An experience can be defined by a plethora of elements, some more important than others. Sometimes, the concept of a long-term project would be more than sufficient to define greatness, but so far, only as mere observers of the great impact that Hellfest has made in Europe, we understand that the festival guarantees more than just that year after year, always underlining great consistency in the entire project. Their strength, is the weakness that other projects behold in their architecture and with that being said, after seeing the final line-up for the 2017 edition of the festival in Clisson, only one thing remained for our team to do: take up the challenge and make sure the experience and its remarkable narrative would reach the hearts and minds of our home. We made sure we had everything scheduled, concerning plane tickets, days-off of work, money savings, family plans and camping bills. Our focus for the weekend would be 100% in Clisson, such was our mindset from the moment we got on the plane from Portugal until landing at the small airport of Nantes, France.
Traveling started off with a conversation about the festival with a couple of Danish music fans departing from Lisbon along our side, and it’s ironic to think that we’ve barely left Portugal, and we’re already in contact with the atmosphere and familiar hospitality from the festival. We arrived at Nantes late in the afternoon and made sure to follow the heavy trace of metalheads and punks leading to the shuttle that would take us to festival grounds. Got up early the next day and made our way to the tourniquets where we would stand in awe to the opening of the festival gates accompanied by blasts of morning fire blessing our long awaited path inside. Our tactic for the entire event was focused on checking out every band that we would kill to see, but we knew that reality doesn’t always seemingly connect with expectation, and that’s why we stood open to being as flexible as any music nerd would be in our place.
Verdun’s opening gig on the Valley tent had some importance to us, not only for being the only band that had Portuguese loins on the entire bill but for the heavy, dense, deconstructive sound the group invested in their presence. Such an architecture that invests in a balance of simplicity and heaviness, would empower itself on strong and adhesive riffs and chest pounding drums. Paulo Rui, a face that we are extremely familiarized too, also the frontman for Besta and Redemptus, from Portugal, would remain the same remarkable mammoth in the microphone he’s well known for back home. The performance was memorable, to the point where we underline the need to put a band with this much energy on a later time-slot.
Some exploring to do and went back to the Valley to testify Okkultokrati’s stallion of Norwegian's black/punk with an enchanting introduction to the countdown of Lars Von Trier’s “Europa” (1991) and even if the intensity was still building up with the early hours, we met up with slam warmongers from Spain aka Wormed at the Altar! Delivering a memorable set from both, the vocals and drummer, transcending in-between heaviness and technicality in a frenzy of transgenic death metal and mutant energy drills around the crowd, we witness a set more than ideal to start to accumulate positive energy as the afternoon approaches.
One of the bands we most anticipated in the entire bill, SubRosa, was arguably one of the most important acts on the smaller stages, even if it doesn’t reflect on the assistance, taking into account that the Salt Lake City group were competing with Exhumed and Evergrey. Even if the band’s music is so naturally intimate to an extent that would only genuinely make sense in a small room, the applause and constant sing-along show a band that is never truly alone on-stage. Besides, the music that seems like an independent entity, drawing and illustrating alternative states of mind compelled by the nakedness in the band’s heart, you can tell you’re having a good day when you’re finally hearing “ Despair Is A Siren” live.
Gallery with SubRosa, Animals as Leaders and Wormed
Following that, we had the chance to have a nostalgic glimpse of our early teenage years with one of our favorite performances of the entire festival: Helmet at the Valley. You would think that a band with such a strong connection with hardcore and punk would suit better the Warzone stage but their energy and dimension make up for everything on the bigger stage. Stage-dives would be appropriate as well but sing-alongs and systematic crowd-surfing shows the punk spirit of the crowd. Most of our favorites were on the setlist, including classics like “Unsung” and “Wilma’s Rainbow”. Impossible to resist such an appealing and eventful band like Helmet. Simplicity and strength can go hand in hand when the music embraces the rhythm and calculated hits from the guitars. Presence and performance were beyond everything else so far.
Going from such an enclosed and personal set to the Devin Townsend Project at the main stage shows that not all big bands fit the big stages. Maybe it was the transition but the music didn’t felt right in general and seeing we did expect more than Devin’s really smart and quirky sense of humor, the group’s anti-dimensional and generic prog sound lost impact on such a massive and unresponsive crowd.
