Hellfest 2019
Hellfest 2019

Review: Hellfest Open Air Festival 2019 (France)

Through the years we’ve seen a lot of great bands headlining at international festivals, every new season there are less bands able to properly head the next editions without repeating or having to lower the level and hire secondary bands. Just a few chosen can reach Hall of Fame status, and they show several reasons for this… with Kiss, we have one of the greatest live shows, with Slayer we have the kings of thrash metal; and as Metallica or Megadeth they could have been arguably bigger but Metallica and Megadeth experimented outside their genre to reach a wider audience, while Slayer have always remained faithful to their destructive instinct. Tool can satisfy not only prog but also modern metal fans, they proved to be one of those bands the public still love and praise after years awaiting their comeback. 

Hellfest Besides that, here are some bands that really earn a place in the hearts of fans who turn music into religion and whose fans are willing to cross all of Europe just to see them, not caring about the rest of the announced bands. It’s sad that the chronicle of a festival like Hellfest 2019 has to focus on a band that did not play at the festival and it gets even worse when you realise Manowar had every chance to win, still they didn’t… there was a shop in the venue focusing on Manowar merchandise (something that not even Kiss has achieved). There’s been a lot of hype around them since last year’s Joey di Maio appearance announcing the band, but they have managed to be the biggest disappointment in a long long time both for their fans and for people attending the festival. It’s pointless wondering which of the two parts in this game was right. In a fight of egos between the organisation of Hellfest and Manowar there were only 120,000 losers, who were left without the chance to check if the rumor is true, that the concerts of the legendary heavy metal band are again at least worth seeing. Not long ago we had seen them crawl through some stages playing magnificently 7 or 8 songs and lengthening the show with eternal speeches and videos. 

Hellfest

We doubt that a festival like Hellfest wants to risk part of its prestige canceling a headliner on the day of the festival, but for the same reason we doubt that Manowar were there to sabotage one of their performances that would have gone down in history. Maybe one day we will know the real reasons for such a disaster but seeing the faces of some Manowar fans and hearing them pray for understanding and forgiveness about Manowar, that speaks of the greatness of this band. On behalf of the greatness of Hellfest there should be no doubt because they solved the problem in just a few hours by hiring Sabaton for a complete set list since the previous day they had participated in Knotfest in a much smaller format.

HellfestThere lies the greatness of Hellfest, the reason why the festival has grown fast in recent years as well as the powerful set of bands it offers. Even when canceling a main band, people had tons of alternatives, seeing giants of their respective styles such as Hellhammer, Carcass, Descendents or Fu Manchu. Hellfest is a place where it is impossible to get bored or waste time, there are always amazing bands playing in at least one or two of the three stages, at the same time. Hellfest is a festival with hundreds of thousands people in the same venue without hardly any problems or fights, with happiness and joy all around and with infrastructures that surprisingly keep improving year after year.

And I would not like to finish this summery of the festival without congratulating the festival for the way the workers get treated, 3,000 volunteers that makes the festival a bunch of happy and smiling people, willing to offer a little patience and good humor when small problems appear and ready to help everyone else have a better time. 

Friday 21st

It was my first chance to see POWER TRIP live and they were even better than expected, old school thrash and crossover at its best, an impressive show opening with ‘Soul Sacrifice’ and ending with ‘Manifest Decimation’, the two opening tracks of their two studio albums. When the band name comes from a Ludichrist album, you expect them to be worthy and they showed they deserve that honor.

Hank Von Hell

Hank Von Hell

Maybe the most impressive show of the day was, surprise surprise, located in the warzone, where Turbonegro’s original singer HANK VON HELL introduces his first solo album to the fans. Surrounded by turbojurgends ready to check if he had recovered his original level, Hank was brilliant, giving us a better Turbonegro show than anything that Turbonegro itself offers nowadays. A show full of songs from his new album that will soon become true classics. ‘Too high’, ‘Bum to Bum’ and ‘Blood’ have that scent of automatic sexual liberation that only the apocalypse dudes can achieve. The concert was so great that Turbonegro’s covers were not the most important songs, although we will still miss the flare in Hank’s ass when he sings “I got erection”, the closing with ‘All My Friends Are Dead’ (which takes on a new meaning given the situation) gave him the no1 prize. A legend has returned!

Carcass

Carcass

Another band standing the test of time, the mythical CARCASS masterfully combined songs from all their eras in a very coherent setlist in which the mat’rial of their last record stands out at the same level than their best classics. That’s the reason why the French public celebrated with equal joy the classics as “Exhume to consume” or “Incarnate solvent abuse” with new wonders like “Cadaver pouch conveyor system” or “Unfit for human consumption”. One restless hour of magic, and the magnificent “Heartwork” closed the most powerful concert of the day. 

