Power of Metal.dk Live Review

Location: Clisson, France
20-20 June, 2014

My second Hellfest was even better than the first despite my health problems due to the persistent heat and dust. No photos I am very sorry to say, we lost our photographer due to unfortunate circumstances which could not be helped. Before I get in to how Hellfest was even better this year I must say a big thank you to my mate Gee Anzalone for the 36 hour round trip - he drove us from Turin to Clisson – helped no doubt by the fact that he was buzzing after being confirmed as the new DragonForce drummer. I must also thank the following people:
Lidia Buscaino who was with us keeping us out of too much trouble. Well, she tried. From the Metal Market thanks to Charlotta & the Psycho Stores crew, Rudy at Metal Kids Clothing and Ben & Marie from Merica Sounds (no typo).

Vincent and Laurent from www.tsunami.fr who handled the VIP press area making sure all things technical ran smoothly.

Flo – a volunteer team leader who went out of her way to get us to where we needed to be to park the camper on Thursday morning when we arrived.
All the people I met in the VIP area for basically recognising that I am still quite new to this kind of thing and being very helpful and giving me valuable advice.

Margaux from the Jack Daniels bar and all her colleagues for being really accommodating and friendly – this is how all bar staff should be!!
A massive thanks to the organisers of Hellfest for making this the best festival I have been to. Again. A particular thanks to whoever it was that decided to do what they did with the Metal Market this year which is basically take a chunk of Camden town and put it in slap bang at the entrance to the festival – that was a monumentally good move.

Finally, my dear friend Tari Mirabella who got me in to this whole new side of festivals and opened the door for me to be able to get more heavily involved in this kind of thing as something more than I had been previously able to do and putting me in contact with the Power Of Metal team. Unfortunately she could not attend for personal reasons. She was sorely missed.

You will read that there are many big names absent from this review, such as Deep Purple, Sabaton, Carcass, Soundgarden and Avenged Sevenfold. The reasons are my lack of preparation for the conditions of the festival, which was exceptionally hot. Apologies for that.

Sun cream goes on. It’s more than 25 degrees I don’t care what my weather app says. It’s definitely hotter. Unfortunately I had to start the day a lot later than I would have liked due to some personal circumstances requiring a phone call back to England. After confirming all is well I can start to see some bands.

Trivium have swapped their planned slot with Death Angel and so they’re on earlier than expected. It’s a change that holds little difference to me. They are on top form and love them or hate them they give the performance everything they have. Very tight set. A good blend of songs. It’s easy to forget that they’ve barely hit thirty.

Now, to those of use that have seen Rob Zombie at night, there’s not a lot that he can do to create the same effect in the day. He’d said as much in his press conference earlier with guitarist John 5. Sure enough it simply isn’t the same thing. I mean it’s good and all, and the Diamond Head/Metallica covers go down very well too. To squash any rumours – Rob does sod all in terms of preparation for his gig. There is no kind of mind set ritual that people apparently think is the case, as he clarified in the press conference.

Sepultura are up next. It’s all crunchy and heavy which is to be expected. I cannot help but pay particular attention to Roots Bloody Roots, since I know Soulfly will be performing when they take the stage later on over the weekend. I have actually never seen Sepultura in any incarnation and though like most people I grew up with Max and Igor, their absence isn’t an issue. Derrick is very energetic and they have a commanding stage presence which I observe from a safe distance cos the crowd are going nuts.

Iron Maiden have got everyone psyched up and going mental. It’s true about Maiden fans being the best metal fans there are. People went out of their way to ensure my friend could get to a spot where she could see the band. The comradery that this band create among their fans is something I have never witnessed from any other band. This is still the Maiden England tour, albeit the final dates, so pretty much everything is the same as last year. A blend of the first 12 years of Maiden material with nothing later than the Fear Of The Dark album. Not that it matters – it’s weird to see them playing Fear Of The Dark before the sun has even set. It really doesn’t seem like the set lasts two hours. Bruce is speaking French which is good for the fans but aside from the football results I have no idea what he is saying. All too quickly it was over, but unlike UK festivals with our shitty curfew laws, main stage bands can play here until 2am. It’s weird to see bands on the main stage after the headline act, but I make my way across for Slayer.

