Hellfest, France. The Mecca of European Heavy Metal Festivals. Perhaps even bigger than Wacken Open Air. A line up to satisfy any elitist metalhead and make an open-minded one like me squeal with excitement. Each year when the festival announces it’s headliners, I longed to make the journey to Clisson, France. But we were always too late to buy 3 day passes or another festival was already booked. In the middle of 2018, Hellfest announced that SLAYER will be doing their last ever show in France at Hellfest 2019. It was the sign I’ve been waiting for.
Hellfest 2019 Daily Diary
Day 1: Thursday, 20 June 2019
After spending a few days in Lisbon, we caught a local flight with TAP Air Portugal to Nantes Airport which was delayed. Knowing that we were running on a tight schedule to ensure we catch the first few bands of Knotfest, the situation was less than ideal. We ended up taking an Uber from Nantes Aiport to Le Pallet where our accommodation was situated. Our Air Bnb was about 1 km from the station. A small, quaint french property and perfect for our stay.
The trains were delayed due to the influx of festival goers and we ended up arriving at the festival just as Ministry played their last few songs. Taking in the entire festival site felt surreal. It was the biggest, wildest, most elaborate setup I have ever witnessed and the energy in the air was ecstatic and contagious. There is nothing quite like thousands of happy metalheads getting together to celebrate angry music.
We sussed out the festival site and headed towards the 2 main stages to watch Behemoth. This was our 3rd time watching Behemoth live and the first time on a main stage. The pyrotechnics this time around was even bigger and better than the last time. Frontman, Nergal, has the crowd in the palm of his hands while belting out popular tracks like Ov Fire and the Void and Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel.
Next up we headed to the official festival merchandise stand where we waited a very long time to get our official Hellfest 2019 shirts. One simply does not go to a European Metal Festival and NOT get the t-shirt. This unfortunately meant missing the first 2 songs of Powerwolf but luckily with the screens surrounding the main stages and the great sound quality, we could still hear every single perfect note. This was again the 3rd time I’ve seen Powerwolf and as expected, they blew me away. Attila Dorn’s vocals is an absolute pleasurable experience as he manages to pull off what he does on recordings. It was the one thing that made me turn into a super fan after seeing them live at Graspop 2012 when I did not even know who they were. This time around I was able to sing along to each one and walk away at the end of their set with a cheesy grin on my face.
We managed to watch Rob Zombie and Amon Amarth from a distance while grabbing some grub and found a great spot for watching Slipknot. The beauty of the Hellfest Main stage set up is that with the screens surrounding both stages, it is easy to get a great view of the band that graces either of the 2 stages.
Slipknot’s setup was fantastic and I could finally appreciate the fact that they have more than the average amount of band members in their band. The percussionists was a highlight for me. Their 15 song strong setlist were mainly nostalgic for me, reminding me of my teenage years which were filled mostly with angst, but adult me could definitely appreciate the boundless energy of the performance.
The evening ended off with Sabaton. Each and every band on the Knotfest line up had colossal stage set ups with solid performances. It definitely set the tone for the 3 days of madness to come.
Day 2: Friday, 21 June 2019
The official start of Hellfest 2019 for me was with one of my favourite celtic folk punk bands, The Rumjacks. They played on the Warzone stage, the smaller stage of the 6 stages at the festival, but with sound just as big. I could see this was the place to be for the punk in me. Goosebumps hit as they played my favourite song, My Time Again. Never underestimate the power of a crowd sing-a-long and a humble band truly enjoying themselves.
Next was the Dwarves – the best band to have ever existed (LOL). This american punk band is not for snowflakes and easily offended, but for those that can appreciate sarcasm and raw punk. Their set was entertaining, and filled with many punk as fuck moments. Case in point, at the end of their set, vocalist Paul Cafaro aka Blag Dahlia, fell into the drum kit. Just another day in punk chaos I guess.
After an hour or so break, we headed to the Altar stage for Power Trip for our first dose of thrash metal. Sticking to fairly simple song writing, their performance were punchy enough for me to brave my first crowd surf of the weekend.
We met up with other South African friends based in Europe and it went slightly haywire for me as my beer cup remained full while watching Pestilence. Needless to say I did watch, rather listened to, a part of these death metal legends’ set as I sat at the sound booth ‘resting’ my legs.
