Sunday 17th June

If there are any festival final day blues hanging around, they’re not easy to spot, but perhaps that’s because they’re crowded out by all the heavy in the air. Or maybe the hangovers mean everyone’s forgotten what day it is.

Most frustrating of all are restrictions imposed on photographers today. With a huge number already jostling for pit space and various bans in place, we are unable to capture many of the final day’s acts, which is even more depressing than the torrential downpours, particularly given how excited we were to be shooting some of these big timers. They say a picture paints a thousand words – hopefully words can do the reverse!

Early risers Insomnium (3/5) are more on the melodic end of the scale, despite their death metal tag.

The band’s melancholy washes over the crowd making it easy to forget it’s daytime just outside, but their set is just a bit too slow going.

Given that the word insomnium is supposed to mean something to do with dreams, this ties in more nicely with a gentler edge, but like a lot of dreams I’m not sure much of this set will stay with me once I leave the tent.

Things aren’t much better over on the main stage as D-A-D (as was Disneyland After Dark) (2.5/5) fail to cause much excitement with their so-standard heavy rock. Would Mickey Mouse approve I don’t know, but Disney certainly didn’t hence the swift name change. Unfortunately the initials DAD conjure up images of being just a bit old and past it, like the average dad, and that doesn’t exactly sound thrilling. The band perhaps deserve more credit for their long history, but with nothing really unique to offer not the presence or loud personalities of other old-guard bands, the main stage is maybe not for them.

Unfortunately Black Label Society (3/5) don’t quite live up to the expectations that are so highly placed on Zakk Wylde and his steel-taming fingers.

That’s not to say the band don’t play well – far from it with Zakk and co translating from CD to live with ease, but whilst ‘Godspeed Hellbound’ and ‘Fire It Up’ hit the spot, the set is obviously lacking in some other major hits.

In the case of the latter, an extended – and always excellent – guitar solo follows, which at less than ten minutes long is relatively restrained compared to past performances.

Walls Of Jericho (3.5/5) begin to turn the tide as they rile up the hardcore kids, and whoever else happens to be caught up in this charging crowd.

Candace Kucsulain is the pretty much the embodiment of any hardcore frontswoman you’d care to imagine, and the band behind her are bypassing any taking of prisoners – presumably because there wouldn’t be enough cell space for them all.

With one of the biggest circle pits of the weekend springing up during their set, Walls Of Jericho smash through all preconceptions, and likely break down a few walls of their own in gaining new fans.

One band that shouldn’t be worried about following this is Hatebreed (4/5) who receive one of the strongest receptions of the weekend. It may be a late afternoon slot on the last day, but they still manage to extract every last drop of energy from those out front. With little prompting required to get chants and pits going, the fan love is obvious, and just fuels the band to go even further. As scarves, bandanas, and shirts are whirled around heads like make-shift slingshots, you feel that if Hatebreed asked everyone to hand over their keys, wallets, and girlfriends right now people probably would.

Unfortunately DevilDriver (3.5/5) who come after them, have to deal with a well-worn crowd that take some time and effort to get into gear despite the quality of metal on offer.

The band still succeed in digging out a monster of a circle pit that gives rise to its own dust storm, but I doubt they’ve had to work this hard for it in a long time.

DevilDriver have always been a prolific band, and even though it’s only a year since their last release Beast, it feels far longer which is maybe why this set takes in a lot of back catalogue.

Blue Öyster Cult (3/5) are a sudden change of pace, but their 70’s classics create a solid platform for the rest of the main stage line-up to build on. Most of the line-up may no longer be original but the endearing presence of vocalists and guitarists Buck Dharma and Eric Bloom mean things don’t sound all that different. It’s true what they say about age being a number though because (Don’t Fear) The Reaper is still reassuring us about death, without having succumbed to it itself.

