Hellfest Festival 2015
@ Clisson, France
19th-21st June 2015
Review by Anna Dumpe and Kirsty Birkett-Stubbs
Photos by Gavin Lowery and Ritchie Birnie
Break out the balloons – it’s birthday time! No, not just mine (although thank you very much), but Hellfest’s big 1-0, the crossing point into double figures, the decade marker. It’s practically an institution now, not just in France, not just in Europe but across the world with folks coming from every which place to rock n revel. Hellfest is just about the best damn festival out there, so you KNOW this is going to be special.
And like anyone crossing another year off the calendar Hellfest has gone through some cccc-changes. The Mad Max-style aesthetic has been extended, deepened, expanded; still dominated by the rusty spread of the Hellfest tree. Although sadly a pre-festival vandalism attack means there’s no Hellfest crow to leer alongside it. Main Stage 1 and 2 are side-by-side as always but the Valley, Temple and Altar stages have been upgraded from tents to airplane style hangers. It’s just the kind of upping of capacity they desperately needed and a smart move by the organisers.
There’s evidence of other changes as well. This is the first year Hellfest has had a clear VIP package, much the same as Download and other festivals, with fans being able to cough up more for access to the previously off limits press area and a special camping set-up. With the capacity of Hellfest having sharply risen in the last year or two this kind of premium offering seemed inevitable, but with an additional ‘Gold’ tier also seeming to be in action, there’s a few degrees of separation appearing within the usually tight community.
But enough of that. There’s a party going down and candles to light. Knowing Hellfest, a place that thinks nothing on setting half the scenery on fire, they’ll be some mighty big ones. (Kirsty)
Friday 19th June
Go sweaty or go home is the unofficial slogan of the weekend. The sun has all but burnt his hat off and Brit metallers Sylosis (3.5/5) are asking for the biggest circle pit in Hellfest’s history. At 11am. On the Friday. They say if you don’t ask you don’t get and although it’s not even in sniffing distance of a record breaker circles are indeed run. Their sometimes proggy-thrash niceties drop far heavier than they do on CD, even if it’s not enough to loosen all the necks in the crowd. Makes you wonder who has the job of recording this stuff though and why they can’t do a better one. (Kirsty)
And just as Sylosis are killing it on the Main Stage and we head for the mandatory ‘breakfast beer,’ German psychedelic rockers Samsara Blues Experiment (4/5) are about the hit The Valley stage.
Making it a refreshing, yet trippy enough start of our festival, Samsara Blues Experiment show goes down a storm and the band look genuinely humbled by the turnout.
As The Valley is the 3rd biggest stage at the festival and Samsara guys have managed to pack out the noticeably spacious tent just right notwithstanding the fact that it’s not even lunch time yet. With psychedelic approach to their music, Hendrix-inspired guitar parts and unlimited use of sound effects, Samsara Blues Experiment keep proving themselves as an act to keep an eye on. (Anna)
We Are Harlot (4/5) are new kids on rock’s block, even if Danny Worsnop (Asking Alexandria) and Jeff George (Sebastian Bach) have considerable form. (Drummer Bruno Agra himself looks a bit like Bach, which is fun). Regardless of what you think of said members, there’s a proper 80s style groove here, mixing up Skid Row, Motley Crue, Airbourne and the like, as We Are Harlot pull off a storming cover of Queen’s ‘Tie Your Mother Down’; Worsnop spinning his mic stand, draped with a US flag, in emulation of ‘Smith’s Steven Tyler. It’s the standout point of the set, which casts a slightly questioning shadow over their own material. (Kirsty)
Next up on The Valley stage is the highly anticipated Swedish outfit Truckfighters (4.5/5) and with their undeniably bluesy approach to all things stoner and sludge, Truckfighters put on a show that’s not just musically entertaining, but also fun to watch.
With fuzzy guitar parts that could have easily ended up on albums by Brant Bjork, Kyuss or even Mastodon, Truckfighters seem to have a clear image in mind of where they’re headed as a band. And with such great groove and strong kick to their sound, Truckfighters do not struggle to get their crowd moving within seconds.
What’s magical about Truckfighters is that, no matter how professional and spot-on their live performances might seem, they are the ultimate party band when it comes to watching them tear the house down with songs, like “Desert Cruiser” and “Mind Control”.
