Remembering 25 Years Ago Today: WORLD WAR III Festival

Tshirt design by Away

By Sean Palmerston

Today, November 30th, is a very important date in this history of Canadian metal. It was on this date 25 years ago that the world renowned WORLD WAR III festival happened in Montreal, Quebec. The festival, curated and presented by then Voivod manager Maurice Richard, was done to help raise funds for Voivod to record their second studio album (which would come to be named Rrroooaaarrr upon its release). Realizing that in order to have a successful festival he would have to bring in some quality talent, Richard booked and flew in four bands for their first ever Canadian appearances. From the USA came Californian death metal quartet Possessed and Florida’s Nasty Savage, while the European contingent of the festival was represented by Switzerland’s legendary Celtic Frost and German thrashers Destruction.

I was personally too young to go to this show, as I was all of thirteen at the time, but I sure would have loved to have been there. One person who was lucky enough to have attended the festival was Toronto scene mainstay Dave Busch. Dave has been going to shows in the greater Toronto area for more than twenty-six years and was able to make the five hour drive down to Montreal for it.  When I asked Dave if he would be willing to answer some interview questions about the legendary festival he was more than willing to participate. A portion of our interview follows below.

Hellbound: Dave, you had the pleasure of attending the Word War III Festival, which happened in Montreal 25 years ago today. Do you remember exactly how you found out about the festival?

Dave Busch: I remember my friend Terry Girouard [Rest In Peace], who was the singer in Toronto band “D.O.G” (Death of God) was the first person to tell me about the show. Terry and I were going to the same school.We would trade tapes of all the new demos, live tapes, and rehearsals coming out of the underground scene. At that time the Record Peddler in Toronto and the Aggressive Rock radio show on CKLN were our main sources of information on all the upcoming shows. I was in disbelief and blown away by such an incredible line up .At first I thought he was playing a joke on me. My friends and I quickly found out how to secure tickets. At that time Rock en Stock on Crescent Street in Montreal was the ultimate record store for Metal and Punk music. We contacted them and they were able to mail us tickets.

This fest was unique in that it brought some very special bands to Canada for the first time. What was the draw for you that made you decide you had to travel from Toronto to Montreal for it?

At this time most shows for thrash metal bands were at the club level with one touring band “Doing it yourself” with local bands opening, so to have the first North American appearances of Celtic Frost and Destruction – both were flown from Europe – and with this being the first show for Possessed outside California (also flown in) it was a very special bill. There was no doubt I had to be there. These bands were all new,young, aggressive,and were entering the pinnacles of their new careers.

Do you remember what the turnout for the festival was like? Was it a packed house? Any memories about the venue itself?

The show was at The Palladium in central downtown Montreal. My friends and myself had been there earlier in August 1985 when we went to the Banzai Metal Fest which featured Slayer, Exodus, Metal Church, Hallows Eve and Agent Steel. The venue itself was a roller skating rink,which was very large for aggressive underground music. I would estimate that the venue could hold 2000 to 3000 people. The show was packed,and this is why Montreal was holding these festival style shows. Montreal supported the underground scene.

This show marked the first North American performance by Celtic Frost. Thinking back, what stands out for you about their set?

The highlight was meeting the band the day before and hanging out with them, as all the bands were staying at a very small hotel. My friend Milan was very good friends with Destruction, who were staying in the next room. The guys were appreciative to be invited to play at the festival, as this was their first time outside of Europe. We spent time with them talking about music and socializing. I remember that both Celtic Frost and Destruction were very happy that they were known and in demand in the North American music scene. Celtic Frost were extremely heavy live, especially as they were a three piece. Reed definitely destroyed his drums with his heavy style of percussion, and Martin was an animal when it came to head banging while he played. Tom and the rest of the band had a great metal image with an avant garde style.

Celtic Frost headbanging to Voivod rehearsing in the jamspace

This fest was also the first time that Possessed played outside of California. Do you have any memories of their performance?

