It goes without saying that the province of Quebec is one of North America’s strongest metal markets. Why Canada’s French heartland is so metal-infused is a topic of endless sociological speculation, but this is certain: the Quebec metal scene is a highly organized force that has achieved much, both musically and in business terms, during its 25 year existence. Quebec is unique in its ability to create, support and promote metal - the province has its own metal media and retail, as well as an impressive roster of bands, labels, and promoters, all of which come together at the fan level to create metal fervour in this continent’s most European-inspired area.
As mentioned above, the Quebec scene is now 25 years old. To commemorate the scene’s entrance into the quarter century club, former Voivod manager Maurice Richard organized the supremely professional and extremely well put together 25 Years Of Quebec Metal three-day festival that took place on August 31, September 1, and September 2 at Club Soda in Montreal. The festival impressively received mainstream coverage prior to the event, with pieces on the anniversary festivities making their way onto the television screen via the CBC and its French equivalent Radio-Canada, as well receiving ink in major Montreal French language newspapers such as Le Journal De Montréal and La Presse.
Each night of the festival was themed, with Night 1 being a celebration of the Quebec ‘90s scene, Night 2 paying homage to Quebec’s ‘80s thrash past (and also inducting Voivod’s Denis “Piggy” D’Amour into the Quebec Metal Hall of Fame), and Night 3 embracing a small sample of Quebec’s current underground. Furthermore, eight of the 12 bands on the bill reunited specifically for the festival, making it a truly distinct event.
In case you’re wondering, the Quebec metal scene is 25 years old in 2007 based on the fact that Voivod formed in 1982. That band evidently jump-started the Quebec metal landscape and paved the way for pretty much everyone else to follow.
NIGHT 1 – AUGUST 31
Night 1 began with a bang as 700 people filled Club Soda to near sell-out capacity, the event drawing industry folks, musicians of all stripes and, of course, rabid metal fans.
Montreal’s Agony got the party started with its death assault, the audience witnessing the group’s first performance since 2000. Demence, also from Montreal, then hit the stage and brought a technical-death-by-way-of-thrash attack that recalls the first wave of Quebec’s signature sound, technical death metal.
After the initial two groups, Night 1 hit a light-hearted note as the festival’s air guitar competition began. Three finalists were chosen beforehand to perform their air guitar routines, and these air guitar virtuosos did not disappoint: they were seriously talented at their craft. After a hard fought battle Louise “Lou” Gerard, former editor of now inactive Quebec institution Sang Frais, took the prize after performing Martyr’s ‘Carpe Diem’. She was presented with an impressive plaque carved by none other than ex-Gorguts/current Negativa guitar player and vocalist Luc Lemay.
It was then back to the bands as Necrotic Mutation, from the Rimouski region, hit the lights for a cool overview of its fun, death catalogue. Lead singer Sebastien Croteau was brought on stage in a straight-jacket by two mock nurses, and as the band began it was clear the group was in its usual fine form. Half-way through Necrotic Mutation’s set, Croteau performed his patented death metal vocal warm-up routine and encouraged the crowd to join him for this classic Quebec favourite (which brought on some nostalgia for this scribe).
As one of Quebec’s biggest metal bands during the ‘90s, Obliveon’s reunion was a hotly anticipated event. Pierre Remillard (yup, producer extraordinaire Pierre Remillard was in Obliveon before his days behind the mixing board for the likes of Cryptopsy, Despised Icon, Misery Index and Krisiun) and crew did not disappoint, bringing out technical death classics from Nemesis and From This Day Forward while also playing its high energy Cybervoid and Carnivore Mouthermouth material (all recently reissued on Prodisk), with the highlight being the amazing ‘Such A Quiet River’. In what was undoubtedly the most unique metal moment I’ve ever witnessed, Obliveon vocalist Bruno Bernier asked the fans on the floor to crowd-surf his six-year-old son to the stage so the venue could sing the tyke happy birthday. After a warm ‘Bonne Fete’ (‘Happy Birthday’) from the entire crowd, the little guy was crowd-surfed back to the safety of family. Obliveon then got back to business, and Night 1 ended on a festive note.
NIGHT 2 – SEPTEMBER 1
From the first strains of The Affected, it was clear that Night 2 was about one thing and one thing alone: ‘80s thrash. The Affected gave way to Quebec City’s Damnation, a noisy old school death-thrash beast that pierced even my earplug-clad eardrums.
After Damnation’s set, Night 2’s most reflective moment was among us as late Voivod guitarist Piggy was inducted into the Quebec Metal Hall Of Fame. The induction was preceded by a video montage that paid tribute to Piggy, and an elegant banner marking his induction was then hoisted to the venue’s rafters. All the while, one of Piggy’s home-made guitars was also on display (Voivod vocalist Denis “Snake” Belanger was later to mention that Piggy’s motto, when it came to his guitars, was ‘Build your weapons!’).
Touching remarks about Piggy’s life were subsequently delivered to the crowd by the aforementioned Maurice Richard, Steeve Hurdle (Negativa/ex-Gorguts), Ian Campbell (Descend Into Nothingness/ex-Neuraxis), and Snake. Each speech was unique, with Richard bringing out a written interview Piggy had conducted circa Voivod’s debut, Hurdle reflecting on being a Voivod fan and meeting Piggy, Campbell discussing the significance of the famed ‘Piggy Chord’ (which has no doubt baffled guitarists for years) and Snake sharing his fondest memories of his fellow warrior of ice.
