The excitement about Hellfest Open Air doesn’t just begin for TeamCB when we head into the arena, for us the excitement starts months before when the passes are confirmed, the holidays booked and Le Shuttle booked. After what seems like ages (because it is) it’s time for the journey from Scotland, via Manchester (real jobs n all), then on to an overnight stop in Folkstone is just the beginning.
The real “this is happening” vibe kicks in when we catch the train to Calais via the channel tunnel before another 6 hours of driving to the gates of Hell. This year the heat made it quite a unique drive fuelled by Red bBull and a playlist of the finest Power Metal, eagerly anticipating the sight of the iconic guitar at the roundabout outside the festival site. Thats when you know you are really there. Long story short, 13 hours after leaving Manchester we arrived and set up Camp CB and the first of many beers are cracked open. And it was time to do the walk, the pilgrimage along the road to the media reception. As you catch the first glimpse of the Hellfest logo, emblazoned on vans, t shirts and flags, it all gets rather exciting. The beer and wine is already flowing, the place is full of metalheads of all nationalities and then, there it is, the MASSIVE Les Paul guitar.
Let battle commence.
A minor hiccup with photo pass aside, we collect our passes and admire the new surroundings of the revamped VIP area. First impressions is that although the layout has changed slightly the crowd appear just as crazy as ever. We do love the new set dressing in press area and, as always, attention to detail is apparent from the get go. There’s even a water feature which will no doubt at some point become a swimming pool and be a welcome addition if we get the expected sizzling French sun. Once through security wetake in Hell City in all its glory. Metal market – check. Dr Martens stall – check. Massive gorilla – check. Beer stalls and wine tent – check.
After a wander about and a few refreshments it’s time for some entertainment at the new (for this year) Hell City stage. Tonight we have a wrestling ring, a kick ass metal band and some skeleton mask- clad lady dancers. Oh, and a demonic looking ring master and a couple of French wrestlers. Alas we can’t tell you much about the band but we can tell you this Musacadet wine is going down a treat. As we watch festival revellers gather in their masses our cameras are well used. Everywhere you look there is some sort of cool sculpture or backdrop. We are very impressed so far and day one hasn’t even begun.
Thursday nights at Hellfest are always a blast, and as always we can’t wait for the main arena to open tomorrow.
That was the long version.
The short version of Thursday went a bit like this. Drive. Camp. Hellfest. Hangover.
The official day one of Hellfest involved a second visit to VIP press are to address the slight mix up with the photo pass for Team CB. This was quickly resolved so we could make way in and enjoy what was on offer. Roger is a nice chap and the whole Hellfest team are ace to work with.
First band on main stage was British Hard Rockers Inglorious fronted by Nathan James. The guys revelled in glory as they got to kick off Hellfest 2017 proceedings even if Nathan looked a bit overdressed for the temperature in his leather jacket. Inglorious are touted as the next big thing and in front of the already packed main stage crowd they put on some show. What a way to open the festival although by the end poor Nathan looks a bit sun burnt and rather warm. Then it is almost 30 degrees and its only early in the day.
As with every festival, Hellfest offers a fantastic array of merch. Great for us, but not our bank balances. The queues for the merchandise stalls are massive but we’ve no time for that so we’ll grab ours later then I suppose. Loads of happy campers flock to the numerous sculptures and props that litter Hellfest’s arenas to get snapshots. Everywhere you look, theres a skull, a ghostly looking tree, bone seats. This is nuts. Its almost like a metal equivalent of Disneyland.
We caught Sidilarsen on the Main stage briefly. Man, they sure get the French crowd going. Wall of death, pits and some serious crowd surfing action. It’s already party central and it’s still pre-noon on the first day. Sidilarsen were obviously local favourites and we liked ’em and their rocky, tech vibe. The frontman has some proper old school stage presence and very animated. No idea what they are singing about but it’s fun. Everyone wants to party and dance! (and drink beer, after all we are on holiday).
There are two main stages that alternate, as well as three large tents. The Temple and Altar offer up some pretty meaty acts while the Valley tends to be more doom laden and the progressive and conceptual acts that fit in with it’s eclectic vibe. Then theres the Warzone which is Punk and Hardcore central. As we’ve said before, there’s something for everyone basically. Theres the shade and tranquility of the forrest next to the Warzone with its wine bar and loads of neat little stalls for food and beverages. This is a cracking venue.
A quick nip up to the aforementioned tents for now where another French band are about to let rip in the Altar. Sick Of Stupidity certainly don’t hold back, but it’s kind of early for theirEar screeching stuff. Loads of angry shouty noises offend our delicate sensibilities and it’s fair to say they’re not entirely our cuppa. An acquired taste but what do we know, the tent is packed and the crowd are going mental. Cleary this band have an abundance of fans and the tents are filling up with punters trying to escape the rays.
We really love the Altar / Temple stages at Hellfest, and some folk spend the whole weekend there only nipping out for a beer or two.
