Once again, Montréal brought in thousands upon thousands of the world’s biggest heavy metal fans last weekend. The event known now as Heavy Montréal, was held on August 6 and 7 at the Plaine des Jeux at Parc Jean-Drapeau. The weekend was host to more than 37 bands that played across 3 different stages. Out of the 30,000+ fans that attended, approximately 23 countries were represented. Those countries include fans from, the United States, Germany, Australia, Brazil, Switzerland, France, Great Britain and more.
For those who attended the festival last year, there were two main differences. Those differences were the festival was dropped down to only Saturday and Sunday instead of Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The other difference being in the actual festival grounds. This year, the festival moved to the smaller side of the island known as the Plaine des Jeux. Over the same weekend, metal fans may have run across many hipsters wearing their colorful tank tops and board shorts while taking the metro to Heavy Montréal. The reason for the mix of music scenes was because right next door at the old Heavy Montréal festival grounds was the ÎLESONIQ festival which was headlined by artists such as Zedd and Skrillex.
Anyways, back to the metal. Saturday was a busy day for everyone it seemed. Only the most loyal fans to the headlining bands camped along the rail all day to catch that one band they came for. Pop Evil was one of the bands who started off the weekend and they seemed to love Montréal and the crowd loved them. The band opened up with the crunching riff of “Deal With The Devil”. Festival sets are never long, so everyone has to bring their ‘A’ game. The crowd support and reaction at just 1:30 in the afternoon was incredible.
In the middle of the afternoon on Saturday, it seemed to go back and forth from one great artist to the next. Bands like The Dillinger Escape Plan, Skeletonwitch, Fear Factory and Kataklysm were only some of the options early in the day. Each of those bands all seemed to draw respective crowds which was surprising when some of the sets overlapped. Somehow it seemed like no matter who was playing next, each stage was packed.
Saturdays biggest surprise was Escape The Fate. Playing on the Blabbermouth.net stage, these guys absolutely stole the show. Skeptical on how the crowd would react at a festival dominated by “heavier” bands, Escape The Fate provided that breath of fresh air in the afternoon. The band’s setlist consisted of mainly songs off of their last 2 studio albums, which were both solid from start to finish.
Other bands that played Saturday that put on unforgettable performances were Sabaton, Sebastian Bach and Black Label Society. Sabaton had the best stage set of the entire weekend hands down. The Swedish power metal guys in Sabaton brought both pyro to their stage set and a tank. Yes, you read that correctly, a tank. To go along with the awesome stage show, Sabaton ripped through a 10 song set list that consisted of songs like “Ghost Division,” “To Hell and Back” and “Night Witches.”
Sebastian Bach, who everyone knows as the voice of Skid Row, seemed to surprise the audience with a high energy impressive set. Sebastian came on stage to “Slave to the Grind” and was headbanging while swinging his microphone around him. Sebastian connected with the Montréal crowd by speaking lots of French to them, which brought roars from the packed audience. Fans of the TV show “Trailer Park Boys” were present in the crowd, which is a show Sebastian is commonly featured on. Fans brought in a sign for Sebastian, which he took, not to rip up and throw away like Axl Rose would have done, but instead Sebastian held it up high with laughs and propped it up on stage. It could easily be seen that Sebastian was in high spirits and truly loved performing at Heavy Montréal.
Black Label Society was one band that not a single person in Montréal should have missed. Friday night the band played a headline show in the city and on Saturday once again at Heavy Montréal. Watching Zakk Wylde shred on the guitar is mind-blowing. The man can virtually play anything with his eyes closed. The band was tight and ripped through a quick 8 song setlist, highlighted by “Funeral Bell,” “Bleed for Me,” “Godspeed Hell Bound” and “Stillborn.” The end of the set wasn’t the end of Zakk for the weekend. Everyone knew that Zakk and his band would be back on Sunday for more, but not to perform as Black Label Society, but under Zakk’s name instead for a softer set.
The end of the day 1 for Heavy Montréal was capped off by Mastodon, Nightwish, and last but not least Five Finger Death Punch. Mastodon, who was scheduled to play last year’s Heavy Montréal but was forced to cancel, came back this year and gave fans what they’ve been waiting for. The group from Atlanta, Georgia mixed with tremendous talent all around has been on the round behind their 2014 release of Once More ‘Round the Sun. As many fans hoped, Mastodon focused on that album playing track from it such as “The Motherload” and personal favorite “High Road.” Other fan favorites from the set included “Oblivion”, “Divinations” and “Blood and Thunder.”
