A Time Of Rituals: Hellfest 2023 – Day Two
After a somewhat relaxed night of sleeping, that always involves us having our ears filled with plugs to cancel all noise from the afterparties, we got up feeling fresh and excited for another day in hell. Temperatures were getting out of hand and we were already dripping sweat from every pore, but with hats, caps or bandanas on our heads, we pushed forward – nothing would stop us. Our first stop of the day was at the Temple, where we would have the enormous pleasure to finally witness the ritual that is a Hetroertzen performance. Adorned in ceremonial clothing and corpse paint, as well as an elaborate mask in the case of vocalist/guitarist Anubis, the band entered the stage ready to rip open a black hole with their esoteric black metal that is filled with haunting occult chanting, powerful riffage and enthralling solos. Despite playing in plain daylight and for only thirty minutes, Hetroertzen still managed to captivate the imagination of the audience through songs such as “Blood For The Egregore” and “The Rose and the Cross”. A potent display of force to start the day nicely. We then went to finally visit the brand-new and recently-assembled Valley and while we do realize that it might still be a work in progress, we can’t shake off the feeling that it might have become to narrow. It certainly isn’t able to hold that many people and for certain bigger shows, which we will detail later on, it can get incredibly cramped and a bit claustrophobic. For the moment, it served its purpose and for smaller bands such as LLNN, it worked pretty much like a charm. LLNN wasn’t at all that interesting, however, despite being a pretty good band in the studio. But on a big and wide-open stage, the atmosphere is sort of lost. One of those cases where a smaller and enclosed stage would work way better. Or perhaps the Valley’s tent of old? We circled back to the Altar to catch Candy rip and tear new holes in the fabric of reality with their hardcore and powerviolence-infused death metal. Presenting their brand-new record, Heaven Is Here, Candy initiated the first mosh pits, shooting songs left and right in an incessant manner, until every bone was shattered and every skull crushed. Nasty, filthy and caustic from beginning to end; absolutely delicious.
After a well-deserved lunch break, we returned to the confining space of the Valley to at long last catch the unfathomably heavy Primitive Man, who became another perfect example of why the tent was needed in the first place. Bands such as Primitive Man do not dwell well under a bright sky and much less under extremely hot temperatures, so the whole experience ended up being unsatisfactory. Their buddies in Full of Hell fared much better at the Altar, as grind and powerviolence always work well under the sun or under complete darkness. Much like Candy before them, Full of Hell are known for their fast-paced and violent shows, so we were ready to get our bodies mangled once again. As is customary with any band in the genre, if you give them enough time, they will play a buttload of songs and then some, and that’s exactly what Full of Hell did – in just forty minutes, we were absolutely bombarded by a barrage of body-splitting riffs, harsh noise that would make normie heads explode, deranged howls from the deepest parts of hell and insane drumming that was as rapid-fire as it was precise. Even though the band had a clear focus on presenting their latest record, Garden of Burning Apparitions, they didn’t shy away from playing material from their back catalogue, including their second record, Rudiments of Mutilation, and one of their many Eps, Amber Mote in the Black Vault, without forgetting sister records, Trumpeting Ecstasy and Weeping Choir. Hope they come back to Hellfest soon. We headed straight to the Temple after Full of Hell were done with us, and watched a nifty, albeit unsurprising performance by Der Weg Einer Freiheit, and we headed back to the Warzone for a farewell by the Oi! commanders Cockney Rejects, who gave a pretty entertaining performance and got a really nice send-off by the audience.
A trip back to the Temple saw us catch a band we had unfortunately missed in last year’s edition. Wanting to make up for it, we eagerly witnessed the return of Vreid to Hellfest, this time performing their own material and not a special set dedicated to Windir like they did last time. Our expectations were quite high for this one and we are pleased to say that every bit of it was met and exceeded, as Vreid unleashed their potent vein of melodic black metal. “Into The Mountains”, “Shadows of Aurora”, “Lifehunger” and “Pitch Black” were some of the songs that made their presence felt during a set that could be described as near-perfect. Also a near-perfect spectacle was the one Aborted delivered right after at the Altar. Aborted is one of those bands that you always have to see them if you get the show, their perfect and uncompromising mixture of death metal and grindcore being a sure-fire recipe for underground success. Intent on presenting their latest record, ManiaCult, the quintet wasted little time for pleasantries, opting to fire a salvo of increasingly annihilating songs that summoned even more mosh pits. Getting to see Aborted live is always a blast and even more fun is watching vocalist Sven de Caluwé’s stage antics, that included deranged looks and repeated slaps on his own head. There was even time for a brand-new song, “Infinite Terror”, which flawlessly showcases what Aborted does best and stands as a tasty treat of new things to come.
