With one glance at the early list of bands playing this year’s Hellfest, ranging from As I Lay Dying to Bane, Bear Vs. Shark, Shai Hulud, Zombia Apocalypse, Killswitch Engage, and Unearth, there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that I would miss out on what would be my first Hellfest, and possibly the last Hellfest as we know it. The three-day long event was held at the Rex Plex, a giant sports/recreation center in the tri-state area of Elizabeth, New Jersey. The Rex Plex served as a nice venue, boasting 200,00 sq. feet of building, apt room for the three stages, and a balcony over looking the main stages and merchandise area.
My two friends and I arrived before the doors opened at 10 and waited in one of the two long lines to the building. One line was split into those with tickets, and the other was for those on will call/without tickets. Once inside, we walked around, getting our bearings, and taking a look around the building and numerous merch tables. Upstairs a sky box served as the place to get tattooed and held many distro tables, where you could find just about any CD you were looking for…ok, not any, but just about most punk/hardcore/metal albums. Without being very familiar with Draw Blood or the AKAs, we walked around, waited, and ate until All Else Failed and The Red Chord played. I’d never heard All Else Failed before but my friend insisted they were good and that we should watch them. They were good, and the singer had a lot of energy, going into the pit and stage diving quite a bit. Being of a bigger build, he tossed and pushed kids vying for the mic off him like rag dolls and kept onscreaming. Crowd participation for The Red Chord was good and the band appears to have a decent following. They play a style of technical metalcore that reminds me, in a way of a calmer Dillinger Escape Plan or Between the Buried and Me. After they finished playing, I walked around a little more and ended up at the Hot Topic stage where Anterrabae was playing. I’d heard the band name, and my friend had heard good things. I have yet to really listen to any of their recordings, but live they came across great with good stage presence and had the crowd going pretty crazy. The singer was in the crowd on and off quite a bit during songs. I later picked up their album based on the band’s show. I went back to the main stage and caught the end of Champion’s set. I can’t tell you what they sound like, because I wasn’t there for too long, and I forgot anyways.
Unearth played the main stage after Champion and, in my opinion, stole the show of the entire weekend. A lot of people turned out for their set, and they played great. Their set consisted of some material off Stings of Conscience and off the new album, The Oncoming Storm, the song ‘Black Hearts now Reign’ received huge crowd interaction, and the floor was packed full the entire time for this Massachusetts 5-piece. Unearth sounded incredible and are, no doubt, bound to become huge. Without any intention, I stuck around for Folly. I’d never heard Folly’s music before, and they slightly reminded as a cross between ETID and Anterrabae. There was one exception, however: they mix ska riffs in. You know the bouncy-happy sounding ska guitar? Well, it was thrown into a few songs in between all the screaming and breakdowns. I thought I’d never see kids in the pit skanking one minute and then back to hardcore dancing and floor punching the next.
New York natives, Every Time I Die took stage (the main stage was split into two, one band set up while the other played and vice-versa) and despite a heavy, heavy touring schedule, (much like Unearth, who, on off days from Ozzfest, are on tour with them, Lamb of God, Bleeding Through and Atreyu) gave an energetic show. A good portion of the set consisted of Hot Damn material, with some older stuff thrown in. Vocalist Keith Buckley told the audience that so far out of anywhere touring with the Ozzfest and club shows, the Hellfest crowd had been the best to them.
