HELLFEST and KNOTFEST at Clisson, France 20-23/6/19

Knotfest/Hellfest 2019 June 20-23 Clisson France Day 1- Thursday. Knotfest.

The site! We arrived in Clisson on a train full, and I mean nose to nose full, of excited revellers who were just a small percentage of the 60,000 plus about to take over this beautiful town for the next 4 days. After queuing for a while in the glorious sunshine we entered Hellfest and it was like no other festival I’ve ever been to. As we walked through Hell City Square towards the campsite, the preparation that has gone into the site was mind-blowing. Bars and stores were already bustling and there was a band on the Hell stage to warm everyone up for what was to come later that day. Camping is included in the ticket price and it was only a short walk through Metal Corner to the campsite which was already a sea of tents and as the day went on our neighbours got closer and closer until they were like relatives living in the annexe. Once settled in we checked out the V.I.P area and it was out of this world, highly recommended, even if it’s just to use proper toilets instead of the compost toilets, great idea but “euugghhh”.

A grand building containing a huge bar and a big screen showing the main stages dominated the area and was surrounded by plenty of indoor and outdoor seating, water features and stalls to buy food, drink, ice cream etc. The first band was already on stage so we headed to the main arena and it was hard not to be in awe of the place. The 2 main stages were right next to each other which was a genius set up because as one band finished the next band started.

There were also the Altar, Temple and Valley stages in tents at the back and they too were a decent size and close proximity. Dotted around were plenty of lavishly decorated bars and merch stalls and plenty of toilets so you never spent too long queuing for anything. The bands! There was something for everyone at Knotfest, Scandinavian power metal band Amaranthe were the first act I watched and I was made up with the sound quality straight away, the 3 lead vocalists were outstanding and as one of the bands, I had been looking forward to seeing I was not at all disappointed.

American band Ministry with the heavy vocals and distinctive pierced face and tattoos of Al Jourgensen were made for a live show. The pit circles were forming now but if you didn’t want to be in the thick of it then you could easily pick a spot further back or between the stages and watch the bands on the massive screens yet still not lose any of the outstanding sound quality. One ticked off my bucket list were Californias Papa Roach, and they really brought everything they had to Knotfest. Opening with “Last Resort”, rock vocalist and rapper Jacobys energy were at level 100% right to the finish. More recent tracks such as “Born For Greatness” and “Who Do You Trust” went down just as well as the old favourites and the fans went mental when they played “Firestarter” as a tribute to The Prodigys late great Keith Flint. Heavy metal legend Rob Zombie put on an outstanding performance with the rest of the band all in costumes and makeup, sounding phenomenal, easily one of the crowd favourites at Knotfest playing tracks such as “Living Dead Girl” and “Dragula”. Other bands on included Behemoth, Amon Amarth, Powerwolf, Sick Of It All and Sabaton.

The headliners were obviously Knotfest creators and heavy metal legends Slipknot, and wow what a beast of a performance they gave us all. Frontman Corey Taylor along with the rest of the masked up band members pumped it up to the max with their performance and stage production. They played fan favourites such as “Duality”, “Psychosocial” and “Spit It Out” and I was still hearing folk singing their new track, “Unsainted”, days later on the campsite. Different class.

Day 2. Friday. Hellfest.

I awoke after little sleep and made my way through what was like a scene from a zombie apocalypse towards the campsite toilets, everyone looking dishevelled and hungover but there were 3 more days yet so Monday morning was going to be interesting. BlackRain were the first band I saw on one of the main stages, which was purely for French artists that day, and I have to say I really enjoyed their glam rock sound. The temperature was soaring by now and I inadvertently discovered the water features….

