Hellfest 2023

This is (an extremely hot) Hellfest 23 and the temperature is around the 30-degree mark although this can reach 32 degrees over the weekend.  It is not even near the 40 degrees of Hellfest 22 but the artificial rain, Stonehenge-like showers and mist bars are a welcome escape from the heat. These water showers are a clear sign that the event organisers know how to look after their audience.
Upon entering Hellfest (or ‘Ellfest if you can bear with my French) you are met with Hell City, a small town-like experience of bars, tattoo studios, vape shops, merch shops and a Harley-Davidson store. This is a great place to get to a toilet, chill out but also catch some bands on the live stage or even catch a band from below in the caged area above a bar. The bar staff are extremely efficient and friendly.  
This can be said for the whole of the Hellfest area in fact ( like any festival there are long lines queuing up for the merch, but I’ve heard that to queue down the middle is the best way ). The cashless wristband service also works well.  There is a lot of people but the event is so well organised it never feels intense or overwhelming at any time; there is room for personal space and lots of place to chill out and escape the madness if need be.
On the way into the arena upon moving down the walkway you encounter glass-stained windows of rock stars lost such as DioLemmy and Taylor Hawkins. At the entrance there is a huge Disney-like castle you pass through detailed with blinding red light and the Hellfest logo.  Hellfest feels safe, friendly and very French. Whilst I would say that up to 90% of the crowd are French it has a very multinational feel. An amazing variety of food is available – from the Argentian barbecued meat to pies, baguettes, chilli, cakes and coffee and the quality would rival anything available at a dedicated food festival standard and reasonably priced. This is nowhere near your standard festival ware. Everywhere you look there are incredible art installations extending the skyline; A gigantic crystal skull with butterflies attached, a sign underneath reading Welcome to Hellfest, the famous Hellfest tree, bars have a rustic steampunk feel to them and there is the enormous Merch Temple and corresponding queues remind you how popular everything is. To be fair this seems to be the only place where there are queues, beer and water is served extremely quickly at any bar. Finally, there is a huge Lemmy metal art installation complete with smoking cigarette at the entrance to Valleyand Warzone.
The sun doesn’t even seem to be out but it feels very hot. There are woods you can escape into and still see the main stage as artificial rain falls on you, there are the Stonehenge-like showers in front of the main stages that you can run through and there is even a bar that showers you as you drink beer with mist in the air. These are all incredibly important and bring much needed relief from the unforgiving heat.  There is even a crashed helicopter on the bar roof. This is a festival as much for the eyes as is for the ears.
Everywhere you turn there is something to look at, something to spark excitement, 360-degree stimuli, whether that be scream inducing rides, art installations, watching the people go by or any of the six stages blasting music at any time.  The ride I saw on the side of Valley stage was the fastest ride I have ever seen; I couldn’t even walk towards it without going cross-eyed never mind ride it. The sound from the stages doesn’t seem to conflict with each other however and the sound doesn’t bounce around… perhaps the steampunk bars act as some kind of enclosure rather than reflecting but I did not witness any compromising echo or bounce at any time throughout the weekend.
So, onto the music encompassing Mainstage 1, Mainstage 2 (side by side allowing instant transferral from band to band), Warzone, Valley, Altar and Temple.
Day 1 Thursday
After running through the airport like those ‘idiots’ seen on ITV airport documentaries I was stranded at Toulouse Airport during a train and bus strike.
However, after a few potential breakdowns I made my way from Toulouse ‘Dans la voiture avec Paul’ and we made Clisson in seven hours. This left me a bit of time to get to the Airbnb, freshen up, drink two bottles of wine way too fast straight from the vineyard I was staying at and suddenly I was in an Uber on my way to Hellfest.
I run excitedly into the arena to catch the start of KISS. I was a little frustrated to miss Hollywood Vampires, but KISS more than make up for it. There are the usual songs, riffs, flamethrowing and crowd participation and you can’t knock it; it is a close-knit atmosphere and goes nicely with a few well-earned beers. The crowd is friendly, happy and chilled and there is nothing too wild going on. KISS attempt a bit of a French and fireworks go off. Lovely.
I follow the crowd, not really knowing what direction I am heading in and I end up in Alter to watch Katatonia. As I am writing this it is only now that I know the name of this band. People in the crowd continually turn to each other in amazement and maybe to affirm how well the band are playing. It is a harder sound than KISS and this is the first time I envisage a sense of (friendly) aggression in the packed-out tent. I catch July and Evidence and there are spine tingling trippy riffs and ethereal vocals.  