Gary Holt is a fine replacement for the late Jeff Hanneman, not that it’s the same seeing them without him, which I have before. This is my first Slayer experience without Dave Lombardo on the drums but Paul Bostaph hits it on the nail. The surprise, and a damn good surprise, is Tom Araya hitting the Angel Of Death opening scream. Wasn’t expecting that. Slayer fans appear to have saved their energy. It’s a good job Slayer were later than Maiden cos I don’t see how any of these fans could have any energy left and would have missed a fantastic set. Halfway through the set and I can’t see the stage for dust. It’s a persistent problem and I can only say they sounded pretty good from where I was. I had initially moved from the side of the stage to a little further back where it was not so heavy on the bass. I try in vain to sing along to faves like Seasons, War Ensemble and Raining Blood but all I get is a mouth full of dust for the trouble.

It’s back to the VIP area for refreshments and the lavs, and a brief rest.

Heading back for another thrash metal band, this time it’s Death Angel. It appears the trick to avoid the dust is to get right to the front because then it went over our heads instead of in to our faces. The audience has thinned out by now as people start returning to their tents. That’s a shame because Death Angel deserve a bigger crowd in my opinion. having never seen them before I am lucky to now as this is their only European date and they make sure it is an absolute killer. Mark says ‘motherfuckers’ more times than anyone else over the entire festival. Theirs is the distinction shared with bands like Testament and Annihilator – a slightly later arrival to the scene but in many ways superior to their predecessors. Again I say, they deserve a bigger crowd and I wish they had been able to play their original slot which would have ensured they got it.

Lez Zeppelin. Females doing Led Zep covers. Great musicians, enjoyable to watch but I must say I do not necessarily agree with a cover band getting a main stage spot. It’s different, yes. It is a novelty to me. I really enjoyed the covers and the way they handled the crowd but I just don’t think it’s main stage material. The crowd obviously disagree.

Hellfest has always had a massive black metal scene and it has never been my thing in the least but I make my way to the Altar to watch Incantation. Inside a giant tent when it’s almost 30 degrees outside is taking its toll on many of the fans but their resilience to remain focused on the performance despite suffering is commendable. There’s something different among these fans and not being in to the genre I cannot place it. Incantation themselves did not strike me as having anything distinctive in their performance.

Now it becomes necessary to hydrate myself and apply more sun cream before being back in time to watch Extreme. Gary in some places does suffer with the vocals and unfortunately there are some songs that are markedly slower than you’d expect, most notably Decadence Dance and It’s (a monster) which are significantly slowed down and I don’t know why. Nuno and Gary have their moment to shine when playing their most recognizable song, and perhaps the only song known to most people that have heard of Extreme. I speak of course, of More Than Words. Their heaviest song (emotionally speaking) as Gary puts it. It is faultless. I get a kick at the end for thinking they are going to come in with He Man Woman Hater but all we get is the insane guitar introduction to that song before they finish with Get The Funk Out which again, is a little slower. I don’t get that. It doesn’t hinder things too much but it does tend to stick in my mind.

Status Quo look and sound brilliant. I miss a couple of songs due to being in severe danger of getting burned by the relentless sun. Sorry. We’re not used to it in the UK so what can I tell you? An enjoyable medley of some of their most famous songs sits nicely in the middle of the set springing up out of nowhere. Who cares if they don’t use more than 3 chords? It’s worked for them for years and nobody is complaining. Everyone is really enjoying this and I could easily forget this is France as I watch people joining in with the singing. This was great, one of the highlights of the day. Shame I couldn’t see the whole lot.

I must apologize to Clutch. After they were forced to pull out of their show here last year due to the death of a band members father, I was looking forward to seeing them. It is a testament to how popular they are and how sorely they were missed last year that I failed to see them because I couldn’t get anywhere near to where they were playing. Now it’s one thing to nudge and brush your way past people but I would literally have had to hurt people to get through to see the show and I am not going to do that. So it’s good and bad news, I guess.

I make the decision to take a break at this point. I don’t see a way of continuing without being ill and not being able to do anything else for the festival so I chill out in the press area, charge my phone, have something to eat and, most regrettably, miss Deep Purple.

I do not, however, miss Aerosmith. On our way to see them we met an angry bear who had been hit one too many times by someone not understanding the sentiment behind the bear costume. To find out what happened look on facebook #angryhellfestbear because we want to find the injured bear man and talk about a couple of things.

Anyway, Aerosmith: I cant remember which of the Toxic Twins it was that once said he would never get tired of seeing the lighters glowing across the crowd. Well, no longer toxic and no longer lighters but rather mobile phones, I wonder what his sentiment is now. This band are so good. A commanding presence that you simply cannot appreciate without being there. Even in the times when things falter a little in some of the higher notes it matters not. This band own the night. A well thought out blend of songs to break up the ballads, of which there are many, is a good move. Everyone is singing, everyone is holding up their lighters…..sorry, I mean phones. It’s particularly nice to see Joe take lead vocals on Freedom Fighter. I’m not keen on the Beatles so I couldn’t care less for a cover of ‘Come Together’ even if it is by Aerosmith. Sorry everyone but I literally switch off in that moment. Apologies, but I did indeed want to miss a thing. Fortunately they hit back with Dude Looks Like A Lady and all I can think of is Mrs Doubtfire as I am losing my voice wailing along trying to sing like an idiot among the ecstatic fans.

I start the day thinking no more sun cream is necessary as there is a massive black cloud forming directly over Hellfest. So, heading out to the metal market for some much needed patches I come back to the main area afterwards to discover that the clouds have vanished, as if Ozzy had shouted at the sky telling the clouds to fuck off until the festival was over. The result of this is that I do end up quite badly burned on my head. I cure myself in time to see Crowbar.

It’s good to see Kirk back doing his own thing and leading his own band, no disrespect whatsoever to Down. The pioneering sludge metal act get things moving and get people riled up – I had the privilege of reviewing their most recent album just last month and it’s great to see two of those tracks played live for the first time though everything is a treat seeing as they have been away for quite a while, but even though the classic High Rate Extinction was played in a Down medley last year when they were in place of Clutch, it’s different seeing them do it today.

Angra sounded heavier than I expected. I had only heard fleeting bits and pieces before. I admit I had no idea that there singer was former Rhapsody Of Fire and Labyrinth frontman Fabio Lore. I perhaps had the wrong impression of them. I had not thought them to be as technical and given their reputation – which admittedly I have researched in hindsight to know more about them – I should have known what to expect. I think the fact that I didn’t was advantageous. They did themselves no injustice and people were really into it despite the dust and particularly the sun having caught quite a lot of other people off guard. This is after all the third day and a lot of people seem to be suffering which is often the way it goes at festivals. It does make me think that Angra are unlucky in that respect, so I make the decision that every other band I see will be from the front unless in order to get to the front I would have the same problems I faced with Clutch.

I have only ever seen Myles Kennedy with Slash, and not Alter Bridge so I didn’t want to miss this if I could help it. There are not many voices that could be considered ‘iconic’ but I do think Myles falls in to that category. It’s such a stunning performance and he does give rise to the cliché that it’s all about the frontman. The music is hitting everyone in the right places but the man simply steals the show. It’s the same thing people said about Freddie Mercury or Eddie Vedder, or Chris Cornell. He stole it when I saw him with Slash too. The man just owns the crowd. It’s a hard thing to say because it distracts from the band, but sometimes that’s what happens. It doubtless was not everyone's experience but I can only reflect mine.