After a power nap, we faced our first clash of the weekend Dream Theater vs Me First and the Gimme Gimmes. The plan was to watch half of Me First and the Gimme Gimmes and then head to the main stage for Dream Theater. The intention was there, I promise. But then the punk in both Bryan and I took over. Too late we realized that time passes quick when having too much fun. No regrets though as Me First and the Gimme Gimmes was absolutely fan-fucking-tastic.
Things toned down a bit while we indulged in the sweet, sleazy and slow sounds of Graveyard but disappointment set in for the third time while watching Dropkick Murphys after. We’ve seen them twice before and thought it may just have been the sound or a bad day for performing, but this time around the same unsettling lack of synchronization was still around. Perhaps they are just not that great live. Other bands we saw on this day was death metallers, Possessed, English rock band, Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, and punk legends, Descendants.
A note on Manowar: waking up on Friday morning the sad news broke that Manowar cancelled their performance at Hellfest 2019. They blamed the festival for not being able to give them a big enough stage or sound, the fans blamed their ego. That stage was big enough for KISS. Other bands play, Manowar doesn’t.
The last bands of the evening was a split between King Diamond, Gojira and Sum 41. I watched a bit of Gojira and headed to Sum 41 to appease my inner teenager yet again. The matured Sum 41 is a band that plays crossover punk and thrash, a pleasant surprise for my older self.
Day 3: Saturday, 22 June 2019
The more toned down day of the festival or so we thought. After missing our train due to our lack of checking weekend schedules (believe me, while in Hellfest holiday mode, days of the wee does not seem to matter until it’s too late!) we managed to hitchhike a ride with what happened to be a VIP guest at the festival. The french are just so goddamn friendly contrary to what you may hear from other tourists. They also believe in supporting Heavy Metal and acknowledge without prejudice how festivals like these cna contribute greatly to a small town’s economy.
The day started with 2 bands I only discovered recently when I researched the bands that are playing Hellfest, Allegaeon and Archspire. Two phenomenal and incredibly talented extreme metal bands that delivered performances that are exactly as you would hear them on their recordings. A feat that I would believe is not easy due to the speed and precision required, but yet these bands pull it off, and they pull it off masterfully.
Allegaeon’s melodic approach with softer guitar harmonies to soften the edges of their blunt technical death metal riffs delivers a gratifying story for any listener’s ears. Their drummer windmills like no other drummer I’ve seen before and impressively so while he plays at the speed and technicality as he does.
Archspire is basically what I would expect if Necrophagist played live in this day and age. Except that they may perhaps be faster? Let’s not get into a debate of which band is the fastest metal band to exist. Instead I would like to highlight that their set was executed with military precision and at what felt like hypersonic speed.
We headed to the Warzone yet again for our daily dose of punk to watch German Rockabilly Punks, Mad Sin. They’ve been a favourite of our matrimony for a long time and probably a band we never thought we’d see live. The performance was mayhem from the get go with the sleaze level set to the maximum. The pinnacle of their performance happened when their bassist crowd surfed during their tribute to Lemmy while playing Ace of Spades. Fucking legends.
Headliners for the evening was legendary rockers, KISS and holy hell could not prepare me for the spectacle that was their stage show. A cherry picker elevated Eric Singer while he smashed out a drum solo that was so damn good and made me long to play drums again. Hits like I Was Made for Lovin’ You and Rock and Roll All Nite even had me shout a long. Happiness is contagious, so is cheesy rock song from our youth, or rather, my husband’s.
Other bands we watched during this day was Trepalium with their jazz infused death metal; Skindred that was a pleasant surprise while we waited in line at the Artist merch stand; The Ocean which I found hard to watch after the energy I had post Mad Sin but could still appreciate a few songs; Eagles of Death Metal which made for a great party and drinking soundtrack; Cradle of Filth which unfortunately I cannot take serious, I blame it on Dani Filth’s vocals; and my biggest disappointment of the weekend Sisters of Mercy who played with no drummer.
