With July 1st being our nation’s official birthday here in Canada, we thought we’d try to do something to pay honour to the many great bands and albums in the metal realm that our ten provinces and three territories have given birth to. We asked Hellbound’s regular contributors to write a paragraph or two about their favourite Canadian metal album of all time, the results of which follow below. All of the albums mentioned are indeed worthy of the nod and worth checking out if you have never heard them before.
When I was thinking about my favourite Canadian metal album I must admit nothing popped in my head instantly to say this or that album is my absolute favourite. I decided that even though there are great unknown bands I wanted to choose something that made us Canadian’s proud by getting international attention as well. The two bands that instantly popped in my head were Skinny Puppy and Voivod. Since Skinny Puppy isn’t really metal all I had left to figure out which Voivod album I liked best. So I decided that my favourite Canadian metal album of all time is Voivod’s self-titled Voivod.
The trash and speed metal of the late 80’s was where my first interest in metal began. Voivod was released in 2003 but it has that guitar sound I loved so much as a teenager. The vocals are powerful and gritty instead of sappy. The drums and bass are added to fill out the sound that makes the band work so well together without any single instrument meaning more then another.
The album art isn’t as interesting as some of their other albums (The Outer Limits wins for favourite album cover) but it’s still has that sci-fi alien look that makes the band’s album covers so recognizable even if you couldn’t see the band’s name on the front. Keeping with the sci-fi theme alien themed lyrics are always good. There’s a song about UFO’s “Les Cigares Volants” which is one of my favourites of the album.
It may be cliché to pick Voivod as the band’s name almost always comes up when discussing Canadian metal but then isn’t that a good thing?
Looking back, in 1984-85 I just wasn’t ready for Voivod at all. The atonality, the discordance, the idiosyncratic vocals, the unrelenting brutality heard on War and Pain and Rrroooaaarrr was the most impenetrable metal sound this young metalhead had ever heard, and I ended up tuning them out for several years, eschewing the avant-garde for sounds considerably more conventional. Voivod never did themselves any favours, either, creating pieces of music so arch that there was never a track that could serve as an “in” for novice listeners. Either you got “Ripping Headaches” or you didn’t.
That all changed in 1988, when the first video from their fourth album premiered in 1988. You could practically hear the collective jaws of an entire generation of Canadian metal fans hit the floor upon hearing “Tribal Convictions”: the pace on the track was much slower, the arrangement far more economic than anything they had recorded before. Denis “Piggy” D’Amour’s twisted take on the doom riff instantly memorable…and wait, was Snake actually singing? In one fell swoop, Voivod had made the leap from thrash weirdos to cutting-edge progressive metal auteurs, Dimension Hatröss kicking off a period of unparalleled innovation, its eight tracks thrilling, adventurous, and ahead of their time, from the ferocity of “Experiment”, to the stunning guitar work on “Brain Scan”, to the monumental “Psychic Vacuum”. While many people’s heads were starting to turn towards the nascent death metal movement, at the age of 18, I found the more serpentine, unpredictable path that Voivod was forging to be far more enticing. 21 years later, Dimension Hatröss remains as enigmatic as ever, its mystery and peculiarity continuing to draw me in.
My favourite Canadian metal album of all time generally depends on mood. However, since the world tends to piss me off on a daily basis, I find that nothing soothes the beastly anger like Razor‘s beautifully aggressive 1990 epic Shotgun Justice (Fringe). Seething with bitter malice, hyperactive rhythms, tongue-in-cheek humour and piercing vocals, to me, it’s the epitome of blind rage colliding with wit, sarcasm and people who have been dealt a shitty hand long enough. Listening to the pent-up frustration of “American Luck” or the God-I’ve-Wanted-To-Do-That revenge of the title track is liberating, even if only in my imagination. Couple it with spotless music that bolsters the message and, well, I’m hooked. The musical equivalent of Michael Douglas vehicle Falling Down with even more violence, Shotgun Justice is a cathartic release set to what is Canada’s outright thrash metal masterpiece. People wonder why metal heads can be so mellow but listen to such angry music. For people like myself, I can get out the shittiness of the day through song. If they only knew that within one album I had blown heads off, committed parricide, busted up a club, quit my job and shown the meaning of pain…
My favourite Canadian metal album is Storming The Gates by Goat Horn. Storming The Gates should’ve been one of the biggest records ever. Maybe is still will be. This is metal mecca — the best of 1980’s NWOBHM meets doom metal, thrash metal, somehow managing to sound classic and wicked old-school yet new and modern. Catchy yet challenging. Cheesy yet dark. Seamless integration of hellish speed and brooding doom. Lyrics add an unexpected dimension to the album, with all the fist-pumping glory of Priest and Dio and a story about overcoming fear and oppression and uniting under the flags of beer and heavy metal. Storming the Gates is more than an 80’s throwback album. It’s all the best of an old sound, pumped full of new blood and new energy and crushing anthem to the metal hordes.
