Heavy Montreal - C'est Bon. Merci!

August 1, 2018, 2 months ago

Mark Gromen

gallery heavy metal heavy montreal

Been a couple years since the last installment of this two-day gathering on Notre Dame Island, in the St. Lawrence River. The original festival grounds are still undergoing renovations and Evenko took a year hiatus, not wishing to compete against their own summer concert promotions with Iron Maiden, Metallica and Guns N’ Roses, so there was some automatic good will, from the fans, just reactivating Heavy Montreal. Tough topping previous line-ups, as the last go round showcased the international elite of the metal world: Nightwish, Sabaton, Volbeat, Blind Guardian, all present, alongside imported talent like Candlemass & Carcass, as well as North Americans: Disturbed, Katatklysm, Killswitch Engaged, Zakk Wylde, etc. The quotient of overseas acts was decidedly lower in 2018, opting to combine the Marilyn Manson/Rob Zombie twin bill with concurrent Summer Slaughter tour, then fill in other talent, most curiously/notoriously, rapper Tech N9ne, rap/rockers Hollywood Undead and, as a result of an 11th hour cancellation, Limp Bizkit (replacing Avenged Sevenfold). That said, still was a diversified line-up of metallic entities, appealing to youngsters and old-timers alike.

The new, four stage layout is massive! Bring comfortable walking shoes. Those not prone to physical activity already had quite the hike from the Metro station, then once on the grounds proper, at least a 15 minute walk between the two stages furthest apart. The promoter was using golf carts to shuttle artists (and lazy industry types, but not the BraveWords team!) between the backstage area (almost a mile away) and the performance areas. The paved roads and generally hard panned surfaces made the trek sure footed (even for those in an altered state), as opposed to the undulating uncertainties of grassy fields. Then, if (and when) the typical festival rain shower erupts, the whole place doesn't turn into a muddy quagmire. The walkways were populated by vendors, an array of food/drinks, a few designated merch tents (although each artist was reportedly limited to a single t-shirt design, plus one ancillary promo item: hat, patch, etc.) and the ubiquitous beer stands. Unfortunately, but understandably, the offerings were restricted to those who sponsored the event: Molson Canadian, Coors Light, Carlings Black Label (ask your grandfather). While Creemore Springs had their name on the smallest of the four stages, they were afforded just a single food truck, with multiple taps. Needless to say, the lines for this tasty microbrew were long, but generally fast moving.

Saturday
While the organization does their best to prevent overlap between the main stages: one starts as the other ends, to facilitate movement between the two (especially for photographers, who must be there for the initial three songs, or less, when it comes to Marilyn Manson) sometimes more than one thing's going on simultaneously. A few square meters of artificial grass/astro-turf laid in front of the Monster (energy drink sponsor) stage, allowed people to sit, without getting dirty, provided a small layer of sponge between your feet and hard packed ground and, perhaps most importantly, minimize the dust, during circle pits. It was here that Lee Aaron christened Heavy Montreal 2018 for us old-schoolers, while Black Dahlia Murder and Jungle Rot raged across the stream that separated the stages, by bridges. Opening with her best known, and somewhat signature tune, as in the early ‘80s, Kerrang anointed the somewhat anomaly of a female rocker as "The Metal Queen", Ms. Aaron adopting a guitar for just said song. To her right was Sean Kelley, the much in demand six-stringer who has done stints with Helix, Nelly Furtado and soon to be seen with Coney Hatch, as well as fronting his own Crash Kelly. Dispensing with guitar, Lee was free to move about the stage and interact with the band members, for the rest of the set, beginning with "Some Girls Do". While she's released a new blues album (Diamond Baby Blues), much of her late ‘80s works are hair metal approved sexual tease lyrics and titles, including the aired "Sex With Love", "Hands On" and closing "Whatcha Do To My Body". Kelly switched to a different guitar, once things got bluesy (which wasn't very long), for "Diamond Baby". Would never have guessed I'd see Lee Aaron play live in back-to-back summers, but following a more rock oriented set, at last year's Bang Your Head, in Germany, was a pleasure to see her again. 