I am fortunate now in that I do manage to get to the front for Annihilator. I was very lucky cos I’m starting to feel quite ill at this point due to the sun but I missed this band on tour last year and I have just been rehydrated and given a dose of aftersun and being down the front shields me somewhat. If you want a role model of how to play thrash metal with technical mastery and show people that you’re enjoying every second of it, look at Jeff Waters. This for me was the highest point of the entire festival. It was such a treat. Probably one of the most complicated and fun songs ever in thrash metal, Brain Dance, was given to us with the precision that I suspect only military personal are accustomed. It’s very silly, and it makes no sense at all because it’s weird. It was such a treat. That and Human Insecticide. You’d never know they have barely ever played these songs – both over 20 years old – live. Jeff has this way of pulling off blinding guitar skills and giving a surprised look in to the crowd that says ‘Woah what the fuck just happened there?’ and he does so without looking arrogant in the least, where so many others fail and end up having a ‘look at me aren’t I great?’ vibe. This band enjoy it so much. I guess they all do but Annihilator succeed in showing their enjoyment more than any other band I have seen at this festival. It really connects with everyone, there is a comic element that blends so beautifully with their music. Outstanding stage presence. Jeffs decision to play Alison Hell in the middle of the set so the band could finish with Human Insecticide is a good move. All too quickly they have to leave. In the unlikely event that Annihilator get to read this, I’d love Knight Jumps Queen on your next tour pleeeeeeeeease!!!

Dark Angel are good, solid thrash metal that I witness live for the first time, and even those that had seen them are doing so now for the first time in several years since they reformed last year. I am on a buzz from Annihilator and promptly get wacked in the head by someones foot while they are crowd surfing. Right on the burn but that’s what happens when you get down the front for a thrash metal band. The dust doesn’t pose the same problem from down here though, and I enjoy a tight but not entirely traditional thrash metal set from a band that I didn’t really know a lot about. I certainly didn’t know Gene Hoglan would be there because I know he is with Testament but there he was, thundering away further solidifying his position as one of the most revered drummers of the genre.

Emperor have come a long way, gathering a monumental following across the world that they can now be one of the final main stage acts. It’s darker than I expected – the music, not the light. It matters not where I am because the accursed sun has finally become non lethal. It’s no surprise that the crowd has got bigger at this stage due to Sabbath being up next, but looking at the crowd there was no doubt in my mind that the admiration for Emperor was flowing. You expect to see people gathering around having the occasional glance at the other stage to check out the other band while they wait for whoever is going to take to the stage they are closer to. I didn’t get that with Emperor. I wonder if , given the fact that they are recently getting bigger, whether this is curiosity on that part of others who may not have heard of them, or whether or not they have actually been able to reach out to that many people. Their performance is certainly reaching out, and positively from what I can see. It goes down very well. I start to think that headlining the UK Bloodstock Festival might be too small given the attention they received tonight.

Complications with parking arrangements mean we can only see an hour of Black Sabbath before having to leave Hellfest. Ozzy starts a little off. Ok, a LOT off. War Pigs is ok, Into The Void is worse, and it stays that way until Black Sabbath. Ozzys voice has returned to him and it is no coincidence that the crowd are significantly more enthused at this point. Tony is fighting his own personal battles and the man has to be commended because you’d never know he was facing the fight he’s fighting. Maximum respect. Geezer looks happy enough to be there and he’s doing his part. Unfortunately by the time they play N.I.B it’s only half way through their set and we have to leave. If this really is to be one of the last times they play together as Tony has stated, it’s by no means an embarrassing end to their legacy. They’ve done so much, pioneered a movement that became a way of life for so many and I’m glad to have seen them honoured at Hellfest.

Leaving the bands aside, this is a place where as I said last year, is absolutely dedicated to making sure everyone has a good time. People go above and beyond for the love of something that so many people still think is devil worshipping heathen noise. They’ve utterly surpassed my expectations which were riding high from last year. Even the town of Clisson itself, where Gee and I went for a few drinks on Thursday night, is full of friendly people who appreciate what this festival brings to their town and are very welcoming and accommodating of our presence. I remain convinced that Hellfest can continue to get better each time and I look forward to being there throughout. I’ll just remember a bandana and aftersun over the next years so I can cover more bands than was possible this year. Final apologies for that to those who are reading this. Thank you Hellfest.

Attending: Matt Fabi