Review by Mike Bax
Photos by Tim Snow and Eva Blue
The seventh presentation of Heavy Montréal once again managed to deliver on many fronts. While the attendance felt a bit less than last year, I think the festival’s expansion to three days as opposed to two and the fact that last year’s headlining draw was Metallica is likely the reason. Heavy Montréal 2015 drew over 40,000 fans, the majority of which showed up for Slipknot on the final day. The good vibes and fun times were in ready supply this year. Evenko (the festival promoter) deserve some well-earned props for once again over-delivering, offering up 70 diversified bands over three days for a very reasonable price point.
Headlining sets from Korn, Faith No More and Slipknot were the standout performances over the weekend. On Friday night, Korn performed their debut album in its entirety (currently celebrating its twentieth year), followed by an assortment of their best material. Faith No More, performing for the first time in Montréal since 1992, delivered a stunning performance to an elated audience of on-lookers, many of whom had likely never seen the five-piece band before. Vocalist Mike Patton alluded to their last time in Montreal as ‘darker times’. He was, of course, referring to the Montréal riots that broke out after the 1992 Metallica / Guns n’ Roses / Faith No More tour that saw G n’ R take the stage painfully late, followed by Metallica frontman James Hetfield being burned onstage during the performance, causing upset fans to riot after the concert abruptly ended. Thankfully there were no riots this year – not even when Mike Patton quickly popped his dick out while chuckling “Look… Lenny Kravitz” in front of around 13,000 onlookers. The Patton peep show aside, Faith No More’s performance was amazing and surely sent fans home beaming at the chance to have finally seen them perform live once again.
Slipknot melted everyone’s minds with a pyrotechnics infused audio-visual assault that managed to trump everything they’ve done in the past. Frontman Corey Taylor got the entire crowd jumping about in unison during their performance, turning the surface of Parc Jean-Drapeau into a sea of cascading human flesh that resembled a churning ocean. Slipknot remain one of the few bands on the planet who surpass their studio material with their stunning live presentation. Love them or hate them, onlookers couldn’t deny the sheer entertainment value Slipknot brought to Heavy Montréal 2015. The band was a fitting ending to an amazing weekend.
Some of the bands rounding out Heavy Montréal this year included Bullet for My Valentine, Iggy Pop, Billy Talent, NOFX, Within Temptation, Lamb of God, Alexisonfire, Arch Enemy, Extreme, Testament, Coal Chamber, Lagwagon, Warrant, Meshuggah, Asking Alexandria, Marky Ramone with Andrew W.K., Gojira, Glassjaw, Strung Out, Dokken, Neurosis, Motionless in White, Lita Ford, Insomnium, Dying Fetus, Nuclear Assault, The Acacia Strain, The Agonist, Swingin’ Utters, Veil of Maya, Venom Inc. and Deafheaven. Sadly, both Mastodon and Pentagram fell off the festival bill for different reasons. While their presence was missed, the slathering of assorted bands included on this year’s lineup included some incredible opportunities to see legends of both metal and punk rock.
I think it’s easy to walk onto Parc Jean-Drapeau thinking there are only a couple of bands that you really intend to see, and wind up being very pleasantly surprised by those from which you didn’t expect much, or knew nothing about. Some of the standout performances this year for me came from a variety of musical genres. Lamb of God, always excellent in a live environment, returned this year to pummel Heavy Montréal for 75 minutes of their signature live pandemonium. They delivered a 10 out of 10 audio representation of their finest material on Sunday night. While it’s hard to top a score like that, the fact that I was standing inches away from documentarian Sam Dunn for both Lamb of God (and Faith No More) seemed to enhance the experience slightly. Dunn is becoming so recognized now, it’s hard for him to be in a crowd of fans without posing for numerous photographs; something he graciously did repeatedly during both performances.
As awesome as Lamb of God was, I walked away from their performance in order to catch some live Nuclear Assault on the Scéne de L’Apocalyplse stage. It’s a good problem to have, but a problem none the less: Heavy Montréal offers so many great band opportunities that you easily find yourself making some hard choices, walking away from excellence to witness more excellence. Until Sunday night, I’d never seen Nuclear Assault live. I consider this band to be amongst the FINEST in the 1980’s crossover metal genre. Getting to hear songs like ‘Critical Mass’, ‘Sin’ and ‘Hang the Pope’ live, put a damn big smile on my face. Seeing Dan Lilker and John Connelly in the flesh (FINALLY) was utterly amazing. Midway through their performance, vocalist John Connelly spoke to the audience in Spanish, asked them if they understood what he was saying and then said, “That’s how I’ve felt here all day today”. My only complaint (go figure) was that the set was too short – I totally wanted to see more.
