Sure, the public transit system isn’t fit to service Legoland let alone a bustling metropolis, the cost of living has punched a hole through the roof, and we have a mayor with less credibility than your average high school junkie hall monitor, but it’s my home. I was born and bred here, I got my metal skooling during the righteous and never-to-be-repeated Gasworks/Rock N’ Roll Heaven era. Even so, when word came down in 2011 that Hogtown was going to echo Montreal’s highly successful weekend metal festival Heavy MTL – launched in 2008 – with a two day thrash-and-burn open air of its own in Downsview Park, I was skeptical. I had no doubt the organizers would pull things together in order to make it happen, but far less confident it would last more than a single “nice try” run.
Having lived in Germany since the tail end of 1995 as BW&BK’s European correspondent, I’ve attended my share of metal festivals great, good, bad and painfully ugly. Every weekend between May and September the classic metal festival model is put into action somewhere on the continent, attracting rivet-heads from all walks of life by the thousands and tens of thousands for two or three days of distortion and debauchery. It’s this model on which Heavy MTL was based - and succeeded - thanks to the European mentality of the Québécois. I didn’t see Heavy T.O. having the same impact in a city where metalheads are about five steps less committed to getting off the couch when a show hits town (sorry, it’s sad but true).
Heavy T.O.’s 2011 line-up turned out to be a ray of hope. MEGADETH, CHILDREN OF BODOM, OPETH, DIAMOND HEAD, VOLBEAT, MASTODON, SLAYER, DEATH ANGEL and EXODUS on the same bill? Hard to believe but a European festival had come to town and landed with a bang, featuring a bill more than merely strong enough to drag the metal masses out into the light. By all accounts it was a rousing success beyond the expected and inevitable screw-ups that come with organizing anything for the first time. When the dust had settled it was a done deal: there would be Heavy T.O. 2012, with a legion of fans waiting in the wings brandishing piggybanks in hand when tickets finally went on sale.
When the roster came down for the Heavy T.O. 2012, however, it was met with a considerable amount of grumbling, and in some cases outright disappointment. The mixed bag of old(er) and young artists from the previous year had been seemingly abandoned, catering instead to fans of more extreme fare and the school of nu-metal. Dinosaurs like Yours Truly could and would find worth in acts like OVERKILL, KATAKLYSM, SUICIDAL TENDENCIES, CANNIBAL CORPSE and DEFTONES, but SLIPKNOT and SYSTEM OF A DOWN headlining with FIVE FINGER DEATH PUNCH, BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME, DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN and frickin’ MARILYN MANSON on the bill? Puh-lease. The organizers had clearly shot themselves in the foot. Add to this the torrential rains that turned Downsview Park into a mudbowl and Heavy T.O. 2012 was destined to be a dismal failure.
For the record, I’m now eating crow as a good source of humility.
In spite of any shared misgivings – and there were several – Heavy T.O. 2012 went down as a success. Ticket and security personnel had people prepped and inside as quickly as possible, regardless of whether you were a VIP or mud warrior mortal. With no-to-very-little lag time between bands as they hit the side-by-side twin stages (complete with Hi-Def video screens for the folks on the remaining grass), there was little time to worry about the muck swirling about the ankles and sucking the boots off one’s feet. Concession stands, port-o-potties line-ups and an ill-conceived wrestling ring (THE OFFSPRING as a soundtrack? Really?!) provided distractions for those not into the on-stage mayhem at any given time. All of it looked and reeked and felt very European, which (I believe) was the ultimate goal.
In retrospect, the seemingly ho-hum festival line-up can be blamed on the number of European festivals and tours underway at the same time, thus reducing the choice of acts to be scooped up for Heavy T.O. Once inside, however, it became an education for naysayers on both sides of the fence.
Folks who were unaware of our own CANCER BATS, PROTEST THE HERO and KATAKLYSM received an unforgettable lesson in Canadian content. OVERKILL, SUICIDAL TENDENCIES and CANNIBAL CORPSE proved (in spite of some sound issues) that the old guard is as tough and mean – and certainly more entertaining – than many of extreme artists currently making noise on the scene. The beginning of Day 2 was a death metal eargasm thanks to GOATWHORE, EXHUMED and FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE. And bands like TRIVIUM, FIVE FINGER DEATH PUNCH and BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME proved to be far more metal than folks in my playground give them credit for. From a musical standpoint it was an eye-opener for a lot of people, and while Heavy T.O. 2012 could have used a wider variety of acts on the bill it was anything but boring.
Personal high points include watching underdogs GOJIRA owning the festival crowd from the first chord in, and IN FLAMES frontman Anders Friden giving a shout out to Toronto/Southern Ontario metal scene icon Rob Cranny, who passed away back in April of this year, at the end of the band’s set.
On the gripe end of things, there’s only one. MARILYN MANSON. Nobody but the man himself could have known he’d phone in a lack luster performance, but seriously, the only thing heavy about his set was the make-up. Would have been better yanking KILLSWITCH ENGAGE over from Day 2 to play in his place rather than trying to cash in on a “big” name washout.
Ah yes, and the lack of Heavy T.O. 2012 merch. One shirt motif on offer and that’s it? You’ve gotta spend money to make it, and merch is a festival goldmine if the cards are played right. Particularly when many attendees will gladly wear said shirts as badges of honour in the years that follow.
Ultimately, the accolades and attention have to be given to the folks behind-the-scenes and the fans. From the rig-monkey who braved the elements dozens of feet above the stage during OVERKILL’s set re-attach one of the windblown Jägermeister banners, to the Team Coast people that had to deal with well-watered VIP divas, to the LAMB OF GOD fans that showed up and endured even though the band had to cancel due to Mr. Randy Blythe’s legal troubles overseas, to metal ma and pa that wheeled junior through the muck in a stroller, Heavy T.O. 2012 was living, breathing, mudsliding proof that the festival DOES work. Give Toronto’s metal fans a reason and they WILL come.
No, things did not go off without a hitch, but attendance was higher than 2011. If not for Mother Nature doing her best to wreak havoc on the proceedings attendance this year would have been much higher.
She’s welcome to try her luck next year, but after seeing the 2012 edition up close my money is on the Heavy T.O. legion.
Check out more photos in the BraveWords.com photo galleries below: