Hellfest Festival 2012
@ Clisson, France
15th – 17th June 2012
Review by Kirsty Birkett-Stubbs
Photography by Sabrina Dersel
Move over Batman – there’s a new symbol dominating the night sky as Hellfest’s mighty H calls brothers to arms for a weekend, that quite frankly, would strike fear into the heart of many a-charging army. As one of the official t-shirt’s states: Keep repeating – it’s only music… it’s only music… it’s only music…
Well only music it may be, but this line-up boasts some the finest from the Rock/Metal/Punk/Hardcore, and many other ‘scenes’, and for a steal of a price you can’t help but feel you’ll be shortchanged somewhere along the way. However, from the giant arena gate with whooping fire horns to the urban-derelict metal bars and stands that harbour flickering fires after dark, and the stunning Hellfest tree complete with jaunty swing, the ambiance feels as though someone prised a children’s playground design out of the devil’s head. And play is exactly what this crowd of over 110,000 metalheads are here to do.
Friday 15th June
If we were lighting up a birthday cake Hellfest 2012 would get seven candles (that’s one for every year in case you don’t know how this whole candles thing works), and based on the line-up ahead, it lungs are more than big enough to deal with them. Like that spoilt kid at school (that you never managed to befriend) Hellfest have decided to throw the biggest damn party possible to celebrate. Except this time you can attend – if you cough up the cash – which is probably how it used to work in school as well.
During this time it’s also learnt a few tricks with a total of six stages for 2012 – two main stages, the paired Altar and Temple, the Warzone and the Valley – and more impressively a staggered running order on the first four of these, which sees setting up and soundchecking taking place on one whilst bands play on the other, therefore eliminating much of the waiting around we’ve become accustomed to at gigs and festivals.
However, with this many stages even the short distances between makes it impossible to capture even half of the 150 plus bands tearing it up this weekend, but you know everyone is going to give it their best shot.
On main stage 2 Street Dogs (3/5) kick the afternoon off with some light-hearted punk rock, with frontman, and former Dropkick Murphys singer, Mike McColgan looking very much like the Brian Johnson of punk as he paces the stage, flat cap low over his eyes. With this Street Dogs’ tenth year, his performance is befitting his status as a veteran of the punk scene, and although the band have not attained the heights of the Murphys, McColgan is right when he yelps “we all need a little punk rock and roll”.
Next door Molly Hatchet (2.5/5) sport some of best bouffants this side of the Panther boys, in a kind of opposite to the prominent facial hair of ZZ Top, and it has to be said chubbier too, but their southern rock set feels a tad monotonous. It’s a feeling that’s exacerbated, despite the best efforts of grinning guitarists Bobby Ingram and Dave Hlubek, by the relatively static delivery of vocalist Phil McCormak. This is a genre dominated by big hitters and although you can’t deny Molly Hatchet’s long history, they don’t spark the same familiarity and it’s reflected in the crowd’s reaction.
Further up the hill, The Atomic Bitchwax (4/5) are on fire in much the same way your nether regions would be after such a procedure. Fusing members from notable outfits Monster Magnet, Godspeed, and Core, the band contains a near-atomic level of talent, which compressed into this small area makes it feel as though any minute the Valley stage may be wearing a nice new mushroom cloud as a hat. However, The Atomic Bitchwax manage to contain themselves to blinding the audience with their fret work in a delightfully 70’s psychedelic twist on stoner rock, which raises smiles as much as it impresses.
Whilst metalcore is the name of the game on main stage 2 courtesy of Heaven Shall Burn as they attempt to dodge the changing weather, undercover the former side project of Fear Factory’s Dino Cazares, Brujeria (3.5/5), attract some attention.
Unfortunately the stage acoustics mean that their sound is more muddied than pin-sharp depending on where you stand, but it doesn’t seem to be bothering much of the crowd as those who are present are jostling down towards the front. The combination of Spanish lyrics and death metal roars makes it a bit like trying to follow a foreign soap opera through a blender but a parody of the ‘Macarena’ – called ‘Marijuana’ – entertains.
During the same time slot, stoner-metal champions Orange Goblin (4/5) are doing a better job of packing out their smaller tent, which given the rain means many wish that places were reversed in terms of capacity.
The overcrowding is to be expected as Orange Goblin are one of the most consistently impressive live acts that the UK has within its shores, and whilst the band clearly know what they are doing, it never seems as though they’re merely going through the motions. Today is no exception, with Orange Goblin giving their all during a set that takes in their changing, but never watered down, sound and gives watchers a good reason to grab their latest release.
