Heavy Montréal – Just What The Doctor Ordered
August 10, 2016, a year ago
For a long time, North America has sadly lacked a world class, multi-day outdoor metal festival. Every summer, practically every country in Europe gathers tens of thousands to multiple stages in farm fields across the continent. Germany has two or three every weekend! Not looking for some touring rendition, that slops together a bunch of the usual subjects, but a headline inducing event that features the biggest names in the genre. The province of Quebec has been a metallic hotbed for decades and by snagging Nightwish, Sabaton, Volbeat and Blind Guardian (in the same weekend), all of whom have headlined Wacken, the show by which all others are judged, Heavy Montreal is staking its claim as THE spot, on this side of the Atlantic. Throw in big American acts, like Five Finger Death Punch, Mastodon and Disturbed, as well as globally recognized performers, including Carcass, Killswitch Engage and Candlemass. This is a lethal combo!
Situated in Jean-Drapeau park, an island, in the St. Lawrence River (though accessible from downtown, via the subway system), the tree-lined park housed three stages (of varying size) and a wrestling ring. With temps near 90 each day, much of the early arriving crowd hide in the shade, until the bands they want to see play. The infield was lined with wood chips, to keep down the dust (apparently an issue, in previous years), as well as absorb moisture, of which (thankfully) there was none. In front of each stage, where the majority of fans would stand, a hundred square meters or so were covered by steel plating, again, restricting the potential for soil erosion (dust, mud, etc.). A handful of pricey food stalls lined one wall of the fenced enclosure and a few drink vendors roved the grounds, otherwise there were plenty of bars. All was not idyllic however. Saturday, the wait to use the insufficient number of portable toilets stretched hundreds of people deep (extras were brought in overnight, but Sunday still saw congestion). By contrast, VIPs had public restrooms and backstage, the artists had full running water, faux laminated floor and not a chandelier, but a draped crystal electric lamp, in the loo. None too keen on the idea of serving drunk/high patrons (God, the stench of marijuana was nauseatingly thick) beer cans, which too frequently (empty and/or partially filled) became projectiles in front of the main stage. Plastic cups required a $2 deposit, so why not cans too? And in an environmentally conscious, recycling happy nation?
Funny enough, Saturday also featured an electronic music (outdoor rave), right next door, on the island. The gates opened at noon and by 1pm, Heavy Montreal 2016 was underway, Pop Evil taking the main stage. Frontman Leigh Kakaty is a native of Kingston, Ontario, claiming he knew “the difference between M&Ms and Smarties.” The band also features female drummer Hayley Cramer, but Kakaty was the star of the show, imploring the crowd to bring up their kids right, listening to more metal & hard rock music. At one point he actually crossed over the barricade, supported by/standing on the outstretched hands of the audience, as he sang. “Deal With The Devil” and redundant (given the antics all around) “Ways to Get High” were up early.
At the opposite end of the field, the two stages facing on another (the 3rd, smallest stage was up the hill, nestled amongst the trees) Dillinger Escape Plan were spasmodically throwing themselves around, while churning out “Black Bubblegum” and “Panasonic Youth”. There is some overlap, musically (and the wrestling ring, while never venturing close enough to pay attention, appeared to be in business virtually non-stop), but the pair of bigger stages were never in direct competition. In fact, stage hands relayed, via walkie talkie, when one was done and instantaneously, the other started.
Fear Factory played Demanufacture in its entirety, or at least that was the plan, the album longer than their allotted time. Then again, they actually had an extra five minutes. Opening with the title track, didn't take long for the crowd to join the “no more goddamn respect” chorus. Burton C Bell sings with his head skyward, rarely making eye contact, as mainstay guitarist Dino Cazares alternates a headbang and a pause. As the sun blazes down, HVY MTL crew produce a fire hose to soak those near the stage, later an artificial snow making machine would mist attendees. Crowd surfers poured over the wall, throughout the Factory set. The “I don't want to live that way” chant in “Replica” received a backing choir, several thousand strong. “New Breed” was followed by the electronic clinking of “Body Hammer”.
While there was some death metal and harder edged stuff, the line-up, devoid of black metal, was skewed somewhere mainstream rock (Breaking Benjamin, Disturbed) and traditional metal. That said, without an ingrained festival culture on this side of the Pond, the vast majority of those in attendance were under 25. Quebec is old stomping grounds for Kataklysm. Despite having relocated to Chicago, singer Maurizio Iacono announced to all that he'd be speaking predominately French this day. After opening with “Breaching The Asylum”, he pointed his fingers, in the form of a gun, for the rat-a-tat rhythms of “The Ambassador Of Pain”. A brutal “Crippled & Broken” and “As I Slither” also received high praise from the hometown crowd.