My favourite Canadian metal album of all time is Angel Rat by Voivod. I am not going to lie. I am a Voivod fanboy and proud of it. Something about Snake’s lyrics, Piggy’s unique riffing, Away’s drumming and surreal artwork has always deeply spoken to me. I was a late comer to the Voivod party. Besides seeing the music video for their Pink Floyd cover “Astronomy Domine” multiple times on Much muMic, I had never heard a full album until the mid 90’s. Angel Rat was my first full exposure to the Voivodian experience. I picked it up used along with The Outer Limits and Nothingface at a local cd store. I am not sure who the poor fool was that would sell such classic albums but I would like to thank them in person. Released in ’91, Angel Rat found Voivod basically jettisoning their thrash attack from days of yore and becoming much more melodic yet still retaining their weird, spacey, progish tendencies. Even their normally atonal vocalist Snake must have taken some vocal lessons because this is the closest he would come to melodic singing. He sounds great on it. Well as great as someone with a nickname of Snake can sound. *grin*
I could describe what I like about each and every song but I will spare you my unabashed gushing and just touch upon a few of my favorites. After a quick sample of short wave radio frequencies they break into “Panorama”. Probably the closest this album comes to thrashing out. The boys showing they still have the chops and haven’t abandoned metal. “The Prow” is another favourite, an energetic rocker with a very infectious chorus. It’s a great tale of a journey through the milky way on a pirate ship. The title track is a slow, spacey, psychedelic tune with ominous lyrics. Love it! Last but not least is “Golem”. It lyrically through metaphor describes what many of us sometimes feel living down here on Earth, working just to survive. “I don’t care what I am, I am the never man, I ask my kindred spirit, why do I dream of kites?”
From what I’ve read, this album threw a lot of old school fans for a loop and wasn’t nearly as well received as Nothingface. With the benefit of hindsight, almost 20 years later this album has arguably held out song for song much better than some of their earlier albums. Piggy sounds fantastic on AR and dare I say is at his most innovative and creative as a guitarist. There are some mind bending riffs and solos scattered throughout, imbued with a tone and style as though he was beaming his guitar notes through the rings of Saturn. This album has many diverse and intriguing songs that could appeal to rock and metal fans of all types. I hear something new every time I spin it. Sadly I suspect that very few metal heads have heard the amazing music that lies within. If you have never had the pleasure of indulging in this Canadian Metal Classic than do yourself a bloody favour and give this album a well deserved listen. If you’re open minded then come and join these cosmonauts on a journey into the sonic ether. You won’t be disappointed!
My favourite Canadian metal album of all time is Helix‘s Walking The Razor’s Edge. In 1984 my Saturdays consisted of hanging out at the local roller skate rink and ‘roller-dancing’ to a setlist that consisted of Michael Jackson (R.I.P) songs, cheesy disco and the occasional rock / metal song that had made the top 40 on Kingston’s radio stations. I was enthralled by the campy video for “Rock You,” and I thought that singer Brian Vollmer was really hot with his shaggy blond mullet.
We would triumphantly raise our fists to “gimme an R! O! C! K!” while racing around the rink in too-tight denim jeans (and replacing “rock you!” with “fuck you”). Walking The Razor’s Edge served as what I would realize years later, a huge transition in not only the Canadian metal scene, but also my listening habits. The single was a undeniable hit, even changing the minds of my disco-loving friends. Through Helix – and admittedly, I was surprised that such a band came from Canada – I went on to discover Rush and much later, Voivod.
