On Your Weak Sounds We Will Prey—A Guide To Underground Canadian Metal

KEN mode

By James Li

Canadian metal, just obey. On your weak sounds we will prey!— Darkthrone, “Canadian Metal”

It’s no small praise when black metal lifers like Darkthrone praise Canada’s metal scene, but it’s for good reason. Many music fans, whether they’re metalheads or not, might not think of Canada as a hotbed for metal. But that might be changing soon — Colored Sands, a dense and dizzying album from Quebec death metal legends Gorguts, landed a spot on the Polaris longlist this year, so anything is possible. While there’s no shortage of classic Canadian metal bands like Razor, Voivod, Annihilator, and (arguably) Rush, or even cult heroes like Gorguts and Cryptopsy, this article will cover the modern, left-field, and extreme side of Canadian metal. Here’s a rough coast-to-coast guide to bands lurking in the metal underground across the country, all devoted to smashing the stereotype of Canadian politeness.


Gyibaaw — “Gisigwilgwel/Diiltk”
This band from Prince George, British Columbia has a dubious claim to fame. They were touring with Inquisition, just as the members of Inquisition faced accusations of white supremacism — something that was hard to square with Gyibaaw’s First Nations heritage. But scandal by association aside, Gyibaaw are a very interesting band. They describe themselves as “Tsimshian war metal,” organically combining black metal, death metal, and indigenous music.


Iskra — “Masters of War”
While black metal is infamous for its connections with the far right, the Victoria band Iskra stands on the polar opposite, promoting anarchist politics through their music. Their combination of black metal and crust punk is so raw and sloppy that it sounds like it’s falling apart at the seams. They protest against capitalism, war, and homophobia in their own lyrics, but their mostly unrecognizable cover of Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War” is essential.


Skagos — “A Night That Ends, As All Nights End, When the Sun Rises”
Like their peers across the border — for instance, Portland’s Agalloch, or Olympia’s Wolves in the Throne Room — Vancouver folk metal duo Skagos makes music inspired by the ruggedly beautiful landscape of the Pacific Northwest. Even people who don’t normally enjoy metal might find something to like in their acoustic arrangements and shimmering guitar leads.


Antediluvian — “Solarburst”
Like their band name suggests, Edmonton-based band Antediluvian plays death metal with an old-school feel, and murky, cavernous production. Antediluvian’s winding guitar leads, gurgling vocals, and abrupt tempo changes all make sure that the listener doesn’t get too comfortable.


KEN mode — “Counter Culture Complex”

The only consistent members of this Winnipeg sludge metal outfit are brothers Jesse and Shane Matthewson. The brothers are chartered accountants and MMA enthusiasts, so it’s safe to say that their music is a combination of brains and brawn. Their sound owes a lot to hardcore punk, especially My War-era Black Flag, and they have the work ethic to match: even after winning a Juno award and working with producers as acclaimed as Kurt Ballou and Steve Albini, they still tour nonstop, and you can still catch them in venues as intimate as Sneaky Dee’s or Soybomb.


Adversarial — “Thralls”

Lo-fi production is nothing new in extreme metal, but Toronto death metal band Adversarial take it to its logical extreme. Every review of their full-length album will mention the poorly mixed snare drum, which sounds like a cowbell if anything. Once you get past the obnoxious tinniness (although it’s quite understandable if you can’t), you’re rewarded with some top-notch riff-laden death metal. They really need to find a new recording engineer, though.


Blood Ceremony — “Goodbye Gemini”

Toronto’s Blood Ceremony has a vintage aesthetic: they’re more archaeologists than they are metallurgists, hearkening back to classic acts like Black Sabbath, Jefferson Airplane, and Jethro Tull. Alia O’Brien’s bewitching vocals and the band’s use of organ and flute make Blood Ceremony one of the most accessible and interesting Canadian metal bands. On a side note, I’m fairly certain this music video was shot on the U of T campus. U of T’s never been more metal.


Fuck the Facts — “Drift”

Ottawa’s Fuck the Facts are grindcore experimentalists. Grindcore, which favours speed, extremity, and brevity above all else, doesn’t seem to lend itself to experimentation very well. But Fuck the Facts keep things interesting with female vocals, dissonant guitars, jazz-influenced drumming, and a well-honed sense of dynamics. Turns out you can be brutal and forward-thinking at the same time!


Nadja — “Only Shallow”

Although they’re currently based in Berlin, the drone metal duo Nadja will always be a Toronto band to me. Nadja exist at the intersection between doom metal and shoegaze. Imagine crushingly beautiful walls of guitar. This immense rendition of My Bloody Valentine’s “Only Shallow” is off a cover album that reveals Nadja’s eclectic influences — I can’t name too many metal bands that like Slayer, Swans, The Cure, Elliott Smith, and A-ha at the same time.


Thantifaxath — “The Bright White Nothing at the End of the Tunnel”

That tongue-twister of a band name isn’t even the most mysterious thing about this Toronto black metal outfit. Thantifaxath are a completely anonymous trio: no interviews, no band photos, no press releases. Even on stage, they perform in hooded robes. Their music is just as mystifying, with their forward-thinking use of samples and strings. In a metal scene crowded with retro revivalists and flashy technicians, Thantifaxath stand out as one of those few bands interested in pushing the boundaries of their genre.


Forteresse — “La flamme et le lys” 

Hailing from Quebec City, Forteresse play “metal noir Quebecois,” in their own words. Even with my smattering of high school French, I can already tell that their music is fiercely patriotic, pairing old-time Quebecois fiddle and nationalistic lyrics with their harsh, atmospheric sound. Could you imagine if all separatists were this scary?


Gris — “Veux-tu danser?”

Montreal’s Gris make the most melancholic black metal. The emotionally distraught vocals, paired with a musical palette that includes acoustic guitar, piano, and strings sounds like the perfect formula for cheesiness, but Gris have the right amount of grit and harshness to keep things genuinely affecting.


Menace Ruine — “Red Sulphur”

One of the most unusual bands in the Canadian metal community, Montreal duo Menace Ruine play with two synths instead of a traditional band configuration. From there they’ve added elements of drone, neofolk, psychedelic rock, and medieval music to the fold. Geneviève Beaulieu’s austere, mesmerizing voice makes her one of the most unique metal singers — if Nico fronted a drone metal band, it might sound like Menace Ruine.

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