Heavy Montréal – Wild Weekend With SLAYER Sunday Sermon!

July 31, 2019, a year ago

Mark Gromen

gallery heavy metal heavy montreal

Five stages, almost constantly in action, new YUL EAT food court (in addition to usual fest fare + food trucks), professional wrestling bouts... fun for kids of all ages (and there were many a family on premises, for the two-day event). Actually, there were a couple of pre-game shows, on Friday, throughout the town, including the sold-out (albeit just 200 capacity) Turbo Haus gig, attended by BraveWords, featuring up & comers Holy Grail, Striker and Bewitcher. The real concert kicked off at 1 PM on Saturday, with Galactic Empire.

A campy bit of Star Wars geekdom run amok, the all-instrumental performance offers music from the films, played by guys in facsimile costumes. Since the character names are trademarked by Lucas Films, these artists chose wryly altered ways around a lawsuit, like Dark Vader (guitar) Boba Sett (drums) and Kyle Ren, the stormtrooper, on bass. However, other than a bit of prerecorded shtick, there's no vocal interaction with crowd. So if you're not a sci-fi fan, probably have no idea what they're playing. Seems natural they'd begin with the "Main Theme", the now iconic music that opened the original '77 movie (since rechristened episode IV, A New Hope), where the backstory narrative scrolling off into space, onscreen. Staccato, and very metal, “Imperial March” came next. How many bands have aped that particular John Williams score? By the infectious “Cantina Band”, an inflatable Death Star balloon was bouncing atop the crowd, as the Red Guard and Stormtrooper dance with one another. As the speakers bellow Vader's voice, using the Force to vanquish a rebel (stagehand), he then plugs galaxy goodies for purchase, at the merch booth. Cue “The Throne Room”. Not sure it bears repeated viewing, but as a 30 minute set, Galactic Empire were highly enjoyable and something any fan of the films should see, at least once. 

Kataklysm are French Canadian, and by that very nature, were granted the biggest stage and a huge hometown audience, to boot. Both stages on the paved and crushed rock infield had a pair of matching Jumbotron video boards, providing close-ups, even for those far away. Frontman Maurizio Iacono delivered all the stage raps in his native tongue, but the intensity and passion shone through any language barrier. An informal onstage poll (later in the day) would reveal that at least half the attendees came from outside Montreal, and like our little contingent, included people from Toronto, the USA, even Europe. Kataklysm appeared to be filming a live video/DVD, judging from the number of camera onstage, as well as in the pit. “Thy Serpents Tongue” came on the heels of “The Black Sheep”. Lots of pinwheeling hair. Iacono kept requesting a circle pit, but the first barricade breechers of the day gave the phalanx of security guards a workout. 70000 Tons Of Metal (the metal cruise organization) had a large presence at Heavy Montreal, quartering off a hilltop section (restricted, unless past sailors displayed their onboard Sea Pass card), with a hot tub, private bar and air condition/running water bathroom (not one of the overused and inadequate, in number, Spot-a-Pots, found elsewhere on the grounds). During Kataklysm, 70000 Tons unleashed a half dozen black balloons on the throng, a few quickly succumbing to the violent maelstrom. Prior to “As I Slither”, bassist Stephane Barbe's daughter and son came onstage, to the delight of the crowd. A hug & kiss from Dad and they were gone. See, death metallers have a human side too. By “Crippled & Broken” (how appropriate) Iacono finally got his (massive) circle pit. Even Spiderman (or was it Deadpool?) joined in. Vicious! 

Sort of mixed emotions about this incarnation of Quiet Riot, what with original drummer Frankie Banali apparently too ill to do live shows these days. OK, Chuck Wright (bass) who has been in and out of the band (as well as stints with ‘80s LA acts Giuffria and House Of Lords, as well as countless session recordings) was there, but it still seemed like a glorified tribute. Right for the old stuff, “Run For Cover” and “Slick Black Cadillac” opened. Apart from the young singer, Wright was the most active, perfecting many an old-school move, most notably, balancing the bass, vertically, on the palm of his hand. July 27th was apparently the 35th anniversary of the Condition Critical release, hence the first of two Slade covers “Mama Weer All Crazee Now”. Like most of the afternoon offerings, Quiet Riot had a 40 minute set (can hear some of you making a joke now.. “How did they fill the time?”), sticking to the classics: “Sign Of The Times”, “Love's A Bitch” and “Let's Get Crazy”, in succession. At one point, there was a vocal poll...”How many of you were born in the ‘60s? The ‘70s?” and continuing. By far, the vast majority of those watching the band were in their Twenties. Which bears out what many of those pressed against the rail, told me. It was their first time seeing Quiet Riot (regardless of line-up). Ended with the big 1-2 punch of “Cum On Feel The Noize” (the other Slade tune, which changed their luck, forever) and “Metal Health” (aka “Bang Your Head"), the crowd singing along to both. For me, not having listened to any of those records, in decades, it was enjoyable nostalgia Get well soon, Frankie. 

