Now in its third year, Hellfest is Pakistan's only national Metal Festival. The event has grown since its inception, both in terms of audience and national media and sponsorship coverage.
This year's bill was the strongest to date, featuring eight acts: Inferner; Irritum; Foreskin; Blackhour; Karachi Butcher Clan; Takatak; Dementia and Reincarnated alongside a special appearance by the legendary Faraz Anwar.
It is not that rock/Metal festivals are a new thing to the country. Karachi hosted several well attended festivals in the 90s and noughties, and Lahore hosts an annual festival, as regular readers of my column know, but they tended to have local bands, advertisements and crowds.
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The big difference with Hellfest is that is much more national, and the bands on the bill all have an international following both in terms of released material and (in many cases) international gigs. Certainly, the audience descended on Islamabad from all over the country, despite the events in the run-up to the show.
The other main thing with this year's event is the increase in mainstream media attention. Blackhour, in the run up to the event (and after), have finally broken through into national media attention, and having Faraz Anwar on the bill this year was certainly a coup for the organisers in terms of raising the image of the festival with the mainstream music press and fans. This year had the largest turnout so far, and next year's event hopes to be bigger!
It is worth noting that a week before the event, the security situation in the country was problematic due to repercussions following the attack on Karachi Airport. Thanks to the acts, organisers, local officials in Islamabad and, most importantly the fans, the event went ahead as planned and without trouble.
I caught up with the organiser Faisal Imtiaz and some of the bands on the bill after the festival to hear their thoughts:
Karachi Butcher Clan
Faisal (Event organiser; Lead/Rhythm Guitar with Inferner)
How long has Hellfest been running?
Is this the only dedicated Metal festival in Pakistan?
Has it always been at the same venue?
"Yes, the Open Air Theater, Lok Virsa, Islamabad, Pakistan."
How easy was it to organise the first one?
"Initially it was difficult to arrange bands but thanks to social media that made it easy. Also my own music circle, as many bands play and jam with me that's for sure my initial support."
When did you decide, "I know, I'll organise a Metal festival?"
"Metal is in my blood, and once I have decided to do something it means it's done. Obvious inspiration is the Metal music itself. I also have been through different articles in Metal mags that reported about Metal events in different countries so I decided to make it happen in Pakistan as this country has wonderful talent."
Has it got easier as time has gone on - have you got more sponsors since it began?
"Yes, initially it was word of mouth to create a buzz and difficult to find sponsors but now the event has a place in people's minds, companies like Rockshock Studios support Hellfest."
Do you try and change the line-up year after year?
"Yes, to give change to the audience. The bands on this year are very talented, professional and creative, some have performed at the event before, others are making their first appearance."
And a major coup in getting Faraz Anwar to perform!
"I was in contact with Faraz in 2013 to try and invite him to Hellfest II, but that didn't work out. Then I met him in Islamabad when he came here for a show earlier this year. I set up a meeting with him, as I wanted him to perform at Hellfest III as a special guest. He said OK, let's do this!"
Do you think that the genre is getting bigger each year in terms of fans/media attention/bands recording?
"Yes it is - we can see the difference."
Also, more Pakistani bands are getting worldwide media attention. Do you think that helps the local scene?
"Yes it does."
If you could book one international band for 2015, who would that be?
"We already performed with Mayhem in Dubai, UAE and we'll try to engage them in Hellfest 2015."
It has to be mentioned, in the week before the show, the security situation in Pakistan seemed to escalate with specific threats against Islamabad. Did you at any point think that the show would have to be cancelled?
"No, I have a confidence, and wasn't worried about any trouble of that nature. But the security problems were there; however security people helped us and provided security and made it easy to commission."
Details of bands performed at Hellfest over the years:
HELLFEST 1 8th september 2012: Karachi Butcher Clan, Atrum Animus, Wreckage, Ehl E Rock, Blackhour
HELLFEST 2 28th april 2013: Takatak, Inferner, Reincarnated, Blackhour, Ehl E Rock, Dementia
Sheraz Ahmed of Foreskin/Irritum:
"HellFest is probably the biggest Metal show in the country. The guys who put it together every year are seriously one of the most hard working and dedicated lads I've ever come across. We (Foreskin and Dionysus) couldn't make it to the last two HellFest events cause of random reasons (delays, college schedules etc) but I am really glad we made a trip to Islamabad this year. It was one hell of an experience.
"My band Foreskin and Irritum played there and the crowd was huge in number considering the shows in Pakistan, the setup was also top notch. All in all, great fucking gig. Although we've been putting up small scale shows in Lahore in the past months, but it's really good that we've people who are investing huge amount of money in Metal shows.
"As much as small scale gigs are important for the local scene to grow, I believe bigger shows like HellFest are also necessary to make more people aware of the local underground bands who are way more original than most of the shit that gets floated around in the name of Metal in the world. Keep it old school, keep it real."
"HellFest Pakistan is one of the biggest stages for Metal bands in Pakistan that unites Metal bands from all over the country to one platform and give a message to the world that Metal is still alive in this part of the world as well.
"HellFest 2014 was the third show of the HellFest Pakistan series and Blackhour had the opportunity to play at the previous two HellFest Festivals as well as this one! We would have to say it is one of the most organized and well-arranged shows of the year! In fact you'd be surprised to know that the show was on the verge of being cancelled due to security threats but the Management pulled through and made sure that the show goes on!"
"Blackhour played the third slot in the event and it is here on this stage that we showcased our three new originals, 'Wind Of Change', 'Battle Cry' and a never performed before song whose name and music is only available to the Metalheads who were there at the event!
"Blackhour's guitarist, Mashoo, also had the courtesy to sound check for one of the biggest guitarist in Asia, Mr Faraz Anwar. Apart from this, the sound engineering and the lightings, the stage, the crowd; words fall short to explain the intensity of being on that stage. We hope some of the awesome coverage by highly professional photographers makes up for getting a faint idea of how it was out there!
"We at Blackhour give a shout out to the whole management crew; sound and lighting engineers; the photographers; the bands that came from all parts of the country to perform at the show and most importantly a shout out and massive respect to all the Metalheads who showed up and made a statement on the night of the festival that METAL LIVES ON!"