Helix was the first Canadian band whose video I paid attention to as I was more interested in American pop music. My friends and I were enthralled with the video featuring the band dressed as cavemen frolicking around a fire, ravishing hunks of meat and young, nubile women. The video was hot, and so was the band, compelling me to pick up the album and later, I slow-rollerskated to their cover of A Foot in Cold Water’s “(Make Me Do) Anything You Want.”
I recently emailed Vollmer to get some background on the recording of Walking The Razor’s Edge.”We almost didn’t use the song “Rock You,” he admits. “We had two other songs with the word “Rock” in the title and we thought that was too much. In the end, our producer Tom Treumouth and manager William Seip talked some sense into us and we recorded the song, which became the biggest hit of our career.
“The only thing I ever resented about the song was the fact that I wrote the verse lyrics and never received credit.”
My Favourite Canadian Metal Album is Rojos by Diablo Red. The first time I heard Diablo Red was on CKLN. They played an Ossington Avenue dive bar (The Trinport, which is now a country/western tavern) one Saturday nite, and Miss Barbrafisch liked ‘em so much that she invited frontman Rob Hare into the studio (at CKLN – ED) for an interview. It was the first time I heard most of the songs on Rojos, their debut album, which I picked up a couple weeks later when they played a gig with Nice Cat at the ElMo. April 2, 2006 – incidentally, it was the eve of my birthday, and a Sunday nite, too.
I already had their second album, released a couple weeks prior, but I liked Rojos a whole lot more. (They’ve since released a third album, but the fourth one is up in the air as the band’s now on hiatus.) It opens with “The Dweller,” a 2-3 minute instrumental of nothing but slow, heavy riffing, setting you up for “Rise of the Fallen,” the band’s drinking anthem and long-time set closer, until they forgot how to play it. Although it’s the most anthemic tune on Rojos, it’s far from the only one. “Southbound,” “Burn,” “Seven Smokes” and “The Phoenix” are all choice cuts, and “Faith for the Faithless” is damn near the best southern rock ballad since Free fuckin’ Bird!
Diablo Red plays a style that’s been self-described as Whisky Swillin’ Southern Doom. It’s the slogan printed on one of my three Diablo Red T-Shirts. (Another one says Diablo Red Is The Truth—and that ain’t no lie!) It’s the combination of the heavy doom grooves with the guitar fuzztones and whiskey-soaked vocals of Lyrnyd Skynyrd and ZZ Top that gets me going every time. For several weeks, I had this album on repeat, along with A Statue of Mary With Bullhorns (their second record) and a demo of some stuff that later appeared on album number three, Lower the Troll. They rarely left my CD player in 2006.
To me, Rojos falls under the classic debut album category. I think it was one of the guys from Boston who said “You have your whole life to write your debut album,” which explains why it’s often a band’s best work. Diablo Red formed in 2002, and Rojos was released in late 2005, putting the Boston theory firmly into play. Alas, after seven years of regular practicing and gigging, Diablo Red is basically a non-entity these days. The band’s singer left Toronto and moved to Sarnia, their bassist joined a glam metal band, and their guitar player’s got a baby girl at home now. Yet Rojos lives on as a southern (Ontario) rock classic, even after the band’s demise. “May you be in heaven 40 years before the devil knows you’re gone…”
My favorite Canadian metal album of all time is Dead Brain Cells by D.B.C.. Very tough to choose a favorite with competition from Canadian legends such as Razor, Sacrifice, and Voivod, but D.B.C.’s first record really gets the blood pumping from start finish…all killer, no filler. From the intense buildup intro of “Deadlock,” that morphs into full on raging thrash, to “Final Act” with its midpaced crunch, the album punishes you in a quick 33 minutes.
It’s not all speed here though, D.B.C. displays progressive and fairly technical playing with many twisting riffs and leads, weaving through start/stop structures. A crossover feel permiates throughout the album due to both Phil Dakin’s shouting rants, and the average song being about 2 minutes of speed and intensity. Lyrically, social concerns and anti-government control are passionatly spat out with disgust.
