Hellfest has been established as a key player among European festivals for just a couple of years, and could thus be still considered a newcomer at Europe’s festival map. Yet, the festival has quickly grown to be one of the biggest metal festivals on Earth. Taking place in western France in the town of Clisson, some 300 kilometres southwest of Paris, the festival is annually attended by roughly 40,000 French metal fans, and a few thousand enthusiasts from abroad. Most visitors reach the spot in the outskirts of Clisson with their own cars, through organized bus trips, or via a train connection from Paris and Nantes.
In addition to making use of the festival’s official, gigantic camping zone, many opted out to set their tent outside its premises, at the nearby hills or yards – really just anywhere to be able to have a place in the close proximity of the festival.
Hellfest had lined up probably this year’s most impressive set of bands for the three days over any other festival. With six stages serving the fans simultaneously with bands each bigger than the other, there was so many bands to see that the fest could have easily been extended to last for a whole week with just these bands! This meant many overlapping shows and hard picks on what to see. The festival even had its own mobile app to help you with managing the tricky schedule.
Nasum is Sweden’s most legendary grind band, founded already in 1992. The band was on a final farewell tour with Keijo Niinimaa (Rotten Sound, Medeia) on vocals, following a long absence from the stages due to the passing of the band’s original vocalist/guitarist Mieszko Talarczyk in 2004.
The band entered the Altar stage to a siren intro, with a bride and a groom standing at the middle of the stage wearing gas masks. Nasum’s take on grindcore is exceptionally groovy, and it’s no wonder they were quite established in the scene although never really broke through beyond underground fame. The band’s brutal set was quite well received at the Altar stage, although based on a quick gallup not many knew the band from beforehand. A nice goodbye (or a hello) show for the French fans.
Moonsorrow was up next, and this Finnish pagan metal group seems to have a relatively small, but very faithful following all over Europe (and the world).
What’s great about Moonsorrow is that virtually every set they play is quite different from the other, which makes it fun to catch their show even if you already have many on your belt. Huuto (Scream) was this set’s most special pick, as well as the set-closer, epic and long Jotunheim from the Verisäkeet album.
Aurinko ja Kuu
The services on the area were what you would expect from a festival of this size. A wide selection of reasonably priced food, and a large hall, named Extreme Market, was reserved for dozens of vendors selling different kinds of band merchandise. Small labels, distros and random merchants offered a wide selection of band shirts and other swag to pick up.
The US ‘Celtic street punk’ band Dropkick Murphy’s was fun background music to catch your breath to before the headliners of the day. The seven piece was fun to watch despite knowing many of their songs from before hand. The crowd got really going in particular to Shipping Up to Boston, a track many know from the soundtrack of the movie “The Departed”.
Dave Mustaine’s Megadeth is one of those bands that deliver exactly what you expect from them. A massive headliner set, yet still all you get is Mustaine’s minimal stage antics and a no surprises, no frills set. Then again, what more could you possibly want from a Megadeth show?
Chris Broderick sits in the band really well and Mustaine still shows no sign of wear – overall Megadeth’s Hellfest performance was impeccable, yet somehow a little boring. Or perhaps I’ve just seen Megadeth too many times..
In My Darkest Hour
Foreclosure of a Dream
Poison Was the Cure
A Tout Le Monde
Guns, Drugs & Money
Whose Life (Is It Anyways?)
Public Enemy No. 1
Symphony of Destruction
The other headliner of Friday was someone who hasn’t been around nearly as much as Mustaine. King Diamond’s back from the dead, and alive and well, having gone through a heart surgery in 2010.
His horror show returned this summer after almost 6 years of absence for two exclusive festival shows (Hellfest and Sweden Rock) with a massive production consisting of cathedral stairs, graveyard fences, sick lights, and what have you..
The King’s trademark, high pitched screams were delivered just as good as ever, to his cross shaped microphone. King Diamond might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but with this scale of stage set, props and light show, this show was really the ultimate King Diamond gig. It was definitely at least as much of a visual, theatrical experience than just a concert.
