REVIEW: Hellfest Day One, Clisson, France 19/06/2015

So here we were again. After months of counting down the days and building up our excitement, we set out on our annual pilgrimage to Clisson for Hellfest. Making the trip even more special this time around were two factors. The first being that it was Hellfest’s tenth birthday and that knowing the organisers something spectacular would be planned, and the second being that The Scorpions were playing! We hit the road bright and early on Wednesday morning for our long trip over the channel, and after arriving early Thursday afternoon and finding that we couldn’t actually come in until 4PM, proceeded to drink the rest of the day away and eventually pass out some time as yet unconfirmed that evening. Friday morning however we were up, we were fed, our cameras were primed and we were ready for day one of the premier Metal festival in the world. Hellfest had begun!


Starting off our Friday at Hellfest at The Altar stage, sacrificing our hangovers and shaking the cobwebs from Thursday’s excesses, we bludgeoned our collective heads with Swiss Death Metal duo Bölzer. Playing a crushing mixture of primitive Death metal and the grim atmosphere of the finest blackened arts, Bölzer displayed perfectly their intent during a short 30 minute set that started well before 12 O’clock. It was surprising to see the band translate so well onto a much larger and daylit stage as opposed to the murkier confines of a small club atmosphere, something which they have laid waste to all over the world in the last few years but the transition was seamless and the brilliant, chaotic mastery of the 10 string guitar on show by frontman KzR is something even after seeing the band a multitude of times we’re still in awe of. With a set covering the bulk of the material from the band's two EPs and cementing their status as one of the most savage live bands in the underground at this present time, it was certainly a performance to seal their reputation to the already initiated and grab a wave of new fans as they left Clisson. And just like that it was over, half an hour had flown by and all we were left with was humming the main riff from ‘Entranced by the Wolfshook’ as we moved on with the day.


Our first trip to The Temple (a place admittedly we would be spending most of our weekend) was for Belgian’s Enthroned, a band we have an odd relationship with as on record we have neither a bad or a good thing to say about them but with this being the third time we’ve seen them live they have always delivered and put on a great show with frontman Nornagest parading around the stage with some vigour and intensity. With the band having been releasing material since 1994 with no let up, the set was varied and allowed for quite a lot of crowd participation, something which is a rare sight in a tent that only caters to Black Metal. The band’s efforts certainly didn’t go unappreciated by the gathered Gaulic horde who had deemed Enthroned a perfect start to their afternoon and a perfect taste of the coming insanity that was to ensue at The Temple stage before the weekend was over.

Armored Saint

Armored Saint hold a very special place in our hearts at Denim and Leather, and in our eyes 1984’s March of the Saint stands as one of the crowning jewels of the whole era. Expectations then were quite high, and we were admittedly a little worried about how well the live performance would go down in 2015. Kicking things off with the title track from their new album Win Hands Down made it hard to tell. However, moving swiftly on the band launched straight into their classic anthem ‘March of the Saint’, and honestly if you closed your eyes it was no different than lying in your garden blasting out their Saints Will Conquer live album. Perfectly in sync with one another on stage and with John Bush’s vocals effortlessly making their way through the band’s back catalogue, we were sold, and Armored Saint were more than worth standing in the scorching sun for. Returning to their classic debut for the finisher, the aptly named ‘Can U Deliver’ was chanted out almost rhetorically to the adoring crowd before Armored Saint bowed off stage as graciously as they had entered.


As stated in the preview we were really looking forward to seeing Skyforger because firstly we really enjoy the band's music and secondly they don't get out to our neck of the woods very often. Siggi has always wanted to see them live after reading a few interviews with them in various fanzines, so they really were a rare treat. Stepping on stage clad in traditional Latvian garb, Skyforger stormed into action. Now we’re not all that familiar with their newer material but there was certainly a switch to a thrashier influence in the music, though it still maintained that Heathen spirit and was thoroughly enjoyable to watch. The sound was large and robust and you couldn’t help but bang your head and pump your fist as it went over a storm with the large crowd that had amassed in The Temple stage. The real highlight came when they whipped through material from Semigalls Warchant and Kauja Pie Saules, something that really cemented that Skyforger’s Black Metal material is still some of the best out and out Pagan Black Metal out there and the band didn't miss a beat. Sometimes bands will never touch the older material, especially if they have gone through stylistic changes over the years (we’re looking at you Satyricon), but Skyforger weren't scared to give the older fans what they wanted. Overall a fantastic performance from the band, paying service to both new and old fans alike and it certainly not only lived up to our expectations but left the Clisson crowd screaming for more.