It has been an exciting day and I walk back from the arena through the castle and past the stained-glass windows of fallen rock stars and Uber to the Vinyard Airbnb for some well-earned sleep.
Day 2 – Friday  
I jump out of bed, albeit dizzyingly and jump in an Uber to Hellfest. Upon walking in I see Elegant Weapons are on the main stage. They are a perfect band to pair with the hot summer rays, there is a bluesy feel to the riffs and it’s a more than pleasant atmosphere to be within.  They are ultimately a New Wave of Classic Rock band and it’s a pleasure to watch this early in the afternoon. The riff kicks in on Bitter Pill and Dirty Pig and there is collective acknowledgement from the crowd.  
Bongripper play Valley with drowsy, droney steady riffs. It is hypnotising and setting a pace for the crowd to get into. There isn’t a lyric to be heard but there is no need. There are multitudes of people exuding steam on the ground and there is a steady stream of nodding heads despite the collective heat and sweat within the close quartered crowd. The music is simple, trippy and effective and the audience is completely rammed. The screens cut to sweat pouring like a waterfall down the guitarists face onto the guitar below. ‘Live like you are going to die, because you are’ adorns the back of the t-shirt of the gentleman in front of me.
Staying at the mainstage I encounter Silmarils; the beauty of the two main stages and quick turnaround (we are talking minutes) mean no waiting around and furthermore catching bands that you hadn’t planned. That is exactly what happened here. I’m sitting in the woods being artificially rained on; the Stonehenge-like showers are in front of me, but I can hear and see the stage perfectly. The riffs are a bit Led Zep / Monster Magnet and its catchy hip-hop, the crowd are pogo-ing (if that is in fact a word, Ed.). And it’s incredible to see the energy in this heat and in that space! They say jump and the crowd says how high. It’s a pumped atmosphere. They drop ‘Tricky – DMC’ and the crowd erupts; even the sunburnt hangovers by me in the woods are at least headbanging.  ‘Welcome to America’ plays and goes down a storm; think old school Cypress Hill. There are two large inflatable swans floating around the audience. The slightly inebriated Australian girl next to me tells me that the Silmarils are artifacts that capture the power of the trees. I thank her and head for the bar. As I make my way to the bar I get absolutely soaked by an unruly gang of youths (probably just younger than me) with beer guns. It is incredibly refreshing and I don’t mind my ‘Sauvage’ going to waste at all.
Continuing the summer-rock-feel from Elegant WeaponsSkid Row enter the main stage.  The usual suspects are there… Slave to the Grind, and 18 and Life all go down as expected and it is all very pleasant! They sound tight and Erik Gronwall says he has  
“been thinking about doing Hellfest for a long time and we are finally here!” and ‘Is that all you got Hellfest, is that all you fucking got?’ as they break into Monkey Business. An electric acoustic comes out and Erik asks if the Hellfest Crowd can sing together with them. They play I Remember You, it’s a perfect song as the sun sets and a little breeze begins to develop.  Fair play, the lead singer is very sweaty, very hot and panting and his energy cannot be denied. Erik then tells the crowd to   ‘tear the fucking place down’  as they commence Youth Gone Wild and it’s a rapturous crowd and it polishes off the set perfectly.
Photo by Cris Watkins
Next up, Motionless in White from Sweden, their third rime playing since 2017 and they shout  ‘Get up , Get up Get up!
From their opening lyrics you know what kind of set this is going to be. The backing vocalist and guitarist, Justin Morrow is dressed up ‘Joker-like’ with blue mascara running down his face, wearing a black suit covered in white paint splatter. The lead singer Chris Motionless wears a baseball cap with a white triangle attached to it, and tattoos cover his face and neck. The other guitarist Ricky Olson is covered in tattoos and I hope he doesn’t mind me saying that he looks like the male version of the girl from Beetlejuice. (Of course, she’s cool)
‘At the count of three, I want everyone in the fucking crowd UP. One , two , three  JUMP’
The crowd obliges even though it’s still hitting thirty-degree heat.  The screens show a hand rocking a crystal ball back and forth. There are heavy kick drums and overlaying synths; there is a haunting side to it all as shown in Scoring the End of the World. Thoughts and Prayers plays and the crowd suddenly experiences a huge change in atmosphere with gruelling riffs!
‘Where are all my heavy metal fans? Put your hands in the air! Do you want something a little heavier Hellfest?
