The 14th edition of Hellfest was extra special this year as the infamous site in Clisson, France gave way to Knotfest with the music starting on Thursday. It may seem inevitable to say but both festivals were a triumphant affair with a great mix of different genres that pleased any fan who likes their music turned up to 11.
So Knotfest got us under way this year and was historic given that Slipknot’s own festival was making its debut in Europe right here in Clisson on the famous stages of Hellfest. Inspired by Ozzy Osbourne’s own festivals in the late 1990s, billed under ‘Ozzfest’ Knotfest at a strict capacity of 40,000 was a sell out.
The sun was beating down in the early evening when Knotfest kicked off around 5pm with Sick Of It All. It is a frenetic set that includes brothers Lou and Pete Koller giving their all and seeming genuinely happy to be here- they love France and make sure they play a fair few gigs here most years. The band from New York are arguably one of the hardest touring groups in music today and it shows in how tight they are as they create the first of what will be many mosh pits during the weekend. Classics such as ‘Scratch the Surface’ and ‘Step Down’ are played and the foursome are the perfect tonic to get this party started.
Now comes the stupid David moment of the day, which is, after getting set times mixed up and thinking heat stroke is upon me- what? After an hour?! I go and check out the decor and miss both Ministry and Behemoth, don’t worry there’s a special place in hell for me. But because of my wondering around I do bump into Pete Koller who has just played with Sick Of It All, he is showing his little girl around the site- what a cool dad!
Moving on Powerwolf provide the first real theatrics of the weekend. Though the band have been together since the mid 2000s the last 18 months has seen them gain huge popularity across Europe and there is a big turn out for them here in the blazing sun. The goth like zombie make up works for me and the band aren’t totally serious either engaging with the crowd getting them to clap along, it’s all good fun and there’s fire even in this early hour of the day.
Papa Roach are a ball of energy kicking off their set with classic ‘Last Resort’. Front man Jacoby Shaddix is electric and it’s great to see him looking so healthy and energetic after his past problems which look firmly behind him. The band unload fan favourites which include ‘Between Angels’, ‘Scars’ and ‘Lifeline’ but the biggest cheer is left for a rousing cover of The Prodigy’s ‘Firestarter’ which Shaddix does a lot of justice to.
Amon Amarth may not always sing about the happiest of times, but they are clearly so happy to be here they end up giving a somewhat joyful show, you don’t expect to read that from a death metal band. The thing is singer Johan Hegg can’t help but wear a smile on his face which is constantly plastered like this for an hour. When he’s not smiling and giving thanks he is having a drink from ‘the horn’, and there are plenty of fans wearing the bands t shirts. The band are currently on tour promoting 2018’s ‘Berserker’ album, and they go down well at Knotfest.
Sabaton also played at Knotfest but we’re going to leave their review out for something that spectacularly happened the following day, so read on if you want to know. Following them came the one and only Mr. film director, rock God and the only guy who you shoot in colour and the photo still looks black and white- his quote! Mr. Rob Zombie.
Showing my age but I hadn’t seen Rob Zombie perform live since he was in White Zombie the one thing I was fearful of was that his energy and voice 20 years on would suffer- how wrong I was. Not sure how he does it, perhaps he has a Gold Gym’s membership under the plethora of his persona and make up because Zombie puts on a solid, professional show and his voice sounds outstanding.
The hits are here too taken from his White Zombie days in ‘More Human Than Human’, though it is ‘Thunder Kiss 65’ which sounds that it was made to only be played live. Zombie’s fascination with Americana in the 60s is rounded up nicely with a cover of The Beatles classic ‘Helter Skelter’ and there is another cover in The Ramones ‘ Blitzkrieg Bop’. Zombie ends the set with ‘Dragula’ and even has time to show us his latest trailer for his next movie ‘3 From Hell’- this guy keeps busy!
As the night draws in it is time for Knotfest’s headliner- Slipknot who have not played in France for 3 years. Perhaps because of it the response when the band take to the stage is unflinching. The crowd go nuts and so do the band and the security are suddenly working over time. At one point singer Corey Taylor has to stop the show to ask everybody to move back after the surge to the front looks dangerous, thankfully the situation sorts itself out and the band are able to continue.
The band open up with ‘People = Shit’ and the majority of songs are pulled from their self titled album. Only one song from their latest album makes it on the setlist. But this is a very special show as Taylor tells the crowd that he will never ever forget this night- Clisson and France made history and Knotfest has arrived in Europe. Slipknot are arguably one of the best live bands on the planet which is pretty much reaffirmed as they leave the stage at 1 in the morning to a host of blazing fires and pyrotechnics.
Friday marks the first official day of Hellfest and the bands start rolling on stage from around 10am, the first band I catch is Black Rain on Mainstage 2 where for today the stage is dedicated to French bands. Black Rain are a slice of classic 80s rock complete with bandanas, ballads and guitar solos and there is an impressively good turn out at such an early hour in the day.
Next up for me on Mainstage 1 which is convientally located right next to Mainstage 2 is Massachusetts band Godsmack and I am gobsmacked so to speak to realise that next year the band will have been together for 25 years, yikes! The majority of songs are taken from the bands latest album ‘When Legends Rise’ and front man Sully Erna is on his game. The band end the set with crowd pleasers ‘Bulletproof’ and ‘I Stand Alone’.
Going back in for the French bands I catch Dagoba, this is the 2nd time I am seeing the band in a year and they are pretty outstanding. But playing in the daylight just doesn’t suit them and they are really at their best in a dark, sweaty club. But this is a major deal for this hard working band from Paris to be playing in front of 60,000 fans in their home country and you can tell how much this means to them as they don’t want to leave the stage.
As a kid I had always heard of Dream Theater they are a band who have, let’s say, always been there. A group that has a band name probably more suited to a film title, Dream Theater hit the stage and disappointingly it feels like they are here for the entire weekend. Each song is about 10 minutes long and whilst there is no denying how technically brilliant they are, wailing guitar solos and lyrics about angels, nightmares and dragons are not cutting it with the audience today. No doubt in the bands own environment they have quite a stage show for themselves.
It’s not so easy to describe Ultra Vomit a parody band from France where everything is played heavy, mostly feedback with each band member wearing a slapstick face, and you get the feeling that anything goes. The band used to play the small tents and have grown in France to reach the mainstages and the crowd love them. Think Mr. Bungle and you are getting close to what Ultra Vomit represent. They didn’t always do it for me, but again in a small venue seeing them as a headline act they must be quite something.
So it was at this time that news had filtered through that Manowar, Friday’s headliners had cancelled their set. They had been on site with their gear since Thursday and walked off Friday early evening no explanation was given, so I became detective and grouped together some crew members to get the lowdown. According to them Manowar checked out the huge stages and decided that they were not huge enough for their production and bailed. The disappointment around the festival is like wildfire- there are so many Manowar fans that have turned up, who are now ripping their patches off. Within minutes punters are wearing self made t shirts ‘fuck Manowar’. Given that the band had been booked for Hellfest almost a year in advance this seems a really poor choice, although it must be stated the whole story hasn’t completely come out.
But the disappointment of the band pulling out leads to one of the most special gigs that I have witnessed. I can’t say that I’m the biggest fan of power metal band, Sweden’s own Sabaton. But with a gaping hole for the headline slot and everything quickly looking like turning into a farce the band come to Hellfest’s rescue and agree to take the slot. This after playing a rousing set the night before for Knotfest.
Joakim Broden’s voice is almost gone, he apologies and no one cares, everyone just gets into the spirit of things and there is immense thanks that the band turned round from the road to come back here and play again. The fact that they do so intact with all of their production is impressive given that they have at least 15 backing singers for their war songs. Sometimes Broden has to give up vocals to get his checked but it can’t take away from a special show and Broden himself says that this is a gig that he and the band will never forget.
The day is rounded off by a near 1am start for arguably the best band in France right now- Gojira. The band open with ‘Oroborus’ the opening track from their 2008 release ‘The Way of all Flesh’ and from there on in there is no looking back. There is just something utterly special about watching Gojira and the time ticks near to 2 in the morning, in France, in front of 60,000 fans and shooting blazing fires. Front man Joe Duplantier thanks the crowd and launches into heavy, crunching numbers and their performance of L’Enfant Sauvage is simply mind blowing, but then again so is the whole show. It’s apt that there are no other bands to follow on when Gojira leave the stage.