Stepping forward a decade Mötley Crüe (3.5/5) bring the sun and sordidity of LA slap bang into a field in France, and ignore all those who say they should hang up their sleaze shoes, by slamming out classic after classic – ‘Girls,Girls, Girls’, ‘Doctor Feelgood’, and ‘Wild Side’ among them, all helped along by the word-perfect crowd. On stage dancing girls compete with those of Carling’s trailer, meaning that a lot of watching fans aren’t sure where to look. What is sadly missing though is Tommy Lee’s drum rollercoaster, which would have elevated this performance to headliner status, and been damn good fun to see.

Currently pegged as Slash with Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators (4/5), as the top-hatted one steps on stage you can’t help but prepare to compare certain songs with the GnR version the night before. Still Myles Kennedy’s voice almost perfectly slips into those shoes, and on the band’s own songs continues to impress. Aside from the slightly offensive The Killers t-shirt, Slash’s appearance is marred a little by what could be left over Jager – but he’s far too into his role to wipe it off. The band get the last of the good weather as towards the end of the set the rain puts in a gentle, but insistent, return performance of its own, but for now everyone is too busy rocking out to notice.

That early gentility quickly gives way to downpours of the torrential variety, and unfortunately it’s Ozzy and Friends (3/5) that gets the full force of it. Despite the crowd already being soaked, Ozzy decides to ensure full coverage with an on-stage water cannon. Helped out by the likes of Slash, Zakk Wylde, and Geezer Butler throughout the night, unfortunately Ozzy’s voice is cracked and suffering from the off, and although the likes of ‘Bark At The Moon’ and ‘Paranoid’ are happily received, it’s not a closing performance, exacerbated by an early exit.

In a drier environment, Finnish exports Children Of Bodom (4/5) treat fans to a mixed set-list that includes rarely played early material, and shows off their enviable musical chops. The band seem pretty open towards the crowd, with Alexi Laiho even drinking out of a random hipflask that is thrown onstage – and not liking whatever it is, which questions the drinking tastes of some of this audience. This friendly attitude is reflected back in the reaction the band get to their raging melo-thrash – although the tent is just too rammed for any proper pits to open up.

Dimmu Borgir (3.5/5) face an audience bolstered by rain-dodgers with the epicness of the music well complemented by the drama of the weather. However moving back further in the tent does see the sound lose some its immediate atmosphere. The band match the tone of this symphony of black metal with their enduring made-up faces and costumes, which lend a touch of theatricality – without feeling like a joke. The set is classic Dimmu Borgir fare, culminating in ‘The Serpentine Offering’ and ‘Progenies Of The Great Apocalypse’, and a not-undeserving end to proceedings.

With Ozzy having shuffled off half an hour early, it is left then to Lamb Of God (4.5/5) to reignite the spark that the weather, and a disappointing headlining set, have so surely dampened. It takes a special kind of band to bring back an audience that has disbanded, and in these kinds of conditions, but Lamb Of God are that kind of band, and it seems as though they won’t be content to leave until they’ve pulled the festival down around it’s ears. Although there’s no roof on the great outdoors for them to raise, you do feel that if they played long enough we might get the stars a-shaking as Lamb of God provide a motherfuckin’ invitation to go nuts.

Over the weekend, the army analogy certainly rang true as bands and fans came together to reign victorious in a three-day campaign against no-one or nothing in particular, where the only thing that took a good beating was ear drums, bodies, and the French countryside.

The thing that stood out most clearly about Hellfest though is the type of crowd it draws – whether this reflects on gig etiquette in France in general I couldn’t say – but over the course of three days I saw the crowd make heroes out of those who were sick, not only pick up those who fell but show genuine concern that they were ok, and wait in the pouring rain at all hours to welcome their heroes to the stage – in the process displaying the kind of loyalty and brotherhood that metal music has long sung about and inspired.

In the words of Machine Head: “Our time will come, our time is now” – if you take a look at this crowd, then there’s no doubt about the truth in that.

Roll on 2013 Hellfest – we’ll be bringing reinforcements!!



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