Hellfest – Neil Simpson gives the lowdown on this year’s premium French Rock and Metal Festival

Arriving at Hellfest in Clisson the weather as always was blistering sun. To set the scene the festival is full of amazing installations and its very apparent that the production team really put the effort in to make the festival site visually stunning.

Before joining the wristband queue to enter the site you pass a roundabout with a huge guitar statue in the centre and two information points either side made to look like foot pedals. 

The entrance gate is built up to be a massive Marshall Amplifier with such detail it even has a lead on top of it. Passing through the entrance once receiving the cashless wristband, we’re in!. You enter the Metal Square which consists of permanent buildings and stalls of all kinds including bars, arcades, an ESP Guitar stall, Doc Martins, Personalised Hellfest t-shirts and even a tattoo parlour. Across from this is the Metal Market full of amazing stall and shops for all your metal needs. Everyone is in awe the first time they enter the metal square as it truly shows the essence of Hellfest and the community you’ve just entered. 

What’s amazing about the community of Hellfest is that it is the only festival I know of that allows you to bring glass onto the site, and in the 5 years I’ve been I’ve never seen any smashed bottles on the site. People care and look after the site and dispose of these items properly within the campsite. Once the tents are up the majority will congregate towards the supermarket just a 10-minute walk off-site which is a Huge Leclerc superstore that supports the festival like you have never seen. They have Hellfest sculptures as you enter the shop, and the first aisle you go down is filled from end-end with pyramids of booze, ranging from cheap Kroonenberg to Rammstein Rhum and other artist alcohols. All staff wear Hellfest Leclerc Staff uniform and all the Bags-For-Life are Hellfest branded designs. 

Back in the Carpark there are two trailers which are in fact stages that host over 40 French bands over the weekend, continuing the Hellfest Vibes throughout the town of Clisson and 100% backing the festival.

At least 1/3 of festival goers were said to have attended the very special event this year on the Thursday evening as Slipknot took over Hellfest for a day with their own festival Knotfest consisting of Sabaton, Rob Zombie, Amon Amarth and Papa Roach to name a few. However I spent my evening getting drunk in the campsite and listening to some local French bands over at the Metal Corner which is a stage dedicated to French acts on the Thursday night.

Friday started with a banging hangover as per usual, but we still made it up and in the arena for 12:50 to see Stoner Rockers Radio Moscow who set the bar high early on. One band who you need to know about if you love a party and good old conga are folkmetallers Trollfest – what a party! They had the whole tent dancing and the biggest conga line I’ve ever witnessed.

The surprise band of the friday were bluesy desert rock band All Them Witches. They had so much energy within their music and captivated their audience… I know I’m not the only one who appreciated the raw talent of this group as they’ve just been announced as main support for Ghost’s upcoming European tour. 

And of course we can’t forget to mention the headliner… who are they again… Mano…who? Oh Manowar! Well they didn’t play. They got on their high horse and let thousands of fans down because they couldn’t play at the sound level they wanted to due to legal noise restrictions, complained about the size of the stage (yes, the same stage that Kiss were due to play on on the Saturday evening frankly – what a bunch of wankers – but Sabaton were there to save the day! Huge shout out to them for absolutely smashing it regardless of their singers voices going 3 tracks in and their two guitarists taking over vocal duties! – now that’s a band that know how to treat their fans. And for those who didn’t attend knotfest were left fulfilled. 

All this being said the best band of the Friday has to go to the stoner GODS Fu Manchu. They smashed all expectations and truly set the bar out of reach for the whole weekend. Their stage presence, incredible; visuals – trippy; and they smashed out the tunes. But the night was far from over, with “French Superstars” Gojira still to play, finishing the night off.

Saturday’s surprise band were the first we saw. The reason? We just wandered over to the temple stage because the atmosphere seemed good. the band were Franch Cyber Punks called Shaarghot. 

We had a bit of a dancer feeling to Saturday with German industrial group Eisbrecher making a tremendous Hellfest Debut, successfully lifting everyone’s spirits and getting us all in the mood for a dance. 

Technical death metalers Archspire really impressed with face melting guitars and inconceivable melodies. To top the Saturday bill were gothic legends The Sisters of Mercy, who had everyone moving, singing along and I know I’m not alone when I say that Andrew Eldrich has still got it and I never thought I’d see TSoM live.  

Sunday’s highlights Started with GOLD who were recommended to me by a friend – great band that I thought had real potential. I felt a real atmospheric touch to their performance however others who I spoke to found their set became a bit dull which may be down to the way that the vocalist presents herself on stage. I thought she was very like Hannah Reid of London grammar. 

Back from campiste in-time to see YOB fuckin’ amazing!. Trivium smashed it as always and if you’ve ever seen trivium then you know what they’re about and that they come out giving 110% and deliver a stellar set every show. 

Clutch were fantastic despite being a band that I had to be persuaded to stay and watch. I grabbed myself a beer and found myself jumping around to their stoner rock goodness.

Next on my list to see was the one and only Lynyrd Skynrd performing on their farewell tour, and what a proud moment it was to be standing there singing along with 50,000+ metalheads to Freebird. From here the night running order became a bit strange, heading over to the Temple stage to watch the true pioneers of black metal, Emperor. For those of you who don’t know Emperor they wrote 5 albums between 1994 and 2001 and when you hear their face melting atmospheric masterpieces and think about when those tracks were written, you’d truly appreciate their greatness, and their ability to do what no other extreme band were doing at the time. 

Then for the headliner on Mainstage 02 was the Final French show from Slayer which consisted of hard-hitting thrash riffs and a stage full of fire. We were blessed from the skies as the first drops of rain fell that I’ve seen at Hellfest in the 5 years of attending as Raining Blood kicked in. Tom Araya (vocalist) was truly humble and emotional after their set, thanking their French fans for all their years together and stayed to soak in the scenes long after the rest of the band had left the stage with post headliner fireworks going off behind the stage. 

Now. On to the headliner who for many was a dream come true, and for others the one band they did not want to see this weekend – TOOL. There seems to be a real divide within the rock and metal community whether TOOL are the greatest band on the planet or whether they are just total shite. For me? I must have been the most impartial person there, I had never listened to TOOL and had no view on them what-so-ever. They were the surprise band of the whole festival. Their stage presence, minimalistic. Their visuals, hallucinogenic. Their lights, surreal. There was nothing I could fault this band for. Their musicianship was impeccable and hearing their music for the first time in that live environment with their visuals wrapping around the entire stage, and their lights on moving trusses. This band are now in my top 5 concerts. I loved their attitude as well, they didn’t have fireworks, no pyro, or big LED screens filming  for the entire arena to see them. It was very much ‘if you want to see us, come down here and watch us, be emersed in the music not just chilling at the back by the bonfire’. Superb way to end the best rock and metal festival in Europe. 

Covershot Photo Credit: Hellfest.fr