With over one hundred acts performing across five stages, the expanded four-day event featured something for everyone, from classic rock to trad metal to thrash, punk, symphonia, and beyond.
Kicking off on Thursday (15th June), musical legends Generation Sex stamped their punk authority all over Hellfest from the off. Led by king rocker Billy Idol, the four piece played the songs that tore up the rule book for music.
Greeting the crowd, Idol said; "we're gonna play numbers from back in the day, songs we wrote ourselves". With a pair of Sex Pistols in the band in guitarist Steve Jones and drummer Paul Cook, the set was filled with their anthems including a sneering 'Problems' and triumphant 'God Save the Queen'. Meanwhile, infectious Idol (Generation X) track 'Dancing With Myself' proved an early highlight, in a day littered with them.
They were followed by a further collection of legends in Hollywood Vampires. Paying tribute to "all of our dead, drunk friends", Alice Cooper, Johnny Depp and Joe Perry ripped through classic after classic, honouring the likes of Keith Moon and John Entwistle with fist-in-the-air anthem 'Baba O'Riley', and David Bowie with a genuinely emotion-stirring 'Heroes' (which featured a surprisingly on-point lead vocal from Depp).
Meanwhile, with Architects going down a storm on Mainstage 2, vocalist Sam Carter declared; "this has to be one of my favourite shows that I have ever played!"
Following on from their 2019 slot, Kiss returned to say goodbye to Hellfest. "This is our final time coming to see you", announced an emotional Paul Stanley; "six months from now it'll be all over".
But not before one hell of an End of the Road party. Taking in cuts from right across their career including the dark and nasty 'War Machine' and deep cut 'Psycho Circus', the larger than life super heroes sent Hellfest off to rock and roll all night with the most bombastic show of the weekend. Taking their bows after a spectacle that is uniquely theirs, Stanley promised; "we'll never ever forget you".
Another side project followed, in recently activated project Elegant Weapons. Led by guitar player Richie Faulkner (interview from Hellfest coming soon), the four-piece's Black Label Society meets Judas Priest sound went down a treat with the Hellfest crowd. Only four gigs into their career, speaking to eonmusic following their performance, singer Ronnie Romero said; "We had a great show and the audience was fantastic, so yeah, a lot of fun".
An early evening appearance from Def Leppard meanwhile saw the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers play perhaps the most hits-filled set of any act at the festival. With 'Let's Get Rocked', 'Animal', and 'Armageddon It' creating huge singalongs, the deeper cuts including the riff-heavy 'Foolin' kept the diehards happy.
Speaking to eonmusic during their press conference earlier in the day, guitarist Phil Collen explained what it's like to play songs made famous by original guitarists Steve Clarke and Pete Willis. "You know, we do our thing. Me and Viv [Vivian Campbell] have been in the band longer than Pete and Steve have, so we put out spin on it. We're a duo, we're a partnership, and we have been for thirty years, and that's such a big deal. We nail the fuck out of it, in a very different way to what they would do".
Speaking about instrumental 'Switch 625', he continued; "We've kind of made it ours. We respect what the song is - it's awesome, obviously. It sounds killer on the new album, 'Drastic Symphonies' as well. We've made it our own, and we do our thing to it"; before comically admitting; "we still make mistakes on it, every fucking night!"
From the songs that build their reputation - 'Shout at the Devil', 'Live Wire' - a timely guest appearance from Machine Gun Kelly on 'The Dirt' - who had gone down a storm on Mainstage 2 just prior - proved that their music is transcending the generations.
Day three (Saturday 17th June) saw the divisive Maynard James Keenan and his alt metal project Puscifer confuse and confound over some of the most infectious beats of the weekend. With their government agency / alien task force imagery and ott antics, the art rock collective didn't take themselves too seriously, with Keenan unafraid to poke fun at his perceived pompous reputation.
It was of course, Iron Maiden who brought the most anticipated set of the day, and indeed the festival, debuting their 'Future Past' tour for the first time in France. Kicking off with the perfect one-two of 'Caught Somewhere in Time' and 'Stranger in a Strange Land', the six-piece appeared in much more confident, fiery form than at the tour's kick off in late May.
Mixing tracks that they last performed in 1987 with epics from their 2021 'Senjutsu' album, they struck the perfect balance. With Bruce Dickinson in particular in spectacular form, Iron Maiden proved that they're still one of the greatest acts in metal.
Closing the night out, Within Temptation surprised the crowd by debuting a brand new song called 'Bleed Out'. Said singer Sharon den Adel; "we've decided to play a new song that we haven't played before. We haven't even released it. We hope you like it", to the delight of the fans.
Electrifying the audience with their EDM / metal crossover, the synergy between the band and audience was palpable. Taking in the splendour, Kevin Ratajczak declared; "This is fucking amazing. Make some noise for this beautiful festival!"
Returning raiders Amon Amarth brought with them their full longboat and sea serpent production, as well as their Viking metal anthems. Inciting the crowd to "rage like Vikings" and "row! row!", during 'Put Your Back Into the Oar', lead singer Johan Hegg confessed; "it's so good to see you guys. We missed you!"
With Incubus forced to cancel due to band member illness, Tenacious D were next up. Bringing their hilarious comedy metal schtick - not to mention "the most impressive Satan of Hellfest" - the duo led by Jack Black announced; "we came to rock you very fucking hard!" And so they did, with a blistering 'Tribute' and scorching 'The Metal'.
With stakes high, Pantera's performance was perhaps the most scrutinised of the weekend. It was however, a triumph that only the most cynical could find fault with. With front man Phil Anselmo admitting; "I love playing Hellfest, I fucking love it", he revealed how pleased he was to finally have brought the Texan groove metal heroes to Clisson.
In a set bursting with classics, from 'I'm Broken' to "deep cut" 'Yesterday Don't Mean Shit', drummer Charlie Benante and guitarist Zakk Wylde proved the perfect choices to fill in for the late Abbott brothers, replicating their every lick, nuance, and sound.
With Slipknot closing out the festival on Mainstage 1, Testament crammed the Alter tent for a relentless hour of thrash metal. With Alex Skolnick firmly reinstated after a short period away for family reasons, the Californian's were, fittingly for Hellfest, absolutely on fire.
With the traditional, "wow!"-inspiring closing fireworks show, the curtain came down on the 16th Hellfest. Announcing once again a four-day event for 2024, Hellfest returns to Clisson, France from 27th - 30th June 2024. Any metal head would be mad to miss it.