Hellfest, that legendary European festival that has taken the world by storm and won the hearts of countless musicians and fans across the globe. For the 150 bands playing and hundreds of thousands of fans at the festival journeying to the small French village of Clisson and uncovering the strangely sublime hellscape that the festival represents is always a pleasure. With these articles I seek to document nothing less than my journeys in hell. Read our introduction HERE and coverage of day 1 HERE.
My Hellfest experience seemed to only be getting more profoundly beautiful with each passing hour, and Saturday seemed to show a depth to the triumph that transcended almost all that had come before it. There was a sense within my journeys that I was delving towards something greater and the evolution on this started to become truly clear on this particular Saturday before solstice – where before my very eyes I felt as if I had stumbled into some sort of waking dream, a strange alternate reality that only started to come apart in the morning after the festival.
The first band I saw on Saturday was the seemingly immortal Elder whose innovative take on hard rock was refreshing and in many ways cleansing for the soul. Here’s a band who know exactly what makes them great and know exactly how to capitalize on it. As the audience found themselves falling deeper and deeper into the ministrations of skinny Jesus and his followers I couldn’t help but smile at the strange truths that were unveiled through the music. As DiSalvo blasts out another chant of “I’m coming home” you find yourself charmed by a band who have the kind of sound that keeps the audience on their toes. By the end, the gathered masses were chanting the bands name – seemingly endlessly – as they loaded out.
As this was happening I ran over to the Temple stage to catch Dir Weig Einer Freiheit. America obviously doesn’t have a lot of stuff like these guys – so getting to prostrate my soul before the blazing might of a band who are loud, fierce and proud was refreshing. As Gunnar of Season of Mist eloquently put it “Some say they are hipster black metal, but I don’t give a fuck, they’re good!” The fact of the matter is Dir Weig Einer Freiheit are putting out some of the most exciting extreme music to come out at the moment and their live sets have an overwhelming transcendent power. The knowledge that they’ll be coming to America in the fall only serves to make the entire experience that much better.
After a short pause between bands, in which I squeezed in a few more interviews, (Don’t ask me to tell you which ones – I did fucking 19 last weekend, I can’t keep track of this shit!) I made my way over to the second main stage to watch Ghost Brigade. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself standing next to Michael Berberian the head of Season of Mist. After all – these are the types of things that allow you to really get your name out there. Ghost Brigade never cease to impress me on the record with how goddamn talented they are and this was my first chance to see them as it seems that (unfortunately) the group will never come to America. They play their songs perfectly, occasionally adding exciting moments of seemingly improvised beauty to top off some truly fascinating music. Dynamic and genre bending Ghost Brigade manage to put traditional prog elements alongside death metal (Among things) to get one of the most exciting and iconoclastic sounds found in the scene today.
Out of sheer curiosity I decided to go and catch a few moments of Ace Frehley, after all – seeing washed up stars is half the fun of Hellfest! Jamming his way through a handful of Kiss songs but largely playing off his solo material Frehley is the kind of guy who has the aura of a rock god about him. Sure his stage presence is lacking in his old age, and sure he doesn’t really address the crowd that much – but when you watch him play it is impossible to deny that herein is a man who lives and breathes rock and roll in a way that overcomes words. He is the music incarnate, found within itself and clearly here to save us all from damnation that might otherwise haunt our darkest dreams.
At this point in the day I thought that all the interviews I needed to get done where cleared away and I had decided to get mind meltingly drunk. Of course – this was rapidly interrupted by me being asked to do more interviews. After completing a pair, one with Sherwood from Skinless and one with Orange Goblin I thought I was truly done for the day. But then – just as I was fading into the wine haze I had to start chugging water to come back down. In the midst of my Orange Goblin interview my boss walked up to me and informed I would be interviewing Ace Frehley in five minutes, a unique possibility that we had never discussed prior.
The interview went well and Ace was kind enough to take a picture with me, and once again I was left pondering that good old Hellfest Magic. Where else in the world, and on what other weekend could a kid like me have to pay constant attention to his phone for fear of finding out spontaneously that he was meant to interview a rock god? The fact of the matter is – and shall remain – Hellfest is a land out of time. You find yourself seeing the same people there year after year and constantly being reminded of your own fragile mortality. This is where the cream of the crop convene, and you need to be ready to hold your own, even amongst the legends.
Now I could get drunk – more or less – So I grabbed Dave from Ancient Ascendant and a bottle of wine and we decided to go see Slash from the photo pit. We stood there alongside Diego of Haken fame as well as the usual plethora of beautiful women and musicians and watched the master unleash stunning solos and chunky, spiraling riffs. Despite looking like an old lesbian Slash has an impressive stage presence, and much like Ace Frehley, has a sense of rock god-dom that makes him a pleasure to watch. Beyond that though, I have to give a special tip of the hat to the bands bassist who not only has incredible stage presence but also an incredible voice. Sure he only did backup vocals to an extremely capable Miles Kennedy, but the few moments he had to shine left me scraping my jaw off the floor. That’s the kind of thing that makes rock and roll so enjoyable for me though – the fact that sometimes it’s the little guy, in this case the fucking bass player, a traditionally forgotten member of any band, who has managed to go above and beyond and prove his own worth alongside perhaps the most famous guitarist of the last quarter century.
