I’ve never been into metal as a musical genre or as a subculture. I always thought it was too loud, too unintelligible, too male. My heartbeat speeds up with punk rock’s loud, fast and snotty-dressings, where I could hear the words and understand the resentment. That’s probably why metal never resonated with me in the same way, the music always across as screeching, growling musical temper tantrums that I couldn’t relate to.
So maybe I wasn’t the obvious choice to visit Heavy Montreal, the newly rebranded metal festival. Previously, under the name Heavy Mtl, it was strictly all metal all the time. This year, alongside metal acts such as Abbath, Korn, Slipknot, The Devon Townsend Project and Bullet For My Valentine, there was also Iggy Pop, NOFX and Marky Ramone with Andrew WK.
I went to the festival with a metal-loving friend in tow–Megan has been part of the scene for fifteen years and offered to be my Heavy Metal Yoda. On the yellow line between Berri and Jeanne-Mance station, it was very clear who was attending the festival on Parc Jean Drapeau. The train was full of shaggy dudes and hair-dyed women in clearly-loved black band T-shirts, clustered in enthusiastic groups. One man was draped in a bear pelt and dressed in the Nordic Beserker outfit to match. Tattoos and piercings were standard.
The first act we watched was Abbath, the new project by Immortal’s Olve Eikemo. A Black Metal band from Norway, they look like Kiss still in makeup after a 4-day bender during which they discovered Satanism. The band is basically how I’d pictured all metal shows by all metal bands. Faces painted with white and black “Corpse Paint,” these Norwegians are the prototypical Black Metal band–black leather from their boots up, upside down crosses, long hair and a drummer wearing a demon mask. Eikemo snarled and roared in a way that made me hope he had throat lozenges on hand for after the show. The crowd went crazy for them; at the end of each song, the audience chanted their name and raised their hands in unison for the devil horn salute.
“It’s a sign of respect,” my blond Yoda explained. “Sort of the metal version of the three-finger salute from The Hunger Games.”
And the metal heads gave of it freely–during each show I attended, the long-haired masses sent out their devil-horn-shaped love.
I asked Megan about the scene in Montreal. “Very inclusive. The only criterion is just to be into the music. Once you’ve proven yourself as a worthy freak, you’re in.”
It was easy to believe, watching the devoted crowd as they sang along to hard-to-make-out words and, in the case of The Devon Townsend Project’s show, waved puppets in the air. At varying times over the two days I was there, I saw people dressed as demons, pirates, Slipknot members and the devil. There is a sense of humour about the scene. Many of the bands know they are giving an angry, slightly silly show and that gives the whole scene as undercurrent of wit. Devon Townsend introduced his Intellectual-Metal band with a proud “Welcome to the nerdiest part of the festival!” before launching into a loud, hard track.
It was a great weekend and I met and saw some very interesting characters. I didn’t feel judged, despite my clear non-metal-ness, and I would happily go again.
On our way to leave at the end of the night, Megan and I met Abbath’s session guitarist Per Valla. His face paint scrubbed, he had kind eyes and was quick to banter about weather extremes, costumes and travel. Right before we parted he told us unexpectedly, “I feel like in a different world, we could be real friends who watch movies.”
There I had it. Underneath all that makeup, we’re all basically just people who want to watch movies with friends.