Hellfest - The best Summer metal festival in Europe
In our everlasting quest to find the ultimate metal festival we selected Hellfest in France this year to be one of the festivals to be honoured by our presence. The first time for Metalrage ever, and the first time for reporters DemonDust and Sledgehammer Messiah. A ten hour drive brought us in a little village near Nantes: Clisson. We arrived past midnight and everybody knows how shitty it is to set up your tent in the dark while all the others are already in the drinking and party mode. But that, including the long drive, was definitely worth it when you take a peak at the line-up. Positive thing was also that we couldn't understand a word of the people that were already in party mode and during the entire festival the French language was the subject of many stomach aching laughs.
With two big, cheap ass jerry cans of 5 litres wine each we made a good jumpstart. Wine is of course the alcohol you have to drink when you’re in France. On the camping site there even was a vineyard. Unfortunately they didn’t have grapes on them, that would definitely helped our budget, but many people gratefully used the gardens to dump their shit, literally. That was way better than those horrible Dixies in the blistering heat of the sun. Wine of course is also very well drinkable at high temperatures: a lot of people brought little rugsacks, ‘camelbacks’, filled with their favourite beverages to drink it via a long flexible straw. Ideal for moshpits. And stingy as we Dutch people are, we of course joined in on this French/Belgian habit. Too bad that after the first day the organisation decided it wasn’t such a good idea to let people bring their own alcohol to the festival…
Anyhow we got piss drunk for little money on the first day, which began with Girlschool for us. That’s right, that English band consisting of old women. Respect for those classic oldies, which were by the way very well represented on Hellfest. There were more than enough bands for the lover of classic heavy metal. Heaven and Hell for instance, of which we couldn’t remember anything because some of us had some troubles with the combination of wine and chilli con carne. But you know for sure that Dio does a way better job with Black Sabbath than Ozzy nowadays. Furthermore WASP and Queensrÿche were classic heavy metal bands which did very well for a lot of people. But especially Queensrÿche’s false notes were a torture for our ears. We personally had more fun with the oldies like Mötley Crüe who still rock like it’s 1985. Yet someone does need to throw a brick at drummer Tommy Lee. You’re not hip, you’re not black, so no need for yelling whassup whassup or booya or yo yo yo. Hilarious and entertaining show nonetheless. We actually walked way during Coalesce to witness Europe play ‘The Final Countdown’ a must-see for every rocker on the planet. They played it as the last song in their set and got a massive crowd response reaching as far as the campsite. I can die a happy man now. Also the legendary rock ‘n’ rollers of Amebix put up an excellent, show, I really can’t tell why they aren’t on the same level as Motörhead is. Reunited Voivod also had a nice show, who as a nice surprise did a song with both vocalists that have been in this band. And making a good impression again were the mighty thrashers of bands like Destruction, Anthrax and Gamabomb, who all played very nice sets. Another ancient band we saw was Killing Joke, who have The Joker from Batman as a singer and play some mild industrial spacerock music, which was real good for chilling out to. But the true masters in the old school genre were the headliners of the last day: Manowar. The Kings of Metal came, saw and conquered the hearts and souls of people that came to see them from all over the world. They handed out their Balls Of Steel Award to people from the Hellfest organisation and they had a guy from the audience play guitar with them, which was all more than enough reason for us to almost fall to the floor laughing. Keywords for these guys are METAL! STEEL! FIGHT! I sincerely hope these guys don’t take themselves seriously.
Classic heavy metal was also the number one genre that was played in the after-party tent at the campsite. And yes, of course here are the familiar scenes that everybody knows of festivals, but just a little bit more funny because of all the French people who barely speak English. There was a guy, fully dedicated, singing Iron Maiden’s Run To The Hills with the chorus being: “Run for you LIES!”. Awesome. Too bad you can’t write down the ridiculous accent with which the French pronounce English band names, but “Did you see Eyeategod, The Miesfiets and Piek Distroyeur” pretty much says it all.