Adam Dutkiewicz (guitar) introduced Killswitch Engage as “drunks from the USA”. He was even sporting a black headband, with the word “beer” on it (as well as goofy shades and his usual supportive knee brace). “This Fire” quickly made the already scorching infield even hotter, what with all the bodies flailing about. “My Curse” was slower, but no less intense, Jesse Leach seemingly wringing the last bits of emotion from his soul. Speaking of the frontman, the catchphrase tattooed on his left elbow/forearm, “I Am Broken Too”, was up next. Both he and the perpetually bouncing, skipping, running, Dutkiewicz covered most of the stage. The guitarist called out the tour manager, to wish him a profanity-laced Happy Birthday, as well as make him chug a couple cans of beer. As always, Killswitch ended with their rendition of Dio's “Holy Diver”. 

It was going on 6 PM, and mercifully, it had started to cloud up. Did the heavens know what was on the horizon? Namely Watain and Ghost! But first, saw pieces of Steel Panther (‘80s music and profane comedy), Godsmack (dueling drum solos and call for “boobies”) and Evanescence, whom I'd originally planned to photograph, but with just a 15 minute window between start times, versus Watain (while having to navigate the lengthy distance between the competing stages, compounded by the maze of drunk/stoned stumblers or those who'd already succumbed to their vices, prone on the ground), opted just to head into the wooded enclave (for the only time today), to see some black metal. Right choice! 

Having only seen Watain in small US clubs, pyro was never an option. Yet, even in the open air, could still faintly smell that ubiquitous stench of death that pervades the nostrils, indoors. Tonight, in the dark, surrounded by trees, the stage had six banners on pikes. Each sported a single letter, cumulatively spelling out “Watain”. The pikes were topped with the band's trademark trident. A steel, inverted cross was positioned at either side of the stage. Erik Danielsson strolls out, a flaming branch in hand. He preceded to light a torch atop each pike, as well as both crucifixes, before launching the still flaming limb into the unsuspecting crowd. Watch out! Meanwhile, the crimson lit stage bursts into a fury of activity, led by crazed, blood smeared Danielsson. A man possessed, his eyes are transfixed, but seemingly on the metaphysical. Definitely not of this Earth. “Furor Diabolicus” describes what's happening, if anything can, accurately. The show is a mix of electronics (same diagonal red line of lights and like-colored bank of spots used for all bands playing that stage) and old school aesthetics. Loud, unholy and eagerly devoured by a crowd that (in all honestly) should have been housed in a larger venue, scheduling be damned. Unlike so many black/death metal band, who remain stationary for most of the show, everyone in Watain is active, the gargoyle looking guitarists roaming the stage, headbanging or pin wheeling hair, during the like of “Nuclear Alchemy” and “Total Funeral”. Spectacle, in the awesome/inspiring definition of the word.

Finally, the evening's headliner: Ghost, who offer a different take on Satanism. As opposed to Watain, who hit you over the head (sight/sound/smell), founder/frontman Tobias Forge (aka Cardinal Copia/the late Papa Emeritus) prefers to wrap his iron fist in a velvet glove, seductively enticing younger fans (who might otherwise be into "metal") with an infectiously melodious sound, masked/cartoon imagery, but an also blatant sexual/anti-Catholicism lyrical bent. Opening with “Rats”, the Cardinal (now just in red leisure suit, Ghost “G” crest on the left breast) struts about, as the silver, full head masked Nameless Ghouls cavort on a stage that has faux marble steps, leading up to dual platforms: one for drums, the other for two keyboardists. A triple pane stained glass backdrop shows the trio of Papa frontman, who have come before. There are fireworks, loud explosions and the occasional puff of fire, but not enough that would warrant photographers being barred from the pit. 

The sing-along “Absolution” is followed by “Ritual”. Early on, it's all hits, including heavier “From The Pinnacle To The Pit”. There's some filler, like the pantomime guitar duel between the two ghoul guitarists, and the Cardinal's monologues. “Miasma” is notable because of the short saxophone solo by aged Papa, the lone appearance of any satanic Pope, once the calling card of Ghost (just look at the merch! He still adorns most designs). Six plumes of flame are repeatedly fired during “Year Zero”. The blue lit, Blue Oyster Cult intoned “He Is” has the sizable gathering (many seeing the band for the first time) sing along. Back to the heavier side of Ghost, for “Mummy Dust”. The Cardinal skips across the stage, as a keytar appears at the top of the stairs. It concludes with a snowstorm. In July? No, four confetti cannons ejecting bits of paper skyward. “Danse Macabre”, with its rainbow pattern lighting, is practically disco (at least Night Flight Orchestra), with a pulsating beat and “I want to be with you” chorus. Quirky keyboards as white lights blink around the stage, to start “Square Hammer”, which ends the proper set. Many head for the Metro (subway), wishing to beat the sea that will inundate the lone station to get off the island and back downtown. Ghost, in the meantime, return for “Monstrance Clock” finale. Day 1 has ended.

