Monterrey Metal Fest 2022 Takes It To A New Level

December 14, 2022, a year ago

By “Metal” Tim Henderson

gallery monterrey metal fest judas priest pantera mercyful fate behemoth stryper

Like most Canadians, I can safely say that Mexico's surf-side destinations in the Gulf Of Mexico and the Pacific far outweigh destinations in the interior, where people are mostly travelling to and from family and employment. That said, this was my first time visiting Monterrey and the stop-over on the way, Mexico City. In 1997, BraveWords was sent to cover Sepultura's first album with Derrick Green and I was immersed in the immense size of Sao Paulo, the band's home base. That population sits at over 12 million. Mexico City and greater surrounding areas are over 21 million in size! So when we begin our decent towards Mexico City International Airport, that is when it truly hits you. The epic vastness. Mile after mile of humanity. What was supposed to be a short layover in Mexico City, became a bit of an inconvenience due to fluctuating temperatures in the region. Even air travel at home in Toronto, there have been issues with weather, so low-laying cloud cover and pea soup-like fog blanketed Monterrey that evening and Mexico City the following morning. Suffice to say, I don't recommend sleeping in an airport. Sh*t happens. We are going to a metal festival dammit!

The temperatures inland (Monterrey is about 200 miles east of the Gulf Of Mexico and about 300 miles south of San Antonio, Texas) can be quite cool this time of the year, so I was encountering climate similar to home to a certain degree, but there certainly wasn’t any snow! Monterrey - third in size behind Mexico City and Guadalajara - is also a bustling metropolis, filled with tech giants, mega-corporations and a vast array of commerce-related institutions. It's also industrial and busy. Very busy. It was pushing nearly an hour to get to our hotel in mid-morning traffic. It was a wicked ride and I felt safe all the way.

In fact, I felt safe my entire visit. You know the reputation this country has. But don't let television fool you. The government is intent on battling the bad guys in key cities like Monterrey. And c'mon, let's be real. We all have neighbourhoods that are shady, those you just steer away from. Especially at night. Just be smart and keep your wits about you. And stop focusing on your damn phone.

Despite a bit of a language barrier, the locals were extremely friendly, very accommodating and full of life. If they understood what you needed, they would help. And the food. I've always been a bit of a fanatic for this local cuisine, so I dove in head first. It's not about suicidal heat when it comes to Mexican food, it's about flavour. Intense flavours that dance around your pallet. Soft tacos filled with tender, spicy beef, Azteca Tortilla soup, mole, burritos, fajitas, tamales, quesadillas, enchiladas and ceviche! The list is truly endless. And you wash them all down with your favourite cerveza or tequila! Life can't get much better than this!

We finally get to day of show. The spectacle of watching some big time headliners load into a shiny brand new, state-of-the-art entertainment machine! Due to weather and logistical issues, at the last minute, the festival was moved indoors to Arena Monterrey, which features incredible sightlines and audio sonics.

The bill is truly shocking, organizers hand-delivering the ultimate post-COVID gift, all headliners to varying degrees. Think about it. Judas Priest are celebrating 50 Years Of Heavy Metal which equates to an incredible greatest hits show. This was just the second Pantera show paying tribute to the fallen brothers, Dimebag and Vinnie. Mercyful Fate are seeing a second coming as well and have been frightening audiences since the summer with the ultimate retro feast. Behemoth's crushing ceremony is always a spectacle and Stryper kicked off the night in fine form with the house over half full and this was only 4 o'clock in the afternoon! Monterrey was hungry. Very hungry for this show. 

The lineups started early in the afternoon, fans eager to snap up the event swag and then memorabilia the bands brought with them.

Admit it, when you read that Stryper was on such an extreme bill you must've given your head a shake. But that's how pro Michael Sweet and company are. And hungry as well. And the audience totally ate it up. It goes to prove that whether the cross is right-side up, or upside-down, we can all get along. Tell the rest of the world that. So the yellow and black attack didn't start throwing out bibles, but a parade of gems from their treasured history like “Soldiers Under Command” and “To Hell With the Devil”, Sweet leading the congregation with his fab Flying V and the harmonies just echoing around the building.

I've seen Behemoth grow from this club band into a mega-monster thrilling thousands with their blackened wizardry. Nergal is Satan spawn, a man that has that fire in his eyes and deep in his heart. Extremely talented and smart as a whip, Behemoth have built a black metal brand to the level of Dimmu Borgir and Emperor. The music, the mystique, the mystery and the madness.

Majestic opener ”Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer" sees Nergal imploring the crowd to sing along to the "Thine is the kingdom And the power Thine is the kingdom And the glory, Forever”, while bassist Orion and second guitarist Seth just mesmerize the Mexican devotees who truly can’t believe their Polish metal gods are in front of them. 

