Originally posted on Ghost Cult Magazine’s website 08/07/2013
Turning in another formidable line up which featured some very safe bets, attendance wise, on the main stages but a fantastic representation of extreme music with a clutch of acclaimed Doom, Stoner, Death and Black Metal acts on the Temple, Altar and Valley stages France’s premier metal event Hellfestshowed once again the blue print many U.K. festivals would do well to follow. When it comes to carefully staggering stage times with two adjacent main stages and the two tents containing three other stages, the only excuse for missing any of the action is purely because of the exhaustion of rushing between catching so many scintillating sounds. The headline acts may have been fairly average yet at least the appearance of Danish rockers Volbeat in a coveted headliner role was a bold move even though the band is clearly unready to occupy such a position.
The inaugural day saw brooding homeland act The Great Old Ones deliver a tight early performance of cold post Black Metal before England’s Black Spiders deliver a shoot from the hip set of the slick hard rock we have come to expect from them. ‘Stay Down’ and ‘Kiss Tried To Kill Me’ ooze confidence, suggesting their rise up the bill may be imminent. The audience may have responded to Pete Spiby’s call to shout “Fuck You Black Spiders” but they won several new friends today.
Sludge duo Eagle Twin deliver a vital sermon over on the valley incorporating mournful monologues within crushing doom overtures. Massive obelisks of distortion tempered with Gentry Densley channeling the spirit of Leonard Cohen with his rasping overtone vocals lending atmosphere to his glacial arrangements.
Sleazing up main stage two, Sweden’s Hardcore Superstar‘s call and response glam metal has more than one buxom beauty dancing. Frontman Jocke Berg may look a dead ringer for Wednesday 13 but his voice is all his own. While not a complete success there is no arguing with numbers like “Last Call For Alcohol” and “Fuck The Law” with even the sun coming to join the pa
Bison BC are a revelation on the valley. Considering that Mastodon and Baroness have apparently left their heavier roots behind them, this mighty beast harnesses their early work with a hardcore bluster which makes for an exhilarating experience. They tore through an ultra high energy set of Neanderthal riffery, harking back to the days before Mastodon decided to distance themselves from sheer brute power. Last year’s Lovelessness showed an act brimming with confidence and the audience remains transfixed by the onslaught the Canadians bring with bassist Masa Anzai ferociously destroying his instrument at the climax of their scorching performance even handing broken pieces of his bass to the audience along with the guitar case for good measure: a true celebration of metal’s life affirming power.
By contrast Evoken‘s funeral doom is ghastly and grim yet lacks staying power. Alternating between slow mournful melodies and fractured death metal, they have moments of high drama but many build ups end in little pay off.
Math metal act Between The Buried And Me posses much technical dexterity yet their disjointed arrangements, poorly executed vocals and lacklustre stage presence fail to impress.
Thankfully the quality entertainment resumes with the appearance of virtuosos Alex Skolnick and Gene “the machine” Hoglan who propel thrash legendsTestament through a searing white hot set of technical ecstasy. ‘Native Blood’ is fantastic with Chuck Billy feeding off the monstrous instrumentalists which flank him in addition to the rapturous response from the faithful. ‘Practice What You Preach’ has the moshpit going bananas and recent material shows that the veteran act remains as vital as ever.
Returning to the valley Black Breath delivers a lesson in sonic violence. Their vicious thrust puts the speakers to the test but some of their mid paced material lacks the impact of the breakneck intensity which made them so vital when they burst into the scene a few years ago.
The late arrival of Ireland’s Primordial sees their set cut to a mere three songs and while their Celtic bombast is impressive, Kreator’s performance over on Stage Two is a tough act to follow with the German act pulling off a typically crushing set of extreme aggression.
The eerie darkness of the valley is the idyllic setting for post metal godfathers Neurosis. Drifting between delicate Neil Young Americana and towering obelisks of distortion, Neurosis have truly transcended all the boundaries which sought to confine their majestic powers. The Oakland quintet’s desolate, earth ravaging soundscapes like ‘Distil’ are powered by shaman like vocal mantras and dense percussion. Still, even without the visuals of Josh Graham their music is as emotive and raw as it gets with messers Von Till and Kelly as compelling a songwriting team as can be. Colossal finale ‘Locust Star’ is ominous yet triumphant from a seminal act which richly deserves their revered status.
