Hellfest 2013: Day One

author PP date 27/06/13

If there was one festival to be at this year for metal, mainstream rock, and punk rock combined, it was Hellfest 2013. The seventh edition of the French festival, which took place between June 21st and June 24th at Clisson, France, had secured a mammoth lineup that featured everyone from the classic rock greats and early 2000s nu-metal titans through punk/hardcore legends and a wealth of metal bands from every subgenre imaginable to the genre. With 159 bands squeezed on six stages in three full days, Petteri 'PP' Pertola, Aleksi 'AP' Pertola and our photographer Rasmus Ejlersen flew to Paris on June 20th and drove overnight to the west coast of the country to provide you an immersive reportage of everything Hellfest to help you decide whether to attend this year. Mark my words, this is a festival experiencing immense growth, with more than 30,000 tickets sold and a ridiculously strong lineup year after year, so you can expect them to very quickly rise up on the ranks of European festivals especially once they iron out the few flaws in the festival organization. More on that later.

The 159 bands of the lineup were spread across six stages that were divided into four groups: the two main stages - called simply MAIN STAGE 1 and 2 - would house the big headliners, the mainstream rock names, and those bands that weren't really a good fit for any of the other stages. ALTAR and TEMPLE stages, which were both positioned underneath a giant blue tent, focused on metal of all sorts (death, folk, black, thrash, grind, etc), whereas VALLEY was the home for anything stoner and rock'n'roll during the festival. As the odd one out, WARZONE essentially provided the battleground for a gazillion circle pits as the hardcore and punk rock bands clashed against each other for three days straight.

Like I said before, the lineup overall was incredible this year, with pretty much every band on the bill being a huge, or at least decent sized name within their particular genre. If you don't believe me, just consider the stage lineup below:



Saxon - Hardcore Superstar - Black Spiders - Kissin' Dynamite - 3 Doors Down - Krokus - Audrey Horne - Attentat Rock - Danko Jones - Mustasch - Heaven's Basement - Waltari



Kreator - Papa Roach - Symphony X - Testament - A Day To Remember - Voivod - Hellyeah - Parkway Drive - Mass Hysteria - Heathen - Coal Chamber - Riverside - Vektor - P.O.D. - Prong - SSS - Asking Alexandria - The Ghost Inside - DR Living Dead - Skindred - The Arrs



Ceremonial Oath - My Dying Bride - Moonspell - Asphyx - Amorphis - Wintersun - Between The Buried And Me - Sinister - Misery Index - Hooded Menace - The Old Dead Tree - Pig Destroyer - Misathrophe - Monstrosity - Cryptopsy - Captain Cleanoff - Dead Congreation - T.A.N.K - Krisiun - Haemorrhage



Primordial - Belphegor - Dark Funeral - Absu - Rotting Christ - Korpiklaani - Aura Noir - Kampfar - Ihsahn - Týr - Equilibrium - Seth - Hate - Koldbrann - Inquisition - Stille Volk - The Secret - Svart Crown - The Great Old Ones - Hell Militia - Leprous



Black Pyramid - Red Fang - Clutch - Pallbearer - Karma To Burn - The Sword - Black Breath - Witchcraft - Spiritual Beggars - Black Cobra - Uncle Acid And The Deadbeats - Graveyard - Bison BC - Procession - My Sleeping Karma - Eagle Twin - Surtr - Truckfighters - 7 Weeks - Regarde Les Hommes Tomber - Eryn Non Dae.



Anti-Flag - Converge - Atari Teenage Riot - Terror - Unearth - Punish Yourself - Deez Nuts - Gallows - Cockney Rejects - Negative Approach - Bury Your Dead - Senser - Bane - The Casualties - Le Bal Des Enrages - Berri Txarrak - Retox - Treponem Pal - Vera Cruz - Justine - The Decline


The camping area was traditionally southern European: a totally disorganized chaos laid on top of a grass field with standard festival amenities feeling like an alien planet. As Rockfreaks.net arrived in the pitch black darkness of the night following the guidance of our GPS system, we were met with zero signs and zero guidance as to where to park our car, what to do next, and where to place our tent. Instead, we saw cars parked virtually on any grass bank on the sides of roads, in the middle of caravans, on sidewalks, on any space possible, with free access to the unsecured and unpatrolled campsite. We resorted to asking some (drunken) festival goers for directions, but nobody seemed to have heard of an organized parking space, so no help to be found there. Apparently, one existed somewhere, but we never found it as festival staff or proper signs were nowhere to be found.