King Diamond’s setlist:
At the Graves
Up From the Grave
Let It Be Done
Shapes of Black
Come to the Sabbath
Eye of the Witch
The Family Ghost
The Metal Corner outside the main festival area served as an arena for late night parties until 4am, with some party bands and DJs keeping people entertained. Even some Euro-football was shown at the large screen at the fields.
Hellfest makes use of the token system for drinks: tokens must be pre-purchased from token banks, and they’re the only currency good for purchasing drinks. Local beer was 2 tokens a small cup (2,5dl), or 3 tokens for imported brands like Guinness. Large pitchers of 1,5L were served also, starting at 11 tokens for the local Kronenbourg. Wine was likewise 2 tokens for a 1,5dl cup, or 20 tokens for a pitcher. A deposit of 1 token per cup/pitcher was added, if you didn’t already have one.
The pitchers came in very handy when you wanted to enjoy a show without having to give up your spot when you go to queue for another beer mid-set.
Next up is straight from Los Angeles, California – Steel Panther and their over-the-top parody/tribute to 80’s hair bands. Dumbed down 80s hair metal with ‘witty’ lyrics, mostly about chicks. I get it that it’s supposed to be funny, a joke. Too bad the joke’s just not that good, and Death To All But Metal is twice as annoying live as in the radio.
Sebastian Bach remains one of the planet’s most energetic frontmen. The former Skid Row singer is nowadays touring with his own solo band, and has put out a few mediocre studio efforts of his own. However, his setlist consisting almost exclusively of Skid Row songs is a testimony of the fact that it’s not his solo songs that’s the point here.
Skid Row classics like Slave To The Grind, Big Guns and the usual radio hits just work if delivered properly. What Sebastian Bach may have lost in his voice over the years, he makes up for tenfold with his energy levels.
On the good ol’ Wembley DVD from 1991, where Skid Row was opening up for Guns N’ Roses, Bach kept running from one side of the stage to the other like there was no tomorrow. More than 20 years later, Bach hasn’t calmed down much. He remains incredibly energetic, whipping the microphone in circles above his head, throwing it in the air only to perfectly grab it again, and jumps up and down like a 20-year-old.
Bach’s all-around entertaining performance went down at a well earned late afternoon slot on one of the mainstages.
Sebastian Bach’s setlist:
Slave To The Grind
Kicking & Screaming
Here I Am
Piece of Me
18 and Life
I Remember You
Youth Gone Wild
The weather was not in favor of this year’s edition of Hellfest; frequent rain showers made sure the ‘battlefield’ was flowing with mud, and despite the occasional peeks of sun here and there, the weather was downright depressing for June.
Fortunately there was less standing in the rain as expected- to everyone’s surprise, Guns N’ Roses actually started their set pretty much in schedule.
As easy as it would be diss Axl and his hired-gun band for what they’re not, the fact remains is that it’s very hard to go wrong with the GNR songs, and with perhaps wrong, yet professional band, it’s definitely ‘not the same thing’ – but still something quite entertaining. The songs from Appetite.. and Use Your Illusion albums will never die, and Axl can still pull them off, making his band well worth seeing.
Behemoth was playing at the same with GNR at the Altar stage, and judging by the first few songs of their set, there was plenty of people to see their show, too. The Polish group entered the stage to massive fire pyros, opening with Ov Fire And The Void. The band’s front figure Nergal indeed seems to have fully recovered from leukemia.
With the Guns N Roses set length nearing 3 hours, I’m sure the festival audience could have done without the pretty useless jams and guitar solos that repeatedly kept interrupting the set. By the time the set finally closed with Nighttrain and Paradise City, a notable part of the crowd had already left the scene.
Guns N Roses setlist:
Welcome to the Jungle
It’s So Easy
Live and Let Die
This I Love
Street of Dreams
You Could Be Mine
Sweet Child O’ Mine
Glad to Be Here
Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door
All Shall Perish was one of Sunday’s first bands, and in my books they’ve always been pretty much the only deathcore band that doesn’t do it all wrong. Excessive breakdowns and heavy riffage, plus the occasional core squeal works here, but only because the song material is very solid. No surprises on the setlist here – but why change things around, when songs like Eradication, Wage Slaves and There Is Nothing Left just work.
