Our contributors’ submissions for this year’s best of Canadian metal list revealed a surprising amount of consensus and an unsurprising amount of varied tastes. We had so little trouble coming up with a top ten that we expanded the list to our top fifteen. And our numerous honourable mentions indicate how much more great Canadian metal we just weren’t able to include.
As with any year-end list, what you’ll find below can’t claim to be a definitive record of the best heavy Canadian releases of the past year. There are sure to be strong albums we didn’t hear, or didn’t hear in time. (And you can let us know about that in the comments.) But we can guarantee that these are Canadian releases our contributors enjoyed, and we recommend you check them out too.
The best Canadian metal of 2017, according to Hellbound
Just The Hits: 1981-1985
Released September 15
It’s perhaps tempting to scoff at the concept behind Moonlight Desires’ sophomore release Just The Hits: 1981-1985. After all, you could face the prospect of listening to a complete album of hit 80s pop songs turned heavy in one of two ways: with a sense of superficiality and/or extreme caution, or with open-minded curiosity. But before you judge a book by its hard rock covers, bear in mind that these aren’t just standard covers we’re talking about. In the hands of bandleader Trevor Ziebarth (Sons Of Butcher, Of The North), the Hamilton, Ontario musicians’ latest offering feels effortlessly original in style despite the format. Every song is a hit by default, but the tracks on this album are creatively reworked in a way that will have you peeling apart layers from the first listen to the fifteenth. Memorable moments like the metal break in Hall & Oates’ “Out of Touch” or the off-the-cuff guitar licks in the verses of Rod Stewart’s “Young Turks” will have you suddenly humming the new versions instead. Simply Red’s “Holding Back The Years” – perhaps the heaviest track on the album – is transformed from a falsetto, bluesy ballad to a sludgy hard rock tune that exchanges the emotional weight of the original for layers of groovy, tuned down grit.
With acts of terrorism, civil war, sexism and political unrest around the world continuing to be a consistent theme in 2017, Just The Hits: 1981-1985 offered a fun and nostalgic escape from the seriousness of day-to-day living. And if you’re a fan of heavy rock music to start, it’s a pleasure you don’t have to feel guilty about. [Renee Trotier]
Released March 3
Danko keeps things anthemic and punchy on his 8th studio album, and this time out, he wears his influences proudly on his sleeve, channeling the likes of the Misfits (“Going Out Tonight”), Van Halen (“Wild Cat”), and especially masterfully, Thin Lizzy (“You Are My Woman”) – while “Do This Every Night” is the being-in-a-band anthem that every band should hear whenever they are thinking about throwing in the towel. Danko Jones has always written damnably catchy hard rock records, but Wild Cat is a cut above, even for him. Hands down the best hard rock record of the year. [Kyle Harcött]
Beyond the Sun
Released April 7
What’s not to love about Woodhawk’s Beyond the Sun? There’s a guest appearance from Dead Quiet’s Kevin Keegan, a song about Star Wars (“A New Hope”), and more riffs than you can shake a stick at. Sounds good to me! BtS is nine tracks of hard rock flowing through the souls of bands like The Sword, Truckfighters and Priestess, among others. There’s a reason “riffs” is part of the band’s URL because that’s the easy sell here. Non-stop movers and shakers that stick to the ribs and always have a beer waiting for you. Good times! [Matt Hinch]
Void Masquerading as Matter
Released November 24
Toronto’s hooded ensemble Thantifaxath return with the follow up to their 2014 modern black metal masterpiece Sacred White Noise. This EP retains their dizzying mental corrosion and dexterous guitar work that has stalked their previous efforts, but refreshes it with an even more abstract progressive sound with improved proficiency. Chasm-creating vocals, haunting piano and strings apparitions and stinging atmospheres promote the void that expands to replace rationality with claustrophobic dread. A flawless meditation with insanity. [Elena Francis]
Unleash the Archers
Released June 2
Vancouver, British Columbia
Apex marks a decade of Unleash the Archers and stands as the band’s fourth full length album. It’s dynamic, delivering a dramatic range that’s an accumulation of riffs, melodies, rhythms and storytelling – conceptually fantastical and viscerally grounded. And Unleash the Archers are a tight unit, so though the album is big (in the direction of epic) it also feels efficiently compact. I slept too long on these west coast monsters (and am kicking myself for it), so I can’t explain in detail how Apex builds on or beyond what Unleash the Archers have done before, but if you’re expecting a heavy metal powerhouse you shouldn’t be disappointed. [Laura Wiebe]
The City That Never Sleeps
Released September 15
