Hellfest 2018

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Through the eyes of SophieOur own valley dweller Jonas shares his experiences

Yesssss, we’re back at Hellfest! For the 9th time already! It’s officialy my favourite festival in the world! So, let’s have a walk around the terrain and discover what has changed compared to last year… Sound-wise they added 2 towers of L’Acoustic speakers in the area in front of the mainstages. They must’ve read my report from last year where I complained about this! More and better sound is always a good idea, and last year it was barely enough for the sometimes overcrowded shows at the mainstages. So, as a sound-nerd, I’m really happy with these extra towers of power! Besides that, everything looks the same concerning sound. A little further we noticed a really nice addition which I will call “the water square things”. It’s not easy to describe, but I’ll try: Imagine an approx 3m high by 3m wide square construction where you can walk through. But there’s water falling down from it, creating a water curtain. Now imagine the timing of the water being manipulated so it forms Hellfest-logo’s, the text “Welcome To Hell”, Pentagrams and so on. Thats what they made! It’s a nice and clever piece of engineering. And really refreshing too, which is always welcome on Hellfest. For some reason Hellfest is really hot (as in often close to 30 °C!) every year. But i guess that’s what you get when you throw a party in Hell 😉 Another nice new feature is the cash-less chip. The previous 2 years, we had a cash-less card, which works the same as a bank card. You upload money on it and you pay with it. This year it’s integrated in the entrance chip on your wristband! Which is a great idea, since there’s no more risk of losing your card (ok, don’t challenge me!) or worse, your money. It also shortened the time to order a drink, so a really nice improvement if you ask us!

Allright, the festival is about to start so let’s head to the main stage! Mos Generator is the first band of the festival. They hail from Seattle (US) and play rather fast paced, classic bluesy stoner rock with the occasional doom riff. As a connaisseur of the genre, I have some albums of this band and I think it’s a great warm-up. A few hundred people apparently had the same idea and came out to watch the show with me. Mos Generator played an energetic show, although in my humble opinion, the main stage is not the right setting for this trio. It’s kinda, large and open. The Valley would’ve been cozier, but I guess you sometimes have to make tough choices as a programmer for a festival that size… But seriously, a band that would fit in the Kinky Star seems a bit lost on a stage that size! Anyways, they played a nice, varied and decently mixed set and brought it with loads of energy. They had a lot of fun on stage and that’s always nice to watch. Great and groovy start!

Next up is Sons Of Otis in the Valley. They immediately confirm my conlusion of previous band, since they are a trio too and the Valley is a way more cosy place for Stoner/doom! Sons of Otis is also a stoner band, but heavier and spacier than Mos Generator. Imagine a wall of amplifiers on stage and massive, slow but groovy riffs with a touch of space. That’s exactly what they do! There’s a lot, maybe a little too much, effect on the voice and the mix is really loud, as in around 102 dBA loud (I could see the dB meter from the spot where I was watching). That’s another thing I like about Hellfest (or probably more like French law), you can mix LOUD there. I think the limit is 105 dBA, which is maybe a little too much, but it’s way better than our Belgian pussy laws with 95 dBA. Anyways, I’m getting off track, Sons of Otis took us on a nice musical trip through space. Slow, long and heavy songs and lots of spacey effects, just how we like it!

Doptehrone is the next gem to discover in the Valley! To be honest, I ignored the band too long, since I found it a little lame, in my opinion, that they took the name of one of the most popular stoner/doom albums (Electric Wizard, if you don’t know it, shame on you and go check it out!). But I have to admit that I regret that way of thinking now. I wish I discovered them sooner! They play a mix of sludge, doom and stoner and that means their sound is really really heavy, with lots of compressed bass and a super-punchy kickdrum you could really feel hitting your chest. It helps that the drummer is a heavy hitting beast, whose style accompanies the slow to mid-tempo crushing riffs nicely. The dreadlocked singer has a cool stage presence and has a nice and dirty growl. Aside for some samples about “the devil and heavy metal music”, there wasn’t much talking. Only a “don’t do heroin, it’s bad”. Eh, thanks for stating the obvious, I guess! Their crushing riffs resulted in the first bobbing heads I could spot on the festival. The Valley was filled with smoke and doom and everyone was feeling it! They are on tour with Sons of Otis and I have the impression they’re not that used to stages that big, but they did good and played a really nice show.

