Sunday 23rd June
Almost as sharp as their name when it comes to a good riff, Prong (4/5) are giving Hellfest’s collective arse a good poking. And it’s needed to get that same arse into gear for what is the last day of the festival.
Anyone feeling a little sluggish just needs to hear the rusty guitar tone of ‘Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck’ for the last two days to peel away. Prong’s slowed-thrash/groove will never sound all shiny and new, but it will always sound real, the product of hard work and a touch of talent.
This ain’t no flash in the pan performance, Prong will still be around tomorrow, but if you missed it today you missed out.
Danko Jones (3/5) should be a light-hearted pit-stop. One of the band’s you can kind of drop in on and check out – and to some extent that’s what this is. You can’t take the songs too seriously, but you can’t pretend they’re not catchy. But these three seem to lose a bit of their sparkle in the bright light. Their kind of dirty rock makes you yearn for sweaty clubs and dark dancefloors, and in that environment this set might have flourished. As it is, it’s all too easy to drop out in search of something else.
Spiritual Beggars (4/5) are one of those bands that is more than a side project but that you know the members of from elsewhere.
Take guitarist Mike Amott, who plays a similar role but in very different genres in Arch Enemy and previously Carcass. Then there’s new vocalist Apollo Papathanasio who is most associated with Firewind. Still they haven’t had to beg anyone to turn up today as the Valley is brimming. There’s a lot of focus on their newer material, which is even more 70s hard rock infused than ever before, with their stoner groove making for a nice change of pace.
Let’s be honest you still probably know Newsted (3/5) as the bassist from Metallica, rather than for his solo work. He’s another who’s been popping up all over the festival, filling in here and there, and guesting but this is his own 50 minute spotlight. And the performance doesn’t quite fill the edges of it. A cover of ‘Whiplash’ should illicit more of a response, but there seems to be an attitude of ‘this is all very nice but so’. Call it last day lagging, but I’m not sure Newsted expected to be working this hard for it, otherwise they might have brought some bigger guns.
Unfortunately Voivod (3.5/5) who follow on the Main Stage 2 suffer from a far from pristine mix, which makes less for than essential listening. It’s a shame as their progressive leanings make them one of the more different thrash bands appearing on the bill. That said, it might mean they get away with this as the casual watcher may think it’s all part of that spin on the genre. Another guest turn from Phil Anselmo, who seems to be making it his personal quest to appear in as many sets as possible, is enjoyable, but we were wanting so much more.
Whereas this is home soil for prog death metallers Gojira (5/5) so they’re already heroes.
Even before the first note is struck. They live up to it though, as even though this is early doors for the band they bring the kind of heavy sound that calls out across the festival grounds.
It swells the crowds, as that gut aching ‘Backbone’ riff comes in, and that’s it. You’re stuck. This is you for the next hour. An hour you’ll never want back as the walls of death crash, and the riffs tumble.
It’s a stunning performance, no doubt helped by the enthusiasm of their countrymen, but let them have it – this is one of those moments you can’t help but be swept up in.
Sometimes you just need a little epic. Lucky then that Wintersun (4/5) are bringing a symphony of destruction to the Altar. They’re quite static on stage, but it’s the songs we’re here for – the fast-paced riffs, and duelling solos. There’s a complexity here that might be overlooked when thinking of folk metal, and the power to project it. Mixing Finnish melancholy with majestic melodies, Wintersun make you run hot and cold all at once. Mostly hot if you’re down the front though taking the full blast.
With Clutch having pulled out at the last minute due to the sudden death of Neil’s father, we have one of those situations that are as unplanned as it gets. But out of that can come something really quite special – and that’s what this extra set by Down (4.5/5) is.
It’s not so much a Down set as two songs in Phil’s voice is gone, so the rest of the time is filled with Corrosion of Conformity, Eyehategod, and Crowbar covers delivered by a celebrity line up. It’s like Download 2006 when a host of vocalists pitched in after Jonathan Davis was rushed to hospital.
Sure there are errors a-many in the playing, and Phil’s treating it as all one big jam session, but there’s two points that elevate this. One is Phil taking to the guitar, and the other is the refrain from ‘Walk’, screamed out by the fans as Phil rides roughshod with vocals. Those watching carry and envelope him though in their obvious delight, and his voice would be drowned out even at its full power. As I said it was something special, closed as usual with Phil conducting us all in ‘And she’s buying a stairway to heaven….’
Hellfest’s Main Stage 1 probably doesn’t seem all that big and intimidating to Stonesour (3.5/5) having played them all before, but this isn’t the time to get complacent. Best way to counter that – play your fan favourites so ‘30/30-150’, ‘Get Inside’, and ‘Through Glass’, which even crosses over to normal radio listening – a fact that must get Corey’s goat based on the lyrical themes. It’s not knocking anyone dead though. What’s there is good, some of it great, but when they start throwing those stones there’s a part of you that just goes ‘meh’.
