The good news? Hellfest is bigger than ever before, continuing to receive national awards and international recognition. The bad news? Next year’s festival is already sold out!!! Yes folks, the cult of Hellfest is truly upon us with winning line ups, a professional operation and most of all, a warm social embrace to welcome all persons, so there is little sign of the momentum slowing down in what is fast becoming a worldwide event!
Fri 22 June
Given the number of members that have passed away, I’m always impressed by the way incredible ‘Angry’ Anderson somehow brings the Aussie legend of ROSE TATTOO back time and again, this time with yet another line up of hardened veterans including original AC/DC bassist Mark Evans! Less angry and enjoying the fine French wine on Mainstage 1, it was all about l’armour in the sun as the always larger than life Anderson projected both his personality and still soulful voice to ‘One Of The Boys’, ‘Assault And Battery’ and ‘Rock N Roll Outlaw’, with Dai Pritchard doing a fine job on slide guitar.
Attesting to Hellfest’s diversity was JOAN JETT & The Blackhearts, who still qualified as punk rock, and clearly Jett herself was keen to prove her kick ass style to the large crowd playing pure US punk rock from a searing version of ‘Bad Reputation’ to her own rendition of The Runaways ‘Cherry Bomb’, handling the vocals with plenty of sass and attitude as you might expect from the godmother of punk. She may be pushing 60 years old but it didn’t matter as the crowd joined in big time to sing ‘I Love Rock N Roll’ – and Joan smiled.
If you go down to the woods today…..’We’re CROWBAR and we’re gonna KICK YOUR ASS!!!’ – hmm, the normally happy Valley instantly became the angry Valley as Kirk Windstein led the sludge punishment of ‘Conquering’, ‘All I Had I Gave’ and ‘Broken Glass’. Still as brutal but utterly catchy, Crowbar’s southern grooves have made them a Hellfest favourite as the crowd roared after every number. Not only well received, they actually have a home here, and long may they reign in their devastation.
Kicking up a storm too were EUROPE, definitely up to rock out a massive crowd with the added bonus of being the most photogenic band on the video screens! Since returning to their roots a few years back, they have been in fine form and it was clear from the no nonsense set of songs like ‘Rock The Night’ and ‘Superstition’. With John Norum’s guitar setting everything ablaze and Joey Tempest striking every pose, it didn’t take much for the entire arena to sing along to ‘Final Countdown’, ending to rapturous applause and Tempest’s triumphant fist in the air signifying total victory.
Still regarded as a cult band, it was with mixed feelings when I heard that guitarist Marc Piovanetti and drummer Louie Beato announced the reformation of CARNIVORE AD in tribute to legendary Pete Steele’s legacy. Steele’s replacement was to be one Baron Misuraca, a dark rocker also from Brooklyn, who frighteningly didn’t just sound like Steele, but came complete with bulging muscles and jet black hair down to his ass – wow! Completing the “Retaliation” tribute, Piovanetti was dressed in US Army camouflage for the band’s first festival appearance as the trio went through favourites like ‘Jesus Hitler’, ‘Race War’ and ‘Sex And Violence’ with many of the crowd witnessing the band’s late 80s crossover thrash for the first time to great awakening.
F—k, how many people were there in this super group?! More used to seeing Johnny Depp on celluloid than onstage, many were curious at the HOLLYWOOD VAMPIRES and a massive crowd flocked to see him along with legends like Alice Cooper and Joe Perry. Conceived to honour the music of rock stars who died from excess in the 1970s, the set was mainly covers like ‘I’m Eighteen’, ‘Ace Of Spades’ and ‘Sweet Emotion’ although the band did offer an original in ‘My Dead Drunk Friends’. Interestingly, Depp wasn’t in the limelight, content to take his place in the group, only occasionally venturing forward whether out’ve stage fright or just modesty, but either way it worked.
Sat 23 June
With the sun in full beam, the energy soared thanks to the hard, guitar driven rock of TREMONTI which in contrast to Alter Bridge’s latest metal album, was actually more grungy and featured more melodic vocals from the talented guitarist. Still, the chugging riffs and heavy power grooves soon had the Main Stage 1 crowd air punching, along with a serious head banging drummer to the likes of ‘You Waste Your Time’, ‘Wish You Well’ and ‘Another Heart’.
