAN took to the Temple stage resplendent in woad and their pagan garb. I think the band were shocked to see the large assembled crowd but clearly like myself, many had been waiting to see these guys. Led by founder front man Keith Fay, the sextet led the massive merry dance on songs like ‘Ride On’ using traditional and modern instruments to a sea of hands in the air and certainly plenty of euphoric roars from the rapturous crowd.
Despite being formed only a few years back SKELETAL REMAINS definitely took their inspiration from the school of old death metal – and that’s pretty much what you got from the four shag hairs mercilessly headbanging their way through gory ditties like ‘Viral Hemorrhagic Pyrexia’ and ‘Homicidal Pulchritude’ – if you like Death and Pestilence then this bloodied Altar was where you worshiped!
Meanwhile, over at the newly landscaped Warzone, ALL PIGS MUST DIE were raging through their punk grindcore of aggro vocals and fast, dirty punk riffing on angst ridden numbers like ‘Holy Plague’ and ‘Articles of Human Weakness’, in turn inspiring a violent moshpit that fed off their hate literally until the last drone of their amps was finally turned off – it was fierce!!
All hail RAMESSES! Definitely one of the bands I came specifically for, they did not disappoint in being band of the day!! Made up of ex Electric Wizard wurzels Tim Bagshaw and Mark Greening, Ramesses must rank as one of the top doom bands around. This was dark, growling doom played through sinister guitars and overwhelming drums delivering massive amounts of power through awesome epics like ‘Take The Curse’ and ‘Baptism of the Walking Dead’ topped off by Adam Richardson’s growling into the mike ‘vocals’. Even after the band walked offstage, the crowd was still transfixed at the experience of it all…..myself included.
Having not forgotten the emotional overload of KAMPFAR’s last Hellfest performance, it seemed to me there was something a little lacking this time round – until Dolk humbly told us he’d just been in hospital a week earlier. Nevertheless, for the uninitiated, the intensity of Kampfar live was still breathtaking in the front man’s fury and drummer Ask’s relentless pace as classics like ‘Daimon’ and ‘Troll, Død Og Trolldom’ rang the bells of Norse black metal throughout the Temple.
You can always count on VADER. I remember fans, labels and even promoters saying this to me over the years. With a huge crowd roaring for these Polish death metal veterans, frontman founder Piotr “Peter” Wiwczarek led his troops out once again, these days in a Judas Priest type through 90s classics like ‘Dark Age’ and ‘Vicious Circle’ which still rung true to my ears now as they did back in those fetid clubs in the early days. With the baying crowd demanding more, I think even the band were surprised at their reception, spurring them on even more to get faster and more brutal – wow!
For a supposedly ‘retired’ band, SACRED REICH are very much in demand these days! Certainly loved at the Hellfest, they once again brought their incredibly catchy 80s thrash metal on socially conscious songs like ‘Independent’, ‘The American Way’ and the unforgettable ‘Death Squad’ as drummer Greg Hall pounded the shit out’ve his kit while bassist/vocalist Phil Rind kept the smiles all around as the crowd sang along to ‘War Pigs’ in yet another memorable performance – ‘retired’ or not I’m sure Hellfest will have these guys back yet again cos everyone loves their material!
If things couldn’t have gotten even more raucous then KORPIKLAANI literally brought the house down with their jolly knees up brand of folk metal! Cruachan had primed the crowd earlier this day, and these Finns were up for a serious party. Have you ever seen a queue of body surfers lined up one behind the other – man, it was like a sausage (or mebbe I should say ‘saucisson’) factory as people were lifted up and carried towards the stage like some ancient sacrificial rite tuned to the sounds of ‘Wooden Pints’, ‘Ämmänhauta’ and of course ‘Beer Beer’ – yeah, it really was one huge party!
Was that really LOUDNESS on Main Stage 1?! At one time the number one Japanese export, these guys were still going with vocalist Minoru Niihara still rapping to the crowd in broken English but guitar god Akira Takasaki really showing the fretboard fireworks in between hit numbers like ‘In The Mirror’ that definitely brought back those 80s memories for me.
