Heavy TO a Suitably Heavy, Suitably TO Festival
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Heavy TO a Suitably Heavy, Suitably TO Festival

Dave Mustaine playing one of those two-necked guitars?! Talk about split personalities!

Heavy TO
Downsview Park
Saturday, July 23, and Sunday, July 24,
2 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Here’s the thing about Dave Mustaine: he’s hilarious. Not funny in a “ha ha” way. But funny in a way that makes Megadeth, the band he fronts and which closed out the first night of the inaugural Heavy TO festival, funny by proxy.
If you don’t know, Dave Mustaine was, at one time, the lead guitarist of Metallica. In 1983, he got kicked out of the band, basically for being a drunk and an addict who acted like a total ass. This was right before Metallica’s debut album Kill ‘Em All—probably the seminal thrash metal record—would kick-start the band’s meteoric rise to the top. In the meantime, Dave Mustaine had Megadeth, which while a very good band, is nowhere near as universally popular and admired as Metallica. Like Garfunkel, Messina, Oates, and Lisa, Dave Mustaine seems born to runner-up.
Granted, nobody wants to be number two. And the sour grapes are understandable. But what Dave Mustaine didn’t do was take his firing (however unceremonious) gracefully. In interviews and on-stage for nearly 30 years, he’s expressed frustration about getting booted from the biggest rock band since the Beatles. To a lot of people, he’s come off like a bit of a crybaby. Combine this with songs about his battles with schizophrenia (with lyrics like “Hello, me! Meet the real me!”), his dopey grimace, and a born again Christian tendency to wear billowy white cotton blouse-shirts on stage, and you’ve got the makings of heavy metal’s biggest wiener.
But thinking that Dave Mustaine is a little, whiny dork doesn’t ruin Megadeth. No way. It just deepens the experience, understanding their music and their concerts as being cast under the pall of Mustaine’s famously engorged inferiority complex. There’s a degree of tragedy that you have to laugh at, because this is also a big, huge rock star we’re talking about and he’s super rich so why should we feel sorry for him? And this is what a lot of people who don’t appreciate metal don’t appreciate about metal: that’s it’s sometimes really, really funny.

Oh, Billy Talent. As the boos and chucked water bottles rained down on you, we almost felt sorry for you. Almost.

In the face of all the blasé satanism and searing guitar riffs this weekend, there was plenty to laugh at at Heavy TO. Take the TTC ride there, for instance. As more and more kids in Razor and Iron Maiden shirts begin to file on as the subway chugged north towards Downsview Station, and the number of camo-cargo pants and heavy leather boots grew, it felt as if an alpenhorn had been blown, summoning the rank-and-file of the metal militia to assemble. Then there were the people holding makeshift signs from repurposed orange Jägermeister banners (Jäger was the festival’s primary sponsor), scrawled with missives like “RIP DIO” and “BILLY BLOWS.” Certainly, the fact that the GTA’s own Hot Topic punksters, Billy Talent, were sandwiched in between more legit heavy metal icons Slayer and Rob Zombie on Sunday night was pretty funny. (It was also mildly amusing when, during their set, Billy Talent frontman Benjamin Kowalewicz gamely read these protest signs from the stage.) And, really, is there anything to do in the face of $5 bottles of water, $40 t-shirts, and other gross price-gouges other than laugh?
Yuks aside, though, the festival was pretty great. How could it not be? Boasting some of the biggest names in classic heavy metal—Megadeth, Anthrax, and Slayer alone form three-quarters of thrash metal’s “big four” (with Metallica rounding it out)—as well as new titans from across metal’s subgenre spectrum like Mastodon and the Sword (though the latter band got held up at the border and dropped off the bill), Heavy TO was stacked. Oh, and because Ontario apparently pulled it’s head out of it’s ass, you could wander the dusty, trash-strewn festival grounds double-fisting $8 Budweisers. No beer tents. Perfect. But enough yakkin’. Here are some of the most superlatively metal highlights of the first ever Heavy TO…

Hey look! It’s Joey Belladonna and Scott Ian from Anthrax!