More eclectic, and definitely fitting in with Hellfest’s ethos was AKERCOCKE, who embodied a mix of styles, at times ambient with tranquil vocals while in an instant, shifting into techno prog with jazzy guitar and then effortlessly into screaming black / death metal on songs like ‘Verdelet’, ‘ Unbound Sin’ and ‘Horns Of Baphomet’, all very much to the approval of the Altar crowd.
Definitely one of the highlights of the festival, MEMORIAM was the super group that any lover of old school British death metal would die for judging by the roar of the crowd. Featuring Bolt Thrower’s Karl Willetts and members of Benediction, this was death metal at its grimmest on the likes of ‘War Rages On’, ‘Dronestrike V3’ and ‘Resistance’ with roaring vocals, chundering guitars and a drum barrage to match the ugly war like theme. Despite the years, Willetts is still a beast of a frontman and the crowd acknowledged respectfully in chanting to his happy songs about dying!
Meanwhile, at the Warzone, TERROR were unleashing stomping hell which was no mean feat considering the quality of hardcore bands appearing this year. Given his experience, Scott Vogel is the consummate hardcore frontman, constantly rallying the crowd to mosh, chant or simply rage on numbers like ‘Stick Tight’, ‘You’re Caught’ and ‘Keep Your Mouth Shut’ and when he says ‘..it’s good to be alive..’ you pretty much knew he meant it.
With an awesome album released this year in “Meditations”, KATAKLYSM followed with one of the best performances this year at Hellfest – not in the least from anabolic drummer Oli Beaudoin who head banged so fast I thought his head would fly off – and all to the roar of the packed out Altar crowd, who clearly adopted these sons of Quebec and their intense melodic death of ‘Narcissist’, ‘The Serpent’s Tongue’ and ‘Guillotine’, and by the end of the set, had spilled well out of the covered marquee.
Call it the revolution, call it resistance, but the French love their agit rock, and this year ICE T and his rap thrash metal band BODY COUNT brought the fire to Hellfest. And you couldn’t have asked for more attitude. So much, in fact, that I thought it was the 80s as Ice T and Ernie C snarled and brought their gangsta talk of ‘yo…whassup muthafuckerz’ in between classics like ‘Cop Killer’, ‘There Goes The Neighbourhood’ and ‘No Lives Matter’ – not to mention a jaw dropping cover of Slayer’s ‘Raining Blood / Post Mortem’ – leaving the large Mainstage 2 crowd either very happy or very confused ha ha!
No such confusion at the Warzone, where MADBALL’s Freddy Cricien was stalking the stage like a messiah, constantly talking to the crowd about the message of his culture known as hardcore. And why not when you’re faithfully backed by the heavy bass of Hoya Roc and hammering drummer Mike Justian, not to mention an excellent album in “For The Cause”, it was all about the love, unity and strength of his movement on street stomping tracks like ‘Rev Up’, ‘Hardcore Lives’ and ‘Pride’ – man, even Scott Vogel couldn’t resist jumping back in and by the end we were all family.
I’ve said it over the years…why are CHILDREN OF BODOM not on one of the main stages? I mean, how many people crammed into the Altar to see them – it was endless – and when it’s like sardines back outside by the beer stalls and flooding into the adjoining Temple you know just what a favourite this band is at Hellfest. Even front man Alexi Laiho remarked ‘…oh my fucking god, look at this shit…’ eyeing the sea of arms aloft – not to mention plenty of crowd surfers – as the Finns danced through the melodic death majesty of ‘Everytime I Die’, ‘Needled 24/7’ and ‘Angels Don’t Kill’, each time to massive roars leaving even Laiho pleasantly surprised and full of praise for the festival.
