Loppen, Copenhagen, DEN - 24/3
Hellfest 2014Previous Next
author AP date 01/07/14
The story of Hellfest begins in 2002. Known then as Fury Fest, the indoor event took place first in Clisson, then in nearby Nantes the following year, and ultimately in Le Mans in 2004 & '05; sparking such controversy among religious and right wing groups that Coca Cola withdrew as its main sponsor; and politician Philippe de Villiers sparked a campaign that saw former minister and leader of the Parti chrétien-démocrate petition Kronenbourg to likewise cease their support of the festival. As such, it is hardly a surprise that in its fifth incarnation, the festival henceforth became known as Hellfest.
2006 also marked its first year as an open air event, and already then, the sheer quality of its line-up earmarked it as one of the leading metal festivals on the European continent. Since then, the growth which it has seen is almost unfathomable; so successful have they become that attracting the absolute top of the rock and metal elite is, for Hellfest, no big deal. Year after year, it is nigh impossible to find a better rock and metal line-up (from an objective stance, anyway) - and it's not simply the big guns that make it so. No, Hellfest has the unique capacity to offer as many little known bands, both domestic and international, the opportunity to perform before thousands of people as more established, widely recognised acts. In that sense, Hellfest offers the best of both worlds - something that many other festivals would do well to make a note of. At Hellfest, people do not differentiate between the known and the unknown, so that the enthusiasm of the audience is virtually the same whether it's a cult death metal band or one of the biggest rock bands in the world playing. And this creates the ideal framework for metal, as a whole, to thrive.
Naturally, the sudden explosion of an indoor festival into one drawing 140,000 people (allegedly) in the space of just eight years presents a number of challenges; ones Hellfest has sadly not been able to defeat as our experiences both last year and this year have taught us.
Having been here last year, I know more or less what to expect. But even so, after we've parked our rental car several kilometers from the festival area and lugged our baggage to the entrance, it comes as a shock that a security guard bluntly lets us know the press ticketing is closed for the night, and that we will not be admitted into the camping area without a wristband; we'd have to pitch our tents on whatever piece of grass is available in the tiny town of Clisson - or sleep in the car. We opt for the latter option, given it's pitch black and we've been traveling since early afternoon (some of us since early morning, even).
Waking up at 08:30a.m., we are under the impression - from said security guard - that the press ticketing would open at 09:00a.m., then. But arriving there for the second time in less than 24 hours, with all our baggage in tow once again, we find his promises held little value as nothing is open until 10:00a.m. At this point our frustration is beginning to show, and various nasty remarks about French organisational abilities are aired perhaps too loudly. Once the gates are eventually opened and a surprisingly painless registration process induces plastic V.I.P. wristbands around our wrists, we make our way to the camping area only to find there is no more space - and upon consultation with one of the festival's volunteers, I am told there is, in fact, no more space at all in any of the camping areas to pitch tents, and that late comers are advised to pitch their tents... well, wherever they happen to find a spot outside of the camping and festival areas. Nice. Given the first day's band's are about to start, photographer Marika Hyldmar & I decide to deal with this issue later - which ultimately leads to her crashing at EW's Airbnb house, and myself opting for the front seat of the car for all four nights of the festival.
There are two things that work at Hellfest: the music, and the V.I.P. area. The latter has meticulously been designed to keep press, staff, bands and other guests happy at a festival otherwise plagued by discord. It is decorated in a multitude of creative ways that present excellent opportunities for promotional shots with bands, or simply locations in which to conduct video interviews: there's a desert corner with a rundown truck and garage, a skate park fashioned into a Berlin street anno 1945, and a Vietnam War style bunker with a helicopter and missile boxes as chairs and tables. Plus of course the obligatory bar - which, contrary to those in the festival area, accepts both drink tokens and cash and credit card; multiple locations in the shade, hammocks, an indoor area with free computers and internet, as well as an indoor club-type place in which afterparties featuring strippers and such are thrown every night.
Needless to say, it is here that I spend all of my spare time in between bands - writing reviews, posting updates from the Festival to our social media, or simply seeking refuge from the heatwave that has insisted on sweeping across the festival just this weekend. It is also here that I meet countless familiar faces, exchange stories and relax my feet - and always get my drinks, given the fact that there is no queue to the bar. Ever. Or the bathrooms.
My only gripe with the press facilities is the near total lack of information regarding photo contracts, cancelations, time changes and such - not to mention the seemingly completely arbitrary opening hours of everything, which meant that for example writing reviews or editing photos in the morning was sometimes possible, other times not.
You can read much and more about the festival area in our last year's article, as everything is practically the same. The majority of the food stalls have been moved to the left of the entrance this year to facilitate an enormous ferris wheel (which Marika quickly dubs the Fenriz wheel), and in between the camping and festival area proper this year there is something called Hell City, which features various shops, stalls and two large marketplaces selling every piece of garb and accessory a metalhead could need. Except sunglasses. Those are nowhere to be found.
What does irk me about the festival area this year is that it's exactly the same size as last year, and the number of facilities such as food stalls, bars and toilets has not been increased. At the same time, the festival has seen it fit to sell so many tickets that on any given day, approximately 100,000 people can be in an area that already felt crammed with the 35 to 40,000 people last year. Especially later in the day, moving through any part of the area becomes a trial of frustrating proportions, such is the sheer amount of festival goers there. I feel sorry for everyone else at this festival, because the side effect of the disproportionate amount of people and unchanged amount of facilities is inevitably that the queues to everything are so long you'd probably miss half the day's bands waiting for a damn sandwich, and an entire day's worth of bands if you have to go number two in one of the bathrooms.
Not such an issue for me, given V.I.P. access, but one does feel great sympathy for those less fortunate. There is serious need for rethinking here: either increase the size of the area and the facilities, or sell less tickets. But enough babbling, let's get down to the real meat - the reviews.
Amidst plumes of dust from the withered mud and grass field, my festival kicks off with a barrage of slow, droning, sludgy doom at the behest of Conan. It's no joke that the Merseysiders label their own music caveman battle doom, as with the aid of the enormous Valley stage sound system which lifts Chris Fielding's bass to a hair-raising presence in the mix, the aural experience of Conan here is best described by likening it to the ominous rumble of an earthquake. This is seriously primal stuff; dirty and lumbering, yet not without the vital element of groove that swiftly has much of the packed tent headbanging at trudging speed. Fielding and his guitarist compatriot Jon Davis' slow, deliberate movements reflect the constancy and severity of Conan's music, and although at times the music verges on monotony, the stench of weed, the deafening volume, and the all-encompassing feeling of alarm all combine to produce a half hour of hypnotism.  AP
Hellfest has a tendency to include a number of atypical, and sometimes ill-fitting bands on its billing, and this year that honour had befallen Caspian - an acclaimed instrumental post-rock outfit. But once the mysterious spoken word intro about isolation and total aloneness winds to a conclusion and the five piece assume their positions on stage, there is little to suggest that Caspian themselves feel out of place, nor that any of the two thousand or so people in the Valley tent mind their presence. The concert is extremely loud, yet without compromising on the clarity or crispness of the mix, and the band members have an unfathomable amount of energy between them to expend. Living and breathing the transitions in their music, the three guitarists & bassist are never still, swinging their hair and instruments, but without lapsing into excessive bravado.