And just a few steps away from that massacre, the altar gave us one of the most special shows that a metalhead can find today: the true king of scary stories, KING DIAMOND offered us a set list full of classics of all ages, and while he played the magnificent Abigail whole in his last tour. The new show left some of those songs out of the set list but adding several songs from Them that he has not played for years… ‘Invisible guest’, ‘Tea‘, and also ‘Behind These Walls’ of the underrated The Eye. We even received a song as a gift, in premiere for the new album The Institute, coming soon. ‘Masquerade of Madness’ leaves us wanting to discover more new material of what the king can offer to us. A masterful performance by all the musicians and a chorus girl who gracefully supports the voices and the atmosphere. Perfect and dark first day.

KING DIAMOND

King Diamond

Saturday 22

When you notice a legendary band like WHITESNAKE has stopped releasing records and is offering concerts where the voice suffers (and fans suffer too with it!) it is easy to start doubting whether the golden previous level can be achieved again. But not only did the new record bring new flesh and blood but also a good handful of excellent songs which the band are defending live magnificently. Of course, everything walks easier if the concert starts with a triplet as powerful as ‘Bad Boys‘, ‘Slide It In’ and ‘Love Ain’t No Stranger’. Avery diverse audience crowded the place to see David Coverdale defending the tracks very well. Surprisingly there is not a single song in the set written before 1987, (although some of them would be very appropriated to save some voice)… but you have a show closing with ‘Is This love’, ‘Give Me All Your Love’, ‘Here I go Again’ and ‘Still of The Night’, so who can complain?

Whitesnake

Whitesnake

Despite enjoying all their records, I had never seen CANDLEMASS and it was an incredible concert, way better than any expectation. It must be one of the very few times when Epicus Doomicus Metallicus is not the album contributing more songs to the setlist, since they only played ‘A Sorcerer’s Pledge’ and gave the closure with ‘Solitude’ from Nightfall. On the other side we enjoyed ‘Bewitched’, ‘Well of Souls’ and a perfect ‘Dark Are The Veils of Death’… also magnificent were the new songs of the Door to Doom album, ‘Astorolus’ and ‘Black Trinity’, although curiously the most well-received and sing-along-song by the French audience was ‘Mirror, Mirror’. One of the winners of the whole festival.

Candlemass

Candlemass

The next stop, after MYRKUR cancelled, took us to DEF LEPPARD who opened with ‘Rocket’ and ‘Animal’ to the joy of every fan as they started the show on automatic mode. Fortunately, the tracks off Hysteria work very well live and the band start moving a bit more, so the audience was already on fire when they played ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’, ‘Rock of Ages’ and ‘Photograph’.

Def Leppard

Def Leppard

And after the British sophistication, get ready for the opposite: Simply bass, guitar, drums and beards. ZZ TOP, blues and rock, square sheep-haired guitars, their old classics (‘Waitin for The Bus’ or the blues of ‘Jesus Just Left Chicago’), of the 80s (‘Gimme All Your Lovin’ or ‘Sharp Dressed Man’), to end with the classics ‘La Grange’ and ‘Tush’.

After the authentic rock of the bearded guys from Houston we were having mixed feelings about what KISS could offer us as a headliner. It’s important to warn the readers once again, if you have not seen them before, you should not miss that experience, as no other show in the world is such a wonderful spectacle full of surprises and magic, also with a good handful of legendary rock and roll themes, a proof of Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley’s composer skills. On the other hand, if you have seen Kiss more than twice you know it’s really like watching a summer rerun of your favorite TV show. You know the dialogues and enjoy watching the faces of others while they are surprised with things that used to raise that feeling in you. But this time we have to recognise that Kiss surprised us with a Paul Stanley in an excellent vocal state and a set list designed to take care of his voice until the end, which made the true Kiss fans enjoy this concert much more than the previous years, where you suffered with your idols in very vocally demanding songs like ‘Lick It Up’ or ‘Love Gun’. The set list was the same they have been repeating the whole tour, opening the show with ‘Detroit Rock City’, Tommy Thayer solo during ‘Cold Gin‘, Gene spitting blood, Paul flying over the public, and just some small variations. The most outstanding, within the encores a very cheered ‘Crazy Crazy Nights’ before closing with ‘Rock and Roll All Nite’.

But the night still had a wonderful last surprise for the braves who dared to approach the altar, as BLOODBATH gave one of the most impressive concerts that we remember since Nick Holmes is responsible for the growls. The songs of the last album work live even better than the recordings, while Nick increasingly becomes more fit to the classic songs of the band, shining especially in ‘Breeding Death’ or ‘Cancer of The Soul‘. A brutal but clear mix from the sound desk allowed us to enjoy every detail, which is not easy in death metal bands. This time they didn’t close with ‘Eaten’ as they have been doing in the last tours, playing ‘Cry My Name’ as a perfect closing of the concert and day.

