After two years at the Brutal Assault (2012 and 2013), the untamed and unsatiable aristocrats Bosj and Istrice chose France's Hellfest as their summer musical destination for this year. This festival has been continuously expanding, becoming an event almost as big as Wacken in less than a decade. Usually we tend to prefer smaller happenings, but let's be clear about it: Emperor's reunion was such an amazing occasion that we couldn't just give it up. Therefore, armed with good will, the right enthusiasm and everything that was needed to survive camping among tens of thousands of metalheads, we left Milan for the windy Nantes in order to reach Clisson, the small town in Atlantic Loire that hosted the event. The organization is top class, and we find it out pretty soon: in a few minutes we already had our badges and left for the dusty camping site (we noticed hundreds of people wearing masks because of the dust, absurd). This area will be the only major flaw of the whole event, as it was too small to contain all the people who were there (many had to camp in the green areas surrounding the festival space) and poorly serviced. As for the rest, everything was way beyond what we experienced over the previous years: great work on scenographies both in the shop area and on the stages, honorable mention for the statue of King Kong climbing the building under which were the shops.
Day one: Unknown Awareness
We devoted our Friday morning to the collecting of any necessary goods, paying a visit to the local supermarket in order to survive over the next few days. This choice proved to be right, considering the all but affordable prices in festival’s food area. Our musical day began in the early afternoon at The Valley, which mainly hosted stoner and post-metal bands. The stage area was roughly divided by genre: apart from the two Main Stages, there were The Altar for death metal, The Temple for black and folk, The WarZone for punk and hardcore. We chose the post-metal act Downfall Of Gaia to open Aristocrazia’s setlist for this festival; their slow, pounding and reverberated sound (reminiscent of shoegaze) helped us prepare our eardrums for the endeavor which was soon to come. A good band, possibly to be enjoyed indoors as well and with more time available. Between a visit to the huge merch marketplace and a snack, we also managed to see the solid Hail Of Bullets' and Impaled Nazarene's performances, the latter more out of curiosity than actual interest.
However, our real festival only began slightly before eight PM with Kylesa, a band that we have thoroughly described on Aristocrazia and I’m afraid we will never be tired of seeing. The quintet had a great evening here, a grandiose "Unknown Awareness" and a visceral rendition of "Don’t Look Back" took me back to their show in Milan with a point of regret, as that one was definitely less memorable than this.
From the US to the UK, after Kylesa it’s time for the first big name of this festival: Iron Maiden. Although Bosj had already seen them more than a hundred times, he was really happy of going closer to the stage to enjoy their performance. I watched this show from afar, less bored than expected, and I must say I admired their effort and generosity despite the fact that their golden age is long gone and Bruce's voice tends to give way at times. Between a visit to The Altar to greet Maurizio Iacono and Kataklysm, and a more substantial pit-stop at The Temple for Watain – as usual, big impact in terms of visuals and sounds, also thanks to the flaming tridents that always accompany their concerts – I still managed to enjoy a big part of Iron Maiden’s performance, featuring quite a few hits, such as "The Number Of The Beast", "The Trooper", "Fear Of The Dark" and "Run To The Hills".
From one bunch of old men to another, after Eddie and friends we moved to the Main Stage 2 to check out how Slayer were doing these days. The Americans, despite the issues they went through recently, are still giving their all on stage and – although it still is quite tough for me to keep focused on them for such a long time – their old classics are still worth it. "War Ensemble" and "Raining Blood" were spectacular and reminded everybody that these guys' importance is still there. We slowly approached midnight and it was time for my personal main event of the day: Electric Wizard. Although it had been less than a year since the last time I saw them (Hell's Pleasure 2013), my fanboyism for them is unmeasurable, just like the overwhelming volume of the wall of sound coming out of their amps. "Supercoven" opens an hour of huge masses of sound, among which the powerful "Dopethrone" stood out, paving the way for "Satanic Rites Of Drugula", the danceable "Black Mass" and the monumental and undying "Funeralopolis", closing their show at The Valley, really crowded to welcome the British band. Aristocrazia's team got back to the "necro-tent", hopelessly trying to recover a few hours of sleep.
Day Two: Attitude and Respect
Foreword: Bosj and me are old inside, we know it, we don’t hide it and are proud of it. Still, we do not understand how can metalheads go crazy all night and then be ready and kicking at seven in the morning. We escaped the clouds of dust that got bigger and bigger in order to pay a visit to the quiet Clisson, an enjoyable little town resting on the banks of a small brook, tributary of the Loire. The old town is delicious, just like the proverbial castle, but the green areas and the really well-kept parks stirred our hatred towards most local Italian administrations. Given the quality of the local delicacies, we couldn't but go for a great seafood-based lunch before going back to work.
The afternoon was quite rich, and our choice spontaneusly rewarded (for the thousandth time) Incantation and their death metal. John McEntee can do one thing when he picks up a guitar and has a microphone before him, one thing only, but he can do it really well. The American band delivered their expectedly solid performance, free of errors or flaws; besides, although they have never reached the popularity of other American death metal bands, they have been treading stages worldwide for more than twenty years and the results are there for everybody to see. After having replenished our ears and minds with some pure death metal, we totally changed the atmosphere by moving to The Valley in order to see Witch Mountain, offspring of that stoner rock tidal wave that hit the world in the last few years. The bluesy occult rock of these Oregon children – led by the vocalist Ula Plotkin (quite a high-sounding name) – is enjoyable and well-crafted, although a bit too monotonous at times. They made it to my "bands to see again" list as well.