Seen so many shows in my life that I'm beginning to forget some of them. So to the best of my recollection, this was my first time witnessing Sword, one of the bands championed by ‘80s satellite FM radio station Z-Rock (out of Dallas). Getting to the photo pit early, got to hear a warm-up song and shoot singer Rick Hughes in a different shirt than he'd wear performing. Opening with "Outta Control" the reactivated originals (who have signed to Megadeth bassist Dave Ellefson's Combat Records for a 2019 release) thoroughly looked to be enjoying themselves and sounded great, especially Hughes' high register, showing no signs of rust as he pirouettes and climbs atop the stage front speakers. "End Of The Night" is followed by the bass thumbing "The Trouble Is", all the guys moving about the stage. Between song raps almost exclusively in French, yet no problem with English lyrics, come "Prepare To Die". They even offer a glimpse into the future, with forthcoming "I'm In Command". Fedora wearing, left-handed guitarist Mike Plant often has a cigarette dangling from his lips. "Children Of Heaven" is backed by slide guitar (courtesy of Plant) begun "Life On The Sharp Edge". After beginning in his native tongue, Hughes says, "Guess it's about getting loaded," cue "Stoned Again", one of the biggies off Metalized. Ultimately they ended with "FTW", actually the opening cut off that '86 debut. Given what was seen/heard, can't wait to hear some new music!

Long trip to the media tent and VIP area complete, found a cushioned couch from which to take in Alestorm on the backstage Jumbotron telecast. Had seen them two weeks prior, in Germany, and twice on 70000 Tons, at the start of the year, so being there, in person (minus seated perspective and cold beer) seemed unnecessary. OK, call me pampered. Jealous? As with many other events, Heavy Montreal booked not only Alestorm, but Chris Bowes alter-ego Gloryhammer (who would play Sunday), where the keytar playing frontman takes a back seat, as the hooded keyboardist. Same set as overseas, beginning with "Keelhauled" and ending with coarse rhyming "Fucked With An Anchor", Bowes in tartan kilt and flip flops spewing his non sequitur, comedic stage banter: "The next song is about Mexico. It's called, 'Mexico'." There's the "Sunk'n Norwegian", a slower "Nancy The Tavern Wench" and a giant inflatable bathtub duckie is battered atop the fans, like a plastic, yellow crowd surfer. "Drink" with its refrain of "We are here to drink your beer" is not only truth in advertising, given these Scots' tippling proclivities, but a great festival rallying cry. Alestorm? Think I'll have another (and will, at ProgPower USA, in September).  

Never a fan of Manson, although not the first time I've witness the antics, given his inclusion on big events, the world over. Allowed just a single song for photographs, stuck around for a few more, before prepping for our headliner, Emperor. Would never have guessed Antichrist Superstar would survive 22 years, but quite a bit of his Montreal set was culled from that success, beginning with "Irresponsible Hate Anthem", which seems even more appropriate now, then when originally released. The frontman had missed his Toronto date, two nights prior, so fans were on pins and needles (maybe in more ways than one?) hoping this came off without a hitch. The mainman was in his pasty white make-up, streaked with symmetrical black lines down his face and black, ruffled tuxedo shirt. The rest of his band was also in make-up. Ten minute delay for technical issues only built the suspense as strobes flashed incessantly, during the opener. Old school "Angel With The Scabbed Wings" follows, lit almost entirely in red, as he removes his jacket. Not the first costume change he'll make. "Say10" (say it repeatedly, faster) sees him in a similarly styled red dress shirt, behind a white altar, and later he'll don a feathery black garment. For "Dope Show" Manson asks, "How many people are on drugs here tonight?" Big response. "How many people lied about being on drugs?” Slightly less uproarious answer. Witnessing a youngster near the barricade, Manson retorts, "That's not appropriate for kids in the front row. Then again, maybe it's bad parenting." His cover of the Eurythmics' (if you're old enough to remember) "Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)" and closing "Beautiful People" are yet to come, but we tread over to the Monster stage just as the sky unleashes a torrent of rain.

