Festival fun! It strange how festivals move in and out of fashion. As a young music fan growing up in the UK the early eighties, Reading and Donington were the two festivals that mattered, and nobody ever thought of heading overseas to see a band play a show, much less a festival. But then Kerrang! started running festival reports from glamorous-sounding places like Aardschock and Pukkelpop, and European festivals moved tantalisingly closer to the average punter. My first ‘abroad’ festival was Dynamo in Eindhoven – at the time the bees knees in Euro metal fests – but that mantle was soon taken by Wacken, and now, it seems, rests with French hoedown Hellfest. Certainly it seems popular with middle aged Brits, who thronged the ‘VIP’ areas whenever I headed out there for a quiet beer as the festival unfolded.

Nice planning by those in charge of Hellfest programming meant that I got to spend a happy few hours at the Warzone stage without the usual festival chore of running from stage to stage on the Saturday, soaking up some vintage crossover in the sun with the help of some premium French lager to wash it all down.

First to pique the interest were D.R.I. who, if not firing quite on all cylinders still put in a committed performance in the searingly hot late afternoon slot. Singer Kurt Brecht as usual looks for the most part like he’s rather be somewhere else, but Spike Cassidy riffs like a bastard with enthusiastic backing from bassist Harald Oimoen, and Violent Pacification and Acid Rain are early highlights. Thrashard does just that, whilst Manifest Destiny sees the band really hitting their stride and reminding the crowd what an exciting prospect D.R.I. can be when it wants to be.

Ten minutes playing every track from new EP But Wait… There’s More! dissipates momentum slightly, but the band gets back on an even keel with a ripping I Don’t Need Society and close out with a pit-inducing Five Year Plan and we all leave happy.

The suns starts to set as Comeback Kid hit the stage, and the crowd kick off in a far more appreciative way than they did for Brecht and co. You get out what you put in, I guess, and as the ‘Kids bounce around the capacious stage their effort is rewarded by the crowd. I’m not the biggest fan of Comeback Kid’s recorded output, but they certainly hold their own live in this exalted company, and songs like False Idols Fall bridge the gap between old and new hardcore (and D.R.I. and Agnostic Front) pretty well.

However tonight CK are only ever going to be the band that’s stopping me from seeing Agnostic Front, and as the set drags on my attention starts to wander a little. Sorry guys. Maybe next time?

Now it’s dark, and Roger Miret and Vinny Stigma are here to deal Hellfest a dose of prime NYHC…

… Except something doesn’t seem right. Opening track The Eliminator sounds great musically, but Miret’s all over the place, sounding like a cross between venerable Brit comedian Norman Collier – the man with the broken mic – and a hardcore Vince Neil, mangling the lyrics we all know so well. What’s wrong? I haven’t seen AF for over a decade and I certainly don’t remember him sounding as distressed as this. Dead to Me fares a little better thanks to some great gang vocal backup, whilst My Life My Way sees something like normal service resumed. Sonically the band are on point, Stigma playing the classic rhythm guitar God, and tracks like Victim in Pain and For My Family are, frankly, fabulous. However it’s the glorious Old New York where everything clicks, getting everyone going in an exhilarating show of unity both on stage and out front. Moments like this remind you why you love hardcore so much. Crucified and Gotta Go (prefaced by a heartfelt callout to the long-deceased Warzone front man Ray Beez) keep up the quality, and those early hiccups are forgotten as your correspondent gives in and gets caught in the mosh.

All of which brings us to tonight’s main Hellfest event, the crossover revue that is Suicidal Tendencies. Mike Muir is hardcore’s James Brown, a true showman who never lets a song get in the way of entertainment, meaning that by the time he’s stomped across the stage a thousand times and allowed the band to interject with artistic noodling once or twice opener You Can’t Bring Me Down has stretched out to an unwieldy nine minutes in length, which leaves next track I Shot the Devil, powered of course by some superb drumming by Dave Lombardo, to really warm the audience up.

It’s all great stuff, of course, and entertaining it really is. Muir’s voice holds up for the most part – in fact he sounds better than he has in a while, truth be told, with even gonzo stupidity like Clap Like Ozzy inciting mini riots everywhere you look. The band are tight as buggery, with Ra Diaz playing breakneck and very funky bass and Dean Pleasants resurrecting happy memories of Rocky George with his lead playing,

Freedumb comes and goes in a blur of arms and legs, Lombardo cheekily quoting Raining Blood in the middle, and if there’s any doubt in the crowd still remaining that this band isn’t the absolute shit tonight then a titanic one-two of Trip at the Brain and War Inside My Head crushes all doubters under it’s adamantine tracks. This is classic stuff.

After that it’s all a bit of a let down – not musically, not performance wise, it’s just that those two tracks mean the band effectively peaked before half time – but the band keep going right to the death and leave this reviewer exhausted but absolutely motherfuckingly happy. An afternoon and evening well spent…

Mike Muir photo courtesy of trexsound