What do we think of when we think of Clisson, France? World-renowned medieval achitecture? Stunning scenery? Or four days of some of the biggest rock and metal carnage in Europe?
Reaching it’s 13th year, this year’s Hellfest is a comprehensive overview of the last half-century of rock and roll history. With everyone from Kiss to Emperor to ZZ Top playing, as well as a burgeoning lineup of numerous acts from metal’s extremities old and new, this year’s edition of Hellfest will be the first time the Astral Noize team has set foot upon its hallowed grounds. Expect hash, public drunkenness and an entire lifetime’s worth of blast-beats and riffs packed into one hopefully-not-wet weekend. With acts running from morning to the early hours, and stages divided into sub-genres, Hellfest proves to be the piece-de-resistance when it comes to metal connoisseurs.
To deal with the sheer amount of acts on offer, we’ve curated a list of ten acts you simply can’t go without seeing over the weekend…
CULT OF LUNA – Saturday – Valley Stage: 00:00-01:00
Long time tourers and absolute savants of the post-metal scene Cult Of Luna are always an event within an event wherever they play. Prepare yourself for long drawn out beautiful soundscapes savagely interspersed with the kind of torturous sludge that really takes layers off a man’s undying soul. The majestic sonic experience is augmented by a light show to match that may leave the listener disorientated in a cacophony of chaotic aural texture… And that’s exactly what Cult Of Luna had planned. Without a studio album since 2016’s Mariner and with only a singular morsel to whet our appetites in the form of single release ‘The Silent Man,’ Sweden’s greatest export comes fully assembled and might well leave you flat packed in wake of their sonic monolith. From artistic synthesizers to long sweeping periods of near ambience broken into shards by their grating vocals, Cult Of Luna never fail to provide a satisfying three course meal of a live show of which every morsel can be enjoyed. This is sophisticated brutality at its finest, every track has a sense of purpose and craftsmanship that is not often found outside the freedom and creativity of the post-metal scene. For those who want to think about the destruction and rebuilding of mighty empires whilst still getting some of that sweet circle pit action. Enjoy.
YOB – Sunday – Valley Stage: 14:20-15:00
“YOB IS LOVE” the fans cry! You’ll be damn sure you can feel the love off every nail scraping screech coming from Mike Scheidt’s defiled mouth. Basically if you like doom and stoner metal, YOB are a really nice example of the genre, and if you don’t…..well YOB definitely don’t give a fuck about you so there we go. Slow, marching relentless riffage not for the faint of heart here, it may well help to have some kind of working relationship with some kind of near revolutionary medicinal and recreational herb if the listener is planning on an extended period of exposure but then again who’s says that’s a bad thing (LITERALLY NO ONE, EXCEPT DICKS). Live shows are often described as emotionally harrowing affairs with sections so moving fans regularly describe being brought to tears, this trio have the ability to make themselves sound like the biggest band in the world and that is all the disclaimer they need. On top of this, fans describe Mike Scheidt as a gentle, kind doom god who regularly sticks around after shows to connect with fans and offer words of hope after the devastating beauty of the performance.
EMPEROR – Sunday – Temple Stage: 20:45-21:45
Emperor are one of the most revered bands from the original Norwegian black metal pantheon. Even though they haven’t recorded any new material since 2001, you can still guarantee extreme metal fans will flock to see them play, with the current line-up of Ihsahn, Samoth and Trym gracing the Hellfest stage. Their symphonic and neo-classical influenced approach to black metal is unparalleled, with Ihsahn’s backround in composing orchestral music being a key element in their writing style. We don’t know if black metal really has festival flag-waving anthems, but ‘I Am The Black Wizards’ and ‘Ye Entrancemperium’ will certainly do the trick!
REFUSED – Sunday – Warzone Stage: 22:55-23:55
Seminal Swedish post-hardcore legends Refused return for a rare outing which will prove to be unmissable. Best known for their landmark 1998 masterpiece, The Shape Of Punk To Come, Refused became one of the most influential acts and transcended their genre. They proved that punk didn’t have to be played with three chords, fusing together elements from multiple genres from outside the rock pantheon. We’re excited to see how that ambition and scope of sound will translate onto the big festival stage, and how a relatively outsider band might translate on a festival bill largely dominated by metal.
