For this 16th edition of Hellfest over 200 groups have ripped the 6 stages and this time over a period of 4 days. A new format for Hellfest, as until now, apart for the 2022 edition that spanned over a whopping 7 day period, it used to be a 3 day festival. We’ll see in the future if this format will be held. Personally the 3 day festival is more than enough as on the 4th day stamina is beginning to lack and a certain sludging of the knees appears.
This year the 4-day pass cost “merely” 329 euros. An augmentation of the price which Ben Barbaud, the boss, argues was brought about by inflation and also by higher financial demands from the groups. Seeing the rise of prices in the grocery stores, we are not surprised. It is still a hefty price and to say if it is worthy or not, that is for each one to say. But seeing that it has been sold out just hours after the start of the sales of the tickets, few people are complaining (or if they are, they are still paying). I should add to that the relentless pressure and will from the organizers to deliver quality products to the public, be it the beer, the food or the merchandise. I don’t even have to emphasize the huge investment in infrastructure, with the already present bars, fences and different structures that are all SPECIFICALLY designed and found only on Hellfest grounds.
Three main changes this year : firstly, the location of the Valley stage has changed, it has been moved in front of the Warzone and it is now an open air stage. In its place a new structure appeared, the Sanctuary, a one level building decorated with satanic esthetic in the classic Hellfest style and that took up the role of merchandise stand. This move provided solutions to many problems: the access to the Valley has been simplified, the traffic jams between the two tents (Valley and Temple) have disappeared, more people have access to the Valley, and a better organization for the queues for the merchandise stand has been found. Either way, as it was the case for each year, people lined up for hours just to get a t-shirt or a magnet with the Hellfest logo but this time they did it in a more orderly fashion. And the third surprise the organizers had installed was a temporary exhibit, the Wheel of Charon, a work of Peter Hudson for the Burning Man festival. From Clisson, its next stop is Paris. It is a moving sculpture, a wheel with 20 skeletons that seem to row and that can actually be set in motion by spectators via ropes.
For the 2024 edition it is foreseen that a special moving sculpture, this time a huge one, just like the ones from Machines de l’Ile in Nantes (ex: walking elephant), should be on site. It will be a 35 tons woman’s head and bust on a scorpion’s body that will be fully ambulant via a machine-like skeleton.
Regarding the new Valley stage, I found it less interesting to watch doom related bands under the scorching sun, as I always found that a certain atmosphere was being created under the large tent, somewhat more personal, more cozy, more in touch with the sound.
It is said that 60.000 people passed the gates of Hell each day and the festival benefited from the help of 5000 volunteers. Even as the festival opened its gates on Thursday at 15h00, the Hellsquare was full of people so it seemed festival goers seemed eager to start the concerts as early as possible. The fact that there was a delay at the entrance didn’t help to dispel the masses and there was once again a bit of a wait. Remember 2022 when people stayed for hours in the sun to get access to the camping site?
Each day had some special groups I really had to see as I knew they would deliver but also unfortunately there were (few) disappointments in terms of stage presence and/or quality of sound.
To start off, Code Orange, these 6 kids from Pittsburgh (the drummer is none other than Mike Portnoy’s son of Dream Theater fame) came pummeling down like heavy rain with their metalcore infused punk sprinkled with electronica and industrial. The Greeks from Nightfall performed splendidly and even sang my 2nd ever favorite track from them, Lesbian Show, from an era for which they are not so well praised. They sound was even more melodic death metal whilst playing live than on their albums. The lyonnais from Celeste delivered an OK show, not too energetic, was it the heat? Next, on the Temple stage, the present day metamorphosis of Dark Funeral seems to have lost touch with the raw melodic black metal of Ravenna Strigoii Noptii but hey! even black metal must get modernized from time to time, right? Hypocrisy from Sweden swiped clean any traces of doubt, their top notch performance being doubled by an excellent quality of sound. One of my most awaited concerts was Amenra and at least they were blessed by the lack of sun and managed to pummel us under their atmospheric sludge with songs spanning their entire career.
Friday started in force, with Primitive Man and Full of Hell which are now currently touring Europe, both outstanding live acts, with a special award for greatest grind vocalist of the 2023 edition that goes to Dylan Walker. I could not miss a chance to see Satyr so I had to see the 1349 concert. Even more satanic and spectacular was the Belphegor show, the Austrian war machine that never seems to disappoint live. The trilogy of black metal was concluded by Gorgoroth, with (probably) Hoest from Taake on vocals and the well known Infernus, the only original member left, on guitars. It surprised me that they managed to grasp the delicacy of each period in a live setting, especially the 2 songs they played from Under the Sign of Hell. Next up, a real change of scenery, as I headed up to the Warzone for an excellent Rancid concert. They pleased us with all the classics from Maxwell Murder to Roots Radicals. The crowd was chanting the lyrics and the group seemed to be in top form. The unexpected return of Botch made many fans happy and I got to witness an incredible hardcore/pre-metalcore/mathcore concert that made me understand certain albums of Converge a bit better.
On Saturday we got to see King Buffalo in the blistering sun and with a setlist that maybe could have been more wisely chosen. Nonetheless, the 3 Americans deliver as usual their spectacular hypnotic stoner. Next up was the progressive trilogy of the day: Riverside with a relaxed concert, well delivered, going to Puscifer with Maynard in top form, dressed as a government official, a most humorous concert and finally arriving at Porcupine Tree that was quite enjoyable were it not for the rockstar behavior of Steven Wilson. Iron Maiden were the headliners of the night and for me, they did not disappoint. They can’t hold the speed of the good old days but Bruce can still sing and Janick Gers can still put his leg on the speaker. They played 4 songs from their last album but surprised us with a lot of old ones, even Iron Maiden. The highlight of the evening for me was Carpenter Brut with its spectacular synthwave show. It was a concert not to miss, as on stage we found Greg Puciato, Kvhost, Persha, Alex Westaway, Johannes Jonka Andersson and Yann Ligner, a lot of the invitees of the albums.
Final day of Hellfest started with the darkwave of She Past Away and they were warmly welcomed (for such a cold music). I was looking forward to Grave Pleasures but sadly the sound was sub par so I had to abandon the Temple for fear of ear damage. What a nice surprise Benediction was! All the group were pumped up and positive, they gave an awesome performance and didn’t shy away from classics from The Grand Leveler and Transcend the Rubicon. The guitarist even stepped down at the end of the concert to shake our hands. The night ended wonderfully with Pantera or what is left of Pantera. Photos and patches of Dimebag and of Vinnie Paul can’t wash away a slightly bitter taste but their performance is top notch. Phil’s voice is stronger than ever, Zakk Wylde is a beast, if you close your eyes you can hear Dimebag. For me it is all sterile for it seems not like Pantera. But it is something to be able to hear Walk and A suicide note part 2 on stage, live, with Phil Anselmo singing.
The heterogeneity of the Hellfest Lineup lets us enjoy all the spectrum of rock and metal and even beyond. All it takes is enough beer-nergy to keep you fueled for all the comings and goings between the 6 stages. Stay tuned for your tickets on the 27th of June at 13h00.