Heavy T.O. featuring Megadeth, Rob Zombie, Motörhead, Opeth, Slayer Downsview Park, Toronto ON July 23-24

Heavy T.O. featuring Megadeth, Rob Zombie, Motörhead, Opeth, Slayer Downsview Park, Toronto ON July 23-24
One Canadian metal fest in July wasn't enough. After two successful renditions in Montreal, the "Heavy" branched off to Toronto as well this year, resulting in two simultaneous weekends of aggressive and loud live music in two different provinces. The band lineup in Downsview Park had lots of overlap with last summer's Heavy MTL, but that's not a bad thing.

The heat, lack of shade, preponderance of fried food and shortage of free water for most of the weekend meant that, for many fest-goers, surviving the full event was a feat of physical endurance. Shopping was limited to the official (and day-specific) merch booth and Jam Van, autograph lineups for high-profile artists seemed endless, and at one point, you couldn't seem to buy a soft drink anywhere. But the music motored on from early afternoon until late in the evening, barely pausing aside from a short hiccup (and delayed announcement) when the Sword couldn't make it across the border.

Predictably, early bands like Diamond Head (lively classic heavy metal groove), Exodus (feisty and antagonistic) and Death Angel (pure thrash magic) played to smaller crowds than they deserved. But slowly, as each day progressed, more and more fans pressed toward the stages, emanating heat and rowdy appreciation. Mid- to late afternoon was the time for breakdowns (more so Saturday), with thrash well represented across the schedule and a few curve balls thrown in to modulate the intensity. Most set lists featured the familiar, tried and true with few surprises, safe choices for a diverse a crowd.

After a solid but fairly static set by Children of Bodom on day one, Anthrax wound up the fans with airtight renditions of old classics like "Antisocial," also throwing in a John Bush-era track ("Only") and a new song. As the rain began to fall, Opeth wove their death-prog spell, fluctuating from quiet to brutal with some amusing stage banter in between (including some Joni Mitchell love). Switching gears into "rock'n'roll," the ever-ageless Motörhead possessed the crowd next with their hard-edged and reliable Brit charm, eventually handing things over to Megadeth to close the night.

Serving as Saturday's headliners, Dave Mustaine and co. powered through a list of various hits from Peace Sells... to Endgame, plus a not-yet-released number. They sounded amazing as ever but almost seemed in a rush to get off the stage, keeping the talk to a minimum (barely breaking to show off a new gold record), going straight to the encore tracks without a pause, and finishing a half hour ahead of schedule.

Sunday was even better, starting early with killer thrash before veering into more generically diverse territory, beginning with Volbeat's dark rock'n'roll (and awkward stage exit). A pregnant Melissa Auf der Maur laid down heavier-than-ever renditions of her album tracks, plus a bewitching "Devil's Plaything" (Danzig cover). A delighted Anvil brought the '80s to life for a sea of hometown faces with their inimitable antics and classics like "Mothra" and "Metal on Metal" (and an excellent drum solo). Vintage thrash continued to sound amazingly fresh with Testament's career-spanning set list, and even more so with Slayer, who were as evil as ever, Gary Holt (Exodus) holding his own as fill-in for recovering guitarist Jeff Hanneman. In between, Mastodon's set moved from the poundingly heavy to captivatingly progressive, ending with climactic "Blood and Thunder."

During the post-Slayer beer rush, Billy Talent performed their loud radio hits with angst and attitude, taking the audience's indifference (and a little outright hostility) with good-natured grace. After this slight lull, Rob Zombie's multimedia spectacle was the perfect fest send-off: movie clips, lyric prompts, dancing robot monsters and Zombie the ultimate carnie hawker. Introduced by a string of Johnny Cash classics, the stage show was Zombie's usual fare, a set heavy on solo tracks but featuring the best-known White Zombie hits, plus an "Oh, Canada" diversion in the middle of "Thunderkiss 65" that guitarist John 5 played on his teeth.

All weekend glitches forgotten, this final hour-plus of high theatrics and crowd interaction captured an undiluted shot of the festive spirit running through the weekend, a celebration of the collective outdoor live music experience. Heavy, but not as heavy as metal can get.