Another year, and 50,000 metalheads descend on a dusty, sun-drenched field in northern France for a sold-out, 10th instalment of Hellfest. As ever, the lineup is so good, you’re immediately forced into painful choices, but no one is ever heard saying they’re bored; there’s simply too much to see.
SYLOSIS  do their best to start the party, but despite some massive tunes and Josh Middleton’s impressive riffing, the PA clearly isn’t quite ready to give them the punch their performance deserves. WE ARE HARLOT , though, are an absolute revelation. The baking sun, some instant rock’n’roll classics and a dose of star quality shine through every glorious minute of their set. While ARMORED SAINT  obviously look a little lost on the massive main stage, they’ve got the voice and personality of John Bush to carry them through a set of classic thrash.
It may still be bright and sunny outside, but the funereal melodic doom of SHAPE OF DESPAIR  casts a grim, sombre pallor over the Altar stage. VALLENFYRE  are as abrasive and rottenly brutal as you would hope, Greg Mackintosh’s wry humour interspersing the grim death metal riffs. While their sound starts off shit, the blackened groove at the heart of MELECHESH’s  Middle-Eastern melody carries them until the guitars are cleaned up, at which point the tent erupts in enthusiasm. It’s easy to forget just how many songs BILLY IDOL  has got until you see him live. As well as the nostalgia of White Wedding and Rebel Yell, new song Save Me Now is as lip-curled and 80s as you’d hope it would be. DYING FETUS  pummel everyone else out of sight in terms of sheer brutality. No bells, no whistles, no gimmicks, just pure death metal nirvana. HIGH ON FIRE  air the expected immaculately fuzzy array of killer riffs, the tautness making up for a visually static display from the stoner trio. It’s a shame for SODOM  that their crowd only fills up as people arrive for the band later, as the vicious thrash of Agent Orange and the other great songs in their arsenal deserve more onlookers. Subsequently, MOTÖRHEAD  blow one of the biggest audiences of the weekend with a well-below-par performance, lacking ensemble and relying too much on the classic songs selling themselves.
After murdering Download this is a slight comedown for FIVE FINGER DEATH PUNCH . Ivan Moody’s verbal battle with the spotlight operator becomes a bigger talking point than the music, leaving the band slightly unfocused. Blood-spattered and looking fresh from the grave, the Swedish death metal (with Nick Holmes’s Yorkshire accent) of BLOODBATH  manages to match ripping, gore-drenched songs with one of the weekend’s most spectacular visuals. With their excellent costumes and make-up added to crucified skeletons onstage, CRADLE OF FILTH  really should match them, but a lacklustre performance from the band lets down Dani Filth’s excellent showmanship. It’s a much more stripped down and straightforward set from ALICE COOPER  today, but when you can go from I’m Eighteen into Welcome To My Nightmare it’s not a bad tactic. The show you get from CHILDREN OF BODOM  all depends on the mood of Alexi Laiho. Today he’s fired up and on blistering form, meaning we get Bodom at near enough their best. It’s weird seeing superstars MASTODON  play on what is technically the smallest stage, and given the odd setlist, new material dominant with the ‘hits’ missing, it’s not one of their best shows ever. Still rifftastic and musically great, mind.
The temperamental PA refuses to give LAMB OF GOD  the requisite punch, but they are still more than a match for most bands even when handicapped. With a killer, crow-themed back projection, SATYRICON  emerge grim and snarling, barely contained ferocity powering one of the sets of the weekend, the double punch of Now, Diabolical and Black Crow On A Tombstone going down raucously. Half their songs may be older than half their audience tonight, but JUDAS PRIEST  still sound fresh. Flawless guitar interplay and Rob Halford’s still-powerful voice make sure no one has left when Living After Midnight closes the second encore. It’s easy to forget that MESHUGGAH  are actually human sometimes. Predictably, they melt the minds of everyone present with a mixture of technical wizardry, building-levelling riffs and oppressive strobe lighting.
Anyone less bonkers couldn’t get away with debuting three unreleased songs in a row, but the blackjazz chaos of SHINING (NO)  somehow manages to keep everyone alert and interested despite the late hour. SLIPKNOT  are in the zone where every show is now an event, a gathering, a religious experience. Still utterly feral and with some of the biggest songs of the weekend, how could they have failed?
