Arriving in Nantes for Hellfest 2014 after two days of travelling elicited sighs of relief, not only because we were nearly free of lugging heavy bags about the French countryside, but because we’d actually made it. The night before we had received word while sitting in the ferry terminal that our train had been cancelled due to strikes in France. Thankfully after panicked phone calls and finger crossing, we boarded a train at St Malo the next day and were off around various stations and on to Nantes.
The sunset from the stern with a nice drink helped offset the fear of no train
A short shuttle bus (/large taxi) trip later and we were at the gates of Hellfest. In terms of first appearances, it blows every festival I’ve ever been to fully out the water. Instead of the usual tents and marquees set up by the campsite as a “village,” Hellfest had provided a city square with buildings and lavish decoration.
There was little time to appreciate this though as time was marching on and camping spaces appeared to be limited (through the weekend you could see people set up on grassy locations outside of the main camp). After finding a spot near some vines used for wine (another thing you generally don’t get at a UK fest; the opportunity to camp in a vineyard) we set out for the nearby supermarket to stock up on supplies.
Some guys actually set up in the vines
The shop is transformed for Hellfest, with a big Hellfest banner on the front and the usual signs for milk, bread etc inside replaced by pictures of musicians and more Hellfest banners. Not that we got to see inside, we turned up just as it shut. Having opted to pack light we had decided to buy sleeping bags/duvets etc at the shop, we therefore went away coverless for the night. To think that the night would be as warm as day would be foolish and after a night of shivering under a pile of t-shirts we happily embraced to huge queues in the morning to secure warmth for the night (of course, the next night was actually quite a comfortable heat without cover).
The inside of the festival arena turned out to be as impressive as the outside with decoration at every turn and the two main stages side by side cutting an imposing sight. Sadly, being from Scotland we were somewhat unprepared for the insane heat and spent some time up back in shade watching bands. With so many bands playing the festival, it’s impossible to see them all so I wont bother trying to review every single artist, I’ll just mention some of the ones that particularly impressed me or that tie in with a story.
One thing I particularly enjoyed was the staggered stages which drastically cut down that annoying waiting time between bands where you listen to yet another drum sound check. I left Turisas one song early which was rather devastating considering my love of Turisas to get a good spot for Iron Maiden (more on them soon). As soon as Maiden ended I simply walked over a bit and Slayer came on. Then when they left I sauntered back for Sabaton. It’s a bizarre sensation seeing a few of your favourite bands one after the other with only a couple of minutes respite, but it’s a good feeling.
The issue with that system though is a lack of downtime, by the time Sabaton came off my mouth was drier than the ground from the dust that was constantly kicked up. A couple of bottles of water in your pocket though and this was sorted (though the fact they took the bottle caps from your water if you bought a bottle at a bar was pretty fucking stupid, still, this could be sorted by bringing in your own bottle to refill or by bringing a bottle cap). The only other problem I see with the staggering is that it’s hard to get a good spot for one band because you’re off watching someone else first. This is a good problem to have though, there are so many excellent bands that I can’t keep up.
Returning to some of the bands to give a quick impression of the end of the night. This is the third time I’ve seen Maiden on the Maiden England tour and it’s a set that doesn’t get old, especially now that they’ve added Revelations and Sanctuary to the set, though for some reason they have dropped Wrathchild. Seventh Son of a Seventh Son was particularly great, the slow mystical section combined with the setting sun in real life and flames on the bars and merch stalls (Hellfest like to set things on fire of an evening) was pretty magical.
Bruce was on top form as per usual, though sadly I don’t speak French (it was a weekend of broken French with the help of a phrase book) so couldn’t understand his stage banter. What I did understand was when he revealed the football results which seemed to please the local French attendees no end, not being a football fan I opted for polite applause.
Negatives from the set? A pretty dull crowd, though this seemed to be common for many of the main stage bands. I’ll attribute this to the fact that if you moved or jumped you would promptly be covered in dust as I learned during Annihilator’s set on Sunday, though no jumping during Fear of the Dark still hurts. Don’t get me wrong, the very front of the crowd were pumped as fuck, but there was a definite cut off and sadly, I was in said cut off’s location.
Slayer thoroughly impressed me. I saw them last year at Bloodstock and they just lacked something, not that I can blame them though with the whole dead friend and band mate situation. The Hellfest show made up for that though, a solid setlist and a solid performance. I had managed to get a spot by a speaker at the front between the two stages and got to experience Toms bass sound attempting to remove my organs from my body. I also got to enjoy the sound panning between Kerry and Gary’s guitars in the intro of Dead Skin Mask. Though they usually always pan, the speakers on the other main stage made it much more noticeable. More festivals need a double main stage.
Sabaton closed the night for me (I would have loved to see Death Angel but I was dead on my feet) and are always fun to see at a festival. Joakim always looks so surprised to see a crowd and the happiness transfers to his performance and interaction giving the impression that it’s not just another show. The impromptu version of YMCA along with finally getting my jumping moment during Primo Victoria made sure the night ended on a high note.
With that it was back to the campsite to drink and party the night away.
And by that I mean fall asleep early after a bottle of water.
Rock n Roll.