Ev has synesthesia, and they incorporate their sensory experiences into music reviews. Synesthesia is a condition in which the brain links a person’s senses together in a rare manner, prompting unusual sensory responses to stimuli. People with synesthesia, for example, might see a certain color in response to a certain letter of the alphabet. Those who experience synesthesia “hear colors, feel sounds, and taste shapes” in a remarkably consistent fashion.
The first band to rip open the night was Spell Runner, from Albany, New York. Their wild playing bordered power punk and garage punk, teetering from one to the other. The drumrolls, guitar riffs, and throaty screams melded together and created a chaotic unity.
The guitar playing was of higher pitch and let loose. Each stroke came quickly after the last while leaving a resonance that echoed in the background. Deconstructed and split into two parts, the guitars seemed to squabble with one-another whilst adding a spacey sci-fi-esque sound to the songs. It painted the atmosphere with several shades of electric green, and yellow. The solos were rapid and executed with ease. They provided teal splashes and they drew you in.
The vocals dominated with the throaty screams that ripped from the lead singer. They created the illusion of the instrumentals mellowing out around them. Amidst the technical issues, the stage presence and sheer power of the screams were enough to get people moving and thrashing. The wild screams blasted bursts of irritated reds through the soundscape and allowed for rusty oranges to come through in bubbles.
The bass rumbled in the background and incorporated deeper greens due to the heavy weighted tone. It wasn’t quite warm but it droned on, having kept a steady tempo while snapping in an aggressive edge. Buried in the midst of mass amount of noise, it found a way to stand out and rattle your ribcage.
The drumming remained warm and hollow. They didn’t boom and cling to the air. Instead, the sound fell short, one beat after another. The fills and rolls tied the songs together in a grimy fashion. Tainted in raw golden orange, sunset yellow, and yellow-green, the drumming provided something to thrash to while maintaining a welcoming presence.
Next up was Ottawa’s own thrash metal band World War 4. Crossing over to punk and doom metal, the band brings forth something unconventional yet they do it in such a way that it blends together near perfectly. The fusion of chaos and disorder find a mutual unity within this bands music.
The guitar progressed with violent chugs of muted chords that would unleash themselves wildly, deep navy blues and lime greens taking over progressively. The riffs had a sharp tone to them and splashes of celeste would spray across the field of vision. Meanwhile, the bass found a deep rumble in the background and served to stabilize the wild guitar riffs. It too was played without mercy and with brutal ferocity. It was the steel blue backbone to the mess.
The vocals cut in with brutality and rage. Throaty and as rough as the guitars chugging, they showed absolutely no mercy whatsoever. The vocals cut in with rusty oranges and brutal murky yellows. The sounds ripped from the very back of the throat were a deep stark burgundy, contrasting with the tones of the guitar.
The drumming was quick and each beat fell viciously after the next, having melded into a disarray. Vehement, the crash of the cymbals was brutally cold and sprayed trails of teal across the field of vision. Meanwhile, the snare and the toms found a thick, full, warm sound that couldn’t be ignored.
The last band of the night was High Command. Dissonant aggression and tight drumming, slow buildups, and wild basslines, the band did not disappoint.
The vocals came from exhaled screams, and quite literally ripped themselves free from the lead singers body. They were meant to comes out. Matched to the overall intensity, the seasick green that erupted from the vocal stylings was incredible. Backed by the enraged reds of the power chords, there was nothing held back. Every ounce of energy and soul was thrust into each song. The guitar playing was quick in tempo, and there was much tremolo, despite this, the hostility did not waver and only became more prominent.
The bass seemed to follow the guitar but would rip out its own deep solos that couldn’t help but catch my attention. Adding to the thrashing, it provides a depth to the pieces. Brutal, brisk, and murky, the swampy colours it radiated fit perfectly together and created a backbone to the guitar.
The drums were boney and full. Cold and thrashing, they held absolutely nothing back and gave everyone something to headbang to. The sheer frosty feeling they possessed took over the atmosphere and really drove the moshpit home. The brutality was remarkable and there was nothing quite like it.
A crossover show of punk and metal is something that is generally turned down or slightly frowned upon but I must say that these bands absolutely throw those notions out the window. They are must sees that will inevitably change your viewpoint on the genre.
Ah Montebello in June… the sun is out, birds are singing, and the ground is vibrating as Rockfest takes over the tiny town.
Thousands of rock, metal, and hardcore fans find their way into the beautiful riverside community of Montebello Quebec, halfway between Montreal and Ottawa. The roads are busy, hundreds of tents set up wherever there is grassy space, and vendors line the main road leading to the festival. This year’s festival had a scheduling change, putting anticipated headliners on all three nights of the festival. The rain on Wednesday and Thursday didn’t stop any of the eager fans from coming out for headliners like Five Finger Death Punch, and A Day to Remember, though it did make for some muddy mosh pits. The fields were quickly torn up by large circle pits filling the crowd.
Friday came with sun and warmth, which attempted to dry up some of the previous day’s rain, but not much. I was the most excited for the Friday line up. A lot of bands that I kept missing, or haven’t had the chance to see yet. Everytime I Die kicked off the Friday for me with their wicked jumps and hair flips. Dropkick Murphys, along with Flogging Molly, brought their Celtic punk to Canada, and mixed their heavier sounds with traditional Irish music.