Biblical display uncompromising vision throughout this seriously wild, eclectic, thrilling 37 and a half-minute record. The way it shifts so gracefully between aggressive heavy metal, Yes-style melodies, Pink Floyd-esque dreaminess, King Crimson-inspired intricacy, and the swirly space rock of Hawkwind was enough to stop me dead in my tracks. It’s heavy but so smooth, its eight tracks serving more as separate movements of a two-part suite. It respects heavy music’s history, has complete command of songwriting, and shows enough integrity and foresight to take some very obvious influences and make something totally original out of it. The trouble for Biblical is that because The City That Always Sleeps so brazenly defies categorization it is extremely difficult to find an audience. It’s not “extreme” enough to attract the attention of metal tastemakers, it’s far too proggy, far too “hesher” to even warrant a review by an indie publication, and it’s too eclectic and on too small a label to get any sort of mainstream airplay. No, this is a record that will only find an audience in the kind of music listeners that crave original new music that strays off the grid, through word of mouth, one nerd at a time. So take it from this nerd: give this spectacular album a listen, and tell more people about it. [Adrien Begrand]
(Record Breaking Records)
Released February 24
After releasing last year’s Stand in the Fire (my #2 Canadian album of the year in 2016), Striker return with a self-titled release that embodies everything that Striker has developed over their decade-long career – rocking riffs, scorching solos, sing-along choruses and some of their best songwriting to date. While their sound rarely strays from their norm, each track has enough of its own personality to stand out from the rest. From opening track “Former Glory” to closer “Curse of the Dead,” Striker’s self-titled release is another great album from this Edmonton-based fivesome. [Adam Wills]
Released February 3
Tomb Mold’s debut full-length seeks to create something vile and rotten. These Toronto dwellers splice the likes of Demilich and Autopsy to produce a refreshing take on the old school death metal trend. The guitars resemble Swedish death metal and the songs’ arrangements and tempos proffer enough stimulating variation to unfurl the album like layers of skin and muscle torn away to reveal a skeleton. Special mention goes to the scratchy bass sound that arms the album with an exceptional weapon. For those tiring of all the old school death metal plagiarists, Tomb Mold take the classic genre and subject it to contemporary assaults to conceive a product that death metal fanatics will not tire of any time soon. [Elena Francis]
Released August 11
It’s been so much fun seeing Shooting Guns evolve into one of the finest psychedelic doom bands on the planet. There’s no one else like them, frankly: the music is jam-driven, but the jams they create are of the extremely heavy variety, a jet engine roar that envelops listeners, a constant give-and-take between being anchored by a robust rhythm section and being sent skyward by swirling effects, hazily textured melodies. Although the “doom” label sticks to ambitious bands like tree sap – it’s annoying and you can’t shake it – Shooting Guns always incorporate newer sounds into their work. On their third “official” album (not counting various splits, compilations, and soundtracks) they veer towards more of a Deep Purple vibe at times, and other moments see the atmospheric side of their music starting to resemble krautrock pioneers Faust. No question, their soundtrack work, whether the Wolfcop movies or the silent film Nosferatu, has given the band a lot more confidence when it comes to showing their more contemplative side. However, at the core of their music is that ever-present embodiment of sheer power. You go to see Shooting Guns to have your face blown back by the visceral force of their instrumental compositions, and this extremely strong album captures that feeling very well. [Adrien Begrand]
Released August 10
I’ve been a big pusher of Olde since they first roared into my ears back in 2014. That trend of constantly repping the band continued this year with sophomore LP, Temple. The ensemble cast keeps gelling and the doom roaring from their drool-worthy backline, punching into your frontal lobe with the force of Ryan Aubin’s percussion, gets even better. Greg Dawson and Chris Hughes do their best to crush your ribcage and skull, Cory McCallum works your lower torso and Doug McLarty goes right at your head. Powerful doom riffs gain grit from rolling in sludgy filth. Solos compel empty hands into mimicry. The complete package puts down roots and burrows itself into permanency. Or to put it in more working man’s terms, Temple is a kickass doom record that keeps kicking ass as long as you keep giving it your ass to kick. Which you should, ad infinitum. [Matt Hinch]
Released June 2
For me, what most stands out about this record is what a huge leap forward Volur made from their debut. Truth be told, I wasn’t a huge fan of that first album—I gave it a middling review, and thought it lacked some “oomph.” But Ancestors grabbed me from the first listen, and was one of three Canadian albums (along with Bison and Longhouse) that I put way ahead of the pack this year. While the songs aren’t necessarily shorter—in fact, they’re all over 10 minutes—I just feel there’s a little more focus, more direction, more “oomph,” for lack of a better term, and more doom.