Saturday kicks off with a band that I’ve never seen but been hearing about for a good few months as being one of the best live acts in the world right now and I’m not disappointed to witness Fever 333 on Mainstage 2. The band from Inglewood, California have been around for two years and they bring Hellfest to its feet, you start to lose count of the amount of different circle pits, and the energy being displayed from the stage is unreal. Singer Jason Aalon Butler is all over the stage, in the pit and gets this party started early in the blazing heat. The anger is in the music, but anger in these times is exactly what we need and it is so refreshing when Butler stops the show to champion all the women of the world and how they have been mistreated, the themes are fuck rape, more equality and equal pay. By the end of their set you are exhausted but in great way. Fever 333 are returning to Europe for a series of club dates towards the end of the year, miss them at your peril.
Saturday at Hellfest starts to gear up for some serious 80s rock hair bands. And we kick this off with Whitesnake. A band I have never seen live before, and I’ll be honest with you I have heard more jokes about them then I have had hot dinners and yet David Coverdale has so many hits that when the band fire them off they have the crowd where they want them. When they belt out ‘Is This Love’, the timing is perfect in that the heat finally gives way to something called wind- remember that? And it gives the crowd a second one to just start loving what they are seeing. The hits continue with the likes of ‘Here I Go Again’ and set closer ‘Still of the Night’.
Def Leppard are next and they stroll onto the stage and take to Hellfest like a kid with chocolate. Very professional and going through all of their hits, they come on stage to Depeche Mode’s ‘Personal Jesus’ and launch into ‘Rocket’ Most of the songs come from their best selling album ‘Hysteria’ and singer Joe Elliott seems like he is in good spirits. Fans rock along to hits such as ‘Animal’, ‘Love Bites’ and Pour Some Sugar on Me’ and the band finish with ‘Photograph’.
I’ve always loved me some classic ZZ Top, and I’m lucky enough to have a quick photo call with the legendary Billy Gibbons earlier in the day. The band follow Def Leppard’s show and as you could expect from a band that are celebrating 50 years together are super tight and amazingly wonderful players. As is ever drummer Frank Beard places his matchstick box of one of his drum risers and the band kick off with ‘Got Me Under Pressure’ and end with a blazing encore of ‘Sharp Dressed Man, ‘Legs’, ‘La Grange’ and ‘Tush’ whew! Legends!
Moving on to other musical legends, this is supposed to be the curtain call for the one and only KISS and so when the black curtain goes up and the announcer screams out ‘You wanted the best, you got the best, the hottest band in the worldddd’ you tend to take it all in as this could be, could be the last time you get to witness the band who have been together for 46 years on and off.
KISS play exactly the same set list they played the last time I saw them which was 4 years ago. But for this band a lot of their show is all to do with what goes on on stage. Fireworks, fire, Gene Simmons spitting blood, Paul Stanley flying to the mixer, more fire, more lights, it’s all good and KISS do actually have some great songs to boot. ‘Rock and Roll All Nite is an instant crowd pleasure and they also manager classics such as ‘Crazy. Crazy Nights’, ‘Deuce’ and ‘Love Gun’. Most of those bands we grew up with in the 80s and 90s will still admit to citing KISS as a major influence. Yes it would have been good if they could have included a few from my personal favourite record of their’s ‘Dynasty’ but that wasn’t going to happen tonight. KISS are great fun even if you’re not a fan- you just have to let yourself go which many of the crowd do and a great Saturday night is had by all.
The final day of Hellfest for me starts with Blackberry Smoke, the kind of band I need to listen to just to ease me into this day. They play very well but I also welcome Trivium who I haven’t seen for a while, if only that we go back to the more energetic music of yesterday. Frontman Matt Heafy reminds me of Gene Simmons, a young Gene Simmons, constantly giving me flashbacks to Saturday night sticking his tongue out. Heafy doesn’t like the stage much and so decides to play near the pit instead which just creates a fantastic atmosphere and Trivium are always great to catch live.