It was hard to choose who I was looking forward to shooting most, there are a lot of bands that play in a very short amount of time, but Dimmu Borgir was up there. After five years of not touring, the Norwegian metal band broke their hiatus with their Rockfest set. The crowd was waiting anxiously for the set, and it was clear they were a much-anticipated act of the weekend. Godsmack followed with fire and fireworks throughout their set, and finally the headliners of the evening with Prophets of Rage. I never thought I’d be standing in the middle of a crowd listening to Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing in the Name Of,” but holy. The band consists of the original members of RATM minus Zack de la Rocha, and includes two members of Public Enemy, and rapper B-Real of Cypress Hill. The crowd was crazy, everyone knew every word.
Saturday came too quickly. Late nights and early mornings were starting to drag, the energy on site, though still high was noticeably tired leading into the daytime sets including All Time Low, The Used, and Jimmy Eat World. That didn’t stop the moshing and the crowd surfing. Considering it was the last day, I was expecting a little less energy from the crowd, but I was proven very, very wrong. Lamb of God took the stage and the place erupted. The energy from the band onstage infected the crowds pulling the energy way back up to day one levels. Just in time too… Tenacious D was up next. Yes folks, the School of Rock himself, Jack Black. The set was hilarious, and wonderful, and did I mention hilarious? The final headliner of the weekend was California’s Weezer, bringing classics like “Beverly Hills,” and their recent hit, of remaking Toto’s Africa. A nice sing-a-long set to end a long exhausting weekend.
Ev has synesthesia, and they incorporate their sensory experiences into music reviews. Synesthesia is a condition in which the brain links a person’s senses together in a rare manner, prompting unusual sensory responses to stimuli. People with synesthesia, for example, might see a certain color in response to a certain letter of the alphabet. Those who experience synesthesia “hear colors, feel sounds, and taste shapes” in a remarkably consistent fashion.
The first band to go on was one called Trigon and they did not hold back on showcasing their talent. Vibratos and tremolo picking included, wicked solos, a fusion of classic rock with metal components, this band goes all out.
Sweeping the crowd with a cruel energy, the guitar drives most of the soundscape. Carefully crafted and straight out of old-school metal, the guitarist shreds riffs with a passion unlike any other. Tremolo picking and vibratos seemed to play an important role in the construction of each song. Expanding upon preexisting riffs only bulks them up and adds an angrier more agitated edge as the songs progress. Each strike of the notes paints the scene a mellow yellow as a contrast to the chords that seem to paint the atmosphere deep blue.
The vocals were steady and stable, having tonal differences and holding a power behind them. They built anticipation and kept it peeking. The only downfall being that I found the vocal buildup leading to a dead end. As much as the sound traveled and bridged from mellow to aggravated, I would have loved to see a more developed vocal technique. While the agitation and red tones are prominent, my ears yearn to hear the release in forms of screams. Evenly toned and well controlled, the singing does rub off on you and you let it swallow you due to the way it falls in time with the instrumentals.
The drums resonate in a shallow and colder manner. While dry, they don’t come crashing down and don’t reverberate as much as the typical drums do. Having full control over what they’re playing, the drummer manages to tame the cymbals. Not letting a single beat get away, the soundscape created is almost as cold as you’d imagine Hoth – a planet from Star Wars – being.
Present but just barely is the bass. Most prominently heard in ‘Nightmare‘, it adds a masked stability to the piece, a grotesque and nightmareish vibe. Adding deep pools of burgundy and maroon to the soundscape when heard, the bass seems to have few peak moments. I may have a bias towards basslines but I believe that if it were overdriven and more pronounced it would really drive home the songs. Granted, blending into the soundscape provides that support when the guitar is toying with feedback. Allowing for a more natural transition, it backs the illusion of the guitar being continuous.
CeVilain drummer rocking out at Mevericks in Ottawa, ON.
CeVILAIN, from Carleton Place, was next up. This was my first time seeing them as a full band and as the rock band that they’re meant to be. The band is not static and they truly immerse themselves into what they’re doing, losing themselves in their performance. Peeling your eyes away is a task and a half with this band.
Mellow and unrestrained, pooled with a passion are the vocals. Given their all, there is an asphyxiated edge to the vocal stylings. Emotionally pitted with inner turmoil, the lyrics tell a story. Watching the performance is what drives home what I’m saying – closed eyes, the facial expressions, the vocalist loses himself in each and every song. While there isn’t harmonization or melodies sung between members, this almost makes it more intimate, adding various tones of greens to the overlay of hues.
Soft picking, aggravated chords, the guitar playing covers a range of stylings. Overdriven and higher pitched but with heavy weight, it stands out against the rumble of the bass. The room is overtaken by a deep magenta accented with bursts of a pale sky blue. The riffs are ever so present and accentuate the otherwise beetling chords. Despite the hard edge, the guitar-work fans out into soft tones before picking back up into an angry, choppy, overdriven aggression.
The bass rumbles and supports the guitar playing to the very end. It doesn’t play the backbone, it’s its own and could take on a role more primary than in the present. Despite this ability, the fact that it holds a position more secondary adds a sense of volume and makes the sound that dominates the room a fat one. It borders on a scarlet red and dances with those magenta undertones.