Having been ticketed as one of the big Sunday headliners, there’s not much point it’s disappointing to hear Danzig (4/5) are being bumped down to Ghost’s former slot in the Valley tent on account of wanting to make their London show tomorrow night. As communication isn’t Hellfest’s strongest suit, you feel bad for anyone not in the know, and for the simple logistical fact that only a fraction of those in attendance will be able to see it.
Let’s make the best of it though – and Danzig’s music does suit a smaller stage with its dark corners. ‘Am I Evil’ and ‘Twist Of Cain’ tell us two things – that Danzig’s voice is intact tonight and that these songs are killer. It gets even better when Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein stomps onto the stage, looking buffer than any man of almost 50 should, and turns this into a Misfits reunion featuring ‘I Turned Into A Martian’ and ‘Skull’. Oh and of course we all know what has been saved for last – ‘Mother’ and ‘Die, Die My Darling’ sees this place erupt. It’s the encore to beat this weekend.
Oh Lordi (3/5). On the one hand they’re heroes for winning the Eurovision song contest in the same way that we’d all jump and cheer if a metal band took Simon Cowell’s head off during the X Factor. But on the other they’re the guys who compete with GWAR for the daftest monster look.
Sure they make an effort with the stage show, but we’re kind of watching this for the entertainment value rather than the music.
If we’re going on lyrics then even break-out song ‘Hard Rock Hallelujah’ is kind of silly, but since we’re awarding points for the whole thing we have to hold up the score cards, if only for the hours they spent in make-up.
Over the channel Volbeat (3.5/5) may not be considered ‘headliner material’, but they’re used to playing such super big crowds in mainland Europe.
It shows in their light hearted chat – the guys genuinely seem delighted to be here.
Mixing up bits of thrash, metal, rock n roll, Elvis-abilly, and now western-ism Volbeat are an oddity, and that’s probably the reason for their popularity.They also don’t mind having their photo taken, which makes them the odd ones out in Hellfest headliners at least.
Getting ‘Guitar Gangsters & Cadillac Blood’ in there early, the band intersperse new material from Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies and not-so-new-now tracks such as ’16 Dollars’, which generates some dancing as the band incite the crowd “to grab a lady. Even the fat ones.” Barney from Napalm Death even pops up to assist in a rendition of ‘Evelyn’ – one of Volbeat’s surprisingly heavy ones. But is it a headline show? Not when you consider it in terms of the rest of this weekend.
If you’re a long time Cradle of Filth (3.5/5) follower, this could be the set for you because old songs seem to be in vogue.
Or maybe not because this crowd is sluggish, and you can sense Dani’s frustration, but it seems to be the usual deal for Cradle Of Filth these days.
Weirdly for a band that your mum probably once thought of as dangerous, this feels remarkably safe, as long as you can put up with the shrieking vocals.
Where we were meant to have Danzig, we have Ghost (3.5/5) closing down this year’s Hellfest.
I’d say this is beyond anything the band were expecting, but they’re pretty much expressionless under that make-up so who can tell? They’re super striking to watch of course, and the sound comes out clear, but the shtick hinders them in terms of minimal movement. Papa Emeritus II stalks the stage, throwing his arms out in dramatic fashion or almost conducting the crowd. There’s Phil Anselmo again, this time watching from the stage side – welcome to Phil-Fest everyone.
Of the music itself, much is made of it. But standing in the cold of an early Monday morning it doesn’t seem all that. It’s good, that’s not the issue, but it’s not re-writing the pages of heavy doom. And try as Papa Emeritus II might, he isn’t casting a strong enough spell on this crowd. They’re footsore, tired and broken, and it will take a bit more than Ghost’s solemnity to exorcise those demons.
There may be a scent of urine pervading almost every inch of it, but Hellfest 2013 isn’t an experience that you’d want to piss up the wall. It’s one to savour, to breathe in deep, to hold on tight too, and fill your ears with – all the senses really except the nostrils then. And so the more those with too much focus on the word ‘hell’ rage against it, the more we shall try to protect it. Because whilst Hellfest may not be the oldest festival, it is perhaps the most diverse, recognising just how many different types of music exist under that rock/metal genericism.
They may not have been playing but it feels appropriate to quote AC/DC – “Rock and roll ain’t gonna die, Rock n roll ain’t noise pollution, Rock n roll it will survive” – because hearing the roaring voices screaming every lyrics and seeing the horns and fists in the air this weekend, you can’t doubt that’s the truth.
Hellfest 2014 – we’ll be seeing you!