Hellfest 2019, 21-23 June: review

Hellfest 2019.

Hellfest 2019 Hell's Gates by Linda Evermore

Hellfest 2019 took place over the weekend of 21st to 23rd of June, and completed its fourteenth year of the festival. M4A was lucky enough to have one of our local representatives in attendance as press. And not to mention a few of our countrymen as attendees too, which appears to be customary in recent years.

Hellfest today is one of the biggest Metal festivals in Europe. Certainly the biggest in France. Taking place each year in the small medieval town of Clisson, Hellfest 2019 attracted tens of thousands of visitors with a line-up of 159 incredible bands spread across six stages over the three days; and sold out 55,000 three-day tickets in less than two hours! One-day passes spanning each of the three festival days consequently sold out too, marking the sixth consecutive year of this success story.

The diversity of bands catered to every taste, across many genres of Metal and Rock. It ranged from Thrash, Death and Black Metal, to Industrial, Glam and even Gothic Rock, plus just about everything in-between.

Hellfest 2019 meets Knotfest by Linda Evermore

Knotfest meets Hellfest.

And for those who planned carefully ahead, a bonus was enjoyed! Preceding Hellfest 2019 on the 20th June, and held on the same festival grounds, was Knotfest; a separate one-day event hosted and headlined by none other than USA’s Slipknot, in collaboration with Hellfest.

Established in 2012, Knotfest is a mini traveling festival of epic proportions. This was the first time in Europe. Knotfest 2019 sold out its 40 000 available tickets and promised 2019 not to be the last. The one-day event featured a killer line-up of ten bands across the two main stages. Main Stage 1 showcased USA bands Sick of it all, Ministry, Papa Roach, Rob Zombie and Slipknot; whilst Main Stage 2 starred EU bands Amaranthe, Behemoth, Powerwolf, Amon Amarth and Sabaton.

Knotfest 2019 Powerwolf by Linda Evermore
Benjamin “Matthew Greywolf” Buss of Powerwolf

For us South Africans, a glimmer of hope suggests Knotfest may travel to our country in future. Both Blabbermouth.net and Musicweek.com reported that, according to Slipknot‘s Manager, Cory
Brennan of 5B Management, Slipknot has been talking to promoters in various other countries, including South Africa! Will such a foray to the continent be viable?

Nonetheless, it was a wonderful warm-up to Hellfest 2019; for those who could attend both festivals. The Hellfest camping grounds opened on the same day and, for those holding tickets only to Hellfest 2019, all was not lost. A pre-party awaited them in the Metal Corner; an area external to the main festival grounds, with a line-up of ten French Metal bands. The live music was followed by various DJ’s in the Party Tent and the Fury Tent.

It was in these same tents that the after party was held each night, after the festival grounds closed at 2 am -the Fury Tent being the most ‘Metal’ of the two- where the DJ’s made sure that headbanging would continue until closing at 4am.

Knotfest 2019 Amon Amarth by Linda Evermore
Johan Hegg of Amon Amarth enjoying a moment at Knotfest 2019

Hellfest 2019: Friday 21 June.

At 10:30am on Friday the 21 st June, the first of the bands opened Hellfest 2019. Time slots alternated between the open air main stages One and Two, and also the tented Temple and Altar stages; each adjacent to one another. The nearby tented Valley Stage and the open Warzone Stage remained independent; the Warzone being an area entirely of its own, some distance away from the main festival area.

With such a magnificent choice of bands, one had to plan very carefully which bands they chose to see. In addition to this was Hell City Square -which lay beyond the Hell Gate– where there was yet another stage with all sorts of entertainment. This took the form of even more bands, rock ‘n roll wrestling and the Mad Pussy Gang burlesque fire dancers; along with a large Metal Market and a variety of stores, bars, restaurants and food vendors where a person had to be very careful not to lose track of time.


General first-day impressions.

Hellfest is an extremely well thought-out and organized festival with the most novel and detailed artwork. Add plenty of fire, and you’ve set the scene for a hellishly good and most memorable experience!

