Hellfest Festival 2014
@ Clisson, France
20th-22nd June 2014
Review by Kirsty Birkett-Stubbs & Graham Hilling
Photos by Graham Hilling
Clisson. France. 2014. A field. Hellfest.
And appropriately it’s hotter than hell. This is ninth time out for Hellfest, and it’s grown a good few inches since last year. A giant Les Paul greats from the roundabout as you approach. Inside a whole city has sprung up, or the Hell City Square, at least with paved ground, and giant buildings housing tattoo parlours, Spotify stop-off, and other vendors. Even more are housed in the adjacent marketplace, which has moved outside of the main festival ground. It’s all pretty impressive – a sign once more that Hellfest goes miles past the point where the others have stuck their poles in the ground.
Inside the festival proper things are comfortingly familiar. The stages are in the same spots as previous years – The Valley straddles the top of the slope with its mix of rock, doom and stoner, whilst the neighbouring dual tent still houses The Temple and The Altar for all things black and death and needing the dark. Right down and around the corner is the mini environment known as The Warzone where all manner of punk/hardcore types hang out. And topping it all off are the main stages. Main Stage 1 and Main Stage 2 are where your big names play, and if we’ve said it before it’s worth saying again – Hellfest’s dual set-up should be the norm. One stage sets up, one stage plays – simple, effective, and bloody brilliant.
Throw in the scrap metal bars and merch stalls, the forested walkways, the night-time fires of yesteryear, and add the spanking new Hellfest wheel for above ground views, and you have a pretty fine festival.
All that’s needed now is a shedload of bands, truckloads of metalheads, and several tonnes of riffs, notes, licks, solos, beats, and more.
Did we mention it was hot? Devilishly so.
Friday 20th June
Starting the day with more pep than a case of overshook Pepsi, Japanese five-piece Crossfaith (4/5) serve up bounding industrial-trance metal with dub drops that come down harder than a stone.
The heat means dust clouds are going to be a measure of pit intensity this weekend, and it seems Crossfaith are early contenders based on the swirling circles. It all seems to go down very well, perhaps because it’s early and everyone is bursting with first day energy, or because they just love breakdowns. However there’s a sense that this would have gone off even more in a late night dark tent slot, complete with glow sticks and strobe lighting.
We Are the Future
Countdown to Hell
A festival with hell in its name is almost guaranteed an appearance from Satan at some point, but we wouldn’t have put money on it being this early. Or in the guise of a 35-year old thrash metal band. Frontman Brian Ross looks like a more together Ozzy Osbourne, but Satan’s (3.5/5) sound is all NWOBHM.
The guitar stutters its way into solos but when they get off the ground they’re flying, but sadly although they clearly have the voice today it doesn’t fully carry. On the whole though you’re left questioning whilst Satan aren’t more widely talked up because there’s little rust on these wheels. Maybe it’s just that people don’t dare speak their name…
Trial by Fire
Blades Of Steel
Time to Die
Alone In the Dock
Meanwhile down round t’corner Belgian hardcore punks Nasty are doing something (hopefully not nasty) in The Warzone.
View from the photo pit:
Nasty are a band I’ve not really stumbled across before but today they are well worthy of a second and even perhaps a third listen. Crushingly brutal and energy by the bucketload they take the Warzone crowd and turn them inside out. Hardcore done right….
Fire On The People
Hell On Earth
Slaves To The Rich
As The Blood Runs Cold
Lying When They Love Us
My Brain Went Terribly Wrong
Rockets With a Message
Look at Me and Fuck You
Up on the hill the dark canopy of The Temple would appear to be the perfect home for one of Norway’s homegrown black/death metal group Gehenna.
View from the photo pit:
Yes, the dark heart of Norway has vomitted up Gehenna, black metal with all the trimmings. I’m having trouble getting past the fact that vocalist/guitarist Sanrabb looks remarkably like a beaten up version of Roy Wood from Wizzard. Showing my age here….any Gehenna not really doing it for me so I head over to the mainstage….
Death To Them All
Flames Of The Pit
The Shivering Voice Of The Ghost
Nine Circles of Torture
And it’s just a hop, skip and a jump down to Mainstage 2 for US thrash lot Toxic Holocaust.