We had another much-need pause afterwards, where we grabbed some excellent food for our dinner time, and headed back to the Altar to see Belphegor. Well, not before hearing “Last Resort” by Papa Roach, another meme dream come true. Digressions aside, Belphegor were present at the festival as an almost last-minute call, as Suffocation had canceled their entire European Summer tour at the worst possible moment. One always worries about what kind of substitutes come at such at late stage of a festival’s planning, but Belphegor were a really good surprise, mainly because we really wanted to see them too. With a display of inverted crossed, bones and goat skulls in full view, and a small participation in between by a few cloaked monks that lit fires in bowls, the quartet led by vocalist/guitarist Helmuth displayed totally depraved and blasphemous anthems such as “The Devil’s Son”, “Belphegor – Hell’s Ambassador”, “Conjuring The Dead” and “Lucifer Incestus”. Once again we state that, as far as substitutions go, this was a very much appreciated one, as Belphegor have been on our radar for a long time and finally got to see their profane ritual in the best way possible. We were then faced with a terrifying choice – should we go see the maestros of gory death metal Bloodbath at the Altar, or the most hated name in Hellfest’s entire history at the Mainstage II? Yes, we chose Machine Gun Kelly, but only because we believe that it’s only after seeing an artist live that we can truly judge their quality. We did so with Kiss and to our surprise, we enjoyed ourselves. Although, calling MGK an artist might be going a bit too far. He is more like the stereotypical American frat boy you read in novels or see in movies. An adult with the mind of a brat, who thinks smoking cigars and drinking while he is playing makes him look cool like a rockstar, when it makes him look more and more like a total douchebag and an absolute moron. His entire performance was just a display of vulgarity, with terrible jokes, nonsensical commentary, a punchable face kind of attitude and overall forgettable songs. We do think many will share our opinion on this, but we did see a lot of people enjoying the show MGK was putting on. Mindless music for mindless people, but fools were we that withstood almost all of it for the sake of consistency.
And let’s not forget about both Def Leppard and Motley Crüe. We aren’t masochists but we did endure an insipid “Rock of Ages” by the former, and then, we suffered through all the toxic masculinity and sexism boasted by the latter when they played “Kickstart My Heart”. In both situations, we were only there waiting for other people to start playing, and in both situations, we wished we were being blasted all night by the afterparties and not getting any sleep. Before we endured Motley Crüe’s cringy finale, however, we paid a visit to the Valley to see an absolute rarity. Having initially reformed to rerelease both of their classic records, American Nervoso and We Are The Romans, Botch quickly decided that a return to the stages was in order. But how well does a band perform when they haven’t done so in twenty years? The result may surprise a few but not most, as Botch remains a well-oiled machine after so long, due in part to the fact that its members founded other projects or kept playing in other bands. Even after so long, Botch haven’t lost any of their aggressiveness and abrasiveness, delivering constant polyrhythms, tempo changes and furious vocals. The set was mainly focused on the aforementioned records, with songs such as “Mondrian Was a Liar”, “Thank God for Worker Bees”, “One Twenty Two” and “Transitions From Persona to Object driving the audience into a frenzy. Despite not garnering the attention of a bigger crowd, those that partook in welcoming back Botch into the fold can be counted as the absolute lucky ones, as seeing such a gem of the mathcore scene is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. For the finale of the second day of this wonderous festival, we turned our attention back to the Mainstage II in order to see yet another farewell of sorts. That’s right, Sum 41 is about to become extinct and never come back to Hellfest, so we had to be there for the sendoff. And while pop punk in general as never been a genre we appreciate too much, it was still nice to see those classic pop punk hits in a live setting, even their stage was more apt for a Tenacious D performance rather than a Sum 41 one. We could also have done well without the huge amount of covers, even if some were snippets, but it is what it is. All in all, it was an all-around show that enjoyed by a vast majority of people and even we can appreciate the importance of a band such as Sum 41. Now, back to bed.
Words by Filipe Silva
Photos by Alexandra Ramos