Hellfest 2014. One of the biggest heavy metal festivals of all time. This year there would be such greats playing as Iron Maiden, Slayer, Carcass, and Black Sabbath. Suffice to say, the French metal scene was aflutter with anticipation for months on end. They were preparing what was surely to be the greatest heavy metal event the nation had ever seen. I was lucky enough to work for the festival, this along with my previous work with my heavy metal blog gave me an incredible level of access. I decided to take this intimate knowledge of the festival to divulge a story about Hellfest, not just another review.
Read Part 1 Here
Day 2-So it Begins
Turns out, the night before I had somehow lost my Slayer sweatshirt while wandering around drunk, and so I was almost dead before the festival even started. Hypothermia is never a fun experience, and trying to figure out how to stay warm when you can barely walk straight isn’t always easy. Suffice to say, waking up with chattering teeth and a monster hangover is never a good start to a day. Nonetheless, I somehow made it out of my tent and wandered over to Conan, wanting to show up early so I could talk to the guys, we had really hit it off when we first hung out in Paris. On this left hand path I seemed to bump into a number of friends, and those who hurt less than I seemed to find my state most amusing. The oppressive recovery from this hangover would not be easy. Yet I still had hope, my journey to hell was finally ready to start.
Start it did, Conan delivered a simply killer set, loud and passionate. There were two key differences from the last time I had seen them. Their set time was pretty much halved and they actually had their normal lineup. The sheer power communicated in Pauls blasts and Jons roaring vocals mixed in with drop tuned guitar riffs is a force to be reckoned with. Even if you don’t usually like doom metal these guys are a must-see. The grunge based attack of their songs is incredibly human and really allows the band to rise up and shine, masters of their own reality. Conan speak to the humanity within us all, using fantasy lyrics to construct strange earths that leave the listener contemplating the world around them. This is the music of men who seek to open our minds about a world that wishes we’d shut up and conform.
After the set I sat down with Jon for a quick interview and started to really get in to the magic of his music, as well as the magic of Hellfest. These guys are not just musicians, but pioneers, they are pushing boundaries I didn’t even know existed. Hanging out with them (As I did for the whole weekend) taught me interesting new things about music and life, allowing me to find out things about myself that I had previously never known. Spirits connecting across time and generations bonded by an otherworldly force. This is what heavy metal is all about, learning about not just who you are, but who you want to be, and these are guys who I am certainly using as models for exactly that. Does that make me a sappy romantic? Probably. But if I’m going to be a romantic it might as well be over one of the best bands on the scene today.
Suddenly, it was time for Toxic Holocaust. Now, I’ve always believed that thrash metal under the sun is the best kind of thrash metal, and these guys certainly seemed to support that notion. By now I had kicked back a few, and that all-too familiar buzz started to consume my brain. The rapid metal attack of Toxic Holocaust is not to be missed, and it speaks to the true magic of thrash. Bring in people smoking weed in the mosh pit and you get a sense for the fast times and desperate measures that were crashing down around me. Something about songs like 666 prove the beauty of a genre that has helped to define metal for so long. While I wasn’t too familiar with the bands recorded output, seeing them live certainly proved to me that these dudes are musicians who understand what the genre is all about. And while many modern purveyors are simply following a trend I get the distinct impression that Toxic Holocaust are bringing something new and exciting while simultaneously pleasing old school fans. A sort of communion of blood, sweat and mosh pits, how many modern thrash acts can claim to really do that?
I had a bit of a break now between bands who I wanted to see, so I made my way over to the backstage area for MOD to do another interview. These guys have long been friends of mine, and their buddy Mike, who I came to Hellfest with, actually works with their guitarist, and was a childhood friend of the drummer (Who are incidentally, both named Mike). Seeing as the band was preparing to play in front of more than 10,000 people, their biggest show yet, tensions were running high. Though the guys were excited, it seemed like MOD’s set would be life changing for most of the members and they knew that it could very well define the future of the band.