Day 4: Sunday, 22 June 2019
The day we were all waiting for arrived. A day filled with a dream thrash metal line up that became a reality. After averaging 3 to 4 hours sleep each night since the festival weekend started, it was unbelievable that I still managed to have energy. There was no way I was going to miss or fade on this day of all days. Perhaps the Hellfest organizers thought that the thrash fans would be calmed down and tired out by the last day but on the contrary, this was easily the day filled with the most intense amount of energy I felt at a concert in my entire life.
We headed to the Artist Merchandise tent first thing to ensure that I get my Slayer Final World Tour shirt. As we stood in the queue a band that I did not get to listen to before the festival played the main stage, Insanity Alert, and their manic performance was a great start and indication of what the rest of the day would be like. This band took their performance a level up with their cheap cardboard props and a box on stage broadcasting one liners about the band during songs. My personal favourite was something down the lines of “The next band will definitely be better than us”. A band that doesn’t take themselves to seriously? Score!
Municipal Waste was up next and if you know anything about me you would know that I fucking love this band A LOT. I love their other project, Iron Reagan A LOT too. Call me a super fan girl, I do not care. These bands came into my life when I was craving fun, speed and violence from the music I listened to. It was the perfect fit. Getting a spot right in front to watch Municipal Waste was literally heaven (or hell LOL). Apparently the band just got off their flight and almost did not make the show but yet they were standing there on stage, a slightly delayed start that led to a relentless performance of thrash. Front man, Tony Foresta only spoke a few words during their set, and only to egg the crowd on to mosh, circle pit and finally encourage a WAVE OF DEATH. Their performance were as crazy as I expected and then some. I would love to watch them again at a club gig with a longer set though because 30 minutes was just not enough for me.
Next up was Death Angel, a band who has consistently released fantastic albums over the last few years. I’m in love with their catchy riffs, tongue in cheek style and aggression delivered with a certain finesse that only well seasoned musicians are capable of. Their set spanned a good selection songs from their discography. Once again I was longing for a longer set because my appetite for this type of thrash is insatiable.
We had small break to recover before the next thrashing band, so we refueled and watched Clutch playing on main stage 1 and lord oh lord, Neil Fallon’s voice. It’s definitely a band I need to give more time to but in that moment I just appreciated the sweet, sexy sounds caressing my ears. Something different between the speed and aggression of thrash is 100% ok if it sounds as good as Clutch.
Testament took the stage shortly after and opened with Brotherhood of the Snake. Witnessing this band live was a complete privilege. I’ve seen the Gene Hoglan and Steve Di Giorgio play with Death DTA in 2015 and that was special beyond words. Add Alex Sklonick to that mix with Chuck Billy and Eric Petersen, and you have a show that is flawless. The only thing is that they did not play one of my favourite songs Native Blood so that means I will have to see them again.
The next show was probably my favourite and most fun set of the entire weekend, and one would not expect anything less from the most mischievous thrash band around, Anthrax. I thoroughly enjoyed every single second of their set starting with Caugh in a Mosh. We got pretty close to the front, ending up in the circle pit, ending up in the circle pit on Bryan’s shoulders and eventually crowd surfing too. I could not stop moving, the spirit of metal is well and alive in this band’s music and anyone who says Joey Belladonna isn’t aggressive or metal enough can fuck right off. Yes he may not be as brutal or evil as most other front men but hell he knows how to get a crowd going with his dorky charm. Their set ended with Indians and in that moment my heart was so goddamn full and I was content and happy.
Bands we ended up missing on this day included a lot of death metal and unfortunately with a festival this size, it will be impossible to see everything you want with a crowd as big and walking distance that long. We missed Cannibal Corpse, Deicide, Immolation and Vltimas but this just gives us another reason and excuse to mission back to Europe again in 2 years time.
Then the moment arrived that brought us all together for this trip – fucking SLAYER! To say I was overwhelmed is an understatement. The crowd 50m from the stage was basically one big mosh pit. The stage setup was fiery, and at times it seemed like Gary Holt, Tom Araya and Kerry King were standing in flames burning for their decades of blasphemy. It was the perfect send off.
My initial response was discomfort. Knowing that I’ve travelled from the most southern trip of Africa to see my favourite band and will probably never see them again crushed me. But once that initial realization wore off, I enjoyed the show wholeheartedly. Seeing my fav tracks like Chemical Warfare and Raining Blood being played live felt surreal. And finally witnessing Paul Bostaph play made me want to pick up sticks again. Finally I felt satisfied but still with a heavy sadness in my thrashing heart. Their set closed off with Angel of Death, an emotional Tom Aray bidding farewell and an impressive firework display. Farewell Slayer, Hell Awaits!