Sought shelter in the double decker, covered platform from the energy drink, until the quick hitting, but teeming shower ceased. Ihsahn would comment that it's no coincidence heaven unleashed a bevy of tears, just as Emperor was about to take the stage. If you believe in those sorts of things, then it was doubly "blessed," what with Marilyn Manson finishing up as well. Water squeegeed from the stage, protective plastic removed from the wall of Marshalls, the Norwegian black metallers returned to Montreal (for the first time since '99), to impart Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk, in its entirety, sequentially. Backdrop was from their '93 eponymous EP though. Truth be told, there were plenty of fans from outside of Quebec, even American crossing the border, to witness the special show. Off-stage, the bearded, eye-glass wearing guitarist/vocalist/mastermind Ihsahn is soft-spoken and looks more like a college professor, but onstage the rage pours out. Lots of shadowy green lights, the power is in the music, neither Ihsahn, legs splayed and left foot on the wedge monitors, nor lone guitarist Samoth move more than a few meters. In stark contrast, the bassist almost perpetually pinwheels his hair, as he plays. "Thus Spake The Nightspirit" provides the first chance for an audience sing-along. Really! Ihsahn references the video for "The Loss And Curse Of Reverence", prior tonight's deep blue lit, live unveiling. When the album is done, many thought that would be all (and surely most would have been satiated, had that been all to come), but the Norge wizards had a trio of spells left to cast, beginning with "Curse You All Men!", followed by storming "I Am The Black Wizards" and ending in a crowd shouted introduction to "Inno A Satana". Post-gig, rather than catch Rob Zombie (who, from all reports, put on his usually colorful and wacky performance), the BraveWords crew met up with old pals Emperor (who were happy about their show) to talk and bestow them with a few personalized hockey jerseys. A great cap to the first day.

Additional Day 1 photos here.

Sunday

Hey Peter, JF, don't you know we old guys need more sleep than the younger generation? Why were the early bands (both days) the ones appealing (first and foremost) to the old-school crowd? I kid, yet Canadian mainstays Helix kicked off the Black Label stage at 1:30. Wearing his crazy inventor's top hat, Brian Vollmer (also sporting a T-shirt emblazoned with: "Arrive. Raise A Little Hell. Leave") led the band through a hits laden set, touching almost exclusively on the ‘80s material. "House On Fire" starts the show, the frontman, who used to do somersaults across the stage, nearly falling over backwards. The Aussie style stomp of "Wild In The Streets" sees the singer give the two young gun guitarists a chance at center stage. A clap-along "When The Hammer Falls" sees Vollmer and guitar player on the security riser in front of the stage. Later, the singer would completely vacate the stage, venturing into the photo pit, to sing "Rock You" with the crowd at the barricade. Hey, the man's no spring chicken! Slower, "Deep Cuts The Knife" sees two-part backing vocals (elsewhere, at times, there's a trio of accompanying voices, the lone holdout, veteran "Fritz" Hinz, on drums). The tune ends with Vollmer removing the omnipresent chapeau and taking a bow, having voiced the "I am your slave" lyrical finale. "Heavy Metal Love" is dedicated to "the ladies", while "Dirty Dog" kicks off (literally) with a bit of chorus line high stepping. The aforementioned, green lit "Rock You" sees fans hilariously attempting to spell rock, one letter at a time, but seemingly unable to do so, in time to the music. Guess that sickening, ubiquitous putrid herbal stench, emanating from the crowd, does have some debilitating effects! Back onstage, all the non-drummers build a Scorpions style human pyramid, Vollmer atop the rest, to close things out. Rock never dies! 

Lots of running between stages planned for today and Tim had a gift (jersey) for Vollmer, so a long trip to the distant media tent, then back, to see Voivod. Throughout the set, Snake is in constant motion, wandering back and forth across the stage, at times skanking in slo-mo. New blood (as the singer called him) guitarist Chewy (Daniel Mongrain) pulled faces, headbanged and shook his curly mane side-to-side. Behind his minimal kit (one bass drum, rack tom, floor tom and snare), Away produced quite the racket. Prior to the revved up 50s sock hop beat of "The Prow" (about as far removed from War And Pain or Rrröööaaarrr as one can get), Snake asked, in both French and English, "You guys know how to dance? It's time!" More movement onstage, as the guitar and bass almost switch sides (restricted by cords tethering them to their amps), during "Order Of The Blackguards". Other oldies, like "Ravenous Medicine" were balanced by newcomer "Obsolete Beings", actually scheduled for release, on The Wake, in September. Nice homecoming, celebrating 35 years of Voivod.

Left Tim with Voivod and ventured to get some Sleep. No, not rest, but a sludgy dose of stoner/doom. The Orange (color and maker) cabinets were piled so high onstage (in a 4-3-2-1 pyramid configuration) that they had to be tied down, lest they topple over and seriously hurt someone. The green leaf trio, known for writing long songs, if not 1+ hour length compositions, blast away (despite quickly solved technical issues), almost impervious to anyone being present. Despite the (literal) wall of feedback onstage, there remains a groove to songs like "Holy Mountain". At a completely different pace, "Havok" were racing through a set of speedy musicianship on the tiny Creemore Springs stage (my only visit of the weekend). Barely enough room onstage for the four musicians and a drum kit, security and a handful of photographers were crammed between the stage and barrier, which was soon invaded by crowd surfers. Luckily not the "Fatal Intervention" of their set opener. The band played a few note, stopped, then demanded a Wall Of Death/circle pit, only to commence once the music started again. Musical chairs for the metalhead generation! "Hang 'Em High" was up next, another whirlwind onstage and behind the barricade (then spilling over it). Following "Prepare For Attack", it was off to the Bacardi stage, for a different sort of confrontation.   