Whether or not Caspian have customised their setlist and mix for a metal audience today remains unclear, but there is no denying the tour de force to which we bear witness. Their set is the sort of mix between passion and professionalism that invariably triumphs, the lighting, movement and sound mix all intertwining to push the concert into another dimension. And when the show climbs into its conclusive crescendo, vivid blue and white lights incising the warm, orange glow from below; all members bar new bassist Jani Zubkovs (who fills the shoes of the recently deceased Chris Friedrich) gradually joining drummer Joe Vickers to contribute to an amazing percussion- and rhythm-led outro. Magnificent.  AP
Kicking off my Hellfest 2014 experience were the aptly named Satan. That much-vaunted band name could easily put off those assuming the act to be black metal but infact Satan are a classic NWOBHM act hailing from Newcastle going back to 1979 and are here to promote their scintillating comeback album of last year, "Life Sentence". Past experiences indicate comeback albums, especially ones following hiatuses of 26 years, are rarely any good but the likes of "Twenty Twenty Five", "Time to Die" and the title track aired in this confident performance were faster and even more catchy than on record, lingering in my mind long after their 40 minutes were up and persuading my purchase of the aforementioned LP two days later. While hardly the most dynamic of stage performers nasally vocalist Brian Ross and his fellow lifers left me more than satisfied as the first act ticked off from my extensive list of must watches this weekend and confirming in my mind that while I don’t their older material they have not just lucked it on one album.  EW
Downfall Of Gaia
Though the sound mix thus far in the Valley tent has been sublime, multinational post-metal quartet Downfall of Gaia initially have trouble suppressing the excessive presence of their low end, regrettably obscuring much of the melodic intricacy that lends their music its character. Where the performance of Caspian just before was tight and professionally executed, this is rawer and darker, deriving a significant portion of inspiration from stateside black metal (also idiotically referred to as hipster black metal of late), and as such, one would expect Downfall of Gaia's music to go down even better with the denim, leather and stud clad audience. But the persistent drowning of the melodic component makes it much less immersive, a problem even the profuse headbanging of guitarist/vocalists Dominik Goncalves dos Reis & Peter Wolff and of bassist Anton Lisovoj is unable fully to counterweigh. What's worse, especially the left guitarist's (forgive my lack of familiarity with this band - I do not know who it is) vocal is missing its usual shrillness, sounding instead - rather comically - like Gollum's husky rasp. And, as I pointed out in my review of their self-titled album last year, when the group's songs lack the necessary degree of originality to carry the show on their own, Downfall of Gaia's set today proves an uphill battle for both band and audience. They're surely capable of more.  AP
It took enduring the scorching heat of the early afternoon sun to witness the speed attack of Oregon’s punked-up thrash trio of Toxic Holocaust, a physical challenge even at this early point of the festival. The Toxic formula is a simple one: high speed punky thrash focussing on the classic metal topics of nuclear apocalypse and death, all delivered with plenty of snarl and bite from their bleached antagonist and band leader Joel Grind. The band are stalwarts, progenitors infact, of the thrash revival of the last decade although I cannot consider anything they have released to sit higher than 7/10 material, a fact clearly not lost on their live performance. For a band of punk/crossover repute they lack any sort of the physical intimidation that I expect from that world and thus TH are limited to acting as scene worshippers, albeit ones with a recognisable sound of their own. At times like in “War is Hell” and “Nuke the Cross” TH hit on the right note and catch a good wave which speeds on to the snappy conclusions but all too often the remaining tracks sound like inferior replicas of their influencers and influencees.  EW
The fine purveyors of true blooded metal that they are, Aussie ex-pats D666 never fail to rouse the spirits whether at a club show or on the larger Temple stage as here. It says something about the metal stylings of Toxic Holocaust before them that they are made to look amateur against the Priest-fuelled clubbing presented here. It can be easily ignored how well written D666’s music is behind the tough bravado but in these cavernous confines the epic scale of “I Am The Wargod” serves as a pretence for vast waves of headbangers to unleash hair that has yet to absorb a small mountain of dust (at least at the rate mine was proceeding to). Like the majority of bands I was to watch across these three days inter-song chat was kept to a minimum and with the added benefit of KK and RC’s guitars being distinctly audible (a factor that was very much not in keeping throughout) they ended up being one of the best bands of my festival.  EW
My introductory experience with this Atlanta, GA based trio was a revelation, so the opportunity to watch them live again, this time on a bigger stage and facing a an audience numbering in the thousands, was naturally not one I was prepared to forego. The band's reputation was no doubt bolstered by touring with Baroness last year, and although bassist/vocalist Miny Parsonz, guitarist Josh Weaver and drummer Evan Diprima aren't exactly an explosive proposition on stage, the crowd's reaction to each song is rapturous. It makes sense: Parsonz' powerful, strained voice is out of this world, and the music atop which it woos us has that cryptic magic, so hard to define, yet so easy to recognise.
Balancing somewhere between 70's prog, badass vintage rock and stoner metal, Royal Thunder's songs are of a quality only a few in this genre possess. With each passing song, the trio provides masterclasses in lengthy song writing; their dynamics and gradual exposure of ever richer detail sending my heritage rock heart to ecstasy - this despite a somewhat sluggish start to the show. And that voice is something else: raw, sexy and utterly entrancing. As Royal Thunder power on through a wonderfully diverse assortment of mind warping stoner, touching balladry and mournful doom, the atmosphere inside the Valley tent grows ever more intense (along with the odour of a certain plant...) until all of a sudden, it's finished, and I'm overcome with the sensation that I've just witnessed something special.  AP
For the first time today, I brave the scorching sun and suffocating afternoon heat and venture to the rightmost Main Stage to catch Northern Irish cult band Therapy?, whom many a magazine and acquaintance have been recommending. With a career dating back to 1989 - two years after my birth - the trio, comprising founding member vocalist/guitarist Andy Cairns, bassist/vocalist Michael McKeegan and drummer Neil Cooper; step on stage with the confidence of experienced gentlemen, showing no signs whatsoever of being daunted by the size of the audience before them. Cult rock or not, the trio's punk fueled alternative metal is as straightforward as it is catchy, and despite the visible flair with which they play their songs, there is, for me, nothing extraordinary about their tradecraft. Songs like "Trigger Inside" and "Die Laughing" are extremely easy on the ear, reminding me in equal parts of Stone Sour and Puddle of Mudd; and the wide smiles on both frontmen's faces, not to mention their friendly addressals in between the songs, serve well to engage the audience. As a result, all the makings of a cozy late afternoon show are in place. But with the definitive highlights arriving as covers of Joy Division's "Isolation" and Judas Priest's legendary "Breaking the Law", it's easy to understand Therapy?'s persistently underground status, legends though they may be there.  AP
And on to the hairy behemoths of psychedelic heritage rock, Germany’s Kadavar for a brimming performance in The Valley tent. The whole package with these guys screams The Real Deal - and that is just in the beard quota - but the authenticity of “Come Back Life” and “Doomsday Machine” make it sound as if Kadavar have travelled through time to be present with us. From around 1971 to be exact. Lupus Lindemann’s vocals are the captain to a musical journey back in time to a distant era where groove and feel were all that mattered and you were considered cool for rocking the bell-bottoms and waistcoats favoured on the sweltering Valley stage at this time. The adopted introverted stage positions, whereby Lindemann and bassist Simon Bouteloup face 45o into each other, are better suited to smaller venues than spacious stages like here but watching them I sensed it had no influence on their mindset as the few words spoken between songs tell me Kadavar just want to rock and that they did to the high standards I have grown to expect of them.  EW
The ‘After Death’ variation of the Nocturnus line-up exists for the purpose of playing classic 1990 “The Key” material without breaking any copyright legislations to the ‘other’ Nocturnus that have occasionally done the rounds out there. Why this is so when the key (no pun intended) figure of drummer/vocalist Mike Browning resides in this variation seems a little strange but in reality this has little bearing on the very poor reaction afforded the band after each song. Through the work of the smoke reaction it is hard to see Browning actually generating the words behind the technical (by 80s standards, at least) death metal based around sci-fi topics but I sense the biggest drawback was that few in attendance appeared to recognise the material. Those of us in the know are aware of its cult greatness but with little subsequent backing it’s name has waned back by a stage show devoid of movement or personality and a washed out sound doing little credit to intricacies in “Andromeda Strain” and “Visions from Beyond the Grave” this version of Nocturnus bring little credit to either versions of the name.  EW
Having transferred myself from the Nocturnus experiment over to Main Stage 01 to catch the tail end of Rob Zombie’s clashing set it came as some surprise to hear more cover material than his own. Now, my knowledge of Rob Zombie/White Zombie is limited solely to rock club renditions of “More Human than Human” and the likes, and I recognise the man has had a lasting influence on both alternative metal and horror movies, but in a slot like this why waste time playing covers of “Am I Evil?”, “Enter Sandman” and “School’s Out”? Classics all of them but having only caught 15 minutes of his set I can hardly lay claim to having heard enough of the man’s own material to pass any lasting judgment. A wasted opportunity. [?] EW
By this point into the first of three very sweaty, very dusty days my legs were starting to feel very heavy, a problem I began to remedy with the pleasingly well-priced wine on offer at the festival, the effects of which might be noticed later in this review. With this wine-induced energy I dragged myself over to see Kylesa pound the Valley tent in to a sludgy oblivion. One has to hand it to frontlady Laura Pleasants - not only does she avoid the temptation of ‘over sexualising’ her position at the front of the band, but there also exists has some serious balls to her delivery. I loved her confident pose and not inconsiderable guitar abilities on this my first time watching the Deep South residents tear through material from a highly respected six album discography, much of which is alien to me still. Alien to the extent that I did not know the line-up consisted of two drummers which provided an enormously heavy percussive presence and great dynamic groove which, melded with some of the fast tempos (for the style, at least) employed by Kylesa made theirs quite a revelatory performance. I won’t be missing their next London performance, that is for sure. [7½] EW
Following Kylesa my idea had been to catch maybe half of Iron Maiden’s set and then go and watch some of Watain’s performance over on the Temple stage. And then this happened. Yep, pulling myself away from Bruce & co proved just a trifle too difficult, not with the wine freely flowing from pitchers we were forcing into holding while headbanging and a setlist which travelled from the rarer delights of “Moonchild” and “The Prisoner” to numerous classics from their prime 1980s era.
