In the heart of the French countryside amongst the peace and quiet of the Parisian walkways and nestled amongst the vineyards lies Clisson. However for one weekend a year it literally becomes a mecca for the best, heaviest, diverse, line ups Metal has to offer with some mainstream acts thrown in for good measure. This year saw a slight change, with a move from the usual venue to a new site (right across the road!) and an expanded capacity.
First band of the day for me was Spanish outfit Hamlet, to my surprise an energetic set of metal/hardcore that got the crowd prepared for the day's festivities. Benediction provided an early brutal set sending the tent awash with crowd surfers appreciating their pure metal assault.
Lizzy Borden's brand of shock rock complete with fire breathers and throat slashed chicks just passed by without much incident but a worthy effort. First of today's Southern Rock contingent Molly Hatchet proved that the French certainly like this brand of rock, lapping up everything the seasoned band threw at them.
The return pairing of Hansen & Kiske in new venture Unisonic proved a popular one. Belting out their German hard rock with a couple of Helloween classics thrown into the mix got the response they deserved with the Main Stage crowd welcoming them like long lost heroes, let's hope we see them again soon. The Valley tent was rammed to the rafters for Orange Goblin and you could not get anywhere near the stage. Ben Ward performed out of his skin and most certainly rose to the challenge with new songs from Eulogy received with aplomb. Rejuvenated Swiss rockers Gotthard played an emotional set and new front man Nic Maeder proved his worth on new tracks including 'The Stories Over' which sent shivers up the spine.
Another band and another new front man, Turbonegro are adored here in France and they embraced the return of the band clad in denim jackets with open arms. Lynyrd Skynyrd may only have one remaining original member but this French audience love their Southern Rock and went wild for a greatest hits set of "Sweet Home Alabama", "Simple Man" and "That Smell". Proving that Death Metal and Southern Rock can sit side by side in a festival, Skynyrd was a master stroke and certainly sent a wave of euphoria through the festival site. The Rockabilly/Country mix of Hank 3 was one I was curious to check out and glad I did. Performing some fucked up mix of the two genres, again, the French proved that risky bookings have been embraced by the Metal hoards with this mix up packing the Valley tent to stretching point.
Megadeth on the other hand are old hats and seasoned veterans to the live arena. Mustaine snarls out "Peace Sells", "Hanger 18" and "Symphony Of Destruction" with a healthy splattering of new tunes. Their headline set is well received, with a little stage banter from Mustaine providing thanks to the fans for sticking by the band all these years. With just two European dates penned in for this year it's no surprise that King Diamonds set is the most anticipated. After recovering from health issues any fear that his performance would suffer are soon relegated to the wings as the true King of shock rock takes center stage.
With a Graveyard set complete with wrought iron gates King Diamond is in fine fettle, "Abigail", "Up From The Grave" are belted out as the rain finally comes lashing down on the mass that awaited his arrival. A true performer it's a set worth waiting for and certainly fulfills the gap in my youth where I never got the chance to see him live.
A slightly late start for me due to the inability to find a parking spot saw me catch the tail end of Gamma Bomb. It's a shame I missed it as what I caught certainly made their promotion to the mainstage a worthy one. No matter what your views may be of Steel Panther you have to admit they are a fantastic band for a festival. With the breast count high among the audience and the stage banter boarding stand-up comedy the band are tight, seasoned players, excellent set.
Death Angel in the bright sunshine seems wrong but playing the whole of their Ultraviolence album was another dip into my youth. As the sun blazoned down it was the 80's thrash revolution all over again. The thrash theme carries on with an explosive set from Sacred Reich who flatten the field with their power and excellent cover of "War Pigs" as a homage to Black Sabbath. Not aware of Koritni until today but their hard rock certainly made me take notice. At the Warzone tent those crazy Canadians, Cancer Bats made the trudge through the mud worth the effort, Liam Cormier owns the stage like a man possessed.