Next up we wander over to catch Okkultokrati in the Valley for the first Scandinavian metal of the weekend. After the brutality in the Altar, the Valley offers a safe haven.The sound generated is still hard and heavy but not as abusive on the ears as some and we found ourselves nodding along, enjoying the comparative tranquility.
Now, as with most festivals, they have a cashless system at Hellfest. Obviously that only works when you have the actual cashless card. Alas one member of Team CB who shall remain nameless has misplaced said card, possibly in the merriment of the previous evening. Alas this means a stupidly long queue to get a replacement before we can buy beer.
Yet another minor hiccup. Soon resolved and so back to business.
It’s Valkyrja in the Temple. Painted faces and some impressive power blasting from the stacks. Quite good as Mr CB put it. It’s a full house and everyone is loving it. It is only early days, but already there is a sense of discovering the band you didn’t know but end up loving. Valkyrja may well be that band.
The set up of Altar and Temple means you enter pit for one band, and walk straight through to the other tent where you wait for next band. This alternating is what makes Hellfest work so well. It also means that you cannot split yourself in two. You have to pick the right place for you and go with it.
Back in the Altar we have Exhumed bringing some thrash from the US of A. This is loud as fuck and there is a proper air of anticipation that builds, hell the place was busy before they even came on. Clearly drew in a massive following.
And now for something completely different…
Another band from America, Salt Lake City this time, Subrosa are the good sort of odd that you only find in the Valley. Again the place is rammed so we watch from outside in the blazing sun because there’s no room. Talk about jam packed, Subrosa have them swinging from the rafters. Experimental with a whole heap of influences and styles chucked in, this is what Hellfest is all about. Symphonic… folky… sludgy. Two fiddles adding to the more usual guitar rock sound. It’s also not too loud as our ears are still ringing from Sick Of Stupidity. So far this is the best thing we’ve seen, they’re just that bit different from everything else. Our Rob would love em.
One we were looking forward to next, and one of the big four for us in terms of pre-festival expectations. You kind of know you’re heading in to a power metal show, drinking horns aplenty and some folk have put a lot of effort into their costumes.
Either that or extras from Monty Pythons and the Holy Grail have swarmed the place.
Horns are blowing, flags are flying. and the diehards are in their finest viking helmets and battle garb. Yep, it’s time for the Faroe Island’s finest, Tyr. There’s nothing like epic Metal for a massive sing along and Tyr deliver that in spades. Wow!!! Very impressed. We liked Tyr when they supported Sabaton but this was more like seeing them in their natural surroundings.
“I think it’s the best festival in the world” we’re told and right now we wouldn’t argue. “Please buy our album” we’re asked. Don’t worry about that good Sir, there is much love for Tyr in this tent and everyone knows every word. We leave feeling like we’re about to set off to war.
Worth missing Avatar for. We hope.
Time to make the most of the fact we are no longer in Britain and hence it’s not raining. Lets get some sun down at the main stages. We arrive as Queensryche are blasting out their epic tunage on Main stage 2. After some dodgy setlist at previous shows here they wheel out all the hits. Eyes Of A Stranger and Queen Of The Reich getting the response they deserved. Given the Tate / Queensryche schism it’s predictable we’re going to hear the phrase “the one and only Queensryche” and we do.. more than once.. yeah we get it.
While Queensryche were being the one and only on stage we head to the corner of the main arena to join a massive queue of photographers for the next main stage band, and another must see. There seem to be lot more photographers than previous years, one of the great things about Hellfest is everyone gets a chance. if they don’t mind queueing.
What’s the weirdest introduction to a set you’ve ever heard ? Well there are a few candidates but Devin Townsend won the prize at Hellfest Open Air 2017. Near the start of the band’s MainStage appearance Heavy Devy asked “Are you ready for some awkward prog metal ?” and then promised us “By the end of the show you will be sucking it!!!”.
Right you are Devin…
The Devin Townsend Project are always a highlight of any festival bill and in the afternoon Clisson sunshine they were nothing short of brilliant. Along with health and safety advice (stay hydrated) we were treated to the ultimate prog-metal party.
One of the joys of Devin is how gloriously un-seriously he takes everything. “Throughout the show I’m going to get you to do some cheesy shit” is the warning as the crowd are told to get their hands in the air, before being admonished with a “That was lukewarm. You don’t have to clap, it’s optional but if you do you get a special prize”.
Wonder what the prize was, and if we won.
Every festival had a moment that it kicks into life, the sort of moment that you know will stay with you. Well for Hellfest 2017 Devin gave us the first such moment.. the chugging opening riff getting thens of thousands of rabid metalheads bouncing as the whole place, literally, was swept up in the Poozer-ey onslaught.
No point in us straying far from these stages. For the second of our big four are about to perform. Half of Team CB at Hellfest have seen Powerwolf. The other half hasn’t. but they are still really excited about seeing them for the first time ever after being brainwashed by osmosis on countless road trips. Powerwolf are a massively theatrical band. Werewolves, vampires, religion about covers all their bases and, Fucking hell, they steal the show. Superb. “You are very great my friends. We fight for heavy metal”.