We got some rest in the shaded press area (where we also see Jus Osborn and spouse), waiting for one of the stoner rock big names: Acid King. Unfortunately, this was not their evening, possibly because of the not so suitable environment, or because of the standard amplifiers from the festival, not used to propagating the mass of sound produced by the Californian band. However, we got sick quite soon (while we loved their show at the Hell's Pleasure) and used this time to go take a rejuvenating shower and get rid of all the dirt we had accumulated by then. Around half past eight we shadily got back to the festival area and got a good position to see uncle Max Cavalera. An uncle now almost unable to sing and who keeps his guitar turned off to avoid mistakes; however, he is still the man who raised us, who taught us that we have to live as we want and that first of all we need attitude and respect. So, although we're not thirteen anymore, we found ourselves dancing and singing like two kids, while Max was leading his Soulfly (and the neverending Cavalera family stepped on the stage as well). Between some stadium chants and a speech for the huge audience, we got "Prophecy", "Seek 'n' Strike", "Back To The Primitive", "Tribe", "Jumpdafuckup", "Eye For An Eye". There was just everything, including the good old "Roots Bloody Roots", a balm for our hearts.
The rest of the evening was a bit less enticing, I distractedly went to the big tent to see how Eluvetie were doing, just long enough to acknowledge that their moment hasn’t gone yet. In fact, their following seems to get larger and larger each time I cross paths with them, and – considering how mediocre their albums have been after the positive "Spirit" and "Slania" – this still leaves me perplexed. This thought actually crossed my mind for about a second, the time to move back from The Temple to The Valley, where Monster Magnet were playing: definitely not among my favorite bands, but not to be overlooked when it comes to live shows. The big guns are back in the late evening: it was about eleven PM when Karl Sanders and Nile step on the Altar to deliver their hour of sonic violence. Encyclopaedic as usual, they are still the band that impresses me the most when they play live. While I find their albums humanely complicated to follow in their entirety, I believe that when they select the most significant tracks on stage they become one of the best warmachines around today. Spectacular, and they always manage to plant a tiny, extremely black, seed of vengeance in my heart. Yet another "band seen seven million times", we decided to close our night with Carcass: not much else to add about the English act, great as usual, although less aggressive and passionate than at the outstanding performance we witnessed last year at the Brutal Assault. We saluted Jeff Walker and went back to sleep.
Day Three: The Emperor
The first hours of Sunday carried weariness and some menacing clouds, fortunately they didn't bring a storm but just a few raindrops, enough to humidify the environment a little and make the air even more irritating. We struggled to kill some time until lunchtime and, when we stuck our noses out of the tent the big clouds were already drifting away, leaving room to the sun. A bowl of noodles and it's time to go to The Temple to enjoy Dordeduh's performance. The band founded by Hypogrammos – sporting a marvellous guitar by the Italian brand Manne, stirring my hidden Italic pride – and Sol Faur (both former members of Negura Bunget) was one of the most anticipated in my personal setlist, and I can say they haven't failed at living up to the expectations, not at all. The Romanians proved their professionalism and took many traditional instruments on stage, winds and percussions, although they were only given about forty-five minutes. During the opener "Dojana" – the acoustic track that closes their spectacular debut album "Dar De Duh" – the quartet puts all their eccentric style and their skills with unconventional instruments on display. The live rendition of "Zuh" is at least as immense as its studio counterpart, just like "Cumpat" and "Jind De Tronuri", concluding a performance too short to totally do justice to a project that, although young, is destined to be mentioned again in the future.
The other band we chose to entertain our afternoon was Black Tusk, whom Bosj wasn't familiar with and about whom he asked for some information. My brief reply ("Savannah, stoner, produced by Phil Cope") was enough for him to follow me to The Valley. What has been said about Incantation is also true about this band from Georgia: they can only do one thing, but they do it really well. Their performance is intense and the hardcore vibe that characterizes their albums becomes even more evident when they play live, they chose songs from all over their discography and the hour flew away quickly. From this moment on, although our minds were already thinking about The Event which was yet to come, there was no shortage of interesting moments: for example, Behemoth, definitely better than their opaque show at last year's Brutal Assault, although closer to a "slower" approach not necessarily suitable to our taste. Another surprise was Soundgarden, led by a reinvigorated Chris Cornell, whose voice helped the audience get back to the '90s in Seattle; this was the rediscovery of one of the bands that were so important to me when I was in high school, a band capable of taking the stage and rocking hard even at a festival where they seemed to be, at least on paper, the least fitting name.
And then there were Them, The Reason why we were at the Hellfest, the Yin and Yang of Norwegian metal. The Emperor’s back and a shiver ran down our spines when the elegant bourgoise blackster Ihsahn (great attire for him), Samoth, Faust and the others appeared on Mainstage 2 to play the immortal masterpiece "In The Nightside Eclipse" in its entirety, celebrating its twentieth anniversary. I won’t proceed with a detailed track-by-track report of their show, as we all know that the songs from that album will never fade away and should be taught to children in primary school (and possibly analyzed during the hour of religious studies, but that might be too much), I will just say that for once in our lives we also felt like black wizards and sang hymns to Satana like never before. Too bad the sounds were not perfectly equalized, this has been an issue for the main stages over the whole three days, and we definitely expect better from such a big scale festival. The 2014 Hellfest took its last steps with Black Sabbath, just like Ozzy Osbourne looked as if he was about to collapse at any moment (joking of course), while he did his best in following Iommi’s riffs, dramatically modern even for today’s standards.
The late night (or the early morning, according to your views) was the time for Aristocrazia to wave goodbye to the festival. Our attempt at having a couple of hours of rest was disrupted by the utter chaos unleashed on the last night in the camping area. Exhausted and yet continuously singing "I Am The Black Wizards", we waded through the huge crowd that was using the toilets as percussion instruments and searched for the shuttle bus that would have taken us to Nantes airport. Au revoir Clisson.