Hellfest Festival 2013
@ Clisson, France
21st- 23rd June 2013
It may be some people’s epitome of hell, Michael Buble fans I’m looking at you, but for the metal/rock community Hellfest’s towering gateway looks positively pearly. This year’s line-up is so jam-packed that I was looking for the little glass jars and labels. You’d make a fortune if you could bottle any number of the diverse scope of bands on the bill, with the riffs left in natch, but I’d like them to play their sets first.
Once inside that gateway the layout is much the same as last year, and that isn’t meant in a well-they-clearly-couldn’t-be-arsed sense, because Hellfest could teach most others a thing or 20 on how to put together a fan-friendly festival. Except when it comes to the number of toilets on site that is.
Whilst the Hellfest tree still dominates in its stark simplicity, the hidden beer gardens have gained a snazzy gateway of their own, which invites you into the woodlands. Instead of a fairytale monster at the end of the path though, you’ll find a winebar, which is win-win really. And at night the scrap-metal merch stands and bars still glow with their own rooftop fires.
Stage-wise we’ve got Main Stage 1 and 2, which continue their staggered times so that as one plays, the other sets up, and vice versa. The result is no waiting around for soundchecks or bands to start, just back-to-back bam-bam-bam metal. A similar set-up is in place at the Altar and the Temple, where you can find black metal, death metal and the like, then there’s the Valley which is home to the stoner and doom types, and the Warzone where the punk and hardcore drops.
Hellfest 2013 – it’s like being welcomed home.
Friday 21st June
Waking to the chorus of a nearby early morning chunder, it’s clear that the festival frivolities have already begun and some people can’t handle their drink. And that’s before the arena has even opened. Side note – I also found out that the local supermarket is actually selling Hellfest jam – so you know the jars were there in the end.
Btw – if you’re looking for lots of harping on about spending time in the press area and how wonderfully fabulous it all was – check out another review. Written by someone who was just there for the freebies. The garden was nice, the scrap metal statues were a neat touch, but the important bit – the music yeah – that was happening outside. And that’s where I was, shoulder to shoulder, pint to pint with the fans.
With cries of “Balls” and “Fuck you Black Spiders” directed at the stage, it may sound as though Black Spider (4/5) don’t have many of those, but it’s all part of their crowd interaction. Phew. Not that I’m sure everyone gets it – balls is a very British insult but for those of us having made the trip from the UK it raises a smile. With a middle finger bearing down from an amp behind them the band’s three guitars and bass make a rumble that threatens to rupture something. They may be away from home, but Black Spiders’ fast-paced punked up rock n roll is the perfect way to kickstart the weekend, and at this point everyone has the energy to enjoy it. Oh, and the inclusion of ‘Kiss Tried To Kill Me’ in the setlist is a great nod towards the legends that the same stage will hold soon enough.
Now it’s thrash but not as we know it – well ok actually it is because it’s Vektor (4/5). There’s that element of progression to it, like this is thrash that went and furthered itself at university, and is now trying all sorts of different things. And finding it’s good at most of them. Whilst some of the hair looks like it belongs in the 80s, Vektor sound very much relevant, as they shriek their way through a set that could do with a touch more time. Particularly as this is their first ever show in Europe apparently – perhaps they wanted to start them off small.
Talking of relevant Saxon (4.5/5) continue to quietly and competently put a shot through the heart of any whispers that they might be getting a bit long in the tooth for this gig.
They’re a band who don’t have to talk big, they play big, with Biff’s vocals coming through like the knife that cuts the cake. Based on the huge crowd that has been drawn, they absolutely deserve a later slot on the list (take note bookers) and I think perhaps even Saxon allow themselves a smug smile at the sight. Not everyone might be going wild down the front for it, but they all want to be a part of it.
With a legacy that includes so many classic songs, and a new album to boot, choosing a set would be hard enough even if they had all afternoon but of course ‘Wheels Of Steel’ and ‘Denim and Leather’ show up to the party.
Drawing the eye before the ear even, courtesy of Chad Gray’s new hairstyle, which makes him look something of a teenage nu-metal posturer in a grown man’s body, Hellyeah (3/5) bring a burst of frenetic energy to the main stage.
Yes there are probably still plenty who are here just to see former Pantera skin-beater Vinnie Paul in action, but having been knocking around for seven years now, a career that seems much more condensed in my head, Hellyeah have won their own fans as well.
In contrast to the recorded versions, Chad’s vocals drop with more heavy, and as such his voice breaks up on the gentler bits.
Faultless to a tee, Vinnie’s drums sound huge as ‘War In Me’ blasts out, and the lyrics of ‘Band Of Brothers’ have never felt more poignant then when in the pit, but it still feels like there is some stigma holding the crowd back.
In comparison to Saxon, Europe (3/5) bring in a smaller crowd but it doesn’t seem to shake their confidence. Maybe if it was just one lone fan down the front, but their following is long won
by such appearances. The issue here is that, and this is probably more the fault of the crowd than the band, the whole thing feels like an extended pregnancy for ‘Final Countdown’- that one song that everybody has come out for. Perhaps getting it out the way earlier would have helped filtered out the hit-followers and the real fans, and this might have given the rest of the set a chance to breathe.