I never tire of this album and have owned it for over 20 years. Being a huge thrash and crossover fan, Dead Brain Cells is perfect for when you need a good headbanging and air guitaring session. Not only my favorite Canadian metal album but it’s up there as a favorite of all time, any country, any genre of music.
My favorite Canadian metal album is Nemesis by Obliveon. It’s probably not the best Canadian metal album, nor even the one I listen to the most, but it’s nevertheless my favorite for reasons I’d have a hard time articulating. It’s said that the tastiness of a dish correlates with the difficulty in attaining it, and that might be a factor here. In the early 90s, you couldn’t read an issue of Metal Maniacs without reading some mention of the band by Borivoj Krgin, and from that I developed a minor obsession with Obliveon, even though my non-existent ties to the underground made it impossible for me to actually find the thing. I had to resort to scouring actual CD shops for the thing, and of course that was mostly a fruitless task… until I discovered Eide’s Music in Pittsburgh PA. Over the course of a couple years, I was able to buy three USED copies of Nemesis from Eide’s, still one of the best metal shops in the States. The first time I heard the album, I nearly shit my pants. It conveys the fundamental coldness in which the best tech metal is always steeped, but it did it with so much energy and verve. From those first stuttering, not-quite-in-time synth hits that open the album to their reprise in “Strays of the Soul,” through all the bad English grammar and funny pronunciations (“dy-NA-mo! Powered by the dy-NA-mo!”), Nemesis hooked me in a way very few albums have since. The album had been out a couple years by the time I actually found a copy, but I wrote to the address anyway to inquire about the band’s goings-on, and guitarist Martin Gagné wrote back very quickly. He and I became pen pals and friends, and he even let me crash at his place when I drove up to Montréal for the Cybervoid release party. I may be in the minority of people who think that album is as good as Nemesis, but for all that, Nemesis, my first Obliveon, will always be my favorite. “Turn the booster on! Drive the power up… to the maximum! Climax, highest impulse!”
My favourite Canadian metal album is Vices by Kick Axe. Growing up in Regina, SK we didn’t have many metal heroes – unless you call Streetheart or the Queen City Kids metal – but there was something about Kick Axes’s anthemic metal/rock that latched right onto me when I was a wee lad. Maybe it had to do with my older brother dating bassist Victor Langen’s sister for over a year, or the night she stayed at my cottage in her nightdress and we were messing around playing some silly game when one of her gigantic nuts* fell out of her dress and she didn’t realize this for like 20 seconds and I was in nut* heaven. No wonder I turned out to be such a deviant. But i digress… Kick Axe, who were called Cambridge at first, really turned it up a notch when they got American George Criston in the band. He could stand head to head vocally with the Keels,Icons and Black and Blues of the day.With songs such as “Cause For Alarm,” “Alive and Kicking” and “Heavy Metal Shuffle,” Vices just screamed metal. Their songs were perfect for summers at the cottage in Saskatchewan and they had the brains to be a notch over all that bad hair metal. Plus they could actually play! Great vocal harmonies and excellent twin guitar playing made this an enjoyable metal offering for me and one I still return to.
*nut = breast
My favourite Canadian metal album of all time Strappado by Toronto’s Slaughter. Every time I mention this Slaughter I find myself having to explain that no, this is not the hair metal band of slight early 90’s fame. Instead, these guys were from here in Canada and played a rather early style of death metal that was influenced by the likes of Venom and Celtic Frost. Unlike other early death bands like Death and Possessed, Slaughter (at least at this point) were as much about heaviness as they were about speed. Strappado has some thick, killer riffs that grind forward and it’s easy to see why this band had a bit of a cult following. With all the bands trying to blaze forward, Slaughter stood out a little because their direction was far more about creating a pounding sound that you would not just hear but also feel in your bones. The vocals are even less of a typical thrash style, actually there is a slight hardcore influence as well rather than the standard growling of most early death metal singers. A few songs sound a little bit alike yet that’s not all that important compared to the relatively fierce sound they churned out with ease on this underground classic. The re-issue also includes an entire live show that sounds like the band is playing to maybe a dozen people in a basement on a Tuesday night somewhere in Toronto. The quality of the live recording is extremely raw, even by 80’s standards, yet their style and agrressiveness shine past their primitive sound and off the cuff banter with the crowd. It may not have seemed like an essential release in 1986 amidst all of the typical thrash of the times, but Strappado holds up well and there’s no doubt it was influential on death metal bands over the next half decade or so.
