Hellfest has grown incredibly fast. When it first opened its gates in 2006 it attracted a respectable 22,000 odd metalheads. Eleven years later well over 100,000 metal fans descended on the small town of Clisson in Western France, lured in by some of the biggest names in rock and metal including the pioneering Deep Purple, Aerosmith and Slayer.
Before getting into day one’s incredible line up I’ve got to mention the incredible decorations and theatrics of Hellfest’s arena, shops and camping areas. Everything from the seventy ton, fifty meters tall statue of Lemmy that stands over the warzone, to the bars and merch stalls that shoot huge gouts of flames out of their rust covered roofs during the night, has been so lovingly crafted and placed; Hellfest is truly a sight to behold and I’ve yet to see another festival create such an interesting and varied space.
Stumbling down to the arena after a heavy night of drinking at the early time of 11:05 was well worth it to see Sidilarsen, a French industrial metal band that despite twenty years of touring and six albums have struggled to find much of a fan base outside their own country. The unfortunate reality is that bands whose lyrics are sung in their native tongues instead of English have a much more difficult time breaking out to wider recognition. This is a shame as Sidilarsen’s set was impressive, I’ve never seen a band with a time slot this early in the festival get such a large and responsive crowd. Their catchy flavour of pulsing electronic infused brand of metal inspired mosh pits and sing- a-longs in equal measures and I hope they become one of the rare exceptions such as Rammstein or Kvelterek who manage to find audiences despite the language barrier.
Next up were Myrath a band who proudly display their Tunisian heritage musically and visually. While it’s nice to witness metal spreading far from its traditionally western roots, Myrath’s set was less engaging and failed to impress the crowd which quickly grew smaller, with many people deciding to try their luck other stages.
I wished I’d made the same decision when the next band came on. I’d not heard of Betraying The Martyr’s before today and hopefully, it won’t take long before I forget them. The band mashed their way through a thankfully short set of generic, almost indistinguishable metalcore songs before making way for progressive metallers Textures. Despite their use of polyrhythm and occasional ambient sections Textures music is surprisingly catchy and soon have the crowd moving again. It’s no small loss to the metal world that the band has decided to break up and I’d recommend catching them on their final European tour this winter if you have even a passing interest in their music.
A short while later it was time to see one of all-time favourite artists The Devin Townsend Project. Seeing Devin Townsend perform a double set playing the entirety of their Z2 album as well as fan requests a few years ago, was perhaps the best live experience I’ve had so it’s with a heavy heart that I must admit this year’s main stage set was a dull and low energy experience. After another disappointing set at 2013s Sonisphere’s UK festival, I did wonder if perhaps Devin Townsend’s brand of zany progressive metal and intimidate crowd interaction simply worked a lot better in smaller enclosed venues and this year’s Hellfest set confirmed that in my mind.
Next up was Ministry whose unique combination of frantic riffing and industrial accentuations sound just as dirty and powerful as they do on album. It’s hard to believe frontman Al Jourgensen is approaching sixty as he darts around the stage barking out the lyrics to “N.W.O” with vigour that would put other singers half his age to shame.[metalwani_content_ad]
Day one’s headliner Deep Purple take to the main stage at the early time of 20:45. Many consider Deep Purple to be one of the key pioneers and creators of metal and it’s fair to say that a good number of the bands at this year’s Hellfest would not exist in the same way if not their music. Considering the members are now into their 70’s you’d be forgiven for expecting a less than stellar performance but somehow these old dogs still have some new tricks with their latest songs going down almost as well as classics such as obligatory set list staple “Smoke on Water”. Ian Gillian’s vocal ability is particularly impressive, there are very few singers who from his era who still have such power live.
If only Rob Zombie had aged so gracefully. Stumbling over the lyrics and seemingly forgetting parts of his own songs this was certainly not one of his best shows, however with giant inflatable aliens being unleashed on the crowd and sing along stomping anthems such as “Scum of the Earth” and “Living Dead Girl” a bad Rob Zombie show is still good fun. John 5 got a chance to show anyone who didn’t know that he’s got some guitar lick and tricks up his sleeves with a short solo section and the band seemed to settle into their groove in the second half of their set.
Starting at 1 in the morning the crowd were sufficiently deep in their cups to truly show their appreciation for Alestorm and their rum covered brand of pirate metal. The standout moment of the show was “Drink”, the chorus of which received the loudest and most enthusiastic sing-a-long of the weekend. Alestorm has never put on a bad show any of the many times I’ve seen them and with songs from their new album ‘No Grave But The Sea’, their set list has only got better.
Day one of Hellfest was an excellent start to one of the best festivals on the planet with bands such as Ministry, Alestorm and Deep Purple performing at the top of their game. After such a great day, it was hard to believe we still had the choice of over one hundred bands to see in the next two days.