As mentioned just before, the Hellfest camping site is unsecured and uncontrolled, which means anybody can access it whether or not they're going to the festival or not. It also means that there were no rules as to how to pitch up your tent and where to put it (like at Groezrock for example), leaving copious amounts of space between the different tents pitched on the campgrounds. Any more people and it would've been impossible to find a spot, though I must admit I never wandered to the far corners of the camping area at any point. This is still tolerable to an extent, but that the entire field consisted of heavy-duty tractor tracks and small rocks meant that the surface wasn't exactly smooth to sleep on. Those without air mattresses must have suffered.

Aside from space to pitch up your tents, there was virtually nothing else on the campsite. A couple of guard towers with all-night illumination systems, and only a handful of toilets to accommodate nearly 30,000 festivalgoers, leading into nightmarish queues in the mornings and late evenings all festival long. Did your air mattress puncture? No shop to buy a new one. Need water? No water posts without buying a 6€ wristband to a H2O center (though they did have showers as a bonus). A bunch of haystacks with plastic urinals attached to each side functioned as pissoirs, which is a fine idea in concept but they smelled horrific already by the time we arrived there. What about security? I think there were a few patrols, but mostly it felt like a free-for-all. Luckily metal fans are some of the nicest guests in any music scene, so that wasn't a problem at least this time around. Closer to the festival entrance you would find a breakfast tent, a couple of bars, and merchandising. That's about everything about the camping - but luckily a short walk away from the campsite you could find a hypermarket with pretty much anything you would need.



The entrance to the festival area was a relatively painless experience through an ominous cathedral-shaped structure where you'd be patted for any forbidden items. Immediately to your right side, you'd find both the Valley tent as well as the dual tent of Altar/Temple, and straight ahead of you would loom the giant main stage structures. The latter two functioned as a great way to squeeze together a lot of bands at short intervals without having to move the crowd to great distances. Once one band finished, the next one would start on the adjacent stage no more than 5 minutes later. A bit further away through a small forest you'd find both a wine bar (that was oddly populous throughout the festival) and the Warzone stage.

Given that this is primarily a metal festival, much care had been taken to shape every object imaginable into something appropriate for the atmosphere. The specialty bars (for non-standard beers), for instance, were rusty, metallic structures that would be set on fire at dusk; likewise, a pentagram-shaped bonfire setup was placed near these to accommodate for late night chill outs. The forest near Warzone had also some interesting features to it with a slightly medieval feel, and generally it felt like the festival had put much focus on creating a specific vibe to the festival area itself.

What surprised me the most was the food court area, which featured everything from Brazilian and Argentinean food to Jamaican, Mexican and Ethiopian, alongside the classic hot dogs, french fries, et cetera. Mostly everything tasted awesome and was reasonably priced for a festival. Here, the payment was in cash, whereas all drinks could only be purchased with the pre-exchanged drinks tokens. It's a fairly weird system to combine both, especially because you could pay with card to buy more tokens, but not at the food stalls, which meant you were constantly short of cash to buy food but had technically unlimited funds to buy drinks. This problem was accentuated by a mere two ATMs placed outside of the festival site to service all 30,000+ guests each day. Needless to say, the line there was an hour long pretty much whenever you tried.

Perhaps my favorite feature of the festival area was the ability to re-charge your phone for free, without having to bring your own charger. You'd just show up, and deposit your phone into the hundreds of small lockers at the booth, which were filled with every charger imaginable to man. Cool.

What was not so cool, however, was the devastating lack of toilet facilities on the festival site. Yes, there were around four or five strategically situated toilet areas, but they contained hopelessly too few toilets (and unsurprisingly, no toilet paper after the first 30 minutes each day), so that all pissoirs were constantly overflowing, and the line to the boxes (for the ladies and number 2's) was, again, almost an hour long at every site. Unlike other festivals, there were no other areas with pissoirs setup around the site, so any and every edge of the fest quickly turned into a makeshift pissoir for the guys. This is an area that needs massive, massive improvement in the future.

One more critical point before we reach the reviews: the beer system. You would buy a cup, and had to literally carry it around you the whole day - which was super annoying in the long run. A deposit would be sufficient, so that any hard plastic cups thrown on the ground would be quickly collected by those wishing to earn a few Euros to pay for their next beer. It's a system that works brilliantly at other festivals, and should be taken into use here, too. Moreover, why only 0.25 L cups or the enormous 1.5L jugs? I ended up buying 2 x 0.25 L cups and pouring them into the 1.5 L jug, using it as a makeshift pint-sized beer (standard size worldwide) that wouldn't run out too quickly like the 0.25 L one, but wouldn't be too much like the 1.5L one either. Oh, and way more seating areas wouldn't hurt so people can relax their legs after standing up for 10-12 hours each day watching bands.


