An Insider's Guide to Montreal's Vibrant Underground Metal Scene
From Voivod and Gorguts to Chthe'ilist and Starlight Ritual, Canada's cultural capital is an absolute hotbed for quality heavy metal in all its forms.
Akitsa / Photo courtesy of the artist
Montreal, Canada’s undisputed cultural capital, has always been known for its remarkable and quite revolutionary metal scene. Often compared as a mix of Paris and New York, but still completely different (and perhaps rougher!) than both, this city has historically attracted the attention of bands from all over the world, which in turn influenced the bands of today. Montreal is where Voïvod relocated from Northern Quebec in 1985. Montreal was the grounds that held the first North American international metal festival, World War III, which featured Celtic Frost’s third gig ever, as well as Destruction, Possessed, Nasty Savage, and of course, Voïvod. Montreal additionally held one of the best and most underground record shops of the continent, Rock en Stock, which also had its own label, Banzaï Records… who originally created the now-iconic speed metal wheel.
It wasn’t rare to see 1,000 people at a metal show back then, and it was quite common to see insanely dangerous homemade pyrotechnics (Voïvod had quite a reputation for these), rabid fans trashing (the Quebec way of saying "moshing!”) on and offstage, or seeing skinheads beat the shit of headbangers – and vice versa. It was a rough, leather-and spikes-clad scene. If you read French and want to know more about it, or just see cool photos, get Félix B. Desfossés’ book L’Évolution du métal québécois.
Fast-forward a few decades, and the scene has gone through a phase of death metal (mostly technical – the legacy of our space metal forefathers), a very underground black metal scene, and nowadays, you see more of a resurgence of bands that are deeply rooted in the beginnings of the genre. Is the latter perhaps a reaction to the ultra-technical bands of the last decade? Who knows. There are many local metal bands in Montreal that often play at strongholds Katacombes and Foufounes Électriques, but here are some of my very own favorites from my beloved city (not including my own heavy/doom band, Cauchemar, of course):
Very few bands from the 80s that are still around now sound as fresh and exciting as Voïvod. Even with the tragic passing away of revered guitarist Piggy and the absence of former bassist Blacky, the band has been able to re-invent itself and not only release amazing material, but also play some of the most intense live shows I’ve ever seen. This band is legendary for a reason! And living in Montreal, you always see the guys in the streets – Away on the way to rehearsals, Snake at gigs, Dan "Chewy" Mongrain drinking at a microbrew pub (which he owns in part), and Blacky doing sound for Gorguts. We are incredibly proud to have these guys around and still kicking asses all over the world!
Even though most of the members don’t live in the city, I still consider Gorguts to be local, as Luc Lemay – the main songwriter behind Gorgut—lives a little more than an hour away from Montréal, and they have been playing here at least once a year! This is another example of an older band who has recently released high-quality material; 2013’s Colored Sands is one of the best comebacks I’ve heard, and I dare say it’s on par with 1991’s Considered Dead (although completely different). Their new direction is extremely fresh and exciting, and hopefully will stay like this!
One of the weirdest and most original bands found locally. Technical but catchy, extremely strange and dark, with a sound thicker than the murkiest Lovecraftian swamp waters, Chthe'ilist is the most exciting band that has come out in the local extreme metal scene in years. Their 2012 demo with its wholly unpronounceable name, Amechth'ntaas'm'rriachth, shattered the worldwide metal underground, and saw them mix Timeghoul and Demilich influences while making it their own. Their debut album, Le Dernier Crépuscure, is set to be released pn January 29, 2016 on Profound Lore, and is bound to be a modern classic. (A little piece of trivia: Pierre Tougas, the father of Chthe'ilist's main composer and vocalist, Phil Tougas, was in one of the first Québec heavy metal bands, D.D.T.!)
Malicious death metal with a thick and bleak atmosphere. My favourite parts they play are the doomy passages, which creates a great spectrum of variety, and makes the faster parts sound even more brutal! They are also excellent live, and uses all sorts of special effects in between songs that leaves you lost in their spiderweb-like ambiance.
Going on for 10 years and more, this totally independent band are one of the best heavy metal acts going on today – and I’m not just saying this because they have became friends of mine. They have excellent chemistry, have a total Judas Priest influence, and the vocalist/guitarist, Ian, has one of the most powerful vocals I’ve ever heard! He can do insane 80s style screams while doing mind-blowing solos, AND being completely drunk out of his mind. They also play insanely tight live gigs often, and you can’t help but break your fucking neck every single time. The band are working on writing a new album, but released an EP entitled Metal, Fire and Ice just last year. They are also playing Keep it True festival in spring of 2016, and doing a little European tour around it. Watch out for these guys!
These total newcomers have already established a strong name for themselves by releasing an incredible and already mature debut EP last year. They play a mix of well-written heavy metal, hard rock, and doom metal, but with a singer that is reminiscent of none other than the 80s Sabbath vocalist Tony Martin! His seemingly effortless way of pulling impossible notes will bring chills down your spine—nobody sings like this anymore! They are currently working on a new record, and, oh—they did a cover of Bachman Turner Overdrive live. How fucking amazing is that?
This band is one of the oldest (if not the oldest?) Montreal-based black metal bands still active these days. They are also one of the most obscure, as they have always stayed hidden beneath the darkest shadows, spitting forth some of the rawest, angriest and most simplistic black metal ever heard. They have their own trendless radical sound and charm, and they are simply fantastic! Outre Tombe, the vocalist from the band, has the most extensive underground black metal label/distro in town, too: Tour de Garde Records.
Lo-fi, in-your-face black metal with punk elements and straight-to-the-point drumming. Verglas is cold as fuck (hey, the name means icestorm!), raw and effective.
Formed in around 2011, this Montreal duo plays relentless Swedish-style black/death metal with mystical and Satanic lyrics. They have only recently started to play gigs, but their shows have been incredible so far – bleak, hypnotic and powerful. They are on the verge of releasing their first full length, on Profound Lore records.
Another newcomer in the scene, Basalte play an eccentric style of black metal, with bleak and dissonant layers of melodies and avant-garde drumming. Not for traditionalist black metalheads, but an interesting band nonetheless.
Heavy as hell New-Orleans-style sludge riffs, raw vocals and pounding drums make this trio one of the bleakest bands around town. They also tour extensively all over Europe and have released amazing BBQ spices! Really! (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-uhcZYaDNFw)
Formed in 2012, this local band – featuring members of of Barn Burner, Trigger Effect, Endast, and Eagle Tears, play fuzzy 70s-style hard rock, with a stoner edge.
This band has been broken up for a while, but they are my favorite local band and the members are still seen out around town all the time, so let’s just say their ghost is still part of the punk/metal scene. It’s not 100 percent metal, but they take huge influences from NWOBHM and especially Motörhead, so I still included them here. Everything they've ever written, is good so if you don’t know them already, just buy everything!
Montreal's answer to Tank. They are not very active these days, but I believe they have been going for at least six or seven years, and are always very pleasant to see live. They only have one EP is available (Gods Craving Noise), and feature a few members of Metalian. Check out their catchiest song above.
This band has only played one show, but are going in the studio this winter to record a demo or an album, as they have plenty of material written. I’ve heard some rehearsals, and they sound incredible – like a violent mix of Morbid Angel and Colombia’s Reencarnacion with killer, throat-ripping vocals. Remember this name and check out their material when it comes out!
Annick Giroux is not on Twitter, but she stays busy working as a graphic designer, author, gig promoter, and DJ, as well as singing for the heavy/doom metal band Cauchemar.