The closing band of the festival was a band that has not played in Europe for a very long time, I am talking about the elusive masters of progressive metal, Tool. To be honest they were an added bonus to the Hellfest line up for me as this is a band I never thought I’d ever see live. But the stars did align and dreams do come true.
I did not watch them up close but with a view of the entire stage and its screens, close to the sound deck so I can take in the experience with every single one of my senses. It was one of those shows where goosebumps hit from the first note to the closing one. A tear was shed when they played my favourite song, Parabola. It was an sensational encounter of beautiful music with artistic imagery. It shows like this where you transcend into a space that may feel drug fueled but isn’t. Because the music is that great, played without fault and takes you to another dimension of pure emotion. These are moments that stick with you forever.
In closing, Hellfest is definitely what heavy metal dreams are made of, a voyage all metalheads should dare to take on, an experience of camaraderie and great music, a space where you can realize your dreams of watching your heroes (many of them I may add) and hear your favourite songs played live with thousands of like minded people by your side.
Hellfest 2019 Festival Practicalities
When you arrive the Hellfest festival site, you will be awestruck. This was my 4th European Heavy Metal festival and Hellfest had the biggest, most elaborate setup that I have ever witnessed. The site and infrastructure seems semi-permanently built on the land that hosts it and feels like a Heavy Metal theme park upon entering. Initially the queues to get your wristbands for the weekend was long but the wait was about 15 minutes. For a festival that hosts 180 000 people, entering the festival each day was effortless and did not take much time.
One would thing that hosting such a large number of festival goers, the toilets would be the first thing that lack cleanliness but by day 4 the toilets were still intact and clean. This is phenomenal considering that most festival toilets are gross even after the first day. The only thing that bugged me was the queue to the female toilets but when I got my timing right, there could be a minimal wait. Hellfest also provides different facilities such as waterless, compost toilets which requires you to throw saw dust on your excretions; they had pee only female urinals for those of us that can hold a squat for a long time and have strong thighs. In saying this though, I do felt that there could have been more toilets, especially closer to the main stages. I’m also consider a she-wee for our next festival mission after this experience.
Water points were close to the toilets and on the warmer days this was a god send to cool off and refill your cup bought from the bar. Lids for bottles of water are not given when purchasing water at the bar but I did see a few festival goers with their own lids refilling bottles and savouring it for the time spent watching bands and not wanting to miss one song. With two water features across the site, hot days were bearable but more shade is definitely needed in the wider spaces closer to the main stages.
Food and drinks stalls were in abundance and with any festivals there was a wait especially during peak times. But there were stands without long queues and the eating areas had place sufficient place to sit or stand while eating your meal. The bars were another story and there was always a wait. The one thing that made transactions take place quicker was the cashless system used to purchase food and drinks at the festival.
An RFID chip was attached to our access bands and you could preload your account online or via their app before the festival took place – ideal if you have a fluctuating currency like ours and are determined to stay within your budget. The food prices averaged between €3 and €10 dependent on what you order – the Hellsnack stand specifically had meal and combo deals. Drinks on the other hand was priced above average but nothing new if you have experienced any festival in any country before.
- We loaded €150 for the weekend’s food and drink onto our cashless chips.
The things that stood out for me and made my festival experience quite pleasant despite the amount of people that can be overwhelming, was the sound quality of all stages (6 to be exact within the main festival area). The bleed from one stage to another was non-existent and within the main stage area which features 2 stages, you could hear the bands clearly for quite a few meters from the stage.
The other thing that made the festival better than any other one I’ve attended before though was the general cleanliness. The lack of littering by festival patrons, spaces to sit and even artificial grass to take a power nap was an unexpected highlight. Maybe the french are just friendly, respectable and good people. We did not witness any aggression or drama unfold, and most people were welcoming and had many questions when they heard that we’ve traveled all the way from South Africa
What you need to know about planning for a European Music Festival
Planning a trip of this nature requires fast action on getting tickets then some serious adulting and admin tasks to ensure smooth sailing on your trip. But if you want to experience your favourite bands live, it is worth the schlep and second spent figuring out visas, looking for flights and reading up on public transport that actually works.