Who knew MOTIONLESS IN WHITE  would become such a great live band? Everything you love about Marilyn Manson, Rammstein and Rob Zombie in one package. THE ANSWER  seem a little burnt out and stale. There isn’t much here but going through the classic rock motions, other than the exceptional vocal talents of Cormac Neeson. The Bristolian thrash of ONSLAUGHT  really should be enjoyed at a drunker hour than this, but they still manage to generate plenty of movement under canvas. Once upon a time BACKYARD BABIES  represented a vital and youthful return to sleazy rock’n’roll. Today they look old and tired. Returning for an encore whilst 90% wander off says it all. They should take a leaf from AIRBOURNE’s  book. They fly out the traps faster than anyone, but blow the entire PA twice, leading to a frustrating 15-minute delay. Harsh luck.
Live,** L7 ** always sounded way more punkish and unfocused. So add 20 years and a drummer with limited capacities and you get a muddled performance only saved by a setlist heavily focused on their classic Bricks Are Heavy. FINNTROLL  are the first (but not last) Finnish folk metal band to prove they should be on the main stages, the pointy-eared mob generating headbanging and dancing in equal measure in a rammed-beyond-capacity tent – one that grows even more for the hugely energetic, anthemic ENSIFERUM , who close with the roared-on disco number Two Of Spades while a man dressed as Pingu goes crowdsurfing in an inflatable dinghy.
SLASH  is a bit too nice these days. The GN’R material sounds great but lacks the danger of yesteryear, and his solo material veers towards the indulgent. Still, _You Could Be Mine _is masterful. Despite the airing of new song Autonomous Zone and Jaz Coleman’s intense feverish gaze, KILLING JOKE  seem unable to get the crowd going and soon go into autopilot mode. All that’s dangerous about BODY COUNT  these days is the absurdly small stage they play on, leading to crushed fans and infighting all over the field.
If you ever need to know how to turn simplistic rock’n’roll into pure genius then go see** ZZ TOP **. Theirs is a set comprised solely of some of the greatest music this genre has ever produced delivered with effortless panache. Unsurprisingly to the Brits in attendance, ORANGE GOBLIN  are enormous fun, frontman Ben Ward seemingly on a mission to make sure everyone is enjoying their set as much as he obviously is. If you’ve seen them since their return, you’ll not be shocked to hear that FAITH NO MORE  embarrass every other band on the bill. Even if they’ve toned down the theatrics, MAYHEM  needed to set things straight after a few disastrous appearances killed by a muddy mix. Tonight sees them on fine form, so mission accomplished. Like aliens dropped in from an advanced planet, they are still lapping the opposition 30 years after forming. Considering Deicide and Morbid Angel’s dramatics, it feels damn good to have a band like OBITUARY  still holding the flag for no-frills death metal. Slowly We Rot still sounds as heavy-as-fuck in 2015 as it did 25 years ago. While they’re a damn sight better than at points in their past, VENOM  don’t quite manage to capitalise, the late hour seeing neither the classics nor the great newer songs having quite the impact you expect.
For a country that is famous for its love of cheese, you shouldn’t be shocked to see SCORPIONS  co-headlining. They’re inherently absurd throughout, but bring what is probably the weekend’s most spectacular show and, of course, they have _Rock You Like A Hurricane _up their sleeve. The good news is that** MARILYN MANSON ** the band have not sounded this good for over a decade. The bad news is that the man himself staggers around like an unruly teen after his first sip of White Lightning looking like a prize tit.
If anything is more punishing than the midday sun, then it’s CODE ORANGE  who are dark, unusual, oblique, passionate and devastatingly heavy. Robed and hooded in black, THE GREAT OLD ONES , meanwhile, put on a masterclass of Lovecraftian black metal, despite the bright hour. THE HAUNTED  have gone back to doing what they do best: making crushing thrash metal records. The new live show reflects the change, too, the set’s breakneck pace making it a genuinely exciting wake-up call. RED FANG  are similarly good at making friends with their no-bullshit stoner metal delivered in typically cheerful fashion. DARK TRANQUILLITY  are a little below their usual standards though, an emergency lineup behind Mikael Stanne not helped by the PA swallowing his vocals and their melodies for half the set.