I caught Remembering Never kind of on/off later on as I went from watching their set to walking around a looking at stuff to buy. Remembering Never is good, but they’re not great. They sounded good live, and one of my friend really likes them, but I think their sound gets a little boring after a while. They basically meshed in with every other hardcore band that had played prior to them, and would play over the next two days. Mastodon played a little later and although near sleep from how boring they were live, I stayed awake for their set. Their drummer is good and they’re all really talented, but the vocals weren’t loud enough during the set, and their songs are very music-centered, leaving the singer with little to no singing parts. Having already heard about 8 bands, both watching and in-passing, who hand a metalish sound, Mastodon became kind of uninteresting and lacked stage presence too. I stayed on the balcony as As I Lay Dying took the Hopeless Records section of the main stage. I was surprised how many people were into this band, as I must be living under a rock (Well, Wyoming is a close call…) or just not paying attention. They played ‘Forever’ to everyone’s delight and the stage quickly became filled with kids pilling on and rushing the vocalist. Suffocation was ready on the left, at the Trustkill side. I headed over to get something to eat but managed to keep listening and caught the last couple songs they played. My other friend who was with, was right when he said they were good. With not being familiar with anything they’ve done, they managed to impress me, which can be hard when by the end of the day you’ve heard 800 breakdowns and over 50 guys screaming. I ended up watching the first two songs Norma Jean played, the second one being ‘Memphis will be Laid to Waste’. This band has been through singer’s lately like it’s going out of fashion, but the guy singing seems to fit the bill. Maybe he’ll stick around for a little while. I cut short on Norma Jean to catch Day of Contempt for the second time this summer. Although they didn’t sound as good as when I saw them play with Stretch Arm Strong not long ago, they still played tight and seem to really enjoy what they’re doing. They are also some of the nicest guys ever, having remembered my friend and I, their drummer picked us out earlier in the day while we were walking by, and said hello. After they played, All that Remains played a good set, finishing early, and then told by the sound board that they had time for “one more song”, to which they took a vote on who wanted to hear what, but answered someone saying, “No old stuff”.
It was around this time that I missed Time In Malta. I had listened to this band a little prior to going to Hellfest, and wanted to check them out. I lose scene points for watching The Juliana Theory next. Hell, how many scene points is that? 25? I know it has to be a lot. The vocals were weak for the Theory, and they drew one of the smallest crowds that day, despite playing the main stage. I will admit that it was a change of pace from the day, but it also seemed very awkward and it was obvious that even the band knew that fact. Shadows Fall put on an intense show next on the Trustkill main, and played for 30 minutes, playing a majority off ‘Art of Balance’ and even one new song that had the place going pretty crazy, considering no one had probably ever heard it before. I headed back to the hotel room, exhausted from a good 11 hours of music and jet lag from the previous day.
Saturday brought day two of Hellfest, as my two friends and I eagerly headed over to the Hot Topic stage to watch a band that we had checked out on hxcmp3.com prior to Hellfest known as Horse the Band. Seeing Horse was one of the best things I did at Hellfest. They play a style of hardcore, punk, and metal with abstract lyrics, but mix it up with a keyboard and an insanely fun show. I recommend going to see this band live to anyone who wants to have a lot of fun at a show. They are on tour, or will be soon. I intentionally missed Comeback Kid because eating something at the time seemed more important. But I listened from the line at the counter. They played a good chunk of, if not entirely songs off ‘Turn it Around’. I kind of listened to Martyr AD while checking out what was new with the band’s merch tables. The Hope Conspiracy was the first band I stuck around the entire time to watch. I don’t know what to make of them yet, and I honestly didn’t pay full attention to their set, same with the next band, Evergreen Terrace, who, by the way, did a pretty nice cover of the Smashing Pumpkin’s ‘Zero’. I put all my energy into seeing Stretch Arm Strong. As always, they put on a tight, energetic set and even played a new song. I can’t tell you much about the new song, because I have a really hard time remembering or getting a good feel for a song when a band plays it live first, while I’m out on the floor looking out for my own ass. Stretch kept it positive and fun, and I lost my camera during one of my stage dives. Damn it. My one friend wanted to see Between the Buried and Me, as did I again, but we missed them due to Stretch’s set. It didn’t help that the main stage was running behind schedule. Luckily, I’d seem them on tour not so long ago, his loss.
