This summer, the eleventh edition of the Hellfest Summer Open Air took place in Clisson, France. The second biggest metal oriented festival in Europe in terms of attendance has previously received the visit from bands such as Iron Maiden, Slipknot, Guns N’ Roses, KISS, Scorpions, Deftones, Motörhead, Black Sabbath, Machine Head, Avenged Sevenfold and many other headliners in the last decade. With this year’s edition gathering almost 160,000 festival goers over three days, and an impressive line-up made of more than 30 headlining bands -distributed into six stages- and 160 bands in the weekend, we can’t wait to dive in this crazy atmosphere !
We arrived on thursday to find out that little town from the west of France stormed by this massive crowd of all-black-dressed, beer-drinking, international (a quarter of the audience comes from abroad) metalheads, but we also talked to people from Clisson, who aren’t attending the festival, but who support it, which is one of the festival’s victories. Indeed, during these ten years of existence, there have been a lot of controversies, often coming from a catholic part of the population, reluctant to this festival, due to the coming of bands such as Ghost B.C., Mayhem, Deicide, or even Bad Religion, but it seems that now the climate is extremely serene, and the inhabitants are quite happy to have this festival at home.
After a night at the camp, and almost an hour of wait in order to get past the cathedral -the entrance of the festival’s site-, we managed to make it to the show of Harm’s Way. Our first show of this year’s edition is also the opportunity to admire the changes that have been brought to the site this year. The Warzone (punk-hardcore scene) has been totally reimagined, and the result lives up to the expectations. While last year, some shows were impossible to attend for a lot of people, due to the size and position of the stage, now the Warzone is like a piece of heaven in this hell on earth. And considering the amount of shows that we’ve seen there this year, it couldn’t have been a better timing !
Well, we’re back to the music, and despite the early timing (12:45) of Harm’s Way‘s set, a large crowd has gathered for the beginnning of this hardcore party, which will take place during these three days in the Warzone. You can see the pit moshing, headbanging in sync to this massive sound. The bass sound is huge (maybe too much ?), the guitarist is in a good day, even if his good vocal skills are clearly underused, as every one of his lines bring some energy to the show ! Also, the band seems to be inn a kind of an automatic pilot mode, with only few communication with the audience, but with only 30 minutes of show, you can’t quite reproach it to them.
After this, we headed to the Main Stage 1 to see Nashville Pussy, in another category. The american quartet delivers a classical kind of rock’n roll, filled with good riffs, a perfect vocal performance, a well oiled show, and maybe too much as you can see that the band embarked on their cruise speed. Despite the fact that the band are familiar with the french audience (they often play big tours here, which is rare enough to be told), the crowd doesn’t seem to care too much about the show, which may be due to the lack of interaction from the band. Nevertheless, it’s a solid rock show that we’ve just witnessed.
Right after, Le Bal des Enragés take the stage by storm, offering 40 minutes worth of covers of the biggest punk or metal standards that everyone knows (think of songs like Ace of Spades, Smells Like Teen Spirit, Sabotage, Killing in the Name, Refuse/Resist, etc… played in front of thousands of metalheads) by some of the biggest names in the french alternative/punk scene, and you can easily imagine the havoc that they’ve created ! And then came the emotional moment of the day, when the and dedicated a song to Schultz, singer from the french band Parabellum (and member of Le Bal des Enragés) who passed away last year. This kind of show is clearly not the most original that you’ll see in the weekend but their place is well deserved, as everyone can enjoy such a concert, no matter which generation you are from.
The next show that we’ll see is Halestorm, and what a show ! Lzzy Hale and her crew came here to have fun, and to make people have a good time, and that’s what they managed to do. The least we can say is that they know how to create a good atmosphere onstage and in the crowd, being the first band of the day to really communicate with the audience (maybe a little bit too much as we can sometimes think that this is a one-woman band), with an original and funny drum solo, and an amazing vocal performance from Lzzy, showing us what a real rock star is. As a result, the crowd is really active, and for the first time today you can hear them sing along.
