Five Canadian Metal Albums and One Strange Story

I love finding out about Canadian talent that I have never heard before. It doesn’t matter if it’s metal or prog or sometimes something else, I’m always thrilled to hear home-grown talent, even though I don’t live at “home” anymore.

Recently I heard about three such bands and managed to acquire an album from each. Then there was an old favourite whose classic album I never had, I finally bought. And then there was a band I had never considered, who never actually were a band but a band with an interesting and peculiar story.

First, I was watching a YouTube video, a compilation of old school trash metal bands with many obscure bands or bands that I just hadn’t heard before. The creator of this video had kindly added in what country the bands were from and I was thrilled to see that three of them were Canucks! (I also got to know of Artillery from Denmark, and Exumer and Protector from Germany.) Here’s what I got!

Aggression – The Full Treatment, 1987

Formed in Montreal in 1984 under the name Asylum, The band changed their name a year later and in 1986, recorded their first album, which would not be released until 2005. After some line-up changes, they recorded a second album, The Full Treatment, which was released in 1987. The album is fast and furious thrash metal with a fair bit of hardcore punk in the mix but also a sharp sense of musicality with quick rhythm and tempo changes. This is a brutal album because the recording job makes them sound like an-overloaded fright train careening down a Rocky Mountain railway and barely staying on track. But beneath the auditory assault, I hear finely-honed skill, at least in so far as a brutal thrash metal band can be concerned.

Disciples of Power – Power Trap, 1989

Disciples of Power were formed in that hotbed of metal music, Medicine Hat, Alberta. ??? Yeah, I know. I am surprised too. But hey, I can’t say I know what the metal scene was like in Medicine Hat so I’m actually thrilled to hear of a band from there. Power Trap was their first full-length album after three demos recorded in 1988. For a debut, Power Trap shows a mature thrash band that displays song-writing capabilities that I compare not by style but by ability to the space between Metallica’s Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets. They are listed as thrash/tech death on Encyclopedia Metallum. The band has released four other full-lengths since then, the latest being in 2002.

Obliveon – Carnivore Mothermouth, 1999

Formed in Montreal in 1987 as Oblivion, they changed their name to Obliveon in 1989. Between 1989 and 1999, Obliveon released four full-lengths and a number of demos. Their debut, From This Day Forward, has been given a fair bit of praise on Encyclopedia Metallum and one reviewer interestingly writes of competitive rivalry between Obliveon and Disciples of Power. By Carnivore Mothermouth I feel their futuristic theme and the sound of the music is not far off from Fear Factory, keeping in mind that the only Fear factory album I ever had was Remanufacture.

Razor – Violent Restitution, 1988

Razor’s fifth album and the last with their vocalist Stace “Sheepdog” McLaren. I had their second and third albums, Evil Invaders and Malicious Intent, on cassette in the eighties and finally bought Evil Invaders on CD a couple of years back. I kept Violent Restitution in mind until I started to see it show up on favourite thrash metal album lists. I bought it and I was not disappointed. The sound is better than Evil Invaders and still has the raw Razor rip and shred feel to the music. “Taste the Floor” includes a chainsaw and it fits in just perfectly with razor’s sound.

Piledriver – Stay Ugly, 1986

I remember seeing both Metal Inquisition and Stay Ugly in the eighties Canadian metal mag, Metallion. At the time, I was really getting the feeling that too many bands of lesser talent were getting signed and releasing albums, and based on the cover art and the song titles, I reckoned that Piledriver were a band best left alone. I forgot about the band until a couple of weeks ago when someone in a video or on the Net somewhere mentioned Piledriver and that the band was from Canada. I have been collecting a number of the old eighties metal bands from the Great White North, but did I want to try to get a hold of Piledriver? A quick listen to Metal Inquisition on YouTube made me sure that I was right to avoid the band. Curiosity, however, got the better of me and I went back to listen again. It wasn’t so bad.

piledriver m i

Metal Inquisition is not so easy to get a hold of but Stay Ugly was ready for order for a normal price, and so I placed my order just a few days ago. It hasn’t reached me yet but in the meantime, I found some interesting information behind the Piledriver albums.

