If there was ever an indication of just how strong a year Canadian metal had, it was in the flood of album votes that flooded my inbox this past month. A total of 57 titles were chosen by 16 Hellbound contributors as representing the very best this fine country had to offer. In the end, the ten records that received the most votes turned out to be a terrific example of the healthy diversity in Canadian metal today: ‘80s legends, the country’s Next Big Thing, noise metal mainstays, psychedelic traditionalists and innovators alike, good, old-fashioned thrash, black metal, occult-themed doom, and topping off the list, the long-awaited return by one of Quebec’s most beloved metal exports. It’s a shame to cut this list off at ten, but for the record, the five top albums that missed the cut include Monarque’s Lys Noir, Sylvus’s Upon the Onyx Throne, Funeral Circle’s Funeral Circle, Black Wizard’s Young Wisdom, and La Chinga’s La Chinga. Here’s hoping 2014 is half as good as this past year was.
10. Untimely Demise – Systematic Eradication (self-released)
Untimely Demise knows what works for them, and on Systematic Eradication they have once again enlisted Glen Drover for recording/producing/mastering and Ed Repka for artwork. What is different on this album is what the band itself has done, fine tuning their blend of melodic death metal-influenced thrash. Systematic Eradication features more diverse and complete sounding songs than previous releases, including more melody without sacrificing intensity, and more refined soloing without overshadowing the song itself. At 34 minutes it’s a relatively quick but solid listen and a big step forward for the band. (Jason Wellwood)
9. Cauchemar – Tenebrario (Nuclear War Now!)
While she may be known best for her excellent book Hellbent For Cooking, Annick Giroux is also quite a formidable metal vocalist and for the past five or so years has fronted the Montreal-based Cauchemar along with her husband, guitarist Francois Patry. Tenebrario, the band’s debut full length album, is an excellent offering of doom infused eighties style metal that would sit well on the Rise Above label roster. While many album reviews have compared the band to Pagan Altar, Id argue that this is a better record than anything PA has ever released. Solid musicianship and the all-French lyrics make Tenebrario a unique album on the current Canadian metal scene and one well worth investigating if you are not already on board.
8. Pyres – Year of Sleep (Granite House)
Although they’re from Toronto, I must admit that Pyres wasn’t on my radar screen…until I heard Year of Sleep. A perfectly-produced piece of post-sludge that stands up there with anything else said sub-genre spat out this year—and they’re from right here in my backyard!? Fuckin’ eh dude, fuckin’ eh. And lest the thought of some sprawling 76-minute opus send you scurrying for the slopes, know that this one is a perfectly compact six tracks in 40 minutes. Man, you can’t even make it to Hamilton on the QEW in that time! (Gruesome Greg)
Read Hellbound’s review of Year of Sleep by Gruesome Greg
7. KEN Mode – Entrench (Season of Mist)
KEN mode isn’t just a good band, they are exceptional, and they are aging like a fine wine. The Matthewson brothers are now joined by bassist Andrew LaCour, formerly of Khann, on Entrench, their fifth full-length, a metallic noise rock juggernaut that’s both busy and spacious, unrelenting and calm. It’s catchy, as with the ironically anthemic chorus of “Your Heartwarming Story Makes Me Sick”, and there are moments of near heart attack inducing frenzy. Indeed, aside from calmer terrain like the lulling of “Romeo Must Never Know”, Entrench is driven by a pressing sense of urgency. (Jay H. Gorania)
Read Hellbound’s review of Entrench by Matt Hinch
6. Thrawsunblat – Thrawsunblat II: Wanderer on the Continent of Saplings (self-released)
Following the tragic death of Woods of Ypres frontman David Gold and the band’s subsequent disbanding, former guitarist Joel Violette was able to fully turn his attention to Thrawsunblat. Originally a side project between himself and David, Joel recruited the help of Immortal Bird drummer Rae Amitay and a few others, and set out to create a concept album centering on the themes of struggle and loss. Told through a palate of melodic death and folk metal, the listener is taken on a journey as the protagonist must overcome obstacles while traversing scenic landscapes that mirror that of the wild Canadian terrain. Down tempo songs like “Goose River” and “Maritime Shores” drip with the brininess of the East coast air, while most others evoke a heaviness akin to a dense fog draped over the mountain ranges in the West. It is truly an accomplished work – especially considering it was recorded and released without any major label backing – and it’s one that speaks to the transformative and healing powers of music. If you’re a Canadian metalhead, this album should feel like home. (Renee Trotier)