If you don’t make the effort and work hard on those goals, it will never realize. Especially since none of these bands will ever make the trek to the Southern most tip of Africa. And even thought it may seem costly at first, with time, patience and discipline, a trip like this is possible. You just have to take the leap and force yourself into a situation where you are consciously saving towards an experience of a lifetime. It’s about prioritizing that dream and turning it into a silver lining to chase during the months of sacrifice and compromise.
Decide on the band(s) that will push you to buy that ticket. Then follow the festival’s social media pages and make sure that you know when tickets go on sale. With Hellfest 2019, we wanted to see Slayer on their final world tour. When they announced the band and afterward indicated when tickets will go on sale, we had 2 people in our travel group online at the time it went on sale and bought tickets for all 4 in the group. Hellfest 2019 sold out on 3 day passes within hours of it going on sale. Make sure your fingers are ready to click and that internet connection is stable on the day of sale.
- Hellfest 2019 3 day pass including general camping: R 3,740 for (€215)
- Knotfest 2019 1 day pass: R 1,103 (€66.66)
Book your accommodation soon after getting your tickets. If you want to do a festival on a tight budget, camping is a must and most 3 day passes including camping. We’ve camped at 2 European Music Festivals before and roughing it is in understatement. But if you are on a budget, sleep does not matter too much. If you want a comfortable experience, investigate whether the festival will have glamping spots available. We decided to book a place via AirBnb for Hellfest 2019 which ended up being 8km from the festival site but was clean, had comfortable sleeping arrangements and only required a short trip via train every day. Considering your accommodation options is vital for a great experience. The Hellfest website also have Clisson locals who are willing to host festival goers at a price, be it rooms within their homes or a camping spot in their front yard.
- AirBnB Accommodation in Le Pallet (8km from Clisson): R 2,010 per person
Book your international flights +- 6 to 8 months in advance. For most trips this is great tip. We have found that flight prices tend to be a few grand cheaper. With that being said, if you are jetting off to Europe, see where else you could possibly go on budget that may be close to the festival site. Try to spend a week or 2 weeks in a foreign country. We booked our flights on Skyscanner.net and flew via TAAG Airlines to Lisbon, Portugal as we planned to spend a few days before and after the festival in my motherland.
- TAAG Airlines Return Flight to Lisbon, Portugal: R 5,680.00 per person
Book your local flights if necessary. We had to book flights from Lisbon to Nantes, France for Hellfest 2019 and then back to Porto, Portugal. We booked them about 3 to 4 months in advance and still managed to get an affordable price. Make sure that you catch a flight the day before the first day of the bands or early in the morning of the first day. You do not want to miss any bands you really wanted to see as the assumption is that this is a once in a lifetime occurrence. I would imagine flights or the train from Paris to Nantes is required if you attend Hellfest and spend time in their capital beforehand. The Hellfest website offers a lot of help for travellers across Europe and the UK, so consider all options.
- Our local flights amounted to an additional R2000 per person
Investigate train schedules. Note that Nantes train station is not close to Nantes Airport. They have an airport shuttle which is pretty expensive at €9 euros person. Seeing that our accommodation was 8km from the festival site, we had to ensure that we catch the train to Clisson each day. In the morning, the trains only ran every hour so we ended up stranded only to find friendly french locals stopping and giving us a lift twice out of the 4 day festival weekend. The trains also ran specifically between 2 and 3am each day after the festival to transport festival goers to the smaller towns surrounding Clisson.
- Daily train tickets per day: R 64 per person (€4 per day per person)
- Train ticket back to Nantes: R 80 per person (€5)
- Ubers are available but scarce and expensive.
Below is a very rough estimate what this weekend could possibly cost if you are South African and work on an exchange rate of R17 to the Euro. This excludes items such as band merchandise which can vary from €10 and upwards.
|Food & Drinks||150||2 550|
|Festival Ticket||215||3 655|
|Return Flight||335||5 695|
|Local Trains (Weekend Only)||20||340|
|Accommodation (Optional)||120||2 040|
|Grand Total||840||14 280|