What can be said about the live Iron Maiden performance that hasn’t been said countless times before, on this site and beyond? The ‘Maiden England’ tour has been rolling on, endlessly, for 2 years now and which like the preceding ‘Somewhere Back in Time’ and ‘Final Frontier’ tours has produced astonishing attendance results from the band, making them one of the most popular, and reliable, live acts in the world. YOU have probably seen them on this tour, and thus know much of what to expect: the huge array of backdrops starting with a frozen Eddie taken from the “Seventh Son…” era, Eddie and Janick Gers fighting on stage, and the powerhouse of Steve Harris keeping an air of straightened professionalism in the celebratory air they reside in. Watching this show from a good 200m back may have instilled a slight physical divide between the band and I but the mass singing, chanting and hi-jinks spreading far beyond me provided a sense of belonging that is present in no other metal band. Heck, probably no other artist in any genre. Even Bruce’s frequent speeches in the local tongue couldn’t dampen the perfect Friday night closer, although it could be said that by their closing stages I was also speaking a fairly interesting local dialect…  EW
Earlier on, in the immediate wake of Therapy?'s set, the sun and heat proved too much for my northern self and I succumbed to a heat stroke - one which even my trusty powerful painkillers, liters of water, and various sweet and savoury snacks could not cure. As a result, I dozed off for a few hours before wandering into the Temple tent to watch Watain for the third time this year. The proximity of the tent's ceiling to the stage presents certain limitations for the Swedish black metal warriors, who like to set most of their production on fire. But there's still plenty of flaming objects constructed from taxidermy adorning the stage, just as the vertical fire cannons at the front of the stage are fully operational. This works to Watain's benefit, as when they're able to enlist the full extent of their production, it does not get much more spectacular - not in the black metal genre at least.
Watain don't play concerts, they say; they carry out rituals. And indeed, watching their meticulously designed performance (mind you, the raw energy of each member is still the very epitome of genuine; they truly believe the blasphemic message of their music, it is said) and listening to the sheer extremity of their music, they do look like a band of demons giving a Satanic sermon. The fact that vocalist/bassist Erik Danielsson never utters a word besides his snarling growls in the songs themselves only heightens this impression. It's powerful, hypnotic, and utterly terrifying.  AP
By this point I will admit, I was feeling it. The considerable effect of a hot day’s worth of standing, sweating, headbanging and drinking casued the appearance of my all-time favourite extreme metal band in a packed Altar stage to be marked by a slight touch of indifference from yours truly. I’m sorry. In fairness this could also be blamed on my growing indifference towards Death to All. Seeing them in London last year was revelatory; seeing them at Hellfest was merely respectable. Of course the band have a considerable Death legacy about them but short of a certain Chuck Schuldiner I would hate to feel like the unit (as this fully includes Death manager Eric Greif) are capitalising a bit too freely on the Death name. Call it a touch of possession about a band I hold dearly.
Death (to All)
Personal gripes aside, the performance here actually superseded that heard at the far more frantic London performance. The four piece have now matured into a fully cohesive act with the rhythm guitars in particular marking a big improvement and Steve DiGiorgio’s bass shouting louder for it’s place in the mix. As usual the setlist was a mid-era Death fan’s wet dream with “Flattening of Emotions” opening before moving into “Symbolic”, “Spiritual Healing”, “Suicide Machine” as well as personal faves “Spirit Crusher” and “Left to Die”. Bringing out Obscura’s Steffen Kummerer was a nice touch in the latter stages - Death-freaks Obscura were the support act on the past European tour - but perhaps through preferring to keep my main memories centred around Chuck I was flattening emotions of my own in the process. Or perhaps that was the wine talking…  EW
At this point, the migraine induced by the heatstroke proves too blinding for me to continue, thus prompting me to opt for sleep rather than the late night performances of Electric Wizard and Godflesh, both of which I had looked forward to with tremendous excitement. And given EW's quick descent into utter inebritation from his choice of drinking cheap wine by the pitcher he, too, was unable to muster up the sense of duty and remembering power to go check out Kvelertak on the Warzone stage. Our apologies for these missing reviews. AP
After a long night's sleep in the reclined driver's seat of our rental car, I feel suspiciously refreshed, and free of aches. As yesterday, the day's festivities begin in the Valley tent, where Welsh heavy rockers H A R K are preparing to rustle the dust off our shoulders with their crushing tones. Striking and swinging their instruments like they mean business, there's good energy from all three members, guitarist/vocalist Jimbob Isaac, bassist Nikolai Ribnikov and drummer Simon Bonwick; though without reaching into truly captivating territory. Songs like "Palendromeda" and "Mythopoeia" off the group's debut album from earlier this year, "Crystalline"; bear a certain resemblance to Mastodon, and certainly the trio's look and demeanour suggest they may have been inspired by that band as well: Isaac especially looks like a younger edition of Brent Hinds when he throws his entire person into the exquisite solo in the former. But for all their song writing prowess, H A R K still strike me as the sort of band whose intensity only truly comes to life in a setting much more intimate than this.  AP
Not finding a familiar face in the press area, I randomly wander toward the Altar stage to see what domestic band is performing there, and almost immediately decree that while Mulhouse based death metal veterans Mercyless (known formerly as Merciless), who have been at it since the year of my birth in 1987, have some decent grooves, there's nothing in their songs to separate them from the hordes of other average death metal bands worldwide. Their homefield advantage, however, yields an above average response from the several hundred people gathered before the stage, but rather than using the crowd's enthusiasm as fuel for their own performance, Mercyless refuse to rock out, opting instead to stand and play with severe expressions on their faces. It would probably work to a greater degree if I had any sort of familiarity with their material, but the 25 minutes I manage to catch of their set do nothing to convince, let alone convert me into one of their fans.  AP
Determined to make up for missing so many bands the previous day, I soldier on, returning once again into the dusty, smoky and oddly cozy confines of the Valley tent to watch Dutch sludge metal act Herder from Groningen, who have been garnering considerable hype since the release of their EPs "Horror Vacui" and "Doomed" in 2012 and '13, and more recently with their sophomore album "Gods", which came out in May this year. Despite signing up to review it, I've not had time to listen to Herder let alone see them live yet, meaning they have a clean slate as far as my scrutiny is concerned.
Without knowing it, they take full advantage of their position, cementing once and for all that sludge metal need not be delivered in traditionally sullen fashion. All of the five dudes - guitarists J.B. van der Wal & Jeroen Vrielink, bassist Marc (no surname provided), drummer Tom (ditto) and vocalist Ché Snelting (who joined the band in 2012, replacing previous singer Nico, who's migrated to Australia if I understand it correctly - immediately cast their bodies into an intense flurry of movement, Snelting dictating the proceedings with the confidence and authority of a much more seasoned musician.
Nico does make an appearance halfway through the set to lend his vocals to a pair of older songs, but in all honesty, it is the stuff from "Gods", and when Snelting is in the spotlight, that Herder's vicious take on sludge metal comes to its own. The touches of oriental melody dotting the Eyehategod and Helhorse style music from that album in songs like "Betrayer Deceiver" and the title track, serve to make Herder's music as unforgettable as the boundless aggressive energy with they perform. As such, my eyelids remain peeled for the duration of the 30 minutes, and my only regret is that they're only performing for 30 minutes. One of the standout shows at this year's festival, basta. [8½] AP
Confusingly, it is not Polish quartet MGLA on stage in the Temple when I enter, but Borgne, a drummer-less black metal quintet from Lausanne, Switzerland. Baffling, as there's been no notice of the change; and above all disappointing, given how much my colleague EW has been recommending them to me in the weeks leading up to the festival. Though from my initial vantage point I am unable to see it, the absence of a drummer, and the consequent usage of a drum machine has an enormous impact on Borgne's sound, mechanising it too much for my liking in a genre typically revered for its organic style. Nonetheless, Borgne's symphonic take on black metal sounds decent enough, even if the thundering walls of blastbeats, eerie keyboard ambiance and tremolo guitar offer nothing fresh to the genre.
They do their best to look theatrical, with an alternative style of corpse paint involving a large amount of charcoal as opposed to the typical white; and vocalist Ormenos' - the sole official member of the band as well as the songsmith - maniacal glare is admittedly unsettling in all the right ways. Borgne look and sound extremely similar to Dimmu Borgir, but the overall product is less intense, and much less original, leading me to opt for an early exit to go watch Mos Generator in the Valley.  AP
Mos Generator are already in full process, slinging riffs at an enraptured audience when I walk in, ears still ringing from the blastbeat thunder next door. Here though, there is an actual live drummer in Shawn Johnson pounding cymbals left and right whilst swinging his hair with swagger. This is more energetic than I had imagined, with guitarist/vocalist Tony Reed and bassist Scooter Haslip both also doing their duty for the trio's collective rocking out. Once that song winds to an end and the scintillating Led Zeppelin-esque intro to "On the Eve of the End" rings from the speakers instead, amid beams of blue light shooting from the warm orange glow beneath, I am sold.