Bloodbath

Bloodbath

Sunday 23

Death Angel

Death Angel

If something stands out above the rest in Sunday’s chronicle of Hellfest is the success they had in gathering all the thrash metal bands on the second stage. Some of the bravest warriors stayed there all day, no matter how hot it was from the first hour of the morning with MUNICIPAL WASTE. True heroes running every circle pit, fighting every mosh, even when the heat reached the peak from during the concerts of DEATH ANGEL and TRIVIUM, giving them a rest in between while on the other main stage bands like BLACKBERRY SMOKE and CLUTCH raised the desertic feeling of unexpected French hot and dry weather. The temperature was still at maximum when TESTAMENT started but people needed a couple of songs to start the fight, being ‘More Than Meets the Eye’ and ‘Practice What You Preach’ the caused of it. It didn’t stop as the band played ‘The New Order’ and ‘Electric Crown’ before the audience sung happy birthday to Chuck Billy. But he was the one who gave us a birthday presents in the form of ‘Into the Pit’, ‘Over the Wall’ and ‘Disciples of The Watch’ all in a row. ‘The Formation of Damnation’ closed the concert, a band that since recruiting Gene Hoglan and Steve di Giorgio, should be much higher than it is.

Testament

Testament

A little drop in the temperature allowed ANTHRAX to perform one of the most special concerts we remember. A short but in-your-face set list, they started with ‘Caught in a Mosh’. The energy levels went even further with ‘Got the Time’ and ‘N.F.L. (efilnikufesin)’. Then ‘I Am The Law’ sounded, making everybody go crazy. The pace lowered a bit during ‘Now is Dark’ and ‘In The End‘, but people recovered quickly with ‘Antisocial’ and ‘Indians’, generating one of the more brutal walls of death that I have had the pleasure to fight into.

Phil Anselmo & The Illegals

Phil Anselmo & The Illegals

We enjoyed a few songs of LYNYRD SKYNYRD before heading to the Valley stage. This was the meeting point of many metalheads eager to see PHIL ANSELMO play Pantera classics songs again, and the singer from Louisiana appeared in very good shape and with a voice fully recovered. He first offered us a couple of songs from his new band and then with the Valley totally crowded (it was difficult to find a single spot inside) it finally happened what many expected, ‘Mouth For War’, ‘Becoming’, ‘Fucking Hostile’, ‘Walk’, ‘A New Level’… all sung in a broken voice and with some suffering. Anselmo’s voice is not clear anymore, therefore no song from Cowboys From Hell is included in the set list, in a clever move. But he still has the power and the brutality, and you only need that to love some Pantera’s oldies and enjoy his show.

The festival was almost over but there was still the chance to watch two of the strongest shows, although very different. While SLAYER did an aggressive concert from start to finish (nothing new!) with Tom Araya in an excellent vocal shape and a set list giving us hits from most of their records, focusing mostly on Seasons in The Abyss. A set list very similar to the one they have been doing all along the tour, in which they open with ‘Repentless’ and rescued from the grave ‘Evil Has No Boundaries’, opener of their first album. A great show beginning, but it turned even better when ‘War Ensemble’, with a lot of fire all over the stage, inverted crosses (made of fire), walls (of fire), Slayer logos burning (with fire)… it looks like the kings of thrash metal have realised at last that going out and perfectly playing one song after another is not enough to head a great festival or a farewell tour, people nowadays demands show. Strong sound but clear and a great show of lights, balanced the lack of movement of the band, that they supply with an extreme brutality. At the end of the concert there was even people crying when they realised it was the last time Slayer plays in France ever.

And the festival organisers prepared the highest possible contrast at the end of the show, making TOOL play after Slayer. They started with an impressive audiovisual show, connected with the music in a full experience for the senses. Haunting and mesmerising, it was easy to focus on the sounds and images more than on the band itself, and with an audience that (maybe due to the fatigue, or perhaps due to the characteristics of the band) maintained a respectful silence and reduced their movements to the minimum. Alienated in front of what they were seeing: an experience that nobody should miss once in their lives. Perhaps not the most suitable for those eager to party at the end of the festival.

Tormentor

Tormentor

That’s why we decided to approach the Altar stage, as it’s good to see DEICIDE kicking asses, impressive his ‘Homage For Satan’, giving strength to an audience already exhausted. And finally, the final band of our festival, one of the most satisfying surprises of the festival, the comeback of the Hungarian black metal band TORMENTOR with a very peculiar show and that retro old school black metal style closed the festival perfectly, highlighting the themes of his classic album Anno Domini, especially on ‘Tormentor 1’, ‘Tormentor 2’ and ‘Elizabeth Bathory’, and the closing with ‘Seventh Day of Doom’ of their reunion album. A magnificent finale for an excellent festival. Who needs Manowar anyway??

Review by Rafael Villalba Blanco and Federico Finlez.

About Federico Finlez

Patagonian photographer and enthusiastic rock ´n´ heavy metal fan, travelling all around the world looking for amazing gigs and sharing good times with beautiful people, when not at home teaching management at Colleges. Nowadays writing a travel novel.

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