Festival Review: Hellfest 2023 Day 3

Day 3 – Hellfest 2023 – Disneyland for Metalheads

Hellfest day 3 started off with yours truly getting the full festival experience by testing out the first aid facilities on site, which I must say were top notch and was yet another example of the organisational excellence of the organisers!

Puscifer (c) Gavin Lowrey

Due to my stop off resulting from mobility issues, day 3 started slightly later for us with Asking Alexandria trying their best to raise the crowd from their slumber, things didn’t really click for the Brits despite their best efforts. Polish proggers Riverside change the pace and surprise us all with a cracking set that gets everyone going. Their last couple of albums since the death of founding guitarist Piotr Grudziński have been grittier and this certainly carried over into their performance. Giving us 80’s synths and eloquent melodies Beast in Black from Finland are another band that shine.

The standout of the day is Crowbar who light up the newly rebuilt Valley stage in its new position next to the Lemmy statue with their sludge filled set. Kirk Windstein’s vocals are surely the most guttural in metal and draws a massive crowd for the criminally early time of 2.20pm for their set. With set favourites such as “Planets Collide” and “All I Had (I Gave)” the crowd get exactly what they want.

Here’s where the day goes a bit strange with the full multimedia experience that is Maynard James Keenan’s Puscifer certainly the first band that really grabs everyone’s attention. With their wacky immersive live show certainly blurring the lines between concert and theatre they certainly brought their electro rock vision to life. On this showing, Keenan’s mind is certainly a place that it would be worth visiting!

At the other end of the spectrum Arch Enemy are next up on the main stage with vocalist Alissa White-Gluz controlling the stage from moment one after she makes her arrival as the rest of the band play an extended intro. With her guttural vocals and vibrant blue hair, she certainly catches the attention as the band run through their set.

Opening up with “Deceiver, Deceiver” from their latest album, the band display why they are on such a winning streak since it’s 2022 release. Nine songs seems scant offering for an audience that are in awe of the performance and personally I can’t wait to see them again.

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We are dragged back to prog end of the musical spectrum as Porcupine Tree, fresh from their twelve year hiatus grace our presence with nine songs of musical perfection. Band leader Steve Wilson has played Hellfest as a solo artist in 2018 previously, and commented then that he felt like the “odd one out” amongst all the metal bands, that certainly wasn’t the case this time.

Arch Enemy (c) Gavin Lowrey

The teutonic phenomenon that is Powerwolf follow Porcupine Tree and it’s as if the whole place has been cranked up about ten notches. Theatrical and over the top, massive choruses, fire, and a quasi-religious ambiance are what the band deliver in abundance, with vocalist Attila Dorn giving his usual over the top performance. This is a band on the brink of greatness and the perfect warm up for headliners Iron Maiden.

Maiden have headlined Hellfest before in 2014, and very successfully in 2018 where there setlist was one of greatness and that of immortality, being full of crowd favourites and something that I will remember for a long time. This one was slightly different. Don’t get me wrong, the musicianship is exceptional. Guitarists Adrian Smith, Janick Gers and Dave Murray have a telepathic understanding that is phenomenal and it shows.

This time the setlist on their “Days of Future Past” tour was a celebration of the fantastic Somewhere in Time album, that in my opinion is criminally underrated, with five out of the eight tracks from the album getting and airing. But apart from that, I am left a bit disappointed. The issue seemed to be there insistence on thrusting five tracks from the average Senjutsu album onto us instead of cherry picking one or two and looking for other rarely played gems in their back catalogue.

Seeing the crowd restless during these tracks was a strange site, the excellent “Writing On The Wall” was an exception. Maybe a discussion for another time, but this was the only song on the album co-written by Bruce Dickinson and is a shift from the other, plodding, bass line driven tracks from the album.

Yes, staples like “The Trooper”, “Iron Maiden”, “Wasted Years” and “Fear of the Dark” are here, but any Maiden set without “Run To The Hills” or “Hallowed Be Thy Name” is a disappointment. Maybe I’m a purist or just a miserable old git but that’s my opinion.

The set finishes off with “Wasted Years” and the band take the applause but it’s a definite case of “what if”.

Within Temptation follow Maiden and as we walk (hobble in my case) over to the other stages to catch a few of the other bands, Black Flag and Municipal Waste give us the energy that was lacking with Maiden, and Monster Magnet are slicker than an accident in a pomade factory. Clutch remind us of their excellence and have me wondering why they are not on the main stage with Voivod reminding me that I should really gave seen them since the last time I did in 1988.

Another candidate for the “Why am I not on the main stage” competition are Meshuggah who entertain the massive crowd in the Alter stage who spill out of the marquee tent like ants trying to get to their queen. Complex, surgical and technically irreproachable, savage and above all unique, Meshuggah never fail to deliver.

Overall, it was a day of big highs and lows but always entertaining.

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Band of the day: Crowbar

Surprise of the day: Beast in Black

Disappointment of the day: Iron Maiden

Daily totals

  • Pints drunk: 6
  • T shirts bought: 5
  • First Aid tent visits: 2

Photography by Gavin Lowrey

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