After standing in 30 degree heat for 40 minutes, waiting to get into the arena, and drinking too many “breakfast beers” a performance as intense as Conan’s is honestly the last thing anyone needs. However, I’d endured the baking sun, the massive queues that had forced me to miss out on Weekend Nachos and I’d dragged myself up before midday in order to see them, so this was a pilgrimage I was determined to finish. I heard them before I saw them and entering the Valley tent was akin to a smack in the face; the sheer volume of their performance was way too much for a measly opening slot – the organisers of Hellfest missed a trick here, not realising how big these guys are becoming, as a headline position would have seen a fuller tent and Conan would have gotten the audience they deserved. Nevertheless, the magnitude of their riffs floored me and not only was I left amazed by how great they sounded but also that they’d managed to don their customary hoodies and keep them on for the entire set. Bloody mentalists; it was boiling. Needless to say, I was deafened and in the midst of an existential crisis once they’d left the stage.
Royal Thunder provided a much needed respite from the mindless aggression that was Blockheads and Toxic Holocaust. Vocalist MLny Parsonz’s voice thundered around the Valley tent on a sea of gargantuan sized riffs. There was nothing complex or abrasive about the performance and it was nice to stand in the shade, away from the sun’s harsh blaze, and simply nod my head along to some good old fashioned blues tinged rock. Royal Thunder are a band I often turn to for chill out music and I was the very definition of “chilled out” as I watched them. Their performance was stunning and I could have honestly watched them for a hell of a lot longer than 40 minutes.
Early evening has set in, I’ve consumed my own body weight and then some in cheap, horrible Kronenbourg and I’m starting to get “festival fatigue”. This is soon forgotten, however, as Kylesa take the stage. They play a classic festival setlist, comprised of all their feel-good tunes from ‘Spiral Shadow’ including ‘Don’t Look Back’, ‘Forsaken’ and ‘Tired Climb’. Laura’s vocals are on top form and despite Phillip singing a couple of his vocal parts with the incorrect lyrics (I think I’m the only to notice this), they are absolutely incredible. The hour they play for seems to melt away and the packed tent they play to sees them off with rapturous applause and shouts of “more!”.
While stood waiting for Godflesh, a man appears on stage and says something in French which is met by groans; fearing the worst, I manage to collar someone who can translate for me and learn that Godflesh are delayed and are going to play after Electric Wizard. What a relief! I use the free time to sprint back to my tent for a beer refill and, after being thoroughly mesmerised by the Wizard, I begin the wait for Justin and G.C. Not knowing the exact time they are going to start is the most difficult part, as I’m unsure of whether I have time to go and watch another band or not. This is quickly answered for me, as they take to the stage and I end up with a pretty sweet spot not too far from the front, as most people either didn’t hear or understand the announcement and assumed they pulled out, or are off watching Kvelertak. This is my first time seeing Godflesh and, despite the fact it’s long gone 1am and I’m dead on my feet, they are totally worth the wait. Watching them is like being on a bad acid trip and seeing ‘Like Rats’ is truly one of the heaviest and most unforgettable experiences of my life. Due to the late start time, they’re only allowed to play for 40 minutes, but this does nothing to detract from how powerful they sound and I’m left speechless and in desperate need of a solid surface to lean against by the time they’ve finished.
Another band put on far earlier than they deserve are Salt Lake City five-piece SubRosa. The audience ends up being mostly made up of people that overhear them from outside and are drawn into the Valley tent out of curiosity. Violinists Sarah and Kim are absolutely incredible and the whole performance is surging with explosive energy. A disappointingly short set, especially as this was the first time I’d ever checked the band out, but I was blown away and listened to their album ‘More Constant Than The Gods’ as soon as I returned home.
Black Tusk are nothing if not consistent – each and every album they produce has the same ‘swamp metal’ vibe and each and every live performance of theirs is chock full of the same ‘bull at a gate’ energy. While they are enjoyable to watch, I quickly become bored and restless as there’s no variation whatsoever in their set. It’s a solid performance, but certainly forgettable – a must watch for fans of bog standard doom, but it does little to float the boats of those who, like myself, prefer something a little more challenging to listen to.
