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The 9 best bands we saw on the Friday of Hellfest 2016

We headed to Clisson in France for a weekend of world-class metal at the mighty Hellfest

All is well in Clisson, as Hellfest celebrates its eleventh year as one of Europe's premier metal festivals. The event has been sold-out for months and they've finally booked one of the headliners they’ve been chasing to bring a bit of German finesse to the lineup. And this year's is, by far, the most eclectic they’ve ever had. Here are the best bands we saw on Friday...

Skeletal Remains

As early as noon, the trenches are already ready to go, with those LA thrashers spewing out their death metal as if the genre was still young and raw. With their spiky BC Rich six-strings, vintage Carcass and Cannibal Corpse shirts, high-top sneakers and singer that uncannily sounds like a young Martin van Drunen back when he was still fronting Pestilence, they look the and sound just as great – that is if you’re still craving a good ol' Floridian pit.

Wo Fat

What really set this Texan power-trio apart from the rest of the stoner pack, besides their bass player's extensive bell-bottom jeans and their greasy guitar tone, is their ability to truly jam. Granted, not every band would spend a third of their 40-minute slot fleshing one song with extensive solos but they go for it and they do it pretty well.

Behexen

Even if in full regalia (dripping corpsepaint, possessed stare, inverted crosses everywhere), it seems at first there isn’t much happening on stage with those Finns, especially at 3pm in front of a bunch of half-cut metalheads. But the more they unravel their spiral riffs and subtle melodies, the more the epic black metal reveals itself. You just have to let it grow.

Ramesses

Right from the get-go, Ramesses convey such an intense desire to destroy everything in sight it’s hard to stand still in front of it. Mark Greening's herculean hit-power propels the cataclysmic finale of Baptism Of The Walking Dead into probably this day's heaviest and most evil moment. Win by knockout!

Anthrax

The first of the Big 4 mob of the weekend, and it feels great to see Anthrax with Charlie Benante back on the drums after almost one year of no-show. While delivering three tracks from their latest album For All Kings, we only see a few all-time classics but Caught In A Mosh, Indians and of course Antisocial go down a storm, being the anthem it is over here.

Vader

The older their father-figure Peter Wiwczarek gets, the more he reverts back to the kind of classic studs 'n' leather outfit that would've fit Rob Halford just right back in 1982. Mind you, for what is probably their 7853rd show, Vader keep both feet firmly in death metal; but the addition of guitarist Spider from Esqarial adds an old-school heavy metal vibe that is more than welcome.

Earth

The beauty of a multiple stage festival is that you can switch one atmosphere for another with a five-minute walk, and that's what happens as the French field are replaced by the melancholic open space of America’s deep heart. With his guitar held like a sword most of the time, hidden under his now long hair and what appears to be a wolf's tail attached to his buttocks, Dylan Carson weaves haunted guitar chords at a pachydermic tempo. It's a bit like the Grand Canyon: the more you stare, the bigger it looks.

Magma

Their recent Roadburn appearance might have something to do with it, but even the very un-metal members of Magma aren't expecting such a packed house. An avant-garde proggish jazz collective that have been around in one form or another since 1969, Magma have created their own little world with its own mythology and language. A cult act in the truest sense of the word in France, they have been preaching mostly to the converted for the last two decades but just realised that many metalheads also grew up with their music.

Grabbing Hellfest by its collective throat, Magma dig up some of their most schizophrenic and epileptic material, leading one nearby attendee with a Marduk shirt to shout "Man, it’s like a totally baroque version of Meshuggah with three opera singers yet crazier!" during their grandiose finale, focussing their 1973 masterpiece Mekanïk Destructïw Kommandöh. During the two-minute ovation, you can feel the band know they have just played the kind of show that will go down in history.

Sunn O)))

Sunn O)) have always had their own way of handling things: play as loud as you can, making sure to clearing the tent you’re playing under, only leaving the true believers waving their hands grabbing invisible oranges. Attila Csihar is wrapped up in a costume that seems to have bits and pieces culled from the Dark Crystal stage set, and hauls out inhuman sounds from his throat. The perfect epilogue of a loud-as-fuck journey.

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