It might be true that many fans – or even most – come to festivals mainly to see the headliners who play late in the day. If you watch the crowd all day, the venue fills up slowly as the clock crawls along so there does seem to be some truth to this proposition. There is nothing wrong with that if that’s what you want to do. The headliners are great and so it makes sense that they are the big draw. I am here to tell you, though, if you show up late or if you don’t travel around to the third and fourth stages, you are missing a lot. In fact, you are missing most of the music. Let’s take a fast-paced promenade through the festival grounds at Heavy Montreal from noon to seven and see what we can see.
I started the day with Galactic Empire, a band I had never seen before. Let’s think about this for a minute. What could this band be about? Yep. Heavy guitar versions of Star Wars themes. A novelty act for sure, but undeniably a lot of fun, and check out the costumes. The music took a more serious turn next. Fever 333 burst onto the stage, as they always do, with a high energy, almost acrobatic set. Their music is a pounding fusion that surrounds you and their message is freedom and unity. You never want to leave a Fever 333 set early.
One thing I always mention to people who have never been the Heavy Montreal is that it’s called HEAVY for a reason. While there are a wide variety of acts at the festival, there are more heavy bands here than at any other “general” rock festival in North America. Witness these three bands that played one after the other early in the afternoon: Harm’s Way, Anonymous, and Kataklysm. Power, speed, and aggression all around. You need to stop by a hydration station in between each of these sets.
The ever-surprising Devon Townsend performed an “acoustic” set that was very relaxed and groovy. Sort of. Periodically, he would pause and request crowd participation that stood in stark contrast to the way he was playing – he would ask the crowd to scream in their best Death Metal voices one slogan or another. From this floating sense of conflicted merriment, I entered the comforting familiarity of Quiet Riot playing their hits. The current line-up sounds similar to the original but the passage of time has tweaked the outcome a little. It was a nice siesta, but then it was time for some more heavy.
Rivers of Nihil is a band I have been following for a couple of years now and they were high on my list to see. Like all the Summer Slaughter bands, they played on the Scѐne du Jardin stage, and I think the demand for these bands was underestimated because the crowd always swelled to choke off the throughway between the other stages. We all got along, but it was a tight squeeze when Rivers of Nihil were roaring, and the same thing happened for The Faceless, Carnifex, Cattle Decapitation, and Dying Fetus. Then again, being shoulder to shoulder in the sun and the heat with a crowd of enthralled metal heads seeing and hearing one monster act after another is a pretty good way to spend a summer day.
In the late afternoon and early evening the Cancer Bats took the stage, followed by Municipal Waste. Two more bucket list bands for me, the Cancer Bats are on the sludgy side and Municipal Waste on the thrash side. I’d seen videos and listened to the music but you have to see these bands live to get the full experience – a maxim that applies generally. These two bands and their styles are excellent complements to each other and it was great to see them perform close together.
The first band up on Sunday was a Montreal band, Junkowl, who won a competition to get on the festival bill. They were great, making the most of this opportunity and playing to appreciative hometown fans. They were the perfect kickoff to the final day of Heavy Montreal. In the same slot on a different stage, Mountain Dust, another local band, played a totally different style of rock – that bluesy doom that is so popular these days. Heavy guitars and the occasion Korg blast was an eye opener for the early crowd. The other early heavy band I liked a lot was Dopethrone – I already talked about them in the previous post so take a look there (and enjoy this bonus Dopethrone photo).
Last year at the New England Metal and Hardcore Festival I saw a band called Battle Beast I didn’t know anything about. They were not what I was expecting, playing stadium anthems in the Wooster Palladium. That was quite a show. A schism the band a few years ago lead to a phoenix rising called Beast in Black. Watching them play, I had a sense of déjà vu. Fist pumping arena sounds is what you get, and it was a nice addition to the variety basket. Beast in Black is a band from Finland with a Greek vocalist, and the next band I saw, Skálmöld, is from Iceland. Their performance sounded like what I would call folk metal. Being uncertain about my categorization, I looked up what the band says about their own music, which is described this way on their website: “Skálmöld plays music that could be described as Battle Metal, a potion of Epic Viking Metal, old school Death and Thrash Metal, entwined with the Icelandic heritage.” OK. Folk metal. It’s rock and roll whatever else you want to call it, and the band started their North American tour at the festival to rousing applause.
The idea of musical fusion reaches a whole new level with Metalachi, the heavy metal mariachi band. Well, a better way to describe them is they are a mariachi style band that plays covers of heavy metal songs. Who do they cover? Iron Maiden, Ozzy, Slayer, Dio. They even performed a thought-provoking version of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. They are 100% in and not fooling around. The crowd knew the songs by heart but they had never heard them played this way before.
More traditional metal fair could be found in Corrosion of Conformity’s set. Since the reformation of the band with Pepper Keenan about five years ago, CoC has just been getting stronger. They played a tight forty minute set which included their classic “Albatross” and other familiar fan favorites. CoC always makes me think of Clutch because I saw them together a couple of times. Clutch played late in the early slot on Sunday as well, and I already talked about them in the previous post, so for now enjoy this bonus photo of Tim Sult.
If you think that one thing missing from bands playing before 7:00PM is big production values, then you must not have seen In This Moment. They played for nearly an hour with their imposing stage set, dancers, smoke, and theatrics. Maria Brink’s big voice was turned up to full threat as she prowled the stage and demanded the crowd’s undivided attention.
You can’t see every band at a festival. There are just too many and the whole festival experience can be a sensory overload. Still, it is definitely worth taking a chance on a few you haven’t seen before because you are bound to see something that will blow your mind and you will remember for a long time. That is what makes festivals different and special, and that is why we keep going to them. And you already bought the ticket so you might as well go early.
Words and photos ©2019 Wayne Edwards