The was my first time seeing Possessed, who had just released their legendary Seven Churches album. I hung out with a some of the band members at the hotel. This was my first time meeting manager Debbie Abono, who was so friendly and out going. Debbie explained to me how she got involved in the thrash scene [Debbie was in her 50’s at the time]: her daughter’s boyfriend played originally in Bay Area band Blizzard and then had joined Possessed. She offered to help out the high school aged band who were all in their teens as they wrote, recorded and toured for the Seven Churches album. To see Possessed play all of Seven Churches album live leaves nothing left to be said except “AMAZING”!! Jeff Beccera’s vocals were the ultimate vocals of Death Metal and Mike Torrao and Larry Lalonde’s picking speed and riffs were amazing.

Destruction also came from Europe to play the festival. Any memories of their performance?

We were lucky enough to spend time hanging out with the band as my friend was good friends with Destruction. They came by our hotel to celebrate being in Montreal. We had a raging time, but on their way back to their hotel Tommy got lost, and ended wondering the streets of Montreal all night. Tommy only spoke German at the time, and a small amount of broken English, needless to say he was exhausted the next day for the festival. They were very happy to be in North America and soaking up the culture. Destruction played material from the Infernal Overkill album and Bestial Devastation EP,and showed the crowd the best of German thrash. The guys were very cool people to hang out with.

What band was your personal highlight of the festival?

Meeting the people behind the music and getting to know them as people was actually the highlight. Also meeting other fans who were fanatical about the music was amazing. Seeing people travel from all over the world to be part of a groundreaking music festival, both musicians and fans.

Voivod and their manager did this show as a fundraiser to help pay for their next album. Do you feel like this was a success for them?

This show really helped to bring Voivod’s name to the fore front all around the metal underground. Voivod was fast developing themselves as one of the best live bands in extreme metal. They had great showmanship and the Montreal crowd were diehards for their home town heroes. I remember Musique Plus / Much Music interviewing all the bands.This was great exposure for all these bands who were very extreme for the time. There were a lot of fans who traveled from all over to see this show. There was a large contingency of key players from the Eastern United States underground scene – fanzine/magazine writers and record label personnel – who were there to watch the international festival. Maurice Richard, Voivod’s manager and the promoter of the show, became great friends with Debbie Abono and they were able to put together many tours with the bands they were working with over the years. Voivod and Possessed toured Europe shortly after the World War III festival. Then Celtic Frost and Voivod toured North America,so the ground work had been set by the friendships and business relations built through the festival.

Any other parting comments you’d like to mention about the festival to Hellbound readers?

I look back and it is great to see that the longevity of the bands from this festival, and the legacy that lives on with Voivod, Destruction, Celtic Frost and Possessed. Their names all rank as some of the best of their era. Some great friendships and memories came from this historic event.

(Celtic Frost photo by Seth Grummel; Destruction photos by Dave Busch)

VOIVOD’s Set List
1 Intro from the thing
2 Thrashing Rage
3 Ripping Headaches
4 Warriors Of Ice
5 Korgüll The Exterminator
6 Condemned To The Gallows
7 Fuck Off And Die
8 Helldriver
9 To The Death

POSSESSED’s Set List
1 Introduction
2 The Exorcist
3 Pentagram
4 Swing Of The Axe
5 Holy Hell
6 Satan’s Curse
7 Fallen Angel
8 Burning In Hell
9 Evil Warriors
10 Seven Churches
11 Séance
12 Twisted Minds

NASTY SAVAGE’s Set List
1 No Sympathy
2 Gladiator
3 Unchained Angel
4 Fear Beyond The Vision
5 Asmodeus
6 Dungeon Of Pleasure
7 Indulgence
8 Metal Knights
9 End Of Time

CELTIC FROST’s Set List
1 Intro
2 Into The Crypt Of Rays
3 Circle Of The Tyrants
4 The Usurper
5 Eternal Summer
6 Dethroned Emperor
7 Necromantical Scream
8 Visual Aggression
9 Messiah [Hellhammer cover]
10 Visions Of Mortality
11 Return To Eve
12 Jewel Throne
13 Procreation Of The Wicked

DESTRUCTION’s Set List
01-Thrash Attack
02-Death Trap
03-Antichrist
04-Bestial Invasion
05-Invincible Force
06-The Ritual
07-Tormentor
08-Black Mass
09-Mad Butcher

Sean Palmerston

Sean is the founder/publisher of Hellbound.ca; he has also written about metal for Exclaim!, Metal Maniacs, Roadburn, Unrestrained! and Vice.