Gallery with Helmet, Devin Townsend Project and Týr
Fortunately, we made the best decision there was to make, save a spot on the frontline for Red Fang’s legend -wait for it- day performance! We admit we’re big fans of the band since they got on the scene around 2009 with their self-titled EP but this performance showed more than just a band that’s releasing a couple of albums since then. There’s no way you can overrate this show. Completely packed and absolute chaos from front to back, hordes of people going berserk over “Hank Is Dead” and “Throw Up” without ever losing an ounce of energy along the 50-minute set. Water and beer spilling from the cups of people a mile away to the sound of “Prehistoric Dog” closing the drenched mythical beast that is Red Fang. We couldn’t bring ourselves to leave the front, no strength to abandon the infinite amount of people smiling like little kids finding out about a cool new band, sharing the thought exactly like we did. Sheer legends!
So far, the smaller stages feel like they’re gaining a lot of ground around the music fans, and we can’t really say otherwise either, at least for ourselves. After checking out the old-school cyberpunk outfit Ministry, we realized several performances on the main stage have close to no energy, either because of the lack of proximity with that crowd or the absence of life force in the sound, even admitting that hearing classics like “Just One Fix” and the new track “Antifa” by the band certainly stirred something inside us, we still can’t feel compelled by the presence and performance.
Gallery with Red Fang and Ministry
With a need to do some justice after the disappointment in the main stage, we separately search for a new solution with the 19:40 slot. Behemoth, Cryptopsy and Baroness playing simultaneously. While one-half of the team was elevated by the ritualistic cement sound of the polish band in the Main Stage II, the other one split between listening to the experimental, fun and colorful, even if seemingly uninspired, Baroness and the Canadian veterans showcasing a disappointing performance of None So Vile.
Obituary was definitely a name that we had on the back of our heads since the beginning of all this. All the blistering and gut-wrenching slow stances on the classics, the more upbeat and alternative options the veterans present over the 90’s and the latest album glimpsing a strong return to the death’n’roll sound with a lot of fuzzy hardcore/punk influence. All that I've mentioned sounds twice as good and 10 times heavier live! Even if the band seems undying, you can certainly tell some tiredness, maybe a need for new and ambitious projects, but the truth is we wouldn’t trade this for anything in the world. “Don’t Care”, “Chopped In Half”, “Back To One” and “Slowly We Rot” were the best flashbacks to some of the most emblematic and influential releases in the genre. By the end of this set, some of us just couldn’t take more than 12 hours of unrelenting music. Sober or not it’s always a challenge for any first-timer at the festival.
Gallery with Behemoth and Deep Purple
The other half of the team went on to see Rancid’s stomping set at the Warzone stage. A time slot that already marked the end of a long day and demanded a decent band to play the lullabies right before bedtime. A band this influential for it’s melodic and appealing fusion of ska and punk rock, is always bound to give the public the best time of their life, non-stop dancing and moshing along with anthemic sing alongs from beginning to end. A set consisting of pretty much all the best Rancid songs from the old albums up until the try-outs from the new record. An hour filled with bliss and genuine joy from the nostalgic force of Rancid’s music, so strong and consistent, as the energy of Alestorm’s set at the Temple later at the night.
The strength in delivery saw tons of never-ending silhouettes swimming a sea of people between the band and the tent exit. For people to have this amount energy in such a small time-span, it’s expected to see some bands, namely Monster Magnet, give it all on stage and see no decent response from a, maybe, tiresome crowd. Or maybe a little asleep by the previous set at the Valley. Electric Wizard’s extremely low sound volume leads to a contribution inevitably underwhelming during a set that deserves much sound slap. Something similar happened last year during Sunn O)))’s set as well. With that being said, may the sound people understand that some sounds have to live up to the expectation, otherwise they will never be remembered for the right reasons.
We’ve reached the end of the line. Day 1 was officially done! So far, we’ve collected so many good memories and moments that we can only dream of reliving in somewhere in the future. The bar is pretty high for now, and looking up the schedule for the next day, we still couldn’t have words to what we had enlisted for, promising acts after another.