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KNAC.COM Recaps 2023 The HELLFEST OPEN AIR Festival

By Larry Petro, News Monkey
Tuesday, August 15, 2023 @ 10:19 AM

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Review And Photos By Tony Sanchez (@oculosCaecos)

The dust settles over the scorched grounds of Clisson, France, as the Hellfest Open Air festival commences its explosive takeover. As the sun sets and the world plunges into darkness, a cataclysmic clash of musical forces awakens the dormant souls of those who have gathered here for a wild, debauched extended 5-dayweekend. The air is electric with anticipation, and the fervor of the crowd teeters on the edge of madness. I, your intrepid correspondent, find myself in the eye of this maelstrom, ready to report on the mayhem that ensues.

Guess what? They've moved the Valley stage to its very own open sky stage spanning 2.47 acres. And get this, they've got giant video screens too! Leading up to the event, some folks had doubts about the change because they were attached to the unique "vibe" inside the old Valley tent, especially with the scent and haze in the air. But you know what? The expanded site actually turned out to be a hit with everyone. It made it much smoother for the 60,000 festival-goers to get to and from the Valley, and overall, people were pretty content with the new setup. It has its own bars and snacks and even some shade by a new temporary giant piece of artwork called "Charon's Wheel" that was created by American artist Peter Hudson for the Burning Man festival. I love the new Valley. If it could be shaded and the merch for the Valley bands could be fitted somewhere in there, it could almost be its own festival!

The gods of rock have convened, and the bands of Hellfest 2023 are set to unleash their sonic onslaught upon the clamoring masses. KISS, MOTLEY CRUE, IRON MAIDEN, and SLIPKNOT - each a titan in their own right - will take turns as headliners casting spells of chaos and euphoria upon the frenzied congregation. But these are only a few amongst the more than 180 bands on the bill. This is not a gathering for the faint of heart or the weak of constitution; it is a haven for the brave and the adventurous, those who dare to surrender to the seductive allure of rock 'n' roll.

Honestly, I've been swamped this year and haven't had the time or energy to cover as many bands as I did last year. But here's a shortlist of the ones I did manage to see and photograph. Some choices were driven by personal preferences, while others were simply based on logistics. In chronological order:


In a grand display of avant-garde black metal, IMPERIAL TRIUMPHANT took the stage at The Temple, unleashing their unique brand of dissonance and darkness upon the enthralled audience. The members, adorned in their regal attire, commanded the stage with a mesmerizing presence. Their performances were a carefully orchestrated display of sinister elegance, as they delved into the realms of dissonance and discordance with unwavering precision. In their hands, black metal became a portal to a realm of uncharted sonic territories, leaving the audience in awe of their daring and visionary approach.


Let's be honest, I wasn't in line to see these guys. But as we waited to gain access to photograph the following band, baking under the hot Clisson sun, I enjoyed the gig just enough to make the wait acceptable. I mean there are worst thing to be doing on a Thursday afternoon that watching Billy Idol and Steve Jones playing their respective hits while getting a tan. Some old guys doing old guys shit. Only a delusional could be disappointed.


Frontman Anders Friden commanded the stage with his dynamic presence and commanding vocals, captivating the audience's attention. The band's cohesive musicianship and energy created an electrifying atmosphere, inviting the crowd to become a part of the melodic metal journey. INFLAMES' performance at Hellfest was a triumphant showcase of their enduring influence and that their melodic death metal sound continues to captivate and inspire fans around the world. I was pleased to witness the band playing Take This Life, a personal favorite (said Patrick Bateman).


Amidst the swirling chaos and blistering decibels of Hellfest 2023, a dark, mysterious entity emerged from the shadows. Comprised of rock legends Alice Cooper, Joe Perry, and Johnny Depp, this supergroup brought a dose of classic rock nostalgia to the festival's pulsating heart. The chemistry between the band members was palpable, their shared love for the art of rock 'n' roll evident in every note. The HOLLYWOOD VAMPIRES proved that their collective prowess extended beyond mere celebrity status, as they captivated the audience with their musical proficiency and undeniable stage presence.


As the sun begins its descent, the anticipation mounts, and the air crackles with electrifying energy. The demons have risen (literally, blow up figures of each member appeared on both sides of the stage), the flames have ignited, and Hellfest 2023 has been thrust into the very heart of rock 'n' roll mayhem. Amidst the chaos, the gods of thunder and spectacle have descended upon the stage (again, literally) - the one and only KISS! The opening chords of "Detroit Rock City" reverberate through the air, unleashing a sonic assault that rattles the very foundations of Hellfest. The crowd, a swirling mass of fervent devotees, erupts in unison, their voices merging into a thunderous roar that could awaken the dead. Even though I'm not KISS Army material, I've actually really enjoyed being in the front rows of a KISS show. Yes, even in 2023! They played undeniable Rock-classics and I must admit Paul Stanley still has his shit dialed-in when it comes to being the Star Child. Clearly the highlight of this first night.


