Cancer Bats’ recent surprise release of The Spark That Moves served as a solid reminder that when it comes to killing it, our friends in Canada know what they’re doing. However, despite boasting a rather rich history when it comes to music to destroy your spine to, it’s a nation that is regularly denied the credit it’s due. Setting aside the aforementioned ‘Bats and their hardcore brethren, and focusing on the metal, it’s actually not easy to narrow things down to a mere 13 essential records, which says a lot for the abundance of quality produced through the years. And no, neither Anvil nor Annihilator made the cut.…
VOIVOD – NOTHINGFACE (MCA, 1989)
When discussing the greats of Canadian metal it would be unforgivable - not to mention downright rude - to omit Voivod. The only problem is which of their 13 full-lengths to pick. Their earlier, more straight up thrash releases all have serious merit, while the incorporation of strong progressive tendencies has made their later material truly unique. Their major label debut, Nothingface, stands as the point at which they truly found their sound. Experimenting with jazzy elements and enjoying being unpretentiously strange, it’s a twisted, sometimes difficult, and always compelling record that resolutely refuses to fit neatly into any category.
KEY TRACK: Missing Sequences
BENEATH THE MASSACRE – INCONGRUOUS (PROSTHETIC, 2012)
The Montreal technical death metal scene has been responsible for a bevy of enthralling bands that worship contorted guitar abuse, insane time signatures and blunt force trauma. While Cryptopsy, Neuraxis and Beyond Creation all have solid discographies, alongside Ion Dissonance [see below] Beneath The Massacre have been the most consistently riveting. Often drawing comparisons to The Dillinger Escape Plan, theirs is an overall more brutish, punishing sound - and clean vocals have never been allowed anywhere near their songs. Incongruous, their most recent full-length, is a veritable masterpiece, capturing the ridiculously talented unit at their most belligerent, remorseless best.
KEY TRACK: Pedestal
CURSED – II (GOODFELLOW, 2005)
Yes, Cursed admittedly were birthed of the Ontario hardcore scene, but, with generous doses of thrash and sludge in their sound we’re counting them as metal. And come on, there’s a man-goat on the cover of this album! Though they called it a day after only three full-lengths, each one of their releases is a blistering collection of distortion-drenched, spiky, all-out aggression. Their second album only just edges ahead of its predecessor and successor in the quality stakes, the whole thing mired in darkness and the raw production seems designed to strip paint. And skin.
KEY TRACK: Hell Comes Home
RAZOR – VIOLENT RESTITUTION (STEAMHAMMER, 1988)
While the U.S. has its ‘Big Four’ of thrash, so too does Canada, comprised of Voivod, Annihilator, Sacrifice, and the mighty Razor. Arguably the most ferocious of the bunch, Razor dropped their first six full-lengths between 1984 and 1991, and there’s not a dud amongst them. To be fair, 1990’s Shotgun Justice and 1991’s Open Hostility give Violent Restitution a run for its bloodthirsty money, but between its metal-as-fuck cover art, dark humour, and vicious cuts such as Enforcer, Hypertension and Behind Bars, it’s music designed to start a riot. Any lesser reaction would be nigh on insulting.
KEY TRACK: Behind Bars
FUCK THE FACTS – DIE MISERABLE (RELAPSE, 2011)
Anywhere you find pissed off people with access to guitars and amps you’re going to find grindcore bands, and Fuck The Facts are seriously annoyed - and aren’t beyond taking the piss too. Just as content dropping records jammed with 20 short, feral bursts or a handful of beefier numbers, everything about their sound is hostility incarnate. It helps that they have the abused pipes of Mel Mongeon spewing lyrical bile all over their frenzied assault, and while every full-length has value the many textures of Die Miserable make it particularly scintillating, and horrible, just as it should be.
KEY TRACK: Drift
BISON BC – QUIET EARTH (METAL BLADE, 2008)
Since 2006, Vancouver quartet Bison [who have since dropped the BC] have been dealing in a heady blend of sludge and stoner sounds, which more than once have led to favourable comparisons with Mastodon and High On Fire. At the heart of everything they do is love of the almighty riff, and Quiet Earth is almost literally bursting at the seams with house-sized ones. Tying these together with tons of swagger and gnarly attitude, they constantly seem to be having the time of their lives while they bludgeon you stupid, and every album since is also worthy of your time.
KEY TRACK: Dark Towers
SKULL FIST – HEAD ÖF THE PACK (NOISEART, 2011)
You could be forgiven for thinking Skull Fist should be responsible for the oldest records included on this list, but despite their retro speed/heavy metal sound they’ve only been around since 2006. Lovingly channeling the NWOBHM greats with a hint of Too Fast For Love-era Mötley Crüe-like melody, song titles such as No False Metal, Commanding The Night and Ride The Beast tell you all you need to know. While second album Chasing The Dream is poppier and lacks bite, debut Head Öf The Pack is a riot from start to finish, and essential listening for pure-blooded headbangers.