Vera Cruz @ 11:05-11:35 on Warzone

For this scribe, Hellfest 2013 started with a local band called Vera Cruz. The reports of their purportedly crazy live shows had actualized at their recent live show at Lygten, Copenhagen, where the band apparently was dissatisfied with people going outside to smoke so they moved their guitarists to play outside the venue instead. This morning, playing to an early, yet surprisingly big crowd, they attempt to wake everyone up by encouraging circle pits, throwing up big jumps on stage, with especially their bassist shining with above average movement throughout the set. The whole shindig is a fairly predictable hardcore set, but the band plays with energy and conviction throughout, pleasing the locals mightily and probably gaining a few new fans in the process. [7½] PP

Eagle Twin

Eagle Twin @ 11:40-12:10 on The Valley

Eagle Twin, as their moniker suggests, consists of just two members: vocalist/guitarist Gentry Densley and drummer Tyler Smith. As such, one could be forgiven for not having the highest of expectations for the duo in terms of an enthralling performance - and indeed as it turns out, there isn't much by way of a visual aspect to the show. Even so, their blend of heavy stoner metal, doom and sludge is a welcome concoction early in the day when most of us are still drowsy from the previous evening's festivities. The music, though not quite as full-fledged, bears a certain resemblance to High on Fire at their most trudging pace, with lengthy instrumental jams the predominant element in the duo's musical palette. The performance has a hypnotic quality to it that envelops the Valley tent in an almost lethargic atmosphere which provides a relaxing, slow start to a long day of live music. [6] AP

SSS @ 11:40-12:10 on Main Stage 2

If you've ever listened to and liked Municipal Waste, chances are you're already familiar with the Liverpool, UK based crossover thrash band SSS. They kick up the tempo a notch on the main stage, delivering a high speed thrash metal assault with hardcore nuances for the 30 minutes that they've been allocated. Their vocalist stands out with good stage interaction; his northern British accent and his appearance creates adds an element of humour to their show that's also reflected in the lyrics to their music to some extent. Though the band are mediocre on record, the crowd is digging it, and why wouldn't they? SSS are playing breakneck speed crossover that, despite their rather static movement on stage, is a good way to kick start the day as opposed to listen to a doom metal band or something. [8] PP

Black Spiders

Black Spiders @ 12:15-12:45 on Main Stage 1

When Black Spiders played at Lille Vega in Copenhagen last year in support of Monster Magnet, they oozed attitude and energy, so naturally I was intrigued to find out how their take on classic feel-good rock'n'roll would fare on a large festival stage. The show is, as expected, rowdy and brimming with the sort of swagger classic rock bands tend to claim fame for, and the quintet appear more than just a little excited to be playing for us this afternoon. Drummer 'Tiger' Si Atkinson in particular can hardly stay on his seat, his small-ish kit threatening to fall to pieces from the power of his beating. Good as the show is however, the band never manage to replicate the splendour of that club show, though with the Motorhead vibe of closing banger "Teenage Knife Gang" they do come close. [7] AP

Berri Txarrak @ 12:15-12:45 on Warzone

The moment SSS finish their set I spurt over to Warzone to catch another band I've heard good things about before the festival. Berri Txarrak, who originate from Spain, play a brand of melodic punk rock that in normal conditions would count among my favorites at the festival. Today, they are simply boring to watch, which leaves the crowd completely dead, and the stage looking far too big for them at this stage of their career. [5] PP

Vektor @ 12:50-13:30 on Main Stage 2

I had not initially planned on watching Tempe, AZ born thrashers Vektor, but upon reading our extreme metal conoisseur Ellis Woolley's review of their latest album "Outer Isolation" (2011) and being subjected to hefty pleas of checking them out live in his absence, I find myself standing before the leftmost main stage with a deep sense of curiosity. Vektor play thrash of the very old school kind, but differentiate themselves from most of their peers with David DiSanto's highly unique vocal style - a kind of raspy, almost black metal influenced shriek (and occasional Tom Araya-style howl) that reminds me distantly of Kreator's Miland 'Mille' Petrozza and Essence's Lasse Skov - as well as songwriting that bests even some of their legendary colleagues. This is Vektor's first ever show in Europe, but their fast and brutal take on the genre still attracts a sizable audience, who appear to receive songs like "Echoless Chamber" and "Deoxyribonucleic Acid" with profound enthusiasm. This is still rather a watch with interest than go absolutely mental type of experience for most, however, so it is left to the absolutely phenomenal song-writing and technical proficiency behind tracks like "Tetrastructural Minds" to leave us struck with awe. [8] AP


