17 / 18 / 19 June
After the amazing experience we had last year at this premier French festival, I was pleasantly surprised that Hellfest followed up this year with another excellent line up bar none! Located in the beautiful wine country region of the Loire Atlantique, it is also a popular holiday destination – and who can blame anyone, given everyone is so damn friendly!
Sited on a well drained sports ground, with Nantes airport close by and high speed rail links to Paris, Hellfest successfully combines metal with classic rock to punk and hardcore on 4 stages over 3 days in what is fast becoming THE happening metal festival in Europe!
Fri 17 June
It was just as well that I’d already seen Malevolent Creation, The Dwarfs and Alter Bridge before as my flight got in at lunchtime, and I caught the tail end of DAGOBA, who played heavy nu metal a la System Of A Down (and got a beach ball chucked at them for their effort) to the much better CHURCH OF MISERY, who reminded me of a mellower version of long demised cult act Iron Monkey, who played heavy southern groove noise with bottom heavy rumbling bass and screaming, wild caveman vox.
But I wouldn’t miss the intensity of Brazilian extreme metallers KRISIUN for a salami baguette! Heavy precision bass drumming, roaring vocals and chainsaw guitar were my opening initiation as the Kolesne bros blurred their way thru ‘Kings Of Killing’, ‘Combustion Inferno’ and ‘Hatred Inherit’ – OTT titles, and certainly an OTT performance that visited death upon the Rock Hard Tent! Recovering afterwards, I watched the enigmatic MAXIMUM THE HORMONE who’d come from Japan complete with a screaming chick drummer and a bassist who butt scooted round and round Main Stage 2 in his underwear as the band ranted (not that anyone could understand them in Japanese LOL) and played their Misfits type punk pop to an equally shocked audience.
Now THE CULT were a band I was very much looking forward to seeing, as were many gathered at Main Stage 1. What a pity then, that Ian Astbury (who now looks like a stereotypical Mexican bandido – complete with red bandana) wasn’t. For some reason he moped about why they were playing a ‘metal’ festival (although he never moaned about those interviews that Kerrang! did in the 80s) despite other alternative acts like Iggy. Still, Billy Duffy’s sensational guitar more than made up on ‘Sweet Soul Sister’, ‘She Sells Sanctuary’ and the old Death Cult fave ‘Horse Nation’ before Astbury finally went bananas and trashed the drumkit.
How could anyone ever ignore THE EXPLOITED? No one – cos you’d probably get a kick up the arse from ex squaddie Wattie Buchan as these old punks blitzed their way thru the likes of ‘Fight Back’, ‘Troops Of Tomorrow’ and the 70,000 crowd chanting ‘Fuck The USA’ even after they’d left Main Stage 2! Quite the opposite then for Appalachian hillbillies KARMA TO BURN whose fogged out dry ice and fuzz toned cosmic instrumentals perplexed many as they waited for the inevitable vocals LOL!
I’ve never been a big DOWN fan but they clearly amassed the largest crowd of the day as many came to pay homage to this NOLA supergroup. Phil Anselmo is still in fine form as they trawled their way thru ‘Eyes Of The South’, ‘Ghost Along The Mississippi’ and the epic ‘Bury Me In Smoke’, but seeing Crowbar guitarist Kirk Windstein among their ranks, Down only came across as a mellower version of his band at least to me.
Back in the Terroriser marquee, cult 80s crossover band CORROSION OF CONFORMITY were taking to the stage. Man, I have waited over 30 years to see these guys, and they were certainly over 30 LOL! Drummer Red Mullin still has his trademark baby faced grin and bassist Mike Dean looks as dishevelled as he screamed out the vox to ‘Technocracy’, ‘Hungry Child’ and ‘Loss For Words’. Almost jamming at times, it’s easy to see why many doom noise bands owe their sound to this off the wall style of proto hardcore featuring Woody Weatherman’s slow, distorted Sabbathy guitar and Dean’s deep, grunting bass work. Not an easy experience for many…although Reed was still smilin’!
Tormented by endless insurance ads featuring his namesake puppet dummy, IGGY POP’s emaciated torso and twisted face perversely drew more people than repelling them as he contorted his body around the mike stand as the Stooges cranked out their geriatric rock to ‘I Got A Right’ and a cover of the Sex Pistols ‘No Fun’, although he clearly seemed to delight playing with the crowd as he ducked into the PA and kept emerging from different places! Unlike Ian Astbury, Iggy took it all in his stride and was the first guy to genuinely bond with the crowd by getting into the foto pit and during ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ got down on all 4’s and made like one with the mike in his mouth – respect!
