It’s Sunday, and we realise that our day of taking things somewhat easier has left us no more able to rouse ourselves from our collective slumbers than previously. We are now broken men, staring forlornly at our pastried breakfasts and wondering exactly how we’re going to get to the end of the day, where looms the prospect of Swans coming onstage at midnight to terrify the living hell out of us.
Again, decisions must be made, and with a heavy heart, in the interests of our own sanity, Swans are summarily jettisoned from our daily agenda. I really wanted to see them, but with 18 hours of travel back to Blighty pencilled in at stupid o’ clock the next morning, I just can’t face two hours of metronomic space doom starting at the stroke of midnight.
What we can handle, however, is a big dose of Truckfighters, aka the happiest stone rock band on the whole damn planet. As we are becoming accustomed to here at Pigeon Towers, half an hour in the company of these happy Swedes is like a revitalising tonic, a cure for what ails you. Taking Kyuss’ sound and making it bouncier is what they do, and they do it very well. We imbibe, we inhale and we feel better. Onwards!
For these reporters, the main draw of the day is not the giant main stage headlining power of Volbeat, but the triple threat drum assault being served up over at the Altar. Cryptopsy are first up, and they set the intensity bar ridiculously high. This is technical death metal served with a side order of extra tech. We watched in awe as their drummer pulled off speeds that would leave the Roadrunner agog; extra dazzling when we found out this wasn’t even their normal drummer. There are two of these fuckers? Someone should plug their spasming limbs into the national grid to generate free, limitless electricity, instead of powerful, deafening rhythms.
Pig Destroyer are up next, and if it is intensity you’re looking for, there’s enough here to fuel the power grids of 10 cities. Adam Jarvis pulls off another display of rhythmic whatthefuckery, the first in a double bill of Jarvis action; but the star of the show is J. R. Hayes, whose snarling, unhinged, and borderline feral performance is beyond captivating.
Misery Index round off the technicality triumvirate, meaning a second set for Adam Jarvis who again delivers an astounding performance on the drums, and while his band are equally dazzling in a technical sense, after the brutality of Cryptopsy and the derangement of Pig Destroyer, they fall a little flat, having less balls-out originality to make them stand out. Much fun was had though, and we stumble out of the Altar feeling like we’d spent all night smooching with a ball-peen hammer (no tongues).
Clutch were supposed to be the afternoon delight to bring us floating down from our death metal overdose, but unfortunately they had to pull out, leaving the prospect of Down Does Covers, which we reason could provide either an interesting anecdote or a genuine highlight. What we got was one of those rare moments that you imagine will one day pass into rock folklore, a where-were-you-when urban myth—or it would have done if any proper music journalists had been there to write about it. Instead you’ve got us.
The tent is rammed before the band come on stage, and even though it’s mostly French chatter around me it’s clear that one word is being spoken above all others; Pantera. In amongst the anticipation, there was also a real sense of danger, little scuffles breaking out here and there between crowd-members, as most of the festival tries to cram itself into the big top. When the band appear, they are clearly fairly well lubricated, and slightly sheepish. Phil tells us to expect something a bit different, then the band launch into two of Down’s better back catalogue moments. Then Phil introduces his wife to the stage, and suddenly you have a female fronted Eyehategod slugging their way through Sisterfucker and Blank. Then there’s a slight rearrangement of the personnel and we’re watching Crowbar for two songs.
This is all rather exciting, of course. After the Crowbar mini-set Pepper grabs the microphone and bursts into Clean My Wounds and holy shit we’re seeing CoC, and Jason Newsted is playing bass for some reason (???) and the crowd are going suitably bonkers. A fight breaks out next to us and we’re privileged to witness one of the best mandatory exits from a concert I’ve ever seen. One guy starts picking on a much smaller guy and from nowhere, a massive bloke picks up the aggressor and sprints him bodily through the crowd, before chucking him through the tent wall in a move I can only imagine he learned by watching Loony Tunes cartoons. For his efforts, he gets a round of applause as big as any enjoyed by the band. I was just about to step in, honest.
The Corrosion of Conformity mini-set comes to an end, then there are some songs I don’t recognise, with a man I don’t recognise, and then it all ends up with Phil re-joining the band for Walk. I’m sure you can imagine how the crowd reacted. Then the band departs, or all the bands depart, or all the bands break up and go and find something better to do, or something. It was all sloppy as hell but magical; one of those pinch-yourself moments you don’t get all that often.
At this point, our dear leader feels the need to slump in a tent, so it falls to the marginally younger and substantially sprightlier Will Downes to see one more band. Over to Will:
“My final act of Hellfest was to drag my battered and bruised body to see Hypocrisy, a band that in a world of melodic death metal clones have managed to create a sound uniquely theirs. Such head banging, many harmonies, wow, in the parlance of twenty-fucking-fourteen. If there was one sour note it was that I was distracted a little by an attractive lady. I don’t mean in a pervy way, you sickos; I just couldn’t work out what she was doing there, lost in a knot of sweaty virgins. Other than that, they were flawless and I got to scream along to Roswell 47, making me the conclusive winner of the evening.”
Festival review ends. Finally.
Now, to rejoin the tenuous narrative arc we began several months ago when we first began this review, after one full day of travelling, followed by three entire days at one of the best festivals I’ve ever attended, I really needed to spend a palliative day or two sleeping in luxuriant surroundings, eating green things and drinking nothing stronger than water. But no, unbeknownst to me, I had signed up for the soon-to-be patented ‘Demon Pigeon’s Ultimate One Week Weight-Loss Programme’ also known as the ‘make an absolute balls-up of planning your festival’ plan. There was no choice but to commit to it.
You’d think that packing up a tent and all your miscellaneous camping crap, legging it to a bus and riding serenely to a train station would be an easy, even trivial thing to do—and you would be right. We got up with plenty of time, packed, got the bus, and got on the first train. Except it was only at this last point that we bothered checking our itinerary properly, and discovered that our train from Nantes to Paris would leave in 34 minutes, and our present train would get into Nantes in 32 minutes. It was like a terrifying GCSE maths exam question brought to hideous life. We would need our connecting train to be at the very next platform if we were to have any chance of making our first major connection.
Obviously, it wasn’t. So we got off the train and sprinted for it with our hilarious old man gaits, made even more simian since our backs were laden with tents and waterproof trousers. We saw the train pull out just as we made the next platform. This was the start of a rather unpleasant pattern.
We got to Paris and sprinted to the taxi rank, then sprinted to the Eurostar. We missed that too. We got the next one and sprinted through the underground, then sprinted from Victoria station to Victoria coach station. Confusingly, Victoria coach station is a really really long way from Victoria underground, and we missed our coach. Each time we ran our legs started to cave, our lungs felt like they would pop, and our rucksack straps cut ever-deeper grooves into our protesting appendages.
Of course, because we spent all our time sprinting around and missing trains, we went nearly 18 hours without eating anything until 10pm that evening, when we stumbled into Leeds station as broken men and inhaled the entire contents of a Burger King franchise as fast as they could dish it up. I can honestly say I’ve never had a more wretched day in my life, and it was only my very real actual literal tears when talking to staff at every leg of our fucked up journey that meant we managed to get onto subsequent trains, coaches and taxis without incurring hundreds of pounds of additional cost.
So Hellfest. Amazing festival, slightly spoiled by absolutely terrible planning on our part. Because we’ve taken months to trickle out our review, they’ve already gone and announced the line-up for next year and it’s arguably even better than this one—and if you plan it right you can get a ticket and transport for roughly the same price as Download who, as usual, have got the same five fucking bands they had on last year.
So you should probably do that.