Phew! Standing in front of the flowing water was enough for me as I just picked up a slight cooling mist whilst watching the bands on another big screen behind the bar area. This place has been really well thought out. Other French bands on this main stage included Ultra Vomit, No One Is Innocent, 5 times veterans of Hellfest Dagoba and the awesomely brilliant Mass Hysteria who ripped the day into night playing their exciting, original metal to an adoring crowd who obviously knew more about what they were singing than I did but I care not because I enjoyed their music anyway especially “Vae soli !” On the other main stage, we saw Finland’s power metal greats Sonata Arctica, prog metal legends Dream Theater who drew a massive following and the amazing Dropkick Murphys with their feelgood Celtic sing-and-drink-a-long punk who also do a rendition of Gerry Marsden’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone” which was unexpected. Tonight was the night where I discovered how different the food court was to previous festivals I’ve visited, the portion sizes were very good, the prices were reasonable…. €3 for really nice ice cream with so many flavours to choose from and the pizza was just the tastiest pizza I’ve ever eaten. The drinks were reasonable too, you bought a reusable glass on the first day and saved a fortune as well as being eco-friendly and having a memento to take home. It also meant this was the tidiest festival too with no sea of plastic all over the floor. The headliners came on to a gargantuan applause as they were the last minute(not quite) replacement for Manowar. Yes, Swedish power metal Sabaton returned after closing Knotfest the previous night to save the day.

Unfortunately, Joakims vocals didn’t hold out for the entire performance due to the previous set but guitarists Chris and Tommy stepped in and did a smashing job using a written lyrics sheet and it was still a very entertaining set. Gojira headlined the last of the French bands but I was beaten so didn’t get to see them but I could hear their death metal playing all the way back through the vast crowd.

Day 3. Saturday.

When I woke up to glorious sunshine and could hear live music playing I was worried I might have slept through half the day… But no, it was 8 am and I’d had about 1-hours total sleep and it must have been a sound check. Today was the day I was going to be running around like a headless chicken because there were a few time clashes of bands I wanted to see. Welsh ragga metal band Skindred hyped the crowd up for their third time on the Hellfest main stage throwing all kinds of genres into the cauldron. Another British band FM hit the main stage next with a more 80’s sounding rock style you could sing along to. Early afternoon was quick to come and I headed for the Temple stage to catch a bit of Dool. These are a dark, atmospheric band from the Netherlands with a unique sound that intrigues me and luckily they played my favourite song, “In Her Darkest Hour”, first so I then proceeded straight to the main stage to watch the awesome Richie Kotzen. His guitar playing is awesome which is to be expected as he played in Mr Big and Poison but he also brings a fantastic hard rock vocal to his songs which are catchy, and although I watched on the big screen from the water feature in the sweltering midday sun it was a musical highlight that day. I discovered a whole new area today too… The Warzone. More food places, more bars, another stage and a whole area where you could chill out in a cooling mist. I think if it had rained all weekend it would have been such a shame that so many amazing features and displays would not have been appreciated. Back to the main stage now and Eisbrecher, an industrial metal band from Germany, were a replacement for earlier festival drop outs Rival Sons and have never been a fan of this genre was not expecting them to be so good but my feet were tapping and I found them very entertaining. Now, most people have heard the name, if not the music, of The Eagles Of Death Metal after the atrocities at The Bataclan 4 years ago. Many, including me, would be surprised to know they are more of a Southern rock n roll band from the USA than a death metal band but they pulled a massive crowd. Another female fronted band from the Netherlands, Within Temptation, graced the main stage before all the old classics took over for the night.