Next up in the Valley was Bongzilla, also in the touring package with Sons of Otis and Dopethrone. This quite legendary band started around 1995 and I assume they had one of the heaviest sounds in the genre back then. Heavy, downtuned guitars and growling (although sparsely) vocals. They went on hiatus between 2009 and 2015 so I was quite happy to see them again! I was surprised to find out they didn’t release anything new since Amerijuanican in 2005, an album I really like. So, needless to say I was quite happy when they played some tunes from that one, before they annonced to play a couple of new ones. The saying goes “never change a winning team” and we’re happy to hear more riffs in the same line of the older work. Dirty, heavy, slow and groovy riffs, accompanied by the smell of weed in the tent, that’s the way it should be! The mix sounds good, besides some cracking noise in the PA every now and then. Probably a bad cable, but hey, shit happens, right? They built some quiter parts in the set which left some space for the crowd to clap along with. A nice gig to watch!

We’re really stoked about next show: personal long time favourites, the swedish groovy metal-machine named Meshuggah! Meshuggah is a band that never dissapoints, even after seeing them countless times live (okay, I can count to 9 but I might have been a little drunk the time I wrote that down), they still blow me away every time with their tight, groovy, polymetric metal madness. They’re up on the mainstage, so we get ready in time to catch a nice spot, close to the front row! The stage looks nice, a lot of banners and a backdrop featuring the dark and trippy artwork of their latest album (titled “The Violent Sleep of Reason”). It’s not long before an intro sample starts, it sounds like something weird and eastern, drowned in a psychedelic sounding doppler effect. It builds a nice tension for a minute or so, and then the madness starts… They’re tight as ever, with a nice flashy lightshow. Even though it’s daylight, the lightshow is a nice spectacle which enhances the music’s quite complex rhytmical patterns. In my opinion the timeslot isn’t perfect, I’d rather see em in a dark setting, although they don’t look uncomfortable on a big stage like that. I’m just not used to seeing them in broad daylight I guess. The singer (Jens Kidman) talks more to the crowd than he usually does, I suspect because of the main stage spot, but it’s nice to experience a slightly different show. The setlist is quite varied, containing mostly songs from their latest 3 albums. Main songwriter and musical genius Fredrik Thordendal, couldn’t make it this tour. Meshuggah released a statment in the beginning of June stating that Thordendal “went on a mission to explore some interesting stuff”. Not a really clear explanation, but I hope it is because he’s writing a new album with his side project: “Fredrik Thordendal’s Special Defects”. Although I couldn’t find a source of confirmation, sadly enough. Per Nilsson (Scar Symmetry, Kaipa) replaces him for this tour. He’s doing a really good job, he knows the songs well, although he plays some different solo’s. But it’s nice to hear a new take on the songs. And what a madman he must be, to be able to learn their whole friggin complicated set. Their set is over quite soon, alas, one can never have enough Meshuggah in his life. So, kind of a special show this time, since it was outside and had another guitarist, but it was a nice and new perspective on the ‘shuggah!