In the last six months, I have crossed paths with Carcass four times, on separate tours and/or festivals, including the US, Germany and now Canada. Today, Jeff Walker (bass/vocals, electronic wind machine blowing his hair) appeared to being have a great time, as much for playfully flipping off his soundman (visible to him, from the stage, thanks to a walled security channel that split the crowd into left/right halves). Although admitting he knew no French, Walker teased with the occasional “Oui” or “Merci Beaucoup.” The visual monitors they've used for the last two tours (even on the minuscule club stage in Philly, just three days earlier) were nowhere to be seen. Guitarist Bill Steer wore sunglasses as the Brits delighted with a career retrospective that dipped into “Captive Bolt Pistol”, “Exhume To Consume”, “Corporal Jigsore Quandary” and “Heartwork”.
By contrast, Sebastian Bach was more than happy to pepper his set with pigeon French. During the opening “Slave To the Grind” he torqued the mic over the heads of security and the photography pit, causing a few uneasy glances, but the real “dangers” were yet to come. Baz' mom was in the pit too, taking photos. “Sweet Little Sister” and “Big Guns” followed uneventfully, but struggled with the high notes on “18 And Life”. The closing duo of “Monkey Business” and “Youth Gone Wild” sent everyone home happy.
Sabaton brought “Walter,” the army tank which drummer Hannes Van Dahl sits atop, to North America for the first time (reportedly at a financial lost, but they were insistent on giving Montreal the taste of a “real” Sabaton show. Singer Joakim Brodén joked about the inefficiency of Canadian customs, but then claimed they “flat packed it in Ikea boxes.” The pyro that accompanies most songs, certainly caught the stage front security by surprise and added to an already uncomfortable temperature. Prior to going on, they debuted a recording of one song off the forthcoming Last Stand CD (and the title track was aired live). Explosions and four plumes of flame greet “Ghost Division” as the four criss-cross the stage. The stage volume is surprisingly low (especially compared to Zakk Wylde, who would follow), but the crowd singing “whoa whoa” (in the lull after “Carolus Rex”) prompts the Swedes to play “Swedish Pagans”, whether or not it was on the original setlist.
Pre-released on the net, still good to hear newbie “The Lost Battalion” for the first time. After today, guitarist Thobbe Englund has just four shows left with the band. Despite that, he was given the chance to be onstage, alone, cuing the crowd to sing, then whistle The Scorpions' “Wind Of Change”. It was a second comedic set-up, leading to not a second last Stand tune (as was hinted), but “To Hell And Back”, sea of bodies pogoing up and down to the infectious melody. “Resist And Bite”, with a reprise of the four skyward flame cannons and “The Art Of War” (complete with recorded spoken voice intro) closed out the proper set and although onstage for little more than a half hour, the band said “good night” and ran offstage. A few might have been confused, but cue to the sirens, heralding “Night Witches”. The tale of unsung female Russian pilots in WW II is only tune that could possibly (one day) topple “Ghost Division” from the opening slot. “Primo Victoria” sees more in-place jumping and before the requisite orange lit “Metal Crue” finale, Brodén talks to a 9 year old, from the stage, then throws him a pick. Sure a lot of Montreal attendees will be in line August 19th, day The Last Stand hits stores.
Had actually seen a full Black Label Society show the night before (at the Corona Theater), so an abbreviated, festival set was only of limited interest to me. Still, had a change to scout the action, so when Zakk Wylde jumped aboard his platform, knew the best moments to photograph. He was scheduled for a second (albeit more subdued) set, the next day. Boots tied only half way up the laces and a truck chain dangling from his belt, like a Canadian logger, ready to split a tree stump, Wylde stood atop his personal box, legs splayed, axe in hand. When not moving from side-to side, this bearded man-child, seemingly the bastard spawn of Harry Potter's Dumbledore and WWE wrestler Triple H, held his personalized, asymmetric guitars vertically or behind his head without missing a note. “Suicide Messiah” and closer “Stillborn” resonate (pun intended) loudest.
