Review and Photos By Adam Wills
Ever since I started doing live metal reviews and photography, one of my goals has always been to travel to Europe to cover one of their famous festivals. Germany’s Wacken Open Air seems to be the most popular destination of festival goers, however some of the other festivals seems to be gathering momentum putting together some lineups that would make any metal head drool, no matter what type of music they were in to.
When I came across the lineup to this year’s edition of France’s Hellfest, eventually I decided to see if it would be possible to attend. A few budgeting sessions and emails later, I found that I was granted press access with a photo pass… something I never expected to happen so early in my photo career. A few days later, I was booking plane tickets for my first European vacation, flying into London, visiting Amsterdam, seeing Devin Townsend in Groningen, NL, then off to the small town of Clisson, France for the festival.
Fast forward through the anticipation and the initial half of my trip, and I arrived in Clisson via a long train ride all the way from the northern half of the Netherlands. Instead of camping (I was a little tentative to camp my first time, as I was traveling alone with a fair amount of equipment), I arranged to stay with a very warm and welcome family in town. I was greeted right at the train station, and brought back to their lovely home for a delicious meal (including fresh bread, wine and cheese!). After a quick tour of the town, I was off to bed to rest up for the upcoming 3 days of metal, photos and shenanigans.
The next morning, I heading to the festival somewhat early (although in the span of the first two hours, I missed six bands, to give you the idea of the pace of a four stage layout) in anticipation of seeing the much talked about In Solitude. The Swedish group was one of the more talked about bands at the recent Maryland Death Fest, and after missing them there, I wasn’t about to make the same mistake twice. The quintet belted out a powerfully fun thirty minute set, and despite it being early on the first day, the small-ish Terrorizer tent was quite full… a theme that continued through the entire festival (which I’ll get to in a bit).
With four stages, I quickly found that strategy became quite important. Do I stay for a full set of an act? Do I see as much as I can? If I want to shoot an act on the main stage, I have to get in line about forty-five minutes early to ensure that I can get a spot… is it worth missing up to three other acts to get the shot? I ended up doing a mixture of them all, seeing some full sets, catching glimpses of others, and completely missing quite a bit. However, you can’t be everywhere at once, and after all… I’m there as a fan as well, and want to enjoy my time there.
Passing through the Rock Hard tent, I took a quick look at Dodheimsgard, a band that I found more visually appealing than musically. I was still in exploratory mode at this point, so I skipped the rest of their set to explore the festival grounds.
The festival grounds were huge – a converted athletics area with multiple fields – and the festival map is quite deceiving of the size of everything. With two huge festival stages at the forefront of the festival and two large tents housing the “side stages” (each one being way bigger than most concert halls that I attend), a huge “Extreme Market” housing a wide range of vendors, a huge selection of food vendors serving everything from Asian food to chili to baguettes to candy stands, and of course, a plethora of beer stands.
I headed back into the Terrorizor tent to check out Japan’s Church of Misery who were one of the liveliest bands of the weekend, with frontman/wildman Yoshiaki Negishi all over the stage, the crowd and the beer. Easily one of the more memorable sets. With a slight lull of bands that I was excited to see, I wandered over to check out Krisiun, who were even more crushing than I had remembered them. Out of sheer curiosity, I ventured to the main stages to check out Maximum the Hormone, who I had never even heard of before that moment. Another band from Japan, the energetic group put on an amusing display of punk-and-Mr. Bungle-influenced nu-metal (they were fun, but not sure if I would enjoy them as much on CD).
Ireland’s Primordial were my first “must-see” band that I had come across. Their last journey into Canada was as a supporting act on one of the annual editions of Pagan Fest. Within minutes, lead vocalist Nemtheanga had the crowd in his hands, as the folk metallers blasted through a set focused on their latest release, Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand, but closing with my personal favourite, “Empire Falls.”
While the legendary The Exploited belted out some thrashy punk from the main stage, I took a break to get some festival food in me before NOLA’s Down hit the main stage. Being situated in the photo pit lineup (with close to 100 photographers patiently waiting for up to an hour to get a three to four minute window to snap as many photos as they can), I mostly got to hear the set from afar. As I’ve seen the Phil Anselmo fronted act numerous times, it seemed to be a pretty typical setlist, with a very familiar performance. I love those guys, but I think they could mix it up a bit more.
Next up was Iggy Pop, a man who needs no introduction. For almost 50 years, Iggy has been performing live and is still known as one of the most charismatic frontmen around. His leather-like body still runs around the stage as if he were half of his age as The Stooges played such hits as “Search and Destroy” and “I Wanna Be Your Dog”. As a casual listener at best, I split my time between Iggy and Austria’s Belphegor, whose blood-soaked, body-part-laden appearance only added to their blackened death metal aesthetic (although Helmuth’s in between song banter sounds a little too much like Fozzy Bear for me… I can’t help but giggle). Concluding with personal favourite “Bondage Goat Zombie”, Belphegor manages to maintain their live sound to the same effort as their visuals.
Scooting out again to the main stage to catch Morbid Angel, one of the most talked about acts recently thanks to the curiosity that is Illud Divinum Insanus. I can’t say that Morbid Angel is my thing, but I had to see what kind of reaction they would get, especially when/if they some of their new material. After playing a group of classics, David Vincent soon got the crowd chanting “MORBID! MORBID!” as they introduced “I Am Morbid”, one of the more… experimental(?) tracks from the recent release. Surprisingly, the track came off quite well in the environment, and the huge crowd seemed fine to continue to bang their heads to the new style. We’ll see what happens when they play smaller shows with a lot more of their long-time fans….
Having just seen Rob Zombie last year at Montreal’s Heavy MTL festival, I decided to opt out of his performance to see San Francisco’s death metal pioneers, Possessed and Washington stoner/sludge legends Melvins. Possessed were fierce in their delivery, but the draw of seeing King Buzzo again was too much, so I quickly made my way back to the Terrorizor tent. The Melvins’ dual drum approach blew me away again, as Dale Crover and Coady Willis provide a backing so tight, yet complex that even stage-side, the members of Down were expressing their amazement at the duo.
As the night came to a close, I headed back to the main stages to catch In Flames, a band that has eluded me here in Canada for years. While I’m not big on post-Clayman (which composed of all but two songs – which were both from Clayman), In Flames seem to keep getting more and more popular, so I was curious to see what their current live show was like. After about four or five tracks though, I didn’t feel as though their energy was enough to keep my attention despite not enjoying the material so much. So with that, I decided to bring day one to a close, and take the short ten minute walk back to my temporary living quarters to rest up for the next day.