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.
Day 3-The best day of my life?
For a day that will probably stick with me forever, it certainly took a while to get started. The first band I wanted to see, Subrosa, didn’t start until 2. So I took the intervening time to go join up with my friends in Witch Mountain (Who would be playing later in the day) and Conan. It was around this time that I discovered that I could steal wine from the catering tent and not be yelled at for it. This, along with the fact that the catering tent was right next to the Valley stage where all of my favorite doom metal bands were hanging out, made for a very pleasant added feature to an already glorious weekend. If I wasn’t inebriated enough at the start, things would only get crazier from here on out. A pleasant haze settled over me as I prepared to watch the days shows.
Meeting Subrosa before their set was truly an honor. The girls and guys in the band are all simply wonderful people. Right away, I really hit it off with Rebecca, the bands singer and guitarist, so much so that she made me an origami organ out of a flyer I had on hand. I know I’m not supposed to make friends with the musicians, but in many cases, it’s exceedingly difficult, damn objectivity, isn’t it simply a byproduct of a plastic culture? Sarah appreciated the red wine I scored for her, proving once again that alcohol does in fact make you more friends. As the band got ready to go on I prepared myself for the sort of heavy metal redemption that comes but rarely. More Constant Than Gods was one of my favorite records of 2013 and I couldn’t see myself not loving every minute of their show.
Their set was simply transcendent, among the best that I saw at Hellfest. Seeing this band that I have loved so much for so long and then getting to hang out with them afterwards…words cannot express the joy and honor I had felt at getting this opportunity. Their set was fairly long, and their closer, the instant classic, The Usher, spirited me away to a mysterious world. Musically these guys are incredibly tight, their bottom end roars mightily and the crazed violin playing of Kim and Sarah is both non-traditional and strangely magnificent. It’s a sort of mix of Schoenberg with Beethoven, experimental, yet also very easy to engage with. I feel like these guys are even heavier live than on the record and all of the best elements of their sound are emphasized. The fact that they have a US tour lined up in just a few weeks has got me incredibly excited.
While Subrosa was loading out I sat down with Mark from Downfall of Gaia (A crazy story featuring him will show up shortly, don’t worry) and Paul from Conan to talk about being a metal drummer. This was a very unique interview and I found it to be incredibly interesting. Once this one was wrapped up it was time to talk to the incredibly sweet Rebecca from Subrosa, about spirituality in her music and the strangely holy triumph that defines so much of her bands sound. I still had a ton of interviews scheduled to go on the day and I had already done two of the most interesting in my life, where was this madness heading? Clearly I had to drink up.
Next for me was checking out Witch Mountain on the same stage. I had seen these guys only 10 days prior, but it was still an absolute privilege to get to watch them again. Uta Plotkin has a way of laying into it with her voice that no other doom metal vocalist can touch. The way she leans back and lets rip is truly something to be reckoned with. It gives the music a very profound authenticity, the sort of thing that really hearkens back to the traditional Black Sabbath-oriented roots of the band. Otherwise, these guys were magnificently tight, Rob’s guitar playing simply ripped as per usual and Charles bass created a lively and engaging bottom end. Meanwhile, Nate played shirtless (hot!) and my position from the side of the stage really granted me the chance to get a grasp on the incredible level of skill this guy brings behind the kit, certainly a metal master for the masses.
By now it was almost time for my scheduled interview with Carcass, so I made my way on down to the press tent, an interview the gals from Subrosa seemed especially interested to hear about. Somehow though, Bill Steer and Jeff Walker had disappeared, or at least, no one could locate them to do my interview. Perhaps I reeked too much of wine to be granted the interview, I did after all steal a beer from the artist fridge while standing in front of their label representative. On the plus side though I finally met Gunnar from Season of Mist, and then almost immediately after was introduced by him to my longtime hero Luc Lemay of Gorguts. Having one of my favorite musicians ever be told that I’m a “Great guy” by a man who works for my favorite record label is simply one of the many surreal and magical moments that dominated my Hellfest experience, and perhaps what made this particular weekend so special for me.
At this point I got a text from my buddy Igor Cavalera (Max’s son, not his brother) and I made my way to the artist lodgings. I had another dose of Hellfest magic when I walked in and found my mentor Gloria Cavalera standing right there. After a brief chat she gave me directions over to the Soulfly tour bus. Igor Cavalera let me on and we got to talking with his girlfriend Aggy. Much to my surprise, she was familiar with the obscure doom metal band Bloodmoon, (Whose t-shirt I had been sporting) like I said, Hellfest is magic. After a few minutes we all got together to do an interview with all of the Cavalera boys (Finally getting to meet Richie Cavalera from Incite and Zyon was of course an honor) by this point I was starting to get tired out, and little did I know the best was yet to come.