View from the photo pit:
…only to find Toxic Holocaust bashing out old school thrash metal. Nothing too challenging here and to be honest, in the midday sun it’s nice to just sit back and let it wash over you. Pretty good for what it is but they’ll be no awards for originality. The mainstage crowd seem to be pretty impressed though…
Toxic Holocaust setlist
In The Name Of Science
Awaken The Serpent
I Am Disease
War Is Hell
Death Brings Death
Agony Of The Damned
The Lord Of The Wasteland
Nuke The Cross
The Warzone has turned into a soapbox with hardcore world-to-righters Stick To Your Guns (3.5/5) preaching acceptance and community whilst doing down rock n roll. Ok then. They put just as much energy into their playing though, with string players popping in and out everywhere as though rigged to some cuckoo clock system, and songs like “We Still Believe” are easily chantable.
There’s a lot of political chat going on, although the language barrier leaves many a blank face, and at times it feels more like a rally than a gig but the message is generally a good one. Particularly poignant is Jesse Barnett’s assertion: “Don’t worry about what the person next to you is doing. Don’t worry about what the person behind you is doing. Remind yourself why you love this music.” Which goes for all genres really, and for most of the people at this here festival.
Stick To Your Guns setlist
Against Them All
Bringing You Down
What Goes Around
We Still Believe
Life In A Box
Built Upon The Sand
Old school thrash-cum-hardcore lot M.O.D. (3.5/5) seem genuinely moved by the crowd’s support as they tap up Mainstage 2. It’s enough to bring a tear to the eye, especially with frontman Billy Milano chatting on about his 50th birthday, but instead they settle for a box full of hooks instead of tissues. See hardcore, and indeed thrash, works best when it’s done with conviction, and M.O.D still have that after all this time.
They also throw in a tonne of Stormtroopers Of Death covers, which generally seem to hit the mark with those who know them. And despite this being a French festival, and general modern attitudes towards this sort of thing, they get away with “Speak English Or Die”.
Aren’t You Hungry? (Stormtroopers Of Death cover)
Get A Real Job
No Glove No Love
Thrash Or Be Thrashed
Let Me Out
I Love Livin’ In The City (Fear cover)
Kill Yourself (Stormtroopers Of Death cover)
Milano Mosh (Stormtroopers Of Death cover)
Fuck the Middle East (Stormtroopers Of Death cover)
Pussywhipped (Stormtroopers Of Death cover)
Fist Banging Mania (Stormtroopers Of Death cover)
Speak English or Die (Stormtroopers Of Death cover)
United Forces (Stormtroopers Of Death cover)
Following an uncharacteristic lull at the start, given Hellfest’s usually sterling dual stage set-up, Therapy? (3/5) don’t exactly disappoint, but neither do they wow. The harmonies are pretty off, which gives them the air of a young band trying out – however far that is from the truth. Still songs like “Screamager” and “Nowhere” put a good hefty kick of punk-infused rock into the afternoon’s ass, which is good because this heat is making people sluggish. And a cover of “Breaking The Law” has never gone down badly.
Ultimately though Therapy? are one of those bands that can be way off the mark and still on target because of the sheer number of people here who are reliving their youth, which was soundtracked by songs like these. Ah the power of nostalgia.
Isolation (Joy Division cover)
Stop It You’re Killing Me
Breaking the Law (Judas Priest cover)
Over at The Warzone Slapshot continue the US hardcore tradition.
View from the photopit:
More pretty brutal hardcore from Bostons finest. Slapshot are another band that make no compromises with their sound. Singer Jack “Choke” Kelly is already bleeding from a cut on his head by the time I arrive and this sets the tone for the whole set. Impressive.
The one thing Hellfest really don’t do well is advertise line-up changes and slot switches – half the people here have an already outdated schedule, and now here are Trivium (4/5) taking an early afternoon slot instead of their late night headlining position. Maybe someone had a curfew or bedtime that was threatened but it’d be nice to be told. Those who happen to be in area though hear the band on admittedly top form, and although Matt Heafy claims Download apparently had the best crowd so far, Hellfest absolutely bring the pits.
Coming on earlier has clearly eaten into their set time and so several ‘hits’ are missing, but as they bow out to Final Fantasy tune “One Winged Angel”, on reflection it’s nice to see them without that safety net and that they can carry the set on other material.
Brave This Storm
Built To Fall
Anthem (We Are The Fire)
Dying In Your Arms
Through Blood And Dirt And Bone
Down From The Sky
At the same time, and in accordance with the schedule, The Temple is visited by Finnish black metallers Impaled Nazarene.
