AUGUST 7-9th 2015

Review by Anka

It started on a cloudy Friday afternoon with a short metro ride to Parc Jean-Drapeau. Seeing the signage to Heavy Montreal all over the metro stations and getting our custom Heavy Montreal metro card made that short trip even more unbearable with excitement. We had been in Montreal for a day already and we reconnected with old friends and made new ones,  so now we were more than ready for the big start. This was my first time at Heavy Montreal and it will surely not be the last one. Great location in a fun city that never seems to sleep, coupled with good organization and a varied lineup sprinkled with a few gems can only make this a recurring event in my life.

Once arrived at the festival site, I stepped down the pebbled pathways together with hordes of metalheads walking in all directions. Newbie that I was, I quickly realized I was not wearing the best shoes, though comfortable, I would have definitely needed something with a thicker sole. Found my way to the main stages area where Montreal’s own Gorguts was playing - and this was the best start to a festival one could have. Seeing Luc Lemay & co. laying down some mind bending, dissonantly pleasing riffs and then the dedicated fans in front amped up like the headliner was on made the rest of the 20 minutes an express adjustment to the festival environment. With such a warm up, it only made sense that I spent the next couple hours mainly watching progressive-death bands like Beyond Creation on the Forest Stage (the smallest stage situated in a small forest-like area, very convenient and shady on a sunny day!) and then Revocation on the Apocalypse Stage. And these were without a doubt my favorite bands of the day and some top favorites of the entire festival; although I have seen Revocation quite often lately I was reminded that I just can’t get enough of their soul-soothing shredding and 45 minute sets are cruelly short. But knowing they will be around this fall makes up for that, at least partially.

Day one went on with a highly-anticipated performance of Arch Enemy with Montreal native Alissa White-Gluz on vocals and an interesting blast from the past with Extreme on the main stages, then later with a slightly toned-down Meshuggah, which seemed to lack the intensity I was accustomed to at their shows. I had the inspiration to check out the French hardcore band Lofofora who still had quite a crowd considering the mighty Meshuggah was playing the main stage at the time. Shortly after that I had to run back to the Forest stage where one of my top favorite bands ever – Obscura- was supposed to play but sadly cancelled due to visa delays. Instead we saw probably the best replacement given the circumstances, Augury, already established progressive-death band from Montreal, who put on a killer performance and fully satisfied my thirst for prog-death that day.  I still had enough energy to go check out a few songs from Neurosis and then the Friday headliner, Korn, who celebrated 20 years of activity and performed their first album in its entirety. The crowd was ecstatic, and pretty rowdy at this time, but since this was my first time seeing Korn I have to say I quite enjoyed the show from a distance and was somewhat surprised at how aggressive and heavy they sounded.  Biggest miss of the day was probably Cattle Decapitation which seemed to be the top favorite of a lot of my friends. So here’s a strong reminder to not miss them on tour this fall!

On day 2 we made it to the park a bit later and ended up hiding in the shade in the VIP area, catching a few songs of Lita Ford on the big screens. I also got to say hello to our friends at the 70000tons of Metal hot tub (!) and then walked out to the main stage to catch the performance which got us pretty pumped from the early hours: Abbath. Little did I know that Abbath was going to end up in that hot tub later that day. However we knew we were in for quite an entertaining performance and I am happy to report we got more than that. I don’t remember ever laughing and headbanging that much - and simultaneously - at any other show. Songs from his previous projects I and Immortal were played and the first crowdsurfers were launched over the unsuspecting crowd in front. Abbath himself stepped down the stairs past the camera man, and came by to the barrier to serenade us black metal style and to show us a few trv moves.  But the performance with most crowdsurfers that day must have been Gojira. Madness ensued a few songs into their set when they suggested a wall of death. And that was followed by a huge wave of crowdsurfers launched from all sides, under the cooling water stream sprayed by the security in front, whose victim I was as well.

Later that day I got the chance to hear a bit of Billy Talent while I was enjoying the full view of the festival site from the hill, and then some Testament – who unleashed the thrash attack and got us all hooked, fist pumping in the air and all. After angry thrash riffs I moved on to the Apocalypse stage to see Devin Townsend spread the love through proggy riffs and bombastic orchestrations. As usual - a massive sounding performance loaded with positive energy, waving hands and a packed place for one of the top Canadian artists. My next must-see was Iggy Pop. As if he’s never aged at all – or maybe just a bit (just don’t look at the large screens), Iggy Pop still got the chops and put on an energetic performance in front of thousands of people. It only goes to show that “aging” artists can still draw a crowd at a festival if the lineup and the performances are still of good quality, contrary to the complaints recently heard from other tour festival organizers *cough Mayhem festival, RIP, cough*.