The other thing that grabs me is the violin. Although there have been a handful of metal bands who’ve used violin to accent their heavy compositions, in this trio, it is very much a lead instrument, taking its place alongside some seriously heavy bass in their guitar-free space. There are some bands that never do improve upon their debut, while others simply use it as a stepping stone. In this case, I think the best could still be yet to come… [Gruesome Greg]
Released April 14
This is the second release from Ottawa trio Longhouse, but II: Vanishing was the first I’d heard of the band. They won me over as soon as I hit play. Opening track “Hunter’s Moon” is a triumph of atmospheric doom, filled with slow brooding tension; vocals arrive late, like a blackened snarling chant, almost warning of suffocating depths to come. But Longhouse’s identity can’t be found in a single track. Instead of oozing into another shade of murky gloom, “Vanishing” kicks up the momentum with a sludgy groove. And the sonic exploration continues through the remaining songs: more atmosphere, more doom, more sludge, more groove, and even a touch of “post-”style progressiveness.
Based on all the above, even if I had no idea what these songs were about, II: Vanishing would have been among my top Canadian releases of the year. But with that knowledge, well, their spot just becomes even more secure. Lyrically, these five songs reflect bassist/vocalist Josh Cayer’s exploration of his Indigenous heritage through story, history and contemporary issues. “Vanishing,” for example, takes on the crisis of “Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIW),” while “No Name, No Marker” tackles the cruelty and tragedy of the residential school system, and “The Vigil” draws on stories of the Thunderbirds. I’m not really a lyrics person, but here the words intensify and enhance the sound.
There is nothing linear or one-dimensional about Longhouse or II: Vanishing. Instead, what you’ll find here is a complex entity that you can explore from multiple angles but never fully take in or comprehend from a single standpoint.
You Are Not the Ocean, You Are the Patient
Released July 7
Vancouver, British Columbia
Bison B.C. has always been a really heavy band, ever since they first burst on the scene with badass three-string bassist Masa Anzai in the mid/late aughts. For the record, he’s not on this record. Nor are they signed to Metal Blade anymore, after putting out their first three albums on the legendary imprint. And while I wouldn’t suggest the band’s change in direction is solely due to employing a bass player with a G-string (sorry, I had to make that joke), the fact is that their first new album in five years definitely sounds different.
Their signature, West Coast, groovy sludge sound has given way to something more melodic, more progressive… dare I say more mature. Now signed to Pelagic Records, where every other band has the word “post” or “progressive” in its sub-genre, they’ve taken a few more cues from Neurosis this time around. This means they no longer make music to shotgun a sixer to—and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. [Gruesome Greg]
Strike Mortal Soil
Released May 12
Vancouver, British Columbia
Absolutely savage black metal with a strong rock sensibility, Vancouver’s Wormwitch know the power of marrying a good hook to a strong sense of whipping-up-the-fury aggression. Putting a lot of heart and soul – and fun – into their black’n’roll, Wormwitch have managed to produce a debut full-length that packs a punch and comes across as viciously sincere as it is catchy and sincerely rocking. Songs like “Howling From the Grave”, and “Even The Sun Will Die” lay frozen waste across a scorched earth, pummeling and knocking the wind out of you with blasting frenzy – but then there’s the thrash attack of songs like “Relentless Death” or the mighty “Cerulean Abyss”, which bring it all home with a familiarity that will have you humming the riffs when they’re stuck in your head for days. Wormwitch have come up with something truly special on their debut and it will be fascinating to see where they take it next.
(Artoffact/Storming the Base)
Released November 3
Vancouver, British Columbia
Vancouver, BC’s Dead Quiet is something of a super group these days. Birthed by Kevin Keegan following the dissolution of his former band Barn Burner in 2013, he is again joined by founding drummer Jason Dana (Bend Sinister, Karen Foster), guitarist Brock McInnis (Anciients), and bassist Mike Grossnickle (Hashteroid). New this time around is ex-3 Inches Of Blood guitarist Justin Hagberg, who makes the switch to keyboard as his instrument of rock. Continuing along the same genre-blurring lines as the band’s 2015 self titled effort, Grand Rites scales mountains of heavy riffs, hooky choruses and stoner grooves while reflecting the journey through a prism of blues rock, sludge and good-time heavy metal. While the first album was coloured by shades of Barn Burner reminiscent material, the longer song structures and heavier use of electric organ on this second effort lends the songs a retro nuance that helps the release stand further apart in the world of heavy music.
Canada is blessed to have such a large cache of homegrown musical talent in our underground pools, and fortunately for us Keegan seems to have no shortage of creative juices to contribute. Just as Grand Rites was a pleasure to listen to in 2017, Dead Quiet will be an exciting band to watch in the coming years. Oh, and the release sounds awesome on vinyl too! [Renee Trotier]