Tag Archives: Toronto

The Toronto Metal Scene: Eight Bands to Know

Though Toronto has always had a strong metal scene, its contributions are often overshadowed by those coming from nearby Quebec—where metal might as well be a way of life—or by its own output in other genres, especially indie rock, electronic, and hip-hop.

But Toronto has always been a beacon of heaviness for those who are paying attention. From ’80s thrash-metal acts like Sacrifice, Slaughter, and Infernäl Mäjesty, to more contemporary bands like the wickedly devilish occult rockers Blood Ceremony, and the black-metal mysteries of Thantifaxath to the playfully-poppy output of Godstopper, there’s plenty of dark, riffy goodness to be found in the 6, so long as you know where to look.

These days, the city’s metal scene feels more invigorated and vital than ever before. There have been setbacks, namely the shuttering of venues like D-Beatstro (2015-2018) and Coalition (2015-2019), which booked metal acts on the regular (and in the case of the latter, almost exclusively). Nevertheless, Toronto’s rich, enthusiastic DIY underground pushes ever onward, cranking out every sort of wretched sound under the sun: epic doom, vintage thrash, heavy psych, no-BS metalcore, gut-twisting death metal, and more. Here are eight bands leading the way.

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Album of the Day: Weaves, “Wide Open”

In just five short years, Weaves have become one of Canada’s most renowned indie rock bands, their debut full-length album earning prestigious nominations for both the Polaris Music Prize and the Juno Awards. Little more than a year later, the Toronto quartet returns with Wide Open, a contemplative, expertly-crafted follow-up that greatly expands the band’s sonic spectrum without abandoning their core pop punk ethos.

The band has referred to their latest offering as its “Americana” record, a comparison that starts to make sense when it’s not taken literally. Indeed, Wide Open is a record that gathers disparate influences and styles, including a variety of roots-indebted sounds, and merges them into a surprisingly cohesive whole: the infectious power pop of “Walkaway,” the album’s centerpiece; the experimental jazz stylings of “Scream,” which features Tanya Tagaq; the Tom Petty-esque heartland rock of “Grass;” and the gentle bedroom folk that begins “Puddle.”

OLead singer Jasmyn Burke has also sharpened her focus as a songwriter, which is most apparent on socially-conscious anthems like “Wide Open” and “Scream.” “We are living in a time when misery is just common circumstance,” she sings on the latter. “I am frozen, I’m sublime, I am searching for some fresh watermelons.” Whether they’re incorporating fresh sounds or crafting newly-inspired punk didactics, Weaves has never sounded as self-assured, or as resolutely urgent, as they do on Wide Open.

Jonathan Bernstein 

Toronto’s Plasmalab on Spaces, Places, and Memes

Plasmalab

Photo by Mark Fragua.

Toronto trio Plasmalab’s snarling, squealing sludge-punk fires guttural rage at a broken world, while at the same time laughing at its absurdity. Like Jennifer Herrema fronting Flipper, with the hotwired repulsion of Crime, Plasmalab’s barrage of warped riffs and grinding low-end repetition is dosed with an acid blast of skin-peeling screams.

Band members Jacqueline Lachance and Katie Hernandez first met at NSCAD University Nova Scotia College of Art & Design, and now trade off on guitar, bass, and vocals with drummer Morgan Dowler keeping the bash-beat steady. Their debut LP Love / Life, out now on Bruised Tongue, delivers knockouts throughout. Some are as short as 46 seconds, but the band truly goes the distance on 11-minute slugfest “Hole In The Ground & Twenty Grand.” This transcendently pissed-off two-part epic starts with Lachance sneering over damaged guitars before steering into a no wave no man’s land, as Hernandez unleashes some of the year’s most cathartic vocal chord shredding.

On the eve of their record release show, Plasmalab sat down to discuss art vs. music, Toronto frustrations as fuel, and the political power of memes.

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As Witch Prophet, Ayo Leilani Has Magical Healing Powers

Witch_Prophet_by_Brianna_Roye_600

Witch Prophet by Brianna Roye.

Habesha. Queer. Mother. Witch. Musician. These elements help define Witch Prophet, a singer-songwriter from Toronto, Canada, whose dreamy blend of R&B is equal parts KING and Control era Janet Jackson. Born Ayo Leilani, she says her stage name was gifted to her by a friend and fellow performer because of the spiritual advice she’d offer.

It’s more than just a nickname, though. In the literal sense, Witch Prophet believes herself to be an actual witch, not so much a prophet.

“I like that those two words usually don’t go together,” she says. “It’s like the good and bad, the angel and devil sort of idea. I am definitely a practicing witch in terms of using crystals, visualizing what I want and manifesting things through my desire and focus.”

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Long Live the King: Celebrating Toronto Rapper King Reign

King Reign

King Reign by Anna Keenan

The shocking news spread quickly across the Canadian music scene: on June 28th, 2016, the gravelly-voiced, well-respected Toronto rapper King Reign (born Kunle Thomas) had died of a heart attack. He was only 40 years old.

