Saturday 16th June
There’s still plenty more of this madness to come, and despite the late night and rain-dodging, which has given birth to various mud-baths across the site, the troops are out in force early, if not in bright and bushy-tailed form.
Steel Panther ‘s (3/5) earlier slot catches many people out, particularly the change was poorly advertised, but those who are in the vicinity are treated to innuendo-a-plenty with a set that spans both albums. How much of this really translates to those who don’t speak English I’m not sure, but I think it’s taken at face value that everything that comes out of Steel Panther’s collaborative orifices is probably not suitable for general consumption. The band does show off their knowledge of French dirty words though, which raises some laughs from the crowd. A Spinal Tap-esque moment surrounding a guitar malfunction only serves to reiterate the pastiche vibe of the band, and if anyone can market that, it’s Steel Panther.
Between them Death Angel (3.5/5) and Sacred Reich (3.5/5) make sure that the second main stage is flogged within an inch of its life. Death Angel are first up, and having initially hit the scene 30 years ago it’s undeniable the impact that these veteran thrashers have had on those that have followed.
Ten years since they reformed though, Death Angel prove that they are more than capable of giving the young ones of today a good thrashing and the neck muscles of this crowd to boot as they play first album The Ultra-Violence in full. With the sun on the stage and good vibes aplenty from the watching crowd this does feel like a little touch of metal heaven – even if it doesn’t last long enough.
This fine form is echoed by Sacred Reich who have much in common with Death Angel in terms of age, and reforms, but align themselves to a more political and socially conscious viewpoint.
The only sticking point is the likewise sadly short feel of the set, which includes a cover of Sabbath classic ‘War Pigs’, but that’s only because you could quite easily listen on. Still in the time that we do get, Sacred Reich don’t beat around the bush, but get straight down to pulverising their way through a set that doesn’t betray it’s age – that’s down to good genes not cosmetic enhancement.
Sandwiched between these two on the main stage Koritni are a change of pace with the kind of new wave bluesy-hard rock that is increasingly doing the rounds.
Away from the afternoon sun, but in no way the heat, the sometimes overlooked early death metallers Necrophagia are playing to a mixture of those in the know, and new blood. Down under the canopy of the Warzone, Cancer Bats (3.5/5) seem likely to rupture through the roof as they cause early chaos with Beastie Boys cover ‘Sabotage’, followed by their own equally popular bastardised hardcore including latest single ‘Roadsick’.
Whilst there’s no denying the energy of the band, which could put the Duracell bunny to shame, Liam Cormier’s vocals are more single tone during the set, losing some of the clarity of his on-record singing. Despite their hardcore and punk labelling, today just reiterates that no-one is mixing up these influences in the same way as Cancer Bats.
Given the hour of the day things seem a little more relaxed over at the main stage as Exodus (3/5) charge through a fast-paced set, but it’s a case of bad timing for the American thrashers as much of the crowd seem to be taking this opportunity to recharge, rather than kick off. Things have changed a lot in the Exodus camp since their first incarnation with Kirk Hammett, but they remain a vital flag-flyer, although this set is without single constant member Gary Holt who is filling in on guitars for Slayer. Those eardrums that hadn’t already taken enough relentless punishment may have opted to check out noise-makers Unsane whose musical racket has made them impossible to ignore, even in the underground.
Facing the less than active front-line crowd Sebastian Bach (2.5/5) does his best to liven things up with a Skid Row/solo mixed set.
It’s not that he fails as such – he certainly delivers the goods in terms of voice, but there’s nothing about the set that drives the crowd to get up and involved – perhaps because of the tangible empty places on the Skid Row classics.
It’s likely things would have been quite different against a starry sky, but Sebastian Bach can take comfort in his top-drawer efforts, which makes this enjoyable regardless of how many are on their feet.
As we move into the night, the big hitters start to make an appearance on the main stage starting with symphonic beauties Within Temptation who bring a touch of elegance, even when in a field.
Things are still sweaty and heavy though at the Warzone stage as metalcore-misters Unearth (3.5/5) get underway. Perhaps reading the audience crowding the stage, the band largely speed up their songs of choice, with far less emphasis on clean vocals than the recorded versions. It does mean that some songs are harder to identify first off, but the crowd get involved regardless, and there is a curious pleasure to seeing just how songs become different beasts with just a few tweaks.
Under a different tent roof Napalm Death (3.5/5) are almost guaranteed a good turnout. Unfortunately not long into the set, the band suffers instrument difficulties which cause an awkward lull in a usually blisteringly fast offering. In hindsight a drum solo or something would have helped to keep energy high but Napalm Death remain silent as they address the problem. Like their mentality in general though, Napalm Death quickly get things back on track, and take no prisoners to make up for this unwanted interlude. Even having lost some time, the band still fit in over 20 fast-paced tracks including one-second comedy song ‘You Suffer’.
They’re not a headliner, but by god they could be, as Machine Head (4.5/5) make it difficult for anyone following in their casualty-strewn wake.
As their last two albums show, the band are masters at their brand of sometimes-heavy, sometimes-melodic, always-awesome metal, and this set is no exception.
Heavily focused around newest offering ‘Unto the Locust’, things could have easily come to a close just halfway through with a stunning rendition of ode-to-music ‘Darkness Within’, that trails off into crowd-sung acapella.
With ‘Aesthetics Of Hate’, ‘This Is The End’, and ‘Halo’ this set list is packed with now-unforgettable tracks, each as powerful in their own right, but at the end it is still the classic ‘Davidian’ that the crowd lose their heads to.
As Hellfest’s collective eyes turn away from those closing notes, it does feel that in order to follow that performance Axl Rose would have to do the impossible trick of pulling a guitar legend out of his back pocket, but things at least get off to an unexpectedly good start as Guns ‘N’ Roses (3.5/5) take to the stage bang on time. At this point I’m sceptical of whether it’s even him or a stunt double, but no it would appear Hellfest have managed a feat more unexpected than its namesake getting a case of the big chills!
Classics ‘Welcome To The Jungle’, ‘Mr Brownstone’, and ‘It’s So Easy’ are all well received, but the inclusion of Chinese Democracy material and insistence on each member playing solos bogs things down a bit. With Axl sounding out of breath early on, there seems to be too much emphasis on ballads to fill the gaps, but aside from an on-stage faceplant during ‘Sweet Child Of Mine’, he does make it to the end without much more than a sulk. It’s during this set though that the difficulties caused by an over-subscription of photographers, and that will plague later, really rear their heads.
Whilst we ponder the reasons behind this impressive feat of time-keeping, the night is still not yet done as even at 1am Hellfest is keeping fires burning. One of these is Poland’s mighty Behemoth who’s blackened death metal thrives at this time of the morning. But having won numerous accolades for their performance since reforming, it’d be a crime to miss Refused (4.5/5). Despite stating categorically that they would never reform, and releasing a fiery press release entitled ‘Refused Are Fucking Dead’, it’s doubtful that anyone here is anything but overjoyed that Refused are back. Ripping their way through a set littered with anthems like ‘Liberation Frequency’ and ‘The Shape Of Punk To Come’ with energy, passion, and surprising humility, Refused seem even more vital in today’s fucked-up world than they ever have.