Some time later we went to see Steven Wilson on the main stage. Steven Wilson is a well known producer, who worked mainly in the progressive music genre with bands like Opeth, King Crimson, Yes, Marillion and Anathema, to name a few. He’s also a performing artist, in bands like Storm Corrosion (with Opeth frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt), Porcupine Tree and some others, and decided in 2008 to start his solo project. I’m not always a fan of people going solo, but with a creative genius like this, it’s hard to go wrong. This is another reason why I love Hellfest so much, Steven Wilson is kind of an odd duck in the line-up, he’s not really doing extreme metal or like classic “festival metal”, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t belong on this festival! His music is dark, and filled with complex atmospheres. He plays his guitar quite subdued, with an occasional heavy riff-part, creating intense build-ups and climaxes. His work on album is known for complex sonical layers, and he is able to recreate his signature style live too, with the use of synth and keyboard layers, and lots of noisy guitar pedals. Everything sounds tought out and is performed really tight and well. At one point his bass player even makes use of a chapman stick, an instrument which I haven’t seen often live and certainly not at a metal festival! (A chapman stick is an instrument somehwere between a piano and a bass guitar. It looks like a bass guitar with way more strings, but you play it only on the neck, by tapping the frets. Basically an instrument for bass players who can read notes, hehe) A fun detail is that he played his whole set barefoot. Conclusion: it’s nice to see a weird act like this on Hellfest, and in a way, it really fits with the open mind this festival has. The crowd responded well to the gig, especially during some Porcupine Tree songs. I’d say, not bad for a rather intimate set during broad daylight on a mainstage!

First band of the second day is… Monolord! In the Valley of course 🙂 These swedish stoner/doom scored a massive hit in the scene with “Empress Rising” from the 2014 album with the same name. Thomas Jäger, the singer/guitarist greets us with a “Good Morning” with a clearly noticable Swedish Accent. After some atmospherical intro tape while tuning the guitars, a heavy, heavy wall of sound rolls out of the speakers. The music sounds really huge and massive, with Black Sabbath-like vocals. From the first drum hit, I see those typical stoner bobbing heads going up and down in the crowd, a normal sign of approval for stoners. The sound is really impressive for a trio like this. Some strategically placed stops in the riffs leave a short while to breath for air, but not for long. The set goes steady and everyone, especially the musicians on stage, are getting more and more into the heavy riffs. The end of the set reaches a huge climax on the moment “Empress Rising” starts. This song is about 12 minutes and perfect to end their set. It has an addicting riff and a point where you think the song’s over but it only pauses a short while to continue for another 3 minutes or so. Not bad for the first show of second the day! Next year again, but with a better (later) timeslot?

Next ups is Jessica 93, also in the Valley. I don’t really know this band, but my good friend Prutklucht (from Witch Trail) told me I had to see them. Since there was nothing else playing that I wanted to see, I decided to be a good friend and follow his advice. I don’t really know what to expect, which is a funnt feeling. Jessica93 is apparently is a one man project I found out later, who writes all the music, but he brought a drummer to perform for the live show. They play some sort of post-punk/coldwave music, but with quite heavy guitars. The drummer plays with an electronic kick and the singer switches between guitar and bass for the songs. His bass sounds very 80’s/new wave (with chorus and stuff) and he uses a looper pedal. This is sometimes weird, as he plays a loop before the song really starts, so you kind of know what is gonna come at one point. In the end this turned out as a pleasant surprise and I will definitely look em up when I’m back! One minor remark though, the drummer wore an Oasis T-shirt. I hope someone slaps him for that backstage, because, fuck Oasis.

1000 Mods is the next band I want to see. And yes, you guessed it right, this stoner band plays in the Valley! I’ve seen em a few times already, but it’s nice to see them at Hellfest of course! Actually they quite surprised me. It’s been a few years since I’ve seen em, but they grew a lot, musically and attitude-wise. The stage looks really nice with a wall of Orange amplifiers, although I can spot 2 Sunn O))) Model T ‘s too! Probably the best amplifiers in the world, if you’re into stoner/doom that is. The first song immediately gets the crowd going. It’s almost like they’ve written it on purpose for this.,, The set is dynamically well balanced, with some quiter, psychedelic parts, nice build-ups and heavy climaxes. Every now and then I hear a clear Kyuss influence. I mean like, groovy and catchy riffs with cool solo’s. At one point, they even managed to get a circle pit going! They played a clean and tight set, with their modest hit “Vidage” as next to last song. That melody will be stuck in my head for the rest of the day now. I warn you, don’t look it up or you will be stuck with it too!

