We arrived in Montreal late in the evening on Friday, August 9th. As we enter the hotel to check-in, I’m immediately greeted by a random guest who enthusiastically asks “Here for Heavy MTL?!” “Yeah,” I say “how did you know?” he shrugs and replies “You just know.“
Yes, we’re in Montreal for Canada’s biggest and best annual heavy metal music festival – Heavy MTL. This two-day festival plays host to roughly 40,000 fans, over 40 bands on three stages, and takes place in Parc Jean-Drapeau on the beautiful Ile Ste-Hélène – an island just off Montreal’s downtown area. The lineup is a mix of old and new metal, and covers multiple sub-genres – there really is something for every metal-lover at Heavy MTL.
Getting to the festival is a breeze – a few subway stops from downtown and you’re there. On day one of the festival, we ride the train with dozens of other metal heads; the excitement is thick. As we exit the subway and come out into the daylight, we hear Lamb of God‘s “Ruin” blasting over loud speakers. We make our way under a giant archway decorated with skeletons, devils, and guitars, and a large sign that reads “Welcome to Heavy MTL.” We have arrived!
Entering the festival grounds, I get the overwhelming feeling that this festival is something very special. The sun is shining, the island is gorgeous, the metal is cranked to 11, and before we even get all the way inside, there’s a guy selling us lemonade with rum or tequila.
We spend our fist half-hour wandering around, orienting ourselves to the festival grounds. The main area consists of two massive stages (side-by-side), multiple food vendors and bars, VIP stadium seating, picnic tables, shade trees, and a large grassy hill that’s perfect for hanging back and taking it all in from afar. Mobile beer boys meander through the crowds and even into the mosh pit, offering libations to thirsty people. And there’s no shortage of pretty girls waiting to throw shots of Jägermeister and energy drinks down your throat. You don’t need drink tickets here – cash at the bar will suffice, and you can take your beverages anywhere – there are no restrictive beer tents. It’s clear the festival organizers want to ensure you have a good time, and that you don’t waste that precious time – because you never have to wait in a line at Heavy MTL. The main stages are set up high, with three jumbo screens, so the viewpoint from anywhere is near prefect.
Off the main area, over a bridge and through the woods, is a third, smaller stage. This area is a little more intimate – there’s a WiFi “chill zone” with Muskoka chairs situated next to a pond, a professional wrestling ring side show, and there’s food and beer over here too, of course. With all the trees, water, pathways, and stages, I can’t help but be reminded of home and I remark that this feels like a “Heavy Hillside“. And that warm communal feeling Hillside is so famous for – I’m immediately getting the same vibe off of Heavy MTL.
The acts on the two main stages flip-flop time slots, so as soon as one band finishes, the next one begins. And while that’s happening, the third stage keeps running too. With so much going on, there are schedules posted throughout the festival grounds, ensuring you don’t miss a thing. The programming is flawless – seemingly like magic, everything runs on time. Heavy MTL also produces a very impressive mobile app each year that contains loads of info.
Over the course of the next two days, these are the bands we were lucky enough to catch: Amon Amarth, At The Gates, Augury, August Burns Red, Baroness, Blackguard, Black Label Society, Children of Bodom, Danzig (with Doyle), Death Lullaby, Device, Finntroll, Godsmack, GWAR, Halestorm, Hellyeah, Huntress, Machine Head, Mastodon, Obey The Brave, Pallbearer, Philip H. Anselmo & the Illegals, Rob Zombie, Steel Panther, and The Acacia Strain – it’s not even close to the complete lineup.
The weekend was full of incredible moments too numerous to write about in-depth here, so here’s a list of just a few of the things we experienced, and some lessons learned:
- Metal heads are really, really nice folks – we met people from as far away as Edmonton and Ohio.
- I saw a troll play keyboards.
- I saw a unicorn in the Pallbearer pit – no really, I swear I saw it!
- GWAR‘s fake blood does not wash off easily.
- Pantera legends Phil Anselmo and Vinnie Paul are currently in damn good bands that everyone needs to check out.
- Amon Amarth was very happy to play for us – I could tell because their lead singer couldn’t stop smiling.
- There’s no such thing as a bad poutine in Montreal.
- Think twice before you inhale something passed to you by an elderly gentleman who looks suspiciously like a cross between George Carlin and Tommy Chong.
- If you jump in the Danzig pit while they’re playing Misfits classics “Skulls” and “Last Caress,” keep an eye out for wayward elbows!
- Potheads are completely incapable of keeping a beach ball going at a concert.
- Give some bands you haven’t heard of a chance – because you may be surprised to find out they put on an amazing live show!
Metal is extreme music for outsiders, and I don’t know if it will ever get the full credit it deserves, but Heavy MTL continues to grow each year as more and more metal heads flock to la belle province. A lot of energy gets burned off at metal shows, and in the whole time we were there, we did not witness a single negative event – no serious injuries, no fights, nobody being jerks – everyone we encountered had a great time, the festival was impeccably run, and the atmosphere was very relaxed.
Master of horror rock, the legendary Rob Zombie was the closing headliner of the festival, and there was no shortage of giant mechanical monsters and robots in his set. This act is really a spectacle. I’ve been to a lot of metal shows, and I will tell you that Rob Zombie shows are some of the funnest – the mosh pit is really more like a raucous dance party.
On the subway ride back to the hotel late Sunday night, the crowd is electrified and erupts in sporadic cheers of “Zombie! Zombie! Zombie!” Rob’s nowhere in sight of course, but I like to think he can feel the love anyway. With each stop, the subway cars empty a few metal heads at a time. As the smiles slowly fade, we replay in our minds all that we had just experienced in the last 48 hours. It was a wild ride! Merci Montreal, we will definitely see you again next year!
Photos from Heavy MTL 2013 Galerie.