At Hellfest the majority of our time is generally spent skulking around the smaller stages, but if there’s any reason to warrant us wading through the unwashed masses to the main stage to stand in the baking sun then it’s Gelsenkirchen’s finest sons Sodom! The band opened with ‘Among the Weirdcong’ from their most successful album recorded this century before wielding into a set of rare outings for some of the older material from the band’s various EP’s such as ‘Outbreak of Evil’ and ‘Sodomy and Lust’, which served as a perfect complement to the their more frequently played material. With the sun beating down and the crowd being doused by a water cannon during the performance this was the perfect way to sample a European festival, having a band who rarely plays these isles, particularly in an open air environment and slaying through some of their best material. For a band who set out to be heavier than Venom and faster than Metallica even in their later years they have more pace, punch and power than some Thrash bands had in their prime and it’s a true testament to their longevity. With the closing notes of ‘Remember the Fallen’ (an odd choice for a closer I must say), Sodom bowed out with Onkel Tom having acquired a fans Motorhead shirt that he’d been after for years supposedly, which he seemed genuinely grateful for. The crowd were left asking “Anthrax who?!”


Arkonas music is something special. This is mainly thanks to Maria "Masha Scream" Arkhipova’s beautiful voice and her interesting vocal range that make for something to behold live. Opening with ‘Yav‘ and ‘Goi, Rode, Goi’, the performance from the Russians was nothing short of magical, like something from The Lord of the Rings soundtrack even - it was sweeping, epic and almost dreamlike at times, also serving as a welcome distraction from from the blast beats and face melters we had been exposing ourselves to over the course of the day. Making their way through ‘Na Strazhe Novyh Let’, ‘Slavsya Rus!’ and ‘Stenka Na Stenku’, the vocals were note perfect and came across as on record. Again the Tent was packed out and we hadn't realised what a following the band had. Finishing on ‘Yarilo’, overall Arkona went over a treat and left the hordes of Pagan Metallers who had amassed in the Temple to see them fans for life.

Judas Priest

All three of us have only ever seen Judas Priest once before, on one of those 'Farewell' tours a few years back. Their performance was so immaculate on that night that we have never really dared go back for more since, but this Friday night headline slot was a more than an acceptable exception, although our photographer wasn't in the upper echelon permitted to capture the band on film unfortunately. With more wardrobe changes than Beyonce, Rob Halford whipped through an extensive catalogue of hits, with highlights in 'Turbo Lover', 'Painkiller', 'You've Got Another Thing Comin' ' and especially 'Electric Eye' due to the carnival style 1980s graphic of Halford's face looking down on the globe with his giant magnetic hands. The Metal God indeed. Performance wise everything was on point, with a perfect mixture of new and old Priest guitarists taking centre stage throughout the set and everything being backed up by Halford's timelessly impressive vocal range. After a long day spent mostly in the Extreme Metal tents, Judas Priest provided us with more than a welcome break with their unmistakable dose of classically British Heavy Metal, leaving us and the rest of the onlookers more than a little hell bent for leather!

And just like that day one was over. It’s always difficult to take in quite how many bands you end up watching in one day at Hellfest, and this was certainly no different. Retiring to the camp to reflect on the day with one another, we looked ahead to day two as Saturday looked to be our busiest day of the weekend. We shared a few drinks before hitting the hay ready for the following day's carnage. Stay tuned for that in the coming days.



Artist - Jesters of Destiny
Title - The Sorrows That Refuse to Drown
Label - Ektro

Thirty years after Jesters of Destiny arrived, dropped Fun at the Funeral and disappeared back into the night, they’re finally back with a second full length release courtesy of Ektro Records, and whilst it could never live up to first album, the eccentricity of the band shines through once more and it’s a crazy ride from start to finish. Pick it up on April 4th!



Artist - Hammerfest IX
Date - 23rd- 26th March
Venue - Pwllheli, Wales  

One of our main highlights of the year, this month we’re off to Wales for Hammerfest, HRH’s Heavy Metal flagship. With the return of two Power Metal titans alongside a host of others, this year looks to be one of their best ever. We’ll be covering the whole festival and conducting interviews as well so lookout for the cameras!