Hellfest Open Air 2015 Friday Review

We’ve been looking forward to this one for a while.. pretty much since we were on the road home from last year’s Hellfest. After an “eventful” journey (thanks Eurotunnel) we eventually made it to hallowed ground of Clisson in time to catch the end of the Thursday night’s festivities before heading off for an early-ish night in preparation for the mayhem to come.

Bright eyed and bushy tailed on day one of Hellfest, who’d have thought !

The first port of call for Team CB was the main stage where local heroes Vulcain were laying down some chunky riffs for a shamelessly partisan crowd. One of the many bands at Hellfest for whom the label “veteran” could be attached, the French power trio set the scene for what was shaping up to be a hell of a day.

But this is Hellfest, we’d expect nothing less !

A quick dash up to the unholy twin Altar and Temple stages next, for a new name on us. We knew bugger all about Argile before our encounter at Hellfest, but once again our ignorance didn’t stop us enjoying their dark, expansive metal. An offshoot of French legends Misanthrope, Argile were another band with home field advantage and they got a reception that belied their earlyish stage time.

SamsaraBluesExperiment_CackBlabbath_IainHawkins 7The Valley Stage is a popular destination for Team CB at Hellfest and our first taste of the stoner leaning enclosure is with Samsara Blues Experiment. “Oh my God!” is the reaction from the band to the crowd who have joined us to catch them. Hellfest has a knack of bringing out bands that usually occupy the small stages and backrooms and showcasing them on a big stage with all the smoke and lights they could ever dream about.

Of course it all helps that there is a dedicated fan base for these bands at the festival too, and you’d be hard pushed to find any band on the Valley Stage playing to anything like a sparse crowd. As the weekend goes on you come to realise that there are a lot of people who don’t even leave this stage for the whole day. They just plonk down on the grass when one band finishes, have a smoke and a drink, and then they’re straight up again for the next wave of sonic pleasure. And repeat…

Samsara Blues Experiment are a jam band with occasional vocals. Perfect for this stage; they blast out the riffs with minimal crowd interaction and have everyone swaying and nodding along with the early afternoon beer-buzz kicking in.

It’s great to see The Quireboys back on the right track and their main stage slot was a reward for the progress they have made in the past couple of years. I’m not sure Spike was impressed with the on-stage refreshments though, not sure the last time all he had to drink during a gig was water.

The next two bands on the Temple / Altar could not have been more different, or have been a better illustration of just what a broad church the “extreme” metal scene is. That’s broad both stylistically and geographically. First up, representing Belgium, we had Enthroned who brought pure Black Metal darkness to a Temple stage that was already living up to expectations.

ShapeOfDespair_CackBlabbath_IainHawkins 3Next up on the Altar was something unexpected, and utterly compelling. We all know that Finland is a hotbed of great bands, but Shape Of Despair are something else. They purvey the most deep, dark doom and it was one of those shows that captivated the crowd as the tent seemed to pulsate in time to the dark majesty creeping like tendrils of funerary fog from the stage.

Over to Main Stage II, We Are Harlot are up next and ready to get the rock’n’roll flowing. Danny and his new band mates look the part and they have a few songs in their arsenal to impress us with (even if Danny isn’t sure what’s next on the set list from time to time) It’s early days for We Are Harlot and being thrust upon Main stages like this before they’ve really felt this band out properly must be hard. It shows a little bit, but on the whole they kick up a storm,

While we’re battering around Europe within the confines of the two tents, it’s time to nip across the Baltic see to Latvia for a band we last caught a couple of years ago. Skyforger are another band who draw on the folk elements of their homeland and fuse it with heavy metal and they get the balance just about spot on. Like a lot of the folk / pagan/ metal bands they have a strong sense of national identity and an attachment to their past. “nothing is forgotten, nothing will be forgotten” proclaimed the banner on stage, and with the rich history of their homeland as inspiration Skyforger are making sure that stays true.

