The final day on paper was easily the most attractive for the average rock or metal fan. I used to listen to many of these bands more than half a decade back regularly and since I’ve never watched any of them live before, I was excited to take this trip down memory lane.
But before we get to them, I caught Primal Fear, the German power metal band that’s been going at it for almost twenty years now. There’s a reason why vocalist Ralf Scheepers was in the dialogue as a replacement for Rob Halford at Judas Priest when he quit the band for a few years. The man has some incredible pipes, and even though the band’s music is not far away from your heavy and power metal traditional, I came out impressed by the performance. I then had an interview with him and the members, both of whom seem quite relaxed mid-noon, cracking a few jokes and explaining about the new album to come out, ‘Apocalypse’.
It was followed by another interview, this time with a surprise candidate from Nightwish, Tuomas Holopainen who made a rare interview with online media. It was finally time to head out for what was going to be a brutal chain of bands. First off were one that I had recently discovered, Swiss avant-garde metallers, Zeal & Ardor. I was treated to almost an hour of incredible gospel-infused black metal. Their new album ‘Stranger Fruit’ is up there with my favourite albums of the year, and the ferocity of the transitions from the soul lyrics by backing vocalists to the harrowing, ear-splitting screams by Manuel Gagneux on “Don’t You Dare”, “Row Row” and “Servants” were incredibly fiery live. The singer didn’t speak much, but I was happy to see the diversity the band had. Apart from of course the racial miscellany, the bassist, Mia, as her name suggests, is a woman and made her presence felt on the instrument-heavy “Fire & Motion”. You should stop whatever you’re doing and check them out, this band deserve your attention.
I then headed towards the direction of Arch Enemy but was taken aback by how packed the entire arena inside the festival was then. Moving from the stands to even the corner screens took about ten minutes to traverse. Anyways, there was a time where I use to listen to the Angela Gossow era of Arch Enemy a lot, but this Alissa White-Gluz fronted era I knew next to nothing about. I was content checking out “We Will Rise” and “Nemesis” live, but a spark seemed to be missing from the band: I don’t know whether it’s the frontwoman or just my memory of the tracks misleading me.
Next came the very long build-up for Maiden, involving first their openers for the Beast of the Legacy tour, Megadeth. Dave Mustaine was not quite bothered with encouraging the crowd or giving snippets of information during track breaks, instead just focussing on the music and excellent riffing. The classics were all on the list: “Hangar 18”, “Peace Sell” and “Symphony of Destruction” were expertly performed, though Mustaine’s problems with his broken voice were evident. More condolences for Vinnie Paul were in order, with “My Last Words” being dedicated to the drummer. After not speaking for most of the show, he then exclaimed “When the dickhead on the drums stops playing I’ll introduce the band”, a quote was hilarious in context. The sound could’ve been better, and I was particularly taken aback by how loud the bass drum was in the mix. Still waiting, I caught a glimpse of Alice in Chains next, standing in the middle of several festival mates who’d taken to the ground to relax for a bit before Maiden arrive. I’d heard only songs of Alice in Chains from the Layne Staley era, but William DuVall is clearly a very competent vocalist. There was a mix-up on the big screen initially, with them showing the wrong stage for a few minutes. I enjoyed the catchy tunes of several songs that I’d never heard off, truth be said, and the tribute here to Paul was the acoustic song “Nutshell”. DuVall was also connecting well with his audience using accented French, which got a cheer from the crowd, as he explained that they were back in France after a very long while. The groovy performance then ended with the crowd favourite “Would?”.
Iron Maiden were finally on stage and what an entrance! In the background, an almost life-size aircraft popped out as Bruce Dickinson jumps in with his aviators and flight cap and started singing “Aces High”. The props and sets used were sensational: From these off the tracks of ‘Powerslave’ to the dark, torch-held ones on “Fear of the Dark”, to the flashy, glittering cross on “Sign of the Cross” and finally to the flame-throwing device later in the night, it was a spectacle that has to be seen to be believed. They even had a soldier (or a fake one?) get the drapes off the first set. Before “The Clansman”, Bruce took a few minutes to took about liberty, one of the words in the motto of France and how it linked in in with the lyrics of the song. He even spoke a few words in French, all while delivering a sensational and energetic performance from start to finish. The blasting of the crackers added to the loud atmosphere of the night and the sound was almost perfect, with the only fault being that Steve Harris’ bass gallops could have been more audible. All in all, Iron Maiden will always be the stars of any show they’re at, firstly because they are, in my opinion, the greatest metal band of all time and so the music cannot get any better, but secondly because they truly know how to put on an unforgettable show.
As I took a break trying to relax my almost broken back by then, I caught Marilyn Manson on a smaller screen in the VIP arena. Unlike Limp Bizkit from the previous day, Manson has some incredible albums back in the day, so I could forgive his gimmicks to an extent. Even then, the man either was very drugged or was acting like he was as he delivered the vocals humping one of the speakers on a track. He even mimicked being out of control on the floor on “This is the New Shit”. On his final song “The Beautiful People”, he got a few topless girls on stage and the final few minutes were spent alternating the mic towards the direction of the people and of the topless girls, as they sang the lyrics off the chorus.
In additional to preparing for interview with Nightwish early in the day, I had also been obsessed with ‘Oceanborn’ for a few weeks then, so I was more than excited to watch them on the Main Stage, even if it was 1AM and I had to get to work the next day morning. The show was a one-off, placed between their North American and European ‘Decades’ tour, and one whose setlist was derived off the new compilation album of the same name. There was a countdown that opened the show, followed by “End of all Hope”. Since this was my first show and hence hadn’t seen Floor Jansen perform the tracks of the older eras live, I was surprised by how confidently she pulled off several hard ones, especially those with Tarja Turunen originally. Her alternating from headbangs to delicate dance moves during the instrumental bridges also made me smile. The complement of male vocals and those of Floor was well executed, and the flute sections were unique. If I’ve to pick a couple of highlights, they’d be the folk, foot-tapping bridge of “I Want my Tears Back” and the cinematic outro off “Ghost Love Score”, which was also the final song of a festival that’ll be etched in memory for a while.
That’s that, hope you’ve enjoyed the run-through of the star-studded line-up of 2018 edition of Hellfest, it’s been a pleasure to describe my experience being at the festival for the first, but definitely not the last, time.
Also view our photo gallery of Day 3 here!