France’s soirée of festival season is Hellfest, based in the sleepy town of Clisson, which lies half an hour from Nantes in the Pays de la Loire region of the country, and this year is it’s 13th incarnation
In the beginning, starting off more on the heavy side, it’s grown into one of the most eclectic festivals in Europe. Imagine if you crossed the music from Download with Bloodstock, threw in wee bit of Heavy Scotland and topped it off with a touch of Rebellion… you’d not even be close to the mix that you get here.
The other thing that amazes me about Hellfest is the sheer size of the event: two main stages joined together (so 5 mins between artists); 3 “smaller” venues, The Alter, The Temple (both the size of football pitches), The Valley (slightly smaller); and the standalone Warzone.
This was my fifth trip to Hellfest and the journey, made by car, was as eventful as always, this time made longer by the heavy traffic caused by the French rail strike, and our hotel not telling us how to get into our room when we turned up at midnight as a result!
Having risen later than intended, we made our way to the exquisite town of Clisson to begin the festivities on a day like each of the previous times that we have been there: clear, sunny & warm.
Due to the size of the event and to minimise moving, we concentrated more on the main stages, with a few exceptions. Even with this, my health app on my iPhone read 11.2 miles, 12.3 miles and 11.7 miles on each of the 3 days respectively.
What follows is a diarised event of our time on each of the days…
No hassles with the press pass so that’s one bonus, a quick beer in the VIP section to “test” our newly loaded up cashless cards and its time to go.
The first band that we get to see, representing England are Planet Rock regulars Toseland (7/10), they give a good performance but struggle to get the early morning crowd on side. Tesseract (7/10) are next up, and again struggle to gain full crowd attention but deliver musically.
Next up Is AC/DC’s Chris Slade as the Chris Slade Timeline, covering his career in AC/DC and with Gary Moore & Dave Gilmore. Word to the wise, Chris: stick to the AC/DC stuff, it was brilliant (8/10) the less said about the rest the better. Sons of Apollo (8.5/10) are the first band to really get the crowd going with Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal and bass virtuoso Billy Sheehan on fine form. We’re in real nostalgia mode as firstly Angry Anderson’s Rose Tattoo (7/10) take us back a few years and entertain the crowd well followed by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts (7/10) rolling (and rocking) back the years.
I take a trip to the Valley to check out NOLA sludge aficionados Crowbar (9/10) fronted by Kirk Windstein and powered by Matt Branson’s seven string beast, they really deliver the doom and wow, what a sound! Something that this stage tends to get. Mesuggah’s (8/10) show still works in the sunlight (just) but lacks the splendour of darkness, something that countrymen Joey Tempest and Europe (8.5/10) have no issue with. Tempest struts like a peacock as they really deliver, plus I get to hear 100,000 plus people singing “The Final Countdown” at full voice which is a sound to behold.
Steve Wilson, the self-confessed “ABBA” of the festival plays the heavier stuff from his back catalogue, the highlights being from Porcupine Tree and is the real pleasant surprise of the day.
Next up is the real wild card of the Hollywood Vampires (7.5/10), complete with token guitar work from Johnny Depp. I had my reservations and they reared their head as Joe Perry delivered a lacklustre performance and was bailed out of jail by the amazing Tommy Henriksen. Depp, however, pulled one out of the bag when he went all Captain Jack Sparrow when singing a cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes”; the highlight of the set.
Solstafir (9/10) and Satyricon (9/10) are the highlights of the day in The Temple with their eclectic mix of tunes and darkness.
The main stage jumps into life as the effervescent Stone Sour (9/10) hit the stage to deliver a stellar performance, equally as good as when I had seen them the previous week at their own headline show in Manchester. Despite being given only an hour-long slot, they felt like the headliner of the evening.
We were told that there were no digital press allowed to photograph Judas Priest who were quite simply Judas Priest. Not bad but lacked the “X” factor that we had seen from several acts earlier in the day.
