Words, landscape & Voivod photos by Sean Palmerston, All other photos by Adam Wills
Late last May, I received an email out of the blue from one Joseph Stannard, then editor of the UK-based TERRORIZER Magazine, asking me if I would be interested in going to the inaugural HEAVY MTL Festival in Montreal to interview Voivod on the eve of their first show in five years. Being a lifelong fan I agreed and headed to Montreal for the two-day festival, interviewing the members of Voivod for over two hours on Friday night and then going to the fest itself on Saturday, June 21 and Sunday, June 22.
The TERRORIZER story fell through afterwards for reasons unbeknowest to me and the money I spent on going to Montreal and incidentals pretty much ate up all the money my wife and I had put aside for a small summer holidays with our kids, but I did manage to write a few reviews of the festival for both EXCLAIM! and METAL MANIACS. Since this weekend marks the first anniversary of HEAVY MTL, here are those reviews in their entirely…
Parc Jean-Drapeau, Montreal QC June 21 to 22
By Sean Palmerston
Kicking off with local favourites Unexpect (pictured above) as openers is a smart move by festival organisers, ensuring a large crowd from the start. The septet have come along way in the past year since releasing In A Flesh Aquarium, becoming a terrific live band through constant touring. Lauren Harris was only on this bill because of her association with the headliners (Maiden’s Steve Harris is her father). She started great with a cover of UFO’s “Natural Thing,” but her own songs were far less spectacular. Thankfully, New Jersey thrash veterans Overkill brought their A-game; vocalist Bobby Ellsworth owned the stage and led the troops through killer versions of “Elimination” and “Wrecking Crew.” In comparison, 3 Inches of Blood, Symphony X and Hatebreed were merely okay. Hammerfall spent half of their set bitching about getting their time cut from 45 to 30 minutes, which left them with only 15 minutes to actually play. Mastodon never took the time to even say hello, instead using every second to whip off riff after riff and go down as one of day one’s big winners. Type O Negative’s Peter Steele could learn a few things from them: his self-deprecating humour had fans lining up by the droves at the concession stands. His group also had the worst sound of the day. Dethklok followed with the biggest crowd response outside of the headliners, demonstrating they’re clearly most popular with the under-20 crowd. The day however clearly belonged to Iron Maiden, who had the 25,000 strong in attendance singing and dancing along to every song in a way that could only happen in Quebec (bless those French metal heads!). Day two was much more hard rock than metal but a few bands stood out. Priestess were Sunday’s first great band, as their stoner-friendly rock came across much better live than on disc. They mad crap like Warrant and Drowning Pool even worse than expected. Shadows Fall turned in a decent enough performance but seemed lost on stage — probably because they knew they were right before the weekend’s most anticipated set. Voivod’s first show in five years was a moving moment for all. With fallen guitarist Piggy’s signature axe centre stage, they played songs from all albums up to and including Angel Rat and absolutely killed. Martyr guitarist Dan Mongrain is one of a few that could actually fills Piggy’s shoes and did so with style and class, honouring his mentor, while vocalist Snake held Piggy’s guitar up high during the set closing “Astronomy Domine.” Anthrax made a valiant effort to try and follow the highlight of the weekend, but their first Canadian show with new vocalist Dan Nelson missed the mark. As I traveled back westward after it finished, I couldn’t help but think that this was exactly the kind of metal fest Canada needs.
Originally published on exclaim.ca
Parc Jean-Drapeau, Montreal
By Sean Palmerston
While European metal fans have always had great outdoor metal festivals, from Dynamo and Monsters of Rock in the eighties to Bang Your Head and Wacken today, there has never truly been a comparable outdoor festival on this side of the pond. With any luck, this year’s Heavy Mtl fest, held on the gorgeous grounds of Parc Jean-Drapeau on Montreal’s Notre-Dame Island, will become an annual event. For an inaugural event, this festival was a huge success and is something that could become even bigger and better in the years to come.
Festival openers Unexpect have come a long way in the past few years and were the perfect opening act for the first day. Kicking things off with a popular hometown band pretty much guaranteed there would be a sizeable crowd right from the start and the Montreal septet did not disappoint. Their commitment to touring has really paid off, as this band finally can play the songs off their In A Flesh Aquarium album live with no problems.
Lauren Harris, the daughter of Iron Maiden’s Steve, has to have nerves of steel. She has spent most of this year opening for Maiden around the world to almost indifferent reactions. No one boos, but there’s not exactly fanfare for her set of standard eighties-style hard rock either. The biggest cheer comes for their set opening cover of UFO’s “Natural Thing,” which admittedly is great, but Harris and band cannot keep the crowd’s attention quite the same with their own material.
After missing OverKill when they cancelled their New England Metal Fest appearance earlier this spring I was stoked to finally get to see the Jersey thrash kings again after 20 years (last time was in 1988 with Slayer and Motorhead). I thought it wasn’t going to happen again when there was a timely delay before the start of their set, but thankfully they made it and quickly had the crowd eating out of their hands. Bobby Ellsworth owned the stage during the set; dude might be pushing fifty but he still knows how to get the crowd going. And go they did. The band played a nice cross-section of OverKill classics through their forty-five minutes, including “Elimination” and “Wrecking Crew” and was the first highlight of the weekend.