Orchid_CackBlabbath_IainHawkins 10One band CackBlabbath have been wanting to catch for a long time is Orchid. They don’t play the UK too often and when they do it’s usually just a London show. With the various arms of CB mainly living in up in the hills in various locations across the UK, we’ve not managed to catch them until today.

So we’re up at the front and ready for our first taste of the San Francisco traditional heavy metallers in the live arena. There are plenty of others packed into the Valley stage too with the smell of the sweet leaf lingering in the air we’re expecting an early highlight of the festival from Orchid.

That’s precisely what we get too. The Valley stage has a strong stoner bias with most of the bands playing over the weekend sourcing their influences from similar places. None wear their hearts on their sleeves more boldly than Orchid however.

Bass lines that risk a personal injury claim for whiplash wrapped around some swirling percussion. With towering riffs that could be used to level disused factories and the upbeat and familiar sounding vocal lines; all the vital ingredients are there. ‘Eyes Behind The Wall’ and ‘Mouths Of Madness’ are tracks we’ve been waiting to hear live for a while and they sound great. We also get a taste of the new album with ‘John The Tiger’ which sounds just as good as the familiar tracks.

What the band lack in a bit of stage movement is more than made up for by Keith’s facial exertions. He looks to be having a ball up there as the band unreel their colossal catalogue.

Vallenfyre_CackBlabbath_IainHawkins 2Next up was a band that we were expecting to be brilliant. There’s always the moment when things kick up a gear and for half of Team CB that moment was when Gregor Macintosh and his Vallenfyre buddies took to the stage. The Paradise Lost axeman is a formidable frontman,

Hope the guy Greg spotted with the bottle of piss kept it to himself.

Vallenfyre more than lived up to the pre-festival expectation, but with tracks like Cathedrals Of Dread and Splinters in the arsenal how could it ever be otherwise. There was even a dedication to his compadre “old Nick” Holmes, who would be making an appearance later on that day.

Another band high on the must-see list is High On Fire. With the new ‘Luminiferous’ album on heavy rotation at CB HQ, we’re well overdue a catch-up with Matt, Des and Jeff. We expect to get an ear blasting at a High On Fire concert and that’s exactly what we get today. The levels go a bit overboard at times, Matt Pike gradually turns up his guitar volume throughout the set until the roar of the Gibson and Marshall combination completely drowns out his vocals. Considering  Pike’s towering roar is one of the key components of the HOF sound, that’s not the best outcome but there are still the riffs to hold on to.

The bass and drum sound boomerang around the Valley tent in mesmerising fashion too; so all is not lost. It would be nice to hear the vocal lines to tracks like ‘Snakes For The Divine’ though.

A massive crowd has amassed for the legendary Motorhead. Lemmy has been struggling over the last couple of years with his health but Motorhead seem to be hitting the road hard this summer. From a distance Lemmy still looks as cool as fook in his usual attire; a few close-ups on the video screen reveal quite a frail figure but he can still blast out those colossal bass intros that Motorhead somewhat specialise in.

It’s a familiar setlist with the usual ‘Damage Case/Stay Clean/Metropolis’ unreeled as in every other Motorhead show you’ve seen but even if Lemmy’s vocals are a tad strained and lacking his force of old, it’s still a rockin’ show. Where they do seem to falter is in between songs more than anywhere. The usual dry humored and to the point Lemmy comes across a as a bit of a babbler and with Phil trying desperately to make up for him, they end up sounding like two deaf old farts in a nursing home talking over each other.

Bloodbath_CackBlabbath_IainHawkins 8After one “supergroup” featuring a member of Paradise Lost had set the Death Metal bar pretty high, another was about to blow it sky high. Given the costumed, facepainted theatrics of Bloodbath Nick Holmes wasn’t the most obvious choice when the band sought a new frontman. Appearing on stage covered in blood in a long, black priests outfit was a slightly incongruous sight at first, but there’s no denying that Nick has the perfect voice for Bloodbath, making them  “Swedish death metal, with a little bit of Yorkshire thrown in”. Bloodbath race through their set, take a bow and head off all too soon but there’s a definite feeling that something is missing.. Demands for an encore are duly met and, well, It has to be Eaten doesn’t it..

