Words: Guest writer Matt Fabi
Pictures: Marita Mirabella
So, the festival itself – well frankly the organization on it’s own is enough to piss all over any other festival I have been to. Press passes for some reason allow me into the VIP area but not to the VIP camping on the last day. Friday and Saturday were fine – all of a sudden not valid Sunday though we managed to sort it out.
Everyone knows where everything is, and they are POLITE and respectful to you. The weather appears no kinder in France than it is in the UK – hit and miss all over the weekend but not too much rain.
The arena set up is fantastic – you can get to anywhere you need to be within about ten minutes from one side to the other and there are no main stage clashes. I particularly like the HellFest tree, and the fact that all the merch stands and bars are flaming in the the night. It FEELS like a rock and metal festival should – not what we have been left with in other areas of the world that cater more and more for the mainstream.
The Extreme market is where my budget for the weekend was spent within TWO HOURS. Luckily that didn’t include the copious amounts of alcohol and food we had in the motorhome. I am very happy with my new vinyls. I run into a mate who just laid down over £100 on cds he couldn’t find anywhere else. There are lots of rare goodies here and they are at respectable prices, as is the alcohol and food. Take a leaf out of this book, Great Britain.
It was very difficult to decide who to watch, but this is what I saw:
Friday 21st June
HARDCORE SUPERSTAR do not remotely look as though they are Scandinavian. They look straight out of a mid 80s LA Glam rock article. They sound like it too. It’s what they’re happy doing.
Whether you’re a fan or not it is impossible not to be impressed, even if just for the cliché. It’s a great way to warm up the crowd for the rest of the day and there is something that makes a gig so much better when you can really see how much the people onstage are enjoying it so much themselves. Maybe a little more if the cameraman would get out of the way. He gets a shove for his trouble. Their set has the right kind of mix, though maybe a little too reliant on crowd participation in places – after all it is early.
There are few rock anthems in the world more widely known or appreciated than The Final Countdown. The very mention of this automatically tells you I am talking about EUROPE. Thankfully they are a far cry from a lot of their peers - you know? Those groups that you watch and can only think ¨You don’t have the talent anymore¨. Well, these guys certainly have, and they let you know it. For the crowd it appears there are some songs such as Girl From Lebanon that go on a little longer than some think is necessary, but that is only because a lot of these people I am with are waiting for the classics that they know. That’s a shame, because Europe are not trying to be a nostalgia band - they are enjoying every minute and hoping the fans do the same - though I do feel that Joey Tempest might be asking us a little too often how we are all doing. It isn’t long before the fans that are there for nostalgia get their wish with some well known classics. I envy a friend of mine standing next to me hearing Rock The Night and The Final Countdown for the first time as she looks at me with the biggest smile I have ever seen that says to me "THAT'S who these guys are". I leave thinking that Europe were let down a little by the crowd treating them as a nostalgic band, which for many people, myself included, they are so much more.
Classic Bay Area thrash is next with TESTAMENT on the second main stage. The rain stops as Chuck Billys’ voice thunders up into the sunless sky. This is a band that makes people like me get annoyed at the ‘big 4’ label. Pelting out classics like DNR and Over The Wall opens up a circle pit which I, even at 194cm and 95kg, am pleased not to be anywhere near, but tell that to the loyal legions of headbangers. Be it the aforementioned classics or more recent offerings like More Than Meets The Eye, or True American Hate from the last years Dark Roots Of Earth album. The wind picks up a little bit in the middle of the set and unfortunately it does make the sound suffer from time to time in some places, though not with Alex Skolnick's guitar, which seems to sing on its own. He is one of these people for whom the tired cliché "You make it look effortless" is actually an accurate statement. The addition of Gene Hoglan on drum duty is undeservedly less noticeable from where I am standing, and in some instances the sound issues, although brief, seem to catch Chuck a little off guard. However, that's where experience comes into play and Testament make the absolute best of some unfortunate weather conditions and leave behind a battered and bruised but thoroughly entertained crowd. I'm thinking how are these people going to last the night? Nevermind an entire weekend!
Right now I am annoyed at having missed a photo opportunity with Vinnie Paul, so I get over to the main stage for HELLYEAH. They’re pretty solid sounding. I hadn’t done my HellYeah homework and Drink Drank Drunk is the only one I know. All the songs go down well though I do feel the guitarist has taken a very substantial amount of leaves out of Zakk Wylde's book. Not that it doesn’t work for them, but I am not that impressed and expected better.
