Heavy Montréal: Impressions, Expressions, and Things in Between (Day 1 of 2)

(CONTENT WARNING: Explicit language in a few spots)

As a neophyte both to the festival and most of the artists involved, I got lost in the music, which is high praise.
Each day is listed in the order that the bands performed.

Day 1: July 27, 2019

Devin Townsend
(Progressive metal, Canada)

Photo: Benoit Rousseau

Playing an acoustic set at a metal festival, he kicked off with a question: “Montreal, are you ready to fucking suck?”
There was no suckage, but repeated jokes at the expense of metalheads not being good with emotional management or relationships, and a handful of pissing jokes at the sprinklers being turned on the audience. Considering how much of Devin Townsend’s career involves confusing the hell out of people as a default, this show was accessible while maintaining his signature goofiness: “Yet another existential crisis put to music!”
Introducing Ziltoid-era material by describing the character as a personification of his id as a hand puppet, and the announced stage directions for those songs, including the costumes of imagined choruses and their desired effects on the audiences, had me seriously wondering if or when he’s gotten into audiobooks yet, as that would be a riot.
As a guitarist, Townsend is already hailed as excellent. As a vocalist, this set really let his range soar, from harsh to clean and the murkiness in between. I found his vocal technique and elocution a pleasure to the ears. Though if I had to pick one moment to sum up the essence of the set, getting a circle pit going to “Baby Shark” sums up the friendly weirdness that Townsend brings to metal.


(Comedic, melodic death metal, USA)

Photo: Pierre Bourgault

Any band that announces songs titled “Bears” and “We Need A Gimmick” is one that knows their limits between the extremes of taking themselves too seriously and being completely irreverrent. I was recommended this band at a friend’s enthusiasm on seeing them in the lineup, and I’m glad I followed that along!


Rivers of Nihil
(Progressive metal, USA)

Photo: Pierre Bourgault

After hearing “Where Owls Know My Name”, I was curious to see how that music translated to the stage. They’re straightforward in how much they get into the music. Headbanging and thrashing about, the audience can’t help getting into the music with them. I nearly went into the pit for this one.


Steel Panther
(Comedic glam metal, USA)

Photo: Pat Beaudry

Serious technicality and musicality embodying the worst excesses of 1980s metal, played so firmly tongue in cheek that lockjaw seems imminent. Their newest single “All I Wanna Do Is Fuck (Myself Tonight)” captures self-love at its most…extreme, but also manages to be a tamer side of the band. Paradoxical.


(Hard rock, USA)

Photo: Tim Snow

A more radio-friendly sound where hard rock meets power metal. They’re fast, loud, and appealing.


(Gothic rock, USA)

Photo: Pat Beaudry

I didn’t recognize much beyond “Going Under” and the many-memed song “Bring Me to Life”, but I am glad to say that they have won me over. Amy Lee is a compelling vocalist, and the instrumentals do well to support and counterpoint her voice rather than overpower it.


(Hard progressive rock, Sweden)

Photo: Tim Snow

This was easily the band I was most familiar with, and they did not disappoint. Tobias Forge has created several characters in the band’s time, and Cardinal Copia has clearly become the role of dad jokes, which, when blended with the Satanic cult gimmick, adds to the humour. Striding powerfully across the stage amidst the Nameless Ghouls’ instrumental wizardry, he led thousands in a black mass of music. Apparently a fireworks show was playing across the river, and the timing synchronized unexpectedly well with the concert. (I was so focused on the stage antics and singing along to the songs that I didn’t notice the skies ablaze.)


So concluded Day 1, with spontaneous singing of “Square Hammer” raucously ringing through the Parc Jean-Drapeau metro station as the festival-goers were ushered out. (Due to a loudness curfew from neighboring residential areas, the sets end by 11PM and the audiences are encouraged to get out ASAP.)

Day 2 was yet to come.

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