With surgical precision, drummer Inferno is a war machine on "Ov Fire and the Void" and “Conquer All”, while “Bartzabel” from their glorious I Loved You At Your Darkest just consumes the crowd, Nergal the ultimate master of ceremonies. “Chant For Eschaton 2000” finishes the crowd off. 

The first thing that crosses your mind is that, wow, this material is old. We are talking early '80s. Most of this crowd weren’t even born. But this is the beauty of music. If you've never heard it, it's just the same as a new release. When Mercyful Fate released their debut Melissa in 1983, the entire heavy music world were in awe with this new style of horror show. So many bands were influenced by this darkness. And this spectacle has never looked or sounded better. King Diamond's voice is that pristine and ear-shriekingly beautiful. Every note, spot on. The band no doubt has built the set of the year, with that inverted crucifix hanging center stage, while the King’s face shielded behind a horned ram's head mask and his floor length Satanic soutane. “The Oath” sees his patented ear-shattering falsettos doing battle with legendary shredders Hank Sherman and Mike Wead.  

How fitting, the devastating “A Dangerous Meeting” sees King howl “Tonight the circle is meeting again. Who will be the first to fall in trance”. Absolutely epic. “Come To The Sabbath” follows as the crowd joins the sing-along as new bassist Becky Baldwin (subbing for Joey Vera) and drummer Bjarne T. Holm hold down the rhythm. “Satan's Fall” closes the show as the crowd truly look shaken and stirred!

When you close your eyes, you wouldn't believe it. Sure, it's gut-wrenching to think that both the Abbott brothers went down the way they did. But when you look at Charlie Benante's double basses with their faces on them, holding their whiskey, it truly hits you deep. Frontman Philip Anselmo and bassist Rex Brown - along with the Abbott estate - are doing the right thing. Paying the ultimate tribute. And with Zakk Wylde pulling his ultimate Dimebag, Pantera are on top again. This is a baby-step roll-out. Let's rock it properly and slowly. They go out with Metallica next year, but watching these guys on stage, here is a headliner and this show could easily be taken around the world. Wow. There was YouTube footage from the Hell & Heaven festival, but I told Anselmo during a brief chat the day before, that I refused to watch it on a screen. I’m waiting for the real deal. And the cowboys from hell took things to a new level with an unstoppable greatest hits set that kicked off with “A New Level”, “Mouth For War” and “Strength Beyond Strength”, Anselmo just owning the moment and bruising every individual in the crowd. It’s obvious Rex Brown was missing the stage as he pounced around, refusing to be aged in a corner. Zakk may have had the toughest job, not necessarily learning the songs, but learning how Dime played them. A mountainous task for sure, but the slim and toned axeman just stepped into those shoes with a certain ease and respect. It was a touching moment for everybody. Charlie was easily able to grab the groove of Vinnie Paul with “I’m Broken”, “5 Minutes Alone” and “Fucking Hostile”. The band take it dow a notch with “Cemetery Gates” (a tear-jerking tribute to Dimebag and Vinnie) and the mellow Black Sabbath cover “Planet Caravan”. “Walk” and “Cowboys From Hell” crushed the crowd. Pantera are here to stay!

50 Heavy Metal Years. 50 years in the same marriage. How many of you can say that? Sure, there have been line-up changes, but 50 is one helluva accomplishment, which only the Rolling Stones and the Scorpions can lay claim to. Rob Halford hasn't been drinking the Koolaid, he's been drinking the tea! His voice just shatters Arena Monterrey, one of the reason why there are only plastic glasses in the venue! Both Andy Sneap and the man with the metal heart now, Ritchie Faulkner, have earned these guitar roles and own them. Of course we miss Tipton and Downing, but life must move on. The only original left, Ian Hill just the backbone that he has always been and the menacing Scott Travis just keeps it all together in a frantic pace. The set-list, as expected just a parade of heavy metal classics from start to finish. Always great to hear the heavy-handed “Steeler”, “Jawbreaker” and Painkiller deep cut “Between The Hammer And The Anvil”. “Turbo Lover” once again ages better with every year that passes. And how is this for the encore which commences with the sound of a Harley: “Hell Bent For Leather”, “Breaking The Law” and “Living After Midnight”. “Rocking to the dawn…” indeed! 

I'm note sure how organizers are going to match this bill, but that is always the challenge of the promoter. Because the Monterrey Metal Fest 2022 goes down as being one of the greatest live events in metal history.

Click above for some cool behind-the-scenes photos and for more by Oscar Sañudo Corona visit this location.

BraveWords is the official international sponsor of the Monterrey Metal Fest. Find the official Monterrey Metal Fest website here.

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