Hellcome to Rock City: Hellfest 2022 – Day One (Weekend One)
The pandemic really spoiled a lot of plans during its two-year duration and Hellfest was no exception among the vast number of afflicted. Two years of nothing but cancellations demanded a serious consideration on what to do next; any false move could prove to be disastrous for a festival of such magnitude as the Hellfest. But the organization persevered and, despite the insurmountable odds, pulled a tremendous double weekend edition unlike anything we had ever seen or probably will see, all for the celebration of the festival’s 15th Anniversary. And as fortune had it, we managed to be present at both weekends. Curiously enough, this was also our first time at Hellfest, so this was truly the best way to debut at the festival.
But being at the festival is one thing, reaching the festival grounds is another. There was a myriad of ways at our disposal that would accomplish that mission just fine, but we decided to go for the arguably harder path, but also the most enjoyable – a roadtrip by car. Sightseeing the coast of Spain and France while blasting some cool tunes, all in the best of companies? Sounds like the recipe for having a great time. And despite it taking us about fourteen hours of travelling to get to Clisson – we did do some stops along the way -, time just passed by incredibly quickly and in a blink of an eye, we were at one of the parking lots of the festival. As it was still night, a well-deserved rest was at hand, if only for a couple of hours. Afterwards, we went on and grabbed our wristbands, mounted our tents, explored the elegantly-crafted Rock City and watched a wrestling match, all the while paying a visit to the Extreme Market for some delicious merch goodies.
The main appeal of Hellfest, at least for us, is the incredible variety that is displayed on the lineup. We get a little bit of everything each other, there is always something for everyone, even to those of more exquisite and odd tastes. For us, it was the perfect opportunity to see bands that we wouldn’t normally catch elsewhere, especially not in Portugal. While we waited in line for some official Hellfest merch – yes, we spent way too much money during our time at the festival -, we heard Frog Leap’s humorous rock renditions of classic theme songs such as Pokemon and Ghostbusters, and Laura Cox’s blues-infused hard rock, which, despite its blandness, managed to keep us entertained until we got ourselves some nifty souvenirs. The real part of the festival started with Greenleaf and ASG, both playing at the Valley stage, one after the other, and both delivering some very enthusiastic stoner sonic vibrations. After a quick lunch, we stepped into the Temple stage for Seth, which ended up being not as good as advertised, much like Mephorash before them, although the latter at least had an interesting get-up. Gatecreeper over at the Altar was an entirely different story. The Arizonans were playing Hellfest for the very first time and they delivered the goods in the best way possible. Playing a fantastic mix of death metal and hardcore punk, Gatecreeper distilled brutality at an incredible pace, barely ever stopping for a breather. Songs such as “Sweltering Madness”, “Puncture Wounds”, “From The Ashes” and “Sick of Being Sober” absolutely slay on a live setting and we cannot wait to see them again at the festival, hopefully in the near future. The Great Old Ones followed suit at the Temple, and in spite of playing with daylight still widely visible, the French post-black metal outfit did their best to create a dense and tormenting atmosphere, with their Lovecraft-inspired sonorities. Cthulhu would be eternally proud.
One band that surprised us a lot during this first day of festivities was Rotting Christ. Not that we didn’t know the quality that the Greeks had, we just didn’t anticipate how much we would enjoy their live performance. Presenting their latest record, The Heretics, from which they played “Dies Irae” and “Fire, God and Fear”, Rotting Christ captivated the audience from start to finish, showing why they are one of the most important acts in the history of black metal. As absolute hymns such as “666”, “In Yumen-Xibalba”, “Fgmenth, Thy Gift” and “Grandis Spiritus Diavolos”, frontman Sakis Tolis was constantly interacting with the audience, prompting them into shouting every lyric and throwing their fist in the air. And pumped with energy, the audience responded with great enthusiasm and did just that. What a performance it was! And following it up was no easy task, but the Californian sludge giants High On Fire were up to the challenge. Albeit not a rare occurrence, seeing Matt Pike play live is always an incredible opportunity, given the history of the man itself. We are, after all, talking about one of the founding fathers of stoner rock, a genre he helped pioneered thanks to a little group called Sleep. But we are not here to talk about history, we are here to talk about some shows, and while High On Fire weren’t exactly as spectacular as we thought they would be, they still delivered a very competent and satisfying performance, chock-full of classics such as “Turk”, “Spewn From the Earth”, “Fury Whip” and the iconic “Snakes For the Divine”. We then returned to the Temple once again to witness the Irish thunderstorm that is Primordial. “Are you with us?”, proclaimed Nemtheanga, armed with a noose, as a clamour could be heard from the audience – we stood ready with the band, all the way to very end. And that’s the beauty of a band like Primordial; they have the capacity to command an entire audience without much effort. It also helps that they have songs such as “Where Greater Men Have Fallen”, “The Coffin Ships” and “Empire Falls”, which have this incredibly hymnic and historic quality to it. Its melodic but harsh, gloomy yet victorious. Such is Primordial both in a studio and a live setting, absolutely glorious.
Reaching closer to the end of the day, we visited the Valley one last time for a magnanimous and highly emotional performance by Baroness. Presenting their latest record, Gold & Grey, the band stood as a bastion of hope, as frontman John Baizley thanked the audience for being present after two years of no action. As songs from their aforementioned latest record, as well as Blue, Red and Yellow & Green were heard, we watched as emotions flourished all around us. Some people cried, some people smiled, but in the end, everyone had the time of their lives, as we all shared a visible passion for music, in all its wonderful forms. After a rather short visit to the Warzone stage to catch a bit of the legendary Cro-Mags, we went back to the Altar for a rather special event. It is not every day that one has the opportunity of seeing surviving members of Death play live, much less playing said band’s classic songs and celebrating the legacy of its founder, Chuck Schuldiner. But that is exactly what Death To All did. Currently formed by drummer Gene Hoglan, bassist Steve DiGiorgio, guitarist Bobby Koeble and vocalist/guitarist Max Phelps, the latter filling in for the late Chuck Schuldiner, the quartet shredded their way through the discography of Death, playing classic upon classic such as “The Philosopher”, “Pull The Plug”, “Zombie Ritual”, “Spirit Crusher”, and everyone’s favourite death metal track, “Crystal Mountain”. This was truly the best way to celebrate the legacy of one of the most important figures of extreme metal; a highly respectful, fast-paced performance that shall be remembered by everyone present.
For the last slot of the day, we returned to the Warzone to watch yet another legendary band of underground music, specifically that of hardcore punk and crossover thrash. We are talking about none other than Suicidal Tendencies, a group that needs absolutely no introductions. Starting big with the anthemic “You Can’t Bring Me Down”, Suicidal Tendencies delivered a high-octane performance, a train that never once stopped pounding heads and crushing bones. While songs such as “I Shot The Devil” and “Freedumb” were being played, the crowd went absolutely nuts, moshing and crowd surfing like there was no tomorrow. On “War Inside My Head”, a large portion of the audience went to town with the band on stage and stayed there for the remainder of the show. The iconic “Subliminal” and “Cyco Vision” ended what was hands down the best show of the entire day. What a fucking brilliant way to kick off the festival
Words by Filipe Silva
Photos by Alexandra Ramos