Photo Essay: Heavy MTL throws down the gauntlet with its third installment and jumps on the path to festival domination

At the risk of taking away from any of the potential suspense that usually surrounds a review, with a line-up that included Motörhead, Anthrax, Billy Talent and KISS, it’s hard to imagine how Heavy MTL could have possibly gone wrong. And they didn’t.

From the moment the official schedule was released, it was obvious that Evenko was pulling out all the stops they could to make the third edition of Heavy MTL the best one to date. If the organizers’ hope was to continue on the path to establishing Heavy MTL as one of the most respected and unique rock/metal festivals in North America, they certainly contributed positively to their goal this year. Although, I must say, debuting a Heavy T.O. on the very same weekend, with many of the same bands on the bill, seemed strange. Why would you want to take a chunk of the annual crowd that would drive in from Ontario away from Heavy MTL?

But other than this, and one more change that occurred this year, which I’ll talk about later, Heavy MTL was, as a whole, a weekend of unbelievable music, head banging, moshing and all-around great moments.

Montreal may be known for its mind-numbingly cold winters, but the great forces in charge of weather sure must love their metal because the Heavy MTL weekend was filled with nothing but (lots of) sun and sweat.

Bracing the Sahara-like elements on Day 1, festival-goers were rewarded with the likes of Trivium, In Flames, Billy Talent, Godsmack and, to close the shenanigans on the first night, Disturbed. A fitting choice, as far as I saw it, since the band has announced an indefinite hiatus and this allowed all Disturbed fans to see them tearing up the stage one last time before disappearing for who knows how long.

Having never seen Billy Talent live before, I have to say I was impressed not just with the band’s performance (frontman Ben Kowalewicz is like a wild animal that’s just been freed from its cage and fed about forty tonnes of sugar) but also with their perseverance through technical difficulties. Following the fall of their banner, Billy Talent got on stage and started their set right on time, only to find that lead singer Ben’s mic wasn’t turned up, even though he was singing his ass off. But no worries, nothing but professionals here, Billy Talent kept on roaring straight through until all problems were left in the dust and the band was able to serve up a get-your-ass-moving performance.

A number of memorable moments filled the day, but the greatest one of them all, at least for me, was the discovery of Sweden’s In Flames. Yes, I now know they’ve actually got ten records behind them and that means I’ve been out of the loop for a tad too long, but I’m glad as hell that I was finally introduced to the wonders of In Flames. Their melodic take on metal combined with an unrivaled stage presence did it for me and I can’t wait to study up and educate myself about In Flames’ entire back catalog, and everything that’s to come from the band that took me by surprise, grabbed me and now refuses to let go.

Day 2 was definitely the day to beat, kicking off with Montreal’s Endast – take my word for it when I say they’re the local band to watch out for – and leading into a killer night of Anthrax, Motörhead and KISS.

These musical legends have been around for decades and all three gave the new generation of bands performing at Heavy MTL a serious run for their money. They haven’t lost the slightest bit of badass over the years and their live shows were impeccable, musically and on a pure performance basis. Having all three in one night didn’t allow for much of anything else, including blinking, as missing a moment could mean the difference between witnessing a piece of history being made and losing out, then having to listen to all your friends telling you about the magic you missed while you hang your head in shame.

Towards the end of the second day there were, as expected, KISS haters who walked around putting their opinions out into the universe even though nobody asked, and no one really cared, but that couldn’t ruin it for the mass crowd that gathered to see the legendary band’s almost two-hour set. They brought all the costumes, blood and pyro you would expect and they left nothing out – why should the rules be different for festival shows vs. arena shows? They even capped off the night, and the weekend’s festivities, with fireworks. Now, back to the question I posed at the very start of this review – how could Heavy MTL possibly have gone wrong?

With nearly 33,000 fans attending the weekend-long festival, there’s no question that Heavy MTL was a great success, despite some small negatives, which included having a third stage off in the woods, quite far from the main stages. Although this is customary for the Osheaga festival, it had never before been done at Heavy MTL and if you ask me – it didn’t do much service to anyone.

With only two stages (like in years past) anyone who hung around the grounds got to see everyone on the bill without any effort, as the bands alternated between two side-by-side stages with no wasteful breaks in between. With this kind of set up, whether fans were in the front row watching intently or sitting on the hill enjoying a beer, they got to enjoy all of the festival’s music without any regrets. Not so this time around.

This year’s new third stage took some effort getting to and not only meant missing main stage bands but also wasting time in moving back and forth between the two areas. Decisions are rarely fun and these certainly weren’t; what do you do when two bands you want to see are on at the same time? The addition just seemed to complicate everyone’s life and although it did allow for more bands to play the festival, which is always a positive thing, I’m just not sold on the concept. Sorry.

But going back to the positive, Heavy MTL is the only place I can imagine seeing Anthrax, Motörhead and KISS within the span of a few hours and if the festival’s organizers keep things movin’ along nicely on this exciting track, I can’t wait to see what they’ll serve up next year. And in two years. And in five.

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(All Photos: Barbara Pavone)