‘Open your eyes’
‘Think of me when you go up in flames’
There is headbanging from what seems like the whole crowd as Reincarnation plays with its infectious hooks and electronic overlay. Chris encourages the crowd to shout ‘Hell, Hell, Fest, Hellfest’. There are drone-like deep rolling riffs and haunting lyrics. A circle pit erupts. The sun returns from its hiatus and it is boiling, but the crowd are relentless. A superb, surprising (maybe to me) performance.
I get a little lost at the bar trying to obtain water, so I listen to Alter Bridge as I consume litre after litre of Evian. I run in for Metalingus and Myles seems emotional as the riff starts. He claps and thanks the crowd before they delve into the crowd favourite and he seems happy; is it pure happiness or happiness and exhaustion? I can’t tell but the song goes down incredibly and it is one of the highlights of the day for me as the crowd don’t miss a word.
Papa Roach having played previously at Knotfest vs Hellfest 2019 enter the stage.  They break on with the new single Kill the Noise and the sound is crisp, clear and professional.
‘Let me see those fucking horns in the sky, now Hellfest bang those hands’ echoes over the breakdown.
‘You like that shit huh, or do you crazy motherfuckers LOVE that shit?’  
The energy of the crowd is insane as crowd surfers encompass the crowd wave after wave. The bass is absolute heaven. A guy walks past into the crowd with a t-shirt saying ‘Free massage’, an offer I don’t think I’ll take up.
Photo by Cris Watkins
A wall of death is set up by Jacoby Shaddix and the sweat and enthusiasm emanating from Jacoby is infectious; 110 percent enthusiasm is given. Even more crowd surfers are coming over the crowd now as flames explode everywhere! Next the unforgettable staccato riff of Eminems’ Lose Yourself calls out to the crowd, the song is obviously played Papa Roach style and goes down a treat.
‘We are not alone; we have each other in this motherfucker! I want to see every motherfucker jumping!  
Another cover and its pretty good – ‘Firestarter by The Prodigy’ – there is so much energy from the band and the crowd. It is impressive and then Jacoby instructs the audience to get down and wait for the inevitable riff to kick in. It appears and the crowd jump up and go ‘ape shit’ (inflatable swans included), and this is probably the most impressive and insane part of the day! A huge circle pit opens and Jacoby shouts…
‘I don’t want to see 1,2,3,4,5,6,7… I want to see TEN FUCKING MOSHPITS’ and the crowd obliges.
Papa Roach get the crowd involved singing  ‘Ay, Oh, Let’s go!’
And singing ‘I just wanna be loved’
Jacoby kisses the camera and says thank you. It’s an emotional heartfelt performance and there’s nothing but enthusiasm in the set. The crowd even gets way too rough at one point and asks the crowd to step five steps back. It is maybe unplanned but a slightly calmer and more heartfelt song ‘Scars’ is played and the aggression of the crowd seems to ebb away and is still enjoyable to hear.
Day 3 – Saturday  
Walking into the arena I ‘bump into’ Riverside playing the main stage. It is still sweltering but the rain gradually starts to fall albeit lightly and brief. The crowd wanes but there is a second influx when the sun emerges.
‘Number one we are not metal we are rock. Number two we are a progressive rock band. Number three I am not going to say the word fuck. Number four I have lost my voice and so I can’t scream’
The crowd enjoy this and the band start the show with #addicted. They sound synthy and progressive as stated. There is a jazzy solo intertwined with thick drums. They sound a little like Tool may be an influence.  
‘I’m addicted to my aimless drive’
A lovely way to start the afternoons’ activities.
You wouldn’t expect anything other than weirdness with Maynard (Tool) at the helm, and Puscifer provide this but it is done well. The band seem to be aliens that have come to Earth to investigate humans disguised as a rock band.  Maynard and the backing singer Carina Round are still like statues until their time to sing and then they suddenly click and they are into their vocals. It is quite a sight and it does work. Puscifer are niche I feel, so there is the odd guy screaming and singing through the performance. It Is incredibly hot at the front and water cannons are being fired at the crowd to cool them down. This produces a kind of subdued audience. They are very enjoyable to watch, if a little unknown, and after aliens try to give Maynard a rectal probe, they drop their most famous song ‘Remedy’ and the crowd enjoys it. It is just a little hot and a little weird. Still, very enjoyable.
Arch Enemy scream onto the stage with Receiver, Receiver! Yes, another woman who screams! The crowd is very rough! I edge back a little! Powerwolf and their powerful and surreal performance follow next and I make the final song Werewolves of Armenia to be fair but then I decide that  
“J’ai peut-etre trop bu de Muscadet”
And I get myself home ready for a full day of bands the following day.