If you consider yourself a stoner fan, but still haven’t checked out Truckfighters, do yourself a favour… (Anna)
Few moments pass and we’re headed for the The Temple stage to catch one of the most successful pagan metal outfits of our times coming all the way from Latvia and known as the mighty Skyforger (4/5).
Attracting a crowd of a decent size keen to hear heavy metal influenced by Latvian folklore, history and pagan traditions, Skyforger hit the stage and the whole place immediately turns into a friendly Viking-themed gathering.
Skyforger music incorporates elements of doom, thrash and even black metal and today they get the French crowd going by playing some of their classics, like “Akmeni Iekaltas Zimes,” “Tirela Purva” and also throwing in some of their latest stuff off the brand new album Senprusija.
Delivering a show that’s 100% authentic and loyal to their National culture and traditions Skyforger remain a band that shall never ‘sell out’ or change their ‘artistic course’ whilst becoming more popular and recognised all over the globe. Instead, they shall proudly keep on performing their unique form of Folk-Metal and carry on telling the tales of ancient tribes and Baltic history through their music. (Anna)
“I’m doing the best that I can” sings Sully Erna as Godsmack (2.5/5) switch into ‘Whatever’. We have differing ideas of what ‘best’ means. Even through the always-positive magical nostalgia glass, the US alt-metallers aren’t exactly best lighting it today, although those gathered do involve themselves for ‘Awake’. Maybe it’s the mid-afternoon heat, but the stage chatter seems to drag without spark, and after hyping the crowd Godsmack fail to deliver when the intro of ‘Something Different’ trots lamely out the speakers instead of flying. Not even an attempt at the intro to Pantera’s ‘Walk’ gets enough juices going, except in reminding people there are better songs out there. (Kirsty)
Back to The Valley stage where San Francisco’s blues rockers Orchid (3.5/5) are bringing groovy guitar riffs and Black Sabbath influenced melodics to the sunny fields of Clisson.
Known for their old-school blues and doom influences, Orchid have proved themselves as one of the most notable stoner rock bands around and today’s performance only approves their status.
With an incredibly strong musicianship and original approach to classic blues influenced heavy metal, Orchid have all the heaviest riffs alongside some ‘far-out’ melodics and today they bring in all of their ultimate classics, like “Eyes Behind The Wall,” “Capricorn” and “He Who Walks Alone”. (Anna)
When it’s time for Billy Idol (4.5/5) to hit the Main Stage, the crowd is buzzing in curiosity as, pretty much, every single person at Hellfest are there to witness the 80’s super-star delivering what’s possibly going to turn out as ‘show of the day’.
Billy Idol hits the stage in his own ‘classy as ever’ manner to kick off the performance with ridiculous amount of positive and sexually charged energy.
You don’t even need to class yourself as a ‘fan’ of Billy’s to know each and every hit that he’s blasting out today. We’re talking “Dancing With Myself,” “Rebel Yell,” “Mony Mony” and, of course, “White Wedding”. And although time has taken it’s toll and Billy Idol looks like someone who should probably keep his shirt on (just putting it out there for future reference, Billy), we excuse him as the heat is doing no one any good and his performance is just a little too much fun to hold back. We see French metal-heads sing along, down beers and ladies going a little crazy for the poster boy of their teenage years.
It’s definitely a nice day for White Wedding and a 60 year dude to prove each and every one of us that he’s still got it. (Anna)
It’s not Melechesch’s (2.5/5) fault. The right speaker up at the Temple keeps spluttering and distorting. It’s not their fault but it doesn’t sound good. It’s a real shame because the rock n roll edge to their Israel-born black metal base has genuine widespread appeal, if you don’t mind Ashmedi’s croaked vocals, and those that are here apparently don’t. But you can’t get away from that damn distortion. Perhaps it’s all one and the same problem, but the Middle Eastern elements that make Melechesch a more interesting proposition are also largely swept away. (Kirsty)
High On Fire’s (3.5/5) Matt Pike’s guitar sound is at times akin to an alien transmission – it doesn’t sound quite right, stuttering and squeaking in an unrecognisable tone, but you understand it anyway. Announcing heavy one ‘The Dark Side Of The Compass’, it sounds as though Pike called it ‘The Dark Side Of The Cupboards’ which is altogether a much better name. The Californians lean towards stoner groove that’s on the long-side, songs that have time to pull you in, and for many, like the guy front-right whose hands are mimicking skins-man Des Kensel under full concentration, it’s really paying off. (Kirsty)
Back to the Main Stage where German thrash metal legends Sodom (3.5/5) prepare for some major destruction and we ensure to have a cold beer in hand hoping it will make the heat a little less excruciating. And then again, what’s a thrash metal show without beer anyway?!