So that brings us to Eyehategod and the entire spectrum of what you could call: Roadburn festival bands. Stoner, doom, sludgecore, psychedelic rock and so on. Hellfest has an absolute top notch selection of bands in several genres, and this genre was definitely one of them. Eyehategod and Outlaw Order (almost the same band) were fucking amazing to see. With Eyehategod’s performance mister Phil Anselmo took the effort of getting on stage and play their song ‘Sister Fucker’ on guitar. Luckily we didn’t see Down for that was right during Pig Destroyer. A pleasant surprise in this genre was the mighty Saint Vitus, who had replaced their drummer since Roadburn and proved they were very able to play a decent show. The rockers of Mastodon, to whom we were looking forward very much since the release of their new album played a somewhat disappointing show, for it sounded quite messy and the vocals didn’t come across as well as they do on record. Unfortunately we also missed the hippies of Pentagram, but they’ll be back later this year with Trouble. Yet we easily compensated this by checking out the sets of Torche (excellent sound, bad singer), Kylesa (great sound, missing guitarist, short set), Jarboe (quite spooky, but very cool), the mighty rockers Clutch (I’m not giving you attitude, I just want another drink!), the even mightier U.K. rockers Orange Goblin to the masters of doom in this age: Electric Wizard, who again busted out the song ‘Funeralopolis’ in their set. But there’s way more!
Soilent Green is an excellent band to go from stoner/doom to grindcore, because they really are true heroes in combining these two entirely different genres! Also grindcore was very well represented on Hellfest with Sledgehammer Messiah’s personal highlight finally seeing Pig Destroyer once. But Napalm Death probably had the best crowd’s reaction with seriously at least two crowdsurfers flying over the barriers every second! And even better, another amazing guest performance here, with Lee Dorrian rejoining his former band and doing two songs with them. Amazingly brutal show. The first band we really checked out at this fest was also in this genre, the Frenchies of Blockheads put up a high-energy blasted-infested grind show that woke us up splendidly. The last band of the fest was the mighty Brutal Truth who, stoned and drunk as they were, played one of their best sets ever. Ultimate powergrind, yet we couldn’t resist swapping their show for Manowar's, whaha!
In the area of brutal death metal there were bands like Misery Index (who ruled again, even though we’ve seen them a thousand times by now), Despised Icon (that slammed the shit out of the audience), Aborted and Skinless. All doing excellent with a special note for the zombie wall of death of Skinless (which the French of course totally misunderstood) preceded by Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’, who a week later passed away. How odd, but very cool to see literally everyone immediately moonwalking, or should we say moonmoshing. And finally we saw a guy jump out of a festival-tentpole. Total annihilation! Also we saw Immolation play a fucking brilliant show, the best I’ve seen from them. And it was our first encounter with reactivated bands like the mighty Pestilence and the fierce brutality of the ancient Repulsion, both were very fine shows to witness.
There were more genres that were well represented like metalcore/hardcore with bands like the uber-mighty Cro-Mags, Atebreed (French pronunciation), Kickback, Suicidal Tendencies, Parkway Drive, progressive bands like Dream Theater and Stratovarius, black metal from bands like Taake, Melechesh and the utterly amazing Wolves In The Throne Room and hip mainstream bands like Papa Roach and Marilyn Manson. Since those aren’t really our musical preferences we skip those and rather tell you about the awesome hard plastic cups with Hellfest print in which you got your drinks, which are know standing proudly in our kitchens. Or the two identical mainstages which were attached to each other so that when a mainstage show ended, the next band on the mainstage started playing literally 5 minutes later. It was a bit hard though to be constantly in the sun, which shined almost continuously and was sometimes awkwardly burning. Luckily the other two stages were in tents. There was actually another stage with motorcross, women’s wrestling and striptease shows. This looks and sounds cool, but especially the latter was of course way too crowded to see some decent titties. The only thing that really sucked was that apparently you can’t buy sigarettes in France elsewhere than in little tobacco shops. So no cigarettes for sale at the festival, or a supermarket or McDonalds to which you could walk. We think telling you this information is worth more than 500 words about that one headliner.
Of course there still are a shitload of bands that we still haven’t mentioned yet, but we just highlighted a few personal favourites and wanted you to get a good idea of the festival. In so many genres Hellfest really knows to get the top notch bands, which is very praiseworthy. Furthermore it turned out really funny to be at a festival where many people have trouble with the English language. The differences in cultures are pretty funny to experience and we think we also gave some handy information and tips about Hellfest and French culture. To conclude we can do nothing more than strongly recommend Hellfest, we had a fucking awesome time and it was really worth the effort of getting there. Most of all the line-up was fantastic, way better than a Graspop Metal Meeting or Wacken Open Air for instance. At least this festival is brave enough to book stuff in small genres like grindcore and sludgecore, something other fests can learn from. Make sure you check out the full line-up and feel shitty that you bought a Graspop ticket!