Excuse the phrasing, but it is a punk’s game to try to sharply limit music genres these days, especially the many offshoots and sub-categories that shelter under the “heavy metal” umbrella. And that may be the main great thing, among many great things, about the Heavy MTL festival that bludgeoned the city’s Parc des Îles with its third edition July 23-24.

The name of the festival, like the music, is open to interpretation: is it heavy metal, or heavy Montreal, or both? (Answer: C)

And that’s what makes it great. Some bands to play this year, such as punkers Billy Talent (whose lead singer acknowledged the awkward fit), Grimskunk, and even the headliners, KISS, are not generally thought of these days as metal acts. But that’s okay. They’re heavy, they played to receptive audiences numbering 35,000 over two days – and the festival’s setting, its sound and the weekend sun were all sensational.

As KISS’s Paul Stanley humorously growled upon taking the stage on during the beautiful twilight of a Sunday evening beside the St-Lawrence River with downtown Montreal as a backdrop, “We don’t play death metal.”

Another thing: the most well known and popular of these groups are getting a little long in the tooth, and I’m not talking about their fangs. Anthrax has been around since the metal “new wave” of the early 1980s, Motörhead started in 1975 just in time to drive punk in a harder direction, and headliners KISS, well, they’re approaching their 40th anniversary.

That means Motörhead’s Lemmy Kilmeister, at 65 years old, is a bonafide senior citizen, while KISS stalwart Gene Simmons turns 61 later this month. When I was a teenager, I wouldn’t be caught dead paying good money to see geezers that old on a stage. But today? Who cares as long as they can play?

What’s more, the audience reflected that reality. At one point during the KISS set, Paul Stanley asked the parents in the audience to hoist their little ones, and the stage screens picked out infant after infant in KISS makeup – some of these kids were probably being held by their grandparents.

– Lyle Stewart


Let’s be clear. The stage act rocks and is a visual delight. But as far as the music goes, there are two versions of KISS: The songs of the original heyday of 1973-1977, and… everything that came after. I admit, the very first record I bought, at the age of 12, was Love Gun, and so my bias is clear.

Not that the early catalogue is all that great (aside from a few gems such as “Detroit Rock City” and “Rock and Roll All Nite”). But you could tell by the crowd boredom with the schlock rock of the 80s and later that people came to hear the great originals. And they delivered with Firehouse, Deuce, God of Thunder, Black Diamond, and Love Gun – to name but a few that served as a warm up for the two great tracks already mentioned.

It was enough to gloss over the repeated weakness of Paul Stanley’s singing voice, who croaked and choked his way through several songs with Simmons and lead guitarist Tommy Thayer at times taking over midway through to give Stanley’s vocal cords a rest.

My other beef is that you really can recognize faces beneath the makeup. While Thayer is a proficient guitarist and Eric Singer can pound the drums, they aren’t Ace Frehley and Peter Criss. It may be kind of silly to expect authenticity from KISS, but it’s still weird and off-putting to see half of the original line-up represented by obvious imposters. Sorry, but it just ain’t right.

People came to see a spectacle, however. And in this, we weren’t disappointed. Lights, pyro, video, confetti and a full-blown fireworks display to end off a deeply satisfying evening. An evening that also just happened to be my birthday; this concert being a b-day present from the guy who edits this magazine. (Thanks Will!)

– Lyle Stewart


A teenager might (and probably should) grow out of KISS, but Motörhead? They’re forever. I had the Ace of Spades album in my vinyl collection 31 years ago and seeing them at Heavy MTL as heavy, as tight and as raw as this trio was then only reaffirmed my faith.

I don’t pretend to be able to understand most of the lyrics that Lemmy gargles into the mic, but I do understand the way he plays (i.e., strums and pounds, not plucks) his bass as a rhythm guitar. I understand it deep in my belly… and a little lower.

And that’s the intent. This is primal music, but expertly executed.

“Ace of Spades”, still their biggest hit, was great, but there is a reason they ended the show with the track “Overkill,” which predates the Ace. Sorry to say, but KISS will never play a song as powerful and as tight and as hypnotic as this one that these three aging gentlemen stretched longer and longer and longer almost to the breaking point. Don’t go to YouTube to hear it if you’re not already familiar with it; go to a Motörhead concert and hear – and feel – it live. And bring earplugs.