Sodom take the stage bringing along most epic guitar riffs and sharpest drumming as their clean Teutonic thrash metal sound speaks for itself and can not be confused with anyone else’s.
The band, with Tom Angelripper up front, seem to be in excellent shape as they deliver a solid show of old and new classics. As usual, the crowd picks themselves up for Sodom’s own version of “Surfin’ Bird / The Saw is the Law” and the energy doesn’t seem to drop until the very last song “City of God”. (Anna)
And just few moments after Sodom have walked off the stage after causing some serious damage to our eardrums, it it’s time for no one else but Motörhead (4.5/5) with Lemmy Kilmister to take over. After what’s been several tough years of dealing with health issues for Mr. Kilmister, it is genuinely delightful to see him back on stage and in such good form. Being the band that Motörhead are, they do not waste much time with speeches and kick things off with the usual “We are Motörhead and we play Rock’n’Roll!”.
For a band that’s been going for exactly 40 years, Motörhead still manage to keep the title as one of the most bad-ass bands around, as they live and breathe the Sex, Drugs and Rock’n’Roll lifestyle. Well, yeah… Maybe they’re a little more grounded these days, but we at Metal-Rules.com are true believers in that as long as Lemmy Kilmister is still standing, rock’n’roll spirit is alive. Finishing their set with the ultimate anthem “Ace Of Spades and returning to stage for an encore of “Overkill,” the crowd go absolutely nuts and it finally feels like we’re at a proper rock’n’roll festival. Here’s to another 40 years of Lemmy and Motorhead! (Anna)
Last time Lamb Of God (4.5/5) were here they had a late late night slot in the pouring rain, so a slightly earlier, still sunny spot is a nice change. Behind the drums Chris Adler has got his Megadeth t-shirt on in a not so subtle nod to his latest project, as Randy Blythe stares down this mammoth turnout. And we mean mammoth – this is not just a Main Stage 2 crowd, this feels like everyone in the damn festival is here.
‘Walk With Me In Hell’, ‘Now You’ve Got Something To Die For’, ‘Desolation’ come down like an avalanche bearing 200 tonnes of heavy shit. Newbies ‘512’ and ‘Still Echoes’ have previously made their debut online but if you’re not excited by them you’re missing something. ‘Redneck’ breaks everyone – as ever – the circle pit so big and so full that a bottleneck appears. Bloody hell. (Kirsty)
Alice Cooper (4/5) prowls Main Stage 1 with attitude wrapped round his throat like a snake. Behind him are a motley mix of props that remind of an especially creepy second-hand shop. It may still be bright out but it doesn’t stop the band firing off sparks as they do a one-two of ‘Department Of Youth’ and ‘No More Mr Nice Guy’ (complete with baton twirling). If his voice ain’t perfect it is at least still distinctive, it sounds like Alice, and the band are a tight bunch.
Despite this being a shorter slot and a festival one to boot, Cooper finds time for some quick costume changes throughout, donning a lab coat daubed with bloody handprints for ‘Feed My Frankenstein’, plus a beheading before ‘I Love The Dead’. Finishing combo of ‘Poison’ and ‘School’s Out’ is expected and appreciated by those watching, two songs that arguably have secured his ongoing career and yet aren’t up there with the best in his catalogue. (Kirsty)
The screech of guitar is an apt way to start a Children Of Bodom (4.5/5) show – after all this is a band built on Alexi Laiho’s nigh-on destructive guitar skills. In the close quarters of The Altar (although half the crowd is stuck outside such is the turnout) this feels owned by the Finnish melo-metallers from note one – it’s all hands in the air all the time, with the front rows constantly churning and moving. A decision to stick to best of the best tracks like ‘Hate Me!’, ‘Silent Night, Bodom Night’, ‘Hate Crew Deathroll’ and ‘Lake Bodom’, keeps that momentum going, whilst a shred-off between Laiho and keyboardist Janne Wirman takes on this epic, other worldly feel. (Kirsty)
The Valley Stage, which by now seems like the ultimate place to be for any living stoner rock fan, is getting rather cosy and it doesn’t come as a surprise, as it is time for Mastodon (5/5) to take the stage and show us how it’s really done.
