Monday, July 25, 2011

Heavy MTL: None More Black, None More Devoted

  By Mark Lepage, The Gazette/Photo:BRYANNA BRADLEY

MONTREAL - Moshed potatoes for 35,000, anyone?

Two days and nights, 39 bands, enough volume and weight to shift a tectonic plate. Knobs at 11? 12. Heavy MTL.

And when Kiss followed Motorhead’s customarily essential set, setting off their own Fireworks Competition display last night, one had to admit, this is the ideal one-stop-shopping outing to stock up on a year’s worth of metal.

Sunday night, Heavy MTL got the headliner it deserved and needed – not the purest of the death metalloids, but the showbizzers who prove more than any that the “bastard child of rock’n’roll” is multigenerational. When Paul Stanley screeched “Hold up your little ones!” between Firehouse and Deuce, and many parents hoisted kids in Kiss make-up, you realized Kiss reminds you of the pointlessness of Broadway. This is Broadway, the hard/real way: the demon/loverman/space-case/cat costumed finery, the spectacle, and a vilified songbook that still kills anything in Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark. A huge crowd, who’d shifted over after Motorhead’s irreducible Ace of Spades and Overkill to cram the left side of the park, roared at the fire-pillars, and throughout a comprehensive set that reminds even the least devoted in the audience that Kiss has now been an entry point to rock’n’roll for 40 (!) years of wasted youth.

Step back from the star power, and Heavy MTL was nothing if not comprehensive, a State of the Metal. There were convenient duels, set up as bands followed one another’s sets on the adjacent Heavy and Jagermeister stages. You’d think Bay area thrashmasters Death Angel had claimed the thorny crown for best early performers on Day 1, until Cali deathcore band Suicide Silence resoundingly erased that notion. The first band of the day apparently motivated by genuine ill will, they featured singer Mitch Lucker, whose blackmetal screech could slice flesh.

There were speedmetal legends and members in good standing of the Big 4, Anthrax, who raced through Madhouse, Antisocial and Indians, but couldn’t top Diamond Head, who were ramshackle by comparison but delivered Helpless and Am I Evil? to a clutch of fans who will get to brag of it.

There was Montreal’s Grimskunk, standing out from the crowd at a festival fetishizing speed/power/volume, with singer/rhythm guitarist Franz Schuller and band cycling through a globo-whirl of sounds: speedy chug-punk, gypsy thrash, world-metal, trilingual vocals. You still got your velocity, your metal and mosh, but you got out a little more.

On the downside, there was the pointlessness of Godsmack and its Roomba drum-kit dueling solos through covers of Back in Black, War Pig, Creeping Death and… bloody Aqualung, to no apparent point that this reviewer could imagine in a one hour set. There was a severely miscast Billy Talent, with singer Ben Kowalewicz admitting “Obviously, we are not a metal band.”

As festivals go, there is None More Black – everyone wore it, even a bypassing preggo! Those not wearing black were wearing red – survivors of circle-pits and Walls of Death, not one of whom cleaned off the blood from shallow head wounds, letting it cake in the fierce July sun for fiercely tribal reasons.

There you go: tribe. Metal bands are like porn stars – stray away from the light of day and civil society, and you’re amazed by how many of them there are, and how good they are at their defamed, cathartic and eternally popular evil craft. And how passionate. You traipse through the beer cups and the broken mirror-shards of sub-genres, alt-death and black here, speed/thrash and neo-classical shred there. The fans are reliably, communally “violent” in the moshpit, civil without. You didn’t see a single fight over the two days and nights, just a sea of t-shirts with F-words. Sports fans could learn a thing or two from these miscreants.

Add this to the tribe: girls. Not many bands, of course – just the one, Girlschool, who (despite the name) have never played the gender card, and certainly didn’t under the July MTL sunshine, just riffing delightedly through a surprising number of recognizable songs – Yeah Right, Future Flash, Race with the Devil, Emergency – for a justified ovation. But fans, thousands of them, as devoted as all but the most crazed male black metalheads. Check the amazing photo by Gazette shooter John Kenney of the girl who became a media sensation: bleeding from the eyebrow in the Trivium pit, she turned down medical attention and refused to leave her “post.” I didn’t quite know what this signified – that girls can be as wrongheadedly tough, or foolish, as boys? And then it settled: in that specific moment, she was just another metal fan. This is no feminist advocacy, here, not a call for the pit to be any less testosteronal, just for it to be inclusive. Apparently it was.

Still a boy’s game, but watching Kiss, and their crowd, it was boys in make-up. Sorry mom, the mob has spoken.