KEY TRACK: Ride The Beast
GORGUTS – THE EROSION OF SANITY (ROADRUNNER, 1993)
While death metal’s roots lie primarily in Florida, north of the border’s Gorguts were creating their own sickening brew. Letting the likes of Cannibal Corpse and Morbid Angel know they hadn’t cornered the market in extremely technical aural destruction, 91’s Considered Dead and ’93’s The Erosion Of Sanity still sound vital a quarter of a century later. In recent years - and with a largely revamped lineup - they have pursued a far more avant-garde direction, and in doing so thrillingly challenged conceptions of what death metal is, though it’s hard to beat the sheer savagery of this relentless collection.
KEY TRACK: Hideous Infirmity
STRAPPING YOUNG LAD – CITY (CENTURY MEDIA, 1997)
There’s no denying Devin Townsend is one of the most prolific forces in rock, but, as strong as his work has been over the last decade, many right-thinking lovers of the heavy stuff believe he’ll never better the output of SYL. A melange of death, thrash and industrial on the most grandiose of scales, their entire catalogue slays, and while 2005’s Alien comes close to topping this, City is where it’s really at. Chances are you’ll never hear a song more ferocious than Oh My Fucking God, bigger than All Hail The New Flesh, or as gloriously rampant as Detox.
KEY TRACK: All Hail The New Flesh
SLAUGHTER – STRAPPADO (DIABOLIC FORCE, 1987)
Not be confused with the big-haired cock rockers of the same name that rose to prominence during the same era, Slaughter were one of the earliest bands to introduce death metal flourishes to their punk-inflected thrashy wares. Briefly featuring Death’s Chuck Schuldiner in their ranks, a brace of [predominantly demo] material is available for those willing to look for it, though they only managed to squeeze out one full-length. That that full-length is the seminal Strappado is at least some consolation, which rightfully should be included in any and all thrash Top 20 lists.
KEY TRACK: The Curse
NADJA – SKIN TURNS TO GLASS (REISSUE) (THE END, 2008)
Toronto duo Nadja are the only reason why Devin Townsend cannot seize the crown of ‘Canadian metal’s most prolific artist’. Having dropped 22 full-lengths and more than 35 splits, EPs and collaborations between 2002 and 2017, it’s possible Aidan Baker and Leah Buckareff never sleep. Dealing in a melange of ambient drone, shoegaze and post-metal, their epic tracks regularly break the 10 and even 20-minute mark. Originally released in 2003 as a CDR - when Nadja was solely Baker - the tracks comprising Skin Turns To Glass were remastered and rereleased in 2008, and are all devastatingly beautiful.
KEY TRACK: Skin Turns To Glass
ION DISSONANCE – CURSED (CENTURY MEDIA, 2010)
Though 2007’s Minus The Herd is bookended by arguably the two finest songs in their repertoire, it is the glorious chaos that comprises fourth full-length Cursed that stands as Ion Dissonance’s pivotal release. Birthed of the same scene as Beneath The Massacre, their Meshuggah-esque fretboard abuse and brain-knotting rhythms leave zero space for catching breath/figuring out how to pogo along in time. With quirky song titles that belie the ferocity behind them, there is something almost gleeful to their utter disregard for personal safety, and Cursed really does feel like an attack on all fronts.
KEY TRACK: This Feels Like The End
KATAKLYSM – SHADOWS & DUST (NUCLEAR BLAST, 2002)
Formed in 1991, 2018’s Meditations will be Kataklysm’s 13th full-length. To claim that they have consistently delivered the goods would be misleading, since several of their albums have failed to hit the mark, but when they’re on form they’re a death metal band to be reckoned with. Having shifted further into melodic territory over the past decade, Shadows & Dust captures them at their best. Maintaining the aggression and power of their more brutal earlier works with finely honed melodic flourishes, every track hits home hard, and Years Of Enlightenment / Decades Of Darkness is just about the perfect closer.
KEY TRACK: Years Of Enlightenment/Decades Of Darkness
Absent from this list are any entries from the fertile Quebec black metal scene. Unfortunately, Spotify and the most prominent labels that handle the majority of the bands seem to have not reached an accord, and had the likes of Forteresse’s Thèmes Pour La Rébellion, Délétère’s Les Heures De La Peste, and Monarque’s Lys Noir actually been available on the platform it would have made whittling the list down to only 13 an even tougher job…
Words: Dan Slessor
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