The drums are warm and loud without a thing held back. They radiate a heat that paints various shades of sunset orange across the scene. The heavy use of the tom and snare creates that soft and hollow heat, with contrast being brought in by the high-hat. The amount of rambunctious energy brought to the kit boils over. The music sweeps through the drummer and pulls him into the performance allowing the emotions to spill into each song.
Fallen Heirs showing their chops at Mavericks in Ottawa.
Pumping out proper hard rock was Fallen Heirs. Featuring a light show to be remembered, a restless spirit, and intense love for what they’re doing, the band did not disappoint.
The guitars bit at one another from different ends of the stage. Bitter and violent, the riffs fell heavy and quick. The overlay of solo work with the intense chords accentuated each component. The solos conjuring higher pitched sounds – superimposed onto the lower pitched chord progression. The solo work was quick and absolutely shred.
The vocals came with an undertone of grit to them. With a bit of an edge of a metal vocalist, it really drives forth the emotion and tone of the songs. The few growls that found themselves present took me by surprise and gave a sense of completeness to the performance. Harmonisations came in the form of screams and emphasized the choruses. The vocals drenched the room in pale reds and worn down rusty colours, creating a soothing atmosphere despite the angst of the instruments. Imagine the muted tones of The Scream – that’s what it looks like.
The drumming is staccato and full. It has frigid and boneless crashes but the rest is so dense that it adds to the array of reds painted by the vocals. It sets the pace and timing for the near complete and abrupt stops that the rest of the instruments follow. The drumming holds power but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t know when to make room for others. Known to mellow out, it creates space to emphasize the qualities of everything around it. Featuring rolls to add effect, it’s clear that the structure and technique are well practiced.
Lost deep within the vivid soundscape is the bassline. It follows with the guitar progression, allowing a deeper and more resonant rumble, however, it would have been more intriguing had it been more prominent. Due to blending into the soundscape I find that it gives off a burnt sienna colour as a subtle overlay. It’s muted and almost drowned out.
Iconoclast shredding on stage at Mavericks in Ottawa, ON.
The last band to absolutely wreck the stage was Iconoclast. Rumbling, strong-willed, and with pronounced energy, soaking the room in crimson and scarlet, the band goes at it full on.
The drum lines stick out the most, crashing and bordering cool tones but still painting the room red with cold undertones. They crash with hollow sounds – almost with emptiness. As soon as the tempo picks up, that hollow sound fills up and generates a strong personality, welcoming headbanging.
The guitar chugs forth, eighth notes muted before being let loose for choruses. Intricate solo pieces are known to be played over the resentful chords to create a mellowed out and melodic aspect to the songs. The solo work gets your body moving, at least for me. It grabs your attention due to the way it’s played and refuses to let you go. The riffs spread through the length of the songs in a nature similar to that of metal songs and twist themselves in and out of chords.
The vocals compliment the guitar work well. Grit and harmony come with a fiery spirit and tie the pieces together. It’s incredible how the grit of the vocals comes naturally as opposed to being forced. While holding a rough edge, there’s an aspect smooth as honey to them. Even without powerful screams ripping out from the vocalist’s throat, the vocals feel complete due to the nature of the riffs being played around them. Deep and resonant, you hear a single low rumble of a scream come from the very back of the vocalist’s throat during the song Nothing Owned.
The bass is hard to hear but the performance was given it’s all. The bass smoothly blends into the background, offering a camouflaged sound, supporting the guitar playing. Personally, I would love to hear the bass boom and resonate. I would love to see how a bassline that rattles one’s rib cage would sound with the intensity of the performance put on. No doubt that soul has seeped into the performance, and I was dumbstruck by it.
Each of the bands breaks off parts of themselves and put them into their performances. Passion driven, hardworking, and high energy – if that’s what you’re looking for in a show, I recommend checking these bands out. Their acts don’t disappoint in the least and watching them all is mesmerising.
Protest the Hero made their triumphant return to Ottawa Friday night during the 10-year anniversary of their 2nd studio album Fortress.
Some bands have been accused of dialing it in on these types of anniversary tours, but that certainly wasn’t the case for Protest the Hero. They looked to be having a lot of fun on stage, especially lead singer Rody Walker. The crowd was channeling that energy singing along at the top of their lungs, sometimes louder than Rody himself, and moshing up a storm.
Rody’s vocals have truly improved since I last saw them and the instrumentation—always the band’s strength—was as tight as ever. While the band did play the album from start to finish, as one does on the anniversary tour, they still worked in some variances most notably the awesome bass solo they worked into “Palm Read.” It was also great to see the band adorn hats—captain, first mate, cowboy,police and construction—just as they did in the video for “Limb from Limb.”
The night wasn’t just about the music though. Rody stopped the show for a word from their sponsor Machete Premium Cuts a long-standing local clothing line. However it was actually a clever ruse for the owner to proposes to girlfriend on stage. Who happened to have gone to a Protest the Hero show for their first show together. She said yes, and there was much rejoicing.
It also can’t be a Protest the Hero show without some fun banter from Rody.
“Whats the deal with venues in Ottawa always being so hot?” he mused. “Its always so hot here except when you go outside… Ottawa must be the capital of pneumonia.”