A surprise, unannounced performance then began, with a supergroup including Martyr mainman Daniel Mongrain and ex-Voivod bassist Jean-Yves “Blacky” Theriault playing a spirited medley of Voivod classics.
After the Voivod medley ended, Snake and Voivod drummer Michel “Away” Langevin joined Blacky on stage. Piggy’s family and his girlfriend also came out on to the stage. An emotional Snake folded the hall of fame induction banner along with Blacky and presented it to the D’Amour family.
The induction was a classy and moving affair that justly gave praise to one of metal’s most innovative figures. Piggy, surely, is greatly missed by many. His influence on the Quebec, Canadian and global metal scenes is incalculable.
After Piggy’s induction, the sombre yet energized crowd rushed to the front of the venue for Quebec City’s classic Soothsayer. While Soothsayer hasn’t played a show since 1990 and has only a demo tape (entitled To Be A Real Terrorist, newly re-released on Galy Records) and one LP to its name, the band put on a remarkable display, the group’s sound being equal parts thrash, Venom-esque lo-fi and hardcore a la DRI. Back in the day, Soothsayer was as revered alongside Toronto classics Sacrifice and Slaughter (NOT the Las Vegas glam band!), and Sacrifice’s Rob Urbinati was even known to be a big Soothsayer fan, and rightly so. Hopefully Soothsayer will play a few more shows (if not plot a full-scale comeback), because this collective is the real deal.
Montreal’s DBC had the difficult task of following Soothsayer. DBC has recently had a resurgence in popularity due to its track ‘The Genesis Explosion’ being featured in a cell phone television commercial (!), and the appreciative crowd responded with renewed interest. DBC are grizzled scene veterans, and the group’s professionalism was noted alongside its crossover material that earned the band a contract with the legendary Combat Records during the mid-late ‘80s.
NIGHT 3 – SEPTEMBER 2
The third show in three days was truly a case of no rest for the wicked. Night 3’s theme was contemporary Quebec metal, and Rouyn-Noranda’s Descend Into Nothingness - recently re-formed and featuring new frontman Ian Campbell (ex-Neuraxis, as mentioned above), new drummer Matt Connell (ex-Exhumed/ex-Fuck The Facts) and band leader Joel St-Amant – immediately whipped the crowd into shape. The band’s fresh material sounds promising and the reconfigured lineup is extremely tight and unyielding.
Mont-Tremblant’s Brief Respite grabbed the bull by the horns and made the most of its set. The group’s catchy Gothenburg melodies interspersed with technical moments made the band’s presence immediately known, and the crowd reacted favourably.
As was the case with Night 1 and Night 2, an intermission of sorts followed. On Night 3, a short montage of classic Voivod interviews was shown, including a segment where the band detailed the Voivod concept as well as the group’s signing to Metal Blade during the early ‘80s. The highlight reel moment of the montage came after Away finished describing the Voivod character itself. After Away’s description, Piggy chimed in - trademark grin in tow - that the Voivod character was “like a cartoon.” Though you had to be there watching it to feel its impact, Piggy’s big grin during the comment made the night.
After the montage ended, a nod was given to festival organizer Maurice Richard (who, incidentally, also put on the classic WWIII show in Montreal in November 1985 which featured the likes of Voivod, Celtic Frost, Destruction, Possessed and Nasty Savage). The 25 Years Of Quebec Metal festival was Richard’s pride and joy, and his efforts were extremely professional and enthusiastic from the get-go. The festival went off without a hitch, and thankfully Richard was recognized in front of the crowd. Another of Luc Lemay’s plaques was presented, this time to Richard, and everyone showed their appreciation for the three-day Quebec metal birthday bash.
When the music commenced once more, Montrealers Empathy Denied ripped it up with their brutal death metal stylings. Featuring Quebec scene staple Steven Henry (Urban Aliens/ex-Neuraxis), Empathy Denied is an exercise in precise, technical death that makes sure you’re decapitated by its aggression, point finale (as we say in Quebec).
The festival was then on to its last act, Montreal’s Negativa. Negativa is a supergroup made up of the aforementioned Steeve Hurdle (ex-Gorguts) and Luc Lemay (ex-Gorguts), as well as Miguel Valade (ex-Ion Dissonance) and Etienne Galo (Augury). Negativa’s sound is a harrowing and scathing combination of the technical death of Gorguts and the torturous trauma of Khanate: it worked fantastically on Negativa’s 2006 self-titled debut EP, and it presents itself even better live. Negativa’s loud parts are played with the professionalism and confidence of a supergroup, while its quiet moments are performed with equal amounts of intensity. Both Hurdle and Lemay are able to create the most bizarre and unique sounds while manipulating their guitars in the oddest of ways, bringing Negativa to the cutting edge (one commentator, before Negativa’s performance, jokingly said that Hurdle is the only person who is capable of writing songs by throwing his guitar down the stairs). Negativa, simply, is a group not to be missed.
All in all, the 25 Years Of Quebec Metal experience was a positive one in all respects. Congratulations go out to the organizers, bands and fans for giving Quebec’s scene a monstrous birthday. I can only imagine what’s in store for the scene’s big 3-0 in 2012!