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20 lesser-known heavy Canadian bands you need to know

Here are the 20 most essential heavy bands from Canada who deserve the spotlight, and are causing avalanches in the Great White North…

Canada has two identities: one accepted as a widespread stereotype and one that’s well known, though slightly below the surface. The mainstream one is of a country full of fuddy-duddies, who are all polite to a fault. Properties like South Park have played on this perception, painting Canada as a delightful if slightly backwards nation with funny accents. 

The other identity, which any fan of heavy music knows all too well, is that Canada goes fucking hard. As long as punk and metal have existed, Canada has played a vital part in their development, and has produced some of each genre’s best acts. This is also reflected in their fans: Canadians can drink more beer, shout louder at full-contact sports, and melt the eardrums of listeners harder than citizens of most other countries. 

In honour of Canada Day, we’ve put together a list of the country’s most awesome bands. But rather than celebrate the country’s classic heavy artists – make no mistake, we love Anvil, Voivod, Kataklysm, Cryptopsy, and Strapping Young Lad – we decided to focus on lesser-known acts who are just as deserving of the spotlight. We also took an electoral college approach to adding bands from each Canadian province by population, to make sure the entire country is represented, rather than just listing a dozen bands from Toronto and Montreal.

Here are the 20 heavy Canadian bands you need to know…

Tomb Mold

In 2019, Tomb Molds Planetary Clairvoyance was arguably the death metal record to beat. The first two singles from the Toronto quartet’s third full-length seethed with vile misanthropy while simultaneously showing off plenty of technical chops, amounting to death metal that’s both interesting and delicious. That same year, the band also blew our socks off opening for Horrendous, showing that they’ve got a solid live game to match…

Monster Truck

At a listen, Monster Truck have so much bluster, swagger, and speeding-ticket riffs that you’d be forgiven for thinking they were American. But no – the ultimate example of a band earning their name hail from Hamilton, Ontario, which might explain the flourishes of Rush-esque keyboards throughout their music. While their songs aren’t the most complicated or intellectual, the total earnestness behind Monster Truck’s mammoth-sized road ragers make them impossible to dislike, and easy to get obliterated to.

VHS

Some bands write about the plots of horror movies, but VHS seem to be writing about the experience of watching them. Their brand of grody, grinding garage-death has a tangible quality to it that leaves the listener smelling the ozone from the tube TV set playing Jason Takes Manhattan. Pause Halloween III and give their album We’re Going To Need Some Bigger Riffs a blast.

Black Wizard

The beauty of Vancouver’s Black Wizard is the middle ground they ride between doom and thrash. At times, the tracks on the band’s 2018 barn burner Livin’ Oblivion are slow, thoughtful, and ecclesiastical with their vocals. But at any given moment, the Wizard will ramp up those tasty NWOBHM riffs to a speed metal pace and create an evil gallop that sounds deeply old-school and at the same time totally modern. As such, the band don’t fall into the trap of trad-metal, giving contemporary fans a taste of classic riffage without coming off like a tribute band.

Baptists

When Dave Grohl announces to the world that other drummers should beware your skinsman, you know you’re doing something right. That’s exactly what the Foo Fighters frontman did for Nick Yacyshyn, drummer for Vancouver hardcore punk act Baptists. And the praise is warranted: the band’s music is relentlessly punishing, and that raw power is heavily aided by Nick’s tireless drumming. In particular, 2018’s Beacon Of Faith is the kind of vicious album that brings together fans of metal, hardcore, and punk in a psychological barrage of sonic violence.

Archspire

The full weight of technical death metal’s evolution over the past decade can be felt in the work of Vancouver’s Archspire. The instrumental work behind the quintet’s songs is alien enough to at times be an acquired taste, with the inclusion of vocals so speedy they can sound like rapping and the occasional breakdown that adheres to only the most unusual of time signatures. Meanwhile, their tendency towards melodic riffs and evolving alongside tech-death as a whole has gotten them tons of underground acclaim and won them spots on some impressive tours. A band whose ascendancy is perpetual and deserved.

KEN mode

Yikes. Channeling all the doubt and menace of being human, Winnipeg noise artists KEN mode have staked out a claim for themselves as one of Canada’s coolest – and scariest – heavy bands. Their music’s frenetic, panicked profile makes one feel irritated and anxious to the point of physical aggression. Meanwhile, their aesthetic shifts cover all the bases of artistic horror – 2016’s Nerve is all oranges and purples, while 2018’s Loved features a shadowy embodiment of perversity grinning hungrily at the viewer. A rare example of band who are as vital and important as they are straight-up killer to listen to.

Endless Chaos

On the other end of Winnipeg’s metallic spectrum are Endless Chaos, whose tight, merciless death metal is, simply put, tasty as fuck. With healthy doses of technical skill and bounding groove, their 2018 album Paths To Contentment provides listeners with a polished slab of fist-pumping modern metal. There’s also a faint European edge in their sound – a mixture of black, death, and thrash without abandon that smacks of Wacken – but one can also easily hear the influence of countrymen Kataklysm in the mix.

Fuck The Facts

For over 20 years, Fuck The Facts have been making exciting grindcore without a single break. The Gatineau quintet’s discography branches out over 11 full-length studio records. And while they play their fair share of traditionally shorter tracks, the band are better known for adventuring into more sprawling song lengths while introducing elements of mathcore and sludge into the mix. This, coupled with their DIY-at-all-costs ethos and aesthetic, make them a perpetual favourite of extreme music fans north of the border.