“If we don’t play this song, this is like Toto not playing Africa. Which they did the other night, I saw them at Sweden Rock”

The Lamb Of God machine is just revving up again after a short break. A few summer festivals before they hit us with the new album are more than welcome as far as we are concerned. ‘512’ pops up early in the set to give us a taster of the new material, but with this being a festival, there’s no better setting to celebrate your back catalogue than in front of an audience that laps up everything you throw at them.

How about this for a finishing manoeuvre: ‘Now You’ve Got Something to Die For – Laid to Rest – Redneck – Black Label’

With the evening sun still beating down on the crowd and Randy and co. looking fit and healthy and sounding devastating; we’ve got lots to look forward to with regards to Lamb Of God.

It’s often true that “legends” can be a bit, well, past their best. That’s a charge that can never be leveled against ALice Cooper who gets possibly THE main stage reception of the day. You know what the setlist will be and you know what theatrics are going to happen but that doesn’t detract in any way from a performance jam-packed with bona-fide rock’n’roll classics.

With six stages banging out metal until the early hours, you can really pick you own headliner at Hellfest. As usual, it was a split decision in the Team CB camp with one heading to the Warzone for Cock Sparrer and one electing to continue to worship over at the Temple for Satyricon.

With the simple backdrop of the Temple stage inverted crosses, expectation is high for the arrival of Satyricon. Plenty of dry ice and moody lighting welcome the band to the stage as the band tear into their one hour allocation. Despite their lofty billing, Satyr is one of the warmer band leaders upon the conveyor of Death and Black metal Temple /Alter stages today. He gets the crowd pumped as the band delivers a razor sharp set of their greatest tunes.

The drum sound seems to dominate the mix at certain points in the set, but that is gradually overcome as the band get in their groove and the soundman gets into gear too. ‘Now Diabolical’ sounds formidable tonight complete with audience participation as it seems no band can come to Hellfest and not feel adored up there on stage. The passion from the fans is completely second to none as they get swept up in the occasion. We’ve been to a few Satyricon gigs where the crowd has had a polite little headbang and nod along to the music; this place is consistently on another level.

Towards the end, Satyr shows his appreciation for the fans part in this awesome show as he thanks them for turning up “Instead of sitting in some ‘VIP’ bar somewhere else onsite” before blasting out the brilliant ‘K.I.N.G.’ to crown a brilliant performance from the Norwegians.

CockSparrer_CackBlabbath_IainHawkins 10

Meanwhile over in the Warzone, the other half of Team CB were as happy as the proverbial pig in the proverbial pooh. Cock Sparrer were a surprising (but welcome) addition to the bill.. even more surprising that they were headlining. As the band’s stage time approached an ever increasing throng assembled down at the barrier until it was packed and the atmosphere was hairs-on0the-back-of-the-neck brilliant. For a band who have been on the go since 1972 and have never been THAT much of a deal mainstream success wise the Londoners were obviously well known to the Clisson faithful and the massive bounce / sing along that ensued was a joy to be part of. Because You’re Young, Argy Bargy, England Belongs To Me and, of course, Running Riot were greeted like the classics they are.

What a way to end day 1, two very different headline bands for Team CB, and two tired, happy and slightly drunk gig-goers who were convinced they made the right decision. We did reconvene after our respective headline sets to catch the second half of Judas Priest’s show, but alas after a day with too many highlights to remember and for all the classic anthems the metal gods could throw at us things just didn’t seem to be hitting top gear.

And so our first full day at Hellfest 2015 came to an end. As expected we couldn’t agree on the band of the day with a split decision between the entirely expected Orchid and the entirely unexpected Cock Sparrer.

Call it a draw shall we ?