Clisson is a small village of just over 6,000 inhabitants surrounded by picturesque vineyards and castles – just like a postcard from France. However, for three days, this bucolic place was the backdrop of a celebration of heavy metal, pulsating with electric guitars, drums and soaring vocals.
The sun shone strongly, the heat, suffocating, as we followed the crowd, drawn inexorably towards the haunting sounds of guitar chords in the distance. The sense of anticipation was palpable, as clouds of dust rose up to greet us, reminiscent of a scene from Mad Max. The idyllic tranquility of Clisson provided a sharp contrast to the place we found ourselves in. Music immediately enveloped us in its tight embrace. The unmistakable smell of barley was hanging thick in the air. Plastic tokens became the currency for trade for goods and services. It was a different world altogether.
In a review of Hellfest 2014, the easiest and most obvious thing to do would be to compare it with last year’s event: the line-up of bands, the outstanding individual performances the number of spectators, etc. Most journals would. But I prefer to focus on what really matters: The value of the event as a place to rediscover the passion for metal and reconnect with it, to revel in the glory of an exquisitely-timed guitar riff, and the endless reverberation of a perfect single stroke on the drum, even as the night fire of the bars evoke an image of Dante’s hell.
Meeting the great idols of my childhood and my youth in the flesh was a near-religious experience. My present heroes are ageless, and for that moment, I, too, was ageless. In fact, at Hellfest, all are equal. Amidst the hedonistic cocktail of gothic clothing, extended tongues, air guitar and bad renditions of famous rock anthems, there was a rich exchange among music lovers, both from far and near, and among experts, connoisseurs, and younger initiates and acolytes alike. For example, a photographer from Argentina and another from Germany ran into a Uruguayan journalist, whom they know only from reading his articles. An animated discussion ensued. Inevitably, the curiosity of clissoniennes tourists drew them into this vortex of rock music nourished by the inescapable and undeniable sounds of Sepultura, Iron Maiden, Slayer …
Hellfest 2014 was this: A meeting of the gods and heroes of rock and metal with their faithful and the newly initiated to the innate brotherhood that does not recognize nationalities, notwithstanding some flags waving above the heaving crowds. It was a union between those who are still here among us and those who have left us a remarkable legacy.
The power of Phil Anselmo, the nostalgia of Status Quo, Deep Purple. Impeccable…
Some images would stay with me for a long time: A couple coming out of a wedding ceremony, celebrating their love at Hellfest; countless revelers with skin painted red by the relentless sun; the endless queues to eat cheese, sausage and all the French food you could find… The simulation of a cathedral that was the entrance to Hellfest reminded us of the ardor that metal and rock music inspires in its legions of fans.
Three days and three nights. And the signboard at the train station in Nantes bade commuters appropriately: Welcome to Hellfest!