Harley Young spends a weekend at the best metal festival in Europe

“Where is it you’re off to with all that?” a woman boarding our flight asked the man in front, gesturing towards his 85-litre rucksack and the sleeping bag tucked under his arm. 

“HellFest. A metal festival in Clisson,” he replied. 

“Oh yeah? Any good?” she quizzed again.

“Amazing. Once you’ve been to a European festival, you’ll not go back to the British ones.”  

High praise indeed, but the kind of praise I was hoping to hear as I’d be joining him and 60,000 other happy campers in the field over the next five days (27 June - 1 July).  

2024 07 10 Hellfest Airport
A warm HellFest welcome at Nantes airport Image: David Fowling

The festival started as soon as we arrived at Nantes Atlantique Airport. Out in the car park, while waiting for our coach, we were greeted by a 10-foot-tall Gibson SG guitar and a pop-up bar running off generators on the back of a pick-up truck blasting heavy tunes. 

“I see we’ve come to the right place then,” chuckled Dave, already in line for une bière. 

We basked in the summer sun and, before long, our chariot arrived and we hurtled down the motorway from Nantes to Clisson, a picturesque commune in Western France that’s home to HellFest. 

Welcome to hell

Every year, hoards of metal fans descend on HellFest, leaving similar, closer-to-home festivals in their dust. And I can totally see why. It’s like no other event I’ve ever experienced. 

Believe me when I say that no expense is spared with this festival. The amount of time, effort and funds that must go into making this place look so otherworldly is utterly impressive. 

2024 07 10 Hell Fest City 1
HellFest City Image: David Fowling

Everything had been considered; shaded areas covered by trees over in the ‘Kingdom of Muscadet’, with a misting room for cooling down - overlooked by a 10m-tall sculpture of the late Lemmy Kilmister from Motorhead - designed for chilling out in between sets, plus a large ferris wheel for seeing the spectacular scenery from above. 

Even the waterfall features that spelled out ‘Welcome to HellFest’ as sheets of water fell provided a welcome splash zone for festival attendees looking to beat the scorching temperatures set for the weekend.

2024 07 10 Lemmy
10ft Lemmy Image: David Fowling

Everywhere we looked, there was an element of decoration or artwork that ties into the festival’s annual theme; this year's being ‘Infernopolis’ which we soon discovered meant lots of pyrotechnics and Mad Max-style armageddon-esque features. 

I mean, what other festivals do you know of that have a ginormous fire-breathing mechanical scorpion-woman, known as ‘The Guardian of Darkness’? 

Designed by François Delarozière, Art Director of Nantes-based production company La Machine, the mechanical creation is equally both eerie and beautiful. We half expected her to come alive and run rampant through the campsite as the clock struck midnight.

2024 07 10 Hell Fest City 3
The Guardian of Darkness Image: David Fowling

Hell City Square, a pop-up village within the festival that hosts everything from punk stages to micro bars to independent markets to its own tattoo and piercing shop. There’s even the ‘Love sHELLter’, in collaboration with a local charity, where attendees can come and view profiles of cats and dogs that need rehoming and be matched with their new furry friend. After all, us metalheads are big softies at heart.

The cartoon-like façade of the pop-up town, complete with vipers and skulls bursting out of walls and gigantic killer wasps nested on the roof, creates a larger-than-life land for exploring. It feels almost like you’ve stepped straight into another world where traditional civilization is but a distant memory and bottle caps are exchanged by the last remaining citizens for wears. 

They’re not, obviously, but thanks to the swanky wristbands, each equipped with its own unique code for digitally topping up with cash, buying food, drink and merch at a festival has never been easier.  

2024 07 10 Hell Fest City
HellFest City Image: David Fowling

Speaking of merch, those looking to bag themselves a piece of official HellFest 2024 memorabilia to take home with them could do so at The Sanctuary; a dedicated hall in the shape of a satanic temple (with Baphomet's head atop of it, naturally) slap bang in the middle of the festival field. 

Merch at the festival proved popular, with three lines of queues weaving their way along the grass from opening to closing every day. Luckily, we managed to bag ourselves a couple of T-shirts on Sunday afternoon when the queue had a short lull before picking up again later in the evening ahead of the headline acts.  

2024 07 10 The Sancturayr
The merch 'Sanctuary' Image: David Fowling

With 60,000 people arriving and setting up at camp within the same couple of days, I was expecting carnage. 

All I had to compare was the typical British festivals where, by day two, there’s litter strewn everywhere, the toilets already look like something out of Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting and those who went a little too heavy the night before are half-in, half-out their tents, passed out clutching the remnants of a warm can of cider. 