I did wonder how one woman black metal siren MYKUR would fair live – but the classically-trained multi-instrumentalist actually brought a band along with her ha ha. She is certainly a striking figure with those ice cold baby blues and svelte frame – not to mention that pagan twin mike stand! Playing melodic Nordic black metal, she soon put her soprano vocals to good use exuding elemental spirituality while screaming elsewhere like a banshee on ‘Skål’ and ‘Onde Born’ – for a relative unknown she pulled a massive crowd with certainly plenty of women cheering her on!
As the Scandi theme continued, ENTRAILS satisfied my bloodlust for some old school Swe-death. Brought back from the dead by founder Jimmy Lundqvist, who’s assembled a great band around him, the irresistible feeling of those filthy twin guitars and hammering drums worked a treat on ‘Voices’ and ‘In Pieces’. Employing a dual vocal style which really worked, I was mightily impressed by Jimmy and his boys so I will see them again for sure.
Things were about to get darker, a lot darker as DARK FORTRESS unleashed hell unto the Temple! With grim, corpse painted faces playing nihilistic black metal from Bavaria, the 6 leather clad figures rolled out the blast beats but equally lots of metallic clanging melodies on ‘Chrysalis’ and ‘When 1,000 Crypts Awake’. Definitely big on atmosphere, it was sad that some of it was lost in the full sunshine of the early afternoon – but hey, God does work in mysterious ways ha ha!
Whatever the weather, the black punk doom of Hamburg’s MANTAR certainly left little to doubt. A duo, they made more noise between them belting out the likes of ‘Spit’ and ‘Cult Witness’ than groups twice their size could do. With massive amounts of strobe, Hanno (guitar / vocals) and Erinc (drums / vocals) faced each other onstage and pummeled away, presenting a very different view to the crowd of their unique and definitely ear shattering style.
OMG. Get ready for war. With JJ now on vocals the gods of D-beat – DISCHARGE – were upon us. Still with the 1977 core of Rainy, Bones and Tezz, these guys brought it home showing why so many bands owe their influence to songs like ‘Fight Back’, ‘Decontrol’ and my all time fave ‘Stage Violence State Control’. With a hit record in ‘End Of Days’, one of the all time punk bands were back in action and the riotous Warzone chanted it back, along with their air punching fists and a manic circle pit.
Continuing the decibel abuse were industrial grindcore band AGORAPHOBIC NOSEBLEED, who certainly lived up to their name with their drum machine histrionics and twin screaming vocalists of Jay Randall and Katherine Katz on stomach churning numbers like ‘Bitch’s Handbag Full of Money’ and ‘Kill Theme for American Apeshit’. In fact, they blitzed through some 20 songs so probably hold the Hellfest record as well as keeping to the motto of ‘extreme, diverse and eclectic’!
Oh my, were we in the presence of royalty? Well, you might think so as FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE took majestically to the stage in their period costumes and moreover, their decadent symphonic metal splendor! Going well beyond the realms of death metal their imperious marching mix soon had the crowd roaring and air punching to Tommaso Riccardi’s dark, growling vocals and the utterly amazing anabolic drumming of Francesco Paoli – easily the best of this year’s festival given his blurring speed and technicality – on grand and when joined by a female soprano, almost operatic tracks like ‘Cold as Perfection’ and ‘The Fool’. If their latest release ‘King’ had me impressed then live they simply kill.
What a rock star! I don’t know when doom became cool but the mere mention of Lee Dorrian’s name was enough to cram the Valley in anticipation of WITH THE DEAD. Another super group initially comprised of Tim Bagshaw and Mark Greening, these days they’ve got Leo Smee from Cathedral and former Bolt Thrower skin batterer, Alex Thomes. But it all pales in the wake of ‘I Am Your Virus’ and ‘Screams From My Own Grave’ and in the blood red light, Dorrian just soaked it up like he was the sun itself.