After going to the smallest stage to see Park, who didn’t show and was replaced by another band, I left and decided to listen to Nora while walking around close by, and later ended up missing Beloved because I was talking to a couple members of Horse the Band, but I guess it’s okay, because I was told “The crowd sang over half the songs anyways” as soon as I got to the Hot Topic stage. I stayed sitting in the bleachers in the basketball court turned into area reserved for the Hot Topic Hellfest stage and wondered what the hell was going on as the World/Inferno Friendship Society set up. There was a brass section, an accordion, a second mini drum kit set up, and the 9-piece band looked entirely out of place, with exception of the guitarist, they were dressed in suits and the three women in the band in dresses. They played punk rock with a hint of just about everything. Image if the B 52’s and the Mad Caddies formed a side project and took inspiration from Flogging Molly…ah hell, I don’t how to describe them but I enjoyed them. In fact, everyone there seemed to really like them. They had a pit going and everyone seemed to really enjoy their energy and humor/strange comments that the lead vocalist gave as he introduced every song. “I love to play hardcore shows because I got kicked out of the old school” He said, and also made reference to buying a sofa at the IKEA across the street in an impromptu short song before their set. World Inferno Friendship Society is another band I’d recommend seeing. They’re not hardcore, they’re not emo, they didn’t have their ear lobes gauged out or fashionable faded jeans on, but they were a nice change of pace from the Hellfest norm and very entertaining. I ended up leaving a couple songs into their set so that I could catch the rest of Zao’s set. Zao played a good mix of older and newer, and closed with ‘5 Year Winter’ and tons of kids rushing the stage for a chance to grab the mic. Having never seen Bane live before, I was surprised they played Ali V. Frazier I second into their set, as I figured they’d close with it. Despite this, they played great. They managed to fit quite a bit in too. I guess it helps when your bands songs aren’t too long. There were a lot of stage dives and pile-ups for this one. Aaron gave the mic to either a fan or member of a different band, I’m not sure who it was, because I couldn’t hear. I know it’s a hardcore show, and fans steal the mic, sing into it, whatever, but I hate when some one from the crowd gets the mic for an entire song. Yeah, you’re friends with the band, that’s great. But I came to see BANE, with the BANE singer singing (or at least half way to the lyrics…he likes to put that mic out there a lot), not some 19 year old kid who really likes them.
The floor was packed full and plastic pop bottles were flying left and right for Andrew WK who played almost an hour-long set. I don’t listen to Andrew WK, but there is no doubt that this man knows how to party. Kids were constantly on stage. Almost the entire stage was covered with people going crazy for the first few songs, definitely one of those most crazy, energetic, and wild performances of the Hellfest weekend. My sights were set on the Killswitch Engage hour-long set that went on after AWK. Killswitch had quite a few people turn out too, as their guitarist Adam came out in very short short and got the crowd pumped to Blue Oyster Cult’s ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’. The band then burst into a very intense, tight set of just about every song off ‘End of Heartache’ and closed with ‘My Last Serenade’. The entire band seems to have a good sense of humor, and it projected well that night. Vocalist Howard Jones split guitarist Adam’s eyebrow open within the first few seconds of the first song, when he caught a swinging microphone to the face. The band later sang ‘Happy Birthday to you’ to their other guitarist, and presented him with a birthday cake, which they then threw it into the crowd. Jones did not seem to be a fan of people singing into his mic, which was apparent when, after a kid did so, he commented mid-song, “What the hell are you doing?” and pushed the kid back into the sea of bodies on the floor. A trampoline was brought out towards the end of the set and some pretty cool stage dives took place before security swiped it away. Oh, and I forgot to mention that a guy came up and licked Adam’s bloody, sweaty eyebrow somewhere in there. Sick. Killswitch Engage was definitely one of the best performances I saw at Hellfest.
Either Rex Plex, or the Hellfest promoters really screwed up on Sunday. The two prior days, the lines were split, but on the last day of Hellfest, those with tickets, and those without were all grouped into one, giant, huge, mess of a line. Two and half hours later I got in, having missed Cannae, Bear Vs. Shark, and Zombie Apocalypse. I caught a very brief glimpse of Most Precious Blood, and briefly talked with Matt Fox of Shai Hulud at the band’s table. Fox informed me that they would only be playing a short set, as they were only allotted 25-minutes to play. I caught the end of a very early-scheduled Psyopus set at the Dinosaur stage. I think this band is great, and they were running and flailing all over the place. They play technical metal very much in the same genre as Between the Buried and Me. However, my anticipation was finally met when Shai Hulud took the main stage stage. They played ‘Set Your Body Ablaze’, as usual, along with three songs off ‘That Within…” and the rest from ‘Hearts Once Nourished with Hope and Compassion’. Despite the band clearly being exhausted and drained from touring overseas, practicing early that morning, and having two shows (Zombie Apocalypse being the other) they played with energy, passion, and thanked the crowd for being the best that any Hellfest has ever been. Fox also commented on head walking during the set saying that he didn’t appreciate people walking on his friend’s heads, and wanted people to be safe and have fun. I couldn’t agree more…bastards. Hulud closed with ‘A Profound Hatred of Man’…at least I think so.