View from the photopit:
Like a few Finnish bands, Impaled Nazarene’s view of the world is not quite as straightforward as their name might make you think. Their brand of black metal is infused a few other influences and sounds all the better for it. Easy on the corpse paint but go with the boot polish instead. An interesting listen…..
Impaled Nazarene setlist
1999: Karmageddon Warriors
Violence I Crave
Flaming Sword Of Satan
Kohta Ei Naura Enää Jeesuskaan
Armageddon Death Squad
Cogito Ergo Sum
Condemned To Hell
Pathological Hunger For Violence
Vigorous And Liberating Death
The Horny And The Horned
Total War – Winter War
Rob Zombie (3/5) apparently has opted not to let photographers in the pit, which is a real shame as he looks so good in his dress… oh wait we managed to scoop some shots, which means this ruse is pointless. Anyway, the set is all old school horror with King Kong, Frankenstein, The Wolfman and such staring out at the crowd from behind the man himself. Declaring that he loves France (although apparently not enough to learn any French), ol’ Rob treats us to the likes of “Dragula”, but tellingly the best songs are the White Zombie covers “More Human Than Human” and “Thunder Kiss ‘65”.
In the latter’s case he also adds in a snippet of Ënter Sandman” and “School’s Out”, but the whole atmosphere is somewhat spoilt by the burning sun. It’s a bit like Rob and the gang have had a bucket of cold water thrown over them and it’s taken away some of that horror glamour. Give them a dark tent any day.
Rob Zombie setlist
Living Dead Girl
Dead City Radio And The New Gods of Supertown
More Human Than Human (White Zombie song)
Never Gonna Stop (The Red, Red Kroovy)
House of 1000 Corpses
Am I Evil? (Diamond Head cover)
Thunder Kiss ’65 (White Zombie song)
Whilst that’s all going on, up the hill death metallers Nocturnus AD are worshipping at The Altar.
View from the photopit:
Nocturnus AD are another US band, hailing from Tampa Bay, Florida. Interestingly, their sound is augmented by quite prominet keyboards. While it’s not going to be top of everyones Xmas list, it’s tight and well played and has a certain something….
Nocturnus AD setlist
Lake Of Fire
Standing In Blood
Visions From Beyond The Grave
Destroying The Manger
Empire Of The Sands
Demon Seed (Morbid Angel cover)
Angel Of Disease (Morbid Angel cover)
Sepultura’s (3.5/5) opening statement about how “lots of people are talking shit everyday” for a second makes us think they’ve borrowed the soapbox. Then frontman Derrick Green adds “but we are Sepultura” and it becomes clear who they’re having a dig at. With that apparently cleared up they go on to serve up strong vocals and a side order of pits, particularly on the likes of “Roots Bloody Roots”, which of course closes things down.
The sound, and the show, are both better than expected and although Sepultura are always going to feel the breath of the past on their neck, today serves to remind that it’s been a long time since a certain someone led the way and they’re still doing pretty well without.
Manipulation Of Tragedy
Convicted In Life
Polícia (Titãs cover)
Roots Bloody Roots
Or if ongoing spats aren’t your thing, Finnish folk metallers, and costume wearers, Turisas bring a splash of colour and a bit of change to The Temple.
View from the photopit:
Turisas are always a great band to see live and, in truth, they could easily have played on either of the mainstages and not looked even slightly out of place. Tight as you like and bags of energy means that the whole of the tent is rocking with Turisas as they put in a performance that could easily be the best of the day….
To Holmgard and Beyond
The Great Escape
For Your Own Good
No Good Story Ever Starts With Drinking Tea
We Ride Together
Stand Up and Fight
Rasputin (Boney M. cover)
Leading the charge for a two-thirds British set of headliners are Iron Maiden (5/5). It’s another stop on the Maiden England tour and the level of production is truly impressive, with stage changes for each song consisting of backdrops and more elaborate props that rise out of the ground. So of course we’re not allowed to photograph it.
As a show it’s spot on. Musically it’s spot on. The hits keep coming “Fear Of The Dark”, “Number Of The Beast”, “2 Minutes To Midnight”, “Can I Play With Madness”, alongside some more unusual cuts. Come “The Trooper” and there’s a giant Eddie wandering about the stage and having a mock battle with axeman Janick Gers. Bruce never tires, and whilst not quite Superman he does clear monitors in a single bound. The rest of the time he’s gesturing every word, managing quick costume changes, and bantering in fluent French. Of course he can speak it – he’s Bruce Dickinson.
