Hellfest Day 2: Saturday
Yes, that’s right, we’re continuing with a review of a festival that happened so long ago they’ve since started announcing the line up for next year’s event. What of it?
We awoke from what fitful sleep we could manage on the rough French terrain in something of a battered, beleaguered state, dear reader. I’m not going to lie, I felt like I’d been scooped out of my own skin like a disintegrated sausage, and then hastily stuffed back into it in time to be eaten for breakfast. Possibly by the drunken French teenager stumbling around outside our tent screaming ‘LE SLAYEUR’ like it was the only word he’d learned in his life (besides ‘viande chevaline’). A quick survey of my compatriots revealed a harrowing, thousand-yard stare I hadn’t expected to encounter until Monday morning at the earliest. None of us are young. None of this is getting any easier.
We realised we were pursuing a fool’s errand, an extravagant mission to see far more bands than our fragile skulls could bear. We couldn’t do as many as we’d seen on Friday, that much was apparent. So we went through our list and made sacrifices of The Secret and ZZ Top in scrawled biro, among others. No more rushing around trying to fit fifteen gigs into one day. Demon Pigeon’s typically-comprehensive event coverage could get fucked. We were on holiday.
Then the heavens opened and our lists turned to shredded papier-mâché mush in our hands. We were despondent. Disconsolate. Dour. We needed a pick me up, something to lift our spirits, reinvigorate our souls, get us back in the party mood. Or possibly we needed to travel back in time and buy more comfortable shoes. What we got instead was Coal Chamber.
Now, you might scoff, but it turned out the sight of Barry Dez Falafel, accompanied by the hot lady bassist, the silly guitarist who always looked like a goth muppet and the big dumb drummer pounding their way through a bunch of songs which we hadn’t heard in well over a decade but to which we still knew every word was exactly the tonic we needed. This poison tasted so sweet, just like a bowel-corroding sausage and egg McMuffin at 8.37am. Our blues evaporated just a little bit with every shout of ‘me loco.’ We bounced, we pogoed (crunchy knees allowing) and then the rain faded to nothing. Dreadful band, certainly, but great show. Cheers Dez!
Our mood enhanced, we headed back to the tent. We were in the spirit, we had the flava, and now we needed to go and neck a considerable amount of the Hellfest vintage to ensure we didn’t lose the damn thing. We stopped off for pastried goods on the way and suddenly remembered the line-up for the rest of the day. We were just a few scant hours away from seeing Converge. Energy flooded our corporeal forms, and our feet no longer hurt. Mere tolerance of our Gallic-metallic surroundings finally began to turn to warm-natured acceptance. It took some doing.
Suitably lubricated, the next stop was Karma to Burn. Now, I may have been drunk the last time I saw them, and I may have been drunk this time as well, but I could have sworn that there used to be three of them. Where there were three, there now stood two, one of whom seemed not to be a member last time I saw them. Is Rich Mullins the latest victim of the aforementioned ‘Great Bassist Cull of Hellfest 2013’?
They were also the first participants in the ‘isn’t that a different drummer?’ trend. Nonetheless, they were still Karma to Burn, and they still knew how to bring the party, especially to a tent full of people who were already having the party. Beer soaked riff followed beer soaked riff, and then another one followed that one. We drank more, we cheered, much fun was had. Please don’t ask me to comment further, or I’ll have to expose the utter lack of blogging professionalism in my state of inebriation.
By the time Red Fang came on, I was marginally more sober, but I really can’t tell you that much about them, not because they were especially bad or bland or nondescript, but because I knew that the next band I was going to see was Converge, and I was a bit over-excited and spent more time looking at my watch than at the stage. Good band though, and I’ll give them a lot longer shrift if I ever get to catch them again.
