It’s that time of year again — Amnesia Rockfest, Canada’s largest rock festival is coming up this week (click HERE for our article). The 2015 edition, taking place from June 18th to 20th in the usually-quiet town of Montebello, is looking to be bigger than those of all the previous years and will feature headliners like Linkin Park, Snoop Dogg, System of A Down and The Offspring.
Asher Media pulled some strings and managed to put together a multi-round battle of the bands over the last few weeks to give one lucky Quebec band a chance to play along with some of their favorite musicians at RockFest this year. I attended the final round, and boy was it an exciting show.
Metalheads and punks from all around gathered at Katacombes tonight to support the local bands Guttrot, Dirt Cannon, In The Name of Havoc and Distort Head to see which of their friend’s groups will have a particularly exciting summer, playing on big stage in front of sweaty drunk festival-goers later this week.
The lights went down and people screamed as Dirt Cannon took the stage, before friends, fans and a panel of intrigued judges. Up there standing at the ready a tune could be heard behind the band, The Link Wray classic “Rumble” rumbled, amping the audience up for what was bound to be an explosive set. And just like that they began, and could be heard cleanly and crisply throughout the venue. Their style was fast and abrasive and combined elements of modern metalcore with older-school styles of rock and metal. Some riffs they rode reminisced of Rage Against The Machine, but the solos harkened to an earlier time in metal. This band was extremely tight and played complex rhythms impressively on-time. Their bassist was wearing some kind of leg braces or foot-casts (for health reasons or aesthetics I could not tell you). Later I ran into him stumbling up some stairs with crutches. He either should have probably not been playing that night or he was a damn good method actor. Although onstage he didn’t move much, the frontman moved about the stage like a crazyperson. One judge called the foot-braces “bionic shit.” Another advised the frontman to not cup the mic so much. For the most part though, understandingly, they got rave reviews from the judges.
Distort Head came up next, and were definitely the most “metal” of the bands to play. Sporting long beards and black band shirts, these guys got up onstage and tore the audience apart into tiny little shreds and then set the shreds on fire. Their music was incredibly loud and fast-paced. There wasn’t really a sound-check in between sets and I think the band sounded a little less clear than they could have because of this. Nonetheless they did a great job and vocalist Phil Ranger often spoke to the audience and they were clearly stoked to play. Max Arsenault on drums played some interesting beats utilizing an open hi-hat more than most bands of the genre typically do and the vocals sounded blood-curdling over it all.
Next up were Guttrot, a fun, street punk “party band,” as judge Michelle Ayoub of Dungeonworks Productions put it. They played fast crazy tunes and got the audience involved by getting them up onstage for a song. “This next song is about jerking off,” she exclaimed. The judges’ reactions to the set caught me a little off-guard. The first judge started his review by saying he “wasn’t really into the punk style.” The next two judges at some point put in a “despite the whole punk thing…” It was strange for me to see distaste for the punk rock style at an event like this, sending bands to a festival where 50% (or more) of the acts play in the genre.
The final band up were In The Name of Havoc and I caught up with frontman/bassist Orin before their set.
KL (Kyle Lapointe): Are you looking forward to playing tonight?
OL (Orin Loft): For sure, we’ve been working on a new song and we’re gonna be playing it tonight. We tried to get it ready before opening up for Every Time I Die but we decided then to stick to a more solid set. Now we’re finally ready.
KL: Is it risky playing it now at such an important concert though?
OL: Absolutely. I look at this though not as a competition. This is just a bunch of cool bands. Every band tonight has played a great set. We’re good friends with Dirt Cannon and Distort Head are from my hometown of Chateauguay.
KL: Dirt Cannon just went on and some would say you guys play in a similar genre of music to them. What’s gonna set you guys apart?
OL: All our new material. In the last few months we’ve switched guitarists, adding Stephen Young to the mix. This has given us a little leeway with trying new things. In our new material we try out ska, black metal, deathcore and punk rock, along with our standard groove-rock.
KL: Do you ever wonder that incorporating so many musical styles together could be messy in a bad way?
OL: Absolutely not. We started this project playing music we have fun vibing out to. If each album has a different flavor then so be it.
KL: Maybe that’s what the judges are looking for – a band that can mix lots of styles together. They likened the singer in Dirt Cannon to Mike Patton of Faith No More, one of the most experimental bands I know. How do you feel about the judges this round?
OL: I’m happy they’re giving actual feedback. I found the judges last round were to quick to just say the bands were good and not give anything constructive.
KL: Is that what they said to you?
OL: Uh, well… I think only two of them said that to us, which is a blessing and a curse. On the positive side we had no problems. On the negative side, we didn’t know what we had to work on. The one good piece of advice they gave us last time was to announce our songs before we play them, which I feel like we never did enough being from a hardcore background. Bands we love like Every Time I Die tend to go song to song to song without stopping much.
KL: It’s funny that you’d say that. Last week I interviewed Morgan from Toronto band Vesperia, and he told me how their set never stops. They have an instrumental track behind them for the whole set and the drummer hears it on his headphones.
OL: Really? Oh God. Yuck. Like I get that, and it’s different. I mean, I’m not gonna trash that at all despite my reaction to it.
KL: Despite what you’re going to say next.
OL: (laughs) We play different genres. For symphonic over-the-top metal stuff that works really well. If you do it without a shred of giggles and you play it straight you’ll do great. For us, I don’t like that for my own style. I liken that to an RPG video game versus a rail shooter. Or to a modern slasher film. Jump-scare-jump-scare-jump-scare. You know what’s coming. Once it’s set in motion there’s no deviation. Live shows have a unique quality where your sound’s gonna change based on the reactions of the people around you. I feel like when it’s a smaller and more intimate crowd that gives you a unique opportunity to incorporate the people who are there and make them feel like they’re part of the show. That’s what makes people look up bands and say, “this is a band I like; this is a band I’ll check out.” When I go to see a band I don’t just want to hear a best-of album.
In The Name of Havoc went up and all through their set I tried taking pictures of them but all the movement onstage made it difficult and Orin came out as a ghostly blur in most every shot I took. They played fast and mean and the ska part in their new song came from the left field but sounded pretty good. The way they fused genres together created a really interesting sound. Their drummer John Talbot was playing with what appeared to be a three-piece kit, without toms or cymbals. After their set one judge pointed it out and he just remarked at how he had no money for more drums. Still he used what he had very aggressively and they all grooved together and rode Malcolm McLeod’s extremely heavy riffs. They threw a t-shirt in the moshpit and got audience members to sing parts of songs. In the grand finale Orin and Stephen both collapsed onto the ground together and rolled around.
After the four sets, the judges decided on a winner. “The winner is — Distort Head!” The crowd all cheered. I looked to Orin and he cheered too. His girlfriend consoled him as he applauded for them. When it’s all friends and hometown comrades playing a show, winning and losing seems a lot less important. I’m sure everyone there will remember his show and the craziness In The Name of Havoc had subjected Katacombes to.
Amnesia Fest takes place on June 19-21 in Montebello.