I make my way to the infamous War Zone stage right after a ride on the ferris wheel to peak at KISS from above. In a riotous explosion of funk, ska, and punk, FISHBONE took the stage, unleashing their infectious energy upon the crowd. Led by the charismatic Angelo Moore, FISHBONE exuded a magnetic stage presence that drew the audience into their world of infectious melodies and energetic performances. The contrast with KISS and lateness of the hour might have had its toll on yours truly but nonetheless an enjoyable show.


A late start on Friday, what better than the new Valley to get things rolling? The band's slow, punishing riffs and guttural vocals created an oppressive atmosphere that weighed heavy on the crowd's collective consciousness. In the realm of extreme doom, PRIMITIVE MAN stood as an unrelenting force, leaving the audience in awe of their sonic brutality and reaffirming the cathartic power of music as a conduit for introspection and catharsis.


Why leave the Valley now? In a hypnotic haze of sonic distortion, BONGRIPPER took the stage at the Valley, unleashing their brand of instrumental doom metal upon the eager crowd. The band's relentless, wall-of-sound approach captivated the audience, as they delved into the depths of heavy riffage and atmospheric drone. The absence of vocals allowed the music to speak for itself, as the band's crushing instrumentation conjured an otherworldly experience that transcended words.


In a blaze of raw energy and unadulterated attitude, SKID ROW stormed the Main stage with "Slave To The Grind", the very song by which I came to know the band a few many years ago, rekindling the spirit of '90s hard rock with a vengeance. Standing in the pit stage-left in front of Scotti Hill and Rachel Bolan camera raised to my eye, I'm stunned by their raw energy. A few strolls to stage-right and there's Dave Sabo giving 110% on every notes. The band's infectious hooks and anthemic choruses ignited a fervor within the audience, reminding us that the spirit of rock 'n' roll refuses to be tamed. Vocalist Erik Gronwall has everything it takes to lead the band and his vocals are impeccable. Though I haven't listened to the band in many, many years, SKID ROW's performance at Hellfest was a triumphant return to the essence of rock 'n' roll, a testament to their enduring legacy and the timeless power of their music.


In a cloud of hazy smoke and a wall of sludgy riffs, WEEDEATER descended upon the stage back at The Valley, bringing their signature blend of stoner metal and southern grit to the forefront. WEEDEATER's raw and unapologetic approach to their craft left the crowd in a state of sonic intoxication, their heads banging and bodies swaying in unison. WEEDEATER's performance at Hellfest was a celebration of all things heavy and mind-altering, reminding us that within the depths of sludge lies a transcendent power that can transport us to a realm where the boundaries of reality are blurred and the music reigns supreme.


ALTER BRIDGE took the Main Stage1, ready to deliver a masterclass in melodic hard rock. The soaring vocals of Myles Kennedy, coupled with the virtuosic guitar work of Mark Tremonti, created a sonic landscape of anthemic proportions. The band's performance was a testament to their musical prowess, captivating the audience with their dynamic range and impassioned delivery. ALTER BRIDGE's set was a reminder that melodic hooks and heartfelt lyrics still have a place in the realm of rock 'n' roll, and that their brand of emotive hard rock continues to resonate deeply with fans around the world.


GREG PUCIATO, a force of untamed energy and artistic brilliance, took the stage by storm. His presence commanded attention, his voice a conduit of raw emotion and fierce passion. I witnessed him last year when he sang with Jerry Cantrell and was pleased to hear him pay tribute to Cantrell and Staley this year too. Puciato's performance was a cathartic release, a journey through the depths of human experience. With each scream, each whisper, he bared his soul, captivating by his vulnerability and intensity. It was a sonic spectacle that defied expectations, a testament to Puciato's boundless creativity and unyielding commitment to pushing the boundaries of music.


In a malevolent display of blackened death metal, BELPHEGOR descended upon the stage at The Altar, unleashing their infernal wrath upon the crowd. With their blistering riffs, relentless blast beats, and diabolical atmosphere, the band invoked a sinister energy that permeated the air. BELPHEGOR's performance was a sonic assault, summoning a cacophony of darkness and chaos. Helmed by the infernal presence of Helmuth Lehner, BELPHEGOR exuded a commanding stage presence, exuding an aura of malevolence and terror. The band's sonic onslaught, characterized by dissonant harmonies and menacing growls, left the audience entranced in a sinister trance. This show made me want to dive deeper into the realm of blackened death metal!