Converge are another one of those bands for whom my journalistic objectivity gets defenestrated at glass-evaporating velocity. This was to be only my second time of seeing them, and from the moment they stepped onto the stage I fell into that other place, the place we all go to when the music becomes less an abstract thing that you consume and more something that you experience in your entire body. Every single riff, every howl, every lightning drum attack, it all merged to form a cathartic expulsion of fury wherein I well and truly lost my shit. It was brilliant, dazzling, one of those rare live performances that is unlike anything else on the planet to watch. For me at least. Thankfully, someone filmed the whole thing and put it on Yoot-Toob. Watching it back I can see that the band were a bit sloppy in places, but that’s not what I remember. I experienced that precious moment when consumption of art becomes a profoundly personal thing. Luckily for me, this was the second time it had happened at one festival, and it wouldn’t be the last.
Next we had the choice of watching ZZ Top or sitting on some damp grass and waiting for NOFX. We opted for the latter, so I’m afraid I have no tales for you from the frontlines of (Frank) beard rock. We also realised that between our team of dual scribes, we had a dilemma. One of us wanted to see NOFX and then go see Cult of Luna. The other one would rather stick long pins in his ears than sully the memory of Converge with some SoCal pop-punk, so consequently wanted to see Immortal. Seeing as we were both adults we decided to unclasp our reins and make our choices. One of us would end up feeling a lot more smug than the other.
Hmm, NOFX. They came on stage as the sun started to set, they slagged off the French, the rest of Europe, all heavy metal, Kiss in particular, suggested that the name of the festival would be a lot more welcoming with the addition of a single ‘o’, and were generally as rip-roaringly good fun as they normally are. Most of the jokes fell on deaf ears, but at least NOFX learnt the lesson Blink 182 never did, which is to pepper your stage banter with fearsome pop-punk excellence, rather than whatever it is Blink 182 play. A welcome light-hearted interlude between two behemoths of intensity.
After Fat Mike’s final insults waft into the ether we contemplate seeing Kiss, who seem to have transformed the main stage into some kind of U2-inspired jumbotron, but one of these giant screens is focused far too heavily on Gene Simmons’ distended beer gut so we think better of it, and it is off to the Valley we go for Cult of Luna’s headlining set.
I’m slightly worried at this point that I may have used up all my hyperbole-bullets (‘hyperbollets’???) on Converge, because I’m going to need them again. Bathed in nothing but backlights and thick smog, Sweden’s foremost post-metal practitioners spend an hour and a half demonstrating why they deserve the status of ‘band of the festival.’ From the moment they launch into I: The Weapon there is little that this reviewer can do but stand before them and openly weep with unbridled joy at the majesty of it all.
At the outset there was a small commotion on the stage, and it seemed the bassist was unable to wrestle any sound out of his rig. ‘Crikey,’ this reviewer thought, ‘if they sound this heavy without the bass, what’s it going to sound like when-’
Unfortunately, I was unable to finish this thought because it was at this point the bass started rumbling and the heaviest damn noise I’ve ever experienced sat down right on my solar plexus, crushing all my blood to my feet and head, forcing me to banish all cognition in a wave of orgasmic exultation.
If Vertikal is the album of the year so far (and it is, you cretin, don’t say it isn’t) then this right here was the gig of the year. The highlight was an enrapturing Vicarious Redemption that was so close to transcendent that it damn near had me believing in that there Sheriff Jesus our American friends are always talking about. Hands down, band of the festival—not bad going at an event with more high points than a Katie Price-lookalike convention. Remember, this band are playing Damnation in November and on this evidence, if you don’t get along to see them then you are a prize wally. Which, incidentally, is exactly what our other reviewer is, because instead of ensuring he witnessed this brilliance, he went to see Immortal instead, and promptly fell asleep. Well done him.
If I was looking for a suitable downer to bring me back to reality from such lofty heights (and coincidentally bring this review full-circle, like it was art or something), then catching the end of Korn’s set was an ideal move. After twenty minutes of their biggest pop songs—featuring tracksuit-master Jonathan Davis gleefully murdering his own already-ropey vocal lines—interspersed with a taste of their ill-advised dubstep adventures, we realise our feet are regrettably still in contact with French soil and so it’s time for us to go back to our tent.
Join us again soon for the final installment.