When POSSESSED’s ‘Seven Churches’ came out back in the 80s, it was little more than an underground slab of thrash metal ridiculed by the masses. I very doubt that anyone – even the band themselves – would imagine they would be one of the cornerstones to today’s death and black metal bands (ironically both In Flames and Mayhem would be playing afterwards). Doubly betrayed by label failure and Jeff Becerra’s car jacking leaving him paralysed from the waist down, I actually had the privilege of visiting him at home about 10 years ago, when we discussed him getting Possessed back together for Wacken. Needless to say, I was at the front for this set! With the original crew long gone, Becerra is the sole trooper and despite being confined to his wheelchair, his guttural vocals are still there on classic tracks like ‘666’, ‘Phantasm’ and the awesome ‘Death Metal’, the only thing being amiss was the lack of homage from any of the death / black bands playing today who should’ve also been there paying their respects!
Sat 18 June
Wow, this was gonna be a long day! As the haze from last night’s Possessed set cleared I once again found myself at the front of Main Stage 2, in eager anticipation of US thrashers Whiplash. Next door, Sweden’s all girl CRUCIFIED BARBARA were shaking it to the sound of their roaring chick rock, reminding me a lot of the pioneering days of Girlschool and Vixen, and they were certainly better looking than the Lunachicks LOL! As I drooled at the chick flesh a pin button from a grinning Tony Portaro sent my beer flying and it was time for the ticket to mayhem known as WHIPLASH! Beginning the first of many mosh pits that would feature around this stage the sound of ‘Walk The Plank’, ‘Spit On Your Grave’ and my personal all time fave ‘Warmonger’ were unleashed as a crazed Dank Delong threw his bass around as Portaro unleashed his evil riffs. For so early in the day, Whiplash had already got the crowd encoring for more.
Next door, ANGELWITCH got off to a bit of a nervous start despite now having Bill Steer on guitar. But no matter, despite being 3 decades old, classics like ‘White Witch’, ‘Atlantis’ and the mighty ‘Angel Of Death’ still ring true and the crowd responded favourably with an encouraging ‘You’re an Angelwitch’ chant and Kevin Heybourne left with all smiles.
Mekong Delta bored the hell outta me with their pretentious rock opera but HAIL OF BULLETS bombed the hell outta me instead LOL! These dudes just rip man, whirring buzzsaw guitars, neck snapping drumming and Martin van Drunen’s commanding presence as the band brutally churn out ‘General Winter’, ‘Tokyo Napalm Holocaust’ and the ‘Red Wolves Of Stalin’ to the huge roar of the crowd as the band triumphantly raise their guitars at the end, conquest complete.
To a barrage of crushing snare comes Italy’s punksters RAW POWER complete with a totally mental drummer – and you’d haveta be to the likes of ‘My Boss’, ‘You Are The Victim’ and ‘Joe’s The Best’ – short, sharp songs featuring ripping punk chords, wailing wall choruses and heaps of jumping around. I dunno how many songs they played, but I lost count after twenty…!
EXHUMED are a name that’ve been around for a long time in old school US death circles although relegated to division 2, which is a shame cos they probably put on the most intense set of the entire festival! With drummer Danny Walker getting this year’s prize for ‘Human Drum Machine’ the rest of the band brutally hammered away to the (loony)toons of ‘Casketkrusher’, ‘The Matter Of Splatter’ and ‘All Guts No Glory’. I remember when bands like this were dime a dozen but today even the likes of Cannibal Corpse have moved on in their sounds so it’s refreshing to hear Exhumed play it the way it was when frontman Matt Harvey – aged only 15 at the time – formed this band.
Arriving back at Main Stage 1, I manage to catch the tail end of UFO who despite their age actually sound heavier as they pound out ‘Rock Bottom’ and the epic ‘Doctor Doctor’ with Phil Moog having not lost any of his charm as he sez to a lady in the audience ‘..are you with anyone..?..’ LOL
MUNICIPAL WASTE have anything but finesse as frontman Tony Foresta sez ‘..what’s up smellfest, I don’t even know what song we’re gonna play, but are you having as much fun as us?!..’ as Ryan Waste piles on the terror riffola of ‘Headbanger Face Rip’ and ‘Beer Pressure’ and ‘Drunk As Shit’. Needless to say, the crowd parts like the Red Sea and a wall of death ensues before a massive mosh pit (actually going in different circles) erupts. Like I said, these Virginians might be the living embodiment of Beavis n Butthead, but they sure know how to throw a party!