The crowd was transported back to the heyday of glam metal as MOTLEY CRUE tore through their arsenal of hits. The band's high-octane performance was a raucous celebration of the hedonistic spirit of rock 'n' roll, leaving no doubt that they are the architects of a legendary era in music. Now, this report could end here... but... remembering that suspension of disbelief is a key factor to keep in mind when seeing certain bands perform. Just like with KISS, you MUST make abstraction of all the things you know about the band members and the "politics" surrounding them to really get into it and even enjoy the show. I watched the band from afar and I must say, it was enjoyable. We've all seen the mean-spirited yet entertaining videos of the band where Vince butchers every single line on almost every songs. This, at least from where I was standing, wasn't anything like that. It was MOTLEY CRUE in 2023 with a decent performance. I wish I could have witnessed the band with Mick Mars but hey. The only criticism I might have is that John 5 could have dropped the Halloween makeup for the gig with MOTLEY but that "Shirley" wouldn't spoil the show for anyone.


Twenty-one years had passed since BOTCH last took the stage, but they resurfaced this year with a vengeance, announcing a mini-tour to accompany the reissue of their masterpiece, We Are The Romans. And let me tell you, they haven't lost their edge, not by a long shot. Fury emanated from the four comrades on stage. The audience, hyper-receptive and boiling with excitement, wore expressions of awe, while the palpable shock of being smacked in the face hit many like a ton of bricks. In short, this was an unforgettable concert. BOTCH proved, without a shadow of a doubt, that they are masters of their craft, leaving an indelible mark on all who witnessed their triumphant return.


With a ferocious blend of punk rock and street sensibilities, RANCID stormed the stage at the War Zone, unleashing a whirlwind of raw energy and rebellious anthems. The band's fast-paced riffs, infectious hooks, and impassioned vocals ignited a mosh pit frenzy, capturing the essence of punk's defiant spirit. Led by frontmen Tim Armstrong and Lars Frederiksen, RANCID exuded an authentic punk rock charisma that fueled their high-octane performance.


Fronted by the (not so) enigmatic Maynard James Keenan, this experimental rock collective brought a unique blend of haunting melodies and provocative artistry to the Main Stage 1. Maynard and Carina took the very front of the stage, standing, frozen, still, with mics mounted on some Steadicam, arms on their chests, and commanded the stage with an air of enigmatic charisma. The sonic landscape created by PUSCIFER was an intricate blend of electronic textures, pulsating rhythms, and ethereal melodieswrapped the crowd in a sonic embrace. But PUSCIFER's performance was not limited to music alone. The stage became a canvas for artistic expression, with captivating visuals and multimedia elements intertwining seamlessly with the music. The juxtaposition of light and shadow, the evocative imagery projected onto the stage, added a layer of immersive storytelling to the performance. Aliens, men in black and the briefcase.


With a brooding intensity and a sound drenched in raw emotion, THE OBSESSED took the stage at The Valley, ready to unleash their brand of dark and heavy doom metal upon the eager crowd. Led by frontman Scott "Wino" Weinrich, the band delved into the depths of despair and anguish, their music resonating with a haunting power. As the riffs reverberated through the air, THE OBSESSED created an atmosphere of profound introspection and somber reflection. Wino's soulful vocals, accompanied by the band's relentless instrumentation, carved a path straight into the heart of Hellfest.


In a blaze of melodic death metal fury, ARCH ENEMY commanded the Main Stage 2, leaving a trail of sonic destruction in their wake. With their blistering guitar solos, thunderous rhythms, and the powerful vocals of Alissa White-Gluz, the band unleashed a relentless assault on the senses. I have never really listened to this band albeit being aware of their existence but their performance was so powerful that I'll be looking at their upcoming tour dates.


In a captivating display of progressive rock mastery, PORCUPINE TREE graced the Main Stage 1, transporting the audience into a realm of sonic exploration. With their intricate compositions and atmospheric soundscapes, the band crafted a mesmerizing journey that defied conventional boundaries. Songs like "Arriving Somewhere But Not Here" and "Fear Of A Blank Planet" enveloped the crowd in a tapestry of haunting beauty and introspective lyrics. Frontman Steven Wilson's haunting vocals and masterful guitar work served as the guiding force behind PORCUPINE TREE's sonic odyssey. The band's tight-knit musicianship and attention to sonic detail created an immersive experience, captivating the audience from start to finish.


