Behind me, snowflakes are swirling in the frigid air outside. The mercury barely registers a single digit in Fahrenheit. I’m only staying here a few days, but it’s long enough to make clear that Winter in Toronto is brutal, but it’s also beautiful. Making my way around downtown in a maze of pedestrian tunnels and modernist skyscrapers, I steal glimpses of Lake Ontario stretching beyond the horizon, a reminder of nature’s immovable impact on this man-made metropolis.
In frozen climes such as this, one would expect to find a wealth of frostbitten, reflective black metal, but Canada’s metal scene — like the country itself — both meets and bucks expectations at every turn. Heavy music in Canada takes many forms, but retains one crucial characteristic. Despite stereotypes of Canadian politeness, the heavy music storming out of the Great White North is decidedly unapologetic.
To wit, last year saw the release of several acclaimed Canadian metal albums, as well as plenty of under-heralded outings from thriving scenes. The Quebecois prog-thrash veterans in Voivod released a new hallmark in their storied career with The Wake, while Toronto’s death-metal upstarts Tomb Mold got headbangers clamoring for more after the release of their sophomore album Manor of Infinite Forms, and the Montréal-based sludgelords Dopethrone kept their reign of terror rolling with Transcanadian Anger.
With their 2018 releases, Francophone acts Nachteule and Outre-Tombe do their part to build their region’s legacies. Nachteule’s atmospheric black metal outing Bergdorf builds upon a growing scene of Quebecois black metal that also includes Spectral Wound. And Outre-Tombe’s old-school death mastery, as displayed on Nécrovortex, fits neatly with a larger resurgence of the genre across North America.
None of this is altogether new, of course. Canada’s provinces hold lasting legacies of brutality, including technical death metal icons like Gorguts, Cryptopsy and Beyond Creation, grindcore iconoclasts Fuck The Facts and Ion Dissonance, as well as the post-rock provocateurs Godspeed You! Black Emperor, to say nothing of the prog-rock icons Rush and their spiritual heirs of the thrash era, Voivod.
But Canada’s emerging metal bands are supported by labels like Temple of Mystery and Hard and Heavy Records Canada that give voice to the newest generations of Canadian bands. To wit, Temple of Mystery began 2019 with the release of Trapped Under Ice, Vol. 1: The New Face of Canadian Heavy Metal, a ten-track compilation showcasing a movement of traditional heavy metal — ranging from Traveler’s searing NWOBHM-revival to Blackrat’s vicious mix of thrash and speed-metal. (The release is accompanied by a fanzine featuring lyrics and interviews with all ten bands featured.)
Clearly, the sound of Canadian heavy metal is nearly impossible to pin down, but that’s part of what makes it a compelling region to explore. As the snow continues to swirl outside my window, I’m streaming the recently released EP, No Victor, from the Torontonian trio Hussar. Though the band describes itself as death-doom, to these ears, it’s much more complex than that. Jerky rhythmic shifts suggest post-hardcore and technical death metal. Their chord voicings recall some of Voivod’s melodic experiments. It’s a consistently surprising offering that refuses to fit neatly alongside any expectations. In that sense, it’s emblematic of everything that makes Canadian metal so compelling. It’s brutal, and it’s also beautiful.