Plentiful food vendors in all areas cater for every palette. And, apart from the usual bar type beverages to be found all over, there are fresh, nourishing, non-alcoholic drinks on offer, along with steaming good hot drinks and delicious ice-cream. The Kingdom of Muskadet is a small, but delightfully tranquil little section, located between the main festival area and en-route to the Warzone. Here, one can take a relaxing break from the mayhem and sip on the fermented fruits of the vine available at the specialty bar. Otherwise, a delicious array of craft beer can be found to tantalize the taste buds for hours on end as one ventures forth to the zone beyond.

In the words of AC/DC, here it is true that ‘hell ain’t a bad place to be’!

Headliners and closing acts scheduled for this first day across the six stages included Manowar, Gojira, Kind Diamond, Carcass, Sum 41 and Fu Manchu.


Manowar disappointment.

Day One also proved to bring the biggest disappointment to thousands of festival goers; many of whom had traveled from all over the world to see Manowar perform their final show in France. The band was cancelled on the very same day, merely hours before they were expected to play. This was akin to a stab in the heart, bringing people to tears and wrenching at their souls.

As with every story, there appears to be two sides to this one. At M4A we will not speculate too deeply, but one tabloid-type outlet has raised some opinion on what may have happened; in which the ire is mostly leveled towards the band.

Needless to say, many people felt unimpressed that the impasse could not be resolved. A sense of anger was very evident, with people voicing statements such as “Fuck Manowar”, spitting on the memorial plaque laid down and covering it up with dirt. On the flip-side, the very last song played and enjoyed by headbangers at the after party on the last night of the festival was a song by Manowar. Perhaps with appetites for Metal satiated and tempers cooled by the end, fans love towards the band was somewhat restored.

Sabaton: another memorable experience.

Sabaton turned out to be the saving grace; filling the otherwise void headlining slot, and much to the joy of their fans. And, despite vocalist Joakim Broden losing his voice during the show, band members took over, filling in impeccably on vocals; which gave another dimension to the band for fans to enjoy and remember.

At the same time was Carcass, a band which doesn’t ever disappoint, and the legendary King Diamond more than made up a perfect closing act, spoiling audiences with superb theatrical entertainment value.

HellFest 2019: Saturday 22 June.

The hell-heat intensified and diversified further on Saturday the 22 June with all-time classics occupying the main stages. Such included KISS, Whitesnake, Def Leppard and ZZ Top. All delivered the very polished and professional performances expected.

KISS always makes for a very exciting and entertaining show; the highlight being when Paul Stanley takes a zip line, with his guitar, to a sound tower located in the middle of the audience. From there he continues to perform before zipping back to the stage.

Hellfest 2019 KISS

Then there was Eisbrecher, which was simply “wunderbar”, along with the naughty uncles otherwise known as Bӧhse Onkelz, who nonetheless came across as pretty well behaved. All-time greats such as Candlemass, Cradle of Filth and Sisters of Mercy graced the Alter and Temple stages. Meanwhile Bloodbath lived up to their name, showering their avid audience in streams of blood. The Warzone and Valley stages provided a whole lot of diversity of different sorts, such as the zombified horror of horrors, Banane Metalik, the sludgy Cult of Luna, along with punk rockers Sham69 and The Addicts.

Hellfest 2019: Sunday 23 June.

Sunday, incidentally, was the hottest day in hell, and in more ways than one. Apart from a distinct rise in meteorological temperature, the line-up was sweltering hot too! It featured an absolute sizzling selection of some of the most fiery Thrash Metal bands around.

Starting off as fresh as it gets, on Main Stage 1 at 10:30am, was the young and highly impressive New Zealand band, Alien Weaponry. A brutally energetic way to spark off the day! These three teenagers of Māori descent are making waves world-wide, even being compared by many to Sepultura.

Formed in 2010 by brothers, Lewis and Henry de Jong, at the tender ages of only 8 and 10 years old, the boys originally attended a Māori speaking primary school and the language was spoken by their parents at home. The music of Alien Weaponry is full of Māori history and tradition, with a great deal of songs sung in the Māori language.

