Kicking of on Thursday (23rd June), onetime Motörhead man Phil Campbell along with his Bastard Sons blasted out the hits of his former band. Greeting the sizable mid-afternoon crowd, the six stringer said; “Hell fucking Fest, it’s good to be back!”, ahead of a slew of Motör-classics including; ‘Iron Fist’, ‘Born to Raise Hell’, and of course, ‘Ace of Spades’.
While other bands unexpectedly dropped members (more on that later) U.K. classic rockers Thunder welcomed Ben Matthews back to the fold for their spirited singalong set. The guitarist, who had been absent for a number of recent dates, seemed to relish being back with the five piece as they lifted the atmosphere with a driving ‘Western Sky’ and pensive ‘Higher Ground’.
Following an impassioned set from The Last Internationale over on Mainstage Two, British institution UFO delivered a statesmanlike set, culled from their lauded back catalogue. With a dapper Phil Mogg leading from the front, ‘Rock Bottom’, ‘Love to Love’, and ‘Doctor Doctor’ took in what may prove to call time on their Last Orders tour in France.
With Vai's former boss David Coverdale performing just five minutes after his own set had finished, speculation was high that a reunion might happen. With Whitesnake reduced to a one-guitar band following the continued absence due to illness by musical director Reb Beach, the band’s sound was closer to their bluesy roots than it had been in decades, but clearly Whitesnake are a two guitar tour de force, and when the “seven-string sorcerer” eventually did re-join them for the first time in over three decades for a dramatic 'Still of the Night', all hell broke loose.
With the night coming to an end, The Scorpions delivered the hits, a handful from latest set ‘Rock Believer’, and a moving tribute to Ukraine, both musically and visually during ‘Wind of Change’. In a night of reunions, Phil Campbell joined the band for the closing ‘Rock You Like a Hurricane’, marking the first time he and former bandmate Mikkey Dee had shared a stage since Motörhead’s untimely demise in 2015.
Despite featuring a bill bursting with much heavier bands elsewhere, Friday night headliners Nine Inch Nails delivered one of Hellfest 2022’s most punishing, pummelling openers. Kicking off with ‘Mr. Self Distruct’, Trent Reznor and co’s sonic attack was backed by a production to match the music; with claustrophobic lighting flashes, and a sparse industrial stage setting to match the mood.
Greeting the crowd, Reznor said; “It's the first time we've ever been here. This place is fucking crazy!” Going on to praise the bands that performed ahead of Nine Inch Nails on the Reznor-curated bill, he continued; “Shout outs to Killing Joke, Ministry, Alice Cooper. It's a great honour to be up here tonight.”
Closing out the night, Megadeth returned for their second Hellfest show in a week. Going on to play, initially, a completely different set to the previous weekend’s, the band dropped in rarity ‘Take No Prisoners’, as well as Cliff Burton tribute ‘In My Darkest Hour’ among standard fare like ‘Symphony of Destruction’ and colossal closer ‘Holy Wars’.
Dishing out the Lemmys – that's Jack Daniels and Coke – and raising AC/DC-style rock and roll mayhem, Aussie rockers Airbourne drew one of the largest crowds of the weekend. “It's good to see you rockin’ out there, Hellfest” said front man Joel O’Keeffe.
It was Guns N’ Roses’ long awaited return however that most had come for. Playing their first French show in four years, the most dangerous band in the world ignited the fiery pits of Hellfest from the off.
While front man Axl Rose’s voice may have lost much of it’s firebrand power since their heady early days, ferocious opener ‘It’s So Easy’, a slinky ‘Mr. Brownstone’, and storming ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ proved that it’s the songs that count.
Mixing things up, deeper cuts ‘Hard Skool’ and ‘Reckless Life’ appeared early in the set, along with recent single ‘Absurd’.
However it was the anthems that most had come to hear, and they weren’t disappointed as ‘You Could Be Mine’ lost none of its bite while ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ proved perhaps the festival loudest singalong of the two weeks.
Reminiscent of Ministry’s earlier gesture, with Ukrainian flags draping either side of the stage throughout, the emblem also featured during a poignant ‘Civil War’. In a further statement of solidarity, Slash was adorned with a custom Gibson Les Paul painted in the country’s blue and yellow colours for closer ‘Paradise City’.
Following on from their Download Festival appearance, Black Label Society proved a particular Hellfest favourite, ahead of former stand-in headliners Sabaton, whose explosive set of conflict metal went down a storm.
And so it fell to Metallica to close out the 15th Hellfest. Making their first ever appearance at the festival, the band went right back to the start with a breakneck ‘Whiplash’ to kick off proceedings. Acknowledging their tardiness, band leader James Hetfield proclaimed; “Metallica, finally at Hellfest!”, before quipping; “So this is Hell? I like what you've done with the place!”
Without an album to promote, this current run by the Big Four icons has seen some surprising additions to the set, none more so than ‘S&M’ highlight ‘No Leaf Clover’, which proved one of the night’s more pensive numbers. Though regrettably dropping ‘Trapped Under Ice’ which had featured at recent shows, thrash fans still got a treat with 1988 single ‘Harvester of Sorrow’.
Refreshingly mixing up the running order to finish off with the brace of epics in ‘One’ and ‘Master of Puppets’, it was a monster ending to this mammoth edition of Hellfest.
Of course this report barely scratches the surface of what went on at what is now, undoubtedly Europe’s most popular annual metal event. The incredible new Lemmy statue, the enshrinement of the Motörhead legend’s ashes in it, the incendiary closing ceremony, the unearthly heatwave, the monsoon, the night time bonfires; we’d need infinite web space to attempt to do Hellfest 2022 justice. Suffice to say, Bon Scott was right when he said that hell ain’t a bad place to be.
Hellfest returns for chapter XVI from 18th – 18th June, 2023. For all the latest information visit the official Hellfest site.