Few stoner rock bands have riffs as good, and in as much abundance as Mos Generator. For that same reason much of the set is spent carving through acidic instrumental passages, and although the level of energy never closes in on Herder's show of force earlier in the day, there is still something utterly convincing about these grizzly looking rockers and their no frills approach to the genre. It's extremely solid, though never amazing, Reed's wit in between songs providing the vital element of intimacy with comments like "Anybody got any Jäger? No? I'm trying to get my endorsement. It helps, man!" inspiring widespread laughter and applause. Mos Generator have the songs and the nerve, but for reasons that escape me, I am unable to fully immerse myself in it before "This is the Gift of Nature" closes the proceedings.  AP
The benefits of a bill as huge and as varied as that offered by Hellfest is the opportunity to catch some of the acts I would never otherwise attend the concert of. Skid Row fall firmly into that trap with only my passing knowledge of “Slaves to the Grind” and the dubious character of Sebastian Bach to back me up on a band who were so big in the early 90s it is a little surprising to see them performing this early in the day. That of course probably has something to do with the poor reception granted more recent material and the absence of Bach from their lineup, but in fairness to current frontman Johnny Solinger he has all the usual markings I would expect of someone in his position - a show pony attitude, broad American accent and plenty of appreciation and hollering to the crowd. Unfortunately it’s just that I was not particularly taken by any of it - the washed out guitar sound from my position out on side by the bar didn’t help, but until the closing duo of “Slave to the Grind” and, of course, “Youth Gone Wild” it all felt far too much like standard hard rock to be of great interest. Still, the throngs in front of the stage were clearly enjoying it more than I…  EW
Bringing about a change of pace were Skyclad, another band with whom I have only a moderate knowledge at best of their 12 album discography. Mind you I do have a much better understanding of their status within the folk metal world - these Brits have been there since day one, forming partly out of Sabbat in 1990 and thus it was with great intrigue I saw them here for the first time. This was real Folk (note the capitalisation) based around the acoustic guitars of Kevin Ridley and violin of Georgina Riddle, bringing to my mind the likes of Levellers and Oysterband rather than your Korpiklaani’s and other metalised versions of the folk sound. This turn of direction I sensed had a pleasing effect on those in the Temple tent as the reception awarded their highly consummate performance was gleeful, not at all in-keeping with the notion that metalheads can only handle sounds hard and heavy. True, the triptych of tracks from debut album “Wayward Sons of Mother Earth” with early guitarist Danny Pugh in tow were more demanding on their amplification but this was a welcome diversion at the mid-point of the festival that left me wanting more at its conclusion. [7½] EW
Following a much needed break in the cooling shade of the press area, meeting an old photographer acquaintance from Sweden and sharing a pitcher of beer, my Hellfest stoner odyssey continues in the Valley with Witch Mountain, a band I'm not familiar with, and merely seeing out of curiosity. The female-fronted quartet play traditional stoner doom with little fanfare, and indeed little to maintain my attention. Uta Plotkin's voice lacks the power of strain that made Royal Thunder such a revelation the previous day; though her range is impressive, the singing isn't powerful enough to carry the weight of the show on its own. And so the sluggish performance by guitarist Rob Wrong, bassist Charles Thomas and drummer Nathan Carson proves highly detrimental to my overall impression of the band.
There is nothing novel or surprising about Witch Mountain's brain melting trips, either; though it must be said that in the baking afternoon sun, the slow, hypnotic tunes and trance like movements of the band members feel appropriate to the setting. A curious fact that captures my attention is that the left-handed Wrong seems to be playing on a flipped right-handed guitar with the strings swapped - and the fact that to me, this is the most interesting element of their show, suggests Witch Mountain are a little dull.  AP
The result of one of those unseemly splits which leave band members at loggerheads and resulting in a compromise (or barely, such in my understanding of this case) act, Schirenc Plays Pungent Stench is a traverse through the 5-album discography of the cult Austrian death metal act. The Stench were a bizarre one in life with lyrics of distaste, perversion and molestation the norm, but in death the intensity I was after did not seem to be there. I was reminded of Grave in how the scale of the name has always superseded the apparent quality of their bludgeoning compositions as an inaccurate performance from all three members left little in the memory. Save for ‘Extreme Deformity’ I came away with no perception of any individual song, a fairly sad fact in itself. And how was the stage performance I hear you ask, did that compensate for the lack of intrigue in the material? No.  EW
San Francisco, CA based psychedelic rockers Acid King are the first band I've seen on this stage to use projected abstract visuals as their backdrop, but sadly, the ambiant light seeping into the tent from outside makes it difficult to see. No matter. Countless people around me are rolling up and puffing, sucking in the highly intoxicating, primarily instrumental music (guitarist Lori S. does provide the occasional dreamy singing bits); but even without illicit substances it takes only a few minutes before my mind starts to wonder - in the best possible sense. As the set grows older, so does the pungent stench of hash grow stronger, and with each passing minute the songs seem to be getting more intense, more hypnotic. There are clear parallels between Acid King and Sleep last year, as the mere act of watching and listening to Acid King has the effect of inducing a kind of high (or is it the second hand marijuana smoke...?).
The usage of reverb on Lori's singing acts as a catalyst to the drowsy, feverish atmosphere in mind warping songs like "Electric Machine" and "Sunshine and Sorrow". Growing progressively better as it drills its way into my cortex, the wonderfully heavy music does its job in the absence of a strong visual aesthetic - ultimately witnessed by what must be a 10 year-old girl next to me with her father looking like someone on a mescaline trip as "On to Everafter" concludes the show in slow cerebral burn. [8½] AP
Onwards, from one form of depravity to another. Niklas Kvarforth is the archetype black metal badboy, like a 60s Mick Jagger but with added narcotics, suicidal tendencies and antagonistic tendencies. Actually, perhaps not that much like Jagger at all…anyway, watching this vital Swedish BM band it was hard not to be distracted by Kvarforth’s virulent mood, full of swearing and gesticulation towards the audience that went some way to betraying the serious quality lurking within a varied discography. “Låt oss ta allt från varandra” is likely to be one of my favourite recorded songs to be played all weekend - despite the recorded presence of the young woman having a serious breakdown at its core, the song’s combination of both riveting power and bleakness is a rare commodity before it dials up the distress to red alert levels and beyond the reach of most other acts. In respect of their lengthy compositions only 5 tracks were aired and while I can’t claim to have enjoyed it all to the level of “Låt oss…” the overall vibe was somewhat neutered by the attempted controversy of Kvarforth during these renditions of some of their best tracks.  EW
In a weekend where clashes were all but inevitable the oddest for me, and perhaps anyone ever, was Canadian tech-death overlords Gorguts against British boogie legends Status Quo. Do I take a notable underground band against an act whose key creative period was so long ago it is measured in decades? Well in the end, I did one-third Gorguts to two-thirds Quo, which frustrates me even now thinking how solid Luc Lemay & co’s renditions of “Le Toit du Monde” and “An Ocean of Wisdom” were, taken from last year’s “Colored Sands”, before I chose to make my exit. That album is a real grower and just the record needed to revitalise their name again in a scene which has just changed immensely from their previous involvement; I look forward to catching a full set another time. [?] EW
Still on a ruse from the brilliant Acid King show, I venture out to the Warzone for pretty much the polar opposite: the always festive, energetic progressive metal/punk band Protest the Hero. But the sizzling heat seems to have taken its toll: not only is the volume unusually low, guitarists Luke Hoskin & Tim Millar, touring bassist Cam McLellan, drummer Mike Ieradi and vocalist Rody Walker are fixed to the stage, delivering first song "Clarity" with a distressing lack of enthusiasm. Were it not for the band's intrinsic advantage of playing highly unique and interesting music, their performance here would go down as an utter disaster. It's pretty close either way: it's like the band is totally absent when they're playing. The only respite from the numbing boredom comes with Walker's typically comical between-song banter à la "We're from Canada, so we learn Quebeque Francois… I've taken a shitload of French, and I remember none of it. I only remember it if it's filthy." which is followed by a sentence in French and widespread laughter from the audience. But apart from these moments, the crowd, too, is entirely docile; no doubt shocked like me at the pressing lack of the fun that makes Protest the Hero such a pleasure to watch. Not even the fantastic "Hair-Trigger", "C'est la Vie" or "Bloodmeat" can rescue this for me, so I drag myself back toward Main Stage 01 to watch the latter half of Status Quo's set.  AP
Thankfully the early Gorguts departure was worth it. Despite missing their opener “Caroline”, the one song I desired to see the most, the remainder of Quo’s performance was just the audial equivalent of time travelling back to a 1970’s London hippie convention I fully expected it to be. The Quo have always been without pretence - an unashamedly simple good time band that, as I stood watching surrounding by a sea of sunburnt metalheads, more suited to a wedding party than a festival called Hellfest. The mixture of 60s abandon and pleasure at their sudden revitalisation to an audience young enough to be their grandchildren ensured the performance of Rick Parfitt, Frances Rossi and bandmates was amplified from what was otherwise unspectacular in comparison to their fellow dinosaur acts here to a freewheeling celebration of all things rock’n’roll, which is essentially our reason for being there, right? Illuminated by how many culturally ingrained songs come from the three-chord rhythms being shuffled onstage - “Rock ’n Roll ’n’ You”, “In the Army Now”, “Whatever You Want” and “Rockin’ All Over the World” (even if two of those are covers) - I left very pleased the starting third of Saturday night’s Mainstage Dad Rock Trilogy very pleased at having made the effort. If only I’d seen damn “Caroline” though…  EW
Our attempt to muscle our way into the Valley tent to watch Clutch proves ineffective (that place is rammed to a degree that makes me wonder if it wouldn't have been a better idea to put Clutch on one of the main stages?), so instead I decide to give Canadian hardcore mob Comeback Kid a chance. As I arrive at the Warzone, the place is engulfed by a cloud of brown dust and vocalist Andrew Neufeld is already at the fence, screaming the lyrics to "False Idols Fall" in people's faces in best hardcore fashion. There's a huge amount of energy reciprocating between band and audience, and when the breakdown in the following "Do Yourself a Favor", it sends the front third of the audience plummeting into a violent moshpit. It's hard not to be impressed.