3 Inches of Blood is a band that has always impressed me on record but has never done the same live. Unfortunately, this set did not do anything to help that matter either. Down one vocalist, with singer Cam Pipes at home resting his voice on doctor’s orders, the band did make a valiant effort to bring their A-game, but honestly their set was somewhat monotonous. It felt like it was the same song over and over again, something that would happen again later in the day when Hatebreed plays.
While I have never been a huge fan of Symphony X, I must admit that 2007’s Paradise Lost piqued my interest in them and I was curious to see how they would go across on such a big stage. Of course, being in the metal capital of Canada meant there would be a sizeable crowd for the NJ prog metallers, but I was still surprised at the devotion that the long-running act would receive. Singer Russell Allen did a great job interacting with the crowd, who lapped up the band’s performance hook, line and sinker.
Poor Hammerfall. Due to timing problems, the Swedes found their scheduled forty-five minute set cut down to thirty. Not what they were expecting for their only show of 2008, but complaining about it onstage probably didn’t win them any points with the production company even if it made for an entertaining set. They gave it their all, but after bitching through a good chunk of their time, their set ended up only five songs deep. Mastodon on the other hand made use of every second allotted to them. The quartet didn’t take the time to even say hello, they just got up on stage and burned through as many songs as possible. While rumors circulate that their upcoming new album will be mellower and more rock than metal, that certainly wasn’t the case this afternoon. They wisely kept it heavy and fast.
Peter Steele has a unique sense of humor. You either get his self-depreciating style or you don’t. If you didn’t on this afternoon, you were probably off in line to get food during Type O Negative’s set. The concession cues were at an all-day high during their set, which was unfortunate, but with them playing before the night’s headliners there might have been nothing they could have done about it. Of course, having the worst sound of the day didn’t help matters either.
I have never seen the Metalocalypse cartoon, which probably left me at a disadvantage for Dethklok’s set. It also left me in the minority of festival attendees, as the somewhat fictional death metal band had the largest crowd of the day so far. Their hour long set, timed perfectly to accompany the new visuals playing on the giant video screen overhead, contained show highlights like “Go Forth And Die” and “Awaken.” From an outsider’s perspective, Dethklok was entertaining and head scratching at the same time. I’m sure there must have been a few bands disappointed by being upstaged by a fictional cartoon band.
Iron Maiden closed the day and again proved why they are one of the greatest heavy metal bands of all time. Easily the most anticipated band of the day, the crowd contained way more Maiden shirts than any other group playing, easily outnumbering any other band fifteen to one. The show was their final North American appearance on the Somewhere Back In Time tour and what a fitting closing show it is. The 25,000 strong crowd was dancing and singing along to every song in a way that could only happen in Quebec. French metal heads rule and were happy to soak in every second of Maiden’s set, bringing a fitting end to day number one.
The second day of Heavy Mtl was much less metal and much more hard rock-oriented except for a few notable exceptions. Montreal’s Priestess did a good job playing their brand of peppy stoner rock and are well received by the hometown crowd. They were the only reason to show up early, since the first half of the day was full of crap like Warrant and Drowning Pool – about as appealing as sticking needles in your eye. Shadows Fall was marginally better, but seemed somewhat not into playing, probably because they knew they were playing right before the undisputed weekend highlight.
It has been five years since Voivod last played live and nearly three years since the unfortunate, early death of guitarist Denis ‘Piggy’ D’Amour. When the band hits the stage, it is with both new and old faces joining them. Martyr guitarist Daniel Mongrain fulfills a lifelong dream of playing with his favourite band and original bassist Jean-Yves ‘Blacky’ Theriault has strapped on his signature blower bass for the first time in 20 years. The band’s eight song set features songs from all original albums up to and including Angel Rat, including songs like “Tornado,” “Tribal Convictions,” and “Voivod” to rapturous crowd response. During the set-ending “Astronomy Domine,” vocalist Denis ‘Snake’ Belanger lifts one of Piggy’s main guitars – which had been centre-stage for the set – to the heavens as a tribute to their fallen brother. Oh, did I also remember to mention that drummer Michel ‘Away’ Langevin was wearing a Metal Maniacs shirt for their performance?
Anthrax followed Voivod and their set marked the Canadian debut of new vocalist Dan Nelson. While he certainly didn’t look like him, he did remind me of John Bush vocally. They played a good cross-section of classic Anthrax material, with “Indians” being a personal highlight, but were a bit average this day. Maybe they just need to click a little more with Nelson, who looked like he was trying a little too hard to fit in.
Instead of sticking around for second day headliners Disturbed and Motley Crue – both of which don’t appeal to me at all – I decided to get a bus back to Ontario instead of spending another night in Montreal. The advantage to this was saving the expenses of another hotel room; the disadvantage was my bus got to Toronto at 3 AM and I would have three hours to kill before I could get a connecting one home. As cosmopolitan as Toronto might claim to be, there is nothing going on in that city at 3 AM on a Monday morning, so I spent most of the next three hours walking around downtown. At about 4:30 I realized a dude had been following me for about 15 minutes. Instead of running or trying to ditch him, I confront my follower. I tell him that although he might be thinking of robbing me, I don’t have anything for him in my knapsack except for some dirty underwear and some Quebecois death metal CDs and if he really wants either he can gladly have them. Dude apologizes, saying he thought I was a television actor (yeah right) and leaves me to wander the streets alone, tired but elated that I just got back from the best two-day metal fest Canada has hosted in the past twenty years. With any luck it won’t be the last.
Originally published by Metal Maniacs