Nightwish made its only stop in North America of 2016 at Heavy Montréal. For being a symphonic metal band from Finland, the crowd support for Nightwish was unbelievable. The band opened with “Shudder Before the Beautiful” which was off their 2015 release Endless Forms Most Beautiful. Their latest album seemed to be the focus of the night with 5 songs played off it in total. The band brought in an impressive pyro display wish some fans certainly didn’t expect. Between the frequent pyro blasts right in front of singer Floor Jansen and guitarist Emppu Vuorinen, the C02 cannons going off gave Nightwish the complete production package.
Night 1 of Heavy Montréal was closed out by one of the most bad-ass bands of today, Five Finger Death Punch. These guys have been non-stop with a vicious cycle of releasing albums and touring without taking a break. Work has already begun for their next album after just recently putting out Got Your Six. The road warriors opened their set with “Lift Me Up” which was off Volume 1 of The Wrong Side of Heaven And The Righteous Side of Hell. With a short set and so many tracks to choose from, it’s hard for the band to really dig into their catalog. The guys seemed to try and keep everything balanced by playing at least 1 song off of 6 different albums. The night ended strong with “Got Your Six,” “Under and Over It” and “The Bleeding.” Five Finger Death Punch gave the crowd everything they had and the crowd showed no signs of letting up. Fans at Heavy Montréal were ready for day 2 before they even left the island.
Sunday started off with bands I Prevail and We Came As Romans. Both drew in the younger crowds early in the afternoon. I Prevail played their hit cover song “Blank Space” which was made famous by Taylor Swift. Surprisingly, this rendition was awesome and I Prevail really made it their own.
Guitar genius Tosin Abasi was on site Sunday with his band Animals as Leaders. This instrumental djent band drew in all the guitar nerds in the crowd over to the Scène HEAVY stage to get a glimpse at Tosin doing his thing. Animals as Leaders was definitely one of the standouts of the weekend for their uniqueness.
One of the summer’s biggest metal tours made their stop in Montréal on Sunday. The tour features Saint Asonia, Alter Bridge, Breaking Benjamin and Disturbed. Saint Asonia was the creation of Adam Gontier, formally of Three Days Grace and Mike Mushok of Staind. Joining them in Saint Asonia are Corey Lowery on bass and Rich Beddoe on drums. Basically a “supergroup” these guys have been going strong after their formation in 2014 and touring behind their 2015 self-titled release.
Hatebreed also played on Sunday. Many fans may have missed the fact that Hatebreed was at Heavy Montréal because they were a very late addition for Trivium who had to cancel last minute. For a last minute add-on, Hatebreed came to destroy Parc Jean-Drapeau. Ironically, the band opened up with “Destroy Everything” and then immediately went into “Looking Down The Barrel of Today.” The band a total of 4 songs off of The Concrete Confessional which was a heavy hitting album Hatebreed released last May.
Both Blind Guardian and Zakk Wylde drew big crowds on day 2 of Heavy Montréal. Blind Guardian who just played Wacken Open Air in Germany 2 days before coming to Montréal, had the best sound of the weekend. The German power metal band played a 8 song set that featured tracks from 6 different albums. The most popular album of the setlist for Blind Guardian was Nightfall in Middle-Earth. The tracks featured on that album that were played during the set were “Into the Storm,” “Mirror Mirror,” and “Time Stands Still(At The Iron Hill).”
Zakk Wylde was playing for his 3rd time in 3 days. This time just under the name Zakk Wylde, but still with his BLS bandmates on stage with him. The set started out with “Sold My Soul,” which seemed like a 20 minute guitar solo that features Zakk going nuts by playing behind his head and with his teeth. The band played “In This River” which is a Black Label Society song, but this version definitely had a different spin to it. Watching the band transform and play something completely different than the day before was very cool. There probably aren’t many bands out there that can do what Zakk and his Black Label crew could.
Sometime during the late afternoon the rain finally came down. While it started out as a light shower and then stopped, things changed shortly after with a downpour. The rain didn’t last long but from what fans were saying, it was the first time it had ever rained at Heavy Montréal.
