From initially hushed whispers in 2006, a groundswell of favourable opinion has developed over the last eight summers. The epicentre of this now lofty praise? A sleepy commune in western France called Clisson. The occasion? A pilgrimage of like-minded people from all of the world, coming together in celebration of their favourite artform – heavy metal.
Last week saw the Fake Geeks team expand their horizons, venturing far into the southron lands in search of this mythical gathering of fellow metalheads. Below are our findings.
Getting there and setting up
There are a number of ways to get to the festival, but we chose to fly from London City Airport to Nantes, before getting a train to Clisson. It was all pretty hassle free, didn’t take long at all and relatively inexpensive for how you did it (it cost only marginally more than if we’d have taken the Eurostar and changed in Paris, whilst taking a fraction of the time).
The original plan was to head down to the festival site on the Wednesday and pitch up early – in previous years this had been allowed. For the festival’s ninth incarnation though, security had been tightened and we would have to go on the Thursday. Still, this gave us the opportunity to check out what this small town had to offer. We found a few decent bars (one of which opened quite late and played rock/metal), as well as a fine little restaurant next to the local castle. We recommend the horse!
Come Thursday, we caught a shuttle bus (2 euros each) for the 10-15 minute journey to the festival entrance. Whilst baking in the early afternoon sun (a theme that would be repeated throughout the weekend), some members of our group discovered that Yellow campsite was actually accessible as in previous years, so we hauled ourslves over there (about another 10-15 mins on foot) and set to getting to know our new neighbours. After stocking up on essentials at the local supermarket (also a 10 minute walk), we finished the day heading into the Metal Corner to see a band play covers of 80s rock tunes. Good stuff!
[Note: Band scores are out of 5]
Friday didn’t quite get off to the best start. We had been warned that the queue on the opening day is always ridiculous. True to form, we stood in line for something like an hour to an hour and a half to get in as security made very thorough checks. Unfortunately this meant that openers such as Angelus Apartrida, Necroblood or Mars Red Sky had a lower attendance than may have been expected.
We made it in just in time to catch the last 15 minutes of French power metallers Nightmare. They sounded decent enough, but were hampered by poor sound mixing on Main Stage 1 that made it difficult to hear the lead guitars .
After some brief respite to refuel, we meandered over to The Valley for the first time to see US post-rockers Caspian. 30 minutes later and faith was immediately restored in the festival after they racked up a very good set .
Due to how the festival times are spread, we had a brisk walk back down to Main Stage 1 to catch New Wave of British Heavy Metallers Satan. The veterans didn’t suffer from the same audio issues that Nightmare did, and put on a solid show . Fans of the genre shouldn’t be disappointed at Bloodstock this year, where they are headlining the Sophie Lancaster Stage on the Sunday.
Five minutes after the Brits depart it is time for Portland thrashers Toxic Holocaust to take to the adjacent Main Stage 2. The Americans blast their way through a high tempo riff-laden set that would be difficult to match [4.5].
Shuffling back across to Main Stage 1, Powerman 5000 were here to drop a Bombshell. In reality, their now slightly dated industrial flavoured hard rock was received politely rather than raucously, though the previously mentioned Bombshell and set closer When Worlds Collide rightfully produced a better response. [2.5]
There was no time for a break as we dashed back to The Valley to catch proggy-stoners Royal Thunder. Whilst the heat probably affected our enjoyment of their set a little, they were still a good improvement on what went before, and definitely worth a second look [3.5].
After another break away from the now-searing temperatures (it was between 28 and 30 degrees in the shade all weekend – and Main Stage 1 and 2 (as well as The Warzone) were most certainly not in shade!), we made our way back for Rob Zombie. The horror metal master played a good set, that could have been better if it included the props seen when he played Download a few years ago [3.5].
Hellfest has one or two features that make it feel unique as a festival, and one of them is the design of their combined 3rd and 4th stages. A sort of Y-shaped tent houses The Altar and The Temple, and here is where you’re more likely to find the more extreme bands, as well as the bit of folk metal on the bill too. For our first venture in here, we saw Turisas. The Finns are always good value for money and they once again didn’t disappoint. Their closing cover of Boney M’s Rasputin was probably the second best cover of the weekend too .
And so, at around 9pm local, it was time for the first of our headliners. Iron Maiden produced one of the best sets we’ve seen in years, playing a modified version of their Maiden England setlist that they have been touring recently (a notable switch was Afraid to Shoot Strangers being dropped in favour of Revelations). We counted at least three costume changes from Bruce (including one dubious one hairdo that resembled Misfits’ Jerry Only). A testament to their musicianship was that, even after all these years, the band still have a high-octane, energetic performance but not one that sacrifices the quality of the show – this was a tight as hell show and one of the best of the weekend .
Death To All were up next on The Altar. In all honesty there were a mixed bag – as a straight up death metal band they were quite dull. However, when playing cuts from their proggier albums there was a fantastic transformation and they were much more appealing. It was tempting to give them two scores to respresent how different the quality of the material was, but we’ll settle for .
Despite the sound having being perfect around an hour or so earlier for Iron Maiden, the gremlins returned for Sabaton‘s warm-down set. Despite the first half of the show particularly suffering from a lack of lead guitar (or, occasionally, any guitars) frontman Joakim managed to just about keep things on track. Primo Victoria was a predictably epic finale. .
Hellfest really is an epic festival, and whilst this description could mean a few things, it can definitely be applied to the sheer amount of time taken up by bands on the bill. Shows finish at 2am every day, leading to some baggy eyes in subsequent morning. Rounding out night one was Kvelertak at The Warzone. These guys are certainly special, and ones to watch over the coming years. Their hybrid sound of hard rock, punk and elements of extreme metal lend itself to a heck of a lot of headbanging and – despite the time of night – they have plenty of moshpits running throughout the set. An exhausting, excellent experience [4.5].
Band of the Day: Iron Maiden
Honourable Mentions: Kvelertak and Toxic Holocaust.