Heavy Montreal, like metal itself, has gone through some major changes over the years. It welcomed punk bands into the fold one year. It flirted with being a 3-day festival. It’s changed locations twice. It even skipped a year to retool.
This year it came back home to its original setup, original location and original format, 2 days celebrating the beautiful and brutal diversity of heavy metal. It was a welcome return to its roots (bloody roots). The site has never looked better.
There were far more rest areas, places to take a break in the shade or find a bench. There were far more food options available. There were water jets near the back of the pit where children of all ages could run through and cool off. There were even tubs filled with free water bottles in the more sunny hours of the day. The side stages offered a very cool vibe in the woods.
There was a great retrospective to celebrate the 10 years of the festival, a great trip down memory lane for those who are regulars of the festival. There was an overwhelming sense that this festival was back to full strength and it was apparent in the crowd.
But hey, this is a music festival, so let’s talk about the music!
A great part of music festivals is discovering bands that you might not otherwise get to see live and sometimes discover one of your new favorites.
First I’ll mention Skalmold who were performing in North America for the very first time! If you’re a fan of Amon Amarth and Viking metal, this is right up your alley. A powerful performance, heavy, driving with lots of orchestral overtones.
3Teeth put on a performance that was to Marilyn Manson what Greta Van Fleet is to Led Zeppelin. Part imitation, part homage, but pulled off with great skill. Great live performers, they made the small stage in the woods feel big.
Sticking with the number 3, Fever333 seemed to be out to prove that combining rap and metal can still be a good thing in 2019. They win for most energetic performance of the fest. It’s like they decided to mash Rage Against the Machine verses with Linkin Park choruses and then just throw the whole affair over the top in a frenetic bomb.
Beast in Black were a throwback to 80s metal and new wave. I felt transported into an 80s fantasy movie. It’s part melody, part beautiful, part cheese, but definitely a good time.
It wouldn’t be Heavy Montreal without bands that turn the brutal meter up to 666. Just ask Watain who violated several fire codes by walking on stage with a lit torch, lit some pillars and an inverted cross and then threw the lit torch into the crowd in the middle of the woods. After dispersing in fear, the crowd (and security) erupted.
Local favorites Kataklysm were in their usual form, delivering an assault to the senses. The train of local brutality took its next stop with Despised Icon. The crowds for these local icons always turns it up a notch. Hometown pride mixed with heavy metal is a potent brew, best served loud!
Delivering screams and roars to the main stage were veterans Killswitch Engage. These guys never fail to get the crowd moving, even if the sun is out and radiating heat on everyone.
Somewhere outside festival grounds, I imagine Lamb of God were sitting there wondering why they didn’t have their mandatory Montreal festival date this year. Sorry guys, maybe next year!
It can’t all be brutality and mosh pits. And if you’re going to combine good times and metal, there’s no better place to start than with Steel Panther. Leotards and big hair, singing about partying and girls like 1988 never ended. It was indeed a party, some ass movin’ licks combined with over the top lyrics mixed as always with some comedy interludes. If you’re not having fun while Steel Panther’s on, might want to check your pulse.
The biggest surprise for many when the lineup was revealed Clutch. These Texas veterans come to Montreal about as often as the Stanley Cup theses days. They came on stage determined to make up for lost time. They’re one of those bands that’s very hard to pigeonhole into a style, but I can confirm they resonate well with the heavy crowd. They’re a band that legitimately looks like they’re enjoying being on stage and in front of a large crowd.
From the stage of America’s Got Talent to the Heavy Montreal Stage was Metalachi. It turns out that crowds will sing along to classics like “Crazy Train” and “Holy Diver” even if they’re delivered mariachi style. A carnival-style act that delivers on the fun. I must say though, mariachi “Bohemian Rhapsody” is a bit of a reach.
Cancer Bats are another band that just genuinely seems to enjoy the stage. A special treat for the Heavy Montreal crowd, they were joined by Wade MacNeil of Alexisonfire for their entire set. They dabbed into their entire catalog and pulled out all the classics, even bringing out their alter egos Bat Sabbath to end the set with “War Pigs”.
Alt-rockers Godsmack were in full force. They delivered a greatest hits set that hit hard. They’ve been a hit or miss live band but were definitely hitting on all cylinders on this Saturday night.
A complete wild card to me was Evanescence. A band often seen as a one-hit wonder from two years ago seemed an odd choice to warm up the headliner. I was wrong. There were tonnes in the crowd singing along to every word. Amy Lee was a force on stage, reaching out to the crowd. I’ll admit they made me go back and give their catalog a second look.
Day 1 came to an end with Ghost. This band has enjoyed a meteoric rise over the last few years and I must say they make the most out of the expanded stage budgets. Turning the stage into a cathedral, Cardinal Copia brought his congregation to its feed. While they are almost duplicate the recorded versions on audio, it’s the theatricality that makes this show shine.
Closing out the festival was the main event, the last Quebec show for thrash metal legends Slayer. These guys certainly aren’t retiring because they’re slowing down. Father Time may be undefeated, but these guys are putting on a hell of a fight. It’s great to see legends retire on top. It was the loudest, most frenzied crowd of the fest giving the band the farewell they deserved.
Heavy metal is alive and well. Heavy Montreal is alive and well. The crowd left Ile Ste-Helene sweaty, smelly and with huge smiles. SLAYER chants erupted all the way to the subway, confusing and somewhat frightening those who were just on their way home. A fantastic weekend delivered by the staff, bands and mother nature!
Review – Richard Brunette
Photos – Kieron Yates