Musically, the sound could have been more powerful and the compositions a little bit more diverse, but with a set clocking in at 45 minutes, the show didn’t have the time to get repetitive. For those who were there last year, in many points this concert can be compared to the set from We Are Harlot, who did a really good job for a fresh new band. So we hope that Halestorm will be coming back to France, as they seem to like this country a lot (Lzzy didn’t stop claiming her love for France during the whole show).
Next gig is happening the one from Havok, under The Altar, the tent usually dedicated to
death metal / grindcore bands. Havok is a band that we use to see many times in France, but their fanbase doesn’t seem to be bored by this, as there’s a lot of people that’s came to see the american thrash metal band this afternoon. The atmosphere is really nice, as it feels good to see a pit that’s so active ! Clearly the audience isn’t the same throughout the whole festival, and this diversity is also what makes Hellfest so unique. During the whole show you’ll see people smiling (onstage and in the crowd), circle pits at every song, the crowd reacting perfectly to the music, and inflatable sharks crowdsurfing. The band focuses its setlist on their sophomore album Time Is Up (5 songs out of 10), and they sound so big today ! Everything in their sound is massive, from the powerful drumming to the cutting guitar sound. And to this you can add the fact that the musicians seem to have the time of their lifes on stage, and you’ve got the formula for a perfect thrash metal concert.
We leave The Altar to see the second half of Mass Hysteria‘s show. Mass Hysteria is on of the french most touring bands, and they’ve been playing their energetic industrial metal through France since 1993, and the third time at Hellfest. Mass Hysteria has to be one of the best live bands I’ve been able to see, and I’ve seen them a lot of times, but this one wasn’t one of the best. Don’t get me wrong, this was a really good show, but due to their setlist, heavily based on their latest record (half of the songs), whereas their discography is filled with killer tracks, weakened their set. But still, the audience had a hell of a good time, and we saw the biggest wall of death of the weekend and an always moving mosh pit, in a positive atmosphere as only Mass Hysteria knows how to create. The crowd and the band seemed happy, but the show could have been way bigger, if the band didn’t become a bit cliché now.
Next, we’re seeing the end of Turbonegro fromfar away, and their sound is for now the biggest that we’ve heard today. Their funny, powerful “deathpunk” music may sound a bit mainstream for the Hellfest audience, but Ben Barbaud himself, the creator of the festival, now quotes his fest as a “rock and metal” festival. So it’s not a surprise to see Turbonegro on the Main Stage 2 today.
The audience , composed of many fans in the front rows, sings along a lot, and reacts to every joke from Tony Sylvester, their charismatic frontman. No, their sense of humor isn’t the most sophisticated, but yes, the audience present now is having a hell of a good time. Live staples like “Get It On”, “All My Friends Are Dead” or “I Got Erection” are really effective, and everyone gets out of this concert with a big smile.
Now, we’ll see how the Welsh metalcore reference Bullet For My Valentine (set available : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v2qNgY6wcvU) will defend Venom, their latest record to date, after the failure of Temper Temper, and their lineup change, with Jamie Mathias joining the band on the bass last year, and Jason Bowld replacing Michael “Moose” Thomas on drums for a few months.
The band begins with the duo “V / No Way Out” that opens their last record, and the first statement that we can make is that the sound is massive, and the band is in an olympic shape, Matt Tuck holds both his clean and screamed lines perfectly, and backed by Jamie Mathias, who sounds exactly as the studio versions of the song. The setlist is more oriented towards less violent songs, but this doesn’t prevent them from being really more powerful than back in 2013 when they played here in Clisson. We can feel that the band has matured and has gone less pretentious than before, which is always a plus.
The energy deployed onstage is heavily contagious and the pit begins to get heavy as the band play fan favorite 4 Words (To Choke Upon). Speaking of the fans, they’re a lot in the front rows, singing along to every line of the show, and the bad reputation the band has been suffering from in France since the release of The Poison back in 2004 seems to have gone.
Also, the band seems to have taken height over their songs -even the new ones-, as some of them have endured a bit of surgery, making them even more infectious live (this new breakdown at the end of No Way Out !). So there’s no doubt that Bullet For My Valentine are going to be great headliners for the lucky ones that are going to catch them on warped tour in a few weeks !
