Hellfest has become famous for gathering extraordinary line ups and exclusives for its annual festival held in the heart of the French countryside. This year they excelled themselves with a who's who from classic rock and some familiar faces.
An early morning slot for glamsters Kissin' Dynamite warmed the crowd up nicely until the brutal assault of SSS got the first pit of the day erupting. British rockers Black Spiders are no strangers to European festivals and get a respectable response to their all-out rock attack.
Over in one of the tents Bison B.C end their set in spectacular form with a 'Who' like destruction of their bass guitar, stopping short of throwing the amp in the crowd everything else seemed fair game. Black Cobra continues the momentum in the tent to an appreciative crowd.
Back to main stage one and Hardcore Superstar ignore the accumulating rainclouds to deliver an energetic set of Scandinavian glam Metal. Saxon receive a rapturous response and can do no wrong, dipping into their vast back catalogue and airing some new tracks they get the balance spot on. "747 Strangers in The Night" sends the place crazy and "Motorcycle Man" is the icing on the cake. Vinnie Paul's Hellyeah deliver a set that is well greeted by the younger members of the crowd and certainly fuels the fire for the more brutal acts to come.
You can see Joey Tempest's teeth from downtown Clisson, pulling all the rock star shapes Europe deliver a spellbinding set and empty the press area when the parps of "The Final Countdown" are delivered. As the sun blazes down Testament storm into their set which sees bodies hurling over the barrier like jumping salmon. Showing what they are still capable of, it's great to see the band on fire this long into their current run of shows.
With the temperature on stage and around the festival rising things come crashing down when Whitesnake take to the stage. David Coverdale is not the vocalist he once was. Struggling his way through a greatest hits set he certainly looks the part but sadly his delivery is a little below par.
The thrash assault continues on main stage two when Kreator deliver a set to stun everyone into submission. The body count continues to breach the defences of the barriers as Millie and the boy's pound them to a pulp. Dee Snider is on form tonight, not only does he berate the disabled section for not 'standing up' but he does deliver a performance worthy of headline status. To be fair he was unaware it was the disabled section but much hilarity ensued. With the crowd drowning out the band long after 'We're Not Gonna Take It' is finished they find themselves having to stop in awe of the rapturous response, Twisted Sister put the 'Classic' firmly into Classic Rock, an amazing performance. Following that is going to be a difficult prospect however, Helloween try their best and almost pull it off.
An appearance from At The Gates gets Hellfest chomping at the bit while people cram into the tent. Delivery of a set to shadow most bands of their genre was always on the cards and they deliver a set that ticks all the boxes and adds some more for good measure.
Def Leppard have not been to French shores for seventeen years so they need to bring out something very special indeed, which they do. Starting the set pretty low key playing some covers, they then take a break for a mini documentary on the screens. Like their recent Vegas residency Def Leppard launch into Hysteria, the full album and I'm captivated. Joe Elliot's voice is surprisingly strong while Vivian Campbell gets a rousing applause after his recent illness. This is the best I've seen Def Leppard since 1987, a spectacular performance from a band that should drop the ballad heavy set and bring this out more often, excellent first day.
Holy crap! We've travelled one mile in one hour with cars seemingly abandoned around the town. Today is the busiest I've seen it at Hellfest since my first time in 2008, Kiss are in town.
Sadly due to the extra traffic I get into the venue to catch the last two songs from the amazing Audrey Horne, what a band, and one I've been preaching about for years. P.O.D get the kids circle pitting while over in the tent new flavour of the month Uncle Acid And The Deadbeats bang out some spaced out tunes. With a confirmed support to Black Sabbath on their UK tour later in the year their doom laden psycadelic sounds filter through the clouds of weed.
Krokus put in a rare appearance much to the delight of the growing Hellfest populous. Dez Fafara's resurrected Coal Chamber seems out of place, he seems so much more at home with his usual day job in Devildriver. I've waited some time to see Witchcraft and they don't disappoint, a truly emotive set that hits home instantly, shame it's such a short set I, like others, really wanted more.