Mastodon, being themselves and not taking things just too seriously, yet still delivering the show with an undeniable professionalism, kick thing off with “Tread Lightly” off their latest record Motherload and despite the recent release, the crowd seem to be familiar with band’s latest material just as they are with Mastodon’s ultimate classics.
As today’s show is a part of The Motherload tour, Mastodon don’t hold back on presenting their freshest material and songs like “Once More Round The Sun,” “The Motherload” and “Ember City,” however that doesn’t mean that people who came to hear Mastodon classic tracks were left disappointed. With “Black Tongue” and “Crystal Skull” to end their performance Mastodon guys prove themselves to be the ultimate professionals when it comes to pleasing their crowd and getting the most out of it in return. (Anna)
Rob Halford comes on stage leaning heavily on a cane. For a second something twists inside you, something whispers ‘this guy, this legend is old’, and you worry a little. Even as he tosses it away the niggle clings – if Halford’s playing it up it’s hard to understand why. The man never exudes old offstage, never in his voice even – after 40 years he sings better than most who have attempted to come after, high pitched and lower registers as required. It’s the same when he takes off his aviators, it’s like exposing Darth Vader, but only on stage.
Such puzzlements aside Judas Priest (4/5) keep proving why they’re such legends, by not believing they can coast on such status. ‘Breaking The Law’ has the masses singing, before the motorbike roars for ‘Hell Bent For Leather’ and Halford appears mounted on two wheels.
Oh and the studs – there are studs literally everywhere, even on the guitars. The ‘Painkiller’, ‘Living after Midnight’ extended ending underscores it all, but it’s if ‘You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’’ and it’s “If you think I’ll let it go you’re mad” line that holds the most power. If you’re waiting for Judas Priest to give it up, take another number and come back some other time. (Kirsty)
And just when the majority of Hellfest crowd i9s flowing towards the Main stage to catch Friday night’s headliners Slipknot, an unstoppable force and undying love for punk rock drags us towards the Warzone stage where Dead Kennedys (4/5) are about to start their set.
Known as the pioneers of American hardcore punk movement back in the days, Dead Kennedys have left a significant impact on the whole scene and its development in the future. Tonight Dead Kennedys take the stage with “Forward Death” and kick off what’s about to turn into a full-on celebration of all things punk rock and with “Too Drunk To Fuck,” “Kill The Poor,” “Holiday In Cambodia” and many more.
After sticking around since 1978 Dead Kennedys not only prove that age does not matter in punk rock, but also that punk rock does not exist only in history books, but is very much present to this day. (Anna)
The stage is actually on fire by the time Slipknot (4/5) are done. Not just bursts and fireworks, but actually on fire. Before that though it’s all sweat and fury, and in the case of Corey Taylor and his new two-piece mask – saliva and sweat. Latest cut ‘The Devil In I’ and the now-older ‘Before I Forget’ get good love from the crowd, but it’s the older stuff that really makes people lose their shit, the stuff that Slipknot doesn’t make anymore. It’s like the drum rigs that pleasingly go up and down and spin around like a tea cup ride, but the guys manning them no longer feel essential to the mix, like they once did. It makes the lack of ‘People = Shit’ tonight seem a mistake. Perhaps it’s just the fact that this is clearly a condensed set for these guys.
‘Spit It Out’ though has the whole field, and that’s a pretty big number crouching down on the ground, anticipation building until Corey screams “jump up fuckers”. It’s one of those ritual collective things that brings a fanbase together. Kind of echoing Slipknot’s own repeated chat about family, “my family”, that heavy metal family. Whilst it’s a bit cliché now, there’s definite truth in that statement and a 2am live show is the kind of place where it really hits home. (Kirsty)