It’s been a couple of years at least since my last Heavy Montreal (or Heavy MTL, as it was called then), but if the stars were aligned right I’d make it an annual trip. In terms of setting and organization this is one of my favourite festivals, and I’ve never had a less than stellar time here. This year, I think it must have been Faith No More that sold me on the weekend (after I missed out on seeing them in Toronto this spring), but there are plenty of other bands on this line-up to make it worth coming out.
We arrived during the Flatliners set and even had time to pick up an order of fresh watermelon before strolling up to the stage for Gorguts‘ early afternoon performance. The time of day and time spent on stage made this set a touch underwhelming compared to other times I’ve seen the band live in recent years. The fault didn’t lie with the musicians though – their delivery was impressive as ever, bassist Colin Marston and drummer Patrice Hamelin providing the physical energy while guitarists Kevin Hufnagel and (founder) Luc Lemay provide the serious virtuosity.
After Gorguts we made our way over to the smaller stages to check out a late addition to the line-up, Brothers of the Sonic Cloth. I had listened to the band’s doomy debut enough to know what that they do is in line with my tastes but not enough to know their material well. Recalling Brothers’ antecedents in grunge band Tad, their relatively low-key performance wasn’t surprising but it was impressive. They weren’t flashy, but the band is persuasive, confident, and with some friendly French-language banter from the drum kit, likeable as well.
We took it easy for a while after that, getting a taste of Beyond Creation, Revocation and Cattle Decapitation – mostly saving our energy for Arch Enemy. This was my first time seeing the band with frontwoman Alissa White-Gluz, or Jeff Loomis for that matter. Off to the side the sound was a little muddy, mostly bass drums, but once we moved back from the crowded front the mix came through clearer. What was most obvious though is the fact that White-Gluz owns the stage, making Arch Enemy one of the day’s highlights instead of just another name on the schedule. (It was also a great time to pick up some vegan poutine from one of the many food trucks set up on the fest grounds).
Extreme, up next on the main stages, were in fine form, though for me it was more the nostalgia trip than a deep appreciation for their music that secured my attention. The band members still have plenty of skill, but I think the detail that most won my respect was the moment when Nuno Bettencourt declared that they’d be playing the acoustic love ballad “More Than Words” because it’s who they are and being true to who you are is a truly heavy metal thing. (He then spoiled it by attributing that ethos to all music genres, but oh well.)
From Extreme we drifted over to catch some of Veil of Maya’s performance, and then some Meshuggah, before getting in place for Alexisonfire. It amuses me to recall that only five years ago or so I saw Alexisonfire play the same stage early in the afternoon with only a small crowd in attentive attendance. This time the space was packed with screaming, dancing, singing along fans – no small thanks, I imagine, to Dallas Green’s success in other projects and the excitement that comes with any anticipated reunion. They were good then and that hasn’t changed, but now they seem to draw extra energy from their fans’ appreciation.
In the spirit of conserving my own energy I made Neurosis my last performance of the night. The way the band was framed by the purple and blue lighting – shining up from the stage and pointing down from above – made it look like they were summoning an alien craft down for landing. But their performance was earthy and primal, raw emotion and atmosphere culminating in a climactic rhythmic multi-drummer finale.
And now on to Day 2…
* Neurosis photos by Eva Blue and Gorguts and Alexisonfire photos by Tim Snow courtesy of Heavy Montreal.