There are after-shows, but BraveWords opted to rest up, for the second day, beginning with Fu Manchu. They were the first of the stoner rock trinity on display today. Scott Hill, with his multi-colored collar shirt and clear, acrylic guitar spasmodically throwing himself around the stage during the "Hell On Wheels" opener: half headbanging seizure, half thrash. "Clone Of The Universe" received more than a nod of recognition, as did "King Of The Road". Odd hearing a distortion fuzzy rendition of BOC's "Godzilla" though. 

When Heavy Montreal originally announced Gamma Ray, that quickly became the weekend's priority. Not only have I enjoyed Kai Hansen's handiwork (the Rays, Helloween, Unisonic), but this was a special one-off gig (not merely a tour stop, as so many of the performers were doing) without knowing how long it will be until we see the Rayniacs again. You see, even the lucrative European festivals didn't get a Gamma Ray gig and with Hansen supposedly ensconced in a new, reunited Helloween album (to be followed by another global tour), it probably will be a couple more years before Gamma Ray sets foot on these shores again. So imagine the surprise when “Gardens Of The Sinner” was the initial volley. Sure, Frank Beck splits the vocals with Kai, taking the highest notes, even while the guitarist sings along, but still an unexpected choice. Ditto “Man On A Mission”. OK, they only had 40 minutes, but...come its conclusion, Hansen (complete with new 'do, shaved on the right side) sang a cappella, only to be joined by Beck. Begun by Kai (lyrically) “Master Of Confusion” picked up the pace. Catchy “Heavy Metal Universe” sing-along made way for “Rebellion In Dreamland”, one of (if not THE) quintessential Gamma Ray composition. Henjo Richter took the leads in “Dethrone Tyranny”, while Dirk Schlächter (bass) and Hansen joked with some synchronized stage moves, during the “Send Me A Sign” finale. Odd, for a closer, but the guys were probably just warming up, about half way through a normal length set and they were done. Still, any Gamma Ray is better than none. Heaven can wait, but I can't. Already eager for the next opportunity!

During the Rays, ducked out just long enough to shoot a few photos of the Pepper Keenan (Down) fronted Corrosion Of Conformity (aka C.O.C.): a little sludgy, Southern bludgeoning, with coarse, whiskey throat, and odd punk undercurrent. In the process of heading to the wooded stage, passed by another, where Metalachi were offering acoustic guitar, trumpet and fiddle spiced renditions (i.e. traditional Mexican mariachi sound) of classic metal songs. Even before Maria Brink closing remarks, her In This Moment morality/gender role play (good vs. bad, Madonna vs. whore) was self-evident. Arranged on a set that featured a separate drum location, housed on a cartoon-ish church riser and Brink's similarly ordained platform, the two male musicians were masked, attired in black and down below her lofty environs. She appeared in white, plunging neck, choir robe (features initially obscured beneath a sheath), as did her two female handlers, slit to the thigh. Virginal/angelic females vs. duplicitous, rogue males, I get it. While still beneath the tiara topped sheet, she offer a slow, sludgy rendition of Steve Miller's “Fly Like An Eagle”. Brink has a bar mic set-up and electric fans billowed her blond hair all over the place. Got the feeling this might be what a Britney Spears or Beyoncé concert might be like, what with all the extra attendees/dancers. “Big Bad Wolf” saw both she and her handlers don wolf masks, as they prowled the stage. By the time she had the crowd yelling “We want blood,” she'd switched to a black ensemble, crowned with like-colored headdress. The concluding “Whore” sees a 10 foot scaffold erected, center stage, the titular phrase spelled out vertically, down its front. A pair of Handmaid's Tale adorned characters trudge across the stage. Placards, with the word “Shame,” boldly written in red, are draped around their necks. Prerecorded tape with all sorts of banter, including MLK's “I have a dream” speech, blare from the speakers, as Brink ascends the staircase, wearing a white dunce cap, again emblazoned with the song's title. Upon it's conclusion, she explains, “This show is about overcoming expectations. It's about what we should be,” i.e. not what others see us as, or want us to be. That's something I can applaud.  

Those that were anxious for Clutch were crammed into the space in front of the stage, but as 7 PM approached, overall, there were more people seated (picking up a piece of real estate, many on the hillside, or in the tree lined shade), beaten down by two days of extended partying, in the heat. Opening with “Ghoul Wrangler”, Neil Fallon, the bearded, expressive eyed Clutch frontman took those assembled on a different trip, one with groove and bass heavy rhythms. “A Quick Death In Texas” sports a ZZ Top feel and “Noble Savage” recalls revved up Johnny Cash, sort of where Volbeat got the blueprint, eh? 

