Hellfest 2014 Report

That’s it for another year. I’m exhausted, sunburnt, skint and the countless performances are yet to sink in, but already I’m brimming with excitement for next year’s Hellfest announcements.

Having missed the French fest last year, I was a little concerned that its dramatic expansion in size since 2012 may have warped the overall experience into something unrecognisable from my beloved memories. My doubts were needless however as Hellfest is still a thriving metal utopia. You have to appreciate the rarity of a festival that consistently boasts such a high-calibre of extreme music alongside an unbeatable atmosphere.

This year Hellfest really lived up to its name due to an intense heat-wave across the whole weekend. You’d think weather like that would be ideal, but this was overwhelming. For someone used to the drizzle of England, the relentless heat actually made the long days quite hard. At times I found it too hot to think and generally couldn’t muster the energy to really lose myself every day. So yeah, I will definitely be better prepared for the possibility of another scorcher next year.

ToxicHolocaust
Toxic Holocaust

It’s a shame the heat got the better of me because we were spoilt for choice with places to be and bands to see. To sum-up all the best moments would mean writing about ninety-percent of the line-up. As such, this is only a taste of my 2014 experience…

On the Friday my first highlight was Toxic Holocaust on the mainstage. I’d wanted to see them for ages and the three-piece lived up to my expectations with a spot-on set. Being unfamiliar with the work of Nocturnus, the uniqueness of Nocturnus AD made quite an impression on me. Later we saw Slayer (or rather, half of Slayer) before dashing over to the Warzone stage to watch headliners Kvelertak kick serious ass. That was a treasure.

Like the previous evening, Saturday’s schedule consisted of an unbelievable sequence of death metal and we made the most of that by hanging around the Altar, gradually leading to the finale of Nile then Carcass – both always exceptional. One of the only mainstage bands we checked out that day were Hatebreed. Their tunes always work up a storm in Clisson and they got me sufficiently pumped for the evening’s headliners.

I don’t know if this year’s Behemoth performance rivalled the time they headlined the Temple stage in 2012, which sent shivers down my spine, but after the release of The Satanist it was excellent witnessing them tackle the mainstage. Watching the mighty Emperor was pretty special too and they were the last of the extreme bands on my list before chilling to Sabbath, arguably the perfect candidates to wrap-up a glorious three days.

Nocturnus AD
Nocturnus AD

Even if the heat did make me feel decrepit, the weekend was so sweet overall. What’s also cool is that surrounding businesses in Clisson continue to embrace the festival. The supermarket nearby, which often has queues for entry full of Hellfest punters looking to stock up on supplies, now decks the place out with Hellfest banners, promotes food and camping equipment for the crowds and the shop-floor staff even don Hellfest t-shirts. It’s nice to see them getting into the spirit of things and welcome us with open arms.

In terms of sales, it must be equivalent to Christmas week in UK supermarkets. But the members of staff clearly adopt an open-mind to the whole event, which is how it should be. Being immersed in metal culture and experiencing great festivals like these, it’s easy to forget that externally ridiculous prejudices still exist and that people aren’t always so sound. French politician Christine Boutin of the Christian Democratic Party once tried to have the festival cancelled and appealed for sponsors like Kronenbourg to pull out, claiming that the festival’s imagery would scare children and that the music encouraged violent acts.

Considering I’ve yet to encounter a single ticket holder who looks as though they’d hurt a fly, you have to laugh. Here we are in 2014 and Hellfest’s popularity continues to spread with fans and bands internationally. I truly believe that the Hellfest experience is unrivalled by any other festival.

Until next year!

Carcass’ Swansong: The album everyone loves to hate

People don’t seem to slate Carcass’ Swansong as much these days. Probably because they can now accept that it wasn’t the band’s swansong after all, (hello Surgical Steel!)

But let it be known that I’ve always really liked it. Even being aware of its flaws. This is something I wrote back in 2010 after seeing Carcass at Hellfest.

carcass-swansong

Have you ever felt the urgency to justify your love for a particular album? Perhaps the band in question has a reputation for being a ‘guilty pleasure’ within metal? Or perhaps they’re just downright talentless? Well Carcass are anything but and carry a reputation for being legendary. They’re highly respected for their massive contribution to early death metal. Yet I always feel reluctant to admit my love of Carcass’ final studio album.

There’s a common tendency for fans to turn their noses up at Swansong. But is it as bad as they make out? Not really.

Frontman Jeff Walker introduced the opening track as being from the album that everyone “hates to love” when they played at Bloodstock. Not me – I love to love it and after seeing them perform at Hellfest earlier this year, I was a little disappointed not to hear any tracks from this particular album. Nevertheless, Swansong is always left in the dark and fans are so hasty to disregard it.

Of course there are a few factors as to why this is the case. Swansong stands out as being the ‘softest’ of the death-grind pioneers catalogue and strays quite drastically from the band’s signature sound. This alone appears to be a good enough reason for many extreme music lovers to instantly disregard it. But you’d be a fool not to consider Swansong as a separate piece, without the renowned discography as a backdrop for assessment. Whilst Swansong is by no means Carcass’ best album, there’s something to be taken from their final effort. So don’t cast it aside and label it as a failure.

Listening to Swansong, it seems as though the band were attempting something completely fresh and a completely unique sound has been captured. One that’s more rock’n’roll based, yes. But very dark in its own right. The hauntingly catchy riffs alongside Walkers rough vocals and strange lyrics create an eerie and interesting new sound which is still as edgy as ever. Songs like ‘Childs Play’ stand out to me as possessing a very sinister undertone. Even the artwork on the cover veers from Carcass’ typical theme of autopsies and gore and portrays an abstract family scene; one that is not wholesome and warm, but quietly disturbing.

Whether Carcass managed to execute their vision successfully or not is another matter for consideration. In fact, I think there is a good chance it was the latter. It has come to light that there were a handful of problems during the albums production which may well have affected the overall outcome and prevented Swansong from reaching its full potential.

‘Keep On Rotting In The Free World’ is a fantastic opening track and never fails to draw a positive reaction from the fans at live shows. However it’s evident throughout the course of the album that the momentum and aggression of the first two tracks slowly fades out.

Yes,  other tracks stand out, but maybe this loss of spark is evidence of the band’s problems beginning to take their toll; personal and with the production. Distractions and pressures in and out of the studio would jeopardize the writing and recording of the album and could have left Carcass more inclined to rush, or at least finish it as soon as physically possible. Certain band members have expressed in interviews how they were already becoming “tired of each other” and were aware that their run was coming to an end.

Already possessing this knowledge then, it’s no surprise that a feeling of abandonment might radiate through the piece. Perhaps if the guys had felt it possible, they could have provided fans with a more well-rounded and polished final effort. As a big fan of Swansong for what it is, I think it’s a great shame that this wasn’t the case.

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