This is the first time The Heavy Chronicles ever set foot on this festival, and we can say that this vintage of HELLFEST 2013 blew our minds with its exponentiel dose of metal and rock. Like in big, heavy, greasy, huge dose of metal and rock. As we were here for a report, we tried as much as possible to cover a wide range of gigs (this metal festival is the most eclectic in Europe). But we couldn’t help spending most of our time at the Valley… So this first day of the festival under the Valley tent happened to be the darkest and heaviest of the whole event. Immersion into the festival of hell with 7 Weeks, Bison, Black Cobra, Pallbearer, Hellyeah, Black Pyramid, Sleep, Neurosis and a few others. (PHOTOS : Gaël Mathieu)
The Hellfest camp : a Mordor-esque vastness, barechest vikings, zombies, non-stop partying, Winnie The Poo wandering in the darkness… Why did I think I could sleep, seriously ? Friday morning, me and my hazy brain hardly wake up in the warmth of my Quechua tent, after only three precious hours of sleep. Time to go. It’s 10.30 AM, and people are already filling the space under the Valley tent.
The French awakening : 7 WEEKS
They played at the Metal Corner last year, today the French foursome is playing on the (increased) stage consacrated to all that’s stoner/sludge/fuzzy/psychedelic. With its characteristic class, the band opens the festival with dreamy synths and Hitchcockesque atmospheres. At first, I can help but notice the prominence of bass and low voice on the speakers. But very quickly, the band releases all its energy, riffs are getting tense, and the sound engineer finally set things right. Splendid, full of energy, the four guys from Limoges rush in with a natural confidence. In the pit, a group of fans is holding a “Allez 7 Weeks” (go 7 Weeks) banner. 7 WEEKS have worked hard to earn their place on the Hellfest bill, but I can shamelessly declare that they truly deserve it. 30 minutes after, the show ends, which is way too early if you ask me. Time for a coffee. (Setlist)
As soon as I find the press corner, my ears stumble upon a British hard rock band called BLACK SPIDERS, which was strongly recommended by some friends of my camp. It’s cool, catchy, the band offering a classic but heavy performance. Here is the dose of caffeine I needed !
Big brutal explosion : BISON
After I discovered the band on their tour with Black Cobra, I was really looking forward to seeing BISON playing at Hellfest (they’re actually the last-minute replacement for High On Fire). No disappointment. Once again, the bass sound is so crushing that you can barely hear the music around. Besides this “small” problem, the Canadians are incredibly badass. Not only their brutal sludge deeply scrubs your eardrums for the rest of the weekend, but these guys play like fucking beasts. Picture a Thai boxing champion beating your ass up while you’re still asleep. That’s pretty much how the crowd must feel at that very moment, because they look like they’re not awake enough to handle Bison’s fury. To everyone’s surprise, the band hands out beer cans to the people, after what the bass player brutally smashes his bass on the floor, throwing each piece of it at the crowd (that’s the moment when I realize how dangerous a bass neck can be when it’s shattered in pieces) (a guy almost got his eye burst while trying to catch it). That is what I call an epic performance !
Once I have turned my back on the Valley, a sweet music drags me to the Altar… Slow fury and overdrive orgy : here are the Finnish doomers HOODED MENACE under the tent. And as obviousness is obvious : yes, they wear hoodies, yes, their music is menacing. Some crushing doom metal right before having lunch… well, it feels quite perfect, don’t ask me why. I think I’m going to visit the Altar way more often than I expected ! After lunch, I go back to the Valley to finally see BLACK COBRA on stage. The duo plays even louder than their four buddies in Bison. Sadly, their hardcore sludge and primal screaming sound messy and disjointed, which is probably due to the tent’s sound, yet I can’t help but leaving the Valley. I think this band impacts more in indoor venues. My choice falls on EVOKEN, a US combo signed on Profound Lore Records (like Bison). Their atmospheric doom forces me to sit on the floor, getting me all meditative. Time flies and I’m now late for Hellyeah’s performance on the Mainstage…
Redneck BBQ & thrashy sauce : HELLYEAH
Critics were rife when I told people I absolutely wanted to see US supergroup HELLYEAH at Hellfest. Today, I’m getting my revenge on all the sharp tongues, enjoying their surprised faces when they see the band driving its crowd insane. Frontman Chad Gray (who moved from the cowboy hat redneck style to the eyeliner-addict punk style) is like a fireball, he’s nothing but a top-level entertainer. Hellyeah plays it the American way (or the “Cowboy Way”, should I say), delivering groovy heavy metal anthems that would fit into stadiums. When the singer shouts out to us with his hoarse voice and we don’t answer as he wants, he looks us up and down and say “bullshit !”. After the tenth “bullshit”, I’m wondering what this guy is really expecting from us, because the crowd is damn hectic ! As usual, Hellyeah pays tribute to Dimebag Darrell, and Vinnie Paul throws handfuls of drumsticks in the pit, to wrap the fans around his little finger. What’s more, the first sunbeams are joining the party. Texas forever. (Setlist)
While Europe is starting to play on the Mainstage 1, I stumble upon the guys of Bison in the crowd. I’ve been expecting their phone call since this morning for an interview, but the network being as it is during Hellfest… We’re merrily going to sit in the grass at the press corner, under the sun. James, the singer, expresses his wish to be back in the crowd before “The Final Countdown“. Fail : as we’re discussing about the French stoner scene, we hear the famous anthem echoing from outside. Well, while we’re at it, we decide to hang-out a little bit longer on the grass, because it feels absolutely good right now. Sweet Bisons.