Piledriver was never a real band. As the story goes, as told by vocalist Gord Kirchin,  Piledriver was created by a suggestion from Cobra Records. The fellow Gord refers to as “Record Weasel” said that if they made a metal album with a crazy cover and songs to match, they could easily expect to sell 20,000 copies. Gord claims to have received $250 in payment for his services as the vocalist. The album Metal Inquisition was released in 1984.

Two years later, David DeFeis of Virgin Steele was told by his manager that he owed the manager money and if he’d write material for three projects, he’d be forgiven his debt.  DeFeis and Steele guitarist Eddie Pursino worked on material for three albums, one of them becoming the second Piledriver album and another one was Convict. Gord Kirchin sang on both of these. Convict didn’t go far but apparently the Piledriver albums garnered an underground following, all unbeknownst to Gord! He did try to turn Piledriver into a real band but then changed the name to Dogs With Jobs and “de-piled” the material he had prepared for a third album.

Several years later, Gord Kirchin got himself a computer and connected to the Internet to discover that the two Piledriver albums had actually sold quite well. Yet he and others involved never saw a cent after their initial work was paid for. In 2004, Gord tried to put together a new lineup for a new, Exalted Piledriver (the name was modified since there were already other bands out there using the Piledriver name). He currently heads the band and they have at least one new album out. David DeFeis has given his blessing to Gord to use the material he and his guitarist wrote for the Stay Ugly album.

about Piledriver

interview with Gord Kirchin

interview with David DeFeis

This story about Piledriver led me to the YouTube channel of Nasty Metal Productions, where the young gentleman who hosts the channel enlightened me about the so-called “metalploitation” phenomenon of the 1980’s. There were at least two companies, Cobra Records and Metal Enterprises, who released dozens of albums recorded in the same vein as the original Piledriver albums. In some cases, real musicians would be called in to write something to help pay off a debt while in other cases, bands and musicians who were not yet (and not necessarily likely to be) professional were given studio time to knock off an album or two. The band would then, in most cases, cease to exist.

The purpose of this was to sell metal albums to eager youth who wanted their next new metal band fix. The quality was often sub-par at best and ludicrous at worst, apparently. Corroseum has taken an interest in the releases from Metal Enterprises. While most of these albums and bands have faded into obscurity, Piledriver seems to have remained an important legend. This actually reminds me of the Crown Records label I wrote about in the post about The Firebirds / The 31 Flavors, a late sixties band who were in a similar situation, recording an album of questionable material for a label that only wanted to sell sub-par music to unsuspecting youth.

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The Birth of Death

MORTA-SKULD-Dying-Remains-CD

Honestly, death metal was one reason why I lost interest in heavy metal. I was there when it was all coming together, as the ingredients were being mixed, the concoction stirred. However, I missed the final crucial years, and by the time the potion had been decanted, I came in to look and wondered what had happened to my beloved heavy metal music. Where were the new Rob Halfords, Bruce Dickenson’s, and Ronnie James Dios? Had singing gone out of fashion?

I came in to the metal scene just after the New Wave of British Heavy Metal had washed ashore and heavy metal became a household word. Then, just as Quiet Riot, Def Leppard, and Motley Crue were making metal the underdog chart champion of the world in 1983, thrash metal suddenly crashed onto the scene. With it came more extreme metal bands like Celtic Frost, Bathory, and Possessed. I was into each of these bands, but by 1987 I became more interested in the roots of heavy metal, and by 1989 when I came back to contemporary releases via Christian heavy metal, I found myself a little nonplussed by the deep guttural vocal styles of bands like Vengeance Rising and Seventh Angel (wish I had never sold off that one now!). Bands I had liked, such as Metallica, Megadeth, and Slayer, were changing their sound and it didn’t appeal to me either. I lost touch with the developments in my favourite music genre and what I heard—Fear Factory, Marilyn Manson, One Minute Silence—was good but not what metal was to me. And whenever I heard these bands with incomprehensible, rumbling, roaring, growling vocals, I likened them to demons vomiting after a night of heavy drinking and spicy Mexican food.