As if the thrash metal fans had not been battered and bruised enough, German Thrash metal titans KREATOR arrive to rip things apart and it does not take long for the thrashing maniacs to follow Mille Patrozza’s commands. Those commands, perhaps worryingly for some, were to see more violence. The pits form, and with alarming speed, as Death To The World is pounding. A circle spreads like that wildfire scene from Game Of Thrones. It could only be more intimidating if they all had swords. Un-plagued by any weather trouble like their unfortunate thrash brothers, Testament, Kreator own the day so far and the bar is set very high for any subsequent performers. What is unique about Kreator in this performance is possibly the fact that they appear to have reached out to everyone I lay my eyes on. There is not one head I can see that is facing away from the stage. Kreator are one of the only thrash metals band I have not been exposed to before this evening and all too quickly it was over. Mille raises the Flag Of Hate and I know that this signifies that their performance is approaching the end. Thankfully they manage to drag it out a little further but for all I cared they could’ve kept going until we all dropped – or until
someone got impaled.
Power Metal next. HELLOWEEN practically invented the genre and they own it! The weather is fantastic in that the light fades at just the right time and there is no accursed wind to mess about with the sound. Be that as it may, I am blinded by the lights but maybe I'm just a little tired from all the thrashing from earlier. They seem to get the mix just right with the new material blended with the old, but maybe that's because a lot of their most recent offering, Straight Out Of Hell, is a return to what many considered to be classic Helloween, and people standing beside me are hammering out every word as if these songs have been around for twenty something years and the title track particularly goes down a storm. Before finishing up with their best known song, I Want Out, we enjoy singing along as Andi Deris puts the crowd against each other dividing them left and right to sing along to Live Now, another offering from the new album which I tried far too hard to sing to and consequently ended up losing my voice for several hours.
Friday’s headliners DEF LEPPARD arrive and, in a musical sense, are superb. What unfortunately suffers with them is their significant lack of showmanship, with the exception of lead vocalist Joe Elliot. However, even his enthusiasm is lost because his band mates don't appear to share it. It appears very much as if the band are simply there playing a few songs in rehearsal than hammering hard rock classics to the strong crowd. In the middle of their set during an outfit change is a montage to what they have achieved in their career. It lasts about 8 minutes and inevitably focuses on their rise to superstardom back in the day and try as I might I cannot help but feel that this is in some way an attempt for them to remind people of who they are and what they've done - as if they are somehow feeling a need to justify their presence as main stage headliners. I feel this might be a sentiment shared by the crowd, as I see people losing interest, checking their watches and looking anywhere but the stage. This unfortunately lasts a long time even after the montage and during their monumental hits like Pour Some Sugar On Me and my favorite track off of the Pyromania album, Photograph. Again, musically there is nothing bad about it. There are no struggling vocals, no missed beats or bum-notes, but the crowd needs to feel like the guys they are watching actually want to be there doing what they are doing and tonight that simply is not the impression they are giving the fans, who do not respond as a headliner crowd might be expected to when the frontman makes it known that he wishes to see hands raised 'all to the back'. Many hands even from half that distance remain down. I wonder as I see many people leaving a little early, if they are doing so for the same reasons I eventually did. It especially ironic because as I mentioned in the montage, there are classic video clips - moments from a better day when these guys gave it their all. I sincerely hope they do so again.
Finally I head to The Altar for SIX FEET UNDER. I honestly feel that I was far too close to distinguish anything so after a couple of songs I push back about 20 meters into the crowd and the difference in sound is thankfully very noticeable. Chris Barnes is quite possibly the best growler I have ever heard and in my ignorance I actually didn’t know who he was before Hellfest. This is the first Death Metal band I have ever enjoyed. His shrieks overpower everything else on the stage to the point at which I actually easily ignore the fact that I really do not like Death Metal. The song I use to exemplify this – and I had to ask my friend what it was called after they finished playing it – was Seed Of Filth. I am not converted, I mean I still cannot distinguish a word the guy said it just sounded so powerful and intense that it was impossible not to appreciate.
We’re watching Krokus and it is HAMMERING down with rain. I go inside and watch some of it from the comfort of the VIP area but I have to quickly admit that this is cheating, so I go back outside. It is difficult not to compare Marc Storace with Brian Johnson. I didn’t know who this band were and I quickly find out to no surprise that many people have made exactly that same comparison over the years. He even wears the same kind of cap. Well, so what? Sounds good from where I am standing despite the weather. Unfortunately it appears that there are not that many people that knew this band in the first place - though I cannot help but feel that it is only the rain that has driven a lot of people away because they sounded really good.
After lunch I am straight back to the main stage for DOWN. This was brilliant. Anselmo definitely knows how to liven up a crowd. I am not sure how loud ‘loud as a fucking cocksucker’ is, but that is the volume he asks us for. Apparently we get it right. As if the set wasn’t impressive enough, Jason Newsted comes to jam with them for Bury Me In Smoke which I actually hadn’t heard before. More about this band later – cos they’re not finished for the weekend.
