One of the cool points of growing up in a singular geographic location is getting to travel and experience different cultures in different areas of the world. We’re all people and everything, but as products of our physical surroundings, we undoubtedly feel a slight shock when taken out of our comfort zones and thrust ourselves into new situations and atmospheres. Thankfully for me, Toronto has itself quite a metal scene and this year’s offering of HEAVY T.O. and HEAVY MTL, taking place in (you guessed it) Toronto and Montreal, saw thousands of black clad, heavily tattooed and pierced crunch lovers packing vacant fields to get their fill of breakdowns, screams, and solos from some of modern metal’s most significant artists. When you pack System Of A Down, Slipknot, Deftones, Marilyn Manson, and Suicidal Tendencies onto the same bill, it’s gonna be a good time, and I felt right at home.

Walking into the Downsview Park field for day 1 of the event, I can tell you that water and dirt are either the best or worst thing to happen to concertgoers, depending on your personal threshold for cleanliness… The venue was a muddy, sloppy, fucked up mess, and all exersizes aimed at remaining dirt-free went out the door by my third step inside the media gate, my brand new pair of Chuck Taylor’s, shorts, and customary black t-shirt battered, splattered, and crudded. But it’s metal… Live a little, eh?

Day 1:

Unfortunately, work sometimes gets in the way and I was unable to catch many of the early players on the lineup. While it broke my heart to miss acts like Overkill, Gojira, and Cancer Bats, entering the gates and hearing Dillinger Escape Plan was a mighty good way to start the day. As crazy and heavy as you expect them to be, DEP blazed their way through a strong set of hits, ending with fan favorite “43% Burnt.” Little did I realize guitarist Jeff Tuttle would leave the group only a short time later. Chris Puchiato’s forceful vocals continue to complement the spastic delivery of the rhythm section, Ben Weinmann’s guitar flailing through the air like a swordsman hacking through a victim, and drummer Bill Wymer’s off the wall tempo changes and percussive blasts told many players in the audience that it’s probably time to hit the woodshed for a few years.

Post DEP, new friends Don, Crystal, and Jay from Winnipeg kept me good company while scouring for merch and beverages. Like most things at concerts these days, drinks were insanely expensive ($8 for a small beer) and food and non-alcoholic beverages weren’t much better. What’s that all aboot, eh? However, the most egregious attempt at price gouging definitely goes to Sunrise Records, who were charging $15 for a 7″ and upwards of $50 for a 12″. A lifetime boycott of this establishment is in full effect. I know people have to make money and all, but this was stupid ridiculous.

After a horrendous walk through center court, a.k.a. Mud Central, we made it in time to see Trivium take the stage. Offering their own brand of melodic metal to a soaked and dirty Toronto crowd, this would be my first time catching the group live. The sound, difficult in any outdoor venue, was not terrible, but the vibe was right on… The crowd was into it. The group comes off a bit too cock-rocky for my tastes, but they are a tight group of musicians nevertheless. After an hour or so, though, I couldn’t wait for them to get off stage. Matt Heafy is a good player and all, but there’s only so much the Trivium I can take. Plus, one of my main reasons for attending, Suicidal Tendencies, were on deck. By their last song, I just wanted them gone.

Remarkably, the rain decided to settle down a bit for most of Suicidal’s hour long set, but the damage was already done and the grounds assured concertgoers a slippery time traversing from one stage to the other, even though they were side by side. Coupled with copious alcohol consumption, hilarity ultimately ensued. Take note: Don’t try to carry 3 drinks in your hand when arms are needed for balance. Many a “FUCK” was shouted by fans who invested $24 loonies only to get the ground drunk.

And then, Suicidal Tendencies took the stage! Obviously prepping for an onslaught, S.T. members indulged the crowd in an easy warm up, the intro to “You Can’t Bring Me Down,” before Cyco Myko finally hit the stage, asking the crowd “What the fuck is going on in Toronto?” From there, it was sixty minutes of non-stop machine gunnery on the mic and a heavy dose of hardcore/punk infused metal to get us moving. Explaining that their prolonged absence from Canada was due to border issues, it was clear they’d been missed… The crowd exploded with energy from the first note.

If you didn’t already know, Suicidal’s long time mouthpiece Cyco Myko is completely brilliant. I mean, the guy is just rad. Listening to him preach before, during, and after songs from his metal pulpit is not only a release for all parties paying attention, but delivered in such a way as to assure the crowd that their participation is a massive piece of their spectacular show. Therefore, I have taken on the fine duty of dubbing him the Reverand Cyco Miko, and may his evangelical metal masterpiece continue to flourish for years to come. Send him your money.

You’ve got to respect his band, too… These cats are some funky players, and young to boot. The 2nd guitar player tonight didn’t look a day over 21, and he was shredding all over the place, clearly having the best time of his life. The bass player’s bright neon green strings drew many stares from the crowd up front, and drummer Eric Moore’s lightning fast, gospel-chop inspired playing is glorious to watch. The ease at which he can transform rhythms and move around his kit is incredible, especially given his size. And I didn’t know this beforehand, but S.T.’s intro MC also acts as an offstage backup singer for the band’s gang vocal parts. Talk about a cool gig… I want his job!

Included in their set were a multitude of hits including “Institutionalized,” “Send Me Your Money,” “Cycovision” (complete with a Wall of Death,) and “Possessed To Skate,” all constructed around huge builds and breaks. The constant noise and banter kept the energy in the drenched, dirty crowd nice and high, yet gave everyone a chance to breathe before more sonic brutality. “War Inside My Head” is probably the best way to go to war… Ever.

Regarding metal dancing and etiquette, I think we need more pit angels helping people up and smiling to keep the tension down and fun up. Remember kids, if you don’t want to get hit, stay away from the pit. J A few more 360-degree revolutions from the frenzied crowd and Suicidal Tendencies ended their set, a triumphant and respected group with old fans and new alike singing their praises. I could see them do that every day!

My highlight of the day now finished, I trudged my way over to the other stage, coated in a skin of mud that vain ladies probably pay hundreds of dollars for in deluxe beauty shops. Go to a rainy, outdoor metal show, you wrinkly old beatch! To my complete approval, what I thought was Five Finger Death Punch coming to the stage was actually Sweden’s In Flames! Spirits lifted, I inadvertently shoulder-rolled a drunken fan trying to get closer to the action. Sorry about that, chief.

Singer Anders Friden informed the crowd that the band’s vacation, comprised of eating old meat and sacrificing small children at home, was cut short due to a call he received to come to Canada and play for us. Further explanation revealed that In Flames were on stage that day to support Lamb of God, the original band on the lineup. In a glowing show of support for Randy Blythe, given his current international circumstances, the crowd erupted in a roar of enthusiasm, quickly prompting the singer to tell us to shut up. Laughter ensued.

Highlight of the day: We got a double rainbow during their set! What does it mean?! Look close… You’ll see it! Odd stares from drunken patrons accompanied my excitement, but I thought it was pretty metal, almost as metal as the really cool Muslim security guard who was praying while tending to the beer tent. That’s dedication, folks. Of course, not everyone was quite as spiritually or mentally enlightened, and our good time was nearly ruined by a very aggro guy who got agitated when his beer got muddied. Some people shouldn’t drink.

By now, the front area was entirely too packed to get close to the stage for pictures, and I had to watch Marilyn Manson from afar. I personally hadn’t seen the group since the late 90’s (when he literally instructed the crowd to tear apart Syracuse’s Lost Horizon due to technical issues,) and it was good to check him out again. I’ll give the guy credit… He still possesses a rabid fan base of new school goths, kids who were too young to catch the first wave, and rowdy metal heads all pushing and pulling to get as close to him as possible. Marilyn and Co. received a very warm welcome from the Toronto crowd. He’s certainly not as shocking or energetic as he once was, but the man still puts on a mean show. “The Dope Show” sounded great, and his sarcastic anti-drug PSA and admission of being a pyschopathic liar to Canada was a funny touch in their set. He’s still a pompous rocker, but I guess that’s why we love him.

