Sometimes, when you write an article, everything goes smoothly, and you get your paper done quickly enough. This was not the case for me this time, as this review contains my opinions on the last French appearance of Chester Bennington with Linkin Park. For some dark reason, this year’s edition of Hellfest has become in the blink of an eye an event that will be embedded in my memory for life, which made this article so much harder to write.
So, let’s go straight to what we were here for in the first place : music. This third, and last day at Hellfest is one that you cannot miss if you grew up in the 00s, with first class acts with the likes of A Day To Remember, Prophets Of Rage, Of Mice & Men, Five Finger Death Punch, Every Time I Die, Motionless In White, Skindred, Clutch and many, many more. So when, like me, you’re the kind of guy who doesn’t have the power of making decisions without regretting it, and that you have the good idea to get ill in the middle of the day… You get why enjoying that Sunday to the fullest has been the hardest riddle I ever had to solve.
First band we have to miss because of an interview : Northlane. After having released their latest record Mesmer by surprise, we would have been pleased to see this critically acclaimed band on stage, and the same thing happened with SHVPES. The British metalcore band leaded by Bruce Dickinson’s son (but with enough talent so that he didn’t let his name work by itself) has embarked on a relatively big festivals tour this summer, and even though we weren’t able to see their show, we couldn’t recommend you more than to check this band.
Traffic. I hate you. At 12:15 were beginning two concerts : The Devil Wears Prada and While She Sleeps. First, one doesn’t give TDWP and WSS a 30 minutes spot at a festival. And moreover, you NEVER want to make both bands play at the same time ! So I had to make a choice, and decided that after my interview I’d go and see the latter band. But neither of these bands could I see, as the traffic delayed my interview. You know, the same traffic that made me miss the beginning of Baroness’s concerts that Friday. Traffic, I hate you.
So now, let’s really head to the concerts area, with a very busy schedule ahead. The first show that we’ll see today is metal band Prong. One month prior to the release of their newest record Zero Days, the band fronted since 1986 by Tommy Victor are still at it, but compared to the youngest band that will play the same stage today, you can tell that they’ve been aging a bit. Still, Prong’s second appearance at Hellfest has drained a good amount of people, but there’s still a mystery for me that day : why such a band is playing between The Devil Wears Prada and Motionless In White ?
Speaking of Motionless In White, now is the time to see the metalcore act for the second time at Hellfest also, two years after having conquered a lot of festival goers
(MIW aren’t such a popular band here in France, and playing at Hellfest is a good way for a metal band to earn recognition in the country, even for bands that have a big audience in the US for example), and in support of their latest release, Graveyard Shift, which is very well represented in today’s setlist. The show begins with Rats, a powerful song showing that Motionless In White are not only capable of playing metalcore anthems, but their industrial oriented sound is really effective, as you could see everyone in the pit banging their heads in rhythm. Even though they have a strong visual identity, the band doesn’t fall short in terms of musical quality. With 4 albums released since 2010, we’re in front of a solid act, one of the most consistent in the scene, and this kind of concert shows you why. Each band member seems to enjoy its time here, and Chris Motionless’s smile is so infectious, you can’t have a bad time while they’re playing.
And speaking of good times, let’s go and see ragga-metal band Skindred, a.k.a. the band that need to be playing in each rock festival in the world. Starting off with Darth Vader’s Imperial March, you instantly know that there’s something big coming up. Skindred, along with some other acts in the scene, are this kind of band that’s underrated, as for example, at Hellfest they’re playing at 2PM. These guys should beone of the biggest names in the modern metal scene when you see such a show, but they still are committed to being at a place where they don’t belong. Benji Webbe and the rest of the band are delivering a top notch performance, each song being the perfect alibi to jump around and scream your lungs out. I mean, how could you resist such an amazing song as Doom Riff ? This kind of music is set to get every kind of rock music fan moving, and considering how many people are standing in front of the scene (almost as many as for a headlining band), the goal is fully reached. Even though an hour long set wouldn’t have been too much to ask for, the 8 songs the band managed to play have been enough to put a smile on everyone’s face, thanks to an energy that doesn’t weaken through the set, and the charism of the band members, with a special mention to Webbe, who’s the definition of a real frontman. Rarely does a singer have such a big influence on his band, and even though there’s no particular scenery on stage, this concert manages to stand out from the others, thanks to an identity in the sound that’s so unique.
Next band on our list is Ill Niño, the American nu-metal band, coming to Hellfest for the first time this year, and even though the band has a solid discography, and a career that many acts would kill for, we can’t be anything but disappointed by their performance today. What’s usually the number one point in a nu-metal concert, energy, is clearly lacking here, and what’s also a big let-down is Cristian Machado’s vocals. The band’s vocalist is way too often out of tune, which is a shame, because otherwise the show could have been much better.
After this concert, let’s head to Main Stage 1 as A Day To Remember are here to defend their latest record to date, Bad Vibrations. The band has gone a long way in this last decade, from releasing For Those Who Have Heart in 2007 to almost headlining some of the biggest festivals all over the world. But here in France, things are a bit different, and ADTR are still set to play 50 minutes slots in the middle of the afternoon. Still, it doesn’t seem that this will prevent them from giving everything to an audience that’s growing bigger every time they come at Hellfest (this is their third time since 2013). While their last release has been leaning towards a metalcore sound, you can sometimes wonder how a band playing such soft songs as Have Faith In Me or If It Means A Lot To You can play on the Main Stage of a festival like Hellfest, but still it will only take a few seconds into Exposed or 2nd Sucks to get an answer. The band has become one of the biggest ones in the metalcore scene, and this may be what can be the little criticism we can have towards their show, as it isn’t very surprising when you have already seen them before. But still, A Day To Remember know how to put up a really good show, with a lot of positive energy, the five guys from Ocala seem to have the best time out there, and this is very infectious. Let’s hope that this hard working band comes back in two years, as they’ve been doing since 2013.