Audrey Horne take the stage like they own it with the party vibe in full swing despite the wet weather.Toschie is a whirlwind of activity and guitarists and Ice Dale exude star power and classic rock cool. Songs like ‘There Goes A Lady’ and ‘Pretty Little Sunshine’ suggest that Europe is catching on to one of Norway’s finest rock exports.
The much touted Uncle Acid And The Deadbeatsturn out to be a massive anticlimax. While groovy and engaging on record they choose to begin with a couple of slow numbers, showing little ability to connect with the audience with Yotam Rubinger seeming more interested in picking up a joint from a lady in the photo pit than playing their opening number. After this lacklustre beginning, business picks up when ‘Cut You Down’ is introduced but however it’s a poor showing from the much touted act. Let’s hope they perform better when they open for Black Sabbath in July.
Witchcraft show us how it’s done having been rumoured to be off the bill due to illness it is great to see the Swedes deliver a ripping set of doom flavoured classic rock with frontman Magnus Pelander in fine form looking relieved to be unencumbered by an instrument leaving the soaring fretwork to the able team of Simon Solomon and Tom Jondelius.’Deconstruction’ and the marvellous ‘It’s Not Because Of You’ show an act at the peak of their powers and indeed the whole scene they occupy.
The sad news of Neil Fallon’s father passing away meant Down would pull double duty replacingClutch. Today’s main stage performance sees Phil Anselmo showing his respect to the Maryland act delivering righteous versions of ‘Stone The Crow’ and ‘Losing All’ before the all star Crowbar, Eyehategod, Pantera cover set that Sunday was treated to.
Hellenic titans and veterans of Hellfest Rotting Christ pull out a stellar set of melodic black metal before Finns Amorphis put cuts from new opus Circle to the test which they pass with flying colours such is the power of tracks like “Nightbird’s Song”.
Gojira’s power is unfathomable. It is a wonder how the quiet Duplantier brothers formed the best sibling act since a young Sepultura first rose to prominence. ‘Toxic Garbage Island’ and ‘From The Sky’ are fantastic with the lads clearly happy to be on home soil.
Symphony X vocalist Russell Allen is a supreme talent however their high drama power symphonics would be of little consequence without his sterling efforts.
Over at the Altar, Portuguese Gothic MetallersMoonspell deliver a rich tapestry of numbers delicately woven from their sterling back catalogue with Fernando Riberiro leading the band through towering anthems like ‘Night Eternal’. The folksy ‘Ataegina’ is a surprising addition which, while quite different from the band’s heavier material, has fans square dancing in gleeful merriment. When was the last time you saw a Gothic band that could do this?
By contrast Danzig’s set in the Valley, having traded places with Ghost, is somewhat frustrating. Solo anthems Like the raunchy ‘She Rides’ and the appearance of muscle-bound monster man Doyle to treat us to a set of Misfits classics make for great entertainment but Glenn clearly struggles to sing many of the high notes tarnishing a potentially great performance.
Ghost: Swapping to take Danzig’s headline set on Stage Two was genius. Satanic magic to the masses. Thrilling melodic hard rock meets soaring orchestration. How fitting their first headline set would be Hellfest! ‘Elizabeth’ the hymn to Countess Bathory and more recent incantations such as Beelzebub waltz ‘Secular Haze’ are fantastical worthy alternatives to the pomp and screech ofCradle Of Filth on the Temple Stage. In pitch dark under a full moon having begun well after the witching hour, it’s a fittingly memorable way to conclude the epic 2013 edition of Hellfest. ‘Stand By Him’ explains it all. It’s the night of the witch tonight! Able to improvise, providing a fantastic spectacle and catchy songs to boot. Believe the hype. Satan commands you! Shockingly the pa shuts down during ‘Genesis’ temporarily banishing the Ghouls from the spotlight. Thankfully they emerge triumphantly for ‘Year Zero’. The towering ‘Gulleh/Zombie Queen’ and ‘Monstrance Clock’ conclude a set in which nothing could derail an act which looks set to enjoy all the success acts like Slipknot have attained. A magnificent conclusion to an event the dark lord would smile upon.
Words: Ross Baker
Photos: Mark Davies