Gloryhammer, a cos-play dressing outfit almost as preposterous as songs entitled "Legend Of The Astral Hammer" (said prop produced live onstage), "Victorious Eagle Warfare" or "The Unicorn Invasion Of Dundee". The crazier (is that possible?) half of Alestorm's Chris Bowes (although reduced to lurking monk/keyboardist here), the band expands all the cheesy elements power metal to the nth degree. In small doses, it's incredibly fun. How many acts can get away with begging for free booze by challenging an audience member to go on a noble quest? Gloryhammer do. Furry booted bass player, aka Hootsman, Barbarian Warrior of Unst, with bearded twisted into a pointy Van Dyke, is focal counterpoint to breast-plated Peter Pan look-alike of a frontman, Angus McFife, Crown Prince of Dundee.It's goofy, it's over-the-top and amazingly popular with the under 25 crowd.

Have since seen posts to the effect, but after witnessing it live, yes, they should have flipped Gojira to festival ending headliners. On paper, it doesn't seem to make sense, but Joe Duplantier, in front of a predominantly French speaking crowd, was emboldened to take the bull by the horns and deliver what has (to this point) be the best Gojira performance I've seen. From the Monster stage, a video screen behind them, the technical French death metallers also added pressurized carbon dioxide cannons and half a dozen flame throwers, across the edge of the stage. Strobes galore on "Only Pain" opener and plenty of repetitive fire balls during "Love" and "Stranded". Center stage, Duplantier plays from a low crouch. Recorded humpback whale calls introduce "Flying Whales", the giant leviathan onscreen, as the stage is bathed in blue, making everyone look like they're underwater. Joe and bassist spasmodically throw themselves, and their instruments about, as guitar squelches squeal and videos of lightning appear onscreen, on an otherwise dark stage. Drummer/Duplantier brother Mario gets a solo. Later, Joe ventures atop a trio of amps, playing splay legged. Asymmetric designs flash behind a green tinted stage during "The Shooting Star". Joe says "Go!" and it's on to "Explosia", which closes the proper set. The squelch happy number utilizes multiple lights, all swept up to a common pinnacle. After brief blackout, it's a one song encore, a lumbering "Vacuity", with Duplantier back atop the amp cabinets. Special night and the French-Canadians would say it was close to nirvana. 

Not sure how many fans of other musical genres would or did watch the entirety of Emperor, but, for better or worst (and as an American, was surprised how many of the songs, due to oversaturation of the rock-free ‘90s, I was familiar with already) watched and cringed through Limp Bizkit. At least Wes Borland actually plays a mean guitar. The band doesn't really have enough well known original material to fill a headlining festival slot, so there were lots of gimmicks to fill time, including Borland jumping into the crowd during "Break Stuff", and then trying to get him back onstage, with the help of bearded, floppy hat and Grandma pants wearing frontman Fred Durst. Set stretching/time wasting included partial covers of The Who's "Behind Blue Eyes" (proving Durst is a rapper, not a singer), instrumental (though fan lyric supplied) dedication of Pantera's "Walk" to both deceased Abbott brothers, plus a snippet of recorded A7, spun by the DJ and a full rendition of Rage Against The Machine's best known anti-establishment anthem, "Killing In The Name" (aka Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me). What is it with rap acts doing covers? Earlier in the day Hollywood Undead offered bits of Metallica ("Enter Sandman"), Rammstein ("Du Hast") and Bon Jovi ("Living On A Prayer") Durst tried to crack jokes, initially introducing his crew as Avenged Sevenfold, then self-deprecatingly claiming they were the cheapest replacement (organizers) could find. He mentioned Trump and the ailing A7 frontman in his rambling onstage monologue, but when they brought a fan out of the crowd, at least he could go head-to-head with Durst spouting off the lyrics. Let's just say, it's not my thing and hopefully next year will end with a (head) bang!

Hope to see you there.  

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