Canadian Metal!

I do plenty of work with the Juno Awards regarding the Metal/Hard Music category, so it’s only fitting that I make a little post highlighting some of my favourite Canadian metal albums of 2020. The Canadian metal scene is unique in that it is very small, very underground, and spread thinly over a huge area. Kind of like trying to make a teaspoon of marinara work on a 24-inch pizza. Most bands don’t have much hope of selling a ton of records, but when it’s good it can be great, and great music deserves to be recognized. Hence the Juno category, which is strictly merit-based, not sales-based, and devoid of politics. The metal category has loads of integrity, as the wide variety of winners over the past decade can attest.

So anyway, here are ten metal (or at least metal-adjacent) releases from the past year that I particularly enjoyed. It’s a quirky bunch for sure, but then again, so are we Canadians in general.

Bleeding Out, Lifelong Death Fantasy
The latest from the Toronto band is nothing more than filthy, greasy, riff-heavy death metal in the old school sense of the word. Sneakily melodic yet completely savage in delivery, this reduces heavy metal to its absolute most primitive, and man, is it ever fun.

Freeways, True Bearings
Oh, do I love this one. Canada really has a knack for throwback metal bands, and these dudes are full-on New Wave of British Heavy Metal mixed with a healthy dose of Thin Lizzy and Coney Hatch. In other words, extremely melodic, from the Cauldron-sequence singing to the slick twin lead guitars. It’s a little rough around the edges, but that’s actually a huge reason I like it so much. I hope these guys stick around, because it feels as though Freeways are capable of great things.

Fuck the Facts, Pleine Noirceur
The greatest grindcore band Canada has ever produced, Fuck the Facts returned after a lengthy absence with one of their greatest records. They have always redefined what grindcore is capable of, and once again they shatter all limitations the genre purportedly has. Led by incredible vocalist Mel Mongeon and guitarist Topon Das, the band brings so much musicality and songwriting skill to a style best known for brief, hyper-intense blasts of anger. Here there’s a lot of introspection, which in turn gives the music even more visceral power than merely blast-beating all day long.

Ritual Dictates, Give in To Despair
I miss Vancouver metal kings 3 Inches of Blood a great deal, but it’s great to see former members Justin Hagberg and Ash Pearson with a new project. Give in to Despair is a lot more uplifting than its title suggests, in that it’s a wildly enjoyable half-hour celebration of metal riffs and grooves. There’s a lot going on (death, black, grind influences colliding with classic metal influences) and it’s never dull for a moment. This album was a big surprise to yours truly.

Smoulder, Dream Quest Ends
Smoulder are the best thing to happen to Canadian metal in ages, as last year’s Times of Obscene Evil & Wild Daring ranked among my favourite metal albums of the year. This record is a very fun EP of more swashbuckling melodic doom rooted in fantasy tales with a strong feminist theme. The title track and “Warrior Witch of Hel” are wonderful new original tracks, while the cover of Manila Road’s ‘80s classic “Cage of Mirrors” is splendid, and perfectly suited to the band. I cannot wait for their next full-length.

Spell, Opulent Decay
The third record by the Vancouver trio shows moments of brilliance that often elicits comparisons to Blue Öyster Cult’s 1982 album Cultösaurus Erectus. What results is a collection of ten briskly paced, hooky songs that are all epic in scope. Singer/bassist Cam Mesmer might not possess the strongest metal pipes, but like Buck Dharma he never overreaches, finding a good middle ground between contemplative and dramatic. Flamboyant, imaginative, and inspired (dig the solo break on “Deceiver”), Spell pay homage to the past while sounding original in the process.

Throat Funeral, OU812112
This wackadoo side project by perennial Canadian rock god Danko Jones was on the back burner for years, but he finally released this experimental piece in 2020, and it’s even stranger than I expected, but also a lot of fun. It reminds me of avant-grade poetry group Four Horsemen from Ron Mann’s Poetry in Motion documentary from 1982 in how Danko uses nonverbal vocals as the focal point. The cameo appearances by Tanya Tagaq, Tad Doyle, and Jorgen Munkeby sure don’t hurt, either. This isn’t a capella, but rather a tortured yawp that accurately captures the angst of 2020’s collective anxiety and malaise.

Unleash the Archers, Abyss
It’s so wonderful to see Unleash the Archers on the receiving end of a lot of critical enthusiasm in the metal world. It is very well deserved, as the west coast band have worked doggedly over the last decade to make a name for themselves. Now with a very big European record label behind them, they are poised to become the next big thing in power metal, and Abyss is a huge step. Singer Brittney Slayes is in her usual top form, but the songwriting has improved by leaps and bounds, as this album is loaded with catchy anthems that would make Devin Townsend envious. I wish it was just a smidge shorter than its 55 minute running time, but album is glorious regardless of its slight bloat.

Vile Creature, Glory, Glory! Apathy Took Helm!
Vile Creature play the kind of savage minimalist doom that makes the Roadburn crowd salivate uncontrollably, and the Hamilton duo actually wound up playing Roadburn a couple years back. Deservedly, too, as the band brings a very refreshing queer perspective to extreme metal, not to mention loads upon loads of cool ideas, right down to one of the most striking album covers I’ve seen from a metal band in years. The metal scene desperately needs great music by more non-cishet people, and this album is glorious.

Wake, Devouring Ruin
Wake emerged from the grindcore scene, but like Fuck the Facts, have wasted no time in transcending that sound. Devouring Ruin shows the kind of musical growth Voivod displayed between Rrroooaaarrr and Killing Technology; while suitably intense, the arrangements are much richer and deeper, the band opening up enough to allow melody to creep into the music more than ever. This band has always impressed me, but this record left me amazed.