PAPA ROACH are unlucky, because during their set the insanely hot Carlsberg girls start dancing on a rig set up above the beer stand opposite the main stage and to be perfectly honest, they completely distract at least half of the crowd, myself included, from walking closer to the second stage where the guys are playing. This isn’t fair on Papa Roach who do their best with a solid set to a crowd of people who are very much into nu metal. But then the second main stage on Sunday is all nu metal and core and the crowd is made up largely of teenage girls. There is even a mosh pit forming though with nothing close to the intensity of the previous day. Papa Roach are received well even though the rain is back and the Carlsberg girls make for more interesting viewing to those of us further back.
What happened with Papa Roach also happens with ZZ TOP. Yep, those girls are back dancing again. The best thing about it is that it’s during classics like Gimme All Your Lovin and Sharp Dressed Man and it’s actually great to see them singing along to the songs and not having to improvise as much because they appear to know ZZ Top classics as well as everyone else – including my dear friend from yesterday who gives me the same look that says “Oh THAT’S who they are”. I’d have thought she’d recognize the iconic beards. Now, while stepping in time together isn’t the most demanding of tasks, sometimes it’s these little things that make all the difference, and it’s really enjoyable seeing them strut around in timed co-ordination. A simple change of coats with sparkling sequins has a surprising galvanizing effect on the crowd and briefly takes the attention towards the main stage again and away from the Carlsberg girls. Could it REALLY make that much of a difference? For some reason it appears to and the crowd roars with laughter and applause at something that is not, after all, a massive task to co-ordinate. Especially when you've been doing it since the late 60s. It was a lot of fun.
BULLET FOR MY VALENTINE are Welsh. I can’t help wondering why Matt Tuck appears to be trying to sport an American accent whenever he addresses the crowd but that’s no bearing on how they perform. From where I am, again the sound is suffering a little. I can’t quite make things out so I try and get closer but I can’t cos masses of people have come down to the front because KISS are up next. This is a shame because it prevents me from being close enough to objectively review their performance. It appears to go well from what I can see of the crowd, but I am sorry not to have been able to get a proper look. He drags out his speeches to the crowd a little and they could probably have time for another song had he not done so, but I don’t think there’s a single frontman of whom the same thing cannot be said at some point in their career.
KISS are headlining. WOW. I already know the headline set is going to be shorter than they usually play and there are some things, having seen Kiss before, that I am eagerly awaiting. Like Paul Stanley coming into the crowd and playing from a platform on what looks like 100 feet out from the main stage. We already know that’s going to happen because we’ve all seen the zip line. That doesn’t mean that we don’t all go crazy when it happens. Tommy shoots fireworks from his guitar and my eyes follow it when I notice a disco ball. I’m expecting to hear I Was Made For Lovin’ You. It doesn’t happen. Paul and Gene are standing on platforms that reach out over the crowd about 50 feet and probably about that high too. If the Carlsberg girls were there this time I guarantee nobody is looking at them. I don’t even check, hot as they are. The fact that a young, straight, red blooded male would rather look at two guys in their 60s covered in make-up than look to see if the girls are back should tell you something about the showmanship of this band. But you can’t really explain it in photos or words or by watching a video – you have to see it. Kiss are received fantastically and it’s a testament to the fact that even if you're not a big fan of the music you will DEFINITELEY be impressed by the show. You can’t say that of many.
Because of my surprise experience last night with Six Feet Under, I give death metal another chance tonight with Morbid Angel headlining at The Altar. It starts to grow on me but I must point out that at this point a friend of mine had sorted me out with a guest pass for the stage so I am down the front for an uninterrupted view. I was standing to close to the guitarist monitor so I don’t get much of a listen to anything else but to be honest after a couple of songs I don’t want to move because I am enjoying the lead guitar work too much. I fail to pay attention to much else. Apologies to them – next time I will.
The rain has gone for now. On Sunday I take the opportunity to go to a few of the artist interviews, namely NEWSTED, DOWN, and LORDI. I have no opportunity to ask Jason a question, but I look forward to hearing him jam with Voivod who are playing after Newsteds set. He confirms he will do so when asked by one of the press. Someone inevitably asks him about Metallica, but in doing so they piss Jason off, because they blame Bob Rock for ‘the downfall of Metallica’. His response to this is ‘What the fuck are you talking about?’. He defends Bob Rock by rationalizing that the Metallica album is the most successful heavy metal album of all time and that Bob Rock produced it. He then has to go and get ready for his set. DOWN arrive shortly afterwards. They are still here because tragically the lead singer of CLUTCH has recently lost his father and so they have had to pull out. Down offer to step in and so they are going to have a live jam session with some friends a little later in the afternoon. I point out to them that in yesterdays performance it was refreshing for me to see people of all ages really into their music and ask them for their views about that, pointing out that unfortunately a lot of people think rock and metal is too old now. Phil Anselmo grins at me and jokingly asks me if I am trying to say they’re too old. Mercifully, I find the words and say that I just like to see that everyone of all ages enjoys it. His response is to thank the parents of the younger generation for letting them get to find their own way and in some cases getting for giving the inspiration to their children in the first place, which is echoed by Pepper Keenen who states that if there are young teenage kids coming to their gigs as well as older generations then it shows they are still doing something right.