The theme of the day seems to be Thrash and Exodus are not about to spoil the party. With the absent Gary Holt on Slayer duty the set does not miss a beat and ensures security are kept busy with bodies hurling over the barrier. Re-visiting past glories has always been high on the agenda with Sebastian Bach but hey, with "18 and Life" and "Youth Gone Wild" in your back catalogue then you can be forgiven. Luckily his voice is still powerful and we're back in Hair Metal Heaven. Over on the Alter Stage Aborted are making sure their presence is known with some Dark rumblings.
Soon however the air is awash with Sharon den Ade's warbling's of Within Temptation who provides a polished if un-energetic set. There's no fear of that with Napalm Death though, with Barney pulling shapes like an epileptic on steroids. The crowed has swelled for the arrival of Machine Head and Rob Flynn and Co are overwhelmed by the response. Finishing the set with the ever present Halo it soon becomes apparent why Machine Head have been embraced by European audiences.
Entombed may be on line-up version number 5 or 6 but the ever presence of LG Petrov is unmistakable, "Damn Deal Done" is sounding like it was written yesterday and the tent is crammed for some truly inspirational Metal. Axl Rose is on time with his incarnation of Guns 'N Roses, first shock of the night, and it's a laborious set sadly. A shadow of his former self in performance standards but now casting a much larger shadow of himself it's a shame to see 9 people playing what it took 5 to play on the original album but the French don't seem too worried and lap it up all the same. Behemoth are back and thank Satan! Nergal sounds good and looks fantastic and the faithful who've gathered for them are rewarded well.
The final day of our French Metal assault starts with some NWOBHM with Girlschool, faring quite well they seem to go down with the respectability they deserve for such an early slot. Insomnium have lost nothing from the set I saw them play earlier in the year. Brutal, intricate riffs flow through the tent for the early risers to ensure hangovers are washed away to be replenished by more alcohol.
Zakk Wylde has no new material to offer and plays a set that's been tried and tested for the last 18 months or so. The biker metal of Black Label Society is welcomed like an old friend as the fat riffs rattle through the fillings of the audience. Walls Of Jericho are a mass of female fronted noise as are August Burns Red who are just the same minus a female but still a nice aperitif for the afternoon. Anaal Nathrakh attracts a sizable crowd over on the Temple Stage and rewards them with a ferocious razor sharp set.
Rival Sons are the perfect festival band, they bring the California sunshine to Clisson's doorstep. Jay Buchanan oozes seventies swagger and delivers a sublime set to the lucky punters who crammed the tent, definite main stage promotion next year no doubt.
The circle pit kings of metal DevilDriver, deliver yet more pit action to the afternoon with Dez drying his lungs in the name of his art. Bringing things down a little is the arrival of classic rock Godzilla's Blue Oyster Cult, after all the brutality of the day it comes as no surprise that the cowbell count is raised and "Don't Fear The Reaper" almost awakens the whole of France with the audience participation.
Trivium bring the metal back with a surprisingly strong set and certainly prove to be a better live proposition than on record. Lock Up are on a mission, a mission to bring down the tent and almost succeed with a devastating display of destruction.
Motley Crue are just riding the wave made years ago, Mick Mars looks like his guitar weighs 2 tons and Vince Neil looks like he weighs 2 tons, a greatest hits set gets the crowd excited but to be honest it's time to hang up the bandannas.
Ihsahn is immensely intense and something you have to experience live to fully appreciate the extraordinary talent of him and his band, a full tour please! After the parody of last night's Axl and friends set it's good to see Slash & Myles Kennedy bringing the dignity back to old G 'N R classics like "Paradise City" and "Night Train".
With his top hat casting a shadow on the stage Slash is on a roll, an excellent new album and the vocal talent of Myles Kennedy on board he must think he's died and gone to heaven. A truly spellbinding set brings Hellfest to its knees.
Poor old Ozzy Ozbourne, after the excitement of last week's Black Sabbath set at Download it looks like touring has finally taken its toll. His voice is shot and he confirms this by apologizing from the stage, sounding appalling and struggling with even the easiest of songs. The set can still not be saved by appearances from Geezer Butler and Slash. So as the rain finally descends on the site Dimmu Borgir bring a final set of dark brooding metal to the Temple tent and it's a final hurrah from another successful Hellfest.
Mark Davies & Dave Ingham
(Many thanks to Roger Wessier for the accreditation).