Hate @ 12:50-13:30 on Temple

It's a double edged sword playing on the Temple/Altar stage, a double stage covered by a large blue tent. On one hand, bands like Hate, who show up in the afternoon looking like they were just awaken from the dead with their white corpse paint and brutal appearance, get the darkness required to properly showcase their evil image, but at the same time, the stage is generally struggling from sound problems especially related to the guitars. Here, Hate's appearance and the cyclical headbanging that follows the rapid fire double pedal pummeling is cool, but it's almost impossible to hear the guitar riffs on top of it. It's a shame, because the crowd would otherwise be into it, especially after the band announces the tragedy that their bassist was found dead on day one of the tour, and the woman now filling in on bass guitar is his late widow Alexandra. That draws a huge roar from the crowd and a sea of horns, as Hate's front man says they're only continuing the tour because of us. Too bad the terrible sound ruined their chances for a higher grade. [7] PP

Bison B.C. @ 12:50-13:30 on Valley

Discouraged by the bad sound at Hate I leave early and wander by the Valley stage where Canadian Bison B.C. are delivering an earful of dirty, groovy sludge metal. Their riffs are hypnotic, and so the audience almost looks like they're in a trance as they bang their heads in unison to the catchy waves of groove coming their way. The roared vocals are catchy and create a great, muscular dynamic between the riff-driven guitars and the pummeling drums. This is what you should've been watching instead of Hate. [8] PP


Bane @ 13:35-14:15 on Warzone

A light drizzle kicks in just before Bane starts their set, but this doesn't seem to hinder them at all. Guitars fly around, the guys throw kick jumps left and right, and vocalist Aaron Bedard stomps and two-steps around the stage. They remain one of the most criminally underrated bands in hardcore; the proof is in their fantastic energy on stage, and in the catchy melodies embedded in their hardcore expression. Not one to be frightened by the big divide between the stage and the crowd, Bedard hops down to the barrier to share the mic and let people sing. Unfortunately only a small portion of the crowd is really into it, so despite the plethora of jumps and stage energy, they fail to engage the crowd, and the stage looks a little bit too big for them. [6½] PP

Hooded Menace @ 13:35-14:15 on Altar

As of only five bands at Hellfest '13 representing my native Finland, there was of course no way I was going to skip Hooded Menace, whose Relapse Records debut "Effigies of Evil" was met with widespread critical acclaim upon its release last year. We are now in doom territory, though these Joensuu based Finns colour their music with significant amounts of melodic death metal influence as well, resulting in songs characterised by heavy low-end riffs and deep growls interspersed by Gothenburg style melodic leads. The quartet are immersed in an obscure and somehow menacing lightshow that fits their music extremely well, and sport a static but brooding stage presence that instills a dreamy, or rather, nightmarish atmosphere inside the Altar tent. There isn't much else to behold here than music and lights, however, and I feel that without a solid knowledge of the band's recorded output it is difficult fully to enjoy the show. [6] AP


Týr @ 14:20-15:00 on Temple

One does not often come across a band hailing from the Faroe Islands, and much less common even is that one of them forges such fame and fortune, relatively speaking, as Týr. Yet here they stand, at one of the largest metal festivals in Europe, singing half their frostbitten folk metal songs in their native Faroese to massive applause and, it appears, sing-songs. Then again, with songs as well written as the fantastic “Tróndur í Gøtu”, reciprocating the chanting custom designed for a live setting is not all that difficult. Týr differ from most other folk metal bands by virtue of how strong the influence of their Nordic heritage is in their songs, which themselves carry an instant appeal due to not relying on gimmicks. Indeed, Týr forge a sound that is distinctly more in keeping with folk metal traditions with the barest essentials – two guitars, a bass, drums and vocals – than that of bands like, say, Finntroll, Korpiklaani or what have you, whose success stems largely from the incorporation of ‘exotic’ instruments such as an accordion or flute. Combine then Týr’s song-writing prowess with an extremely confident stage presence, and you’re served a rock solid helping of live folk metal here. [8] AP

Aura Noir

Aura Noir @ 16:00-16:40 on Temple

Continuing my quest to watch real metal bands at a metal festival, next in queue is the Norwegian Aura Noir with a barrage of punishing blackened thrash. With no prior knowledge of the band except hearsay, I am somewhat surprised to find both the band’s sound and image considerably less evil than I had anticipated, with thrash forming the primary component of their music and black metal adding the extra colour (or lack thereof?). There are songs that sound distinctly blacker, such as “Shadows of Death” late in the set, and these are accentuated well by reducing the tempo, illuminating the pentagram hovering over the stage, and immersing the band in dim shades of purple, yellow, red and white. “Thunder Roar” and “Tracts of Hell” restore the thrash elements to dominance soon, however – just in time for a cover of Slayer’s “Fight Till Death” as a tribute to the late Jeff Hannemann. Aura Noir’s blistering, almost inhumanly fast take on extreme metal (see the set concluding “Conqueror”) certainly has its charm, but one feels as though more variety is needed to truly make their live sets shine as something extraordinary. [7] AP