And my heartbeat stopped… : PALLBEARER
Here comes the second band on my ultimate to-do list : PALLBEARER. If you don’t know them, you should check out their beautiful EP “Sorrow & Extinction“. When I hear “Devoid Of Redemption” from the press corner (yes, you can hear the Valley stage from the press corner, which is on the opposite side of the festival), I leave and run at the double, braving winds, weather and the crowd to get back there. Fortunately enough, the song is seven minutes long. What do I see when I arrive there ? Dudes banging their long hair and raising a truly melodic doom wall. Their majestic metal carries us away while Brett Campbell’s voice rockets into the stratosphere, his vocal performance being the most accurate and emotional he’s done so far (I spend my nights on Youtube). His beautiful and heart-rending guitar solos almost bring me to tears on “Foreigner”… Pallbearer kept their promises so well, I feel amazed but I’m also a total wreck when leaving the Valley. For the record, the audience saluted them until they’re done unplugging their gear.
I wanted to see TERROR at the Warzone, but as I just can’t find this stage, even with a map, I take some time to go for a walk and enjoy the festival’s infrastructures, its bars, the Extrem Market, and the gorgeous wrought iron sculptures… It’s the Disneyworld of Metal, entertainment is all over the place ! I distractedly watch TWISTED SISTER show, who are presently asking the people at the PMR corner to stand up (the PMR corner is the platform where handicapped people stay). Nice gesture, boys…
Endless trip under acid : BLACK PYRAMID
Now I have to admit : I’ve heard a lot of great things about BLACK PYRAMID, I listened to their last record, I loved it, but I didn’t go further. I think I needed some live music to really get into this band. It’s 8 PM, the famous “psychedelic war metal” trio is taking the stage. The songs are quite long, but their riffs and atmospheres are so multifaceted that you can’t get bored. Once again, there’s an overload of bass in the speakers, but this time, it’s justified. It has to sound like this, because Black Pyramid is so full of groove. Even though the musicians are quite static, the crowd is headbanging like hell. Black Pyramid’s music range is wide, but the “stoner” label remains the one that defines it best. It doesn’t only smell wet grass under the tent… The best way to enjoy their music is with your eyes closed, swaying from left to right. Acid trip without acid. You can feel they’re not playing their first round in front of an audience, which gives them full applause from the beginning to the end of the set. This band is known and renowned. All I can say now is “major kick in the arse”. (Setlist)
Once again, I need about five minutes to get over my emotions. Nothing’s better than some French fries right now, time to head to the food market. I sit on the muddy ground of Kingdom Of Muscadet to write a few notes, when a Swiss boy stops and says : “are you doing some census for the INSEE ? you have really pretty eyes”. Thank you, Swiss friend, but I’m just a blogger who still uses pencil and paper in 2013. A quick stop at the Altar to watch death metal band CEREMONIAL OATH invoking the dark forces of doom, and I get back to the Valley to see the absolute Legends of Stoner SLEEP. The opposite effect is now striking me : I love Sleep records, but right now, I just don’t feel like listening to Matt Pike’s virtuoso lengthy solos. Without intending any sort of pun, Sleep makes me wanna sleep. I think it’s time for a debriefing at the press corner with my photographer. (Setlist)
Experience the therapy : NEUROSIS
The grand finale… As a “NEUROSIS tourist”, I don’t know much about the mythic band from Oakland (shocking !). I know they’re one of the greatest heavy acts of all time, and watching live videos or reading articles about them have given me an idea about the band’s history and importance in today’s music. I saw Scott Kelly and Steve Von Till earlier at the VIP corner, and I can tell they’re anything but pretenders. Consequently, I’m being super curious and excited to see them on stage for the first time ever. It’s midnight, I can’t feel my legs nor my spine anymore. Perfect. When the five men arrive on stage, the atmosphere gets electric. These brutal wizards are behind most of the actual post-metal subgenres, that’s why their music remains almost impossible to classify… Then the word “violent poetry” comes to my numb mind. No doubt I’m presently living a gut-wrenching experience, like “voodooized”. People around me look like they’re in a bubble, each one of them giving himself up to a few swaying moves on Jason Roeder’s wild rhythms. Neurosis’ music inspires respect. No one shouts, no one brandishes their iPhones in the air to take pics : they’re watching, learning, LIVING the moment. My back hurts like hell, but I don’t want, I CAN’T leave. Neurosis just pinned me down. Each blast of infra-bass feels like a blessing. Darkness under the Valley… (Setlist)
READ ABOUT DAY 2
Last modified: 11 February 2015