Heavier groove guitar with Mastodon, purveyors of stoner southern rock. Brendt Hinds wore a white, fringed leather jacket, while playing a clear Lucite Flying V. Cool! The facially expressive Troy Sanders (bass/vox) has a bit of Joe Cocker in his delivery. Not the biggest fan, but did recognize “Crystal Skull”, “The Wolf Is Loose” and “The Motherload”.
Although Five Finger Death Punch were technically the headliner, aka final band, checked out after Nightwish. Management claims the Finns had a hard time shoehorning their production (complete with huge backing video wall) into the undersized second stage. Sort of strange to see the stage so bare, especially absent the fortifications which typically surround founder Tuomas Holopanien. The band are winding down dates, leading to a full year hiatus, so this was the final North American show until sometime in 2018 (at the earliest). As such it was predominately a walk through the last couple of albums, accompanied by visual enhancements: a live video show. Flames, scientific/space related images, galloping horses, all to aid the music and a pyro laden spectacle. Emppu Vuorinen and mainman Holopainen seemed to being having a good time, throwing smiles back and forth, as the guitarist spent a large portion of the early set next to the keyboards.
Including the opening/closing bookends, from last year's Endless Forms Most Beautiful (including the controversial spoken voiceovers), eight of the 11 songs were culled from the last two discs. Floor Jansen has proven herself more than adept at handling the older material, so I assume it's the difficulty in incorporating newly christened full-time member/piper Troy Donockley that's the issue. For real old timers, “She Is My Sin” remains. Biggest surprise of the night was not the omission of “Amaranth”, the Marco Hietala sung “The Islander” nor “Wish I Had An Angel”, but the inclusion of a brooding “Sahara”. Welcome back! Felt sorry for a few in the scared security crew, some of whom had been working the Sabaton show, at the other stage, subjected to more explosions and fire displays, including pink flames which shoot diagonally. Will be a long wait until seeing Nightwish again. Thankfully there will be the two-show Vehicle Of Spirit DVD, this November. Come back soon!
Early portions of Sunday was spent backstage, with Blind Guardian, emerging only to catch the final strains of Hatebreed. Thus, the first band of the day was really the aforementioned Germans, who had played Wacken at midnight Friday (into Saturday), jumped a plane to Montreal, to rock out at 4:25 in the afternoon. Been a long time since Hansi Kürsch and the boys had to play in daylight. Not sure the all black stage outfits were chosen for days like today. Lots of effort for a one-off performance that was half the duration of Wacken. Thanks guys! Unlike the upcoming tour (alongside Grave Digger), which will feature all of Imaginations From The Other Side, this was a repertoire expansive set. Wisely only “The Script For My Requiem” was aired, meaning fans will have to see the return visit as well. Crafty. Beginning with “Into The Storm” opener, guitarist Marcus Siepen looked especially fired up. After “Fly”, Kürsch, always the master of crowd manipulation, said “Time is of the issue today, but we have a way to make time stand still...” At The Iron Hill. Great intro. Sadly many of the so-called media outlets were ensconced in the tent, on computers, downloading photos/interview content, not watching the live show. After “Twilight Of The Gods” the singer mused, “This one leaves me unemployed for a while. There's no dark forest, but this one's 'The Bard Song”, as two seated guitarists strum acoustics. “Mirror Mirror” sees Hansi with foot up on monitor, directing “traffic” with his hands and the purple and strobe lit “Valhalla” finale finally sees the crowd going wild, singing the titular chorus a cappella after the band concluded their allotted time.
A different side of Zakk Wylde was on display, Day 2. Same attire, apart from wearing a bowler hat, and there was a piano onstage, but the guitarist stuck to mellower material, culled from Book Of Shadows. In fact, “In This River” was the lone BLS tune. To these ears, there was a slow, bluesy, classic rock (think Allman Brothers). Although that didn't preclude him from, once again, playing behind his head, or with his lips on the strings. About midway through, hightailed it to the third stage, for the first time all weekend, to check out Suffocation. Since announcing he'll no longer tour full-time, was nice to see vocalist Frank Mullen fronting the NY death squad. Sticking out his tongue and making karate chop motions, Mullen stalks the stage, introducing “Thrones Of Blood” by saying “I like to kill people.” He makes sure everyone know this is not their first time in Montreal, name checking bands they've played with over the years. After “Catatonia” headed for the main stage, to checkout a bit of Alter Bridge and more importantly, shoot a couple of photos, as I'll probably never be in the same place with them again.
