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'Hell is Empty, and All the Devils are Here': Heavy MTL

Posted by Stefan / June 22, 2008

IRON MAIDEN HOLY CRAP.jpg Not pictured: Puzzled Francophones wondering if Maiden knows St Jean is around the corner.

With the benefits afforded by hindsight, I now concede that my decision to wear a bright blue shirt to Heavy MTL was, at best, amateurish. Author of my own conspicuousness, I can only blame myself for the glares, sneers, and puzzled looks I elicited from the black-clad masses. On the plus side, I outfitted thousands of perennial outsiders with a fleeting brush with the psychology of their erstwhile oppressors. There I stood, alone and vulnerable as they contemplated what to do with me. Aware of the heavy metal set’s fetishization of all things sacrificial, I decided to keep moving when the first packet of relish was lobbed in my (albeit general) direction.

The audience consisted mostly of youthful ne’er-do-wells, adolescent outcasts, aging bikers, and at least one eminent historian of the ancient world (guess which one!). Overwhelmingly white, male, and given to forming makeshift devil horns with their tattooed fingers, they yelled, stomped, drank, and caroused themselves into a reckless frenzy. Like Warped Tour for people who never match pink with black, Heavy MTL is a holistic assault on the senses, with overpriced water and hot dogs, to boot.

I spent the first half of the day in the grass outside the festival, watching confused passer-bys furrow their brows as profoundly unmelodic thrash-metal filled the summer air. I’ll confess to not being properly equipped to comment on the relative merits of most performers, but I will say this: Hatebreed lived up to their name. While I couldn’t make out what front man Jamey Jasta was roaring into the microphone, I suspect it wasn’t a panegyric to happiness.

Heavy Mtl three shirts.jpg "Do you like Maiden, too?"

That being said, the crowd was ecstatic and the technical virtuosity of just about every band was not lost on me. While metal heads are not known for their sociability or propensity to express glee, I saw legions of happy fans delighted to be so firmly amongst their own. There I stood, transfixed by their Bambi-eyes as a band called Dethklok pneumatically sputtered “Anger! Mermaid! Murder!”, accompanied by graphic cartoon images and drums ceremonial enough to stymie the harshest drought. Contemplating the unhappy course of events which no-doubt precipitated the poor mermaid’s somber demise, I decided that my ability to relate to the song's delicate sentiments is certainly no prerequisite for its validity.

While Pitchfork darlings Mastodon delighted the crowd, the first day’s highlight was certainly Iron Maiden’s headlining performance. Between thoroughbred gallops (with manes a flowin’!) and politically sensitive crowd-rousers (“Scream for me Canada! Scream for me les Québécois!”), these legendary veterans looked and sounded exactly like my long-since evaporated teenage imagination would have wanted. Despite all their strange, mystical costumes and props which appeared to be lifted from the set of the latest Indian Jones sequel, their artifice proved convincing. I stood and watched the band own the stage, marveling at their accessibility and appreciative of their worldly advice (“what not to do if a bird shits on your head”). You may have heard it intimated once or twice before, but indulge me as I confirm the lingering rumours: Maiden rules.

out of our element-ish.jpgI spent all morning stapling a cat to Chase's face.

Ultimately, the idea of a heavy metal festival remains somewhat paradoxical to me. Famously fragmented, the metal community is both nebulous and carefully circumscribed; it’s a lot easier to say what metal isn’t than to attempt a proper definition. Or, put another way, “ask two metal heads, get three opinions.” I can well imagine the Symphony X set in a huff about the inclusion of Three Days Grace in the lineup, and have heard mutterings about glaring omissions among the acts.

While no genre could achieve breadth and consistency over two long days in Jean Drapeau park, few others could be so torn by diversity. But what those of us outside metal’s alluring sphere seem not to understand is that the passion which makes metal so inaccessible is precisely that which captivates its audience. There is no time for half-way done, no patience for compromise in integrity or sound. O brave new world, that hath such guitar riffs in’t!

all the devils are here.jpg The Director of Hatcheries sends his love.

Photos by Chase Moser.
Special thanks to Erik K.



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