Now, it’s time for us to attend two shows we’ve been anticipating a lot : Of Mice And Men for their first tour without Austin Carlisle, and Prophets of Rage, the only cover band that headlines the biggest festivals in the world.
First in the list, Of Mice And Men. A singer’s departure is always a strong issue for a band, and in this case, the band decided to keep playing without getting another lead singer, and it’s Aaron Pauley (bass) who managed to handle every vocal line, while still playing bass. Prior to the tour, the band has released two singles, and we could hope for the best today. The verdict is that the band still rocks, but there’s obviously a lack in terms of scenic presence, as Aaron isn’t really a good entertainer, despite being vocally impressive, and even more considering he’s playing the bass while singing. But it’s hard to forget Austin Carlisle and his charism. So what’s left is a good metal show, with a setlist focused on heavy tracks, a good sound, but there’s still something lacking, and considering the talent that these guys have, we can’t help but think that this should be fixed in the next months, as it’s always difficult to fill a hole left by a former band leader. The interesting new sound that’s been explored in the band’s last effort Cold World has seemingly been abandoned as the only song off it is Pain, and the least we can say is that it fits perfectly in Of Mice And Men’s setlist, and while some bands in this scene are walking away from their early sound, it seems that OM&M are taking the opposite path, as the first releases are still well represented (the show ends with The Flood followed by The Depths) and they seem to have well understood what the core of their sound is.
Another band that know the core of their sound, despite their older age, is Prophets Of Rage. The biggest cover band in the world, the ultimate supergroup, consisting of all three Rage Against Their Machine musicians plus Public Enemy’s Chuck D and DJ Lord, and Cypress Hill’s B-Real. If you ask someone what was his favorite show this year at Hellfest, it was this one, without a doubt, as the atmosphere is incredibly wild. Although this is far from being as good as the original lineup – we’re far from forgetting Zach De La Rocha’s unique vocals- the band’s presence and the setlist they’ve been wrapping up all summer long (9 RATM covers, two songs from Public Enemy and a cover from Cypress Hill) are enough to guarantee a hell of a show. Nine songs in, and halfway through the show, the emotion rises as the band pays tribute to Chris Cornell, who passed away exactly one month before the show. As the band begins to play a snippet of Audioslave’s Cochise and Like A Stone instrumentally, and the atmosphere immediately becomes incredibly particular, for those on stage who were friends with him, and for the festival goers, who have assisted to Soundgarden’s show back in 2014. Once this emotional moment over, the band is back with one of the most infectious series of songs you’ll hear this weekend: Know Your Enemy, Bullet In The Head, Bulls On Parade and the anthem, Killing In The Name. It’s a special moment, when you hear this song, which has been played almost every day every year at Hellfest, played by their original writers. And by these critical times, how good it feels to be able to sing these words freely. At the end of the day, this is only music, but Prophets of Rage still manages to prove that music can be a bit more important than just being an entertainment.
And now, let’s mention the last show we’ve seen during this festival : Linkin Park.
As I mentioned earlier, this show has become some memory that is going to be stuck in my mind forever, as this festival gave me the chance to see the original lineup of a legendary band which has influenced our music scene in the 00s, with an innovative sound, and whether you like them or not, no one can say that Linkin Park is the kind of band that never steps out of their comfort zone. With their latest record, One More Light, released earlier this year, the band has divided among their fans more than ever, and you could see that they were not evolving in conquered territory, as Hellfest’s audience can be tough with artists who broke into the mainstream. With a show beginning with Talking To Myself / Burn It Down / The Catalyst, the crowd remains as inactive as you could expect, and it’s not until Wastelands that the atmosphere starts to warm up, and that Chester Bennington shows that he really is one of the great, demonstrating an incredible voice range, from his perfect cleans to top notch screaming. One Step Closer comes in, everyone gets back to 2000, and you could finally see the crowd go wild ! The problem, as I said earlier, is that many people here at Hellfest are quite elitist, and when they dislike something… They let everyone know. So that’s how the crowd got to boo the band a lot between songs (between One Step Closer and From The Inside, LP explore their softest records, and while the concert is going really great, with musicians enjoying their time here, Mike Shinoda delivering a perfect performance, with this great big smile, it seems that many people in the audience only wanted to hear the heaviest songs from Linkin Park’s discography), and that’s also – I guess – how the band ended up skipping a few songs from their usual setlist and ending more than 15 minutes earlier than what was planned (the songs which have been skipped being really personal songs, when you know what was going on with Bennington, you can totally get how he didn’t want to be playing them in front of a booing audience). But overall, this has been a crazy show, there’s no questioning why Linkin Park, almost twenty years after the release of their first album, are still so relevant, and headlining the biggest festivals. If you get to be a bit open-minded, you’ll enjoy one of the most diverse, on point rock shows in the world, thanks to a band that has always delivered the best for their fans, and that has inspired so many of us, may it have been musically speaking, or more, as we’ve been writing how much Chester Bennington has been an inspiration, struggling with his demons his entire life.
So that’s how ended 2017’s edition for us, with a show I will never forget, but this whole edition was a week-end I’ll never forget, with some great discoveries, many great concerts, and we’re looking forward to see what we are going to see next year, in this always evolving festival, which has never disappointed us !