Acid King play to an absolutely rammed Valley tent and are greeted with people quite literally “surfing” the crowd in an inflatable boat. The vocals are a little on the quiet side, but the guitars sound tremendous and the drunken, excitable atmosphere radiating from the crowd is infectious, meaning I found watching Acid King impossible not to enjoy. Quite possibly one of the most fun sets of the weekend.
Philip H. Anselmo And The Illegals were something I wasn’t originally planning to watch, but ended up going to out of curiosity, as I was already in the arena and there was nothing else on that I fancied. This was absolutely dire. When Phil wasn’t busy giving 10-minute speeches about absolutely nothing or moaning that the organisers had put him on at midnight, he was murdering Pantera songs such as ‘A New Level’ and ‘Death Rattle’ alongside Superjoint Ritual classic ‘Waiting for the Turning Point’. The entire set sounded like a wall of noise and Phil was clearly drunk (no surprise there). It was like watching a poor man’s hardcore band and they honestly would have been better suited to the Warzone stage with acts such as Stinky Bollocks. Closing with ‘Walk Through Exits Only’, I took my cue from the song title and made a beeline for the bar.
I managed to catch Year Of The Goat, first thing on Sunday morning, while waiting for Blues Pills. I’ve never been particularly fond of these guys on record, but usually when that’s the case it means I end up enjoying them live. Sadly, Year Of The Goat were an exception to this rule; I found everything about them to just be incredibly lack lustre. I imagine anyone that ends up with the first performance of the day wouldn’t be too pleased and with these guys it showed – they looked incredibly bored and this wasn’t helped by how sparse the crowd watching them was.
Watching Crowbar on the mainstage was incredible; I’m so pleased they weren’t banished to the Valley tent with the rest of the doom and sludge acts, as they definitely deserved a mainstage spot and the size of the crowd that gathered to watch them was insane. My enjoyment of their set was hampered somewhat by the midday sun bearing down upon me, but I powered through and I’m glad I did. Kirk once more reaffirmed why he’s one of the best frontmen metal has to offer and they closed with one of my favourite tracks ‘Planets Collide’. An all-round amazing set, even if I did get burnt to buggery.
One of the most heartwrenching choices I made all weekend was deciding who to watch in the clash between In Solitude and Ruins Of Beverast. My aching feet and borderline sunstroke got the better of me, and I decided I couldn’t deal with the intensity that Ruins Of Beverast would be emanating, so I plonked myself on the grass outside and watched In Solitude. I’ve loved this band on record for many years and never had the opportunity to see them live. They get quite a bad rap, from what I’ve heard, and I can’t really understand why. What I witnessed was incredibly emotive and beautifully dark. While it wasn’t exactly the performance of the weekend for me, it was well worth watching and certainly made me glad I made the choice that I did.
So glad I managed to catch Soundgarden at Hellfest, considering how quickly the Hyde Park date sold out. Their 90’s grunge vibe is a welcome change of pace in the flurry of doom, sludge and death metal that I’ve subjected myself to and Chris Cornell’s voice is like a choir of angels on my battered and bruised ear drums. Having the opportunity to see tracks from ‘Superunkown’ played live is a huge privilege for me and my only regret is pulling down my kecks to take a wee in the crowd while ‘Black Hole Sun’ was playing – had I have known it was their closing song then I’d have waited to use the toilet. Nevertheless, a truly uplifting experience (the band, not the urination).
A quick sprint across the arena, once Black Sabbath have finished, results in not missing Unida, for which I’m extremely grateful. Being in France means I’ve missed the London date these guys played with Spirit Caravan and getting the chance to watch Garcia and co. do their stoner rock thing is a massive festival bonus for me. The Valley tent has come alive on an IV drip of riffs and I can’t think of a better way to bring the fest to a close than seeing ‘Black Woman’ played live. Everyone’s drunk, spirits are high and, as their set draws to a close, it’s glaringly obvious that this is merely the start of the party for the majority of people, but not for me as that wrapped up an amazing Hellfest 2014.
Scribed by: Angela Davey
Photos by: Vivien Varga (www.metalrecusants.com)