The show has barely ended, and you can already hear the first notes of Hatebreed‘s show ringing ! And what’s a better way to begin a show than by playing their hit “Destroy Everything” ? Jamey Jasta and his bros hit the french stage for the fifth time this year, and even though they will never be reinventing the wheel, damn it’s so good to see Hatebreed live ! Every song sounds like an anthem and you can do nothing but having a good time while watching them. And even though the rain begins to fall on us during the show, it will never prevent Jasta from partying from head to toes ! It’s always a pleasure when bands feel good on stage, but here, the joy to be here is heavily catching. The band’s discography is well respected, and and the 15 songs composing the concert pass too quickly. The crowd hasn’t stopped moshing/jumping/singing from the beginning to the end of the show, no matter how it was raining, and that’s what a Hatebreed concert is made for, right ?
After a quick break in order to eat (concerts end at 2AM so we don’t quite have the choice !), let’s head to the Main Stage 2 to see the beginning of Dropkick Murphys‘ show, (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5wq8LKJDR6c) opening with the really energetic “The Boys Are Back”, that sees the crowd go wild, and even though the band often plays in France, it seems that the audience never has enough of them, and when you see the atmosphere that they’re creating in barely three minutes, you easily understand why ! The show keeps going on, the band uses the stage perfectly, and the crowd reacts amazingly well, while we’re leaving to see Converge on The Warzone.
And while the band is playing here for the fourth time, people seem to still be as keen to see them as always, even though we could have expected a bit more affluence, but with
Rammstein playing at the same time on the Main Stage 1, we can clearly see that the German band has drained a good part of the audience. But this won’t prevent hardcore heroes Converge from delivering a solid show, as they’ve always done. Since Jane Doe was released back in 2001, the band has become an essential reference in the hardcore scene. The least we can say is that they lived up to the expectations. Jacob Bannon is inspired as always, and the rest of the band is in a good day too. The compositions of the combo sound as huge as they’ve ever sounded, an the audience present tonight are witnessing one of the best shows of the weekend. And they know it, as every song is welcomed with a great round of applause when announced. Having seen the band in 2013, you can tell that they have evolved -in a good way- in a few years, and let’s hope that this way isn’t going to end, because guys, this scene needs you for many years again !
And now, let’s talk about Rammstein‘s concert. What hasn’t been told about the german band’s shows ? We all know Lindemann’s sense of provocation, their need to put up a flawless but flameful show, and their anthems such as “Du Hast”, “Ich Will”, “Amerika” etc…
Well, this year’s setlist sounds like a best of, with a brand new show, opened by a new song (“Ramm4”), and composed of an hour and a half of their best songs. When you see all those explosions, fireworks, flamethrowers for the first time, you understand why everyone keeps saying that Rammstein are a band that you need to see at least once in your life. At least, if you don’t enjoy the music, there’s some things that you will keep in mind forever from this set. At this time, there are so many people here to see the band that it’s almost impossible to move, and once you’ve found your spot, you’re unable to move for more than an hour. But Rammstein are one of the biggest bands in modern metal, and when you see the crowd that has come to see them, you understand why the Hellfest crew was so proud to have them this year for the first time.
And finally, a band that a lot of people have been waiting for too, The Offspring. It’s the first time that the band plays here at Hellfest, and from the crowd’s reaction, let’s hope that it’s not the last time !
As you might know, the band has been around for a couple of decades now, but they also have the reputation that they may have aged a little bit these last years, and… That’s true. But it’s 1AM, and people here have only one obsession : feel like they’re 15 over again, and that’s what the band managed to do ! For sure, Dexter Holland’s voice is completely out of tune during half of the show, of course Noodles is a little bit older than what you might remember, but those songs are nothing but hits ! With a set clocking in at a little hour, the band found the perfect way to make people dance, mosh, shout the lyrics out loud, and have the best of times tonight.
An hour later, and after a titanic trio “Pretty Fly / The Kids Aren’t Alright / Self Esteem”, the band is going back home, and so are we, after what was a perfect day in heaven.
The rain that has been announced only appeared for ten minutes or so, and all the bands that we’ve seen have given solid performances, which is nothing less than what we’ve been waiting for all year long !