Another year. Another Hellfest. Another godforsaken ride in a train across France to go see my grandmother. It’s been two months on the road for this weary soul and it feels as if I’ve lived lifetimes. First there was a trip to LA for awards shows and networking, then there was the full US tour with Tengger Cavalry, and then there was Hellfest – the crown jewel of it all. The crown jewel of the European festival circuit even. The festival that shows the brave future of the music industry and reminds us of all the power of heavy metal and the crippling terror of the south of France – a place where it’s not so much an issue of having bad taxi drivers as much as having no taxi drivers at all. And still, we beat on.

So I sit here, talking to a wonderfully kind Irish man, dealing with a ridiculous pain in my neck, the pain that comes from primarily sleeping on floors for months on end, and trying not to cry. This isn’t freedom. This is suffering. Yet it’s all worth it. After a weekend of sex, drugs and rock and roll perhaps it is good, right and salutary that we hurt. Maybe God gave us hangovers so that we didn’t kill ourselves the day we discovered alcohol. I’m sick and tired, and sick and tired of being sick and tired (After all – I’ve been on tour since mid April) but it’s all good. It’s the nights we remember, not the back pain and crippling fatigue. Y’know, maybe I should stop bitching and actually write about this festival.

Getting to Hellfest remained easy as ever. I’ve got a system now – I ride down with the same buddies every year, buddies who I see only once a year. I always cherish our stop, midway through the voyage to pick up sandwiches for lunch. We walk into the supermarket, or convenience store or whatever and people stare at us like we are aliens. Sometimes I wear something especially weird just to goose them. And so, after a four hour drive from Paris we saw the legendary guitar sculpture that marks the portal to Hell. The gate had opened and it was up to us to enter into it.

One of the highlights of my year is when I get to traverse the Hellfest grounds on my own. On the Thursday before Hellfest it’s only people with all access or sponsors who get to go onto the fields and just look at everything. Looking at EVERYTHING is key by the way. I mean yes, there are highlights, the Lemmy statue for example, or the bars that shoot multi colored flames from the top, or even the Ferris Wheel. But it’s also the small things, the way that the lineups from previous years are set in stone, the secret seating areas, or the more hidden bars some of which feature some startling architecture. Hellfest is a heavy metal Disneyland from start to finish. And it was my job to dive right down into the heart of it.

Thursday evening I went to my usual party and saw a bunch of old friends. It made me realize how badly I’ve missed Europe all this time and how important it is that I make sure I go back more regularly. It’s rare to find a group as tightly knit and kind as the European metal elite, but there is a genuine love there. Everyone has their role, including geeks, jocks, cheerleaders and plain Jane’s. It all melts together into the same thing. These are the kind of networking events that I enjoy. Just you, some important friends, and far too much alcohol for any one group of people to reasonably consume. What more could a metal dude want?

So the night before Hellfest came to an end. I got to drunk and got a free lift to my hotel from a lovely group of Germans who I would proceed to not see for the rest of the festival. (Man, can those Germans drink!) I passed out next to a friend who I only barely knew who I was sharing a hotel room with. But that’s just how it goes sometimes. Maybe it will turn into an Ishmael and Queequeg situation or maybe you will just end up hating each other. It doesn’t matter because just as life goes on, Hellfest does not and we need to never forget that.