ENVY – Saturday – Valley Stage: 21:50-22:50
Envy are a true cult act, forming in Tokyo in 1992. Their 2001 sophomore album, All The Footprints You’ve Ever Left… is regarded by critics as one of the most important albums in the development of screamo and post-hardcore, despite it not being widely known outside of those circles. As their sound evolved further, their songs became longer, more patient and atmospheric, taking influence from post-rock to the point where Mogwai signed them to their own Rock Action label. One could even argue that Envy came up with the blueprints of the sound that put Deafheaven on the map.
CULT LEADER – Friday – Altar Stage: 12:50-13:30
Salt Lake City based outfit Cult Leader are certainly a one to watch and are proving themselves to be a promising new heavyweight band with a sound that can’t quite be pinned down. Seemingly influenced equally by Converge and Neurosis, their wide span of tempo changes and interesting dynamics made last year’s A Patient Man album (released on Deathwish Inc.) a favourite at Astral Noize. Not many bands can weave together terrifyingly fast and atmospherically slow music and still sound this crushing. Cult Leader will not only beat you with sheer brutality, but also with a weighted darkness and pained sadness.
EMPLOYED TO SERVE – Sunday – Warzone Stage: 13:35-14:15
When it comes to underground heavy bands in the UK who are smashing it limb from limb, there’s few better success stories than the rise of Employed To Serve; and yet over here at Hellfest, they only appear in the small print, so make sure you get up on Sunday to catch them early! With their latest album Eternal Forward Motion, the Woking based quintet have captured that momentum in what is their broadest and most well rounded album to date, so we can’t wait to see them raise hell on the Warzone stage in those lovely boiler suits!
CONAN – Friday – Valley Stage: 14:20-15:00
Over this decade, Liverpool doom trio Conan have admirably risen to be the most important new band in underground UK doom scene. It’s fantastic to see them ending the decade on such a high, deservedly playing on Hellfest soil. Their “caveman battle doom” will knock you senseless, with crushing, boulderous riffs and a reverb heavy, primitive vocal attack. Their two most recent albums, Revengeance and Existential Void Guardian added in a greater sense of tempo changes and dynamics, varying up their sound with some thrash-influenced sections; but their irresistibly slow as fuck numbers like ‘Foehammer’ will be the icing on the cake!
POSSESSED – Friday – Altar Stage: 21:50-22:50
One remaining original member, over 30 years of horrific death metal brutality, we give you, Possessed. How death metal are this band? Well frontman Jeff Becerra, wheelchair bound from a shooting during a street robbery, had a pressure sore become infected whilst touring in his wheelchair which spread to his bones and paralysed him fully as he was flown around the world whilst doctors tried to save him… That was 2008 and somehow he’s back to growl insanely into your hear-holes in 2019! So yeah… That fucking death metal! This is death metal so quintessential of the genre it’s downright wholesome. Welcome to ‘Jeff Becerra and whoever the FUCK Jeff Becerra wants in his fucking band because who the fucks gonna tell him not to!?’ In all seriousness though, the absolute powerhouse and possible founders of the genre have a new album out this year and after the amount of time the ‘Possessed’ name has had to mature it is nothing short of Hiroshemic in the magnitude of its destruction. THERE’S A WHOLE IN THE SOUL AND A DARK IN MY HEART THINK I’M LOOOOSING MY MIIIINDDDD… Fuck yeah! Go listen to Revelations of Oblivion and prepare….
SLAYER – Sunday – Main Stage 2: 23:00-00:15
We’ll conclude with an obvious choice. Say what you want about Slayer, nobody can deny that they’re an integral part of almost every serious metalhead’s discovery of the genre, helping many cross over into appreciating the more extreme sides of this lifestyle. It’s their final time playing on French soil, and you will have to fight your way to the pit early if you want a good glimpse. Slayer may not be playing with their most desired line-up, but it is important to say farewell to one of the most influential and dedicated bands the metal genre has ever known.
Hellfest takes place in Clisson, France on June 21-23rd, proceeded by Knotfest on June 20th: https://www.hellfest.fr/
Words: James Clarke & Chris “Frenchie” French