Headliner of day 2 was Faith No More, a band that for many is synonymous to growing up in the 90s when metal got weird and noticing talented heavy acts just got easier thanks to radio and MTV.  What is great about FNM is that they managed to acquire a quite varied fan base, from the typical heavy metal fan to the grown up rocker with a taste for good music who brings all his kids to see the show. From their “garden” up the massive stage FNM performed an hour and half set which included hits like “Epic”, “Everything’s Ruined”, “Ashes to Ashes” and “Digging the Grave”  and left everyone in awe, except for the moment of mass hysteria when Mike Patton crowd surfed and the 3 song encore when the crowd just couldn’t get enough. 

At the end of day 2 I realized it was actually pretty comfortable to enjoy the performances at Heavy Montreal and everyone still had a lot of energy left to continue the parties at other venues in town. Drinks were readily available everywhere and beer vendors walked around bravely all day. Having free water available also makes me give a huge shout out to Heavy Montreal, that is always a priority for me. There was quite a varied food selection, though not the most healthy, some options were really decent and most importantly, quickly available without major lineups.  Also the VIP area where media had access was a great spot to chill and relax before another round of shows and had the nicest people at the bar.

Day 3 started out a bit rougher and slower in our camp. With a bit of a headache we headed to the festival grounds early to catch Omnium Gatherum on the Apocalypse stage. I shall call them a “hangover-erasing” band since all I needed were a couple songs and I miraculously came back to life. This is not just melo-death, it is ultra-melo-death and it’s brilliantly done. Next up on the same stage we waited for Insomnium which is currently touring North America with Omnium Gatherum. Insomnium found themselves in the unfortunate situation where they had to get a couple replacements just before this tour. One of them – vocalist Mike Bear- only came on board a few days prior to the first show in Montreal and had no proper rehearsal with the band. However the band sounded great once they warmed up and put on a pretty good performance with a few tracks off their last album and a few older crowd favorites. The other replacement, guitarist Nick Cordle did an excellent job and also managed to surprise a few in the audience with his singing abilities.

Next up on my must-see list were Dokken and Marky Ramones Blitzkrieg featuring Andrew W.K. on vocals. First time seeing them and definitely a nostalgic blast from the past, after all these were sounds that I heard in the house growing up. Don Dokken is a warm presence though not that “glammy” anymore, and Andrew W.K. is an amazing and very versatile performer who, given the circumstances, helped attenuate the cover band vibe that many probably feared. Later that day I got to see the first part of the Within Temptation set which started out with songs off their new release and to my surprise it sounded huge, beautiful and flawless; naturally it got the crowd singing and moving frantically from the very start. I quickly ran to see Sanctuary and get my old school fix once again; Warrel Dane’s vocals are top notch and the band still proves to be a huge name in the metal scene – thousands of people packed the place at Apocalypse stage for this performance and made it a headbanging fest for 45 minutes.

My personal highlight of the third day - and the entire festival - was Ihsahn, a rare appearance on North American territory. Emperor history aside, I really wanted to hear his solo material and the show turned out to be a mesmerizing one for me. Backed by a new band of talented musicians, he went through a few tracks from his new album and a few older ones, eventually playing an Emperor medley and finishing off with a new song from the upcoming album. After his performance the festival was implicitly over for me, although I didn’t quite know it yet. I did catch a few songs from the Nuclear Assault set and loved the atmosphere there. You know it’s a good show when one of the headliners (Lamb of God) performs on the big stage at the same time and Nuclear Assault still gets a huge crowd.  Nevertheless I did get to see a bit of Lamb of God which was definitely a crowd favorite and put on a crushing show, much better than what I had seen 7 years ago. Headliner of the last night was Slipknot. Even if you are not a fan, this is something that will likely blow your mind. The stage setup, the whole production, the sound and the performance are of massive proportions. Visually entertaining, appealing to a wide audience and professionally done – Slipknot are a huge name and probably the reason why there was such a large crowd present on the last night of the festival.

A few drinks later it was obvious that saying goodbye was going to be really hard. Chats lasted till the early morning hours and leaving the festival grounds was best done when everyone was way too buzzed to notice you are gone. The next day in Montreal was unbearably quiet and a bit achy (signs of a good time) and coming back home proved to be a cruel reality check. Still have a knot in my throat while typing this. See you soon Heavy Montreal – as long as there will be good bands, we will be around.