Crowd surfers are flying in from every direction, desperate to show their affection to a band looking properly aggressive as they delve into their 2003 album "Turn It Around" for a song originally written in 2000: "All in a Year". There's very little to put a finger on that Comeback Kid aren't doing right. The urgency and mournful atmosphere of "Broadcasting" translates as brilliantly to the live setting as ever, while the enormous circle pit that erupts during "Talk is Cheap", not to mention the scores of other musicians watching from the side, are resounding testimonies to the respect this band commands. Comeback Kid themselves aren't, and never have been the wildest bunch, but they have a unique ability to incite a riotous response - something that the anthemic "G.M. Vincent & I", and the older "Step Ahead" eventually set in stone. Given how many people are seeing Comeback Kid for the first time (judging from the amount of hands up when asked), the inclusion of so many old songs provides an excellent introduction to the music of Comeback Kid from all of its facets. I duck out after that track, thus missing "Wasted Arrows", "Should Know Better", and fan favourite "Wake the Dead" in order to watch some of Soulfly, but from what I've witnessed thus far, there's no way the performance is going downhill from here.  AP
As "Refuse/Resist" rings over the festival area for the second time this weekend, I chuckle at the realisation that regardless of his current or future endavours, Max Cavalera will never eclipse the success he forged with Sepultura. People come to Soulfly and Cavalera Conspiracy concerts expecting to hear covers of Sepultura classics, with the inferior original tracks merely the icing on top of the cake. Granted, such an accusation is not entirely valid, as Soulfly do have their own stock of strong songs such as "Prophecy" and "Tribe", and of those we are given ten pieces tonight. In fact, it is only the aforementioned "Refuse/Resist" and the no-brainer "Roots Bloody Roots" that represent Sepultura's discography in the setlist, leaving it possible for actual fans of Soulfly to hear the band's own material.
Soulfly, especially Max and his son on the drums since 2012, Zyon, and of course guitarist Marc Rizzo; perform with the nerve and aggression that is the staple of the Cavalera family, Zyon's tribal rhythms and Max's fuck everything attitude joining in perfect symbiosis and creating an excellent backdrop for the violent moshing taking place upfront. Max's stepson Richie (of Incite) joins in for "Rise of the Fallen" near the end for an extra visceral rendition of that track, but it is expectedly "Roots Bloody Roots" which steals the show. That song isn't the same without Cavalera, who reawakens its past ferocity and drives people upfront into ecstasy. His ability at engaging a crowd of this magnitude (most of it simply waiting to hear Aerosmith) stands second to none: standing on Aerosmith's ramp as the audience chants "Olé, olé olé olé" in between the mash-up of "Jumpdafuckup" and "Eye for an Eye", he looks like a world leader - and as a brief cover of Iron Maiden's "The Trooper" concludes the show, it's hard not to be blown back, inspired by awe at this guy's crowd control skills.  AP
After being unable to get into The Valley tent for Clutch, a setting much too small for their admired bluesy hard rock, there was time to kill before pt. II of Dad Rock Trilogy begun. Spending precious minutes resting weary legs, ensured us a ready position by the sound desk for the legendary Deep Purple. If I may dare say so I would not be surprised if a significant portion of the large audience were in situ awaiting performance of classics like “Smoke on the Water” and “Black Night”, but before they came later in the set we were treated to a musical masterclass of which there was simply no comparison this weekend from messrs Paice, Gillan, Glover, Morse and Airey. While I will never consider pure instrumental ability a preference to songwriting ability (if you take a moment to consider this dichotomy you’ll realise much about many modern metal bands), it is refreshing once in a while to stand in awe at the prowess of a band with DP’s experience as their renditions through “Into the Fire”, “Strange Kind of Woman” and “Lazy” were relaxed in execution yet brimming with such technical flourishes and colour that even the most anarchist punk would doff his cap. Of course when this does all come together in the form of catchy songs as referenced earlier, well then you’re sure onto a winner and a way of explaining DP phenomenal success down the years. At times it felt too much like a performance at a musician’s convention with the band as much playing to themselves as the vast crowd before them but it felt good to tick another band off the fabled ‘Must See’ list after this early evening showing in the beautiful French sunshine.  EW
Sitting near the very pinnacle of that ‘Must See’ list was Aerosmith. They, along with Red Hot Chili Peppers, were my formative rock bands around 1999 and while the Chilis were ticked off many years ago and have long waned in my listening habits, Aerosmith are a band I have returned to on frequent occasions ever since, for their 70s material around much of which this set were based is timeless. Without disrespect to Maiden and Sabbath as their co-headliners at the festival, Aerosmith were THE draw for Hellfest 2014, had the stage show to prove it and in Joe Perry and especially Steve Tyler boasted easily the biggest rockstars to grace this year’s event. Ordinarily one is not drawn to any levels of egotism on display from today’s rockstars but you try and find me anyone who is not at lest intrigued by the performances of Perry and Tyler, men whose existences lie on a different plane to the rest of us mere mortals.
Besides the multifarious light show and backing clips on the big screen there was the long ramp leading out into the audience down which Tyler, Perry and on occasion bassist Tom Hamilton strode out to engage with the masses. From my vantage point much further back and reliant on the big screens to see the minor details Tyler could often be found singing with the front row of the audience as if in a total indifference to the godlike demeanour he must carry for those diehards found there, a touch I rather liked. This was the Tyler-and-Perry show though, not unlike seeing AC/DC’s own performances based squarely around Angus Young and Brian Johnson, and with it came a fantastic setlist split between a number of their 70s and 80s albums, culminating in an encore of the mass singalongs “Dream On” and “Sweet Emotion”. Before that point my personal highlights came from their Beatles “Come Together” cover (a version which on record I believe tops the original), “Crazy” (surely its not just me who remembers the accompanying video starring Liv Tyler and Alicia Silverstone for this? Heady teenage days), and their 80s smashes “Love in an Elevator” and “Dude (Looks Like a Lady)”. In the middle was “Music From Another Dimension”’s “Freedom Fighter” sung by Perry, more notable for the humourous video of him busking the song acoustically around the Eiffel Tower to unsuspecting tourists than for the songs’ or his quality. And as for their performance of the super cheesy/epic (delete as appropriate) ballad “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”, maybe it’s just me who finds this a bit too American Idol in scope for my liking.
What was sure in my mind became certain when speaking with all others who at this one: Aerosmith rocked Hellfest and whatever millions may have been spent on their booking were worth it as far as I’m concerned, even if just to say I have finally seen them after 15 years of waiting. Dream On!  EW
It was somewhat unfortunate that there was another band I desired to watch after Aerosmith as quite frankly I was ready to head for home by this point, but after the stunning excellence of last year’s ”Surgical Steel” there was not a chance I could turn down Carcass despite numerous previous live experiences. As usual Jeff Walker could be found in an irreverent and coruscating mood - making a couple of references to Avenged Sevenfold’s clashing Main Stage slot and notions of true/poseur fans which I’ll leave you to mull on, plus dedicating one song to Deep Purple’s Roger Glover who apparently resides in the same village - but it was the band’s hugely successful brand of death metal that the massive crowd was here for. It is the biggest credit to the quality of “Surgical Steel” that the cuts of “The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills”, “Unfit for Human Consumption”, “Captive Bolt Pistol” and “Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System” taken from did not sound out of place against “Incarnated Solvent Abuse” and “Corporal Jigsore Quandary”; infact if you ask me I’d rather hear more of this new material having tired a little of the old over the years. After little more than a year of live involvement in the band new members Ben Ash and Dan Wilding have slotted in to such a degree that these legends are not just merely alive again but moving forward at a rate they could have scarcely believed a few years ago upon their original reformation.  EW
Millencolin have an unfortunate reputation of being quite the bland live act, so my expectations are modest as I stroll toward the Warzone, Aerosmith's "Sweet Emotion" still ringing in the background. But lo and behold: from some hitherto undiscovered reservoir the band have tanked up on energy to provide one of the most exhilarating performances at the festival thus far; one in which a nigh perfect setlist and a highly entertaining stage presence are joined in holy matrimony. Beginning with the iconic "Penguins & Polarbears" off their most critically acclaimed turn-of-the-century album "Pennybridge Pioneers", the stage is a constant flurry of movement at the behest of guitarists Mathias Färm & Erik Ohlsson, both of whom are surging back and forth, kneeling, collapsing to the ground, brandishing their instruments and playing them behind their necks with a wild, mischievous glimmer in their eyes.
