Heavy Montreal may be suffering from its double personality

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14It may have been difficult to compete with last year’s thunderous one-two punch of Metallica and Slayer, but there were many metal fans voting with their absent feet and devil salutes at Heavy Montreal 2015.

Crowds at the August 7-9 hard-music festival were significantly thinner as a lower wattage of metal stars sparked the line-up at Parc Jean-Drapeau this summer. There was also low-grade but persistent grumbling that the metal part of a festival formerly and cleverly dubbed “Heavy Mtl” is now too diluted with punk rock.

Indeed, the cohabitation of the two musical styles, which may be indistinguishable to many folks, is uneasy at best. And, it has to be said, the outnumbered punkers put on a better show than their crunchy cousins at this edition.

Led by the Iggy Pop, punk’s indestructible godfather, the spiky haired crew revelled in their mosh pits as the 68-year-old reeled off a string of familiar hits, starting with “I Wanna Be Your Dog”, “The Passenger” and “Lust For Life”. Iggy was Iggy, in other words, sublime despite the sag of his tanned torso.

He led the crowd through an underground fantasy of debauchery and musical history – “1969” being the signature tune – and reminded the kids in the crowd that it’s not simply youth that makes a revolution, but the rebel spirit and pissed-off poetry in one’s soul.

Metal fans may have made allowance for the legendary Iggy, but I heard many epithets hurled toward Billy Talent, Canada’s reigning puck-rockers. “They have no business being here,” one person told me backstage among the tattooed glitterati in the VIP tent as we watched on a big screen.

Perhaps it was the band’s success at winning airplay on mainstream radio, something few of the metal acts at this year’s fest are managing these days. Maybe he didn’t like the overtly political appeal, as they promised to buy everyone in the crowd a beer if they didn’t vote for Stephen Harper.

Whatever. One thing is for sure: punkers are notorious smart-asses, and California’s NOFX appeared more than happy to stir the pot with whip-quick two-minute songs.

After reeling off “Dinosaurs Will Die” and (perhaps with Quebecers in mind) “Franco-Unamerican” in record time, frontman bassist Fat Mike decided to play devil’s advocate against Heavy Montreal’s raison d’être.

“See, metal bands,” he drolled, “if their songs were that short, a minute and a half, then metal bands would be good. But no, they have to take a good song and stretch it out to eight minutes!”

8One fan in a Korn T-shirt had the misfortune to be front and centre for NOFX’s set. Fat Mike, clad in a pink dress and leather tights, called him out. “Dude, Korn’s not even a band anymore,” he trolled, before his bandmates informed him Korn had headlined the fest the previous night. “Didn’t you get the memo?”

It was all good – if edgy – fun, highlighted by a pair of piñatas to help guitarist El Hefe celebrate his 50th birthday. I even caught one of the toy whistles that burst out to the crowd.

That was a contrast to the death and devil imagery from Abbath, the recently crowned kings of Norwegian death metal (with a side of KISS makeup and costumery). Nation editor Will Nicholls had fun drinking backstage with Abbath guitarist King ov Hell (less colloquially known as Tom Cato Visnes), who obliged all comers with a variety of sneering poses for the cameras.

One metal discovery for this punk fan – who loves both genres – was Gojira. French-from-France, this polished band sings in English and punches the belly with a signature double-bass-drum-driven assault. “L’Enfant Sauvage”, “Flying Whales” and “The Heaviest Matter of the Universe” were memorable takeaways from their set of, well, yes, mostly eight-minute songs.

For the most part, however, the metal offerings were meagre in this reviewer’s opinion. Runaways’ cast-off Lita Ford had little to excite in a weak set besides “Cherry Bomb” from close to 40 years ago. Faith No More has its fans, but they played a set that would have sounded at home on a pop-music station. Slipknot has shock value, but not enough value to headline a festival that has consistently featured the best of heavy music since its inception in 2008.

I was more at home with Montreal’s psychobilly band The Brains, who played a blistering lunch-hour set for about 500 devotees at the small Apocalypse stage. Rocket from the Crypt set me up, while others I spoke to were glowing from Friday’s Lagwagon show. Sunday even featured the last surviving member of the Ramones, as Marky ran through a catalogue of familiar three-minute pogo-inciting numbers.

Some of the scuttlebutt blamed the lack of marquée metal on Rockfest at Montebello in June. Their line-up, which included Slayer, was remarkably similar to the Riot Fest offerings in Toronto, Chicago and Denver this summer. Apparently Montebello is considered too close to Montreal for many of the A-listers to make a double summer appearance.

Whatever the reason, the punkers won this round of Heavy Montreal. We look forward to next year to see if this great festival can regain its previous metal glory.


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In next issue, look for stories about some of the sideline hijinx from Heavy Mania. Not all the action was on the stage!

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