While Marilyn Manson’s covers of “Personal Jesus” and “Sweet Dreams…” were a nice touch, I’d have much preferred  “Get Your Gunn” and “Lunchbox” in their place. A stellar rendition of “The Beautiful People” closed out their set, and it was time for the maggots to feed. Almost on cue, it once again started to rain again right before Slipknot took the stage.

Let me tell you, Slipknot turned the place out real quick! They opened with the very long number that begins their major label full-length debut and it was like a mating call, having this incredible ability to rally their fans into an army of aggression. Slamming into “(sic),” the sloppy field in Toronto turned into a war zone.

This energy continued as they leapt into “Eyeless,” but drummer Joey Jordison had a difficult time keeping many of their tracks tight in this live setting. The explosions, masks, stage diving, and the general chaos brought to their performances are usually enough to sway the casual listener from such criticism, but it was a poor showing on his part.

Having seen them at Mayhem Fest the week prior and realizing they played the first 8 songs in the same order, I decided it was time to leave. Scraping my body of several pounds of gathered mud, I needed to rest up for an early day of work followed by Heavy T.O. day 2. I hoped and prayed for solid ground the next day, but the temperature reaching 350 degrees that night didn’t seem feasible… Slopfest pt. 2 was inevitable.

DAY 2

And knowing that the field would be as gross and disgusting as the previous day, I decided to wear the exact same clothes I wore the first day on the second day, too. I’m not quite sure, but I think I heard my sneakers say “Kill me now” due to mud suffocation. Apparently, I wasn’t alone, as most parking lot walkers were also heavily caked in mud and grime. Back again with my 3 favorite Winnipeggers, we sloshed our way through the grounds to get to the stage, and began the mud festivities in earnest. I will always remember Don, Jace, and Kristal as the coolest people Canada ever produced… It was a fun time with that rowdy crew of Cannucks!

If I were younger and dumber, I probably would have purchased one of the zillions of “Smoke Meth and Hail Satan” t-shirts bombing around, by far the most popular and prevalent shirt all weekend. Someone made a shit ton of money selling those things this weekend. But my attention turned to the music immediately. If walking in to Dillinger on day one wasn’t good enough, I found myself walking towards a stage with Cannibal Corpse grunting and riffing on it, a perfect antidote to help me forget my ridiculous workday in Toronto that morning, especially since it was my cherry pop seeing the group. Older, but still shredding true to form, their blast beat infused, throat gurgling brand of death metal is just what the day called for. They did not disappoint!

Cannibal Corpse brought forth a hair-twirling nightmare in earnest, certain to make Monday neck comfort an impossibility. Hell, I wish I had long hair in those types of circumstances, one of the downsides to being 34 years of age by nature and 14 in my heart. Though the show was well attended for an early afternoon, there was still plenty of room to move around during the day… Eerily comfortable and easily to negotiate around other fans. Perhaps they’re on to something up here in Canadialand.

Struggling to see the stage at certain points during the set and relying on the three huge video screens available, Winnipeg Don brought up a good point directed to all you production folks out there… If you have multiple screens available for viewing, have additional cameras on different members to see the whole band. Showing just one guy on all screens sucks and isn’t fair to the band or the fans. “Why should I have to watch him over there if I’m standing over here?” Hey, it made sense at the time.

But I digress. Clearly focused a performing a highly Christian set list, their rendition of “I Cum Blood” was probably the highlight of my trip up here, and “Hammered Smashed Face” made my life complete! Fantastic! After Cannibal Corpse finished up, I began to make my way back to the vendor grounds to check out Deftones merchandise, when I saw a guy in wheelchair working his way up to the front with a few buddies. Caked in mud and clearly needing assistance, I stopped to talk to the crew for a while and high-fived our chair bound metal brother in solidarity. He informed me that his chair weighed more than he did… Heavy Metal, indeed.

