Day 0 (Arriving, Amon Amarth, Slipknot)
On June, 20th at 5:30 am I left Tel Aviv and flew off to my first big festival in nine years: Hellfest!
Ancient said that all roads lead to Rome, but in my case it was Kyiv: there I needed to change the plain to Paris, then to take a train to Nantes, meet my friend George, the photographer there, and from Nantes we needed to go our final destination, Clisson. It was quite challenging and complex logistically but we did it and at 17:45 we arrived to Clisson. In the train the festival mood could be felt already with lots of metalheads and their huge backpacks with tents.
An accommodation issue was solved towards a comfort and we had luckily rent a room near the festival. So we put our stuff and walked around Clisson a little bit. We drank some beer and coffee in local pubs, talked to people and went to register for the festival.
When we got our bracelets it turned out that we also have a pass to Knotfest, some kind of Hellfest Day 0, so we entered without losing any time. Actually, it’s impressive already after the first gates: it’s a whole street, full of food courts, merchandise shops, a little stage and cashless counters. By the way, it’s a comfy and useful thing: you pay money on the counter, charge your bracelet and don’t have no problems with cash, change and all the stuff. Well sometimes you have to stand in a huge line to charge your bracelet, but with such amount of people it’s a necessary evil.
Walking through the famous Hellfest gates you enter a real city: six stages, a few food courts, countless bars and some other metalheads’ joys. It designed very stylishly, diesel punk mostly, with tons of rusty iron, spikes and fires.
There were six stages in total: two main stages, two in Altar, one stage in Temple and one more in Warzone, quite far from others. Main stages were for headliners, of course, Altar and Temple were taken mostly by Black, Death and other extreme Genres, Warzone was for Punk.
KnotFest took place only on two main stages. So we listened to mighty vikings Amon Amarth and Slipknot and even got some food. The sound was awesome even far from stage and three huge screens could be seen far away.
Shortly about food courts: all menus were in French and sometimes it was really hard to understand. I mean, some words like “hamburger” or “hot dog” are already international, but something more was hardly understandable for non-French speakers. I guess, it’ll be great to duplicate the menus in English. Anyway, enough about food, we’re here not to eat!
Day 1 (Godsmack, Dream Theater, Dropkick Murphys, Possessed, Sum 41 )
In the morning our neighbors, also photographers by the way, told us that Manowar just packed their stuff and leaved the festival. Even now it’s no clear what really happened: there are couples of versions, varying degrees of plausibility, but in the end it doesn’t matter. People were disappointed with this fact and I can totally understand them. As for me it wasn’t a big loss, I already saw Manowar two times this year, in Tel Aviv and Kyiv, and honestly it was not the greatest gigs. To their credit, organizers replaced Manowar with Sabaton really fast: my hat’s off to such excellent organizing.
Also I need to say a word about the timeliness: security check, accreditation and all the stuff was very quickly, so less than in a minute George got his photo pass and we went to see the first band of the day: The Rumjacks.
Australian guys with Irish roots played not so much, we also came late, but anyway we catch 20 minutes of good Celtic Punk. Despite the early hour, there were a lot of people there already, so we didn’t even try to come closer to the stage. Through, there was a place for dancing near the “tribunes”, and many people tried to dance some Irish dances. We yelled “An Irish Pub Song” with the band and moved to the main stage for Godsmack.
This day Godsmack was on fire. Musicians did a great show, full of energy. The crowd took it sincerely and gave the good vibes back to the band. As I know, Godsmack don’t do many shows in Europe and people were really happy to see them.
After their set George and I needed to go back to our apartment and take some equipment for the interview with the band from my youth years: Sum 41! With this we missed Diamond Head and Demons And Wizards, but it was worth it. Dave Backsh is a really nice guy and their manager Walter’s fast and polite work with journalists was awesome also.
Then we needed to make a hard way to the main stage where Dream Theater played. Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of this band but I respect it, this band did a lot for the metal music. The show was very technical and powerful, every musician tried to stand out, so it was some kind of Metal Jazz. Also it can be seen that the band members are not young at all, but it can be said about many other bands too.
