I am stupidly fortunate to rip around and photograph 200+ bands every year, and while I shoot other genres as well, make no mistake about it, I deeply love and care about the metal scene above all else, so I cover as much of it as humanly possible.
From dank little clubs, to major arenas and festivals in North America and Europe, here are the top 10 metal performances I saw in 2018, with my favorite photo from each show. – Chris
Judas Priest, March 25th, Ottawa, Canada
I managed to catch Judas Priest more than once on their 2018 tour, in support of their extremely strong release Firepower. But it was their stop in Ottawa that was truly one for the ages, amongst the very best performances I’ve ever witnessed in my life. The band was explosive, the fans and the mood were incredible, the entire night smacked of being in a time machine, swirling back to a vintage 80’s arena show. Awesome supporting acts, awesome crowd, incredible show.
Steel Panther, June 16th, Montebello Rockfest
The boys put on a particularly tight and hilarious performance on a hot summer night, whipping riffs and jokes into the faces of several thousand howling fans that were pounding beers like it was the end of the world. Awash in a sea of bouncing boobs, Satchel’s #pussygrinder pedal was glowing hot, smoldering, from all the riffs. Word is still out on the porta-potty glory hole experience.
Gojira, July 29th, Heavy Montreal
Montreal is one of the best places to see any metal show, at any given time, ever. The crowd are passionate and voracious. They are also intrinsically linked to metal of the European flair, and the intense tendril of adoration is tight between France to Quebec, it’s like a trans-Atlantic feedback-loop. When Gojira hit the stage under sweltering summer conditions, in front of dozens of thousands of fans, it all made for a jaw dropping performance. To see the band nail an incredible version of Love, a rare live performance recently, that alone was worth the price of admission the entire day. Killer.
Arch Enemy, June 24th, Hellfest
Before Arch Enemy exploded onto the main stage at Hellfest, I took a moment to stand on the security barrier and gaze into the crowd that was assembled for this show, it was a sea of ravenous fans that seemed to go on forever and ever, voracious and howling with anticipation. Arch Enemy are a band that seem to latch onto the energy and enthusiasm of a crowd as well as anyone does, and the performance that ensued was incredible. Songs from their latest album, Will to Power were interwoven with vintage AE tracks while vocalist Alissa White-Gluz performed occasional but incredible aerials across the stage. Magnifique!
Dimmu Borgir, June 15th, Montebello Rockfest
Norwegian black metal gods Dimmu Borgir surgically removed the faces off a rabid crowd at Rockfest on a gorgeous summer evening. While their new album Eonian seemed to be the darling 2018 release for metal journalists to poop on (often for not being evil enough), the crowd had none of that, instead howls erupted that surely could be heard for miles as even the intro music for Dimmu had the stage creaking, groaning, popping and whirring with interdimensional sounding effects while the band assembled beneath a massive cloud of mist to execute an incredible set that saw frontman Shagrath levitating at times during the set. Fucking awesome.
Baroness, July 28th, Heavy Montreal
With thousands of fans gathered in front of the stage, being tested by the inescapable heat of a hot Montreal afternoon, Baroness crept out of the shadows, smiling and modest as ever to deliver a characteristically emotional performance. At times alluring, swerving into valleys of mind boggling intensity, the band powered through a high-contrast vortex of music that was nothing short of ferocious. You could visibly see the impact after the show on the faces of many fans, from the “did you just fucking see that?!” expression, to dusty faces streamed with tears that were emotionally entranced by the incredible set.
Otep, July 19th, Ottawa
Not every incredible show takes place in a huge arena or at a massive festival, and when Otep stopped by Ottawa on their Fire and Fury tour they unleashed an assault of the senses at a more intimate venue and into a ravenous crowd. Trademark Otep, they can really create this weird balance of ritual and ferocity in their shows, careening from moments of serenity before abruptly delving into remarkable tempests of chaos, rage and rebellion. A band that clearly responds to divisive political situations, let’s just say The Donald loathing, really brought the room together that night. Otep Shamaya channeling her rage, with guitarist Ari hulking over the crowd, shirtless in a gas mask like a post-apocalyptic gladiator… every person there was howling and throwing their fists in the air. Incredibly intense.
Emperor, July 28th, Heavy Montreal
More so in metal than any other genre, we judge and determine a bands stature not by their studio work, but in the live music that they perform. Emperor are well regarded as black metal legends, and the Dark Lord knows I’ve spent a lot of time trying to appreciate them based on their studio work, to little avail. Seeing them live for the first time this summer, the band firmly planted on the stage, hurtling their music into the summer evening darkness and into the faces of a raucous crowd of thousands, it was amazing. The stellar musicianship of the band, interwoven with the soaring intensity of Ihsahn on vocals, on this night I definitely became a fan. A powerful performance that leveraged an expansive catalog, brought it to life and had a massive crowd thrashing about one moment, then caught entranced in spine-tingling moments of captivation the next. Truly an incredible live performance.
Nordjevel, June 22nd, Hellfest
I had never really heard of these guys before, but friends in Europe turned me onto the fact that Nordjevel are a brutal ‘can’t-miss’ live act, so despite an insane schedule at Hellfest, I made sure to set aside the time to go and check them out. Holy shit, what a dark, savage, chaotic, guttural performance, seemingly unholy and inhuman, the entire band were incredible. Their lead singer, Doedsadmiral lumbered and staggered about the stage, walloping the crowd with pestilent, necrotic lyrics, hovering over his mic looking as much like a maniac in a Rob Zombie film as a black metal front man. This was no mere gimmick though, it was like filthy and delicious world-ending cataclysm, fueled by ferocity, raining down on thousands of fans. How they can perform with some of those spikes, without puncturing an eye, is a feat in itself. Brutally delicious.
Iron Maiden, June 24th, Hellfest
Undoubtedly, Iron Maiden have forged a legacy as one of the finest bands we’ll ever know in metal, forging a reputation over the course of decades for their electric live performances. Hash tag #consummate. So when they headline a massive festival like Hellfest, and elect to hit the stage before the sun sets, you can guess that it’s going to be something special. From the moment their signature WWII themed voyage took flight, with the whole Winston Churchill speech, and the band playing beneath a massive Spitfire airplane proper suspended from the stage, the entire affair was peppered with incredible stage production, that only played second to an incredible “best of” type Maiden set flowing from the stage and into the faces an ears of what felt like a million fans. If you’ve never got the Fear of the Dark sing-along off your bucket list, this would have been an amazing day to do so, as countless fans raised their fists into the air and sang along with every single word. Haunting and breathtaking.
And so we take a moment to reflect and caress the memories of another amazing year of live metal, while gazing forward to an incredibly promising 2019. We have plans lined up for the likes of 70 Thousand Tons of Metal, Hellfest 2019, Sonic Temple Festival and pretty much everything else that’s important in the new year. We look forward to sharing our adventures with you in 2019.
We couldn’t cover everything that happened in 2018, so share with us some of your own favorite performances of the year, in the comments section below! \m/