He also later went on a hockey tangent about how the Vegas Golden Knights are going to win the cup and complete the Cinderella story and “Marc-Andre Fleury will be shaking Crosby’s hand and saying ‘Nice try, Sid.'”
As they prepared the play the last two songs on the album, Rody let the crowd know that they would play the songs, take a break for a few minutes, and then be back so the crowd didn’t have to call for an encore. The band rocked the songs, took their break, and came to drop a new song on us and then two songs off post-Fortress albums. I’m sure many wanted some of the older songs, but you have to respect and understand a band’s desire the play songs they wrote more recently.
The show was incredible and Protest the Hero’s performance can only be described as epic and full of majesty.
House of TARG, a timeless venue that brings all sorts of people together through pinball, perogies, and concerts, held one deafeningly loud and soulful show on the night of November 9th. The lineup held a promise that the show would be one that the audience wouldn’t forget, unless they were drunk off their asses—and it delivered.
Opening with a roar was Black Oak Decline and they didn’t fail to capture the attention of the crowd and drive a new energy that I hadn’t seen in the atmosphere before. With precise and quick scales and solo work for the guitar. It’s quick and hard to follow but if you just let yourself listen, you get swept up in the emotions the music drives. It’s numbingly loud and sure to leave your ears ringing for the next two and a half days, which is something I can vouch for.
The bass is sludgy and grimy. There is nothing, absolutely nothing clean about the sound of this band. The bass is played almost like a guitar in the sense that there’s a lot of scales and jumping around within the basslines. But it’s deep, you can feel it rumble in your chest, and shake the floor. It over-driven and powerful and holds structure all while being the least structured seeming part.
The drums embody heaviness to them and they’re cold and distant. They resonate with you the longer you listen to them. While they do follow the rhythm, they also tend to veer off and create a unique space for themselves, straying from the conventional path. The make the songs sound full and create an atmosphere to get lost in. There are moments where it seems that the drums lead because of their sheer force.
The vocals are ragged, almost torn, they’re strained to the max but in such a way that it’s not unpleasant to listen to. They leave you in awe. I don’t typically enjoy intense screaming of lyrics throughout songs entireties but this band has showcased how to properly execute it without being overbearing and without overwhelming the audience. Whether it’s the stylings of the screaming itself or how it blends into the rest of the music, I can’t say. All I can say is that raw emotion is thrust into every single note played and sung. It’s something the band clearly enjoys doing and their presence is well known once they step on stage. It’s not overwhelming or in your face, but the band isn’t afraid to get up in it.
The second act was Pyrrhon who blew the crowd out of the water. The sheer energy presented found a way to take over the room completely. They find a way to take death metal and turn it into an artwork that entrances you and leaves you wanting more after they’ve finished up their set. The movement across the stage, seeming minimal on House of TARG’s stage, was very forward and the body language emits intense emotion.
The drumming is aggressive, almost confrontational. It leaves you in absolute awe and lets you feel the intense emotion that may course through the band. It’s almost in disorder and sounds rather distressed but it’s certainly not at a tempo that just everyone can keep up with. Perfect for head banging, the beat slows down and speeds up, keeping it interesting and allowing those listening to really get a feeling for the bands style. The beats come off in quick succession one after another most time and it’s common to hear rolls on the snare drum.
Dylan’s guitar playing is dissonant and angry. The distorted and overdriven sound was a staple for this band. With controlled feedback to add to the messy sound, it really grabbed your attention and ripped you right out of any preconceived notions on what the band would sound like live. With heavy power chords and added tremolo it brought the guitar parts to life and almost embodied them as something otherworldly. It breaks order and creates a balanced chaos with the drums and vocals.
Doug the vocalist pours every ounce of his being into what he’s screaming and it shows. With the way he moves around to how he controls his screaming, it fall absolutely nothing short of impressive. High and low notes interlace and destroy every preconceived notion of what harmonies should be. His vocals are not meant for the background, they deserve the fullest and uttermost attention due to the sheer heavy and weighted vibe it gives off.
The bass is a distorted, disorganised mess that somehow ends up being unified with everything else. It’s assertive and demanding but doesn’t let down in the least. This component, tied in with the drums are what rattle the core and entrance you, leaving you wanting to hear more. The scales played are not simple but they’re played with such an air that it’s made to look almost effortless.
Next up was a band by the name of Yautja who originate from Nashville, Tennessee. Their sound dissonant in terms of instruments however when it comes to vocals, prepare to be swayed by the cloudy heaviness that they possess.
The guitar providing intensive and strong power chords that are part of a masterpiece of its own. No sound goes without purpose. Pushing boundaries with the much lighter contrast that the guitar provides to the vocals while maintaining a heavy presence impressed me to no end and will continue to beckon attention. It keeps you on your toes and doesn’t let the stressed feeling go all while holding its own unconventional structure. The guitar vibes with a whole different frequency and it sticks out.
The vocals take a drastically different turn. Deep, in your face, and raspy. The lead singers aren’t afraid to strain any vocal cords, or to scream their hearts out to the crowd that’s more than willing to listen to the beautifully constructed chaos. The songs are held together, it seems, by a thread. In this case it would be the vocals, placed in just the right places. Any sense of convention is otherwise completely obliterated.