My favourite Canadian metal album is Gods Of War by Canada’s infamous Blasphemy from British Columbia. They rode the the first wave of black metal, toured with Immortal and Rotting Christ, featured on Fenriz of Darkthrone’s old school black metal compilation CD (first song even! – ED) and still has kept a modest underground approach to their music. The album Gods of War will always be apart of my collection. Respect!
My favourite Canadian metal album is Shallow, North Dakota‘s This Apparatus Must Be Earthed. Metal not being my musical genre of choice, it was at a live gig that I first heard Shallow, North Dakota. I was instantly entranced with the sludgey guitar work of Dan Dunham, the detached coolness of Mike Young and the full throttle roar of Tony Jacome on vocals and drums. Arguably the loudest Canadian band of the 90s, Shallow, North Dakota provided a crushing aural assault that carried me away. This Apparatus uses cleverly crafted noise within the songs and explores repetition.The result are songs that sometimes stick with a groove until the listener submits to a satisfying power trance. The title song is a perfect example of this. Alternately, tunes like The Lubber get into the body cavity, infecting the audience with mounting anticipation. While beer is the quintessential metal drink, I highly recommend herbal enhancement for listening to This Apparatus.
My favourite Canadian metal album is not nearly as easy to pick as I thought it would be. In fact, I have been going back and forth on it for the past 10 days and have changed my mind at least a dozen times. Yes, I thought up the idea of running this specifically for Canada Day, but I wasn’t really considering just how fucking hard it is to whiddle down selections to just one album. So I have broken the rules and decided to pick two.
It will probably come as little surprise to anyone that knows me that my two selections are both Voivod albums, Dimension Hatross and Angel Rat to be precise. While Nothingface is arguably the band’s most popular album overall, these two albums that surround it chronologically have had the most impact on me.
Hatross was just mindblowing to me in the late 80s, a futuristic, space metal creation that sounded like nothing else I had ever heard. It was light years ahead of its time. Angel Rat, on the other hand, is an album that took a long time for me to like, let alone love. I was ultimately disappointed with it when I bought it new in 1991, wondering why my fave Quebec metallers had gone all rock. I didn’t click with it and shelved it, only to return to it some six years later when a friend suggested it may just be their diamond in the rough. It is. The songs on this album are so strong, things like “The Prow” and “Freedoom” are just impossible to get out of your head. These two albums are my most played Voivod albums and the ones I return to continuously.
My favourite Canadian metal album is Ocean Machine’s Biomech. Every once in a while I come across a collection of songs that, for whatever reason, becomes imprinted with a particular time and place. Originally released under the name of Devin Townsend’s Ocean Machine project, Biomech is one of the loudest, heaviest, and yet most relaxing metal albums I’ve ever heard. Anyone familiar with Townsend’s work can probably anticipate the smorgasbord of sounds and layers that make up the songs. At the same time, the album has a sound all its own with its walls of guitars, drums, synthesizers, sound effects, mixed dialogue, and ambient filler. It’s not a terribly aggressive album, instead showcasing only some of the emotional range and impact that the genre can offer. Even after repeated listens and knowing the contexts surrounding its creation, it still strangely reminds me of Pink Floyd’s The Division Bell in its overall feeling and tone. Biomech is an album to put on and chill out with, preferably in the (mental or physical) company of friends, lovers, and acquaintances both present and past.
My favourite Canadian metal album… Okay, I’m not denying the all-around fortitude of the likes of Sacrifice’s Forward to Termination, Razor’s Evil Invaders, various Voivod records and whatever Devin Townsend related project Matt “Hugo” Lewis is likely to blow his load over, but since multiple folks around here are going to throw props in those directions (and I’ll be as surprised as shit if no one does), I figured I’d go with a couple outsider picks. Maybe these picks aren’t as outside as Kittens’ Bazooka and the Hustler or Nomeansno’s 0+2=1, but these omissions only speak to Hellbound’s focus. So anyway… it’s a tie gang. My favourite Canadian metal albums are Drexell’s Eye’s Always Room For More and Protest the Hero’s Kezia.
