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HEAVY MONTREAL 2019 [part 1 of 2]: A Black Saturday with Ghost, Watain and Municipal Waste (and more)

Sunday, August 25, 2019 | Review

By Kristof G.

This 10th edition marked the return of the Heavy Montreal festival on the newly renovated, original site, where it all began in 2008 (Mötley Crüe and Iron Maiden headlined). This luxurious green setting, by the St. Laurence River in Montreal, QC, is out of this world. This year’s edition in numbers: 1 island, 2 sunny and hot-as-hell days (July 27-28), 4 scenes, over 50 bands, tens of thousands of sweaty and smiling metalheads.

Disclaimer: this review will be focused on the most horror-inspired metal performances – like Ghost, Slayer, Anthrax and Cattle Decapitation – for the benefit of Rue Morgue’s readership. So, no Fever 333 (they were apparently the craziest of the fest), no Steel Panther (glammy!), no Devin Townsend (the frontman of defunct powerhouse Strapping Young Lad, played an acoustic solo set in the Forest) or any other non-scary stuff. Plus, hard choices had to be made, like in every other festival – like choosing to shoot Cardinal Copia over Dying Fetus. See you in the pit (of hell).

On the Apocalypse stage (one of the main ones), Galactic Empire kicked off the hostilities with, as you could guess, Star Wars metallized covers, in full cosplay regalia. Probably to avoid being sued by Disney, the mask designs were slightly different from the original SW characters (Darth Vador on lead guitar, Boba Fett on drums, a Stormtrooper on bass and a Red Guard on second guitar).

Nobody cared, since it was a lot a fun to hear all those familiar melodies sped/beefed up. Scary or heroic themes interpreted the dark side way, while musicians were melting under their shadowy costumes (poor lads), fun times.

Filling in for Metal Church (who had to cancel their performance at the 11th hour), local four-piece Anonymus was on the same stage a little later. They may sing exclusively in French, but they have been perfecting their tight thrash metal for more than three decades now.

In front of a bloody skinned Vitruvian man (the backdrop artwork and cover art of their latest record Sacrifices, 2019), the Souto brothers – Oscar and Daniel, on bass/vox and guitar, respectively –, drummer Carlos Araya (unrelated to Slayer’s singer) and bearded guitarist Jeff Fortin, blasted their way through their 5-song set, leaving the crowd smiling and sweating under the heavy sun.

Another performer who probably struggled in the heat was that goblin character from Nekrogoblikon. While we initially assumed he was the singer, that green, hairy dude was actually the band’s mascot, throwing horns and posing for the crowd every couple of songs. Their groovy and borderline death metal, with funny, catchy choruses à la Andrew W.K., was perfect for the festival setting, especially on the tree-surrounded Garden stage. Just like in Troll 2. HAHA.

This writer had to miss a couple of great performances (Hatebreed, Cancer Bats, The Faceless) to sit down with a trio of Municipal Waste dudes (drummer Dave Witte, guitarist Ryan Waste and singer Tony Foresta), as well as the leader of Ghost, Tobias Forge. Look forward to read exclusive Sinister Seven interviews here soon. 

While Steel Panther was glamorizing the Apocalypse stage, the Municipal Waste boys were thrashing like maniacs from 1987, on the Forest one.

They played fast and corrosive joints, mainly from Hazardous Mutation (their first album, released in 2005), their 2007 classic, The Art of Partying, and their most recent LP, Slime and Punishment (2017). Solid, tight blasts of thrash, exactly what we needed. One of the best concerts of this year’s fest.

They even played a new song, Wave of Death, after inviting their fans not to do a wall of death like everybody else, but to bodysurf their way to the front gates, during the whole song. The only thing missing was a couple of bottles of Tenafly Viper from Street Thrash (or not).

Of course, anyone familiar with the almighty Cattle Decapitation’s tech-death/grind knew they were to melt most faces from the Garden stage, also located in the woods. And they did just that.

Growler-in-chief, Travis Ryan, has one of those insane voices, going from pig squeals to guttural screams to witchy shrieks to some melodic shouts. This singer can do it all. Always impressive. The Gore-Met would’ve loved it (R.I.P. Andrew Bailes).

Watain was up next, in the Forest, to wreak havoc. We kid you not. Dude, after lighting their inverted iron cross candelabras, singer Erik Danielsson threw his flaming torch IN THE CROWD, FER CRISSAKE! Fortunately, security retrieved it before anyone was injured.

These Swedish black metal dudes are basically the embodiment of evil. Did you know they used to wear real blood encrusted clothes and to have actual dead pig heads impaled on stage? Plus, their corpse paints are really gnarly. More than two decades of mayhem.

Unfortunately had to miss death metal stalwarts Dying Fetus to go shoot Ghost. And God, did they not disappoint. Of course, you have to be a shock rock aficionado to appreciate what Ghost is about. This ain’t no satanic black metal band: their occult metal is closer to doom and hard rock than Scandinavian church burning music, that’s for sure. It’s all about theatrics: with costumes, masks and an impressive stage set up, that included altar-like stairs, platforms and colorful faux stain glass backdrops.

This is Cardinal Copia’s show, people. Front and center! Much more dynamic and mobile than his Papa predecessors – those personas were ‘ancients’ – even if, we all now know it has always been singer Tobias Forge (Repugnant, Crashdiet) under all those masks and robes – and in interviews as well, apparently.

Live, his backing band, formed by nameless ghouls and ghoulettes, is efficient. The masked musicians add more mystery to the act, behind their expressionless silver faces. Including the beloved singer, they can be as many as nine people on stage (one bassist, one drummer, a trio of guitarists, and a couple of ladies on keys and backing vocals), if we include Papa Nihil.

His turn on Miasma (from last year’s Prequelle), for a fun saxophone solo, is a hoot, while the keys riffs are so good, kinda like a Goblin power ballad or something.

Sure, Ghost can be cheesy and pop as hell, like in Dance Macabre (“Wanna bewitch you in the moonlight, all night”, sings Cardinal Copia, in his tight, tight scarlet pants). But who cares, since legions of fans were cheering to it à l’unisson, while headbanging and actually dancing… in the moonlight. Eerie.

If you caught the band during their first North-American tour back in 2012 (13 Dates of Doom), you could tell it was gonna be huge. From the get go, Ghost was meant to play in arenas and festivals. Today, with this Cardinal incarnation, Forge allows himself to be less static, running around on stage, up and down on the different platforms with grace.

The only complaint would be the talking. Goddamn, what a chatterbox the Cardinal can be. With less blah-blah, we could have had a few more songs. Instead, they did half of Prequelle and Meliora (2016), plus a handful of others songs – including classic Ritual (Opus Eponymus, 2010), whose riff always reminded this writer of Megadeth’s Symphony of Destruction. Which isn’t a bad thing.

This ecclesiastic communion with the new poster boy of metal was a fun one, filled with banging riffs, smiles and singalongs.

To be continued…