As the rain falls, 3 Doors Down try and bring some American sunshine to the festival, struggling to win over the crowd things liven up slightly for their smash hit 'Kryptonite'. You just know that when Down are in town you're going to get the full on Southern infused experience. Phil Anselmo smacks the microphone on his head until it bleeds while the band is tighter than an 80's pair of jeans, what a set, what a band, who never fail to deliver.
The bank of amps on stage signals that Accept are about to take the stage, a rare outing for them but one that sees the field fill to bursting point. With Phil Anselmo joining them for 'Fast As A Shark' I think we'll be seeing them at Hellfest next year.
Amorphis are a stunning live band, with dreadlocks whipping the air they serve up some new material from their excellent new album 'Circle'. Goddamn it, Papa Roach work hard, much better as a live prospect you have to admire what they put in and they get repaid with interest for their efforts from the crowd. The field is now so packed that a tin of sardines would feel spacious just now.
ZZ Top take to the stage amongst an audience reaching evangelical appreciation. Man they're cool, so goddamn cool that the term 'little is more' is certainly the case with them. A Greatest Hits set really hits the mark for the 80 minutes they play, awesome band. Trying to follow that Welsh hopefuls Bullet For My Valentine try their best but fail. Their modern metal goes down well with the kids but most people are awaiting the arrival of Kiss.
Reaching a state of hero worship over here its testament that this is the busiest I've ever seen it on a Saturday at Hellfest with 15,000 extra fans swarming the town to witness Kiss. They deliver what they have done for almost the past 40 years and you have to tip your hat to it. Fireworks, pyro a massive spider what's not to like? Swapping face paint for corpse paint Immortal are 100% better than last time I saw them at Bloodstock. Admittedly with so much smoke on stage it's what you hear as to what you see but it's still a set that sits well with the diehard fans.
First band I catch today are the rising British Hard Rock hopefuls Heavens Basement, they put in an energetic set so early in the day and the festival responds accordingly. Huge things await this band and today they certainly earned their place on the main stage. Prong literally mount a three pronged attack and pull it off with 'Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck' sitting well amongst new material. I've waited what seems to be an age to see Mustasch and I'm not disappointed with what I hear. Visually not the most captivating band but they do have the songs and melodies which leaves me and others feeling very happy.
Graveyard continues to elevate the consumption of weed in the tent as they power through a solid stoner set. Scandinavia really has nailed this style of music and Graveyard capitalise on the growing popularity of this. Jason Newsted's first outing with his new band Newsted hits the main stage to a wave of appreciation. Not as much of an impact as the previous week at Download Festival his set seems a little laboured until the cover of Metallica's "Whiplash" sees the crowd furiously moshing.
Voivoid are joined by Phil Anselmo & Jason Newsted which is probably one of the highlights of the day, that is until Gojira arrive on stage. Having seen them twice this year already this home country gig is phenomenal, that is all. With the regrettable cancellation of all Clutch appearances due to a family bereavement it falls on Down to plug the hole. The second set in as many days and this time it's special, we get some Down classics as well as covers of Eye Hate God, COC and some Pantera in one big jamming session.
Symphony X are really ripping it up over on main stage two, Russell Allen's powerful vocals striding through the crowd like a swaggering teenager. Corey Taylor, love him or hate him he certainly is the vocalist for a new generation. He can handle anything and in Stone Sour he really lets his melodic pipes sing, a rousing cover of Black Sabbath's "Children Of The Grave" is a great addition to the set.
Lordi's ridiculous over the top monster metal is greeted by a loyal fan base. A sprinkling of pyro and a gun emitting non-lethal doses of Co2 washes over the crowd who seem to have taken Lordi to their hearts. A last minute swap of stages sees Danzig & Ghost swap set times and locations, Danzig now on earlier in the tent are ferocious. A vast improvement from the set at Download Festival a few years ago, their rendition of "Mother" sees the tent go crazy, great to see.
Massive on mainland Europe, Volbeat attract quite a substantial crowd for their headline slot. With new boy ex-Anthrax man Rob Caggiano now on board they seem to flourish from the energy of the crowd. Ghost performances are always best delivered in darkness; they are on a roll this year and prove that their first album was no flash in the pan. With a distinct 'clean' sound this unholy communion brings Hellfest to its conclusion for another year.
Mark Davies & Dave Ingham
Many thanks to Roger Wessier for the accreditation.