Add a fondly South African twist! It is interesting to take note of from where Alien Weaponry derived its name. The brothers claim inspiration from the alien-themed movie, District 9; which we know was filmed in Chiawelo, Soweto and other South African townships. The film is in turn inspired by the forced removal of ethnically “undesirable” residents in Cape Town’s actual District 6 (and other areas) during South Africa’s mid-1900’s apartheid era. The band subsequently came to realize that it is indeed a fitting name; as it was the introduction of muskets to New Zealand -an alien weaponry- which changed the lives of the native inhabitants forever. Now at ages 17 and 19 years old, and bassist Ethan Trembath joined with the band, they’ve played at some of the biggest Metal Festivals around and, within the past year, have signed up with Napalm Records.

Hellfest 2019, Alien Weaponry, image by Linda Evermore

Beyond Alien Weaponry.

The carnage peaked yet another notch on the thermometer when the accomplished leaders of Thrash Metal came out to play. It started with Death Angel on Main Stage 2 for lunch. This is when Hellfest 2019 became truly heavenly and the line-up on Main Stage 2 righteously insane; featuring Testament, Anthrax and the illustrious Slayer. All of which originated in the glorious early 80’s. All of which still deliver the goods as intensely as they did back then. Added to the mix were the more contemporary Trivium and Lamb of God; spliced in-between for good measure.

Of course, the bands on this day weren’t exclusively Thrash. The Hellfest organisers executed a well-planned diversity of grandeur for all to savour and enjoy; adding the likes of Tesla, Clutch, Stone Temple Pilots, Lynard Skynard, Slash with Myles Kennedy and Tool balancing the scales on Main Stage 1.

The Tempestuous, the Dark and the Grizzly.

On the Temple Stage, during the same time slot as Death Angel, appeared Cemican; a 6-piece Aztec Folk Metal band hailing from Mexico and a definitely a band to look out for. With a ferocious, yet mystical element, Cemican incorporates a blend of modern day and pre-Hispanic instruments to make up their sound; whilst garbed in full headdress and war paint. For Black Metal fans, Emperor was the definite choice over Lamb of God, with whom they shared a time-slot.

The Altar Stage served up more of a Death Metal line-up. Vltimas, the band of David Vincent, ex-Morbid Angel vocalist headed up alongside Cannibal Corpse and Deicide. On the Valley Stage, Philip H. Anselmo and the Illegals were also one of the most anticipated bands to play; mainly due to the fact that the ex-Pantera vocalist promised to include a host of Pantera songs in his set. Which he did, going so far as to ask the audience what they would like to hear. The Valley tent was filled to capacity and the crowd brimmed over, extending well beyond and viewing the show from the outside on a large screen.

A member of Cemican, prowling a festival grounds

Slayer: the end of an era.

As Thrash Titan, Slayer, has embarked on a tour to bid the world farewell, this was the final French show and a fiery one it was indeed. At one point, almost the entire stage seemed ablaze and a fireworks display commemorated the end. Emotions ran high; ecstasy mixed with immense sadness at having to say goodbye. Many a grown man and woman were moved to tears and even the sky wept gently during ‘Reign in Blood’. The vibe was wild as fans made the most of their time in the presence of Slayer. An intense mosh and headbanging session ended with the all-time favourite ‘Angel of Death’, and then what felt like an empty void after Tom Araya bade us farewell; lingering to absorb the last moment and tell us how they would miss us all.

The prolonged minutes thereafter were surreal. And then it dawned that there was a choice of three more bands to end the night, simultaneously spread over three stages. Tool was up next on Main Stage 1, starting twenty minutes earlier as headliner. Stalwart of Hungarian Thrash / Black Metal,Tormentor, tore up the Temple Stage with history-based narratives woven into song; including the dark shenanigans of the notorious Elizabeth Bathory and others like her. Enter Shikari were well positioned in the distant Warzone.

Hellfest 2019 Slayer by Linda Evermore

Hell-o and Good Bye.

The party continued in Metal Corner once the festival grounds closed for the final time. Thereafter we were all ushered out into the camping area, and promptly reeled in from the rain to meet new people and taste new beer whilst sharing in the lingering moments of Metal camaraderie, good times and laughter. Eventually the fingers of dawn touched the sky, indicating that it was time to part ways. The task of packing up tents and commencing the homeward bound journey began; all the while wishing we could have just a few more days in the remarkable realms of Hellfest.

For a full album of images from Hellfest 2019 (and including Knotfest 2019), click here.

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