Whitesnake, Def Leppard, ZZ Top… All absolute legends, especially those who grew up listening to them in the ’80s. Plenty of sing-a-long classics, “Is This Love”, “Here I Go Again”, “Legs”, “Gimme All Your Lovin”, “Pour Some Sugar On Me”, “Love Bites”, “Let’s Get Rocked” and much more. As darkness fell a fire eating and dancing display attracted plenty of onlookers, especially as it got really cold later in the night. At 11 pm it was time for the headliners and ‘You wanted the best? You got the best!’ Kiss appeared on the Hellfest stage for their 3rd time and I’m guessing the last time as they are about to tour for the final time. They definitely weren’t here to go through the motions though, it was a hell of a set, all the hits such as “Crazy Crazy Nights”, “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” and “Rock And Roll All Nite” were intermingled with ballads, piano solos, drum solos, fire-breathing and crowd participation. It was worth the ticket price just to witness these legends still entertaining after all these years at the same high level. You have to feel for the last band on the other stage when they have to follow such greatness but The Architects are a totally different entity. This metalcore band from England kept most of the Kiss crowd and drew some extras away from the other stages too and they were louder than loud. Sam Carter’s vocals were outstanding throughout and along with the rest of the bands’ performance they ended everyone’s Saturday night on a high.

Day 4. Sunday.

Not sure if I drank too much or had too much sun yesterday or if it was just pure exhaustion but I felt off this morning. One thing I have discovered is if you have a cool box with ice cubes in they’re really good for a quick pick-me-up wash in the morning because it’s really cold at night so you have to layer up with clothes but as soon as that sun wakes you up you can’t get out of them quick enough. We went off to the supermarket again, which is really close by and caters for the revellers really well, to get supplies for the day before heading back to catch the last days action. Another handy tip I learned is if you buy anything that just needs reheating, leave it in the tent for a few hours and hey presto it’s ready to eat when you get back. The first band I watched on the main stage today were Blackberry Smoke, Southern US rock music which eased you into the overly hot day rather pleasantly. Everyone, including me, was indulging themselves between bands with the icy cold water in the fountains today, standing under them today though rather than running through or just catching the mist, someone even brought a paddling pool which provided a different sort of entertainment. Metalcore greats Trivium were on next and they were outstanding, Matts vocals were 100% and it didn’t take much persuading to achieve the best super pit circles and walls of death, the crowd were at their best for these guys. I watched Clutch on the screen by the fountains and loved their hard, bluesy US rock sound, Neil is a highly talented and entertaining frontman “I must say” and “Ghoul Wrangler” was one of my favourite tracks of the day. It was definitely an afternoon/evening of US giants on the main stages today with Stone Temple Pilots and Testament playing next before the legendary Anthrax drew me away from the water and down to the front of the main stages. With tracks like “Caught In A Mosh” and “I Am The Law”, these thrash metal legends were not settling for 2nd best when it came to pit action, they even stopped mid-song to encourage the crowd to do better. Another band on their final tour were up next and Lynyrd Skinyrd had everyone singing along to tracks “That Smell”, “Simple Man” and “Sweet Home Alabama” and after a long pause, with the crowd chanting ‘Freebird’, they finally appeared for the encore and it was magnificent, so glad I got to see them again before they hang up their tour boots. Slash, the legend, along with Miles Kennedy and the Conspirators were up next and when you look on the big screen and witness the way Slash plays the guitar it’s hard not to feel emotional. Miles has a terrific voice and stage presence and they gel so well together, loved the song Anastasia and they even covered Guns n Roses track “Night Train” which had all the fans singing along.

Slayer were the headliners tonight and it would be the last time, as they too are on their final tour. They put on one hell of a show with 90 minutes of their pure thrash metal back catalogue including “Black Magic” and the more recent “Delusions Of Saviour” and finishing the set with “Angel Of Death” and a huge fireworks display, out with a bang!! I, on the other hand, headed for another pizza, but to my dismay, they had brought the shutters down after selling out of food… I blame myself for posting on social media how nice they were. I did get to enjoy some lovely pasta instead so it wasn’t a total disaster. Tool headlined the other main stage but I headed over to the warzone stage to watch British band Enter Shikari who were bursting with energy and enthusiasm and as they seemed to attract the younger generation I took in a few tracks before I dragged my middle-aged backside off to the tent and let the youngsters party into the night.

Early Monday morning and it has finally rained, extinguishing the fires of Hellfest for another year.

Written by Philip Goddard

A Concert Photographer from Manchester, UK. First gig I shot was in 2015 and never looked back.

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