Back in the Rock Hard tent there is almost a spiritual vibe as SKYFORGER from Latvia take to the stage amidst folk flutes, lutes and bagpipes. Everyone’s hands are in the air as frontman Peteris Kvetkovskis is clearly moved to be here and tells us ancient tales of lore before playing the folk metal of ‘Son Of The Mare’, ‘Long Dance’ and ‘Kauja pie Plakanien’. Although his English isn’t good, the vibe between the crowd and the band more than makes up for it, with people chanting and air punching to virtually every song. A truly moving experience indeed.
With a pit stop long overdue, I’m chomping as I catch ‘Stand And Fight’ from Destruction, watch the flame blazing black metal of 1349, catch the post punk core of Times Of Grace and nearly chuck up to the 3 cellos of Apocalyptica!
Thankfully DRI come to my rescue. Again, another 80s crossover band that I’ve always yearned to see, Kurt Brecht was in full assault mode complementing the furious thrash core riffs of Spike Cassidy on ‘I Win You Lose’, ‘The Five Year Plan’ and ‘Acid Rain’, while bassist Harald (?) strutted around in a pig’s mask for some reason – still, they’re supposed to be imbeciles right?
The pummelling drums of Ventor told me that dark KREATOR had returned! Given that fellow Germans Destruction and Sodom had already trod on Main Stage 2, the pressure was on for Mille & co and their set was not one of artistic expression, but back to basics neck breaking as Petrozza called ‘..for the most violent moshpit..’ to commemorate the 3rd anniversary of the band playing Hellfest. Bathed in blood red stage lights Kreator probably played the heaviest that I’ve ever seen picking from their most intense songs like ‘Enemy Of God’, old favourites like ‘Pleasure To Kill’ and the immortal ‘Flag Of Hate’.
After enjoying the Scorpions from afar with ‘Holiday’ and ‘Rock You Like A Hurricane’, the beckoning theme music to The Dam Busters movie thankfully saved me from the cringe worthy ‘Still Loving You’ signifying the arrival of the classic 80s band – BOLT THROWER! Literally taking to the stage like troops landing on a beach, the British war machine pounded their way thru ‘The IVth Crusade’, ‘Salvo’, ‘No Guts, No Glory’ and ‘Cenotaph’. Despite saying in the past that they don’t like festivals, these guys are ironically almost the perfect festival band, their brand of crude death grind getting the crowd going even at this late hour as vocalist Karl Willets commanded from the front and bassist Jo threatened to sideswipe all asunder with a colossal bass she wielded like a broadsword!
As the might of Bolt Thrower came to an end, we were treated to an awesome fireworks display as I now pondered my options of either seeing Coroner, Bad Brains or Tom Warrior’s new band, TRIPTYKON. Being an old Celtic Frost fan, Warrior’s death rock art band was intriguing in the least to me but as a dire version of ‘Procreation Of The Wicked’ cranked out, and Triptykon’s own material fail to leave an impression, not even his trademark death grunts could save this project. Fair do’s, the small but dedicated crowd gave him a warm welcome, but as similar efforts befell ‘Circle Of Tyrants’ and ‘Babylon Fell’ I was left with the feeling that Triptykon was probably best appreciated via the artistic videos they put out.
Sun 19 June
After a well deserved lie in, I arrived in time to see the Russians give their Latvian cousins more than a run for their money as ARKONA took to the stage. Fronted by the dynamo of Masha Scream (on vocals naturally) this was quite a different experience to that of the spiritual Skyforger: in the mid day sun we got babushka dance metal with folk samples on the upbeat ‘Goi, Rode, Goi’ and ‘Stenka Na, Stenka Pamiat’! Firing up the crowd this little lady resplendent in furs didn’t let the crowd go by keeping her English simple and immediately got everyone jumping jovially as one could imagine a tribal jester doing so around a campfire a 1,000 years ago.
And lo! I saw a bearded figure in a white robe (on Main Stage 2), and he called unto me, and when I saw the belly dancer I went unto him. Yeah, right! ORPHANED LAND are as confused as Palestine from whence they come from – 6 Jewish guys to be precise and a Lebanese dancer who fuse middle eastern folk and Arabic melodies into metal and death. I did wonder if leading chanter Kobi Farhi actually thought he was the messiah, but I guess their hearts in the right place trying to bring peace unto the Holy Land for all. Good luck.