The next ones to perform in this stage were Dropkick Murphys, so we decided to stay where we are. Between Dream Theater and Dropkick Murphys French Ultra Vomit performed on Main Stage 2, which was fully dedicated to French bands that day. According to Wikipedia, Ultra Vomit is a parody Grindcore/Deathgrind band. I don’t speak French, so all the parody just walked by me. The sound was really heavy, vocalist talked a lot to the crowd and overall it was pretty good. I can’t say that I’ll listen to this band every day, but live performance is a different story. Nevertheless, even non-French speakers were able to understand something. For example, short song “Pi-pi versus Ka-ka”: toilet humor in all its best.
People started to chant “Dropkick Murphys” long before they got up the stage. But here they are, the crowd shouts favorably and then there was almost an hour of energy, excitement and cohesion mood. You know, when several tens of thousands singing “Rose Tattoo” or “Shipping Up To Boston”, it can’t remain nobody indifferent; musicians were also happy for such warm welcome and shared their songs with a real joy. Also I need to say about the great show with fires, confetti and huge paper ribbons which flew off the stage unrolling in the air.
After such a load of good vibes we went to Altar for Death Metal legends Possessed. The sound on Altar and Temple stages was a bit worse than on Main Stages: they are smaller and stand in close tents. With this, it can’t be called “bad”: it’s much more than “average” but don’t get to “great”. But let’s get back to the band: endless drum attack, technical and fast riffs and sharp solos – oldschool Death Metal as it should be. The crowd slammed and headbanged during the whole show. And, of course, Jeff Becerra that performed all the set perfectly, talked to people and smiled. Goddamn, I really consider Jeff Becerra as a hero: he became handicapped in the age of 19, tied to a wheelchair but nonetheless he remained active in music, finished college, started a family and resurrected Possessed after 33 years of silence! This man deserves respect even if you far from Death Metal.
To Sabaton, which replaced Manowar that evening we decided to listen from the food court (and to take some food). Also it’s, maybe, tenth time when I see Sabaton live. And this band also deserves respect: vocalist Joakim Broden’s voice gone that evening, but the band didn’t even think to cancel the show – guitarist Chris Rörland singed the whole set. Add to this Sabaton‘s show with tank, ammo and choir and you’ll get the show that wasn’t worse than Manowar (or even better). Me and George argued for a long time if this replacement was equivalent, but didn’t get to something common. The only thing that we agreed is in such circumstances it was the best option.
Sum 41 finished that day for us. I remember how I listened countless times for Does This Look Infected and Chuck in college and in an army, so this one was “must see” for me. We arrived to Warzone something like half hour before the show and it tuned out that it’s already full of people. George hardly could get to the photo pit enter and I tried to stand somewhere in the middle but remained somewhere on the side of a stage. Some metal hits from early 2000s were played while we were waiting for the band: “Toxicity”, “Last Resort” etc. People singed-alone and in 20 minutes the crowd was warm and ready to get Sum 41 despite the late time (the band got on stage at 01:05) and tiredness.
Sum 41 began their set from “Motivation” and everybody immediately started to jump, slam and sing. No warming up, just the music from the childhood and youth. Then the band started “The Hell Song” (of course, it’s Hellfest!) and when they finished it, they could do anything with the crowd. New songs “A Death In The Family” and “Out For Blood” were also accepted greatly; on some “A Death In The Family” chorus I felt that I’m losing my voice. And when Sum 41 played covers for “Another Brick In The Wall” and “We Will Rock You”, it seemed that you can touch all the adoration waves. In fact, it can’t be said that all the members are 40-years old: Derrick runs in stage and sings like he’s 20 and he never passed through all that shit that he did. As for me personally, this show was the closure: I should have seen this band 15 years ago. But even now, when I’m 35, I felt a teenager again and I really grateful to the band for this.
The show ended with one of the famous songs, “Still Waiting” and this was devastating: the throat is sore, I’m out of my voice, barely standing on my feet, with only one wish – to fall asleep. And this is only the first day of the festival!