Tremolo effects rang through the bassline without hinting at any ounce of mercy. It hits you in the face forcefully without even laying a finger on you. A strong prominent bassline is a good bassline to me, and even better the sloppier and more pronounced it is. It’s nothing short of impressive and captivating. It’s hard to follow so you just let yourself embrace it and listen. It rattled the floor, and there wasn’t part of me that could deny it. I wholeheartedly believed that being so close to the bassist along with amps and speakers would give me arrhythmia. The bass folds into each song, crashing into the guitars like a wave during a brutal storm.
The literal crashing is brought by the drums and creates the effect of everything nearly falling apart. It’s everything that you want to hear from the drums when immersing yourself in metal. Heavy hits falling onto the snares and toms, relentless crashing of the cymbals, and pure energy radiating off the drummer, it’s hard to ignore. While the drums intertwining with the guitar and bass parts makes the whole thing sound as if it’s imploding on itself, it holds it’s backbone and creates something the bassline can lean on without overpowering it.
Inspiration ripped from Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and Iron Maiden, Montreal’s own The Great Sabatini took the stage and created a loud and fitting end to the high energy night. They incorporate different genres and roll it into what can only be described as a sludgy doom metal. With aspects of what’s considered a musical canon and heavier gauge strings for the guitars and bass, energetic, aggressive but warm drumming, and the riotous screaming, the members create a sound that while containing sporadic elements, is so solidly unified that it’s impossible not to listen to.
The guitar parts which are played by Rob and Sean challenge and push boundaries, and with their new material, which is yet to be released, you hear the distinct tones overlapping in a confusion of sound that one tries to make sense of. It pushes your ear and begs you to deconstruct it because it’s so masterfully done. The soloing that Rob brings forth is some of the work I admire most. It’s skillful, distraught and slurred together, full of life and soulful aggression. Keeping up with him is a task but he puts every ounce of his being into it. He pours his heart into it and you can tell that with every note he plays is his pride and joy.
People always say that there’s a sparkle in someone’s eye when they’re doing something they love, and that passion was definitely behind Rob’s eyes.
Sean pours his soul into his screams and he gives it his all. It doesn’t go unnoticed, and besides his riffs and enraged power chords, this is what gets the crowd going. He jumps right to it—cut the bullshit, this is what it’s about. The progression of the higher notes keeps the crowd on their toes and the contrast provided by Rob brings them back down. Personally, and this comes as a great shock believe me, I would pick seeing The Great Sabatini over Metallica in a heartbeat. It’s progressive, gritty, and grimy.
The drumming Steve provides is one that that leaves you with very high expectations for other drummers. He’s outstanding with incredible control over the sound he wishes to produce. Sometimes warm, other times cold, loud or toned down, he has total control. His drumming has character, almost alive in its own way and everything you thought you knew be damned. It was deafening and powerful, enforcing the message behind every song. It will not only blow your mind but also your eardrums. It’s just the right amount of hysterical and yet its incomparable to any other drummer I’ve seen or heard.
Joey might as well have bumped the bass up to an 11 because it’s dominating and rips your attention towards it whether it’s isolated or incorporated into the self-imploding sludge. The fact that it’s frenzied in most songs is what sets the tone and it truly adds depth to the performance. Beautifully channeled and timed, the bassline could do no wrong. It pushed and it pulled creating an individual soundscape that would be thoughtfully incorporated into the overall experience the band created as a whole.
If you asked me to come see a legendary band with you on a night where the four bands I spoke of were performing, I’d have to object. Shocked? So am I but they fall absolutely nothing short of talented and driven with a sound that will leave your ears ringing for days to come. They’re all deeply underappreciated bands that created vivid soundscapes that you’ll find yourself immersed in once you give them a listen.
When you see the familiar name on a concert poster stapled or taped to a street sign, take note when and where these bands are performing because I guarantee that you’re not going to regret it in the least bit. Your ears might object to it the next morning (and in the long run), but in the moment you’ll be wanting to hear more. There will always be Bandcamp, but trust me, no justice will be done to these wonderful bands. Their shows are a must.
The twelfth edition of Montebello Rockfest had everything you’d expect—long lines to get in, circle pits, sunburns, and a lot of really loud music. Even more, the weather played games with attendees throughout. They were pelted with rain bullets, and also roasted by sweltering heat like one giant sweaty cookout. But the main attraction of the festival—the music, of course—was nothing short of spectacular. The lineup was all killer and no filler, delivering incredible, ear-busting performances from the likes of Alexisonfire, Wu-Tang Clan, Rammstein, Queens of the Stone Age, and induced some serious nostalgia trips with legends such as Iggy Pop, The Specials, and Bad Religion.
We had our Showbox delegation endure the blood, sweat, and tears (of joy) involved with attending Rockfest, and our photographers Els Durnford and Landon Entwistle went all-out, have a look at their shots below.
This past weekend Rockfest in Montebello, QC, turned 12 years old and I was there to take it all in.
After three hours of sitting in the car the car slowly making our way through small neighbouring villages and ultimately right down Main St. in Montebello Thursday night, we set up our tent just as the torrential downpour began. This being my second Rockfest, we knew to expect the crazy long delays getting in, but let me tell you—knowing it would happen only barely makes it better.