As stated earlier, Alter Bridge was in Montréal and ready to show the city what they’re made of. Myles Kennedy and Mark Tremonti together make one of the best guitar combos in rock. Together, with the rest of Alter Bridge, the band puts on an incredible live performance. Myles is one of the best vocalist there are today and the band creates some heavy hitting riffs that are hard to get out of your head once you hear them. Songs like “Come To Life,” “Ties That Bind,” “Isolation” and “Addicted to Pain” are just some of what Alter Bridge played during their short set. The only thing that can be said is that Alter Bridge needs to do a headlining tour and come back to Montréal very soon. With a new album The Last Hero due out on October 7, Alter Bridge fans may very well get that headlining tour they’ve been wanting.
One of the best bands of the day if not the best overall was the mighty Killswitch Engage. The guys in Killswitch Engage squeezed in 11 songs into their short set time and showed every other band over the weekend how it’s done. Guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz lead the charge and opened up the set with “My Curse.” Between songs Dutkiewicz made sure the crowd did not calm down. This was definitely the set to see at Heavy Montréal. The crowd was a constant circle pit with crowd surfers and topless chicks. To sum it all up, the word would be chaos. Vocalist Jesse Leach was quite impressive in his ability to not only cover his original songs, but also some of the songs Howard Jones originally sang on. Songs like “Rose of Sharyn,” “The End of Heartache,” and “Holy Diver” sounded incredible with Jesse back in the band. On top of that, their newest material from Incarnate and Disarm the Descent was absolutely killer live. The mix of fast brutal riffs and energy Killswitch Engage brings to the table makes them a hard act to top for the rest of Heavy Montréal.
The 8th Heavy Montréal was closed out with Breaking Benjamin, Volbeat and Disturbed. Breaking Benjamin has been on the road ever since their release of Dark Before Dawn in 2015. With Benjamin Burnley is the only original member left in the band and he’s done a spectacular job filling the spaces next to him on stage. The reformed Breaking Benjamin sounds awesome together, especially Ben. It’s a pleasure to be able to see Ben back out on the road playing songs such as “So Cold,” “Breath,” “I Will Not Bow” and last but not least “The Diary of Jane.” To add to that, the new material off of Dark Before Dawn is also great live and the crowd in Montréal certainly helped Ben out by singing basically every word alongside with him.
Volbeat, who just released Seal the Deal & Let’s Boogie came out with “The Devil’s Bleeding Crown.” The highlight of their set was performing “Evelyn” with the Barney from Napalm Death. Volbeat who now features a new bass player, Kaspar Boye Larsen and Rob Caggiano on guitar, still puts on a great live show, but the energy on stage was missing that came from their former bass player Anders, who left the band last year. The band was sure to play hits like “Sad Man’s Tongue,” which was introduced with a little “Ring of Fire” intro by Johnny Cash. The crowd was definitely familiar with Volbeat and their love and respect for Johnny Cash. The night for Volbeat ended with “Still Counting” and just about everyone at the festival could be heard singing, “Counting all the assholes in the room,” even the people waiting across the way waiting for Disturbed.
Back from their hiatus and hitting the road after releasing Immortalized, Disturbed has been destroying every arena, amphitheater and festival it can play at. Heavy Montréal was no exception to that statement. Bringing an onslaught of pyro, just like Nightwish did the evening before, David Draiman and the rest of Disturbed were there to show Montréal they were back and meant business. The set opened with “Ten Thousand Fists,” “The Game” and “The Vengeful One.” For a band that took a long break, one would expect them to be rusty and still not be in the swing of things. Not Disturbed, this band is a well oiled machine that shows no signs of slowing down. The biggest surprise was hearing the band play “Land of Confusion,” a song that hasn’t been featured in their setlist often on tour. The band obviously played it’s insanely popular cover of Simon & Garfunkel, “The Sound of Silence.” Just about every cell phone and lighter was in the air for this song and it was a powerful performance to say the least. The night was full of other hits like “Stupify,” “Inside the Fire,” “Stricken,” “Indestructible” and “Voices.” The night and entire weekend came to a close with the song that just about everyone in the world could have predicted, “Down With the Sickness.” This was the perfect ending for a perfect weekend of metal music at Heavy Montréal.
If anyone has thought about going to Montréal for this festival, it’s highly recommended. The city is beautiful, the people are friendly and getting to and from the festival is easy. On top of that, Heavy Montréal is one of the most organized and put together festivals in North America. Look for a lineup announcement coming to NYS Music for Heavy Montréal 2017 early next year.