Due to travel difficulties last year, I was unable to follow up my debut visit to Hellfest from 2017. However, this year all travel itineraries were sorted out well in advance, including this year the additional foresight of booking accommodation at a neighbouring town. This meant that all home comforts – a warm bed and shower – were taken care of, thus enhancing my aged festival experience.
This year we were additionally blessed with another 1-day festival before the official Hellfest began. Knotfest took place on Thursday with a variety of bands including Ministry, Papa Roach, and Sabaton before being closed by headliners Slipknot. Although this created additional queues on Thursday, it actually assisted with our site orientation ahead of official gates opening on Friday. The arrival of our party at the festival – once we had negotiated the travel from our accommodation – saw us enter with a sense of keen anticipation and eagerness – my debut visit had left me concluding that it was the best festival that I had ever attended. This year’s experience only enhanced that view.
One thing that other festivals can certainly learn from Hellfest is that the two main stages are beside each other – a simple idea but one that facilitates a smooth transition with bands rotating between the two main stages. So, basically, if you stand between them there are no additional foot miles to cover. In addition, the location of the 3 tent stages on the periphery of the main arena site all within close proximity again negates that additional extensive walking against crowds and distance to view bands on the other stages. At this year’s event, the only stage I didn’t get to visit was that of the Warzone, which is primarily focussed on other musical genres like punk and hardcore. Hellfest lineup is usually also among the best of any of the other European festivals and together with the great weather, it stands alone. The climatic factor singularly – where you are not swimming through rivers of mud – moves the entire festival experience several notches up in terms of deriving a sense of personal enjoyment and satisfaction from the experience.
Over the weekend I saw many bands that I had seen often, I also discovered several bands for the first time ever. Such is the diversity of the lineup. I even found myself enjoying some bands that I had not expected to enjoy. First-day highlights included Godsmack, who always deliver a high-quality set whether indoors or an early afternoon slot such as they played in Clisson.
Demons and Wizards, and Dream Theater both surprised with their individual approaches to melodic rock. Thankfully the later eased up on the extensive solo spots which had tended to blight my previous viewings of the band. New band discovery was French band Dagoba, who despite having formed back in 1997, initially playing a brutal Pantera style hard-hitting sound, have with recent years fused other sounds and elements into creating their own individual formula.
Diamond Head, unfortunately, took quite some time to gel and it was only when they played the classic songs that the crowd appeared to show any response to them. Venom Inc had no such issues and had a rammed tent showing a massively enthusiastic response throughout their set. Unfortunately, with the early withdrawal of day one’s headliners Manowar for no single identifiable reason, it was the source of all-day speculation as to who would step into their large shoes and close the first days billing. Cue Sabaton stepping up to the plate and despite the band playing at the previous days Knotfest and with their singer suffering vocal problems, they played a great set with their full stage production.
Early start for day two which was definitely one for the classic rock aficionados with many of the bands from the recent UK Download Festival in attendance. Thus, Def Leppard and Whitesnake would be playing along with ZZ Top and playing on their farewell tour the day would be closed by legendary band Kiss playing a pyro-packed two-hour set.
Early in the day, I enjoyed a great solo set from Richie Kotzen who decided to focus primarily on his recent solo album release. Unfortunately, without explanation one of the bands I was particularly looking forward to seeing – Rival Sons – didn’t show up. Their place on the main stage was taken by German industrialists Eisbrecher – another new band new to my ears. They attracted a massive audience to their set leading me to draw the conclusion that they were clearly “in the know” when it came to the change in billing.
One band that I had unfortunately missed at the recent Download Festival were Deadland Ritual, the newest supergroup on the block, containing Geezer Butler, Matt Sorum, and Steve Stevens. Paying homage to their collected previous musical heritage together with some fresh new material proved that the band have a very positive future and like Last In Line have the potential to move beyond their classic past.
Def Leppard and ZZ Top delivered solid if predictable sets heavy on quality songs and their back catalogs Kiss did the same, albeit with extra pyro and confetti cannons.
The final day was very top-heavy with eighties thrash legends – Anthrax, Testament, Death Angel, and Slayer. I was all too familiar with but in a similar vein and a new introduction to me personally was the early morning set of Municipal Waste, which had all circle pits and walls of death going on while I munched my breakfast baguette.
Outside of the thrash revisit, Sunday’s final day had quite a diversity of bands. Alien Weaponry I had recently seen early doors at Download and my initial impression is that they will definitely be a future contender for stardom with their uniqueness of sound. Nova Twins from London introduced a dance element to the rock festival coming across like a Day-Glo neon female Prodigy they also proved surprisingly popular with the rock audience.
I had been keenly anticipating my first Stone Temple Pilots show. Having never seen the band before I was curious as to how the frontman would also handle their classic back catalogue. They were definitely one that I will have to do additional musical research on. A great live show and they even appeared to have won over some of the hard-core thrash fans in the Hellfest crowd.
Lynyrd Skynyrd are another one of those classic rock bands who have decided to call it a day. Dictated by band health issues, it’s obviously a situation out of their complete control. A ‘greatest hits’ set it was a veritable musical treat culminating with the legendary anthem, “Freebird”. The southern rockers are certainly going out at the top of their game.
Thus, another Hellfest had ended. It had retained its position as my favourite European event. All aspects of it never cease to impress from the weather, efficient press coordination, and quality organisation. Nice and easy festival layout. Next year we just need to organise our accommodation in closer proximity to the festival site itself.
All photos © Thomas Woroniak Photography