After a day of travelling to Nantes from London (roughly 8 hours train journey), my friend and I felt no need to hurry ourselves the next morning, after sleeping in, we made our way to Nantes train station so we could await the arrival of our companions from up north. Upon their arrival we boarded a train for our short journey to Clisson. To say I was excited for my second year at Hellfest Open Air was a massive understatement. Upon arriving at the gates via shuttle bus we were inside and camp was set up within 45 minutes, far better than the usual queues at Download from what I've heard. At this point we ventured to the local supermarket (3 mins walk from the campsite) where we were greeted by a massive sign saying "Hellfest 2013 - Welcome Headbangers!!" and the soothing sounds of Alcest playing throughout the store. Clisson's economy seems to rely on the annual influx of metalheads from all corners of the world. But anyway, I digress.
After spending close to 70 euros on alcohol and sandwiches for the weekend, we returned to our campsite and the evening's fun began. After wandering the campsite well into the early hours, meeting some of the most entertaining Irishmen I've ever had the pleasure of meeting, drinking with Scots, Russians, Frenchmen and more I collapsed and embraced sleep ready for the next morning's chaos.
I awoke, hungover (as you can imagine), and frantically searched for some money to purchase my breakfast, 2 glasses of cold OJ and a couple of Pain au Chocolat, which turned out to be my salvation for the first half of the day. Journeying to the arena for just before 1 I was able to catch Hate (8) in fine form. Essentially the older brother to Behemoth but never given the amount of recognition they deserve, Hate play a very good set filled with blackened death metal straight from their latest album "Solarflesh (2013)". Bassist Mortifer's recent death has no doubt dampened their spirits, but with his wife Alexandra stepping up to fill in on bass (a very touching gesture), the band are determined to fulfill their touring commitments before taking a step back and figuring out the future of the band. Closer "Alchemy Ov Blood" get the crowd going and honours Mortifer's memory in terrific fashion.
Next I rushed to the mainstages to catch Heathen (7) and their signature brand of bay-area thrash with David R. White's soaring vocals. Songs from recent effort "The Evolution Of Chaos (2010)" go down a treat, with "Dying Season" and "No Stone Unturned" really getting the crowd going despite the rain, however the closing number "Death By Hanging" fails to get as much of a reaction as their contemporary stuff. Shame.
Within 10 minutes Saxon (9) have surfaced on the adjacent stage and waste no time showing the crowd why they're still an amazing live act after nearly 35 years non stop playing and touring. Biff Byford still knows just how to work a crowd no matter where it is the band are playing and they have fans young and old singing along throughout, if anything I and many other wish they had a longer set.
After a brief break I return to the arena and catch Pallbearer (8), who make their first European festival appearance a memorable one, playing their particular brand of melancholic doom with style and flair. At the same time, Testament (8) give an admirable performance as always, mixing in their hits with future classics from last year's "Dark Roots Of Earth (2012)". Next up are Dutch death metal heroes Asphyx (9) who show that they can pull off last year's masterpiece "Deathammer (2012)" with ease. Martin van Drunen has truly excellent stage presence and it's no wonder why he's such a respected vocalist in the world of death metal.
Due to travel problems, Primordial are late so in the meantime I check out Kreator (7) and Black Pyramid (9). Kreator manage to get the crowd going with their new era material and a couple from "Pleasure To Kill" but the stuff in between doesn't get much of a response, whereas Black Pyramid, playing one of their first European festival appearances, churn out riff after riff and dominate the doom stage. The Northampton, Massachussets trio astound many people who are unfamiliar with their material and delight those who are. Considering these guys are a group I never thought I would have the good fortune to see live, I was in awe. One of my top 10 favourite performances of the weekend hands down. When Primordial (8) finally arrive, despite only having time for 4 songs I stay and watch all the same, because I would never turn the chance to see one of my favourite bands, regardless of set time.
After returning to camp to eat some dinner (and in the process missing Ceremonial Oath, something I shall be very disappointed in myself for doing for a long time), I head to the arena once more for the final wave of bands. Carpathian Forest (9) have surfaced from the darkness to play a rare show and don't let up for a second, Nattefrost and Tchort show us why their brand of dark, anarchic black metal has made them famous, whereas when Sleep (9) play, the atmosphere could not be more laid back. The tent is covered in a low cloud of weed smoke throughout the performance (which I must admit I was ok with, due to being high as a kite myself at the time) and Matt Pike and co act as if they were never away and just get straight to business, jamming out most of "Holy Mountain (1993)" as well as "Sonic Titan" and the ending portion of "Dopesmoker (2003)". Truly a sight to behold.
It's now 11pm (curfew for most other festivals) and the festivities are still going strong. A band I've been looking forward to seeing again for ages are about to play. At The Gates (10) play a set full of hits that every fan of the band has come to know and love them for. Even the band's Slayer cover, "Captor Of Sin" makes an appearance as a tribute to Jeff Hanneman (R.I.P.). Closing number "Kingdom Gone" (one of my personal favourites) is an excellent way to round off their set, a triumphant performance once again. These guys honestly never disappoint so if you haven't seen them before, what are you waiting for? Fucking do it.
It's now time for the last two bands, who also happen to be two of the bands I've most wanted to see this year. God Seed (9), the new band from ex-Gorgoroth members Gaahl and King Ov Hell, have been hotly anticipated by many this year. And they don't disappoint for a second. Several big songs from their acclaimed debut "I Begin (2012)" are mixed with some of Gorgoroth's finest songs during Gaahl's tenure as vocalist. Their performance provides an excellent forward thinking take on black metal. Nearby in the doom tent Neurosis (9) are playing to a packed crowd and every audience member is hanging on Scott Kelly's every word. Another band to definitely see live if you can. Finally Six Feet Under (6) begin their onslaught to round off the night. The result is satisfactory but not outstanding. Chris Barnes growls through every song perfectly well, but the lateness of the hour is clearly taking its toll on the crowd and many people are finding it hard to stay engaged in the music. Several people are asleep flat on their backs inside the death metal tent. Regardless Barnes & Co. put on a good enough show, and a surprise cover of "Hammer Smashed Face" is a good way to end the night in style. After that I wandered back to the campsite, found my Irish friends and proceeded to get royally fucked up. Stay tuned for more...