Day 4 – Sunday
I set my alarm and make my way in early to the arena, beer in hand ready to see the Welsh rockers, Florence Black. It is an impressive performance given the early start and the fact that it is the fourth day of a major festival but there is a huge turnout. There are a few Welsh flags in the crowd and two circle pits develop. The songs are just riffs, riffs, beautiful riffs and there are mosh pits and circle pits galore.
They break out the new single Start Again which seems to go down wellbut it is their other well-known songs such as Zulu, Can you Feel it, Bird on a Chain and Black Cat that gets the crowd going. Breadfan, the cover by Budgie is the culprit for the circle pits. They end with the classic Sun and Moon, which is a euphoric way to end the set with the crowd chanting and clapping in tow.
These boys should be proud playing nothing less than the main stage at Hellfest.  Felicitations. It starts to rain, quite intensely and I run for cover under a bar umbrella and listen to H09909 who sound, as usual, insane and great! There are people deciding to brave the rain. I welcome it after three days of 30 degrees!
Halestorm steps on to Stage One and there is always a level of expectation and Lizzie always delivers. There is just a professionalism and class to them that is unbeatable and which Is why they have a firm place at any rock festival. Lizzie manages a ‘Merci’ and the band kick into such classics as I Miss the Misery, Love Bites and I Get Off. The high point for me is the ballad Familiar Taste of Poison; it is incredibly moving and emotional and Lizzie gives everything. It is total connection with the crowd, the rain ebbs and the sun shines through and this is a total Hellfest moment. Chills!
Now if you were at Hellfest 23 you may have encountered a few ( read thousands ) people, walking around hot, sweaty and happy repeating the same words…over and over again..
‘Destroy Everything, Destroy Everything’
Yes, the title for the catchiest tune at Hellfest would belong to Hatebreed.  The whole set is superb to be honest with high points being Destroy, As Diehard and Perseverance. I found the set to be one of the heaviest and best of the weekend. Riveting from start to finish. A new fan right here.  
‘Declare the weight of the world has yet to claim you’
‘Remain steadfast!’
Amon Amarth I was equally impressed with, although not as heavy as Hatebreed they had a more laid-back riff feel to them, but still included screaming and were exceptional like Hatebreed.  The opening song Guardians of Asgard was the high point for me but the whole set was epic to watch and listen to. The stage had a huge mask with horns which enclosed the drummer then two inflatable dragons on either side , knights fighting, included downing goblets of wine and lots of fire and flames even in the heat!  At one point there were so many crowd surfers that you could hardly see the crowd beneath!
Tenacious D on the main stage provided a welcome reprieve from the metal which was the perfect timing for a hot Sunday summer afternoon at Hellfest. The vocals of Jack Black and Kyle were just technically perfect to be honest, and along with performing little skits between classics of  Wonderboy, Tribute and The Metal, Kyle even managed a Baker Street Solo on a huge toy saxaphone! 
They played Wicked Game by Chris Isaak and ended with the gratuitous but crowd pleasing Fuck Her Gently.  Zut alors!
Pantera graced the main stage and it seemed like all hell had broken loose. I think I can speak for a few people in the crowd (not all) – It may have been the first-time seeing Pantera live. The sound was crisp and perfect; in fact, I have never heard a quality or seen a performance quite like it.  The guitars sounded earth shattering and Phil’s vocals were truly on point just like the old days, low and loud. The feeling was quite hard to explain but I lost myself within a plethora of songs such as A New LevelMouth for War, This LoveCemetery Gates (intro and first verse only), Fucking HostileWalkDomination and Cowboys from Hell. For me, the performance of the weekend.
It seems incredibly hard to run a festival where 220,000 people enter over the course of the weekend but Hellfest has discovered the black magic, the secret and the manner in which to run a successful festival.  
In this day and age of limited concentration Hellfest manages to keep you permanently stimulated and excited for every second of every day.
Performances cater for all musical tastes so there is never a dull moment with six (plus) stages to visit. The food halls had a plethora of options at food festival quality. The service at any outlet was second to none, fast and efficient. The sound quality was second to none and the organisation screams of passion. Other festivals take heed, the King of festivals has spoken.
It should not be said lightly but Hellfest should be considered one of the greatest rock festivals.
Words by Si Morgan
Photos by Philip Goddard ( apart from images stated )



Philip Goddard

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