Heavy Montreal, formerly known as Heavy MTL, descended on Parc Jean-Drapeau this past weekend. Headliners such as Metallica, Slayer, Lamb of God and Anthrax attracted hundreds of thousands of metal fans to the island over two days. I am not a huge metal fan, even less the old school stuff, but when the lineup was announced my girlfriend as well as a colleague were really excited so I said “why not?” With all that in mind, here are some of the highlights and thoughts of the weekend in no particular order.
1) Punk rock bands brought it. Pennywise, The Vandals, Bad Religion and Dropkick Murphys represented punk rock with pride at the metal festival. Pennywise played “Blitzkrieg Bop” and “Bro Hymn,” The Vandals played a tribute to Canada, “Hockey Hair,” and congratulated us for making the right choice “watching The Vandals over Anthrax,” and Bad Religion rocked a great set full of awesome tracks such as “American Jesus,” “Punk Rock Song,” “Sorrow,” and “Generator.” But the punk rock show stealers were the Dropkick Murphys. The boys from Boston looked out to over 50,000 people in Montreal and said they looked good enough to be Bruins fans and then the guitarist’s son walked out with a Montreal Canadians Bear on a stick slamming it and then decapitating it. Sports are serious business.
2) Fucked Up played the show of the festival. When other bands were focusing on having a million stacks, elaborate stage, big production, intense video screens and such, Fucked Up were playing on a side stage and out did everyone… period. When I walked up five minutes before the start of their set there were only about 20 people there and it might have only grown to a couple hundred, but all those there were in for quite a treat. After opening with their most metal-ish track “Year of the Dragon,” lead singer Damian grew tired of being on stage and away from his people. He spent the entire set running around shirtless in the crowd singing and never once missing a beat. He often passed the mic to fans that rushed around him to sing, I being one of them. At one point he picked up a guy with a luchador mask and spun him on his shoulders in the middle of the pit. He hugged everyone who crossed his path, rolled around in the mud, posed for selfies with people, passed me the mic a few times, played on people’s phone who were texting during the set, and moshed. When the set finished, Damian stayed in the crowd and gave hugs, posed for more pictures and chatted with anyone who had something to say. He was super genuine and so happy we came out to see them play (it was a no-brainer; they were against Lamb of God). If the fans are really the most important part of these festivals and concerts, as so many bands said countless times, no one backed that up more than Fucked Up. I will remember this set for as long as I live.
3) No matter how hard I try I just can’t get into Metallica. First and foremost I will applaud them on their “Metallica By Request” concept which is great for the fans as they get to vote to build the set list, and the band puts on an entertaining show. And there was a kind of “cool” (or sad) moment when they hit the stage as the glow from everyone’s cell phones trying to capture the moment reminded me of their album art covered in white crosses…kind of eerie. I counted well over 20 monitors set up on their two level stage set up which they roamed through the nearly three-hour set. Overall though their show is just too grandiose and overblown for me, the hundred thousand fans there loved it, as I went through the motions (my two buddies had VIP tickets and my girlfriend was sick all weekend, so I flew solo for this set). Their music never won me over, the fact that they let bands playing before them use their walkway over the crowd and the fact that they stuck around after their show passing all extra picks, drumsticks and set lists to fans scored big.
4) Wrestling and metal melds super well together and was super entertaining. There was four stages at the festival, but five venues listed in the schedule. That fifth one was a wrestling ring tucked away by the side stages, which hosted HEAVY MANIA. This was a single elimination wrestling tournament and in the shade. There were some great acrobatic wrestlers flipping and spinning all over the place, some really cool moves I had never seen before, great interaction with the crowd (even invited a kid into the ring to slap one of the wrestlers), and a four factions duelling it out for world supremacy. Check out Pierre Bourgault’s website for some excellent photos.
5) Hardcore can complement metal really well. Just ask the people lucky enough to have arrived early on Sunday to see Bat Sabbath kick ass. Bat Sabbath is the side project of all the members of the Cancer Bats where they play Black Sabbath covers. Lead singer Liam came on stage dressed in black head to toe and sporting a cape. He never stood still and rocked out like a mad man all set as they nailed awesome renditions of many people’s favourite Sabbath songs. And for the Cancer Bats fans in attendance, they threw in “Lucifer’s Rocking Chair” to cap it all off. Great way to start the day.
6) Heavy Montreal does all the little things very well, except for food and drink prices. The set up for the grounds is great, the free water refill stations excellent, the misting areas were refreshing, the wristband was comfortable, and so many other things were done well. But paying $6.75 for a beer (Canadian or Coors) and $7.75 for a 6” ham sub from Subway or $12 for a poutine was kind of crazy. I go to enough festivals to know that they are never cheap, but this was robbery. The only “fairly” priced item were bottles of water at $2.50.
7) Seeing Baby Metal live was quite strange. Picture a combination of Slipknot and Sailor Moon… Have you registered that? The band from Japan is formed of four musicians who can really shred and rock out with painted faces, while the vocals are handled by three teenage Japanese girls who sing in Japanese and do choreography. It was actually rather entertaining and the music was not bad. Funniest part of the set was when they encouraged the crowd to sing along with them, people simply cheered.
8) It was pretty darn sharp seeing The Offspring play they hit album Smash from start to finish. The album is pumped full of energy and anger, and is by far their best work. The band still looked to really enjoy playing it all these years later. On the contrary, I am pretty happy I walked away after a few songs of seeing Twisted Sister play their 30-year-old album Stay Hungry from start to finish. I mean the lead singer is in wicked shape, but spent like five minutes complaining about their time slot, amount of set time, and bitched at the promoters. We made it from checking out side stage acts in time to hear “I Wanna Rock” and that was good enough.
9) Body Count, Ice T’s band, is really bad. I might get shot for that now. Their entire set can be summed up by “We are Body muthafucking Count from South Central Los Angeles” repeated a lot, they hate cops, they make white people feel bad for being white, and Ice T gives really bad advice to teenagers. He encouraged one teenage girl to reply to bullying by saying “Talk Shit, Get Shot.” Sigh…
10) I will never be angry or destructive enough to really fully grasp Hatebreed‘s music, but damn that energy. The band is a sonic knockout punch. They did also have the one-liner of the festival. “Everyone standing still during this next song is a Kanye West fan!” I laughed pretty hard as they blasted into another double pedal onslaught.