With such intensity threatening to burst my blood vessels I decided it was time to calm down and go see the TOY DOLLS for some fun. But how?! There were so many people there it was a mosh just to get into the Warzone! Finally inching and squeezing, I could see Michael ‘Olga’ Algar lead his trio of nerdy punksters through ‘The Death of Barry the Roofer With Vertigo’, ‘Cloughy Is A Bootboy!’ and the ultimate singalong in ‘Nellie The Elephant’ which had crammed grimaces finally turn to smiles for all around.
Man, if Cruachan had the crowd early at the start of this year’s Hellfest, then SKALMOLD did the same on this final day. An absolutely packed Temple attesting to the love of folk metal, this time it came with a Viking theme from these Icelanders through warrior growls, pagan screams and passionate Nordic melodies all delivered with a fiery enthusiasm reciprocated by the singing, air punching crowd along with yet another onslaught of body surfers as we sailed through ‘Miðgarðsormur’ and ‘Sleipnir’ off to the land with the midnight sun.
I couldn’t believe how many smokes Eric Wagner was bumming off the crowd and crew. Along with fellow Trouble bassist Ron Holzner, these two were the core of THE SKULL and looked pretty confident – and why not, when you’ve got some of the most legendary doom songs in your repertoire, I guess you could be. However, this time they chose to play their own material which sadly wasn’t up to par with classics such as ‘At The End Of My Days’ and one of my all time favorites, ‘The Tempter’ – which the crowd clearly knew and enthusiastically responded to. Try the hits next time guys.
Another person exuding confidence on Main Stage 2 was TARJA TURUNEN. With a critically acclaimed solo album already in the bag this year, this former Nightwish singer worked the stage like the seasoned pro that she is. Backed by a band that came to rock along with their own technical prowess – including the cello player trying to outdo Jimi Hendrix (!) – Tarja went well beyond her own soprano vocals to justify her main stage presence by pulling a massive crowd pleased at adult rock ballads like ‘No Bitter End’, ‘Calling From The Wild’ and a medley of Nightwish tracks including ‘Slaying The Dreamer’ – fantastic!
Probably the best known Brazilian punk band ever, RATOS DE PORAO (basement rats) were still present with charismatic vocalist Gordo – still pulling those hilarious faces – and an absolute blinder of a guitarist in Jao. The language problem didn’t mean a thing as they raced through ‘Mad Society’ and ‘Anarkophobia’, culminating in a suitably anarchic cover of the Ramones ‘Commando’. Their first time at Hellfest, these veterans impressed many and deserved the en masse thanks the next day when we saw them again at the airport!
With an absolutely stunning new album in “The Fall Of Hearts” I just had to see KATATONIA, and was treated to a truly special evening. Besides debuting new songs like ‘Serac’, the band chose to play older tracks for the first time live like ‘Serein’, as well as classics like ‘Old Heart Falls’. No moshing, no surfing, and no aggression was needed to take in the stunning ambience conveyed through the beautiful dark rock of this incredible band. Awesome….
With Sabbath, Megadeth, King Diamond, Paradise Lost and Ghost all serving up the usual platter, I decided to go where angels feared to tread and finish this year’s festival with DEICIDE. Infamous throughout the 90s for controversies involving animal rights, alleged suicide pacts, and of course, blatant blasphemy, Deicide have always been something of a black sheep, even among black metallers, not to mention their unique style of satanism mixed with death metal. Long devoid of the Hoffman brothers but still with founders Glenn Benton and drummer Steve Asheim, Decide delivered a fierce set of classics in ‘Dead By Dawn’, ‘Lunatic Of God’s Creation’ and ‘Sacrificial Suicide’. By now zonked out after 3 days, I guess the Temple crowd were all spent, but Benton didn’t care, staring possessed at the heavens with his branded upside cross still trade marking his forehead and viciously strumming his bass…..it was the end of days and the finale to yet another glorious and hugely successful Hellfest.