Not that taking a relaxed pause seems very high on the agenda for Testament (4/5) as the pits open up like sinkholes.
Well they did play ‘Into The Pit’. They’re clearly preaching to the converted, but any watchers who haven’t heard them before are sure to be checking them out, in both the new and old sections of the book. Although I continue to think that Chuck Billy’s short handled microphone looks slightly ridiculous in his hands, I concede that it serves for some easy air guitaring and there’s a lot of that going on. In fact there’s a lot of real guitaring going on as Testament shake out those solos. If there was ever such a thing as thrash hits, Testament would have to be included, but then you knew that already. The only way they could have truly ballsed this up would be by not showing, and they definitely showed.
He may be looking older, but as we quickly establish Dee Snider’s hair remains real. Bantering with a group of wig wearers in the crowd, laughingly he cries “it’s real” before tearing across the stage and headbanging in a manner that seems more than proof enough given that his blonde locks don’t take a dive into the photo pit. Super animated and at times almost resembling Rik Mayall in a frontman impersonation, Dee’s vocals sound far from being dusted down, but more fresh out the box.
Calling out to Sick Motherfuckers (SMFs) old and young, Twisted Sister (5/5) are taking an earlier shift in the day, for reasons uncommunicated.
Not that anyone here cares, it could be the middle of the night or first thing, but this crowd are hungry. On that note ‘Stay Hungry’ of course makes an appearance alongside ‘Burn In Hell’ and classic anthem ‘I Wanna Rock’. What’s really special is the crowd-taken-up a cappella extension of ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’, which prompts the band to storm back in with a “that’s how you do it” cry of pride from Dee.
That and his ribbing of the handicapped section, which may have boarded on politically incorrect in normal conversation. Oh and a cover of the Stones’ ‘It’s only Rock n Roll’ with switched up lyrics because Twisted Sister “loves rock n roll”. So do we, so do we.
Another band who sound as though they belong to the Biblical thrash disciples is Kreator (4/5).
There’s a lot of excitement about them playing, judging on the fact that one guy camped nearby communicates entirely by growling “KREATOR”, and the band don’t send anyone home with down faces. Smoke jets from a stage that has more decoration than your average later afternoon act, but it’s not a means of distracting from a below par performance because Kreator are creating a bar for the rest of the thrash bands on the bill with their mean riffing.
Having swapped slots with Twisted Sister, some of us are kind of left wishing that things had been left as planned because Whitesnake (3.5/5) don’t seem to have brought the boots to best them. Especially the photographers as there’s a no go on pics. Sure the set reminds us of just how many good songs the band are responsible for – ‘Fool For Your Loving’, ‘Bad Boys’ ‘Still Of The Night’, and forever a drunken karaoke favourite ‘Here I Go Again’, but there’s less to keep you connected. It’s just as easy to watch them from the comfort of the grass as it is down the front, and even David Coverdale’s fine voice doesn’t change such a fact.
“I’m from Hawaii”. “Oh cool, what brings you to Hellfest then?” “Helloween mainly.” A transatlantic journey is a lot to live up to, and although oblivious to the miles travelled Helloween (4.5/5) are playing as if they know all about it.
Of course you expect everyone to be there for the classics, but in fact new songs ‘Straight Out Of Hell’, and ‘Waiting For The Thunder’ in particular, get a reception that most bands would be lucky to get with one of their better known tracks.
Add in the spot-on musicianship and you have a show that might just be worth a long-haul flight.
Whilst At The Gates are schooling anyone unfamiliar with the Gothenburg death metal sound, those who think punk is some piss-easy bunch of chords should give some of Anti-Flag’s (4/5) bass-lines a go – fuck me. The Warzone has been upgraded to an open air stage from its last year tent and it’s probably to accommodate a crowd such as this one – surging, singing, and giving as much energy as that pumped out from the stage.
With France having had such a long wait for Def Leppard (3/5) to return – almost 17 years and it’s only a hop over the channel – it’s gutting to say that today they’re a bit lacklustre. Perhaps it’s almost just as well that there’s a general photo ban on the band’s show, although after all these years of being photographed every which way I’m not sure what they have left to protect.
With old videos of themselves breaking up the set, and in the background, there’s a lot of scope to compare the band now with the Leppard of then. Whilst I’m sure they’re still getting a kick out of it, the performance feels like the motions and nothing more – like sex in a loveless marriage. Playing Hysteria in full, all the right components are there from ‘Love Bites’ to ‘Animal’, ‘Pour Some Sugar’ and closer ‘Photograph’, but although Def Leppard don’t turn in a bad performance it just doesn’t quite do it for a headlining act.
There’s an eclectic choice of bands for closing the night but Sick Of It All (3.5/5) deserve mention because as one guy put it ‘I though metal pits were hardcore’. This is pretty sick stuff, solid heavy punk and although the vocals are fucked you find yourself not caring much as the pit writhers like a serpent in a knot. Let’s just get this clear – one night in and no-one is sick of this festival.