The band is very technically able and managed to wake the crowd up after last night’s excessive partying. A vicious circle pit and a wall of death were seen already mid-afternoon.
You’d think Mötley Crüe would be a surefire fun band to see on a festival, but this time they just didn’t hit home for the French crowd. Apparently the French aren’t too big on singing along in English, and Vince Neil, fronting the band, seemed quite confused about the mild response. After all, it was supposed to be a rock n roll show, not a funeral.
Mötley did what they could working the French crowd with their professional routine, but judging by the looks of their faces I doubt they’d seen as big and dead crowds before. The band’s stage show was pretty stripped compared to their own shows – no pyros, no frills – just a few dancer girls. The bare minimum, but that was really all the crowd deserved.
Mötley Crüe’s setlist:
Too Fast for Love
Saints of Los Angeles
Shout at the Devil
Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)
Same Ol’ Situation
Looks That Kill
Piece of Your Action
Smokin’ in the Boys’ Room
Girls, Girls, Girls
Home Sweet Home
Kickstart My Heart
Children Of Bodom stopped by Hellfest to headline Warzone tent stage in the middle of their European tour, in celebration of 15 years of the Finnish band’s career. Having freshly released a compilation album Holiday at Lake Bodom (15 Years of Wasted Youth), the band had slightly revamped their usual setlist to cover their whole back catalog.
COB started their set with an older rarity, Hatebreeder albums’ thunderous opening track Warheart. With its blastbeat beginning, the song shows the more primal sound of COB than that of their more recent albums.
With a car wreck positioned in the middle of the stage, the band went on to play a career retrospective best-of-set for a good 60 minutes. The band’s iconic front figure Alexi Laiho was in a good shape, nailing his solos and being active on the stage, occasionally jumping on the hood of the car to trade solos with the band’s keyboardist Janne Warman. The band repped well its status as one of the forerunners of guitar driven melodic death metal, still being able to blow younger bands out of the water. And the French crowd responded to the Hate Crew’s show with tremendous enthusiasm in the jampacked tent.
Children Of Bodom’s setlist:
Silent Night, Bodom Night
Everytime I Die
In Your Face
Angels Don’t Kill
Hate Crew Deathroll
Meanwhile at the main stage it was supposed to be Ozzy & Friends, but they had apparently cut half an hour off their set and already ended. A few days later in Germany Ozzy was forced to cancel his entire performance due to ‘vocal concerns’.
Lamb Of God closed the festival in pouring rain. Randy Blythe (voc) continuously thanked the ‘crazy motherfuckers’ who were still up standing in the mud, although it was the third day of the festival and the clock was past 1AM. The apocalyptic mood of the set’s third song, Walk With Me In Hell, went well hand in hand with the mood at the muddy festival grounds, as the rain kept on coming down.
The band’s rhythm section was – like usual – as precise as a Swiss clock, and Randy managed to squeeze the last juices out of the crowd with his ferocious performance. The crowd still got the wall of death going for the set closer Black Label before the band put the festival to an end.
Lamb Of God’s setlist:
Walk With Me in Hell
Set to Fail
Now You’ve Got Something to Die For
Laid to Rest
While the locals lived up to their reputation of having severe difficulties with the English language, generally everyone were friendly and it was possible to get the help or service you needed; if not from the first person, then someone else would step in to translate. Some of the basic services at the festival site could have needed some improvement though. It was nearly impossible to get your phone charged; the queue to the tent for this purpose never seemed to be less than a few hours long.
Still, Hellfest is a fairly well organized festival there’s not really not much to complain about. However, be it the unfortunate weather or just the general mindset of the French, that certain feeling of unity and good spirit European festivals are known was not really as prominent as on some other festivals. While Hellfest is a little hard to reach from western or northern parts of Europe, bands of this caliber will surely keep fans coming over from further away, too.
LH / Photos: Christian Besse