Classic thrash metal and Hellfest is always a winning combination and EXODUS  confirm it. Gary Holt may be showing no mercy elsewhere but the return of a totally rejuvenated Steve Souza makes up for it, resulting in the biggest moshpit of the day. A DAY TO REMEMBER  play to a much smaller crowd than at Download, and don’t look especially happy about it. Some cracking songs are delivered in a punctual and workmanlike way and nothing more. They may no longer be Beastmilk, but GRAVE PLEASURES  ensure the crowd are under their control, sounding tighter than ever with plenty of metal-heads dancing throughout. EYEHATEGOD’s  nihilistic sludge obviously doesn’t cause dancing, instead powering through a crowd that seems intent on banging what’s left of their neck muscles to bits. Bizarrely though, EHG’s crowd is dwarfed by a way-over-capacity horde here to see ALESTORM  mangle their pirate metal with far less enthusiasm than their crowd, relying too much on twee keytar to carry the awful vocals. NUCLEAR ASSAULT  frontman John Connelly’s duck-like voice is the only thing that doesn’t sound and look old and tired here and even a too-stoned-to-care Danny Lilker seems to agree.
CAVALERA CONSPIRACY  pull off one of the surprises of the festival. Max is clearly fired up and willing to give us his heaviest and finest material, not just from CC but Sepultura and Nailbomb, too. Mina Caputo is one of the finest and most emotional vocalists in rock music and her band LIFE OF AGONY  are pure class. One of 90s music’s great lost bands are back – don’t ignore them this time. You know what you’re going to get with CANNIBAL CORPSE  down to the last detail, and that’s why you keep coming back to them. As predictable as they are live, they still slay and today’s performance is no exception. With jets of fire and Simone Simons’ flawless, powerful voice the icing on the cake of a hugely strong performance, EPICA’s  proggy symphonic metal goes down brilliantly in the setting sun. Seeing SAMAEL  performing 1994’s Ceremony Of Opposites in its entirety, albeit with a new lineup, underlines how much those Swiss chaps were ahead of their time with their classic-black-metal-goes-martial.
Scott Reagers doesn’t have Wino’s rock star mystique, but when the original SAINT VITUS  frontman sings, your jaw just drops. By the time they play the immense Born Too Late, with Phil Anselmo and the whole Eyehategod crew on the side doing air guitar, the reunion turns into an indisputable triumph. LIMP BIZKIT  play a ton of rock club anthems (even ones they didn’t write), but it’s the same set you’ve seen seven years running now, meaning their unfocused performance is nothing more than a bloated Vegas-style cabaret. Making melodic death metal sound as furious as the most brutal death, AT THE GATES  are briefly joined by The Haunted’s Marco Aro for a dual vocal attack, before closing with a typically thunderous Blinded By Fear. IN FLAMES  play to one of the weekend’s biggest crowds, and they have the bit between their teeth again as a live act. Opener Only For The Week is explosive, and they never look back. How many bands would dare finish off their one-hour festival gig with a 20-minutes-plus suffocating dirge? The three Celtic Frost songs TRYPTIKON  perform are arguably the highlights but The Prolonging’s final trip into the deepest abyss alone makes the difference. While following Tom G Warrior is a thankless task, the articulate vocals and charisma of Alissa White-Gluz makes sure ARCH ENEMY  are too good to disappoint. By the time Phil Anselmo gets onstage with a reunited SUPERJOINT RITUAL , he’s stoned and drunk and spends more time floundering around and spouting some impenetrable ranting than actually playing music.
The things you used to love about KORN  are not the things you love about them now, so them playing their debut in full is like watching them squeeze into their old school trousers. Nothing wrong with the music, but they don’t look entirely comfortable playing it. While their performance is heartfelt and downright killer, NIGHTWISH  bizarrely load the first 45 minutes of their set with new songs, leeching atmosphere ’til rarity Stargazers sees the crowd wake up and generate a final burst of energy as another stellar Hellfest comes to a close.