The main stage evening is wrapped up with the weird and wonderful world that is A Perfect Circle (7.5/10), and on the way out we caught Corrosion of Conformity (9/10), with Pepper Keenan and chaps on top form with some of the best sound of the day.
Everyone left happy. Well, apart from me, who had to drive 20 miles home… on the plus side, there was beer in the fridge and a room with aircon, unlike last year’s odyssey in the mobile home which was akin to being in the remake of Midnight Express.
Day one summary:
- Bands seen – 16
- T-shirts bought – 2
- Beers bought – 4
- Highlight – Crowbar
- Disappointment – Hollywood Vampires
- Pleasant Surprise – Steve Wilson
It was a later start for Saturday as the effects of the 12 hour drive and day in the sun took their toll – thank god for beer, though! I’m not getting any younger and it was telling. It was a late start, but what a start, with Mark Tremonti (9/10) the first act we see, full of energy and power, he races through his 50 minute set. There’s a large tilt towards material from his new album A Dying Machine and the crowd lap it up. Can this man do no wrong?
Cypress Hill/Biohazard rap metal fusion quartet Powerflo (8/10) give a good account of themselves but you get a sense that the the crowd is waiting for another rap/metal outfit to appear. Jonathan Davis, (8.5/10) appearing as a solo artist at Hellfest for the first time, really puts a shift in and to be honest, sounds better with his solo band than the last time he graced the festival with the one trick pony sound of Korn.
Home band Pleymo (6/10) flatter to deceive and seem to be a stop gap until Bullet For My Valentine (8/10) hit the stage. Again, another band leaning heavily on a new album, they have the crowd jumping from track one and do Wales proud. Vocalist Matt Tuck is on great form despite looking as if he was sweltering in his pristine leather jacket.
Body Count (9/10) are one band that I didn’t want to miss, especially after my near death experience in 2015 trying to get to see them in the Warzone before it was rebuilt. Ice-T and the boys treat us to a display of what rap metal should be. Their tunes are topical, even if Ice does overplay the race card at certain points. 99.99% of metal fans (and indeed most human beings) don’t give a shit who or what is up on stage in front of them, so long as the tunes that they are playing are good, so to be reminded of “getting funny looks as black folk show up at a metal show” is not required.
It’s been a long time since I saw Deftones (8.5/10) and they didn’t disappoint. Chino Moreno and the chaps run through their explosive set with the audience fully on board and left wanting for more.
One of the real highlights of the of the evening is Limp Bizkit (10/10) and despite having not released any new material since 2011, so in effect are becoming their own tribute act, they steal the day. Fred Durst offers an abject lesson in crowd control, taking us way back to the turn of the century, and the band treat us to a cover of “Killing in the Name” by Rage Against the Machine, specifically because he was told by Zach De La Rocha “Don’t fucking play that song!” Wes Borland is his typical outlandish self, dressed head to toe in black, with black hands, black face and teeth (yes!) paint, with the only difference being the top of his head and hair which is covered in white paint – should we expect anything else? The performance is capped off by both Durst and Borland crowd surfing during “Break Stuff”.
Be it the intensity of the performance or a severe case of “after the Lord Mayor’s show”, but Avenged Sevenfold (7/10) don’t really hit the heights that were climbed by Limp Bizkit. Sure, the music is good but the songs contain too many twiddly duo guitar solos, and there was no X factor at all. Highlights did include the punchy “Bat Country” (no twiddling) and M Shadows pulling a fan out of the crowd to assist with the vocals on “Nightmare” due to a few vocal issues, making his weekend and giving him stories to tell his grandchildren on cold winter evenings. Avenged Sevenfold were another band that had severe photo restrictions on them which was a shame.
Sharing the gold medal for performance of the day are Australia’s Parkway Drive (10/10) who certainly have the X factor required to deliver a superb performance. From the intro to the final notes of “Bottom Feeder”, the sheer power coming from the stage is immense, and they were genuinely happy to be up there and playing their music, unlike others who seemed to be going through the motions. With tunes spread from all of their six albums, they really deliver and actually give us a proper show, complete with 180 degree rotation of Gaz Gordon’s fire spewing drum kit.