Once we were all set up, everything was on the up and up from there. The festival was an absolute blast other than the crapshoot to get in and the poor sound during Meshuggah. I’m not sure why it only affected them, it was a shame given the highly technical nature of their music and this being their 30th anniversary as a band.
Below are my highlights from two days of rock, metal, punk, beer, mud, sun and hundreds of thousands of people.
10 Highlights of Rockfest 2017
Random cheer “waves” in the camping area.
Anyone who has ever camped at a big music festival like this knows exactly what I’m talking about. For everyone else, it is the phenomenon where one person or a small group of people yell out a random sound or the name of the festival and other pockets of people join in as it moves across the campgrounds just like a wave at a sporting event.
Fanny pack fashion.
They are back, they are useful, they are better for your posture and tan lines than a purse and people have gotten very creative with them. I saw some of all sizes, multiple zippers or simple, gold, silver—heck, there was one even shaped like a pineapple. I don’t know what drove people to bring them back, but I am all for them.
I’m a sucker for a good cover, always have been. But I love them even more when they are done live, and then that is all amplified when done on the big stage of a major festival like Rockfest. Some covers can be the entire song like Pennywise doing Minor Threat or Goldfinger with their cover of Nena’s “99 Red Balloons.” Other times it can be a perfectly placed snippet of a classic during their own song like Wu Tang Clan throwing in some lines from “Come Together” by The Beatles, The Specials with “We are family,” or Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age throwing in a little Amy Winehouse “Rehab” during a song. These are not only great tributes, but also a lot of fun for the audience.
Hatred for Donald Trump.
The hatred for the current President of the United States was a constant theme over the two days. I first really noticed it when Pennywise mentioned it and then played their politically charge track “My Country.” But they were certainly not alone, Goldfinger started a fuck Donald Trump chant during their set, and Bad Religion’s “New Dark Ages” has never been more relevant… well, since President Bush at least. The Special dedicated their song “Message to Rudy,” (which most probably don’t associate with politics but it is a very political track) to Trump and complimented Prime Minister Trudeau. Other bands like Anti Flag, Dreadnaughts, Face to Face, and Down by Law also had their piece to say.
Less Than Jake.
One of the challenges of these festivals, is with five stages rolling, you sometimes have tough choices to make, but also some bands that usually play hour long sets get cut to 30 minutes. This is what happened to my beloved Less Than Jake, a ska band I have been into since grade school. They made the absolute most of their shortened time and it felt like they crafted a set list just for me, hitting on most of my favourites including “All My Best Friends are Metalheads,” “The Science of Selling Yourself Short,” “Johnny Quest (Thinks We’re Sellouts)” and more I most likely forgot to write down while I danced up a storm. They capped off their set inviting the brass section from The Real Big Fish on stage to join them. This was one of many skank-tastic moments of the festival with great ska.
Yeah we all know “Du Hast” the German industrial metal band’s big hit that brought them fame in North America, but this band has been wowing fans since their inception in Berlin since 1994. The music is good, actually much better than I expected given I don’t really listen to them and don’t speak German, but the show is what truly blows you away. There are fireworks and pyrotechnics throughout the entire thing. I read somewhere that their tour features more than 20 trucks just to pull off this spectacle. And I mean when you see a guitarist wearing what looks like a WWII gas mask that shoots 10-foot flames from the mouth area, you start to understand. It was almost more like going to see a foreign musical horror film than a live show, and I mean that as a compliment. Fireworks, flame throwers, fire-shooting masks, fire from the stage, crazy light show, explosions, elaborate costumes and devilishly good metal, Rammstein showed us why they are one of a kind. I wonder how many people had nightmares while camping that night.
(please note this is not our video, but we felt it was important to share the spectacle with everyone)
The Specials are one of the innovators of the English 2-Tone and ska movement of the 1970s, forming in 1977. I have loved this band since childhood thanks in part to my parents introducing them and ska and reggae to me at a very young age. The problem was, they broke up in the 80s, got back in the 90s, but I didn’t see them until a couple of years ago. Finally seeing The Special at Bluesfest was something else, but it was unfortunately overshadowed by poor sound and the lead-singer getting pissed off and throwing stuff at the soundman and storming off near the end. This time was very different. This time not only was the sound great, the sun shining and the band in a great mood, but I got to share the moment with my little brother. We danced up a storm skanking all over the place with smiles painted from ear to ear. Their set list was great, and as mentioned they dedicated “A Message To You Rudy” to Donald Trump, but also featured favourites like “Monkey Man” and “Too Much Too Young.”
PUP are simply one of Canada’s best bands right now, if not one of North America’s best exports. Their live shows are full of energy from start to finish and this set was no exception. The cloud of dust filled the air at the side stage as the band got started and never really settled, even when the band slowed things down a little. One hilarious thing was that someone brought a long an inflatable poo emoji which could be seen floating around for most of the set. They ripped through tracks off both their album not stopping for long in between songs to ensure no time was wasted. This may have been the first time I see them play where lead singer and guitarist Stefan Babcock didn’t crowd surf, but he did stand on the barrier surrounded by fans… it might have been a festival rule? Just see this band. I have been saying it now for years, stop taking my word and go learn for yourself how awesome PUP are.