‘..it’s all good muthafuckas..’ came the cool drawl outta DUFF MACKAGAN as his slick band LOADED all dressed in black leather n shades skulked onto Main Stage 1 like the white panthers about to take city hall. This was the original punk rock n roll, with low bass, rip sliding groove and heaps of muthafuckin attitude on ‘Seattle Head’, ‘Dead Skin’ and ‘Follow Me To Hell’. He certainly brought a cool, suave element to Hellfest, and the people adored him for it.
With all the mystique surrounding their anonymity, GHOST had pulled so many people they were spilling out of the Terroriser tent (Hellfest really should consider getting a bigger marquee). With predictably dim lights, the band plodded around in heavy cassocks, along with their Cardinal death dude. It was nothing really special, almost like a rainbow version of Mercyful Fate and after a while I dearly wished someone would jump onstage and rip their masks off.
No such BS with the next band – GRAVE. One of Sweden’s oldest death metal bands having started in the mid 80s, I was right at the front to not be spoilt a chance to see these legends. Still fronted by Ola, who hasn’t lost any of his hostility, his filthy distorted guitar sound resembled his persona as Grave unleashed ‘For Your God’, ‘Hating Life’ and their classic ‘Into The Grave’ to a slavering crowd (I half expected the guy next to me’s head to rip off if he banged any faster LOL) who kept chanting ‘Ola! Ola!!Ola!!!’ – revel in death my friends!
MR BIG – WTF?! Wow, Hellfest was really going out on a limb here. Despite the high credibility of the musos here, Mr Big’s good ol’ fashioned rock n roll was as American as apple pie, so I did wonder how long they would last – or how long Eric Martin would if Billy Sheehan got too close with his bass LOL. With a kick ass funky groove and plenty of techniques to keep the instrumentalists in the audience creaming, songs like ‘American Beauty’, ‘Road To Ruin’ and ‘Alive & Kicking’ brought a decidedly different feel to the metal of Hellfest. Eric Martin is still a cheeky weasel, but the girls still love him LOL.
With my mind still working things out from Mr Big, thankfully MORGOTH gave me a much needed slap up the head with their Slayeresque death metal. In fact they were very Slayer, very fuckin Slayer on songs like ‘Body Count’, ‘Exit To Temptation’, and ‘White Gallery’ but it worked a treat, giving us a cool substitute to Araya & co who’ played Hellfest last year.
There’s nothing like a bit of competition and this year Hellfest amassed the cream of German metal. I guess word must’ve got to DORO cos she ran her set like an aerobics class pulling out old school Warlock classics like ‘Burning The Witches’ and ‘Metal Racer’ alongside ballads like ‘Deep Inside My Heart’. From the get go she was headbanging with the crowd and I haveta say of all the acts probably made the most personal impression to the crowd wherever they were standing – the fact that she is still in incredible shape (including her voice) with all her looks only adds to her credibility in being German’s top rock lady bar none.
Having been a JUDAS PRIEST fan since the late 70s, I did consider whether their final shows might be more of a farce, especially after the untimely departure of lynchpin guitarist KK Downing, so Korpiklaani’s coinciding set was more than a temptation in many ways. Talk about eating humble pie – Priest fuckin rocked man! Opening with a blistering ‘Rapid Fire’, rather than being some embarrassing PR stunt, new boy Richie Faulkner has actually breathed a new energy into the band and most of all, his interaction with Glenn Tipton is electric especially on classics like ‘Victim Of Changes’ and ‘Beyond The Realms Of Death’. Halford too was in fine form both vocally and physically on ‘Breaking The Law’ and ‘Green Manalishi’ with Ian Hill and Scott Travis faithfully bringing the unflagging rhythm on ‘Painkiller’ and ‘Hell Bent For Leather’ complete with Harley on the walkway! All in all a fitting closing performance to an illustrious 40 year career and yes, I must confess a tear did appear in my eye as the sunset provided an apt backdrop to one of the greatest bands in heavy metal history.
Ozzy’s a good bloke y’know, but no way could he compete with Priest and having seen the likes of Opeth and Kyuss Lives last year at Hellfest it was time to conclude on what had been a stupendous 3 days.
All in all I would heartily recommend Hellfest to anyone – just bring your own toilet paper cos the loos do occasionally run out. Also, I hope Hellfest can improve the Nantes shuttle to prevent 100 people fighting to get onto an 8 person people carrier at 2am in the morning. Still, it’s all part of the rock n roll experience I guess so here’s wishing a big merci beaucoup to Roger, Samia and all the cool staff at Hellfest!