Hellfest Day 1: Friday

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Before we get into the nitty and the gritty of our recent French escapades, we’d like to take a minute (just sit right there) to talk to you about a brand new and exciting innovation from your friends at Demon Pigeon Dot Com.

If our readership mirrors our writing staff in any way, then there’s a good chance you are a pale, pathetic, balding maggot of a human being, your ever-saggier gut creeping ever-further over jeans that became too tight a long ways back. You are constantly fighting, in a ceaseless struggle to navigate your way through the world, populated as it is by healthy types with their skin unsallowed and their trousers undenimmed, their figures lithe and supple, smirking faces shorn of wiry pube-like growth. If only you could shed a few of those pounds and get that lustrous glow back into your ill-advised breakdown beard, maybe they’d stop sniggering about you.

Well, for once it’s good news, Grandad! Now you can try Demon Pigeon’s ultimate one week weight-loss programme, designed to get you completely in shape over just five short days. We call it the ‘make an absolute balls-up of planning your festival’ diet.

‘But Paul! How does it work?’ I hear you cry. It’s simple.

First, book yourself into a European festival of your choice. We chose Hellfest (advertisement), but other festivals are available. Then, work out the most convoluted route you can imagine to get there.

This should include but not be limited to: Hitch-hiking, regular hiking, yogic flying, penny-farthing rides, overnight coach journeys, skateboards, multiple trains, taxi rides across unfamiliar capital cities, more trains, Oppan Gangnam Style, and at least two forays into London’s festering toilet-smelling underground network. Next, make sure you pack every conceivable thing you might need and some additional stuff that you certainly won’t, so that your backpack is both unnecessarily stuffed and bewilderingly heavy.

These are the basic prerequisites for step one of the diet, but then you need to take the following actions:

On the outward journey, make it to London and discover that one of your company has decided to leave his sleeping bag at home. Next, hike all over London for half an hour while carrying the equivalent of two dead people on your back; beg and plead with an outdoor goods store to open early and sell you a replacement for said sleeping bag; then hike all the way back, taking time to note how both journeys seem to be inexplicably uphill. Then, get back to Kings Cross and discover that the person who did bring their sleeping bag has now somehow lost it in the throng of awful Londoners. At this point, allow 15 minutes in your itinerary for some cardiovascular work; weeping openly and remonstrating red-facedly with the other member of your party.

Then undergo a further twelve hours of travelling.

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All this is step one. We will teach you the remaining steps as we go, so keep reading.

So, Hellfest. Did you go? Well, if you didn’t then you are an idiot, or as the French would call you, ‘un idiot’. Why? Because Hellfest is properly good. I mean, really good.

There are six stages, all staggered and within easy reach of each other. The food stalls contain things that would make Adam from Man Vs Food run away crying, and for the same price as you would pay for seven soggy chips at Drownload. Oh, and they have their own wine; it is delicious, and we drank a stupid amount of it. It was €4 to fill a big plastic cup with it. We drank a lot of wine. We ate a lot of food. (NB: If you’re worried that this might impact on the Demon Pigeon Diet Plan, don’t worry, you’ll burn it all off on the way home, trust us.)

The first band we go to see, once we have stopped plodding around the arena with our mouths open, wondering why the hell we can’t have something this good on our poisonous little shit-isle, are Polish death metal funsters Hate.

Well, we say that, but they’re a bit rubbish so we immediately decide they shouldn’t be the first band we see. Instead we march over to the Valley tent to see Eagle Twin, who aren’t rubbish. Eagle Twin are a stone rock two piece, who become the first in a long line of bands appearing at Hellfest to eschew all signs of having a bass player. We’re not sure anyone could tell the difference. We shall call this ‘The Great Hellfest Bassist Cull of 2013’, and see if Professor Brian May fancies getting a campaign up about it. Anyway, they’re delightful, all groove and power and a man hitting his drums hard enough to break ground on a second Euro Tunnel.

Black Cobra are next up, and continue the bassistless theme. Their overdriven stoner-played-very-fast-without-changing-the-pedals-like-you-probably-should works better in the slow bits than in the pure rock fury bits, when it all gets a bit sloppy-sounding, but they have some cracking riffs in there and were fun enough. Black Breath continue the ‘Black’ theme, (honestly, there’s so many bands on with black in their name that you half expect to run into a Front National protest on the way out the door) their Death n’ Roll flattening the assembled collection of very stoned French people into a skin crêpe filled with thunder. Marvellous stuff.

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At this point, your reporters decide that we should go and see some of the other stages, and perhaps stock up on vitamin D, so we go to see our first band on the outdoor Warzone stage. Unfortunately Deez Nuts are playing, their hip hop inflected hardcore so utterly wretched as to make paying attention past the five minute mark seem like aural suicide, so that is enough of that.

We don’t fare much better with Testament, either, who bluster through their second stage set with all the finesse of a diseased sow. Their excellent back catalogue sounds insipid and flat as it is blown over the crowd’s head by the insouciant French winds. And yet, they sound like all-conquering elder gods compared to Twisted Sister. We make it halfway through their 10-minute cover of the Rolling StonesIt’s Only Rock and Roll before stomping off in search of anything remotely enjoyable. Yes, with only a 30-minute set and a 30-year back catalogue at his disposal, Dee Snider is so confident in his own material that he spends a third of his set playing someone else’s song.

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Agnostic Front are our next destination, and while their sound seems more diluted than a Download Festival lager, and while Roger Miret sounds less like a hardcore vocalist than an enraged Pomeranian these days, they are enormous fun—mainly because they look like they would rather be up on that stage than anywhere else on earth.

As the skies start to bruise for the night, we head back indoors to see Sleep. I’ve got to be honest, I was really hoping to see Dopesmoker in its entirety, but what we get instead is most of Holy Mountain, delivered somewhat leadenly. It’s all perfectly okay, and Matt Pike with his top off is always something to behold, but I can’t say the earth moved for me like I was hoping for from my first live Sleep experience.

At The Gates, on the other hand, do not fail to live up to expectations. I never really got past ATG in terms of sampling other melodic death metal bands; mainly because after I’d heard their seminal Slaughter of the Soul there really didn’t seem much point. Nearly twenty years on, these Swedes prove me absolutely right, pummelling the huge crowd in all the right spots with laser-like precision, for an hour of death metal brilliance.

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Now, I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t at all biased about Neurosis headlining ahead of time. They are like golden gods to me, unmatchable angels of modern metal, who I have adored for over a decade without ever seeing in the flesh. So take this with a pinch of salt if you so desire, but tonight Neurosis manage to transcend what I thought was possible in a festival set, their new-found stripped back set up (minus all the flashy visuals from ousted Josh Graham) freeing them to opt for a relentless bludgeoning assault of terrifying intensity. Relying mainly on their last two albums (which now appear criminally underrated). They play precisely none of the songs I want them to, save for a ridiculously intense Locust Star, but that doesn’t matter a jot. This is an outpouring of pure malice, hatred, bile and anguish, and it is bloody glorious.

Now it is one o’clock in the morning, we’ve been on our feet all day, and we have drunk quite a substantial amount of wine, but still there is the prospect of the aptly-named Sick Of It All. Forgive us though, dear reader, we just can’t face it. We sit outside the entrance and listen to them, and they sound a lot like you’d expect them to sound. I’m sure they’re great, but we are old and frail, and eventually we give up and skulk off to our tents to have a lie down (without sleeping bag) and listen to young French men walking around screaming ‘SLAAAAYYYYEEER!’ at the top of their lungs until the sun came up again.

www.hellfest.fr/

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