Bleeding Through played a good set and a lot of ugly gothic chicks really were into it, but I didn’t pay too much attention, however I watched all of Converge’s set, the highlight, of course, being the singer head butting someone in the crowd. They played a song or two from ‘You Fail Me’. The Dillinger Escape Plan put on quite the interesting show, complete with a fog machine, light show and a strobe light. The band played material off both Calculating Infinity and a couple or so from ‘Miss Machine’. When Dillinger finished, my two friends and I headed over to see what was going down at the Bad Luck 13 Riot Extravaganza. We had been told earlier that day that Bad Luck 13 puts on crazy shows, complete with audience-beatings, fireworks, etc. and were advised to stand towards the back unless you wanted to get hurt. 25 Ta Life was playing, as the Hot Topic stage was running a little behind schedule. I stayed around for just about the entire 25 Ta Life set, but didn’t really care for them. One friend of mine took off to the main stage to catch Fear Factory, and the other stayed towards the back for Bad Luck. I headed up to the balcony to go back and forth between watching both bands. By the time I actually made my way over the watch Fear Factory, they were still doing sound check, and it took forever. So I headed over to the Hot Topic stage. Tons of people crowded around the outside of the crowd and curtains around the stage, and I heeded advice from earlier to stay out. I attempted to go check out the floor from another direction, but turned around when a crowd of people came running out in hordes. Not long after I made my way back up to the balcony, a huge crowd of people and security spilled out into the front entrance/lobby area with a couple fights taking place. Bad Luck’s set was already over. My friend would later tell me that garbage cans were thrown around, glass bottles were thrown, a girl ran out with blood pouring from her eyebrow, long fluorescent light bulbs were used to hit people, a pig’s head was thrown around, the bleachers were tipped, and lots of fighting took place. For a music scene of people all about unity and acceptance and whatever else slogans hardcore kids wear emblazoned on their t shirts, this kind of behavior is sick, and so is anyone who supports it. I caught Fear Factory’s set off and on, while looking for my friend who had ran outside along with others, (and was unable to get back in) during the infamous Bad Luck 13 four song set. I’m not all that familiar with Fear Factory, nor do I consider myself a fan. Stage diving was not allowed during their performance, and their shirts sold for 20 bucks. Blah. They played quite a good mix of songs, according to my friend who watched them. They played for a good hour and wrapped up with Replica, I think. Thus concluded Hellfest 2004.
I had a very fun time at my first Hellfest. The ticket prices for a three-day pass was very reasonable ($70), the food was a little pricey (three bucks for gatorade, two bucks for pizza), food was also low in variety. A table was set up independently and they had more variety, with pretty reasonable prices for what they offered. Although not familiar with any of the last year’s venues, the Rex Plex seemed more that fitting for the occasion, and the air-conditioned skybox was always a nice place to visit. Security for the event seemed pretty cool too, I can’t say that I ever saw anyone really being an ass, and for the most part everyone there was very nice. The entire three days was filmed on DVD. Cameras were being carried around, and every bad was filmed, with a possibility of appearing on the Hellfest DVD. I’ve heard it rumored that this may have been the last Hellfest, or it may become a touring event like Warped Tour or Ozzfest. I know for sure, however, that the Rex Plex isn’t going to invite Hellfest back. It’s hard to sum up over three days of live music, but all I can say is that if Hellfest is in your town, close by, or a car/boat/plane trip away next year, check it out.