Mostly the string quartet assume the formation – straight line, bobbing in time, shooting from the hip before one takes it in low and rakes the crowd with a solo. And even after all this time, they don’t just exist quietly – on the right Gers is surfing on his guitar, and on the left Steve Harris chucks his bass in the air for a perfect catch.
The Winston Churchill speech heralds the encore, starting with “Aces High” and ending with “Sanctuary” which sees Adrian Smith running the mic stand along the guitar. Elsewhere guitars are being dragged across the side of the stage. It’s a cacophony of noise and pyrotechnics, it’s a celebration, it’s bloody fantastic.
Iron Maiden setlist
Can I Play With Madness
2 Minutes To Midnight
The Number Of The Beast
Phantom Of The Opera
Run To The Hills
Seventh Son of a Seventh Son
Fear of the Dark
The Evil That Men Do
For those happy to skip a Brucie bonus, The Warzone is being gently battered by hardcore metallers Pro Pain.
View from the photopit:
As expected, the standards set by all of the bands on the Warzone stage today has been top notch. Pro-Pain continue in the same vein, only complaint here is the short time they’re on the stage…solid as a rock.
Although it seems odd to still have bands playing after the ‘headliners’, Slayer (4/5) surprisingly come out sounding super crisp as though newly ironed. A beer badge style tribute to Hanneman hangs behind, but nothing is said. Maybe nothing needs to be said. We all feel the loss.
But tonight Slayer keep on keeping us from dwelling by reminding us just how huge, how influential their songs continue to be. Of course they save “Raining Blood” for the near end and “Angel Of Death” for the very end, which as ever manage to stir up some pits – even from these tired souls. The solos are spot on, and there’s a refreshing lack of pretense – it’s just four guys, four instruments, all metal. And it’s why we got into this business in the first place.
Captor of Sin
Seasons in the Abyss
Dead Skin Mask
South of Heaven
Angel of Death
Meanwhile Walls Of Jericho (4.5/5) are keeping the hardcore flag flying in The Warzone. If memory serves last time they were here they had an afternoon slot down in Mainstage land. Is this a step up or down? Who knows, and who even cares? Not Walls Of Jericho because as ever they simply smash everything in their path. It’s all energy, and it’s reciprocated loudly by the crowd who throw themselves into the likes of “Revival Never Goes Out Of Style”.
The setlist feels largely unchanged but you find there’s little time for musing on this as you choke down another lungful of dust. If there’s a complaint it’s only that the location of The Warzone means few passing festivallers will accidentally stumble across this delightful carnage.
And meanwhile some more Death To All, the all tribute band to Death and Chuck Schuldiner, are keeping things going up at The Altar.
View from the photopit:
Well, everyone love a little bit of Death (surely). Tight and sounding pretty damn good to my ears DTA steam through a set of Death classics which, despite the fact they were written a good few years ago now, all sound fresh and vital. The only disappointment is no “Choke On It” but this is quickly forgotten as “Pull the Plug” closes the set – absolute classic metal.
Death To All setlist
Flattening Of Emotions (Death cover)
Leprosy / Left To Die (Death cover)
Suicide Machine (Death cover)
Spiritual Healing / Within The Mind (Death cover)
Crystal Mountain (Death cover)
Spirit Crusher (Death cover)
Symbolic (Death cover)
Zombie Ritual / Baptized in Blood (Death cover)
Pull the Plug (Death cover)
There’s some kind of other worldly power being channelled up at The Temple if Enslaved’s (4/5) keyboards are anything to go by. It’s a feeling added to by the high backing vocals, but then the vocals proper sound as though they’re deliberately trying to be as unpalatable as possible whilst still being vaguely understandable.
Likewise the songs themselves go from nice to nasty in a second as if two different tracks are being played together – it’s not so much time change shenanigans but a complete redecoration. With so much going on – fast, slow, soft, heavy, light and so bloody dark if anyone needed a reminder of the diversity of just one band, let alone a genre, this is it. Go to your beds happy people. And by that we mean your flimsy rollmat and sleeping bag.
Death In The Eyes Of Dawn
Convoys To Nothingness
As Fire Swept Clean The Earth