It was a devastating blow to his fans, and to a rap scene that Reign had influenced since he debuted in the hip-hop outfit BrassMunk in the mid ’90s (the group earned both major label recognition and a Juno nomination). Collaborations with Drake, Saukrates, Boi-1da, Rich Kidd, and Pharoahe Monch followed and, in 2014 King Reign (R-E-I-G-N was an acronym for Rhythm Energy In Gods Nature) struck out on his own with his first solo album, Sincere. The LP examined street violence, bullying, despair and racial stereotyping with an unflinching eye and tremendous compassion. Reign seemed primed to release more stellar and thought-provoking music. Then, he was gone.

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The Intimidating and Rewarding Harsh Noise Wall of Goth Girl

Goth Girl

By intentional definition and style, harsh noise wall is enigmatic. It’s hard to describe it if you’ve never heard it — not that this stops its connoisseurs (and detractors) from trying. Andrew Cleveland, the Toronto-based genderqueer artist behind the harsh noise wall project Goth Girl, offers a more categorical definition: “It’s like listening to the static between radio stations — but on purpose.”

However one defines it, the fact remains that harsh noise wall is walled off in a lot of ways. It owes its curious space in the noise, metal, and rock scenes to very few peers or predecessors. Of course, one can trace its obvious roots to noise music, a nebulous genre best known for thickening the sound of an impressive range of artists (anyone from Yoko Ono to Nine Inch Nails, depending on who you ask), particularly in power electronics (the Whitehouse aesthetic) and “harsh noise,” which both eschew melody and rhythm for an unrelenting onslaught of grit. These subgenres feed both the primal and the visceral, often layering distortion so densely you can almost feel its weight in the room.

Harsh noise wall, which lies further out along these branches, is coarser still. It offers no breaks from its discordant assault. There are no keys, scales, notes, choruses, verses, or harmonies. Whether four seconds or four hours, a harsh noise wall track will never deviate from its blistering cacophony; if anything, its bitterness and the listener’s discomfort only grow with each second. This is true of nearly every harsh noise wall artist, from the noted to the novel, and yet — to the genre’s immense credit — none of its tracks sound exactly alike.

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Album of the Day: Casper Skulls, “Lips & Skulls”

Casper Skulls’ debut EP screams dystopia. The words “death” or “dying” appear in every song on the Toronto postpunk outfit’s Lips & Skulls—a feat generally reserved for the blackest of black metal bands—but the descriptive poetry they use to convey the darkness is as varied as the voices of dual vocalists Melanie St-Pierre and Neil Bednis. On opener “Devotion,” Bednis barks a busy Orwellian screed (about crime and punishment, sports fandom, and the dualistic nature of man) through a virtual megaphone, while two woozy chords churn like an ungreased assembly line behind him. That mechanical quality carries into the musically-ambitious title track, but St-Pierre’s more refined vocals feel continents away from Bednis’s, and the song’s seemingly bourgeois, fashion-obsessed protagonist seems to genuinely fetishize death.

It’s on the EP’s third track, “Errands,” that the young band first displays their true versatility. “Errands” might be a mid ’90s Pavement b-side (right down to Bednis’s tipsy warble) if it weren’t also the EP’s most conventionally narrative cut, telling a rather disheartening story of a dying father and his ungrateful son. It’s a great stand-alone track, and an even finer centerpiece for a perfectly-paced EP, the last two songs of which seem to mirror its first two. That is until the nearly six-minute closer, “Caught On a Wire” diverges from its fittingly Wire-esque central guitar signature and breaks down into various movements, each more melodically distinct and more adventurous than the last. There’s a lot here to separate Casper Skulls from the pack, from the subversive lyrics to the angular, explosive sound. The poetic/heavy combo echoes the style of some notable elder Torontonians, but Casper Skulls’ seem infinitely more willing to wade out into unsightly postmodern muck than the comparatively optimistic Constantines ever did.

That a contemporary punk band could deliver so many promising variations on a theme within the confines of a thirty-minute EP is pretty impressive. That it has done so before ever releasing a full-length, that’s cause for celebration. (Just make sure it’s a fittingly morbid Celebration.)

Casey Jarman

The Electronic Experimentations of Syrinx

Syrinx
Syrinx. Photo by Bart Schoales.

The short-lived Toronto band Syrinx didn’t fit in anywhere, musically. That fact becomes abundantly clear listening to Tumblers From the Vault, RVNG INTL’s new comprehensive collection of their recorded output and unreleased material. In their work, you can hear traces of psych-rock, proto-ambient, global influences, jazz (they once even supported Miles Davis), extended classical compositions, and a funkiness that very few of their prog rock or fusion contemporaries could match. It’s all delivered with a particular geniality and a keen ear for a memorable melody—which explains why their track “Tillicum” wormed its way into the Canadian national consciousness when it became the theme for documentary series “Here Come the Seventies” for several years.

But slipping between the cracks of genres and scenes was just how they liked it. Speaking from his home in British Columbia, the still-youthful bandleader John Mills-Cockell recalls the creative processes of Syrinx as, “a whole lot of fun, right from the start.” Mills-Cockell was the synth player and main writer who drove Syrinx, but he had a lot of musical experience under his belt before the band began releasing music in 1970. In the mid ’60s, he studied composition at the University of Toronto and Toronto Royal Conservatory. This was a fertile time for experimental music, and he trained in tape manipulation and electronics, which led to the creation of a unique multimedia collective called Intersystems with light sculptor Michael Hayden, poet Blake Parker, and architect Dik Zander. The group toured across north America, including what is reputed to be the first ever public synthesizer performance, in Ontario in 1968.

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