First met Myles Kennedy, when he fronted Mayfield Four, a band I interviewed and saw several times (thanks Cheryl!). Now he's part of two of America's biggest hard rocks acts, alongside GN’R guitarist Slash and fronting Alter Bridge, the band with the remnants of Creed, including guitarist Mark Tremonti, who has also struck out on his own. Kennedy, who might be able to pass for actor Jared Leto, also straps on a guitar in Alter Bridge. Checked it out, but not really my thing.
Living in the States, have seen Killswitch Engage numerous times, as part of tours/festivals, but this was the first with returning frontman Jesse Leach, who barked, “We're here to party, drink some beer and play some mediocre metal.” Crazed guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz was rather sedate, jogging around the stage, despite double knee braces, but minus any costume. Behind them, dual LED boards flashed “KSE” throughout the night. After opening with “My Curse”, to a huge response and more barricade crashing crowd surfers than any band thus far, things just got more frenzied. Leach offering “If you're a girl on shoulders, get down or show your tits.” Later, he added, “If you're not drinking or moshing, you're a big pussy,” as he attempted to get “le circle pit” formed. 7pm saw lights with only minimal effectiveness, so a red lit “Hate By Design”, punctuated by strobes worked just moderately. A cover of “Holy Diver” went down a storm, but who doesn't love Dio?
A quick stop to the third stage, vainly attempting to photograph the whirlwind that is Barney Greenway, frontman of Napalm Death. Many in the photo pit expressed the same dismay: “My camera's not fast enough to get a good shoot.” Despite a medley that referenced hits from Nirvana and Pantera, not sure who thought the FM drivel of Breaking Benjamin was worthy of a late Sunday slot, especially given the positions of many of the European invitees. Some might call his BS old man rock, but honestly, have never listened to this kind of wussy music. Yuck! Anyone over 40 knows better, much more aggressive music. Might as well pass out some glow sticks and neon necklaces leftover from last night's EBM fest, as that made about as much sense as being part of HEAVY Montreal.
20 years ago, The Last Nine, by Dominus, was on my albums of the year and still consider it a metallic gem in the dark days of the mid-to-late ‘90. Little did I know that the creative force behind the Danish melodic death metallers was Michael Poulsen, now inexorably linked to Volbeat. While much has been made of the Johnny Cash of metal characterization (something Poulsen himself doesn't shy away from onstage, even covering “Ring Of Fire”), there's a lot more to Volbeat. The slicked back haired guitarist/singer wore a Bathory t-shirt, beneath a black patch denim, Entombed emblazoned across the lower back, a photo of the Bathory self-titled debut filling the remainder. More stage divers than most thrash bands, right from the opening “Devil's Bleeding Crown”. Blinding lights as “A Warrior's Call” morphs into the oft covered “Only Want To Be With You”. Speaking of others' songs, the aforementioned Cash hit, appeared alongside the acoustic guitar introduced “Sad Man's Tongue”. Flashback to his former life, Poulsen turned over the mic to Napalm Death singer Barney Greenway for “Evelyn”, although not sure how many Volbeat fans even knew he was. High energy, sing-along fun. Can see why they're already a huge, stadium-filling headliners overseas.
Last band of the festival for the BraveWords crew was Candlemass, who were on opposite festival finale, Disturbed. Somehow, the Swedes were relegated to the mini-stage (played a bigger place at the BW&BK 6-Pack Weekend). Face of the band, Leif Edling (bass) is staying away from the current tour and as such, the song selection has opened up a bit. In addition to expected classics like the concluding trio of “Crystal Ball”, “At The Gallows End” and “Solitude”, there's some unexpected, early entries. Now fronted by curly haired Mats Levén (ex-Yngwie/Therion), “Mirror Mirror” opened, but just as soon, there was “The Dying Illusion” (off the first post-Messiah Marcolin album) and rarely heard “A Cry From The Crypt”. Apart from whites and strobes, basically no lights and naturally dark after (ahem) nightfall, a 9:30pm start time, was the appropriate setting for doom. The drum begun green lit “Demon's Gate” sees guitarists Mappe Björkman and lefty Lars Johansson together center stage, for the first time. “Emperor of The Void” was the most recent track offered, from 2007's King Of The Grey Islands. Shame so few had the opportunity to see them though.
All in all, a winning weekend! A few tweaks to the formula should see even greater success. Will you be there in 2017?
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