As soon as Slash wrapped up I darted over to the Temple in order to see another one of my all time favorite bands – the almighty Ensiferum who delivered overwhelming anthems and powerful guitar solos to ten thousand raging fans. It was very encouraging to see that this band that I have been so deeply passionate about for so long had managed to pull so many like minded people to one place. Sure – they didn’t play all my favorite songs, but guess what? It doesn’t matter – Ensiferum are one of those bands who have never written a bad song and whose most recent record is among their best. Raging fans screamed along to an hour of the bands music – and believe me, watching thousands of people scream something in a language that maybe one in twenty five of them understand is truly a sight to be reckoned with.
This was the part of the weekend where it seemed like everybody was a pleasant level of drunk. Dave started explaining to how he actually existed in multiple forms but all of them convene whilst he is listening to Slash play a live guitar solo – speaking of which Faith No More actually arrive mid guitar solo which seemed incredibly appropriate to my frazzled mind – what better time for rock gods to pour out of a limo then whilst Slash bore his heart before thousands of fans? Meanwhile, Diego had a look of utter contentment. I turned over to him and grabbed his shoulder in that slightly-too-friendly way that drunk people are wont and asked “Are you pleased with yourself?” to which he replied with an empathetic “Very!” At this point I thought the festival had reached its zenith – how wrong I was!
I wandered back to the artist lounge then and was pleasantly surprised to find myself being dragged out to see ZZ Top by my Nympherno friends. ZZ Top put together a colossal set, their beards fluttering in the evening wind as they unleashed dad rock in it s purest and most original form. A band who were meant for old men even in the 70s these guys came forth with a set that felt a little fabricated. Yet – when you consider the bands history, and realize that they really are just corporate rock whores it suddenly feels a lot more acceptable. With fluffy guitars in hand, I don’t think ZZ Top were really doing anything new even when they started, and they full realize that. All they really do is allow you a chance to get down and dance which some days is all that you really need.
We made our way over to the second stage then in preparation for the life changing experience that Faith No More promised to be. Having adorned their stage with flowers and covered their amps in white sheets, Faith No More have a unique set up if nothing else. The fact that they all walk out wearing matching white suits reeks of class, and shows the bands ability to craft their own distinct yet simplistic look. They played a stellar set with a healthy mix of old and new, blaring out Epic early on but saving up my personal favorite, “We Care A Lot” for the jarring climax of the show that left over a hundred thousand people screaming with joy at what they had just been honored with witnessing.
The thing is – Faith No More are far more exciting live than even their records could suggest. I love the music as much as the next guy, but when Mike Patton jumps off the stage to take a security guys shirt, which he then wears for the rest of the night? That’s just the kind of Hellfest magic that makes ever element of the festival so worth it to me. Despite the overwhelming pain your body might be under – the fact that a band like Faith No More can still get tens of thousands of people booming out epic choruses (Badum Tss!) and roaring along to oftentimes absurd lyrics from one of rocks most eclectic groups is very encouraging. It functions as living proof, to me at least, that people are still hungry for rock and roll to evolve and to take things to a whole new (Often bizarre) level.
We wanted to go back to the bar for a bit before seeing Marilyn Manson at this point but we had somehow managed to forget one of the most notable parts of this years tenth anniversary edition of Hellfest – the fireworks. Lasting some fifteen minutes I have to say that without exaggeration this fireworks display was the most impressive I had ever seen. Seemingly never ending, the unwashed masses found themselves in awe of this gift that the organizers had chosen to bestow upon their beloved fans. An endcap on an already fabulous evening we were left smiling in childlike bliss. I remember whispering to one of my friends “Can you believe we’re getting paid to be here right now?” It’s moments like that that makes this whole thing worthwhile – standing arm in arm with old friends as you witness a once in a lifetime spectacle.
After getting quite a bit drunker – and refilling our flasks at the bar – we wandered back out to see the 90’s rock and roll bad boy do his thing. Now – Manson has never been my cup of tea, but I had just spent a weekend with a friend who got me looking deeper into his iconography so I was curious to delve into what he had to present to his fans. Though he came off as a bit douchey here and there (Hey, Marilyn, buddy, yelling out “I won’t play until all the women throw their brassieres on stage” is kind of annoying and not to mention sexist) he definitely had a cool live show going on with all sorts of explosions and costume and set changes keeping things interesting. I mean… yeah, I’m more convinced than ever that he’s derivative of Alice Cooper, but he seems somewhat self aware and the way he delivers his stuff seems strangely open, especially given the weirdness of what he has to present to his audiences.
And so my second day of Hellfest 2015 came to an end. Between dudes looking at me in the presence of models and giving me a round of thumbs up and the immense quantities of wine that I seemed able to imbibe with apparent impunity it really felt like Hellfest was opening my eyes up to a brave new world, one that rarely shows itself on this plane of existence and that instead likes to keep a degree of separation. Or maybe some people do this all the time, and I’m just a loser. But after all – If I lived every weekend like I lived Hellfest who knows how long I’d last? It may seem overtly poetic and intellectual to think of Hellfest in these terms but I challenge you dear reader – haven’t you wondered about your life in this way in its greatest moments? In the secular haze of drunkenness we all find time to contemplate our very reality and these are the things that we need to open ourselves up too if we seek to move beyond another day of Dionysian revelry.