Between The Buried And Me @ 16:45-17:35 on Altar

As my DJ-set at Copenhell ’13 was scheduled smack on top of this, one of my all-time favorite bands, not even the muted reactions of some of my colleagues to their performance there last weekend was going to convince me not to watch them here at Hellfest ’13. Starting with “Astral Body”, the stage is already set for a more impressive feat given the indoor setting and thereby the potential for excellent lighting as is so crucial in music as technically demanding and complex as BTBAM’s. With this band, it is of the utmost importance also, that the sound mix is in order, so it is with slight disappointment that I conclude the heavy parts sound a little muddy here at the beginning – though the blues parts shine clear and stunning as ever. By the time “Lay Your Ghosts to Rest” and the breathtaking “Ants of the Sky” are aired however, the low-end is rectified at least to some extent, allowing us to appreciate the death metal component of the latter song as much as the beautifully cinematic bridge and quirky bar-room outro. Though BTBAM aren’t, and likely never will be, the liveliest of bands in concert, vocalist Tommy Rogers and bassist Dan Briggs do provide sufficient animation to complement the meticulously arranged light production with their energetic, and in Rogers’ case, often quite confrontational behaviour. Most of the time though BTBAM appear disconnected and enigmatic as befits the space trip “Telos” and concluding masterpiece “Selkies: The Endless Obsession”. Spectacular is the most appropriate word that comes to mind to describe what BTBAM muster up here, though having seen them multiple times in the past I know they’re capable of even more impressive shows. [8] AP

Deez Nuts

Deez Nuts @ 16:45-17:35 on Warzone

After spending a good portion of my day watching serious fucking business metal bands, Deez Nuts come as a refreshing change with their bouncy party hardcore. They're a hotly debated band in the hardcore scene, in that they're totally unserious and sing about boozing, doing drugs, and banging bitches to put it crudely. Opener "Shot After Shot" is one of those type of tracks, but it incites sing alongs, fist pumps, and a pit from the decently sized crowd. "DTD" and "Stay True" have bigger sing alongs, as does "Popular Demand", but despite a bouncy stage performance the set feels like its lacking intensity. Hardcore is note easily digested from a big stage and from behind a barrier, and because it's a two-way game between the crowd and the band, they too look a little more quiet and chilled out on stage than usual. Too big of a stage for Deez Nuts. [7] PP

Pallbearer @ 17:40-18:30 on The Valley

Returning to doom terrain once again, the next stop on my Hellfest itinerary is another stern recommendation by our own Ellis ‘EW’ Woolley: the Little Rock, AR based Pallbearer, who released the critically acclaimed album “Sorrow and Extinction” last year. Having been impressed by all of EW’s picks thus far, it should not even be surprising that this traditionally disposed doom metal four-piece has me spellbound with instant effect. Not only are Pallbearer very energetic taking into consideration the style they practice, vocalist/guitarist Brett Campbell also owns an extremely unique and alluring, wailing vocal style the likes of which I’ve never come across. Combine those facts with an assortment of songs that are chilling to the bone, such beauty their slow, contemplative soundscapes boast – “The Legend” off their 2010 demo and the first song they ever wrote, in particular, is worthy of enormous praise. These are songs written with passion, and the dedication underlying bleeds through every note struck. Pallbearer are in their own world, enveloping the Valley tent in a mournful, hazy atmosphere that makes time stand still and sends us to doom metal dreamland. This is an absolutely breathtaking concert by a band that deserves much more attention than is the case at present. [9] AP


Absu @ 17:40-18:30 on Temple

A foreboding, yet tranquil intro encompasses the murky confines of the Temple stage when Absu enter the stage. They immediately proceed with evil black metal riffs and demonic shrieking. It takes me a little while to discover it's the drummer on vocals and not just a ghost waiting to appear from some corner of the stage any minute now. Again, the guitar sound gives problems at this stage so the treble and tremolo is basically missing from the soundscape entirely, so it's difficult to appreciate much else than the flowing hair and the breakneck speed riffs, which is probably why the audience has halved in size from what it was for Between The Buried And Me or Tyr earlier. Suddenly the drummer lets out a maniacal laughter and runs away, only to return moments after with the pentagram light lit above him to high tempo black metal. Shame about the sound, because this has potential to be awesome but there's simply more bass in the soundscape than in a Midwestern punk rock song. [7] PP