Drexell’s Eye was a fiercely independent band from Edmonton who spent most of the mid-90s DIY touring across this great nation of ours and when they weren’t slogging around in that brown-ish death trap they called a van, the trio stopped and caught their breath just long enough to capture the unhinged fury of their in-your-face live show back in 1994. Listening to Always Room For More today brings back a lot of memories of hanging with Owen, Mark and Geoff back in the day, but it’s also frustrating because this band should have been huge. They combined the intense riffage of the cream of thrash’s second wave crop (i.e. Forced Entry, Anacrusis), the stuttering influence of Meshuggah before they were the Meshuggah we know today, free form grind freakouts, tons of noisy punk and hardcore into a precarious mélange that produced quizzically-sounding tunes like “Sauce,” “Perfect Plan” and “Freak,” all of which still come across as fresh and original to this day. Good luck trying to find this anywhere, but if you listen to Hellbound Radio one of these nights, you never know what you might hear…
As for Protest the Hero, if people could just get their dumb assess and dumber heads around the fact that these kids weren’t pulled out of the womb wearing studded wristbands and Paradise Lost longsleeves, they might cotton on to the excellent metal these Whitby song smiths offered up on their 2005 album. You’d be hard pressed to find a better mix of prog/thrash/whatever than on Kezia, and the injection of melody, likely ingrained in their DNA from their days as a NOFX cover band, make this so much more palatable than the texture-less prog metal that gets a free pass in the forums because their members were supposedly born with studded wristbands and Paradise Lost longsleeves. Plus, it’s a ridiculously in-depth concept album about a chick being persecuted for “crimes of a sexual nature” and that’s good enough for me.
LAURA WIEBE TAYLOR
En masse, Voïvod’s discography tops my Canadian metal soundtrack, feeding both my nostalgic impulses and my more discriminating musical preferences. But as much as I love albums like Dimension Hatröss, The Outer Limits and Phobos, for me no one Voïvod record surpasses Devin Townsend‘s Terria (HevyDevy) as a representation of Canada in musical form. The song “Canada” makes Terria an obvious choice, with its lyrics about driving through the prairies into the mountains, its twangy western guitar, its rhythmic roll and swell, its rich harmonies and sampled French. But every track can be interpreted as a Canadian homage of sorts. As the title Terria suggests, this album is more landscape than urban environment. The rolling plains (“Canada” and “Down and Under”) meet (upbeat) glacier carved rock (“Fluke”) and thunderous peaks (“Mountain”) as the songs move musically from one region to another. Townsend’s characteristic ‘tsunami of sound’ production dominates every song. It’s a wave of overwhelming and interweaving currents: layers of guitars, thick bass, multiple tracks of vocals, keyboards, piano and ambient sounds. Melodies soar sometimes, grate at others, sometimes break into counterpoint or ease into soothing reflections. All this resonates, contrasts and blends together in a miles deep atmosphere and vast terrain. Terria is also personal, a dramatic but intimate, near-confessional tale of tempest and peace. The loud power it begins with gradually flows into a much more laid-back, contemplative roll and swell, never quite letting go of the intensity driving the album’s complexity. The long songs take the time to develop, exploring an image, an idea, letting it take shape before it fades and builds into the next. If it wasn’t for the final ‘secret’ track, Terria would be an unqualified masterpiece. As it is, Terria unfolds as one of Devin Townsend’s finest moments, perhaps the finest.
My favourite Canadian metal album of all time is Devin Townsend’s brilliant, Terria. From opener “Olives” to closer “Universal”, Townsend takes you on a musical voyage across Canada itself, with musings of the open road across the country. Really hitting stride as a producer on this, Devin creates a vast soundscape unlike anything that I had ever heard before. Layers upon layers of guitar and synths, along with the great Gene Hoglan on drums, combine into a beautifully sculpted musical masterpiece.
This album (along with Woods of Ypres’ Pursuit of the Sun and Allure of the Earth, my second favourite Canadian metal album… but that’s another article) provided the soundtrack for my drive across Canada in 2005. Touring mountainous Northern Canada to “Mountains”, while perusing the prairies to “Deep Peace”, the memories only add to the personal connection of the album to the Great White North.