Day 2 (Within Temptation, ZZ Top, Candlemass, Kiss, Architects)
There was planned to do quite a lot on this day, but it was an achievement to wake up and an act of heroism to make some coffee. So we decided to go straight to Within Temptation press conference. Here I should commend the Hellfest organization one more time: everything was according to schedule, with maximum comfort for artists and press. But some journalists really surprised me for bad. Here’s the thing: I don’t think that I’m a journalist, no. It’s not my occupation and I don’t have appropriate education, it’s a hobby for me like for many others. Nevertheless, I do my best when I prepare for the interviews and I’m trying not to ask questions that were already asked. So I was surprised when someone asked Sharon about combining tours and studio work with being mother for three. Come on, she was asked about it almost in every interview! Also I was shocked when two journalists in a row asked the same question! Seriously? You don’t listen to the others? Yet, Sharon and Ruud answered all the questions, signed all the things and were really friendly.
We got to the Main Stage when Whitesnake was already in the middle of its set. Somehow this band passed by me and all that I know about it is their famous hit “Here I Go Again”. But I must mention their energy and David Coverdale’s voice. Of course, it’s already not as it was in his younger years but still powerful.
Within Temptation performed right after them and their show was really impressive: huge futuristic decorations, solid sound and Sharon’s awesome high vocals. By the way, all critics that wrote some unflattering things about this album, have you ever heard these songs live? As for me, they sound really great and very Within Temptation-ish. Also I need to emphasize the band’s stylish outfit, especially Sharon’s, but that’s no surprise as she has a clothing design bachelor.
Then we went to Altar, to listen to Candlemass. It was a good old Swedish Doom Metal, very slow and very solid. It’s a best thing to rest from slams but without losing a music and mood. The only lack is when you standing in the entrance to Altar, you can hear the music from the both scenes – the Altar itself and Main stage. Though, in the Altar tent this feature disappears.
Back to the main stage, to wait for ZZ Top while Def Leppard are playing their set. Frankly speaking, I never had any love for them; it’s not “my” band, not my cup of tea. With this I admit their contribution to music and their drummer Rick Allen also a great example of heroism for me. Of course, the band played their greatest hits; the sound was loud and really great, so the crowd was really happy to listen to them. And you know when I saw some 15-years old girl that smiled for joy and danced to “Pour Some Sugar On Me”, I understood one simple thing: it doesn’t matter what some reviewers like me or elitists say about the band. If your music makes people feel good, no matter how – is it joyful dancing or nostalgic smile, anything else doesn’t matter.
I never dreamed about to see ZZ Top, which performed after Def Leppard, live. I saw their videos in childhoods with hot girls and hot-rods, listened to their timeless hits but never thought about being at their live gig, especially taking into account their age. But here are they, one more time I can see some living legends from my childhood. Still in their posh suits with long beards and bright, garish guitars. And, of course, their stylish mic stands, made like American trucks’ exhaust pipes. In a word, all that I’ve seen on TV is in front of me now. The only one, who seemed aged, was the drummer Frank Beard; Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill seem like they are timeless. So, the band got on stage, and here we go: “La Grange”, “Gimme All Your Lovin'”, “Sharp Dressed Man” (where I lost my voice once again) and many other songs. It seems like it’s a simple southern Blues Rock, but it had so much energy, positive vibes and humor! Goddamn, that was great! And the main thing: it seemed like Billy Gibbon’s voice hasn’t changed at all for 50 years of the band existing (50!!!).
This day headliners were Kiss: farewell tour from legendary band, you know. Brand Kiss stage clothes, lots of fire, well-designed decorations – everything that you need for a good show. Everything, except the performance. On one hand it’s a living legend that goes off stage (for the first time so far, Scorpions still the record holders) and it’s the last time when you can see them. But on the other hand… Well, there is a moment when you can’t hide age wrinkles and flabby chins with no make-up. Festival cameras’ clothe-ups played an evil joke with this. Add to this Paul Stanley’s voice: when he talked to people between songs, it somehow reminded me of Dr. Rockzo from Metalocalypse series (like a parody on a parody). I have no claims about the show itself: it was very thoughtful, greatly performed and really impressive. But the band itself became an illustration to “cognitive dissonance” with their performance. It was really disappointing, especially against other “old men” ZZ Top.
Architects closed the second day. Never listened to them before, but it turned out that it’s one of George’s favorite bands and he really wanted to take some photos, so we stayed. And I need to say that I didn’t regret about this at all. The drums played some wild, shamanic rhythm, Metalcore guitars knocked down with their sound and the vocalist gave his 100% from the first to the last song. Also I remember his speech about mental distresses and depressions as one of main problems of our century. He called people not to hold this inside and not remain silent about it, but share it with close people. My close person was in the hospital with exactly such diagnosis at that moment, “deep depression”, so I totally understand what Sam Carter talked about. I think that Architects reached many people that night.
So, that’s how the second day ended: my legs hurt, I’m out of my voice one more time and all that I dream about is to fall on bed.
Day 3 (Trivium, Phil Anselmo And The Illegals, Lamb Of God, Slayer)
We had some optimistic plans to wake up early and to see New Zealand guys Alien Weaponry, but it was already too much, so our first band that day was Trivium.
The weather that was quite comfortable for two days went a little bad: already in the morning there was something like 30 degrees. Before the stage there was a man, which watered the crowd from the fire hose – one more merit to the festival organization.
Trivium themselves were great: their powerful melodic mix of Thrash and Metalcore caused huge circle pits and walls of death. Matt Heafy ran on stage and singed in three microphones to be faced for maximum people. In the end Matt hurt French crowd quite painfully: “until now the loudest crowd that we have was at Download Festival in UK. Can you beat them?”
Mighty Anthrax were chipper and played all that was expected from them. It was metal and it was real fun. Good performance, but it can be seen that time is taking its tall.
After some time we’re going to Altar Stage, where Phil Anselmo sings with his project The Illegals. They start their set with some Country song and then the band come up to the stage and swaying the crowd with some slow song. After that the band play fast and rough “Little Fucking Heroes” and “Choosing Mental Illness”; the last one is some brutal mix of Death Metal and Grind. Phil almost not moving on stage but he still growls and screams great. Between the songs Phil talks about drinking while recording the first The Illegals album, how he changed now and how good to be sober. After that the band started “Mouth To War” and Pantera set began with all its nostalgic madness.
Alongside with Phil Anselmo And The Illegals, Lynyrd Skynyrd played on Main Stage, so we decided to listen at least to three last songs from legendary grandfathers from Jacksonville. Actually, we arrived at time (as it was possible because there was too much people) when the band started to play my favorite song “Simple Man”. The crowd warmly welcomed the band, Lynyrd Skynyrd gave the love back, and the whole atmosphere was awesome. Also there were a couple of almost forbidden Naval Jacks. And when the band started to play “Sweet Home Alabama”, the whole crowd went crazy.
Then Lamb Of God got on stage with the only change in line up: Art Cruz replaced Chris Adler (who officially leaved the band not a long time ago). The band starts mighty and don’t stops till the end. Randy Blythe running on stage and jumping from the decorations, other members also going crazy. The crowd already formed a huge circle pit and crowd surfers endlessly floating to the stage. Security guys that took all the surfers maybe did their entire monthly gym plan for arms and back in an hour. In the overall, it was a real madness, just like it should be at metal fest. Also the band thanked to organizers and the crowd: “we’re coming almost every year here and we can see how the Hellfest changed”.
I decided to skip Slash, Miles Kennedy and The Conspirators: first of all soon they will perform in Tel Aviv and secondly I wanted to take a good place to see Slayer. Well, I tried but I’m not the only one smart guy here.
The time has home for the festival headliners: Slayer! Some crosses appear on the black curtain, they rolling over and turn to the band’s logos and merge to a big one. The curtain falls and the band starts to play “Repentless”. I was lucky to see Slayer nine years ago with Hanneman and Dave Lombardo. Many things changed since there, members got noticeably old, but the main and the important remained the same – the atmosphere! Great fire show with burning upside down crosses and walls of fire before the members emphasized the infernality, brutality and aggression of their music. Slayer gave all what crowd wanted: “War Ensemble”, “Angel Of The Death” and, of course, “Raining Blood” (in the middle of it a couple of rain drops fallen symbolically). Huge circle pits, endless crowd surfing from all ages and interminable screams: people were really grateful to the band. Tom Araya that looks rather like a kind uncle than an angry band’s frontman even talked to the crowd a little. In the end, when musicians bowed and throw their picks and drum sticks, fireworks started – it was really beautiful. That’s how you should go off stage!
Hellfest 2019 ended, but we didn’t want to leave, despite the three-day-tiredness and total inner devastation. So, if we will not take to account a couple of things, which I wrote above, the festival was really great. And… See you at Hellfest 2020?
Photos by George Lazurenko