Blessed And Possessed. BLESSED AND POSSESSED. Alleluia. Down in the photo pit Team Cb’s camera chap had to remember to stop singing along and actually take some bloody photos.
The atmosphere was incredible, caught between the colossal Hellfest speaker stacks and a crowd baying for blood the hairs on the back of the neck can’t help but stand up, it seems everyone here knows every word.
Army Of The Night keeps the monstrous sing along going as the obligatory French crowd surfers keep the pit crew busy and all too soon we’re kicked out of the pit and as Amen And Attack blasts out it’s time to find a spot in the mad throng and enjoy the rest of the set.
Now there are a couple of Powerwolf songs that we kind of suspected would go over well somewhere like this, and Armata Strigoi is one of them. Really we should have been heading off to see what was on the other stages but, well, bugger that. We’re not going anywhere. The gloriously titled Resurrection By Erection turns up the heat, and I’m sure we saw something of a record as the same crowd surfer went over about 4 times in this one song. Sanctified By Dynamite provided no let up before, inevitably, Werewolves Of Armenia threatened to kick a hole in the sky.
Back to camp next to catch breath and enjoy a few refreshments. In the culinary capital of the world we enjoyed the opportunity to to sample some local cuisine. Old Mout avec les Pot Noodle sil vous plait! Tres Bien!
We returned in time to catch a bit of Behemoth from afar before splitting our resources for two very different bands. One of us headed up to the tent for a long overdue reacquaintance with the princes of Black Metal darkness Belphegor while the other headed down to the main stage.
While Belphegor were headlining the tent, back on the main stage it was time for another band on the list for “must see”, the legendary Deep purple. They are a band that you know more songs than you actually think you know but then EVERYONE here at Hellfest knows Smoke on the Water. Actual goosebumps when the iconic riff rang out and lots of Karaoke, gone good! Deep Purple played a huge part in the genesis of the metal movement, experimenting with different sounds and approaches. Yep, Thank God for Deep Purple who have inspired generations of Metal bands.
You can always tell when Sabaton are playing a festival because their t-shirts seem to outnumber everyone else’s about 5 to 1 (although we’d have like to have said 40 to 1 just to fit the Sabaton theme). Although Deep Purple were the official headliners of the first day of Hellfest Open Air 2017 it was clear to see who most of the French metalheads were there to see.
Sabaton have something of a fanatical following, and as they prepared to take to MainStage 02 after Deep Purple had finished on the main main stage the arena seemed to suddenly become a little more packed.
The March To War intro tape was back, replacing the cover version of In The Army Now, and as the tape finished the familiar announcement came..
We Are Sabaton..
We Play Heavy Metal..
And this is Ghost Division.
A song about tanks, on a stage dominated by a massive, pyro spitting, tank. Yep, that’ll be Sabaton then.
The sun had gone down and it was a good bit cooler in the main arena, but Sabaton soon had the place at boiling point again. Ghost division gave way to The Art Of War as the band took us on a tour through the military history of the world, from Sparta to WW2.
If you’ve seen Sabaton once you pretty much know what to expect stage-banter wise but this time there was a surprise in store. Apparently there had been a competition with the first prise being the chance to front Sabaton.. on the main stage.. at Hellfest. Talk about the opportunity of a lifetime. Some bloke called Laurent was introduced and immediately got the crowd on side with the opening refrain from, what else, Swedish Pagans. Hats off to the lad, he did a grand job, and it was lucky he could sing and had a fair idea what he was doing.
We’d have just stood there.. terrified.. and probably sh*t ourselves
What a show. Clearly taken aback by the response. They were clowning around on stage, knocking Joakim off his feet and kicking him whilst laughing. Superb. Top notch. Mr CB may have enjoyed shooting them, but as a reviewer (and Fan) I was on a high after this! Tres bien!
The beer is flowing and the memory cards are almost full on the cameras but we have no time to waste. We manage only a sneaky peak at Marduk up in the Temple before heading back down to catch Rob Zombie is on down on Main Stage 1. Now we’ve seen Mr Zombie be fairly terrible, and we’ve seen him be utterly brilliant (Bloodstock, now the you ask) and the place is rammed for the de facto headline slot with the much vaunted full US stage show but, alas we couldn’t help but feel he falls a bit flat. Sound issues maybe, whatever it was he sounded a bit, erm, not that great to be honest.
Maybe it’s just we still have our power metal glasses on.
Time for that long walk back to Camp CB which is almost as entertaining as some of the acts. These French types know how to party and the road is littered, allbe it tidily, with beer and wine bottles displayed in fancy arrangements and assortments like art installations.
Think a hedgehog of bottles along top of a car.
And we are back at camp… Just one last beer before bed.. I can feel a hangover brewing already
Only one way to deal with that…