Terror @ 18:35-19:35 on Warzone

"I HATE THIS FUCKING BARRICADE, CRAWL UP HERE", shouts vocalist Scott Vogel as the first thing when entering the stage, dedicating the whole set to Bane in the process (Aaron Bedard can be seen at the side of the stage going crazy). They capture the crowd in an instant and show simply some of the greatest energy and mid-song crowd interaction I've ever seen at a festival. Vogel orchestrates the audience to fist pump, to circle pit, to crowd surf; basically anything he pleases by constantly shouting things like "MOVE!!", "FEEL THAT SHIT!!", "BUST IT!!" et cetera. Whether it's to get people clapping or to wave their hands up and down hip hop style, people eat out of the palm of his hand, and thunderously roar back when he screams "It's good to be ALIVE, FEEL THAT SHIT" at the crowd. "Spit My Rage" sees Agnostic Front's Roger join on stage for vocals, but really it could have been any of the wealth of hardcore bands watching the show from the side of the stage. "LETS PUT THESE SECURITY GUYS TO WORK", Vogel shouts, and gets people crowdsurfing like there's no tomorrow. At the same time, the band are in constant movement, bouncing up and down, storming across the stage, and waving their fists at the audience at every given opportunity. Today, Terror conquer the Warzone stage. This is how a hardcore show should look like no matter how big the stage - I can still hear the "GET UP HERE" shouts echo in the back of my head several days later. Pure awesome. [9] PP


Primordial @ 19:40-20:40 on Temple

Due to an Aer Lingus flight delay and traffic problems in Paris, the Irish pagan black metal group Primordial arrive at Hellfest 10 minutes after their scheduled timeslot, meaning that, unfortunately, their set needs to be shortened to a measly 35 minutes and four songs. It's a real shame because despite pummeling us with four of their best songs in "No Grave Deep Enough", Bloodied Yet Unbowed", "The Coffin Ships" and the electrifying "Empire Falls", the dynamics of the show fall short, given the absence of an ebb-and-flow effect between songs of a varying style, length and tempo. Even so, however, the first and final songs do boast such epic instrumentation and a vocal performance by Alan Averill so powerful they send chills down my spine. Primordial have conjured with their music such a unique style and sound that very few bands can ever hope to match it, and given the backdrop of an enthralling stage presence especially by Averill, who waves and gestures with his microphone stand like some medieval prophet, exuding power and authority. It is, as Averill himself proclaims, a short but sweet delve into the discography of one of the most unique extreme metal bands in existence. [8] AP

Agnostic Front

Agnostic Front @ 20:45-21:45 on Warzone

Agnostic Front are faced with a gargantuan task in trying to overcome Terror's display of hardcore master class an hour earlier, despite being one of the original New York Hardcore bands on the bill. They don't succeed in any measure: they are missing the connection with the crowd completely that Terror had earlier. Nobody is engaged, despite a fairly bouncy live performance, but I think it comes down to two things. One, Roger isn't a very good vocalist in all honesty, and two, the relevancy of Agnostic Front in hardcore despite a classic status can and should perhaps be debated. They can't conquer Warzone today, and some bad choices in setlist selection means they play a boring show that people don't really care about. [5½] PP


Sleep @ 21:50-22:50 on The Valley

Originally, the illustrious career of stoner doom legends Sleep ended in 1998, and gave birth to Om (courtesy of bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros) and High on Fire (spearheaded by guitarist Matt Pike). But since 2009, following two exclusive performances at All Tomorrow's Parties in England, Sleep have been a regular presence in worldwide gig circuits again, former drummer Chris Hakius replaced by Jason Roeder. Given the reverence in which Sleep are generally held (critic Eduardo Rivadavia even went as far as to dub them "perhaps the ultimate stoner rock band"), there was of course no chance I would be prevented from checking them out at last, and despite a sluggish beginning of guitar noise and a droning jam which seems to drag on for an eternity in best stoner fashion, I decide not to succumb to my frustration with the lack of texture in this initial phase of Sleep's set and remain firmly stood at the center of the tent to witness what is likely the best performance at this year's Hellfest.