But no, there was none of that. Not a piece of litter or trashed tent in sight, and we camped towards the back of the festival grounds so we got to take a good look at everything. People attending HellFest are far more respectful to the grounds they’re staying on and there’s good reason, too. 

2024 07 10 Hellfest Camp
Clean campsites Image: David Fowling

Campers can collect different coloured bin bags, free of charge, from the entrance of each camp. These bags are designed to encourage recycling and, once full, can be taken to designated waste points in exchange for drinks tokens and a chance to be entered into a lottery to win merchandise or even tickets to the next festival the following year. The more rubbish collected, the more chances of winning passes. 

This huge incentive means there’s no reason not to keep the place clean, resulting in happier campers and a safer environment for all those attending. It also allows the surrounding fields to recover quicker and operate as vineyards throughout the year when the festival is in its planning stages. 

Another thing to note is that, even though everyone was in high spirits and having a fantastic time, nobody (nobody I saw anyway) was absolutely trashed to the point of being a nuisance and ruining it for everybody else. For the most part, attendees were there purely for the music. And, even if someone did feel like causing trouble, there were plenty of security staff and health points to provide help. 

I’ve never felt so safe at a festival. I think British festivals could learn a thing or two from this. 

2024 07 10 Hellfest Sign
Welcome to HellFest Image: David Fowling

With over 40 food vendors available across the site, serving everything from ice cream to galettes to vegan burgers, there was something for even the fussiest of eaters. As with all festivals, the food was a little pricier than you’d find elsewhere, but the ‘HellFest Snack’ stalls were a budget friendly option and offered quick bites to eat including hot dogs (€6), burgers with cheese and potato (€6 - a personal favourite) and Daim and Oreo ice creams to keep cool with (€2.50).

2024 07 10 Hellsnack
HellSnack Image: David Fowling

A hell of a time

Entertainment at HellFest starts as early as 10:30am with metal yoga and fun workouts over in Metal Corner; a space close to the campsites with food stalls, showers and areas to sit and relax in the shade. We noticed that they were also showing some of the Euros matches here, meaning anyone looking to support their home team whilst at the festival could do so. 

Over in the main festival area, there’s six stages dotted across the fields, playing everything from death metal and hardcore to pop punk, stoner rock and 70s glam. Whatever subgenre of alternative music you like, you’ll find it here. 

2024 07 10 Ice Nine Kills
Ice Nine Kills Image: David Fowling

Known globally for putting on a stellar line-up of acts each year, HellFest 2024 was no exception to this rule. From metal heavyweights like Metallica and Megadeth that have shaped the scene into what it is today, to newer favourites like Bad Omens and Nova Twins, no metal rock had been unturned by the organisation team when building this year’s 182 band line-up. 

2024 07 10 Nova Twins
Nova Twins Image: David Fowling

From the start of the weekend until it ended with a punch-packing set from Seattle-born legends Foo Fighters, every act gave it their all and put on a show to remember for their audience. All of which commented on how much they love the festival and couldn’t wait to return again.

Russian deathcore goliaths Slaughter to Prevail drew a behemoth crowd as they attempted to break the record for the world’s largest wall of death on Thursday and powerful punk duo Wargasm turned up the noise, keeping the energy pumping with their electric Sunday afternoon set. Fellow Sheffielders While She Sleeps whipped the crowd into a frenzy over on Mainstage 2, making me proud of my Northern roots, and Cradle of Filth were so popular that the Temple stage overflowed with fans. 

2024 07 10 Orden Ogan
Orden Ogan Image: David Fowling

Thanks to the incredibly diverse lineup and hugely accepting nature of this festival, HellFest attracts anyone and everyone, from older solo travellers that have been listening to metal for decades to young families that have connected with their kids over a shared love for music. 

It’s a truly beautiful thing and I can totally see why people from all over Europe (and further afield) make the Pilgrimage to Clisson for the weekend each and every year. 

The guy who piped up on the plane on the way out here wasn’t wrong. You really will struggle to want to go back to UK festivals after experiencing HellFest. After all, why would you? Everything you need is right here. 

2024 07 10 Hellfest Final
A HellFest to remember Image: David Fowling

Watch the official 2024 aftermovie below.

How the hell?

Next HellFest will be held between 19-22 June 2025. Flights from Manchester airport to Nantes take 1 hour 35 minutes and return flight prices start from £197. From Nantes Atlantique airport, you can book a short coach direct to and from the festival.  

If you’re interested in attending or would like more details on the festival, visit hellfest.fr.

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