Diamond Head
Saturday, 2 p.m.
Getting to Downsview Park early enough to see New Wave of British Heavy Metal pioneers Diamond Head kind of sucked. Granted, the band was great. And it was fantastic to see them. But showing up that early means suffering through the heat and having to buy all kinds of over-priced food and drink from the concessions (you could bring water in, but they confiscated the lids, worried that nogoodniks would toss them on stage or something). Still. Diamond Head. Yes.

Saturday, 6 p.m.
Here’s a band that’s had more lineup changes then, um, Deep Purple. Or some other band that’s had a whole bunch of lineup changes. Anyways, Joey Belladonna is back in the band now, which means Anthrax circa 2011 sound a lot like classic, Among the Living-era Anthrax. Except now Joey Belladonna is old and his voice kind of sounds like shit sometimes.

Saturday, 8 p.m.
It’s pretty easy, following Opeth. What’s the deal with Opeth? Why do people like them? It’s boring. But you know what’s not boring? Motörhead: the last real rock and roll band on planet earth. Sixty-five year old singer/bassist/speedfreak/rock icon Lemmy Kilmister brought the kind of ragged energy that comes from a lifetime of substance abuse and bassy growling, working through material from their new album, The World is Yours, and certified classics like “Ace of Spades” and “Killed by Death.” And, best of all, Lemmy’s enormous warts and pock marks looked truly gargantuan on the big screens flanking the stage.

Pop quiz! Who would win a fight between Lemmy and God?

Saturday, 9 p.m.
Oh, we already wrote so much about how funny and awesome and sad Megadeth are. They were good though. They played for like two hours. And that included “Sweating Bullets” (the abovementioned hymn to schizophrenia—or at least, what Mustaine describes as schizophrenia—that has him greeting different instances of himself).

Sunday, 7 p.m.
We could go on and on about great bands like Testament and Mastodon that played on Sunday, but who cares? Everyone was there to see Slayer, the thrashiest, speediest, thrash-speed band there is. We saw one guy wearing a Slayer T-shirt with two identical Slayer tattoos on each arm, and the Slayer logo shaved into the back of his head. When asked what his name was, he said “Just call me Slayer,” which, somehow, is a thing that actually happened.

Rob Zombie. If you don’t think this is cool then you should have serious misgivings about the kinds of things you think are cool.

Rob Zombie
Sunday, 9:15 p.m.
The great thing about a festival like Heavy TO, with acts rotating between two stages, is that there’s very little downtime between sets. While one band is playing, another sets up. And when the first band stops, the other one takes the stage. But this doesn’t apply when you’re Rob Zombie and your stage set-up includes crazy pyrotechnics, prop-skeleton mic stands, and about a half-dozen different robots. It’s kind of tricky to even describe how good this concert was without just yelling “ZOMBIIIIIIIIIIIIIIE!!!!” which doesn’t really come across in print/on screen. But it was great. And like the best metal shows, it was funny.
Whether with his solo stuff or with the White Zombie material (which he played plenty of), Rob Zombie’s brand of heavy metal thunder is really genuine because it uses fantasy as its basis. All the songs are about supernatural stuff and the surreal and scenarios from horror movies. It’s so obviously a put-on and it’s so well-executed. It’s not like Slayer—which although awesome, becomes a bit weird when you think of them as born again Christians singing songs about Satan and serial killers. Rob Zombie has the influences of a dyed-in-the-wool horror movie nerd, and the spirit of being a true heavy metal fan, even before those of a heavy metal musician. He rules. And he came out during the second encore wearing some weird papal outfit with a maple leaf embroidered on it. Just for us! This may seem like lame pandering, but considering that Mastodon couldn’t even remember that they were in Canada, it was also kind of nice.
Photos courtesy Heavy TO.

CLARIFICATION: July 25, 2011, 4:35 PM This post originally listed the Sword as part of Heavy TO’s lineup but didn’t note that, due to a delay at the border, they were unable to play the festival. Apologies for any confusion this may have caused.