The best way to describe the unfolding of this performance is to say it adopts the dynamics of a crescendo, spiraling toward grandeur slowly but surely and mesmerising the audience in the process. Sleep in the live setting is essentially a trippy jam session; it demands patience and an appreciation of subtlety, but upon the inevitable epiphany that this is, in fact, a master class in how to play stoner rock and metal, it becomes absolutely hypnotic. The fact that the Valley tent is rammed, and legions of other musicians are looking on from both sides of the stage, is a testimony to the respect that Sleep command; and enveloped in thick plumes of illicit smoke and the stench of weed during the closing track "Dopesmoker (Part IV)", I, too, must concede that here is a band that can truly dare call themselves special. What Sleep kindle here with the barest essentials is a soaring musical acid trip which sends me daydreaming to the tune of some of the grooviest and most entrancing stoner rock/metal I have ever borne witness to. [9] AP

Helloween @ 22:05-23:05 on Main Stage 2

Although I've never been a big fan of heavy/power metal, there are a few bands that manage to capture my imagination, and one of these is Helloween. Their anthemic power metal with heavy metal nuances is larger-than-life, so it is a fitting choice for the main stage, given its arena rock tendencies. The band knows it too, which is why they spend the set in classic triple formations, big rock star moves, and an eclectic performance overall that includes climbing in the elevated parts of the stage to stand even higher above the crowd than they already are. The solos are fantastic, and so is the crowd control: they teach the chorus ooh-oh-ohh parts to "Live Now" by having left side shout LIVE NOW and the right side do the backing choirs. This is a big show without the props and production of a big show; exactly how I like my arena rock without it becoming cheesy. [8] PP

At The Gates @ 22:55-23:55 on Altar

For these iconic melodic death metal pioneers, what was supposed to be a series of one-off re-union shows in 2008 has since transformed into a full-blown reinvigoration of the band, and now, 5 years later, they still show no signs of relent. Much discussion has taken place regarding the motivation for their persistence, with notably former The Haunted vocalist Peter Dolving accusing the brothers Andreas and Jonas Björler (guitarist and bassist, respectively) of being driven exclusively by financial gain. Be that as it may, for devout fans such as myself (this is essentially the band that introduced me to extreme metal with their influential "Slaughter of the Soul" LP, which is widely regarded as the reason metalcore exists) this is hardly an issue, as we can revel in the suddenly multiple opportunities to experience a band that ceased to exist when I was 9 years old and still listening to music best left unmentioned.

In 2008, the band made an appearance on the Arena stage of Roskilde Festival, which, due to a disappointing turnout and visibly demotivated band, left a rather sour taste in my mouth. As such, I relish the chance to be able to watch them on a much smaller stage tonight, before a truly dedicated metal audience, with a much better sound mix, and with a setlist to die for. The proceedings are opened by the eponymous "Slaughter of the Soul" and, in keeping with the album's order of tracks, "Cold". The volume is absolutely deafening, with a heavy emphasis on the low end, though without compromising on clarity or crispness, which in my opinion is the only way to experience extreme metal, and clearly intending to cram as many tracks into their one-hour set as possible, At the Gates waste little time in between songs bar, vocalist Tomas Lindberg giving each a short introduction, pounding our heads in with a remorseless barrage of classics including "Terminal Spirit Disease", "Raped by the Light of Christ", "Under a Serpent Sun", "Blinded by Fear", the rarely played "All Life Ends" off their first EP "Garden of Grief" (1991), and the magnificent "Kingdom Gone" off their debut album "The Red in the Sky is Ours" (1992).

At the Gates boast such quality in their short discography (stretching over just five years) that even if the always charismatic and imposing Lindberg and his colleagues - who also include drummer Adrian Erlandsson and guitarist Martin Larsson - weren't such excellent showmen, At the Gates would be able to stage a very solid show by virtue of their songs alone. Fortunately, this late night slot means that they're able to take full advantage of the elaborate lighting on the Altar stage, resulting in a borderline unreal light production that culminates in the band appearing as mere silhouettes during "Under a Serpent Sun" and the Jeff Hannemann-dedicated cover of Slayer's "Captor of Sin". This is how to experience At the Gates: in the dark, at a heavy metal festival! [8½] AP


Anti-Flag @ 22:55-23:55 on Warzone

Red lights flash while an air raid siren whistles through the air as Anti-Flag steps on stage and put on a showcase of huge scissor jumps, catchy choruses, and the kind of energy on stage that most bands only dream about. Whenever there is a chance to break away from the microphones, the band does just that, whether to rock out on top of the elevated amps, jump around the stage, et cetera, barely making it back to the mic's to sing the next line. In the process they are masters at crowd control, getting people to clap their hands, circle pit, to get their fists up, and so forth, all within the songs themselves. The band loves playing and it shows; they believe in their music, as well as their message. "Fuck Police Brutality", for instance, is dedicated to Turkey, which shows the band pay attention to what's going on in the world. They break out a megaphone for "The Press Corpse", which draws big sing alongs during its "let's talk talk talk talk talk about it" parts, which are also echoed for "Turncoat", that features what is probably the biggest sing along on Warzone all festival. "Cities Burn" sees a huge woo-hoo gang shout-along, and the drum set is of course moved to the middle of the crowd as has become the norm during the last song "Power To The Peaceful". The dynamic might not be as intense as at punk rock festivals/events, but Anti-Flag once again demonstrate their prowess as entertainers and musicians in a memorable set of politically oriented punk rock. [8] PP

Def Leppard @ 23:10-00:55 on Main Stage 1

Anti-Flag finishes just on time to catch a full hour of Def Leppard's 1h 45 minute set on the main stage. Their stage setup reminds me a little bit of Bon Jovi's grandeur in that behind them is a gargantuan sized screen that shows footage of them performing as well as animations. There are staircases on stage so that they can elevate themselves for those rock star moments, which the set is filled with considering Def Leppard have written so many timeless classic rock songs that everyone knows. Sure, you can argue that there is no danger left in their form of rock'n'roll and that they look like career musicians these days rather than passionate individuals who live and breathe by rock'n'roll, but the sheer amount of great songs they wrote back in the day redeems them at least to some extent. That's why they can get away with showing footage from old, classic years on the massive screen behind them whilst playing some classic tracks that everyone knows, including photographs from their youth and all that. Are they a legacy band? Absolutely, but they're a great one, and a must have for an arena-sized stage at any rock festival, most of all because they still look and play so god damn tight after all these years. [8½] PP

Six feet Under

Six Feet Under @ 01:05-02:05 at Altar

My first night at Hellfest ends to the tune of without a doubt the most extreme band yet: the infamous Tampa, FL based old school death metal crew Six Feet Under. Though the brutal guttural growls, snarls and grunts require a certain amount of acclimatisation from a casual connoisseur of death metal such as myself, in their riffs Six Feet Under boast an unmistakable and irresistible groove that explains their underground stardom. It is because of the instrumental foundation that I am able to instantly appreciate the popularity of this band, especially as much of it bears a striking resemblance to the style of riffs professed by some of the better modern death metal bands such as Whitechapel on their latest album. Live, Six Feet Under adopt the assault formation typical to death metal bands, with three axemen - guitarists Steve Swanson and Ola Englund, and bassist Jeff Hughell - and vocalist Chris Barnes planted firmly upfront, making their presence known by profuse headbanging and windmilling. Barnes' flailing dreadlocks are an impressive sight in this context, and indeed it is largely his powerful, assertive disposition that makes Six Feet Under such a thrilling act to watch live. They provide an intense and punishing conclusion to a day full of excellent performances, and I lay my head down thankful for so many new experiences (in terms of bands), not to mention the opportunity to rest my aching feet. [7½] AP

Sick Of It All @ 01:05-2:05 on Warzone

The sides of the stage are packed with fellow bands that played earlier today as New York Hardcore legends Sick Of It All take to the stage with "Take The Night Off" as the first song. They immediately start storming from left to right on the stage, crashing into each other by accident, as Lou Keller screams with his familiar piercing yell "LET'S CELEBRATE THAT WE DON'T GIVE A FUCK!!" to an ecstatic audience. Their high energy onslaught of hardcore in the original spirit leaves no one cold tonight, especially because they are performing in a manner that defies their old age and makes them look like they're in their early 20s. It's a crazy set with a fantastic setlist comprised mostly of classic material both old and new; the band is in constant motion whether bouncing up and down tirelessly or pacing across the stage while encouraging the crowd to get up much like Terror earlier. They project themselves with so much authority, immediacy, and urgency that it's simply impossible not to get drawn into their set whether you like it or not. The intensity with which the band performs has the audience in Keller's complete control throughout the set, and so when the wall of death request for "Scratch The Surface" comes, half of the audience runs into each other not giving a shit about the slightly muddy conditions that have formed underneath them at this stage. Earlier, "Uprising Nation" is dedicated not just to Turkey and Brazil, but also to Spain, Greece and even the USA where movements against the ruling elite are starting to form and ignite in localized movements. While Terror can be said to have conquered Warzone, Sick Of It All comes in at close second late at night, looking younger and fresher than ever. Awesome. [8½] PP

HELLFEST 2013 - DAY 2 reviews will be posted during the weekend!

All text by Petteri 'PP' Pertola except where otherwise indicated.

All photos by Rasmus Ejlersen

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