Csejthe

While Quebec is known for its frosty black metal, Csejthe – pronounced tche-TAY’ – stand out from their peers. The Quebec City four-piece create sprawling, emotional black metal that will stir the hearts of listeners, but they do so without sacrificing the cold steeliness and dark horror of their early Scandinavian peers. That they’re named after the castle in which Elizabeth Bathory tortured and bathed in the blood of dozens of young women is the cherry on top of this gory sundae. Enjoy getting lost in this band.

Chthe’ilist

Bearing a name not meant to be understood by mere mortals, Chthe’ilists technical death metal is deeply rooted in the lore crafted by famed horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. The Longueuil-based band’s sound is so dense, atmospheric, and heavy, it feels as though it comes from an aeons-old cavern with an inter-dimensional portal at its core. There’s nothing flashy about the band at all: they crash through the listener’s ears with haunting tales presented as skin-crawling death metal. Even with their young age, Chthe’ilist are proving to be one of the talents to look out for.

Sutrah

Maybe it’s the speedy technicality of Sutrahs music that caused the band to take so long before dropping their debut, Dunes. Though they’ve been around since 2011, the Montreal three-piece only released their first studio album in 2017. That said, the wait was worth it: Dunes’ use of both brilliant technical death metal and yearning spiritual melodies makes it a powerful listen from start to finish. Fans who love Gorguts and Obscura but have always wanted a little more heart from the get-go need to get into these guys.

Revenge

Few bands are as starkly terrifying as Edmonton’s Revenge. For most metal acts, writing about warfare and humanity’s flaws involves some level of indulgent poetry; for this bristling two-piece, it’s all casualty numbers and scorched earth. 2015’s Behold.Total.Rejection – just one of their many three-words-separated-by-periods titles – is a non-stop assault of war metal that sounds like the harsh realities of a roof collapsing in and killing everyone in the house below. Definitely fun to listen to on your commute as you wish death upon everyone.

Chron Goblin

How can you not love a band named Chron Goblin? Thankfully, the Calgary quartet’s sound lives up to their name, full of hip-swinging stoner rock riffs that sound made for a concert in a desert on a hot summer night. What the band have in spades that sets them apart from the usual weed-worshipping crew is energy, giving even their stonier material enough oomph to keep them from lethargically ripping off Sabbath. A must-hear for fans of Soundgarden, Clutch, and biker rock’s wilier tones.

Striker

Canada has a long history of neon-lined, sword-wielding, head-hoisting classic metal, and Edmonton’s Striker continues that tradition. The band’s earnest, charging shred tracks, mixed with their totally unironic celebration of classic heavy metal imagery, make them as endearing as they are killer. Add to that the fact that the video for their Lemmy tribute song involves them playing a game of Wizard Staff, and you get the kind of band you’ll want to catch at every festival they play.

Arrival Of Autumn

It only makes sense that, given its proximity to the country that spawned the genre, Canada would have some killer metalcore. But Grand Prairie’s Arrival Of Autumn double down on that promise by making their incarnation of the genre solidly less sentimental or melodic than many of American metalcore’s heavyweights. There are clean choruses, sure, but they’re wedged between incredibly brutal flurries of double bass drum and finger-tapped lightning solos. Love Trivium, but wish they sounded more like Darkest Hour? Welcome to Canada.

Altars Of Grief

Interestingly enough, Regina’s Altars Of Grief have a sound that’s not only cross-genre, but sort of cross-provincial. There’s something about the melancholy agony at the heart of the band’s doom-death that smacks specifically of the emotional black metal rampant in Quebec. At the same time, the focus on ire over atmosphere plants this quintet firmly outside Quebec’s flavour, instead aligning them more towards the kind of sludge-death made by Arkansas acts like Rwake. An engrossing listen, if not a very positive or uplifting one…

Shooting Guns

Let’s say Saskatoon’s Shooting Guns weren’t the musicians behind the score of WolfCop, everyone’s favourite cult police-werewolf movie (Liquor Donuts!). That would leave them being an extremely cool van metal act, whose driving riffs and psychedelic interludes exude a believable sense of dirtbag pride. But the fact that they also did provide a score to WolfCop – and its sequel Another WolfCop, and an original live score to Nosferatu – elevate them to new heights of radness. Music made for crushing a beer shortly before putting the pedal to the floor.

Black Thunder

Never forget, there are plenty of highways in Canada. Leading the charge for sweaty, psychedelia-tinged stoner rock is Regina’s Black Thunder, whose 2016 album III is a frantic blast of road rash rock’n’roll. That said, it might be the two songs on their 2014 EP Coffee And Bronuts that really take the cake for this band, brimming with sardonic stoner culture while delivering on some good, filthy heavy psych. Not to be confused with the Italian crossover band or the reggae act – hey, it’s a pretty great name!

Phrozen

It’s safe to say Phrozen are the youngest band on this list – their only demo came out in February 2019. But the low-fi rage-thrash on the Regina band’s four-song tape sounds so fierce and nasty that it easily earns them their place in our round-up. Tracks like Thunder Claps and Cast Into The Night And Fed To The Hounds channel the cold, crashing tones of classic Bathory, even as the band’s riffs bring the burliness of acts like Exhorder and Power Trip. A promising start for a killer new band.

Posted on June 1st 2021, 4:00p.m.
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