A band I've been a fan of since the 90's... MONSTER MAGNET took the stage at The Valley, unleashing a tidal wave of psychedelic stoner rock upon the eager crowd. The band's fuzzy guitar riffs and hypnotic grooves enveloped the audience in a haze of sonic bliss. Dave Wyndorf's magnetic presence and distinctive vocals drew the crowd deeper into the band's cosmic realm. Their psychedelic rock soundscapes captivated the crowd, immersing them in a swirling vortex of sonic ecstasy. It was a performance that tapped into the primal desires of rock 'n' roll, leaving the crowd craving for more of Monster Magnet's mind-expanding musical journey.


Still at The Valley, CLUTCH took the stage armed with their unique blend of hard rock, blues, and funk. With their infectious grooves and charismatic stage presence, the band delivered a performance that oozed with soulful swagger that had the crowd moving to the irresistible rhythms, their energy reaching a fever pitch. Front man Neil Fallon commanded the stage with his captivating presence, belting out lyrics with a gritty fervor that resonated deep within the hearts of the audience. CLUTCH's seamless fusion of musical genres created an electrifying atmosphere, reminding us that rock 'n' roll is alive and well.


MESHUGGAH descended upon the stage at The Altar, unleashing their signature brand of mind-bending, progressive metal upon the eager crowd. With their complex rhythms, crushing guitar work, and Jens Kidman's guttural vocals, the band delivered a performance that defied comprehension. The audience was entranced by the sheer technicality and precision of Meshuggah sound, obliterated from all notions of traditional song structure. It was a sonic assault that pushed the boundaries of heaviness and challenged the very fabric of reality. As the intricate web of polyrhythms unfolded, MESHUGGAH, locked in a tight musical synchronicity, unleashed a wall of sound that struck with unrelenting force. Even though it's not my favorite branch within the Prog metal genre, it is to be seen live at least once.


On the Temple stage, the Darkwave duo from Turkey has already started their set. The music is more reminiscent of THE CURE than it is of SISTERS OF MERCY or even BAUHAUS. Even though I like this genre, I found it a little dull as there wasn't much going on onstage. The singer/guitarist posted at the center, albeit delivering good vocals and solid playing the stage felt pretty empty and un-happening if not for the percussionist marking the beat on electronic drum pads. I heard from someone at the press area that the man beating the drums was actually the band's manager who picked up the drum stick after both the drummer and bass player left the band. The band sounds good on record so if they could at least do some stage dressing or incorporate some visuals it would be much more enjoyable live.


I was chatting with a fellow photographer and decided to join him on this one. I had never heard of this band before. HOLY MOSES stormed the Altar stage, their aggressive thrash metal assaulting the senses with unrelenting force. Sabina Classen's fierce vocals cut through the air like a razor, commanding attention and instilling a sense of awe in the crowd. The band's rapid-fire guitar riffs and thunderous drums created a whirlwind of head banging chaos, leaving no doubt that HOLY MOSES is a force to be reckoned with in the Trash-metal scene. Their performance was a relentless onslaught of pure thrash energy, reminding us of the genre's raw power and enduring impact.


Never seen them before but heard enough to know what to expect. Jeff Matz, who has recently joined the band live, was here last year with HIGH ON FIRE for a killer show. They didn't disappoint. Heavy sound, Riff-worship and all that good stuff. They aren't a traditional heavy metal band as they play a more eclectic sound shaped by an array of influences, which makes their performances even more enjoyable and unpredictable even if you're familiar with their work. On tour promoting their latest work Mutants, I will definitely try to catch them again at one of their EU Tour dates.


In the midst of the chaotic fervor that is Hellfest 2023, there emerged a duo of rock 'n' roll mavericks with a wicked sense of humor and a penchant for storytelling-the one and only TENACIOUS D. Jack Black and Kyle Gass, the dynamic duo behind this comedic rock act, took to the Main Stage 1 with an irreverent charm that could not be ignored. The atmosphere crackled with a different kind of energy, one infused with laughter and the promise of a wild, entertaining ride. And when the stage lights illuminated their figures, Black and Gass unleashed a tidal wave of irreverent rock 'n' roll madness.From the moment they strummed the first chords of "Kickapoo" the crowd erupted into a boisterous frenzy. But beyond the laughter and the comedy, there was a genuine love for rock 'n' roll that emanated from the stage. TENACIOUS D's music was a celebration of the genre itself-a playful homage to the legends that came before them. In their own unique way, they paid tribute to the grandiosity and the passion that defines rock music.