Photo by Els Durnford
So I know I keep using the term “one of my favourites,” but hell, the festival did a good job gathering bands I love and Alexisonfire is certainly one of them. I never thought I would see this band again, I was pretty sure they would reunite, but I figured I would always miss out somehow and that I was destined to never see the band again. Why does that matter so much? Well, Alexisonfire completely changed how I perceived music and opened the door to much heavier sounds and styles—they were a gateway band of sorts for me. I’m also a bigger guy but love to dance, so being able to find space a little further back to throw down and not hurt anyone or myself while respecting others’ space was a nice bonus. Seeing them again was very special, and it could be the last time or I could see them five more times, who knows but it was epic.
Photo by Els Durnford
At the Drive-In.
Another one of those bands from my younger years, recently reunited and I went to go see them in Toronto and they were great there. They played Rockfest with that same energy and stage presence. One of the moments that stole the show, beyond their amazing music of course, was when lead singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala went on an anti-Bill Cosby and Hollywood rant. He simply stopped after one song and said “Fuck Bill Cosby. Fuck the Hollywood rape sympathizers. Fuck all of them while you sit around and watch their sitcoms and movies.” It was completely out of the blue, and don’t get me wrong, I 100% agree with him. I was just surprised when most of the hatred had funneled towards Trump over the past days. The set was tight, full of great songs we all wanted to hear, and was a great way to cap off another fun year at Rockfest.
It is that wonderful time of year again when you know all that matters is going to the punk show with your friends. Yes, Ottawa Explosion is back for its 7th year and once again mostly situated at Club SAW.
On day 2 I took in eight bands and could not think of a much better way to spend the last day of my 20s, surrounded by great music and even better people.
Headlining the night was Ottawa’s very own Crusades, which happens to feature Emmanuel Sayer, one of Ottawa Explosion’s organizers. Emanuel opened by saying “RIP JS, it is weird not being pelted by beach balls right now,” referring to last years show where JS had ordered black beach balls and decorated them with friends, just for the Crusades set. It certainly is weird not having our lovable JS around for those types of funny moments. If you see people sporting Hawaiian shirts, they are most likely doing so as a tribute to our good friend who left us too soon. Crusades put on a ripping set as always, I just can’t get enough of their style of heavy punk rock featuring three very distinct vocals. The band was celebrating seven years just like the festival, and as they prepared to play their final song, they were stricken with technical difficulties. Emmanuel simply said “We have been a band for seven years…” hilarious way to cap off the night.
Setting the stage for Crusades in the dimly lit Club SAW was Edmonton’s post-punk act Rhythm of Cruelty. This band is like no other I have ever heard. Their blend of ambient with post-punk and synth is pretty wild, but then when they add in a trumpet and loop it, it blew my mind. It might have a been a little too drone-like for the masses, but I was very impressed and would love to see them again.
Also playing inside was Sudbury Ontario’s greatest export, Strange Attractor. I believe the band has played every Explosion and always fast and hard, like everything they do. They barely have any songs over two minutes long and cram as many as they can into every set with ferociousness. One of the great things about a festival like Explosion is the bands generally stick around and watch other bands. And nothing is better than seeing a band you just watched (Lonely Parade) front and centre jumping, singing and all around losing it to another band.
Getting things started for the late-night indoor portion of the show was Black Tower. They brought us inside and delivered the metal as they summoned ghouls and ghastly creatures from Explosions past. Erin Ewing’s vocals sends shivers down your spine for all the right reasons when she unleashes the darkness within with a banshee-like flexing of her vocal cords. They are the perfect band for fans of punk, metal, and Tolkien-style fiction.
Partner from Sackville, New Brunswick (SAPPY FEST!) headlined the outdoor portion of the night. A lot of bands enjoy playing music live, but very few bands demonstrate that happiness and fun as clearly and openly as Partner. They are out there having at riot at every show and just loving life. It was raining pretty hard during their set but that did not deter them or the crowd, we simply huddle in tight under the tent, the band even giving up much of their space to make more people comfortable. They played a bunch of great new songs off their latest release Sounds of the Future, which is named so as the songs will eventually appear on the next full-length album. The highlight of the show for me was when they stopped during “Gross Secret” to ask the crowd if they had any secrets to share. The crowd was hesitant at first, but then Anthony Cardozo emerged from the side of the stage to happily admit he still picks his nose. The crowd cheered loudly and then more people started telling their secrets. Way to go Tony.
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Lonely Parade from Peterborough, Ontario also rocked the outdoor stage at Club SAW. They get better every single time I see them. It has been really awesome watching this band grow having seen them several times over the past few years. They played a lot of new songs, which they jokingly called “new song 1” then “new song 5.” These new tracks really show off the bands progression and evolution. Don’t get me wrong – I love their earlier songs, but the new ones are very tight, rocking and just have that little something extra.
Montreal’s Towanda also played. This sludgy three-piece from Montreal really rip it up. While many may focus on the guitarist, I was really impressed with their super solid drummer that really drives the music. That said, the lead singer and guitarist lives to shred and does it quite well. She also sports a scowl all set long making it just that much more intense. This band would pair perfectly with Ottawa’s Bonnie Doon.