Slash, with Myles Kennedy & the Conspirators (well-traveled Canuck bassist Todd Kerns in their ranks) truly tried to stay away from any Guns N’ Roses connections, offering up just “Nightrain”, the ode to cheap, albeit high powered, wine. It came 30 minutes into the set. Despite the success of Alter Bridge and his association with the GnR guitarist, Myles Kennedy still has his Mayfield Four, starving artist physique (exposed ribs). Actually, at his age, being in that kind of shape is amazing. Wearing a sleeveless Ghost shirt (looked brand new), Kennedy stood atop a shadowbox as Mr. Saul Hudson blazed away on the guitar, his signature top hat never seeming to bobble, despite the sweat pouring down his face. “Standing In The Sun” seemed appropriate for today, while the closing “World On Fire” developed into a long series of solos.

Speaking of incendiaries, Anthrax came out smoking! “Caught In A Mosh” went straight for the jugular, Belladonna zig-zagging across the stage in a sprint/shuffle, as Scott Ian ground out the punky power chords. “Got The Time” saw Joey steal the video camera (used to simulcast the onstage action to a bigger audience, via the Jumbo Tron screens) from its unsuspecting operator. The guy was pushing it into the singer's face and after mugging for a second, Belladonna grabbed the camera and kept it hostage, pointing it towards the crowd, as the technician looked on with a “Give that back and please don't break it,” pleading look on his face. When not bugging the cameraman, the singer spent much of his time on Ian's side of the stage. “I Am The Law” was the last classic stuff, for a while, as “Now It's Dark” (honestly, bit of a surprise selection) and “In The End” followed. “A.I.R.” was another return to yesteryear, begun with barrage of intersecting white lights trained on drummer Charlie Benante. Then “Antisocial”. Might be heresy, but been in their camp since Fistful Of Metal, just wish they'd ditch all the cover tunes.  “Indians” sing-along caps another (albeit all too short) performance. 

Only one way it could end and that's with Slayer's final salute to Montreal. Seen the band five times in the last two years and it doesn't get old, thanks in part to the staging and then the dedicated execution, what with this being “the end”. In the photo pit, the initial trio of songs flash by (pun intended), careful to avoid the pyro: towers of flames erupt for opening “Repentless” and multi-directional shooting on “World Painted Blood”. Stage right is Gary Holt, his entire body seizes like a repeatedly electrocuted lab rat (Exodus wristband on his right, picking hand, matching black Slayer terrycloth bracelet on his fingering hand. Something appropriate about Slayer being used with, the finger!). Stage opposite, is the the truck chain wearing Kerry King, seeming to piledrive the stage moorings deeper, just with his rocking, back and forth motion. In the center, Tom Araya surveys all. He's the reason behind Slayer's departure. Holt will return to Exodus. Can't see King sitting around idle. He'll undoubtedly be on the road, playing a handful of Slayer gems, sort of like the Abbott brothers, in Hellyeah, post-Pantera.

The singer/bassist commands everyone to scream “War”, cuing “War Ensemble”, with its four sustained columns of flame and rotational firestorm. Araya sports an evil grin in the icy blue “Mandatory Suicide”, before seguing into the chartreuse lit “Chemical Warfare”, which ups the ante (and intensity). For the accurately entitled “Born In Fire”, you can feel the heat generated, 150 yards away. Talk about firepower. There's eight flames, each about 20 feet high! Holt starts the purple lit “Season In The Abyss”, giving way to more pyro, on the red hued “Hell Awaits”. Gary brings out the Hanneman label guitar for “South Of Heaven”, the design a play on the Heineken beer label. It was also used as a memorial backdrop, honoring their late guitarist, Jeff Hanneman, who died, six years ago. Final backdrop change of the night, sees four war eagle logo banners, hanging from the rafters. Time for “Raining Blood”. Later, when illuminated under fluorescent black-light, dried, crimson streaks can be seen to have dripped from each. After a blackened stage, blues focus on the two guitarists, to start “Dead Skin Mask'. On the green lit, fire punctuated “Angel Of Death” finale, Araya basically give the crowd the mic. Their best known song, has both King and Holt on the right side. There's a mix of euphoria and sadness, as people begin to understand the gravity of the moment. 

As witnessed at previous arenas, Araya is the last to leave the stage, staring at the still rabid crowd response and repeatedly uttering “Thank you.” Tears have welled up in his eyes and when he announces the definitive, “Goodbye,” more than a few grown men in the crowd are also wiping their eyes. See them before it's too late.

Plenty of time though, to make plans for attending Heavy Montreal 2020. Hope to see you there!

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