On the way out we catch a bit of Hatebreed (8/10) and Dimmu Borgir (8/10) but the day belonged to Limp Bizkit and Parkway Drive. Staying to the very end meant for a very late finish but it was well worth it.
Day two summary
- Bands seen – 14
- T-shirts bought – 3
- Beers bought – 5
- Highlight – Parkway Drive & Limp Bizkit
- Disappointment – None
- Pleasant Surprise – Jonathan Davis
With it being 27 degrees at 10 in the morning, we know we were in for a hot day and this led to another early afternoon start for us. Again we get a fantastic start to the day with Shinedown (10/10) really putting on a show despite their brief 50 minute slot. Brent Smith has the crowd eating out of his hands, this included encouraging the crowd to shake hands with the person next to them to make friends. At this point he climbed off the stage and came and shook hands with us photographer types too, and also going into the crowd to divide them for the obligatory singalong. It begs the question, why were they only given 50 mins and 7 songs? Answers on a postcard…
In this Moment (6/10) were bizzareness personified and to be honest the tunes were nothing to write home about, and Asking Alexandria (6/10) should have stuck to Download. Faith is restored by Iced Earth (8/10) who deliver a performance that brings the crowd fully back on side before Killswitch Engage (9/10) show how it’s really done, Jesse Leach is jumping round the stage like a live wire and Adam Dutkiewicz is as mad as ever, resplendent in his stars & stripes shorts, the great entertainer.
Accept (8/10) give us some old school metal that the crowd lap up and the band are clearly enjoying themselves, especially Wolf Hoffmann who clearly loves the camera. Arch Enemy (9/10) and photogenic vocalist Alissa White-Gluz give us some power and energy, with her ability to switch between clean and dirty vocals being particularly amazing.
I don’t know what it is about Megadeth (6/10) but whenever I see them, there’s always a problem. This time it was no vocals and guitars till half way through opener “Rattlehead”. For some reason, they were the only band whose sound wasn’t great and it’s a bit of a shame.
Alice in Chains (9/10) are really on form, a particularly great feat given that Jerry Cantrell was clearly wasted, and are a great warm up for Iron Maiden (8/10) whose “Legacy of the Beast” setlist is a real throwback. Opening with “Aces High” complete with giant spitfire, the band justify their headline status (I’ve never seen as many Iron Maiden T-shirts in my life) giving the crowd a tremendous sample of their back catalogue. They even give “The Clansman” a run out, complete with Bruce Dickinson’s 3 minute monologue intro delivered in perfect French. There were set changes galore, madness from Bruce Dickinson and several visits from Eddie… what more could crowd want? Again, due to severe photo restrictions there were no “normal” photographers in the pit.
By this time, the crowd were clearly flagging. A weekend’s booze (and perhaps other substances) were clearly taking their toll, and as if to join in Marilyn Manson (5/10) decided to get into such a state that he fell over on stage and wrecked his microphone. Babbling and incoherent he had clearly decided to roofie himself to forget how bad he actually was.
For the second time in recent years Nightwish (9/10) are given the dual-edged sword of closing the festival. Luckily, they are up to the task, complete with pyro and all.
Day three summary:
- Bands seen – 17
- T shirts bought – 2
- Beers bought – 6
- Highlight – Shinedown
- Disappointment – Marilyn Manson
- Pleasant Surprise – Arch Enemy
We’ve made it through another year, and for the first time Hellfest give us a taster of bands for the following year as Dropkick Murphys, Carcass, Slayer and Manowar are announced. There is an audible level of excitement as Joey DeMaio from Manowar appears on the main stage and tells the hordes how Manowar will crack the earth wide open at Hellfest next year.
So then it was back to the hotel for our 2 hours of sleep before heading off for to San Malo for the ferry – tired, but very happy and more importantly entertained. Bring on 2019!
Photography by Gavin Lowrey