The first band to play was one of Ottawa’s newest acts Ultralove. I was super impressed by the trio’s performance. I am always amazed when I see a drummer who has a very prominent vocal role. Some people struggle to walk and talk, so hammering the skins while singing just has that automatic wow factor. The band plays a melodic noisy punk rock with strong hardcore influences. One of their songs had one of my all time favourite song structures. A song with one verse that is repeated several times with the music and the vocals intensifying every time until it crescendos into an explosion of emotion. Local readers really need to checkout Ultralove next time they play live.
As soon as I walked down the steep black stairs and into the basement that is Ottawa’s very own House of TARG, I wasn’t only greeted by the lights and noises of the pinball machines but by the familiar faces of the members of The Great Sabatini. Before the event began, I was introduced to Jack (Jack Moves) and mainly stuck around either him or Rob (The Great Sabatini) and once the clock struck 8:40, so the show began.
Jack Moves opened, bringing a tremendous amount of talent to the table, and setting the standards high. With only a loop station at his disposal, I questioned what the performance would be like. I was pleasantly surprised, however, and Jack looping over his own voice was unlike anything I’ve seen before. Every song was built up from scratch and on the spot despite having already written and recorded them for his album. What was the most impressive was the capabilities that he possessed when creating specific sounds for the song he would perform, from the beat to the melody line, everything came from his voice. There were falsettos he later turned into harmonies and even layered certain lyrics over others. He was quick on his feet and certainly did not miss queues. Live looping is a make-or-break thing, and Jack has certainly made it.
His quick rhymes and whit payed off when it came to his lyrics and the sound effects created. With lots of small technical specs, it was important to stay on top of what was being done, and the sheer efficiency that I saw was beyond comprehension. The performance fell nothing short of jaw dropping and his creativity, when it came to producing specific sounds, certainly came in handy. If you listened to any of his music without knowing how it was being produced, it would have you fooled into believing it was created with synths.
After I had gotten all my photos and Jack had ventured to his merch table, I stopped to speak with him. Through the whole night, he was a very pleasant and modest person. You could throw a conversation at him about curling (which was discussed prior to the show) and he would engage in it. Unfortunately, conversation became a difficult task once The Great Sabatini ripped out some powerful chords and drumbeats for a quick sound check. With the very strange string of sounds and words uttered into the microphone, Steve made it known that something absolutely wild was about to go down.
I’m not typically the kind of person who throws myself into death metal shows and has the time of my life. I’m the kind of person who’s selective about their metal bands, and I certainly make sure they’re fantastic live and check their supporting acts but as soon as I saw The Great Sabatini were playing TARG, I shot a message to Matias about coverage. Maybe it was because they were inspired by some of the greatest metal bands that have existed and carried a very intense yet well-crafted sound, or maybe it was how friendly they were all in all the last time I showed up to one of their shows. To be frank, I’m still not sure which it is.
This time, I left my earplugs at home (although there is a small part of me that regrets that because I’m sure to lose my hearing by the age of twenty-five, I also don’t regret it all that much). I heard the solos much clearer this time around, and although the drumming was deafening (thank you Steve), it added many dimensions and really created that powerful and angry sound you find in death metal. The bassline stood out and there wasn’t a member of that band who didn’t become one with the instrument they were playing, and even though each one of the men screamed the lyrics into the microphones, they didn’t fail to keep up with their expertly crafted songs. Their setlist, handwritten but clearly well selected fell nothing short of impressive and made sure you got lost in the music no matter which band you meant to go see that night. Everything managed to meld together so well that you’d think it was done by someone who’s been known as a professional for the past twenty years. Both instances where I’ve seen them, they’ve blown me away (and this time my hearing).
The last performer of the night was a band called Swarm of Spheres. Truth be told, until a few nights ago, I hadn’t even heard of them but as a band that was described as something between sludge and stoner rock, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. All the information I had about them was either about the genre they played or that Mark McGee was an incredible drummer – the best some had ever seen. These two facts certainly were made apparent when the time came for them to perform. The trio took the stage with such ferocity they might as well have blown the low ceiling off of TARG. Mark went at the drums like Dave Grohl did back in his Nirvana days but despite how loud he was, his technique was mastered. The bassline, thanks to Andrew Rashotte, was incredibly strong and prominent throughout each song which is probably one of the factors that really drew me into the sound this band was producing. That bassline, and everybody in the room, buzzed with energy despite the show drawing closer to midnight than anticipated. Jay Chapman shred on the guitar and his string bends were skilfully placed. He clearly had a knack for intense bends and he got right back into the songs he played after executing them without fault.
After much hard work, sweat, and good laughs in between, the night drew to a close. When I had the time to actually step back and look around I noticed that a good portion of the crowd was composed people from other local bands who came out to support their friends, some were fans, and some were just at TARG to enjoy the live music but sneak in a few games of air hockey during the sets. I found a few people, and spoke to them including Steve, earning a pat on the back from him and being told that he had yet to use the photos of them I took back in February. After this, I slowly made my way out but not before stopping to say goodbye to Rob. Despite the influences of the band and how metal they might look, I guarantee they’re the sweetest people. Rob made sure I stayed safe and in touch, ending the night with a pleasant note of “friends don’t say goodbye, they say see you later.”