Okay, we had a good start of the day, but now it’s time for something heavier… Next up is blackened deathmetal outfit Akercocke! I’ve seen these guys before in 2006. They took a break from 2012 – 2016, so it’s good to see they’re back with a new album! They have a kind of weird setup, their drum doesn’t have a kickdrum, but a pad, so they play with a sampled kickdrum. This sounds nice, but is a bit weird to look at. They used to play their live sets in full gentleman-suits, but unfortunately, they don’t do this anymore. Too bad, because it looked nice and was a goofy stage act. The crowd is quite small, which surprises me for a band with a cult status like that. After a long and dark sample intro, the set begins with “Horns of Baphomet”, from their second album. The set is a balanced mix between old and new stuff. Always nice to hear some “classics”! The rather small crowd doesn’t seem to bother the band that much luckily, they deliver an intense show and play really tight. I really like the solo style of lead guitar player Paul Scanlan. The solo’s start quite often in an unexpected place in the music and he plays them furiously and wild. Nice to see, and personally an inspiration for my style of guitar playing! (We also have the same guitar (a white Jackson) I noticed!). The crowd needs some time to get warmed up, probably because there’s so little people, and the music is rather unpredictable, with weird, chords and unexpected tempo changes. But the band gives a lot of energy and really tight delivered songs, so after a while, the crowd gets more into it and Akercocke recieves a huge applause at the end. Nice!

Body Count on the mainstage delivers the same show as 2 years ago. I can almost litterally copy paste my report from then. There’s not much to say, well done and a fun show to watch, but seeing the same show again (4th time for me already) was kind of a dissapointment to me. Oh, maybe one small difference worth mentioning is that Senn Dog from Cypress Hill & Billy Graziadei from Biohazard come out to sing Cop Killer. Thank you for the fun show, as ususal, but next time I hope for something completely different!

For the first time this weekend, I have a moment of rest. There’s not really anyhting that’s playing that I like or know. So, let’s get drunk and have a walk! When I walk past the Valley, Dead Cross sounds really nice and refreshingly weird. So, let’s have a look and discover something new! But hey, wait a minute… that weird music, that unique voice, that Hawaii shirt… This is no one other than Mike Patton! What the fuck! Another project of this musical octopus. On drums I recognize Dave Lombardo (Slayer, duh), and when I later on checked on wikipedia, on bass is Justin Pearson (The Locust, Head Wound City, Retox) and on guitar we have Michael Crain (also Retox). They deliver a nice and fun to watch set, musically some hardcore-punk influences are noticable, but it’s hard to describe exactly what genre they’re playing. Patton-influenced weirdness will do I guess. As encore song, they play a Slayer/Faith No More medley, cool!!

Last band for this valleydweller to review is Zeal & Ardor. As most of you will know, they play an unique blend of Gospel and Spiritual music, mixed with Black Metal. Apparently this band started because of a 4chan challenge, where songwriter Manuel Gagneux would ask users for two musical genres to combine and create a song in half an hour, as an experiment to expand his creativity. And with succes, because a huge hype followed. Personally I didn’t really like it the first time I’ve heard it, the idea is nice, but what turns me off the way the “Devil is Fine”-album is mixed. The compression is way too heavy, to a point where it comes almost unlistenable for me. But I have to admit I’m quite sensitive to these things. Anyways, I decided to give it a chance live. And boy, was I glad I did! The Valley was really overcrowded and filled with anticipation before the show. Everything on stage is black and then the set started with a long and dark electronic intro song. It builds up slowly, then a screeching guitar comes in and then, all hell breaks loose. The live mix is close to perfect, way better than the album mix, and I’m really happy about this. The stage lights enhance the music nicely, with lots of stroboscopes flickering during the blastbeat parts. Actually most of the music is quite poppy, besides the black metal riffs which come around about every minute. They don’t waste time chatting, after the third song, Manuel shouts “Hellfest, were Zeal & Ardor and we’re not gonna talk more than this, I hope that’s fine with you.” I’m fine with that, and the rest of the crowd too, according to the big applause given after the last song. Impressive show! Hopefully in a bigger tent next time!

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