By now the darkness had set and in the blood red light the CRO MAGS were left to bring their legend home. Tastefully using Henry Purcell’s ‘Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary’ (also used by Kubrick in “A Clockwork Orange”) as their intro, John Joseph was joined by Mackie and Leeway’s AJ Novello as the band went through classics like ‘We Gotta Know’, ‘Malfunction’ and ‘Hard Times’. Joseph was as animated as I remember him, so much so that even the zonked out crowd couldn’t resist his intensity and when that didn’t prove to be enough, the band launched into a Bad Brains medley covering ‘Right Brigade’ – still as insane, still as manic, whatever your views on the continuing controversy over the band, at least Joseph brought home the message of bringing people together.
Sun 24 June
Hellfest is well known for its love of folk metal, and the packed Temple crowd proved it in their love of folk / viking metal band MANEGARM, roaring and heaving in unison to the strong Nordic melodies and heavy grooves of the stirring warrior metal brought on by these Swedes on tracks like ‘Hemfärd’ and ‘Blodörn’ along with the massive singalong to ‘Odin Owns Ye All’. Put it this way, I can still hear that catchy fiddle in my head!
Today regarded as progenitors of groove-oriented thrash made famous most notably by Pantera, it was good to see EXHORDER coming out of the mists to impress the Altar crowd, who clearly opted to miss Accept on the Mainstage. Still with vocalist Kyle Thomas and Vinnie LaBella, it didn’t long before the band’s heavy thrash beats and chundering grooves along with some tasty melodies brought home why these guys were so regarded in their time. Drawing from their two early 90s records they duly impressed with ‘Death In Vain’, ’Desecrator’ and ‘Legions Of Death’ – along with some impressive power screams from Thomas!
OMG, who was that fearsome blue haired amazon?! Playing to a packed out field, Alissa White-Gluz led out ARCH ENEMY on Mainstage 2, with the crowd matching her roars with theirs ha ha! She was front woman of the festival, striking all the right poses as if the stage was made for her while matching any male in aggressive roars and growls, perfectly complementing the melodic death metal of the band as exemplified by Mike Amott’s still stunning guitar work. With a top notch line up including Nevermore’s Jeff Loomis and Mercyful Fate’s Sharlee D’Angelo, Arch Enemy have risen to become an all star international band as acknowledged by the massive crowd applause and befitting the flame jets and clouds of dry ice adding to their visual spectacle, although White-Gluz’s captivating (omni)presence made it all seem secondary.
Having seen BARONESS the previous year, and been so moved by them, I knew they were unmissable…but all was not well in the Valley. Apparently losing their drummer on the eve of this show owing to family reasons, frontman guitarist John Baizley opted instead to play a special acoustic set, re-working selected songs and rehearsing as a 3 piece from the early hours. Well what can I say except that it was even more emotional with Tomas Lindberg from At The Gates later confessing to shedding tears and me welling up too as the appreciative crowd clapped the brave band on to encourage them through ‘Take My Bones Away’, ‘Chlorine & Wine’ and ‘Cocainium’.
The sun in full beam on Mainstage 2 added an awesome hue to ALICE IN CHAINS, so they didn’t really need their light bulb backdrop. Led by vocalist William DuVall and founder guitarist Jerry Cantrell, the band delivered a set of classics in ‘Them Bones’, ‘No Excuses’ and my personal favourite ‘Dam That River’ whose deep, timeless riffs still resonate far and wide and make them one of the few (remaining) grunge metal bands that can get a large festival rolling along to their grooves.
I really hoped Tomas Lindberg wasn’t too shaken by the Baroness experience but the massive roar of the crowd to AT THE GATES soon got him back to fiery form as the band chundered out massive riffs graced by catchy epic melodies on songs like ‘Blinded By Fear’, ‘Under A Serpent Sun’ and ‘Suicide Nation’. With each number met with huge applause, it was like a return of the gods and indeed this legendary Swedish melodic death crew are something of that.
A definite Hellfest favourite, ENSIFERUM were in streamlined form following the departure of accordionist Netta Skog last year. But with another huge crowd spilling out’ve the Temple, the crowd were crazy for classics like ‘Way Of The Warrior’, ‘Twilight Temple’ and ‘Lai Lai Hei’ managing Mexican waves, circle pits and even a wall of death, such was their enthusiasm for the Finns. It was a great way to end the show and indeed the festival the next year of which has already sold out, matching other internationally renowned festivals such as Glastonbury and now really putting France on the metal map – bravo!!!!