It's not all Tim Horton's and hockey here in the Great White North. Yes, Canada may be known on a global scale as the pleasant and cordial wet-blankets to our neighbours to the south, but things are not always as they appear, and seldom are when you're dealing with a country this size.
If you ask the uninitiated observer any questions on the music that defines Canadiana you'd likely hear names like Rush, Bryan Adams, and The Tragically Hip (may the late and iconic Gord Downie rest in peace). Begrudgingly and with endless embarrassment, Justin Bieber and Nickelback are names that pop up, and that's our cross to bear. But did you know Canada is an unsung hotbed of all things heavy metal? We're more than just "Hotline Bling" dammit!
From British Columbia to Newfoundland, churning guitar riffs, frenzied drums and soaring vocals can be heard, and we do not discriminate on genre. From thrash to metalcore, black metal to melodic, if there's a taste, Canada can satisfy. Connoisseurs of heavy tunes will undoubtedly be familiar with more seasoned names like Annihilator, Voivod, Gorguts, Cryptopsy, Anvil and Devin Townsend, but there is an alarming number of unheralded and criminally underrated hidden heavy metal gems amidst our thick winter frost.
Here are eight Canadian heavy metal hidden gems you need to know. We hope they'll make up for Nickelback.
Based out of (arguably) the metal hub of the nation, Montreal, Mutank are a ferocious and frenzied crossover-thrash band that infect its listener with an ear worm that no amount of Michael Buble ballads can remedy.
The 2014 winners of the Wacken Metal Battle Canada contest have churned out consistently crushing thrash riffs for years and have all the tools and check off all the required boxes to make a major play in the global metal market. For first time listeners, check out "Corporate Child" from their 2014 album M.E.C.H. Metal and the pulverizing headbanger "D.E.A.T.H." from their 2017 EP W.H.A.T.S.T.H.A.T
Do you like your metal black and dripping with sinister and evil undertones? You just might find yourself seduced by the classic black metal stylings of Winterhearth.
Hailing out of St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, an island known more for its traditional Irish pub tunes than piercing howls, Winterhearth are part loving throwback to the icons of black metal (most notably second wave stalwarts Darkthrone), while more recent efforts drip with a melodic angst that fits more firmly into recent stylings of a genre that has emerged from the dark corners.
Their 2013 studio debut Curse the Summer was declared a triumph from local music media, with their sophomore effort Resettlement taking that momentum to a whole new level. Check out "What Lurks In Dark Forests" and "Rotting Away" as an appropriate sampler of a trio hitting their stride.
Death Valley Driver
You may know Prince Edward Island as the home of Anne of Green Gables and Cavendish Potatoes, but there are riffs aplenty amidst the tater farms and cultural landmarks, riffs fashioned by the undisputedly awesome Death Valley Driver.
Call them sludge metal, groove metal, just don't call them generic, Death Valley Driver have shared the stage with the likes of Metallica, Goatwhore, Protest The Hero, Morbid Angel and Obscura and have had their wares sampled by pro-wrestling duo The Briscoe Brothers of Ring of Honour.
Recently signed to Alpha Omega Management, DVD (convenient abbreviation!) are primed and ready to make the necessary next career steps heading into 2018. "Carnivore's Oath" and "Bloodfeud" are infectious tunes as a jumping point, but their entire discography is truly worth owning.
Do you miss the simpler days of heavy metal? Before things got too technical, too aggressive, too muddled? Do you prefer your tunes righteous, full of operatic vocals and blistering solos? You might just be a fan-in-waiting of Peterborough, Ontario's Mokomokai, a four piece heavy metal outfit that honour the glory days, while never nearing the point of parody or knock-off.
With the recent release of their 2017 EP Poison Whiptail, with bonafide anthems "Heavy Metal Sky" and "Poison Whiptail" and complete with a live show that leaves not a single drop of sweat on the table, Mokomokai offer an alternative, albeit it a nostalgic one, to a genre that at times feels as if its bound to cave in on itself through sheer over-satuaration.
Listen to the self-titled single off the new EP and try to keep yourself from head banging and throwing up the horns. We dare you.
A delicious hybrid of old-school thrash, New Wave of British Heavy Metal and progressive sensibilities, Halifax, Nova Scotia's electric metal masters Black Moor are balls-to-the-wall intensity with every hurried beat and strum.
Fixtures of Atlantic Canada's metal scene with numerous local awards and nominations to their credit, and a pedigree and reputation that has seen them share the stage with the likes of Steel Panther and Priestess, Black Moor are fixing to kick open new doors and slash through boundaries on the heels of their 2016 record Brave To The Grave.
If unapologetically fast and battle-tested metal is your M.O., then give these guys a listen. A Black Moor staple track "The Conquering" is required-listening, while "Running With Wolves" is a standout cut from their most recent studio outing.
From the rocky shores of St. John's, Newfoundland, The Combine are perhaps the unsung prog-metal dark horse in all of Canadian heavy metal. Equal parts ferocious and refined, relentlessly heavy yet delicately crafted and restrained, the four-piece are beginning to carve out a place in a thriving genre occupied by titans Mastodon and Opeth, to name a few.
Building on the good-will of their instant-classic studio debut Witness, The Combine returned from a self-imposed creative exile with their sophomore record Void and Vessel, and with it reducing the position of any and all doubters to rubble. Standout cuts like "Empress" and "Same, Again" more than hold their own with earlier singles and setlist regulars "Architects" and "Picante."
For the most bang for your sonic buck, check out the spacey new track "Victory Road."
Back to Montreal and to one of the most ferociously fast speed metal acts on this list, Warsenal. Perhaps one of the more recognizable names of the bunch, Warsenal has performed alongside the likes of Havok, Venom Inc., and Skeletonwitch and most recently secured a high profile slot at the U.S. based Full Terror Assault Festival alongside Overkill, Crowbar and Toxic Holocaust.
Headbang-enducing, mosh pit inviting, Warsenal's brand of relentlessly paced thrash is the best of old-school meets new in the genre. Their debut record Barn Burner lives up to its namesake. "Dying On Stage" is a perfect album kickoff to pulverize the senses and a strong precursor to come.
If you have the chance to check these guys out live, make sure you have icepacks handy for the aftermath. If you don't mosh to Warsenal you're beyond honest help.
From east to west, Anciients are perhaps one of the more technically sound, yet impossibly heavy groups in the entire country. Inspired by the likes of Celtic Frost and High on Fire, the slick riffs and precision pair almost effortlessly with a soul-crushing heaviness that is often lost in more mainstream prog-metal offerings.
A recent addition to Season of Mist, the followup to their fan-ppreciated Heart of Oak is Voice of the Void, an album that falls well in the territory of the likes of Mastodon and Baroness, while adopting a sinister edge mirroring early Opeth.
Without delving too much into the minutia of with Anciients are great, it takes one listen to unearth the talent and pure drive these guys bring to the table. They're a name to watch, and one honest metal fans will likely be hearing more frequently in the coming years.
Any other unsung Canadian heavy metal masters we should know about? Let us know in the comments below!