In a blaze of sonic fury, PANTERA ignited the Main Stage 2, reminding the world why they are considered one of the most influential metal bands of all time. The ferocity of Zakk Wylde's guitar riffs, Phil Anselmo's primal screams, Rex Brown's thunderous bass lines, and Charlie Benante's relentless drumming created a maelstrom of aggression and intensity. There was no room for controversies or questions about a blasphemous false reunion here. The crowd was transported into a realm of unbridled chaos as iconic anthems like "Walk" and "Cowboys From Hell" pulverized the airwaves, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. The legacy of PANTERA, fueled by their raw power and uncompromising spirit, continues to reverberate through the halls of heavy metal, reminding us that their impact is everlasting. RIP


In the dark underbelly of The Valley, a sonic storm brewed as the legendary MELVINS took to the stage. Their soundcheck was enough to gather a crowd and get the party started almost an hour before their schedule gig before some stage manager buzz-killed the fun. With their uncompromising blend of sludge, punk, and experimental noise, they unleashed a relentless assault on the senses. Buzz Osborne's dissonant guitar riffs and haunting vocals, coupled with Dale Crover's thunderous drumming, reverberated through the crowd, leaving no soul untouched. Their auditory onslaught proved once again that they are the true pioneers of heavy music, pushing boundaries and challenging the status quo with their uncompromising sound.The MELVINS' raw and unreformed approach to music served as a reminder that true artistry lies in the realm of fearless experimentation, and that sometimes the most profound impact is made with unbridled noise.


Unfortunately, I came way too late to photograph the band and had to get going on another "assignment" but at least I got to witness them performing "Ghosts" in its entirety. All the way back under The Temple stage, right behind the sound desk, the band sounded incredible. The stage flooded with cold lights and thousands of people "dancing" to the beat. This is only a postponement... I MUST see them again!


As the nine masked maniacs took their positions, the stage became a dark and twisted circus, each band member an enigmatic character in this spectacle. I didn't have access to the photo pit unfortunately, because this band offers tremendous opportunities for awesome shots! The assaults of Sid Wilson, the thunderous rumble of Jay Weinberg's drums, and the frenetic guitar work of Jim Root and Mick Thomson combined to create a wall of sound that reverberated through the air. Corey Taylor's commanding presence and impassioned delivery transformed the stage into a cauldron of primal energy, as the crowd chanted along with every word. SLIPKNOT's performance was an all-out assault on the senses, with songs like "Duality" and "Psychosocial" igniting a mosh pit frenzy and causing the crowd to erupt in a cathartic release of pent-up emotion. SLIPKNOT's performance at Hellfest was a testament to the band's enduring impact on the heavy music landscape, a reminder that their uncompromising stage presence continue to captivate audiences and ignite the primal fire within.


Gathered in the Metal Corner, between Hell-City and the Hell-Camp, the thousands of hellbangers socialize one last time as the night wears on and the sun peeks over the horizon, and the last echoes of Hellfest 2023 reverberate through the air. The collective pulse of the crowd slowly begins to wane, but the memories of this infernal spectacle will linger, etched in the hearts of those who bore witness to this unholy communion of rock 'n' roll. Hellfest, in all its glorious madness, has once again proven itself to be the pinnacle of musical debauchery, leaving behind a trail of shattered eardrums, frayed nerves, and unforgettable moments that will haunt the dreams of those who dared to partake in this sonic bacchanal.

Next year the Hellfest Open Air festival will take place on June 27-30. Half of the Passes were available for purchase on June 27th and sold out within an hour without a single band confirmed for 2024.

A big THANKS to all the PRESS/VIP team again this year for their hard work, patience and warm welcome.

Hellfest 2023 in numbers:

  • Over 180 bands are expected in Clisson
  • Over 20 nationalities
  • 60,000 festival-goers per day, totaling approximately 280,000 festival-goers overall
  • 1,000 year-round employees, 5,000 during the festival period
  • 5,000 volunteers
  • 70% of waste is recycled
  • 300,000 liters of fuel consumed on-site
  • Over 400,000 liters of beer consumed during these few days
  • Approximately 20,000 liters of wine
  • An estimated budget of around 30 million euros
  • Barely 0.1% in subsidies, solely from local authorities (removed in 2016 and reinstated in 2023)
  • 111 hectares (274.287 acres) of grounds
  • Over 50% of festival-goers are executives
Check out some more photos from HELLFEST 2023!
All Photos By Tony Sanchez (@oculosCaecos)

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