Venom Inc. was added to the Heavy Montréal line-up amongst the last few bands announced, possibly as replacements to Pentagram and Mastodon. While it’s true Chronos isn’t in Venom Inc. this line-up includes founding members Anthony “Abaddon” Bray on drums and Jeffrey “Mantas” Dunn on guitar, along with Tony (Demolition Man) Dolan on vocals and bass guitar. Dolan was the original replacement for Chronos in 1988 after Chronos left the band. Together, the three-piece veteran ‘black metal’ band delivered one of the standout performances on Friday, blasting out classic tracks from the sizeable Venom back-catalogue. I heard numerous fans proclaiming that the Venom Inc. performance was something they felt they’d never get to see. It was amazing to watch fans bash about to classics like ‘Prime Evil’ and ‘Buried Alive’.
Revocation performed on the on the Scéne de L’Apocalypse stage on Friday. Recently, signed to Metal Blade Records, this was my first opportunity to see the band perform live. Utilizing interesting elements of heavy guitaring, kinetic drumming and wild signature time changes, Revocation delivered one of the most unexpected sets of the weekend for me. No disrespect to the musicians here at all, but I didn’t envision their material would translate as well as it did live on stage. The band performed a slathering of songs from their most recent album Deathless, along with some nuggets from their past Relapse Records days, in an utterly proficient fashion. They were amongst my favourite acts of the festival.
Testament members are no strangers to Montréal, nor are they strangers to the Heavy Montréal Festival. What might not have been very obvious during their performance was that their drummer, Gene Hoglan, couldn’t make the festival at the last minute, and Battlecross drummer Alex Bent filled in. Bent found out he was going to be subbing for Hoglan only hours before Testament was set to take the Scéne Canadian main stage, leaving him less than two hours before his own Battlecross performed the headlining slot on the Scéne de La Forêt stage. High props to Alex Bent, Testament and Battlecross for bringing the goods under pressure, and for doing it well on both counts.
Iggy Pop (you have to read his name imagining Philip Seymour Hoffman’s proclamation in Almost Famous). Really, what more needs to be said here. IGGY POP!!! He played on Saturday for 75 minutes. At 68 years old, Iggy Pop executed an amazing set of his finest material to a crowd of adorers both young and old. Working his way through classics from the Stooges days right through to some his more recent material, Pop writhed and twitched his way through song after song like the veteran musician he is. Oh, and Mike Watt (Minutemen, Dos, and Firehose) performed with Iggy. Punk rock REPRESENT! Iggy was one of the best things about the festival for me. The man never disappoints live.
Deafheaven (very recently signed to ANTI-), opened things on Saturday afternoon on the Scéne Heavy stage with 45 minutes of their densely orchestrated material. Mixing moments of blissful ambience that turns on a dime into some of the most relentless music on the planet, Deafheaven was one of the bands that both confused and impressed viewers the most. Their music goes all over the map, but the undeniable power of their material and their obvious ability to deliver it live was a force to be reckoned with in the blistering sun. How vocalist George Clarke manages to blast out some of those high pitched lyrics is beyond my comprehension. As I stood in the centre of the crowd swaying with the audience while Deafheaven performed, I was taken aback by how many people were singing along to songs captured on their most popular release to date, Sunbather. Deafheaven is another band that hasn’t let me down, this being the fourth time I’ve seen them live.
There were simply too many great options for music. My experience will differ from others, and I’m sure I missed bands that some readers will think me mad for passing on. That’s the way these festivals go. Some of the random things that stick in my mind from the weekend: I loved hearing Fozzy cover Abba’s ‘SOS’. I loved hearing Billy Talent’s Benjamin Kowalewicz utter out “Pegasus’s. Unicorns. Death” as he was trying his mocking best to emulate black metal. I loved that Exes for Eyes dropped a wicked cover of ‘Collision’ by Faith No More, moments before vocalist James Arsenian came to the rail and asked everyone in front of the stage to join him in a massive group hug.
I loved seeing Slipknot’s Corey Taylor side stage during Warrant’s and Dokken’s sets, air guitaring to the band’s best songs with his son rocking out beside him. I loved that Randy Blythe came out on stage with Jamey Jasta and performed ‘Enslaved, Dead Or Depraved’ to a crowd of elated fans. I loved seeing a reinvigorated Bullet For My Valentine blasting out some of their super heavy new material from Venom (due in stores this week). I loved witnessing Within Temptation, the ultra-talented Dutch symphonic metal band blast out some of their finest songs, Sharon den Adel looking AMAZING (as usual). I loved seeing a band like Sandveiss with absolutely zero context. Their super heavy stoner rock was a welcome addition to the weekend. They are an upcoming band to watch for sure. I loved that Gojira played again. Gojira is utterly brilliant, and their impeccable live performance went down well with everything while baking in the heat on Saturday afternoon.
I loved Heavy Montréal. It delivered what I feel the festival ALWAYS delivers: the most European metal festival outside of Europe. Until next year…