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A Brief Guide to the Canadian Metal Scene

Unleash the Archers

Though casual music fans first learned about it through the enormously-popular documentary Anvil: The Story of Anvil, Canada’s metal scene has been thriving since the 1980s. Due to the sheer size of the country, and its isolation from metal epicenters like L.A., San Francisco, New York, or England, the bands it produced were more idiosyncratic, influenced by a wider range of music, and not beholden to regional styles or trends.

Kyle Harcott, drummer for Device and contributor to many notable metal websites, was young when the Canadian metal scene was just emerging. “In the mid ’80s in Canada, us hoser kids were lucky to have a distribution chain like Banzai Records licensing, providing us with outrageous and obscure import metal from Europe,” he says, “easily available across the country—and not at import prices.”

Bands across Canada may have absorbed those foreign influences, but they made them their own. Anvil helped bring the New Wave of British Heavy Metal to Canadian shores. Toronto-area bands like Slaughter, Sacrifice, and Razor bridged the gap between thrash and death metal. Ottawan speed metal acts Annihilator and Exciter snapped necks. Helix, Killer Dwarfs, and Kick Axe oozed salacious sleaze all over glam metal. Lee Aaron dominated as the metal queen, and Québécois weirdos Voivod tore open a hole in the time-space continuum with their cyberpunk-influenced prog thrash. “Look at the music we were lucky enough to get to call our own!” Harcott enthuses. “When a figure no less than [Darkthrone’s] Fenriz writes a song about Canadian metal, you know our scene has to be pretty goddamn passionate, both musician and fan alike.”

Metal’s practitioners have always venerated its history, so it’s no surprise that a newer generation—led by groups like Striker, Skull Fist, and Cauldron—would pick up the sword and continue the tradition. No matter their place of origin, these bands are brought together by their shared passion for the obscure music they love. “I think a lot of Canadian trad-metal bands appear to be concerned with capturing a certain spirit of the early ‘80s,” Harcott says. “You can definitely see it in their appearance. It’s almost a dress code at this point.”

Old-school Canadian metal bands may draw from a decades-old sound, but their enthusiasm makes it feel fresh. Here are eight acts keeping the northern lights metallic.

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