So perhaps it is fitting that when MOD finally did hit the Mainstage 2 around four in the afternoon the circle pit they kicked off spawned a dust storm that towered a hundred feet above the crowds. Their set was filled with both MOD and SOD classics, proving that these guys deserve their place as legends. For an older guy, Billy Milano has a stunning delivery, his guttural growls reach into a bottom end that even guys like Chris Barnes can have difficulty with. Watching this through my sun and alcohol addled brain started to make me realize the bigger picture behidn this band. MOD reigned triumphant, playing in front of more people than they ever had before and giving hard proof that one day Milano may triumph over his sworn nemesis, Scott Ian. This man may have a few screws loose, but perhaps he put it best when he cried out“This one goes out to Scott Ian” before breaking into a crazed rendition of the SOD track “Kill Yourself”.
After MOD wrapped up, I ran with Mike to the Temple stage to be able to watch Impaled Nazarene. Despite being hindered by a few technical issues, Impaled Nazarene played with an impressive energy. Their blazing black metal attack was certainly something to be reckoned with and the inhuman shrieks of the bands vocalist left me in awe of a veritable black metal mega-force. This is the kind of band who understands the true darkness of the genre and use it to blaze forward, commanding the stage and cracking skulls all around. As the mosh pit raged in front of me, it was easy to feel in touch with those terrifying atavistic forces that drive a genre that seems determined to annihilate the church.
Evening still had yet to fall, but there wasn’t much I wanted to see before Iron Maiden started. I went around the VIP area and bumped in to old friends. I even stumbled across the guys from Satan’s Satyrs, excited for what was to be their biggest performance yet when they would take the stage on Sunday. As we got closer to the time for the New Wave of British Heavy Metal’s most legendary band, I also took a chance to check out the food, which was surprisingly good, and had a remarkable variety of options. This weekend was only going to get better, and after being exposed to the VIP area, I knew that my decadent heavy metal partying would be welcome with open arms.
Right before Iron Maiden took the stage I somehow snuck into the VIP Plus area, being granted access to an open bar and a better view on the Mainstage 1. I was one of few long hairs in this crowded deck and almost certainly the only one to have seen Iron Maiden before. As I talked to the people around me wearing collared shirts and nicely combed hair, I realized these people didn’t really ‘get’ metal. I wasn’t entirely sure what this breed were doing here, and so I solved this conundrum the way I solve most of my problems, getting drunker. Anyway, the band stormed onto the stage and played a great set, what more could you want from these guys? Iron Maiden have always understood how to rip up a stage and capture the hearts and minds of the audience. So what if they played a pretty much identical set list as compared to when I saw them last year? It’s still Iron Maiden, and they will never fail, so up the Irons! A particular highlight was Bruce Dickinson announcing the score of the ongoing soccer match between France and Switzerland. It was even more exciting as the French team stormed forth to win 5-2, a fact that kept the crowd going and bodies flying all night long.
Finally it was time to see Slayer, one of my favorite bands ever (I wear my Slayer Eagle belt buckle, Jeff, every day of the year) and a band I had never seen before. Their set was but an hour long, yet it was incredibly satisfying. Sure they only have two original members left but these guys still bring the mosh in a way no other band in the world can. Slayer are Slayer because they have a profound and very fundamental understanding of thrash metal. No one can mess with their attack, Kerry King would just stomp them out. So while, being so far from the stage made it a bit underwhelming, these guys certainly put together an interesting and exciting set list which I will not soon forget. As they closed with my perennial favorite, Angel of Death, I realized that I had truly found my true calling in hell, to thrash ’til death.
So my first day of Hellfest came to a close. I had seen two of my favorite bands ever along with four more who I very much adore. Of course, things were only set to get better, and seeing all the interviews I had scheduled for the next day I figure I should probably get some form of sleep. After writing a translation for the Hellfest website (Which I was too drunk to remember writing, oh well) I wandered back and hit the hay, wondering what kind of treasures the next day in hell would bring me.
Check out Part 3 Here