The Belgian act Emptiness opened the third day on the Altar stage. With their last two albums (Nothing But The Whole in 2014 and Not For Music in 2017) the band moved into a more exciting and unusual direction. Listening to their live show was a very cinematic experience, meditative, but in a strange way. Emptiness let our thoughts fly free and just like a sonic Rorscach-test, we could associate their music with whatever dwells within ourselves. The heat was a bit unbearable at times so we were trying to find shelter somewhere in the shade and preferably where cold beer was sold. Thankfully, we didn’t miss much as the concerts on both mainstages were broadcast in the press area.
While Prong played a bit early it wasn’t too early for eager fans. They seemed to love every second of their set. Motionless in White was on stage next and a lot of people wanted to see them. I was watching them from the comfort of a nice cool shaded bar. Skindred is always amazing live and Benji Webb is a real entertainer. I couldn’t help myself headbanging and singing along with them. Skindred always makes a good party. Their set is predictable but who cares when you’re having a good time? If you are familiar with Thin Lizzy then you are familiar with Black Star Riders. These members of Thin Lizzy have been releasing new albums under the name of Black Star Riders since 2012. True rock ‘n roll spirit in 45 minutes.
Arkhon Infaustus was a curiosity on the Temple stage. The French blackened death metal band played a good set. I couldn’t watch them for long but sure as hell I want to see them again if I get the chance. But for now I had to abandon them for Pentagram who were playing on the Valley stage. The band is currently on tour without their notorious frontman Bobby Liebling and they played without him this time, too. I didn’t see them live before so I can’t compare their performance with or without Mr Liebling, but for me they were definitely ace.
Under the scorching sun Devil Driver started to entertain the dying crowd. Honestly, it wasn’t Hellfest anymore but something more like Sahara Fest. I don’t know which one is worse though. I really like most of Dez Fafara’s works (and voice) but during the short time when I stood in the heat and dust, somehow I couldn’t get tuned to their frequency this time. Apparently the crowd loved them and their gratitude was the biggest sand storm of a mosh I’ve ever seen. Although they released their latest album last year, Trust No One, strangely enough they only played one track from that one. Blue Öyster Cult is yet again a legendary band on the stage. The Valley was absolutely full so getting in or out seemed impossible. But thanks to the screen and the good sound engineer it was perfectly enjoyable from a little bit of a distance. The crowd was embracing every moment of their set but when they started to play ‘(Don’t Fear) The Reaper’ everyone in the crowd started to sing along with the band. It was an insane moment. I’m sure there were some in the crowd who just relived their youth and some who finally heard these tunes live for the first time.
While we were waiting for Scour to step on stage Prophets of Rage were playing on the mainstage. Needless to say the crowd went crazy hearing some of the hits like ‘Killing in the Name’ and ‘Bullet in the Head’ from Rage Against the Machine and they played covers from Public Enemy and Audioslave, which was dedicated to the late Chris Cornell.
I was very keen to see Scour. Not only because they are playing black metal but the band placed no other than Mr. Philip H. Anselmo in the frontman’s position. Even if he is a fan of lots of different genres, it was hard to imagine him in a black metal band until now. Despite Scour’s discography officially not longer than 13:49 minutes they managed to fill almost the entire hour they had. When they got to the end of their set Phil waved up our interest a bit: ’See somebody expect a surprise and perhaps it will be a surprise. Perhaps it won’t. But if we play one more you must promise you will go fucking insane because I don’t need to play this song.’ All right boss. I think I wasn’t the only one who completely lost his mind when they played ‘Strength Beyond Strength’ from Pantera. It’s always great to see this guy in action again and it seems he can be pretty decent in any kind of band after all.
The Valley was filled again to the brim when Clutch was playing. Flawless set filled with all the hits from ‘Firebirds!’ through ‘A Quick Death in Texas’ to ‘Electric Worry’. Of course, there were loads more and I sang along with frontman Neil Fallon as loud as I could.
Finally, we reached the moment that I was waiting for the most this weekend. I won’t lie, the moment when Emperor’s intro kicked off I felt a bit emotional as the album they were about to perform in its entirety, Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk was one of the most important releases of my teenage years. I still remember when one of my friends played it for me in a dark room and it blew me away instantly and now 20 years later they are playing the whole album right in front of me. Unbelievable! ’Open gates to darker lands. We spread our wings and fly away’- with these lines they unleashed the furious show. There was no stop until the instrumental ‘The Wanderer’ which was the end of the main set. They honoured us with an encore, too. ‘Cursed You All Men’, ‘I Am The Black Wizards’ and ‘Inno A Satana’. With these three incredible anthems they closed their set and we all had to walk off. Emperor’s performance was a real celebration. We all should have seen the same set 20 years ago as well after when they just wrote this masterpiece. All hail the Emperor!
It’s not easy to write about Linkin Park as I never was a fan. Incredible sized crowd waited for them impatiently. Since the late 90s Linkin Park contributed to lay down the foundation of a brand new direction called nu-metal. It was a weird choice for Hellfest to pick them as headliners but I’m sure their music meant and still means a lot to many people. As I belong to those who never really got into their music, I only recognized the songs that I came across in the last 15 years such as ‘In The End’, ‘Numb’ or ‘Breaking The Habit’. They also played the acoustic, piano version of ‘Crawling’ and during that song Chester Bennington went into the crowd and he sang it right to the people’s faces. Nobody would have expected the sad news a few weeks later.
I think we couldn’t even wish for a heavier closure than Slayer, the band that is the epitome of everything metal. Their last album divided their fans and they received all sorts of feedback but I still think whenever they play live the madness is guaranteed. So the band might not be that powerful like they were back in the 90s but even tonight they delivered a killer set. I’ve seen many Slayer gigs but this one was the most comfortable. Probably due to the late stage time and the hardcore weekend we had. The crowd seemed very peaceful but this time I didn’t mind it at all. I was more than happy just nodding slowly during the show of the masters of thrash.
And with the last riffs ‘Angel of Death’ Hellfest was officially over. It has been an honour and pleasure to be part of this amazing festival. The organisers can book another successful year and we all can book a remarkable weekend. It is difficult to write about a festival that is so big and where there I so much going on at the same time and with the live streaming on the Internet everyone can be part of it. But I tell you something. You have to be there to be truly part of this one hell of a ride.
Our mission is accomplished to report from this fantastic annual event. Despite us all suffering sunburn, dehydration, tiredness, empty accounts and buzzing ears, we survived again our visit to Hell again. So far, Hellfest managed to pull off an amazing line-up year after year. Can they do it again in 2018? We’ll see.
All photography by Vivien Varga.