Day two of Hellfest saw me wake up with the first traces of festival plague. I had developed something of hack overnight – I would be wheezing far more than I would like this particular Saturday. Of course – by this point the festival was in full swing. Some of my friends had gotten laid, others were trying to see if they could maintain their drunk from the previous day. The whole notion of ‘hair of the dog that bit me’ seems to be extremely popular at Hellfest. However as one reveler put it, “This is the one weekend all year these people can let go – let them have it” So in a way, there is a beauty to the stupid costumes and rabid drunkenness.
I got to the festival grounds just in time to see the almighty Mantar. Asides from being ridiculously funny guys, they put on a stellar live show. There is something wonderfully honest and pure about what Mantar are doing. This is a band who understand the beautiful and passionate humor of what they are doing and hint at something far greater in their music. The bands vocalist and guitarist, Hanno claims to have listened to AC/DC every day since the age of 11 and when you see them live it makes sense. Sure they don’t share a lot in common with the Australian rockers musically, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that Mantar have BALLS and that makes their live performances some of the most fun you will ever have. Just ask the five thousand people who moshed their hearts out to this panicked duo.
The Saturday afternoon at Hellfest was in fact one of my favorite parts of Hellfest musically. As soon as Mantar wrapped up I ran over to watch the almighty Agoraphobic Nosebleed. Though they weren’t quite as good as when I had seen them at Housecore (Which admittedly could be forgiven due to their jetlag) they still utterly slayed. There is a depraved madness to what the band does that means that even though they haven’t put out a full length record in seven years they still could gather a good ten thousand people to freak out and go absolutely crazy over four grindcore freaks and a drum machine. They brutalize the listener, the normally mild mannered band members guiding the masses to slam into each other and create a mosh pit for the ages. Grindcore with two frontpeople may very well be the future of the whole genre.
Even though Mantar and Agoraphobic Nosebleed are very different bands – at least they fall into the same general category of heavy music. The thing is – over the years Hellfest has garnered a few outliers who gather to their sacred fields – this year one of those outliers was the almighty Foreigner. I was stoked. Not only did their bassist Jeff Pilson remember who I was, he let me stand on the edge of the stage, with a perfect view onto the band and the ability to look out at tens of thousands of people, all simultaneously finding out what love is. This is the magic of Hellfest, and that’s the thing about this band. They capture the imagination. They are lords of this world. I wasn’t sure how they would go down, but even their ballads came off as ridiculously heavy. Pulsing and gyrating across the stage, the dudes in Foreigner know how to put on a show and left us all with memories for the ages. The fact that they used to be a prog metal band came out too and it reminded me once again why so many are so desperately in love with this band.
And so I had passed through the gauntlet. Three bands in totally different genres, ending with the almighty Foreigner, a band who I think have a much larger audience in the heavy meal community than anyone would dare give them credit for. Just consider the fact that Josh Elmore of Cattle Decapitation was excited to meet Jeff and watched the band before he had to go do interviews. If a dude in a band like that is obsessed with Foreigner… what does that mean for the rest of us? Meanwhile almost every press person or media professional I spoke with was thrilled on the band. They stand out as one of my highlights of the weekend and remind me why I love this festival so much. Getting a two hour break though was key – as is with any music festival. You can’t only watch bands, you need to take breaks. Otherwise you will literally die. You need to judge bands based off of how much they tour your area and realize some can be skipped in favor of a sit down because odds are they will be in our town within a year anyway.
So when I made my way over to Asphyx I was rested and ready to take on even more heavy metal magic. This was a band whose most recent record Deathhammer had captured my imagination and is still in regular rotation for me, four years after its release. Live, they absolutely slayed it with monstrous death growls coming in over top of chainsaw guitar riffs that hearkened back to the origins of death metal. It makes sense after all – these guys have been around for thirty years. Asphyx play with an almost Motorhead-esque swagger. They decimate you with crushing blasts that seem perfectly calibrated to maximize their headbanging potential. Their songs are perfectly designed – short, brutal and balls out. They are without peer in the death metal world in this regard and watching them live they delivered on everything that the records promised. Finally I understood why there are so many backpatch toting Asphyx freaks in this world – the band rips.
It was time for another break for me. I know that sounds silly – but frankly speaking when you are super drunk and didn’t sleep the night before, sometimes you should just go do some interviews and enjoy life rather than continue to beat yourself over the head with you love of death metal. Don’t judge people for their lack of attendance, because if you think the music is the only thing to love about a festival… well you are very, very wrong. Shows at home are constructed with only a few bands for a reason – you can only do so much. Festivals for me seem to be more about curating what you see on a grander scale and getting the maximum enjoyment out of a few bands. That’s why it didn’t bother me that I couldn’t get a good spot for Twisted Sister – at least I could go to see my perennial favorites Napalm Death.
Ah Napalm Death. Even their band name lets you know what you are going to get. You have to love these guys, even if it is for nothing else than their perfectly calibrated setlists. There are some songs that are fresh from their latest album, the excellent Apex Predator Easy Meat and then others that the band has been playing for literally thirty years. While they still don’t have Mitch Harris back in unfortunately, they still destroy live. Now that I’ve gotten to see both the American and European lineups of the sans-Harris Napalm Death I’m starting to feel that the European guitar player is a much stronger option. The vocal delivery and stage presence of the European guitarist is far superior. Otherwise – the band delivered as they always do, with Barney Greenway darting about the stage like a thing possessed and the songs cracking forward with the sense of brutal nihilism that has made this band so important and valuable over the years. The anarchists used Hellfest to fight fascism in front of legions and they succeeded with aplomb.
Then something happened which I had never expected – not only did I see Korn for the second time (Already shock since I don’t especially like the band) but I also saw them from the side of the stage after my friend flirted briefly with the drummer. This is the kind of weird magic Hellfest has – because as I found myself on a crowded side stage I decided to poke my head around the other end and found that there was almost no one there save for a few close friends. And so we headbanged and partied to one of the most controversial bands of the 90s. I learned a lot about Korn during that set and while I still don’t necessarily like their music I can certainly see the appeal and it makes m curious to go in and discover more. After all- if they can shape an aesthetic and get fifty thousand kids screaming their name at 2 in the morning they must be doing something right, right?
And another night of Hellfest faded to dust. Long hours spent in the VIP talking to dear friends seem to define my evenings at Hellfest and I love it. The opportunity to just sit down, chill out and revel in being together is a magical thing. It makes me wish I went to Europe more often and forces me to realize that I probably should be steeling myself for another European expedition in the near future. For the second night in the row we had major issues with taxis because apparently the French can’t understand basic economic principles. But that’s just me being a grouch. In many ways if I didn’t periodically end up in a cab at five in the morning singing Foreigner at very confused cab driver I don’t know what I would make of myself. Sometimes you just need to look around and realize that that’s how the cookie crumbles.