So, I head on to the main stage and from the side I see Jason throwing his fists in time to the masses in front of the curtain shouting his name. I am in danger of making NEWSTED all about one man – and it really isn’t. Yes, there is the feeling that many are there because of Jason and specifically his past band – and the band are under no illusions that this is the case because they play what is for many one of the highlights of any Metallica show. I speak of Creeping Death. Now, thousands of people chanting ‘DIE’ is probably one of the things that makes a lot of people think us metal heads are all satantic, depressed and evil. Well, this made a lot of people very happy and, surprise surprise, I did not leave the stage wanting to kill anyone. I had never seen this band before and I think it was probably a mistake to do so from on the actual stage because you simply do not hear it as well. Even the song I know better than any other, Metallica again, this time Whiplash, is difficult to make out from where I am. This is a welcome return and they all come off the stage looking very pleased with themselves and the reaction they received. The mistake was mine for not getting right down there in the crowd, not that I could have passed up the opportunity. I leave the stage walking past a man who at first glance I think to be Alex Skolnick before he turns his head and I realize I have just bumped in to Michel from Voivod who was checking out Newsted standing right next to me the whole time. I leave to go down to the second main stage so as not to make the same mistake I did with Newsted.
VOIVOD deserve better. I am disappointed by the turnout. Those that are there are loyal to the end but there are a lot of people sitting down or wandering away. Frankly they deserve better and it is only when Phil Anselmo and Jason Newsted turn up to jam with them that things get more interesting from a crowd perspective. I am sorry that it takes something like this to happen for people to take more of an interest. There is some suffering on the vocals, but overall I am impressed. Voivod are not well known to me but this performance ensures they will become more so.
DOWN are in the Temple in place of CLUTCH and jamming out some classic Crowbar with guest appearances from Jason Newsted (he and Phil seem to be inseparable this weekend) Guest vocals is a girl called Kate who is outstanding but I don’t know who she is, I must confess. The set finishes with WALK , the chorus of which is all I can hear from the side of the stage. I know Phil has also been onstage with Accept earlier in the day so I don’t know if the reason they all high tail it out of there so fast is because they are going to be making yet another appearance with other musicians. This was one of the most enjoyable moments of the weekend.
It’s STONE SOUR on the main stage next. I tend to watch this band and wish that they’d give this all their time instead of bothering with Slipknot because frankly I find this band to be a lot more enjoyable. I should just point out that the effort on stage is at the maximum from what I can see – having arrived late and only catching the last 4 songs. They’ve managed to cram a lot in – shooting from one song to the next without much of a pause like a band that know their fans would rather have heard as much as possible. I am told they threw in a Black Sabbath cover by one of my friends. I don’t know which and it’s a shame to have missed it.
I’m now taking part in a LORDI interview about half an hour before they are about to go onstage. The questions come quickly because they have not got long till they’re on. I am pleased to hear there is a Lordi documentary being made, part of which is being filmed tonight. I cannot resist asking them whether or not they would ever do something as novel as the Eurovision song contest again, stating it had gone to hell since they won it and it was nice to see something so refreshing.
However, predictably, they reply that there are some things you only ever do once. They pay homage to Alice Cooper, Twisted Sister and Kiss for their influence over the years. Hella is well received as the new Keyboard player and is looking forward to the gig, and then we get some cool photos before they head to the stage. The gig is fantastic. I had never been much of a fan but this is classic shock rock and I had never seen them before. I have never actually laughed so much or enjoyed crowd participation to the degree I did during the ‘Fuck you asshole’ chanting when they play Sincerely With Love. Predictably, Hard Rock Hallelujah is the most well known and gets the biggest cheer, and I can’t be sure but it looks a lot like Lordi have stolen some of the Carlsberg girls for their show. It’s easy to be distracted from the music with such an awesome spectacle and it is true that a lot of bands rely too heavily on this to distract from the weaker points in the band. Not Lordi. I can’t fault anything musically or in terms of their showmanship. I am almost weary of going to another of their gigs cos they’ve set an extremely high standard of what to expect at future gigs of theirs.
We leave the arena and head back to the motorhome for the last time after taking photos of ourselves with our friends from the extreme market. I can still hear guitars shrieking through the air in the distance and I am sorry it is coming to an end, but we have to drive across a country and get a plane back home so we need to make sure everything is ready. We leave – knowing for damn sure we will be back in Hellfest next year.
See Hellfest as it was
seen through the lens of