France’s soirée of festival season is Hellfest, based in the sleepy town of Clisson, which lies half an hour from Nantes in the Pays de la Loire region of the country, and this year is it’s 13th incarnationIn the beginning, starting off more on the heavy side, it’s grown into one of the most eclectic festivals in Europe. Imagine if you crossed the music from Download with Bloodstock, threw in wee bit of Heavy Scotland and topped it off with a touch of Rebellion… you’d not even be close to the mix that you get here.The other thing that amazes me about Hellfest is the sheer size of the event: two main stages joined together (so 5 mins between artists); 3 “smaller” venues, The Alter, The Temple (both the size of football pitches), The Valley (slightly smaller); and the standalone Warzone.

This was my first trip to Hellfest and the journey, made by car, was as eventful as always, this time made longer by the heavy traffic caused by the French rail strike, and our hotel not telling us how to get into our room when we turned up at midnight as a result! Having risen later than intended, we made our way to the exquisite town of Clisson to begin the festivities on a day like each of the previous times that we have been there: clear, sunny & warm. Due to the size of the event and to minimise moving, we concentrated more on the main stages, with a few exceptions. Even with this, my health app on my iPhone read 11.2 miles, 12.3 miles and 11.7 miles on each of the 3 days respectively.
No hassles with the press pass so that’s one bonus, a quick beer in the VIP section to “test” our newly loaded up cashless cards and its time to go.The first band that we get to see, representing England are Planet Rock regulars Toseland (7/10), they give a good performance but struggle to get the early morning crowd on side. Tesseract (7/10) are next up, and again struggle to gain full crowd attention but deliver musically.Next up Is AC/DC’s Chris Slade as the Chris Slade Timeline, covering his career in AC/DC and with Gary Moore & Dave Gilmore. Word to the wise, Chris: stick to the AC/DC stuff, it was brilliant (8/10) the less said about the rest the better. Sons of Apollo (8.5/10) are the first band to really get the crowd going with Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal and bass virtuoso Billy Sheehan on fine form. We’re in real nostalgia mode as firstly Angry Anderson’s Rose Tattoo (7/10) take us back a few years and entertain the crowd well followed by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts (7/10) rolling (and rocking) back the years.

I take a trip to the Valley to check out NOLA sludge aficionados Crowbar (9/10) fronted by Kirk Windstein and powered by Matt Branson’s seven string beast, they really deliver the doom and wow, what a sound! Something that this stage tends to get. Mesuggah’s (8/10) show still works in the sunlight (just) but lacks the splendour of darkness, something that countrymen Joey Tempest and Europe (8.5/10) have no issue with. Tempest struts like a peacock as they really deliver, plus I get to hear 100,000 plus people singing “The Final Countdown” at full voice which is a sound to behold.

Steven Wilson, the self-confessed “ABBA” of the festival plays the heavier stuff from his back catalogue, the highlights being from Porcupine Tree and is the real pleasant surprise of the day.