Back down main stage way, Swiss hard rockers Gotthard certainly don’t have things easy with the weather remaining unsettled!
It has to be said that Hellfest’s crowd is not one to be put off by the rain if it means missing any of the action. Those seeking drier ground find themselves gatecrashing GBH’s (3/5) old-school punk-athon. For aging punk bands there is a danger in losing that anarchic edge and instead looking like a dad who’s dusted out his old wardrobe and trying to reconnect with his youth, but GBH somehow avoid this pitfall – probably because the bile still feels hot as it slaps you in the face.
With the sun making a reappearance – perhaps in order to better set the scene for what comes next at main stage 1 – from their first chord, Lynyrd Skynyrd (4/5) make everything feel very little-house-on-the-prairie-American, through a simple combination of charm and classic riffs, and this crowd roll right over for it. In fact the only challenge this currently seven-strong line up face is which classics to include, and from ‘Simple Man’ to ‘Saturday Night Special’, they pack them in before obvious closer ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ roars out in a mass-sing along. If you’re thinking something’s missing, wait – a 15 minute plus version of Skynyrd signature ‘Free Bird’ is the most fitting of encores, and the delight on both the band’s and crowd’s faces shows it still hasn’t lost its ability to soar.
Seemingly a world away from such high-flying gentility, Cannibal Corpse (4/5) set a flame under the onset of night, as after dark is the natural home of songs like ‘I Cum Blood’ and ‘Hammer Smashed Face’.
The mood under the tent is electric enough to potentially raise a couple of corpses, not that they’d get on very well as given the ferocity of the pits Cannibal Corpse are driving up they may struggle to keep hold of their limbs – even the living are liable to lose a leg. As the crowd roar along, even on this first night, it’s clear that this performance has raised the game as much as it’s punished.
Maintaining some of that atmosphere, and certainly not likely to lighten it, Norwegian black metallers Satyricon (3.5/5) follow on the opposite stage.
Clever lighting and an impressively evil mic stand set the scene, but Satyricon are not what you call ‘classic’ black metal but instead flirt with a sort of blackened-rock sound that retains the traits and drama of black metal but with rock n roll riffage.
It’s a compelling combination that’s drawn a good number into the fold but they just can’t quite get over the bar that the Corpse crew set so high.
Away from the dark shadows of the tents, Dropkick Murphys (4/5) are merrily putting on an Irish-inspired punk-jig, despite their American passports. Having found this Celtic-style a natural fit, the Murphys have continued to win platitudes, and as the vocals of Al Barr ring out surprisingly clear for a punk band, this is another fine performance for the band. As the crowd bops and reels through a set of location based hits ‘The State Of Massachusetts’ and ‘I’m Shipping Up To Boston’, new song ‘Rose Tattoo’ and a cover of AC/DC’s ‘TNT’, it’s a suitably lively affair.
As we approach the hour when most UK festivals are settling down to sleep, Megadeth (4/5) merely turn up the volume, and throw the switch on a seemingly epileptic/retina hating light show.
‘Hangar 18’ makes an appearance early on, but as expected it’s ‘A Tout le Monde’ that really gets this crowd going, being predominately French and all.
This is straight-down-the-line stuff but still executed with the panache we expect of Mustaine and co, and when it comes to the heavyweight duo of ‘Symphony Of Destruction’ and ‘Peace Sells’ the band really go to town pulling technical flourishes like hankies from a magician’s sleeve.
A medley-style closer of ‘Holy Wars… The Punishment Due’ and ‘Mechanix’ was not necessarily expected, but not a complete surprise either having become part of the Megadeth stable.
Those with access to the press area were treated to a performance by dance-done-metal-covers band Dancefloor Disaster – they call it club metal. Having seen considerable success since starting out as a joke, the group certainly make these songs more bearable and it’s an entertaining idea to imagine these versions being played in your standard club, but to really get the joke it helps if you know, and like, the originals.
Whilst all of the final main stage bands have put on worthy shows, it’s King Diamond’s (4/5) theatrical spectacular that serves to top them in terms of what brings the curtains down.
Making use of his conceptual stylings, actors and an impressive stage set that starts out as some sort of cage/fence structure but shifts and reconstructs throughout to help move things along, King Diamond’s is a compelling performance to witness.
He’s in fine voice as well with that famous, and for some grating, falsetto ringing out before moving into a deeper vocal range, and it’s this contrast that helps play up to his characterised persona.
Two encores later and you almost expect to see bunches of flowers lobbed at the stage as this deep-night spell comes to an end.