– Lyle Stewart


The memories of my youth stared me in the face and growled with gusto when Anthrax emerged onto the Heavy MTL main stage. They dragged the naked soul of thrash metal behind them and laid it at our feet. The beat ripped into our hearts and made us part of the music. One song stood out for me, and that was “Indians.” Something that is close to Joey Belladonna as along with Italian he has Native American ancestry from Canada. Indians sings about stolen land, pride and tradition, being second-class citizens but delivers the message that we all need to change to leave hate and prejudice behind. It’s a song every First Nations person can relate to. Belladonna may have had a few wrinkles but you wouldn’t have known that seeing him and the rest of the band bouncing around the stage. Never a teaser, Anthrax was always a crowd pleaser.

– Will Nicholls


I have heard this band more than a few times but they really grabbed my attention at Heavy MTL. I took a few photos and then settled back to enjoy their show. Imagine my surprise when Grimskunk’s Joe Evil suddenly dedicated a song to a “real f’ing asshole: Steven Harper.” I was intrigued, as aside from Anthrax (who played later), not many heavy metal bands have an overtly political message in their songs. Evil explained that Grimskunk was a crossover heavy metal band with punk roots.

“We’re more political than your average heavy metal band,” Evil told during a backstage interview. He also said the band even goes outside the metal and punk genre, including playing ska and reggae licks from time to time.

“But we’re from the hardcore school that includes the Sex Pistols and the Dead Kennedys,” he said. “As a result we have a long tradition of anti-government and political lyrics.”

Evil said the original version of the song dealt with American politics, but that has changed. That’s why Grimskunk says Harper sucks as he is a throwback to the Bush era. “He [Harper] looked up to Bush and I have to say I’m a little disappointed in the way Canadians voted, but that’s democracy. Hopefully Harper won’t destroy what this country has done in the past 75 years for women’s rights, gay rights and other social issues,” said Evil.

I listened to them, loved them and hope to see them again. They made my day.

– Will Nicholls

All Shall Perish

If I ever have the faintest desire to conduct Satanic rituals I will invite this group to supply the background music. If by chance the minions of hell don’t answer my, um, prayers, I’ll still feel that the atmosphere was ideal.

– Will Nicholls

Billy Talent

A band that succeeded in winning over an audience. The music was great and couldn’t be touched by the current Metal Madness that is mediocre at best these days. Lead singer Benjamin Kowalewicz had the energy and chops to hold the crowd in the palm of his hand for most of their performance. His continuous demands for the firehose (to either cool the crowd off or to have a truly satisfying pseudo-sexual experience) went largely unheard but no one cared enough to storm the stage and assist him.

I will say Billy Talent was a great experience and one I didn’t expect. Some friends had put them down but I found no substance for those remarks. Never having known Billy Talent before Heavy MTL was both good and bad. Good because I have a new band to get to know and bad because it took me so long to find them. If nothing else, it was an opportunity to discover and enjoy a band is a reason to attend a Heavy MTL weekend.

– Will Nicholls


This Boston-spawned band is infused with the same spirit that prompted their ancestors to toss tea into the city’s famous harbour. Saying they reminded me of past metal greats would be wrong. Godsmack has a sound style uniquely their own and one they have earned through hard work, perseverance and raw talent. They have opened for both Black Sabbath and Metallica in the past. Definitely a band to have a good time with anytime you need a reason to lose your mind to a Heavy MTL beat.

– Will Nicholls

Suicide Silence

Once again the SS proved they were death metal to the max. They pleased the purists in the crowd with their energy and the same fanatic determination that could have inspired the Sioux warriors who attacked the 7th Calvary at Little Big Horn. This mayhem-minded music blew us away. This band woke me up and left me wanting more.

– Will Nicholls

Machine Head

An awesome band that’s considered one of the pioneers of the “new wave of American Heavy Metal.” The movement seems to encompass many styles but is gaining adherents for what many see as a return to heavy metal’s roots. They rocked the crowd and my personal favourite was their track, “The Blood, The Sweat, The Tears.”

– Will Nicholls


This band believes in working hard, rocking harder and kicking as many butts as possible in the process. Their music is evolving, as they don’t follow a corporate model of building on past successes. DevilDriver has worked to make a sound they can call their own and it works. Fans are crazy loyal and love being a part of the journey DevilDriver has embarked upon. This band and their music are never boring and they deliver old favourites as well as something that’s always new.

– Will Nicholls