Killswitch Engage hit the stage next and wasted no time whipping the crowd into a frenzy. New (old) front man Jesse Leech made his Canada debut post-Howard today, wearing a Mohawk and Burn shirt. Much respect! One of the guitar players cracked a quick joke, stating “He’s in our band… again,” and the Boston 5-piece tore through a dense catalogue of metalcore hits that really got the audience moving. The Canadian fans loved every minute.

Upon asking the crowd if they wanted to hear a new song, one of the members shouted “You gotta have your titties out” into the mic, a request obliged by more than one female fan. Prompting the best circle pit of the festival, KsE sounded fantastic, but all the while my anxiety to see Deftones at 6:20pm was hitting record levels. Ending with “Holy Diver” was a near perfect set ender for the Boston boys. Long Live Dio!!!

A day of metal will make a man need to pee, and one of the best parts of the festival, aside from the music, was the bathroom access. Throughout the weekend, I encountered no problems getting to the pissah (Sorry… KsE and Boston are still in my mindset.) Though they were spaced out and busy, there was always one available. Kudos, Canada.

Still shockingly punctual for a music festival, Deftones hit the stage right on time, jumping into “Rocket Skates” followed by “Diamond Eyes.” One of the most sexually charged of the older and current metal bands, the Sacramento quintet leveled their fans with blistering renditions of many of their favorites, despite a (too short) hour long set time. They could’ve played all day and I’d have been happy. Offering a wide selection of tunes that ping-ponged through their entire catalogue, Deftones wasted little time giving their Canadian fans as much as possible before their set end. Including songs like “Root,” “7 Words,” “Engine #9,” and a host of others, Deftones proved they’re still heavy as shit and one of the best bands still out there today. You’re missing out if you don’t give them a shot. Scurrying over to the merch booth right after their set, I managed to score the last hoodie they had for sale. Score! One Love For Chi!

And, yet again, I encountered a few more aggro scenes of overly drunken patrons ready to swing on random strangers due to the mud. Though the reactions by some of these people were over the top given the conditions of the grounds, I would agree that kicking mud at people may make some of them want to fight you, so you probably shouldn’t do it, or at least apologize if you hit a hulking bystander.

Then, I followed an immense crowd over to the opposite stage to get ready for System Of A Down. Punctual as ever, the band jumped right in with their opening track, “Prison Song,” and the field erupted in excitement. Total insanity!

I’ll admit I did not expect SOAD to be nearly as tight and musical as their recordings, but they were superb, a pleasant surprise, indeed. All of their songs were tight, direct, and punishing, clearly a group made for a big stage, as evidenced by the largest crowd of the entire weekend. Taking some time away really allowed their fan base to simmer in anticipation of a reunion.

They played all their hits, though it’d be tough to argue any pop sensibility from the band whatsoever. Comedic yet brutal, Serj Tankian and his fellow Armenian band members ripped through huge chucks of their catalogue. As serious a topic as they may be discussing within their songs, it will always be giggle worthy hearing the lyric “Pull the tape worm out of your ass.” Hit after hit after hit, System Of A Down can write a good song.

After hearing “Sugar” and realizing the weekend couldn’t get better than that for me, I headed to the gate with 2/3 of my Winnipeg friends, trying to find our heavily bearded buddy Don, affectionately named “Hobo Joe” on Saturday by a few guys upset about mud in their beers and looking for a fight. Realizing it was a lost cause, we traveled back to our hotel, where we found him drunk as hell and stumbling out of a cab, while calling us a bunch of dicks for leaving him at the concert. His implied hatred of Americans now in full force, directed at yours truly, was that of comical genius, and watching him jump into his bed, fully clothed and muddied, while horizontally munching on a piece of day old pizza, will be one of the highlight of my Canadian experience for years to come.

HEAVY T.O. is more than worth the trip, price, and inclement weather you may encounter. If you like metal, poutine, and the word “Eh,” I highly recommend a trip for next year’s installment!