Millencolin take us on a hit parade through their entire 20-year discography, with songs like "Happiness for Dogs", "Kemp", "Duckpond", "Olympic", "No Cigar" and "Mr. Clean" all aired to a delirious audience. There's moshing, crowd surfing and enormous sing alongs; and there's a band having the time of their lives busting out one infectious punk rock tune after another. This is what I've always imagined Millencolin capable of, and tonight, it's a sort of catharsis for me to finally witness them re-discovering their youth and delivering a no frills kick-ass show concluding with "Black Eye" and, in the encore, a cover of Operation Ivy's "Knowledge". What a way to send us into the night! [8½] AP
Having roused my fascination last year with their excellent EP "Devil Man", Blues Pills are a band I've been wanting to watch live for some time now, yet I must confess I had fantasised about seeing them in much more intimate surroundings than the colossal Main Stage 01 at Hellfest. The quartet's stripped down setup of two medium sized amps, drumkit and small banner looks awfully tiny here, so it is of course a relief to discover that vocalist Elin Larsson's Aretha Franklin-esque singing is missing none of the power that so wooed me on record. It's her show; without her sexy, smoky voice and seductive swagger Blues Pills would sound little different from the hordes of other bands currently swarming the market with 60's and 70's inspired rock music.
Given they've got a self-titled début album landing in July, much of the set is of course dominated by brand new material, so I treat this concert as much as an opportunity to get a first taste of those songs, and if opening track "High Class Woman" is anything to go by, then we're in for something a little different than the two-pronged approach of soulful ballads and banging rock'n'roll heard on "Devil Man". There's more focus on feverish, Woodstock '69 style jams that empower the remaining members, guitarist Dorian Sorriaux, bassist Zack Anderson & drummer Cory Berry to a greater degree than was the case on the EP. The fact that Blues Pills' 30-minute slot covers just four songs, three of which stem from the forthcoming album, speaks toward my feeling that the tracks off "Blues Pills" will be longer and more instrumentally focused, each blending balladry, high octane rock and psychedelia rather than focusing on just one of those influences.
But despite the hypnotic quality of "Black Smoke" and "Little Sun", watching Blues Pills in this setting is not as awe-inspiring as I had hoped. They do what they must with Larsson at the helm, but put this in a small, sweaty club and it would almost certainly reach another level. Blues Pills do not have the necessary showmanship or bravado yet to rip on a stage this size, clearly.  AP
One more day but one which promised a lot of action. After being unable to make it in time for Satan’s Satyrs in The Valley tent my day opened with Norwegian upstarts Obliteration who have been making some serious waves in the death metal underground this last couple of years, in part thanks to last year’s ”Black Death Horizon” and a helpful residency in a town which also homes (half) of Darkthrone. Obliteration are a solid enough entity on their own rights however and after skipping them at Roadburn for a dose of Candlemass I was determined to make up for lost time here. Unfortunately a lack of clarity in the sound did the band few favours though, even as the crowd grew from a scattered few dozen to a healthy total by their climax. But sadly it was that “Sepulchral Rites”, “Exterminate” and “Black Death Horizon” all failed to distinguish themselves in their faster moments with the definition and eerie calculation I’ve well discovered on record. When all goes well Obliteration produce some of the most vital UGDM I’ve heard in years, but when the clarity is found lacking much of that inventiveness is sadly lacking. It’s alright, I’ll be certainly give them another chance and you definitely should too.  EW
Neglecting The Ruins of Beverast in favour of In Solitude was not a decision I took lightly but one based on my love for these magic(k)al Swedes whose recognisable sound and potent songwriting makes them one of metal’s most important bands of today in my eyes and ears. Led by towering frontman Pelle Åhman they are dark and sober but not without a celebratory air. Though identifiably a heavy metal band above all else IS play it dark and straight, making it easy to label them a bunch of miserablist Swedes on appearance, but dig beneath the surface and you’ll find this is far from the truth. The whole set taken from last year’s “Sister” was a foray into their layered and complex tomes of which the King Diamond himself would be mightily proud and where a decent early afternoon sound gave “A Buried Sun” a definition I would have loved in meteorological terms. “He Comes” and “Lavender” introduced new aspects to the songs I had yet to unearth from home listenings to the record. It was a pity my personal love of 2011’s “The World. The Flesh. The Devil” bore no songs, but with an upcoming UK tour in October to look forward to I am happy to rejoice in the splendour of a band who, though better suited to dark indoor venues than the midday summer sun, gave a great account of themselves in the circumstances without ever really tipping into greatness. [7½] EW
Having missed their performance at this year's Desertfest in London, UK because of their placement in the smallest, sweatiest and perpetually most rammed venue that festival had to offer, there was no way German rockers Zodiac's set here was going to suffer the same fate. On my schedule they're only the third band at this festival to practice a truly 70's style of rock (the others being Blues Pills earlier, and Zodiac's countrymen Kadavar on the previous day), and their grizzly appearance and dense sound immediately reminds me of Danish heavy blues rockers Pet the Preacher. Vocalist/guitarist Nick van Delft is a carbon copy of that band's frontman Christian Hede Madsen, and possesses a similarly gravelly, powerful voice that reeks of testosterone. Where he does differ is his amusing insistence on addressing the crowd in a redneck American accent, which admittedly does lend a certain authenticity to the smoky, southern fried tunes.
Van Delft has every characteristic of an excellent frontman, looking like a proper rock star and carrying himself with a boatload of charisma as he brandishes his instrument with the aid of this thigh at every opportunity. His vivid personality quickly becomes the focal point of the performance - this despite the remaining members guitarist Stephan Gall, bassist Ruben Claro and drummer Janosch Rathmer all doing their fare share of expending energy. But while the performance itself is the sort to ensure an ocean of peeled eyelids, Zodiac also know how to pen intriguing songs such as "A Bit of Devil", "Free" and the mammoth progressive desert rock track "Coming Home", with its brooding Hammond organ. Where many a band in this heritage rock movement have little else to offer than recycled renditions of Graveyard & Witchcraft, Zodiac's music is unique and compelling, with plenty of variety between slower and more contemplative pieces, Led Zeppelin-esque rock'n'roll, SuperCharger style bangers like "Diamond Shoes", and even a cover of Neil Young's "Cortez the Killer"; one never feels like they're repeating the formula. Based on this, I'd strongly recommend picking up their new album when it lands later this year, and checking out one of the shows on their European tour in September/October.  AP
At this point the heatwave that crept in behind the fringe of a thunderstorm has developed into such oppressive dimensions, steadily climbing toward the forecasted +35c today; that watching Crowbar turns into an impossible struggle. I do however manage to stand near the front of the stage for a good 20 minutes, gushing water into my face and mouth whilst my skin sears, and based on those 20 minutes I feel it is still possible to form a sound impression of the band's performance. Kirk Windstein sounds angrier than ever - much more so than at Beta in Copenhagen earlier this year; his furious, yet mournful roar given an additional boost by the mammoth amplification used on this stage, as the quartet grind their way through "Conquering" and "High Rate Extinction". The slow and brooding nature of the band's doom ridden sludge sounds the perfect fit to the weather, conjuring in my head images of what it must be like in the summer in New Orleans, LA, and thus from whence Crowbar distill their inspiration.
Neither Windstein nor his colleagues Matthew Brunson (guitar), Jeff Golden (bass) and Tommy Buckley (drums) show much interest in rocking out. But at the same time, there is an authority about these veterans that commands the respect of the audience even so. Songs like the "The Lasting Dose" speak for themselves. At this point however, the temperature and amount of dust is so destructive to my well-being that I duck out to listen to the remainder of the set, which includes three new songs in the middle (including the first single from the band's latest album "Symmetry in Black": "Walk with Knowledge Wisely") and concludes with the classics "All I Had (I Gave)" and "Planets Collide", from the shady comfort of the press area.  AP
Wasting no time in crossing the no-mans-land of dust for New Zealanders Ulcerate who produced the most technically brutal (or is the lingo ‘sick’?) death metal album of last year in "Vermis". Such is the multi-layered construction of “Confronting Entropy” and “Clutching Revulsion” and the earlier dubious sound quality of Obliteration I was not surprised to find Ulcerate a difficult proposition to take with even just the singular guitar and bass lost in a cacophony of triggered drumming and caustic growls, nor was I particularly taken aback to note the lack of stage presence from the two upfront playing music of this complex and nihilistic nature. In the cosy confines of the Underworld my willingness to withstand this showing would be great; but after over days of standing in the intense heat of Hellfest a performance lacking definition and cutting edge such as this just was not fully capable of keeping my attention. An unfortunate outcome for a band whose record is just on the tipping point of appreciable extremity for my personal standards in death metal production these days.  EW
The mystical entity of Romanians Dordeduh was a vastly different visual presentation to Ulcerate from the other side of the tent just before it. While by no means ‘showmen’ there was an aesthetic to their performance which treats the spiritual side of their art as both performance and musical in scope; this is from the powerful delivery of imposing frontman Edmond Karban (‘Hupogrammos’) to the array of instruments that the band always impressively trawl across the continent with them (having previously done so with predecessors Negură Bunget). It was transcendental opener “Dojană” which provided the finest moment for me - I can always hear the mountains and feel the essence of the accompanying video for this track when hearing it, regardless whether in a giant tent in France or dingy underground venue in north London. This performance was missing their usual keyboardist which meant a sound desk provision of certain features, not something I am ever the greatest of fans of, but the circumstances are understandable. Still with just one album to their name Dordeduh yet sound fresh and vital as this performance of totally unique and passionately honest music once again displayed. [7½] EW
They of Single Album Legends Status, my one previous experience with Repulsion was also at Hellfest (in 2009) and in most ways things haven’t changed. They still only have one album, and if Scott Carlson and Matt Olivo are wise that will forever remain the case - we all know how Terrorizer foundered upon releasing further material a long time after “World Downfall”. Repulsion’s prehistoric grind/death metal is deliciously dirty, replete with Carlson’s fat blower bass sounding hoovering up anything that dares challenge it’s bottom-end ownership while Olivo and drummer Col Jones keep the tracks piling on at an insane rate. By the time my feet could take it no longer and I retreated to sitting down for the latter portion of their set the Californians must have already blasted through some dozen songs with latterly a filthy (in the best kind of way) cover of Venom’s “Schizo” soon appearing, but this was all about the opening 90 seconds for “The Stench of Burning Death” - there is no better grind song to be found if you ask me. Truly devastating attention seeking music, as I found out in my attempted rest.  EW
Sludge and hardcore fusionist trio Black Tusk has always been about energy, so it comes as no surprise that their performance at Hellfest, too, is one ultimately defined by the ferocity with which they deliver their songs. The two frontmen, guitarist Andrew Fidler & bassist Jonathan Athon, are seething, looking extremely pumped and delivering a show to behold, while Jamie May behind the kit is doing his best to keep up amidst his furious pounding. By staging a performance this animated, it hardly matters the band is a trio as they're able to fill the stage with their mere presence, not to mention the constantly flickering, rapidly moving lights and sheer volume with which they deliver songs like "Enemy of Reason" and "Snake Charmer". They sound so heavy and dirty, and Athon's sipping bourbon from a bottle only adds to the cool factor which Black Tusk have going for them by virtue of their grizzly beards, tattooed up bodies and badass attitude.
Halfway through the set we're given an airing of "Vulture's Eye" off the group's new 7", and although Black Tusk take care to inject an abundance of thick grooves to latch onto into the fray, there's no slowing down for a ballad; it's a full speed ahead, full frontal onslaught in which diversity is a planet in some other galaxy, and it does at times beg the question: would not Black Tusk be better experienced in shorter 35 minute bursts rather than these 50 minutes which they have been allotted here? Be that as it may, the bulldozing approach they employ has its own allure, and I certainly haven't got much to complain about when expert blends of brutal pummel and ultra-groovy Southern metal like "Set the Dial to Your Doom" and the fantastic "Bring Me Darkness" are aired.  AP
In spite of all the rave reviews my colleagues have been throwing at alternative metal slash hard rock group Alter Bridge, today's late afternoon concert marks my first experience with the band - live as well as hearing their songs in the first place. At this point in the day, the temperature hanging over the festival area has reached its absolute peak at some +35c, and at last, the festival organisation has realised that it is actually pretty f*****g hot: a stage hand is gunning ice cold water over the audience with a high pressure fire hose, and like moths to flames, people are shuffling past one another to position themselves under the soothing mist - including yours truly. How did it take them two and a half days to realise this is a good idea? Nonetheless, those bursts of water are too infrequent (they need to be sprayed into every corner of the audience, naturally) to prompt me to stay longer than the obligatory 20 minutes or so, but in that time I manage to form a solid impression of Alter Bridge: they are the sort of band whose potential is not fully realised until they're playing indoors.
It's not that Myles Kennedy, Mark Tremonti, Brian Marshall & Scott Phillips are doing anything wrong, as every inch of the concert has been fine tuned to perfection: the sound mix, the instrumental precision, the charisma. But as Alter Bridge aren't the liveliest of bands on stage, it all becomes a little anonymous to watch, especially as my personal familiarity with their material is extremely limited. Kennedy manages nonetheless to incite an ocean of horns with his rock star bravado during "White Knuckles", and indeed, as the show progresses, it's clear to me that this is a Kennedy & Tremonti show (the latter steps into character during "Waters Rising", doing the lead vocals): Marshall & Phillips remain in the background like ghosts. I conclude that while Alter Bridge have their songs and technical aspects in order, it all looks and feels like standard fare arena rock with no real highlights today.  AP
After Repulsion I had been anticipating the arrival of Urfaust but for reasons unknown to me they were replaced by Dutch comedy BMers Heretic, the band that closed my Roadburn experience if you wish to read about them there. Instead the break in line-up prompted a gathering of mind and energy to await the arrival of Dark Angel, a band I’ve pined for since joining the thrash army around 2002 and for whom I was ecstatic to hear in the weeks building up to Hellfest that they would be replacement for the departed Megadeth. I doubt too many tears were shed with that decision.
It goes without saying 1986’s “Darkness Descends” is one of the most blistering, out-of-control and best thrash metal records of all time, released in a year absolutely stuffed with classics, and so it was that their reformation could be anything but. After a difficult start to modern life (more of those boring legal wranglings) the reports I’d heard of impressive earlier festival shows really put me on edge for this one: could a band coming back after this many years really be so good? Well, yes, yes they were! It is immeasurably helpful to have one Gene Hoglan on drums who has been anything but inactive down the years, plus in maintaining the lineup from “Leave Scars” and “Time Does Not Heal” there was a sense of continuity than can often be missing from reformations missing large chunks of the original band. This I’m sure was a crucial factor in the clearer definition to the riffing of Jim Durkin and Eric Meyer who flew through “Darkness Descends” and “We Have Arrived” to get going. Vocally Dark Angel were unlike any of the contemporaries: Ron Rinehart spewed his lungs out with voluminous chapters on mental suffering and abuse on their final two albums as the icing on complex and challenging songs far removed from any of the more expected lyrical topics of the time. I can imagine re-learning that volume of lyrics could have been challenging but he did a sterling job in keeping the band moving across the stage and provide as much visual stimuli as musical for the keen headbangers like I out there.
Despite a relatively small crowd before their Main Stage there was ample justification for Dark Angel’s return from the shadows into a scene that had baying their return for years. Will this lead into more recorded material? You know what, I hope not - those 4 albums are par magnificence and the legacy is already secured with this further success on the resumé. [8½] EW
Having just stood through an hour of fiery old school thrash alongside my colleague EW, my next excursion takes me to the Valley stage once again, where Borlänge, Sweden based stoner rock crew Dozer are in full process lumbering the faces of an enthusiastic crowd with their big riffs and powerful presence. My feet are aching, and I want to watch tonnes of bands still today, so I stay only a while. But from what I do manage to catch, Dozer strike me as the sort of band you need to be familiar with to fully appreciate. "Riding the Machine", which is played second, starts cleaner than the opening track's full frontal heavy riff bonanza, swaying between spaced out clean passages and eruptions of thick riffage; each of the four members, vocalist/guitarist Fredrik Nordin, guitarist Tommi Holappa, bassist Johan Rockner & drummer Olle 'Bull' Mårthans are living and breathing it, embodying the dynamics of the song through their own movements. I duck out liking what I see to rest my weary feet following this track, so I don't feel I have sufficient material here to base a grade on. Be that as it may, Dozer is a band I'll certainly be watching again, given the opportunity. [?] AP
Now excuse me while I come across all ‘first-world-problem’ on you, but whoever decided I should have to run from Dark Angel to Vreid/Windir across the dust bowl to minimise time missed of either is a cruel person. Naturally this involved the gauntlet of potentially running past anyone I knew, a trap I fell into causing my missing of opener “Brynjing” but thereafter I was exactly where I have desired: to witness my first live rendition of Windir material. For the unknowing, the passing of Windir mainman Valfar in a January Norwegian snowstorm ceased the end of activities for that band, one which was originally formed by himself before bringing in local bands Ulcus to become a full unit. The remainder went on to form Vreid but not before recording a classic live DVD (“Sognametal”) which I have watched countless times over the years. Vreid themselves are not to be sniffed at but their black’n’roll direction does not possess the folky charm of Windir’s uniquely Norwegian material and with the full “Sognametal” lineup in stow for this performance renditions of “Arntor, A Warrior”, “The Spiritlord” and notably “On the Mountain of Goats” and “Svartesmeden Og Lundamyrstrollet” were sung back to the band in a gloriously rousing manner.
I have never felt there to be a showman aspect to the Windir, not with their historical lyricism and epically tinged compositions, so it felt about right than Vreid passed between tracks without much fanfare for what was to be their own, Windir or in the case of “The Profound Power”, Ulcus material. As on the DVD we had Valfar’s big (in both age and physical terms) brother manning lead vocals on the Windir material, and while I’m the sure man knows his way around a gym more than any vocal training his delivery on behalf of a fallen brother is a heart-warming one to hear. An often-forgotten staple of the Norwegian black metal cannon, Windir do not deserve to fade into obscurity and with a recently announced autumn European tour based around this line-up I pleasingly can’t see that happening.  EW
A band I hold very dear, and one of the bands I'd been looking forward to most at this festival, is Soundgarden, one of the cornerstones of the grunge movement of the 90's. I've only had the pleasure to watch them live once before - in September last year - and although that concert was met with very mixed reviews across the Danish media, it was an experience that, if not swept me off my feet, satisfied my expectations to an acceptable degree. Here they are touring as support to Black Sabbath, so the stage production is stripped down, needless to say. But with "Searching with My Good Eye Closed" and the magnificent "Spoonman" kicking it off, their set promises to be another solid showing in cool arrogance, heavy riffs, oddly timed rhythms and of course timeless classics.