Clutch play on Mainstage 1, and there is a mega crowd for the Maryland band who are one of the highlights of the weekend for me. Neil Fallon is just different as a frontman and it shows in such a good way for a band that they have really become popular especially in the last few years. Their cover of Cactus’ ‘Evil’ is memorable and the band finish their set off with ‘X Ray Visions’ and ‘Firebirds!’ This was the bands final European date and they head into a US tour this month with Killswitch Engage and Cro Mags, nice.
I’ve followed Stone Temple Pilots since the early 1990’s and seen them many times though this was the first time I was witnessing them with vocalist Jeff Gutt. Let me tell you something until Gutt takes off his sunglasses and admits this is the first time he has ever been to France I couldn’t tell the difference if the spirit of Scott Weiland was up on stage instead. Gutt is a phenomenal singer and front man and it clear why the DeLeo brothers chose him and took their time in finding a new singer. It has paid off. All of the hits are played including opening with ‘Wicked Garden’. Gutt spends the majority of the time in the pit and at one point spends two songs with his hand locked on a fans one. After Weiland’s passing and then Chester Bennington’s it felt that STP just weren’t going to be relevant any more, it’s gigs like this that prove the band have a good future ahead of them.
The last time I saw Phil Anselmo still ranks as one of the greatest gigs I’ve ever witnessed. Pantera at Brixton Academy on the Far Beyond Driven tour, yes it’s been that long, and so to see him at Hellfest means a lot to me. He walks on stage with his band The Illegals- full name Philip H, Anselmo & The Illegals and tells us that they are going to play a different kind of show today, you can feel the utter disappointment in a tent that holds a good 5,000 fans. The band launch into ‘The Better’ a quiet song, with Anselmo sticking very close to the mic, I for one am happy as it’s only the 3rd time the song has ever been played live.
As the set goes on the Pantera hits follow and that’s what the fans really want. ‘Mouth For War’, ‘I’m Broken’ and ‘Walk’ go down an absolute storm. With his succession of back problems throughout the years it’s no surprise to see Anselmo largely confined to the middle of the stage. Now at 50 you can tell he wants to jump around crazy but those days seem long gone. What isn’t gone is his voice and the performance in a nutshell is a very fantastic nostalgic trip, somehow after all of these years and let’s face it fuck ups, Anselmo still has it.
The great thing about Hellfest is the total rapid transition from one gig you see to another. With ‘Walk’ ringing in my ears I make my way to the main stage to the tune of ‘Sweet Home, Alabama’ and Lynyrd Skynyrd are on stage. Veterans of rock n’roll, they kind of define it now and when they finish their set with the all time classic ‘Free As A Bird’ everyone is singing along, it’s a great 15 minute version too with an extended solo.
Sunday night ends with 3 massive bands. First Slash with Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators. Opening up with ‘Call of the Wild’, the one great thing you can say about Slash’s other band is that their no longer relying on Guns N’Roses songs to get them through their set, just one is played ‘Nightrain’. The problem is that you can tell the fans want to hear Slash belt out some GN’R numbers. Everyone is technically great but a lot of the songs sound the same, where is the change in pace? Though it has to be said that Slash is becoming an even better guitar player the older he gets. His extended solo at the end of ‘Nightrain’ is a slice of rock n’roll sent from the heavens.
Slayer follow Slash and this is an important one- the final show the band will ever play in France and as you can imagine the crowd is massive. There are no greetings here, no words, when Slayer arrive they just play and play fast. They open up with ‘Replentless’ and surge through classics such as ‘War Ensemble’, Mandatory Suicide’ and ‘South of Heaven’. Everyone inevitably waits for ‘Raining Blood’ and chaos ensues and it’s pretty great for where I’m standing. And soon after that’s it, there’s minimal fuss from Slayer and there has always been, they come, they conquer, they create moshpits and they leave. Au revoir, Slayer.
Tool close Hellfest with Maynard James Keenan dressed like a punk rocker and it’s a memory lane show full of past glories not many insights to their as yet released album which is due at the end of August. This is the bands first gig in 12 years and the anticipation from the crowd is at fever point. And a fever is what this reviewer picked up immediately after this show. As ever Tool are awesome and when they leave the stage something as random as Abba’s ‘Dancing Queen’ blares out of the PA. Ha, ha and good night, Hellfest was mammoth, Hellfest was insane, and Hellfest was pure fucking brilliance from the beginning to end.