(tie) 4. Shooting Guns – Brotherhood of the Ram (self-released)
Just as the train in the video for “Go Blind” from Brotherhood of the Ram, the sophomore LP from Saskatoon’s Shooting Guns throws up billowing clouds of snow in its wake, so does the psychedelic spacerock on hand throw up billowing clouds of feel-good molecules in the brain. Serotonin, dopamine, anandamide, and even oxytocin course through the veins as their hypnotic, repetitive riffs draped in synths and keys penetrate the consciousness. Smooth bass and intuitive percussion round out the fuzzed-out stoner friendly instrumental album. Shooting Guns hit the bullseye once again. (Matt Hinch)
Read Hellbound’s review of Brotherhood of the Ram by Matt Hinch
Blood Ceremony – The Eldritch Dark (Rise Above/Metal Blade)
Toronto’s own minstrels in the gallery triumphed this year with The Eldritch Dark, a lean, hooked-filled romp that deserves a hearty toast on this year-end list. What stands out most is their unpretentious celebration of a good tune as they fashion their bewitching tapestry from wood, wires, wind and The Wicker Man. The entire band smokes, but the magic really arises from the combination of Sean Kennedy’s songwriting and Alia O’Brien’s vocal, flute and keyboard prowess. Elegant songs like “Drawing Down the Moon” and should-be-a-hit “Goodbye Gemini” take Blood Ceremony well outside the murky chambers in which occult rock often dwells. (Rob Hughes)
Read Hellbound’s review of The Eldritch Dark by Gruesome Greg
3. Voivod – Target Earth (Century Media)
We can picture it now: Daniel Mongrain hunched over a practice amp with copies of Killing Technology, Dimension Hatross and Nothingface topping a stack of records to his left, a bare light bulb swinging above him mad scientist-style and a collection of empty energy drink cans and squishy ginseng tea bags to his right. It’s here in this disheveled metallic laboratory that the man (probably, but probably not) studied the collected works of one Denis “Piggy” D’amour in creating the remarkably faithful to the core, but still enigmatically unique, riffing style comprising the album no one thought would, or could, ever be made. But student Mongrain fucking nailed it and, along with the remaining original members, delivered ten songs that are just as space age-y, dissonant, progressive, melodic and all the superlatives of the band’s golden age. (Kevin Stewart-Panko)
Read Hellbound’s review of Target Earthby Sean Palmerston
2. Anciients – Heart of Oak (Season of Mist)
Riffs. Thunder-from-the-mountains riffs. Like the kind the old gods would appreciate. Heart of Oak brings riffs and that’s all that matters, none of this “Mastodonic blahblah” and “Baronessian hoo-hah”. Anciients remember that the power is in the riff and their debut full-length is the proof, and the goods. Weaving intricate stories out of riff thread, Heart of Oak melds progression, brutality, and above all, heart. As debut albums go, it’s one hell of a journey, and one of the finest albums our true north strong and free offered up in 2013. (Kyle Harcott)
Read Hellbound’s review of Heart of Oak by Kyle Harcott
Hellbound’s Canadian Metal Album of the Year:
1. Gorguts – Colored Sands (Season of Mist)
A mandala is an intricate thing. In the Hindu and Buddhist religions, it symbolizes the Universe. Circle or square, it begins in the centre before lines are drawn out, extending themselves to the outer frame. Quebecois tech death metallers Gorguts drew a similar outline on Colored Sands. Like the subgenre they practice, the album is just as intense and ornate, and after a 12-year hiatus, the album is more than a rebound in the world of extreme metal.
Lead vocalist and guitarist Luc Lemay explored Tibetan culture, particularly entrenched in the creation and destruction of sand mandalas. The vibrantly coloured details that took so long to produce are obliterated to symbolize the impermanence of life. It’s audible on the title track, with dark, minor, progressive notes slowly rising to a crushing climax. Lyrically, “Forgotten Arrows” is just as poetic as an intertwining mandala, following strong instrumentation by guitarist Kevin Hufnagel. With classical strings on “The Battle of Chamdo,” the weaving riffs on “Enemies of Compassion,” and non-violence stance of “Reduced to Silence,” Gorguts have reached a definitive sound with these highlights.
Lemay’s decision to encapsulate a cultural practice in song has been a wise one. It’s purported that the production of grid-like images should induce a meditative state. The production of sand mandalas require focus, dedication and like Colored Sands, a significant period of time. With colourful musicality and a respected lineup, the compositions take shape and inspire listeners to delve further. Well worth the wait, spare this album from ruin and listen. (Ola Mazzuca)
Hey Hellbound readers, thanks for making your way through our list! Let us know what your three favourite Canadian albums of 2013 are by leaving a comment.