The volume is deafening as it should be, and initially both Chris Cornell and bassist Ben Shepherd look much more alive than they did in Copenhagen, rocking out amidst dancing lights of the sort that suggest Soundgarden could easily have pulled headlining weight tonight. Guitarist Kim Thayil is less extroverted in his performance, but his long gray beard, mafioso hat and "I know I'm good" expression make up for this. But following the explosive start which "Rusty Cage" rounds off, the band's demeanor suddenly grows more sullen by the minute, as if someone had poked a hole in their energy reservoir; and the inclusion of many of the band's slower and more introspective tracks thereafter (including "The Day I Tried to Live" and "Fell on Black Days") does little to help a concert descending into monotony near the end. Solid, but not extraordinary. [6½] AP
As ever, Hellfest managed to pull off a few scoops this year, among these their capture of the legendary Emperor, who carved their own niche within Norwegian black metal between 1991 and 2001, and again from 2005 to 2007 before calling it quits. Their iconic vocalist/guitarist Vegard Sverre Tveitan - also known as Ihsahn - has since moved onto other projects, but last year, he resurrected the old titan and scheduled a number of exclusive performances, including the one here. Contrary to most other black metal bands who have performed here this weekend, Emperor distinguish themselves with an entirely clean appearance, Ihsahn himself looking like some extreme metal professor with his smart glasses and slick haircut.
But even so, the trio completed by guitarist Tomas 'Samoth' Haugen & drummer Bård 'Faust' Eithun, and supplemented by session bassist Tony 'Secthdamon" Ingebrigtsen & keyboardist Einar Solberg; have an utterly menacing look to them, brought forth first and utmost by the knowledge that their music is everything but clean and correct. And so, backed by huge walls of amplifiers and one of the most spectacular light shows at this festival yet, Emperor grind through over an hour's worth of their four-album discography, Ihsahn narrating each transition with a veteran's panache. Once again the volume levels are up to par with the nature of the music, allowing Emperor to drill their highly melodic, yet sinister songs directly into our cerebrums. The allure of it lies not within excessive outbursts of energy, but in the complete impression that only musicians as talented and experienced as these can form simply by playing the right songs in the right order.
For the duration of their set, I stand in awe; there's not a thing to put a finger one I wish they'd brushed up on, or done differently. No, this is a black metal concert of the highest order, witnessed further by the fact that the hordes of older gentlemen assembled before the stage just beside in anticipation of Black Sabbath, seem to be as warmly receptive of it as the rest of us. This is a true show of force from a legendary band, and one which I will not soon forget.  AP
Top contender for my no.1 band of all time Black Sabbath represent a very different proposition to the festival’s two earlier headline bands. As a means of explaining their difference to Iron Maiden and Aerosmith I put it down to their working class blue collar roots - the overall vibe around Sabbath from their much simpler stage and light show to of course their more dour, apocalyptic tunes is borne of a less privileged upbringing and carries through with them to today. I state this by means of excusing their least captivating show of the three and the one that feels by far the most predictable in terms of setlist, as well as Ozzy’s onstage performance which is worthy a review all of it’s own. I’m sure only the man himself can explain the point of his frequent ‘cuckoo’ noises, and as for his Parkinson’s shuffles across stage…well they are the successful attempts to move that on most occasions see Ozzy leave the sanctity of the mic stand to move to back one second later. Ozzy, we love you.
Musically speaking the setlist follows the pattern of all recent shows from the band and will no doubt be present when I see the band at the British Summer Time festival this coming week. I’m hardly complaining about the heavy presence of “Black Sabbath”, “Paranoid” or “Master of Reality” material, but just one track from “Volume 4” and nothing from “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” or “Sabotage”? Those are classic albums in their own right and fully deserve a greater airing, especially at festivals like this when the band can surely expect a heavy presence of knowledgable fans? Naturally the revelatory experience of “War Pigs”, “Iron Man” and their title track cannot possibly match for me my first ever concert (Ozzfest 2001) or when the band played their first show back together at a small Birmingham venue in 2012 but their ability to unite all with their easily singable refrains gives them their well-earned status. As a Sabbath fan of may years I would love to see Bill Ward behind the kit but his replacement Tommy Clufetos is a worthy replacement, capping his strongman style with a lengthy solo which must be positioned to allow Ozzy a chance a sit down. Returning to encore with “Paranoid” is hardly a surprise, but limiting that encore to just the one track is, especially when pieced together with the “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” intro. Don’t tease us like that! In comparison to Maiden and Aerosmith the Sabbs are a far more acquired taste - I would unquestionably recommend this last of the three to someone not aversed in any of the acts and count myself disappointed to have not heard anything different from their esteemed back catalogue. Still, it’s hard to hate too much on your favourite band, y’know? [6½] EW
By the time the clock strikes midnight, I must confess to running on fumes. My feet are in shreds; my level of energy in the gutter. But to miss John Garcia's little known project Unida from the time in the immediate aftermath of Kyuss' demise is not an option, and so I brave the Valley tent one final time. Garcia looks cool as ice with his pitch black shades and subtle swagger, and their renditions of cult classics like "Wet Pussycat" and "Red" - both off their 1999 split with Dozer - is like a trip down memory lane. Unida waste no time on bullshit: it's one badass rock'n'roll banger after another, with "M.F.N.O." and "Summer" in particular delivered with enormous passion. But at the same time, they're not the revelation I was hoping and expecting them to be based on their headlining and indeed closing this stage. Live renditions of "Nervous", "Hangman's Daughter" and "Black Woman" are rock solid, but still the performance never climbs toward immortality, cementing itself merely as a good desert/stoner rock bonanza in which Garcia is very much the point of focus. [7½] AP
And so to Opeth, that little-known Swedish band who found themselves forgotten about at the bottom of the running order, calling off my last dredges of energy and with the thoughts of a 500km drive back to Paris in the morning forefront in my mind. If it were not for the insistence of my girlfriend I would not have bothered with this one as my 8 previous experiences, including 3 at festivals, have taught that when not in the right mood and in death of feet Mikael Åkerfeldt & co can be a difficult collective to survive. But as usual Åkerfeldt was in his comedic mood, commenting on the similarity of the stage setup to Saxon circa 1982 and with a few comments made on people’s arrival following Black Sabbath, to the point where my main memories from the show revolved around these rather than any specific song references. Regarding those songs though it was pleasing to hear the band reference various albums from their long back catalogue, going back to “My Arms, Your Hearse” for “Demon of the Fall” and the title track from “Blackwater Park” with the extreme levels of proficiency for which we have long come to expect. I was just about ready to lie down for a week following their conclusion, but once again Opeth outdid my expectations with their brand of drinking lounge prog death metal. Maybe a comfy sofa is the place to watch them in future?  EW
Given the unsettling disorganisation that plagued Hellfest from the second we arrived, my interest in attending this festival again has dwindled significantly. It baffles me that a number of obvious solutions to some of the most pressing issues were so grossly overlooked. First and utmost: you cannot simply treble the number of attendees without adding more facilities, and expanding the festival area. I have never been to a festival this crammed before, and I feel infinitely thankful for having a V.I.P. wristband, so as to not be forced into the enormous queues in the festival area proper. Except for the food stalls, of course.
The second issue is force majeure - but such can be countered. For at least one week prior to the festival, every weather forecast was promising unusually high temperatures and dangerous UV factors for the weekend. Yet nothing, whatsoever, had been done to prepare for the heatwave. It took two and a half days for someone to realise hosing down the audience might be a good idea in +35c temperatures and scorching sun; but more alarmingly, no one seemed to think offering free cups of water - as at virtually every other festival - at the security barriers would be beneficial.
Third, since receiving our accreditation, information from the festival became a phantom. We had no idea we had to arrive before midnight on Thursday, June 19th to get into the camping area; no idea we needed a priority photo pass to shoot most bands on the main stages; no idea when or where to apply for contracts for the headliners; no idea that MGLA had canceled their performance and were replaced by Borgne; and no idea, until standing at the stage, that Godflesh had been bumped up to close the Valley on the first day due to the railway personnel strike in France at the time. These are but a few examples of a total lack of communication on the festival's behalf. Speaking of which, I have been told the festival was not even bothered to inform foreigners traveling to the festival about the strike, meaning that a significant portion of people saw their travel times double or even treble in the face of canceled trains and no other transport option planned.
In spite of the significant improvement that could, and must be made, however, there can be no question about the music that Hellfest offers. The line-up this year was nothing short of sublime, and even the biggest bands on the bill started their sets on the dot - something that very rarely happens at other festivals. In this respect, Hellfest excel; and as a result, there is no doubt it will only continue to grow and be more succesful. My only hope is that some of the issues highlighted throughout this article will be addressed as well, so as to facilitate the best possible festival experience for bands and fans alike.