I made my way to the side of the stage for Hatebreed. Let me tell you, there is nothing quite like watching one of your favorite bands from less than 10 feet away with thousands of people in front of you. The band delivered an incredible set, and so my first time seeing them cemented their place as one of my all time favorite acts. The raw positive aggression and primitive destructive force of some of these songs is certainly something that few modern musicians can compare too. On top of that, the sheer energy that Jamey Jasta brings to the stage is utterly unreal. How can this guy have so much power behind his music and be so damn creative? How many other men in metal can be half as busy as him and with half as much success? Hatebreed is a special band, and the friendliness of the members (I also met Chris and Matt) really left me in awe. I have long felt that Hatebreed is a force of good in this turbulent world, and seeing them at Hellfest only confirmed this belief.
The highlight though came shortly after the show when I got the chance to interview Jasta, who, if you didn’t pick up on it earlier, is kind of my hero. His humility and sense of honor left me in awe, this man is not a rock star, this man is a legend, but a legend who is both approachable and kind. A man who stands above the rest because not only is he true to this word, he is one of the friendliest and most honest people in metal. After the interview he gave me a hug and I almost started to cry, this is the sort of guy who I simply cannot speak highly enough of, and meeting him certainly felt like a coming of age moment if nothing else. If somebody had told me a week before I would interview him I would never have believed them. As Jasta himself said “Take it all in man!”
Of course, by this time, Soulfly had just started, so I darted over to the Mainstage 1, now with even more people gathered out front. The band played a tight set, just as they had when I last saw them in March and it left me impressed with the incredible endurance of Max Cavalera. Playing a set loaded with Soulfly and Sepultura classics, these guys were a blast to watch. A special highlight for me was when Max invited his children (and my friends!) Igor and Richie on stage to perform Revengenced with him, a true family moment. It was that good old Hellfest magic in the works again. As I stood there, watching this incredible performance featuring people I chat with regularly, I looked to my right and saw Gloria Cavalera and Aggie. Then I look left, and who is standing there but Mark Osogueda, the singer of Death Angel. What have I ever done to merit a blessing like this? What kind of strange world has been created around me that this sort of glorious magic could even happen? These are the things that made my Hellfest experience simply otherworldly, and as I write this, on my way back to America I’m still left trying to understand what the hell happened.
Of course, I still had bands to see, on this longest day of the year (It was the solstice after all) the sun had yet to set! Of course, there was still a while yet before the final highlight of the night was due on, so I once again went exploring. There were simply so many cool and interesting people hanging around the festival it was impossible to be bored. In just one brief walk I bumped into Bjorn from Kvelertak and John from Trollfest. At one point I even got taken to sit down and chat with a bunch of industry bigwigs, because, why not? Why, I even met the manager of King Diamond and Emperor. The fact that all of these thousands of people were gathered together for heavy metal blew my mind, and demonstrated the incredible triumph of this festival.
It was late now, and after a brief misadventure with Igor Cavalera (we needed to get a car for Max so he could go to see Nile in privacy) I was ready to check out Phil Anselmo & The Illegals, the aforementioned highlight of the night. Watching from the side of the Valley stage with Paul from Conan and a couple dudes from Witch Mountain and Subrosa was simply unreal. Here I was, standing with some of my favorite musicians and I was not two feet away from one of the most important men in the history of metal. As us fans on the side of the stage started to push our way closer to the fore the tour manager, Martin, got gradually more pissed off, but it was worth it, all shall be done in the name of metal!
As for the music? Well, it was simply incredible. I had forgotten how wonderfully ugly Phil Anselmo’s & The Illegals is meant to sound, and the frightening grindcore blasts that roared out of the four piece was insane. There were a lot of interesting highlights too. Particularly interesting were a few Superjoint Ritual covers, a band whose material I thought I would never see be played live. Another special moment was when Phil turned around and gave a huge hug to Paul, who had just been telling me how much he admired Mr. Anselmo. The emotion in his face during that hug was beautiful, it was clearly a dream come true for him. The culmination of the set was a reprise of the Pantera classic “A New Level” leaving all of us punters with a healthy dose of Pantera in our veins. As Phil trudged off stage I got a chance to reach out and touch that sacred flesh, honor the almighty one, a man who cannot be reckoned with.
My heart buzzing with joy I went over to the artist lodge where I got to interview both Steven and Marzi, Phil’s bassist and guitarist, in separate interviews. Marzi’s interview was a special highlight. Not only was he a great guy (As well as a fan of my pretend big sister, Nelly, and her band Unscarred) he gave a great interview, after which he declared us brothers. How’s that as a way to end your night? Then it was time for a quick trip to the media team tent to do another translation then fell asleep back in my own tent. My second day of Hellfest had proven to be probably the greatest day of my life.
Check out Part 4 Here