It took a long way round for me to return to heavy metal and discover just how many subgenres it had fractionated into. My interest in progressive rock took me to progressive metal which brought me to Devin Townsend and then to Opeth. Finally, early in 2017, I came to appreciate the death metal growl and became curious about other bands. Then the history buff in me took over and I plunged into old school death metal.

Heavy Metal: Progressing to the Extreme

creem metal deadIn the late seventies, heavy metal had lost its identity. The depressed and nihilistic lyrics about war, political corruption, psychopathic mental illnesses, substance abuse, the doom of the earth and the human race, and sometimes just plain old lyrics about Satan winning thanks to our sinful ways, had gone out of fashion for the most part by around 1972, and a more fun type of energetic guitar music about rock and roll, women, relationships, and a few hard times in life became the new hard guitar music. Traces of doom and gloom still surfaced in the odd band or album, but aside from metal kings Black Sabbath, the rest was mostly underground.

When punk rock came to force in the late seventies, heavy metal was said to have lost its relevance and become redundant. What critics hadn’t bet on was that young metal musicians would learn from punk’s aggressive attitude and DIY approach and create a new brand of metal for a new generation. With the help of Judas Priest’s reinvention of the metal sound, some inspiration from progressive rock, and Motorhead’s bombastic raw and speedy style, heavy metal became faster, fuller, and demanded new levels of skill.

The NWoBHM delivered various styles of metal, and it was the faster, punk-influenced concoction that spurred the American thrash scene, while some of the darker-themed bands encouraged new directions in extreme metal in Europe.

venom

Venom

Venom were the most influential of the lot, playing fast and aggressive music that was a natural extension of Motorhead but also using Satanic lyrical themes and imagery. The music was, for the most part, still rather fun though. Switzerland’s Hellhammer and Sweden’s Bathory would do more to develop the darker and vocally deeper side of metal. Influenced by the punk band Discharge, Hellhammer went in search of a new sound for metal. With the addition of Martin Ain on vocals and a change in sound, the band became Celtic Frost, which would go on to influence a number of future death metal bands. Bathory’s sound would in turn set a template for the later black metal movement.

Back in the U.S.A., thrash was the pimply-faced, beer-swilling rival and challenger to L.A.’s hairspray and spandex glam metal scene. But while many bands sang about violence and war, one band took things more extreme. Slayer burst onto the scene with the Satanic themes but went further with lyrics of horror and homicide. Their album Hell Awaits became an inspiration to many young European bands. The next step came with Possessed’s Seven Churches. This album made metal not only faster, but more frightening with Jeff Becerra’s deep, roaring vocal style. Indeed, Possessed’s song entitled “Death Metal” would lend its name to this budding new extension of extreme metal.

Things Get Brutal

pleasure to killWith one album under their collective belt, Germany’s Kreator were looking to take things to the next level. They approached their new producer, Harris Johns, with copies of Hell Awaits and Seven Churches and said that this was the kind of album they wanted to make. The producer responded with, “Oh, I think we can do better than that”. Kreator’s second album, Pleasure to Kill featured fast, tight, and sometimes complex playing with snarling, teeth-gnashing, gruff vocals. Another German band, Sodom, took to thrash metal with a similar vocal approach. It seemed that while Americans preferred shouted vocals, Europeans were more into menacing and brutal vocals.

SLAUGHTER-Strappado-LP-BLACK-ORIGINAL-MIXMeanwhile over in Canada, Toronto’s Slaughter were joined by a musician from Florida. Chuck Schuldiner of Mantas played with the band for six months before returning south (couldn’t stand the winter?). By the time Slaughter recorded Strappado, their first full-length album in 1986, their sound had become full-on brutal bombast with deep, grumbling guitars and dual vocals that sounded like shouted, angry barks and barbaric growls.

scream bloody goreChuck Schuldiner’s band, Death, released their debut album, Scream Bloody Gore, in 1987, and this is often considered as the birth of the death metal subgenre (was it because of the screams at the start of the album?). Other Floridian bands soon followed. For many fans, death metal was born in Florida, and yet it a way, the Floridian extreme metal scene was like a response to the Californian extreme metal scene. Thrash elements were still largely present and bands typically headed west for performances, mingling with the Californ-I-A bands. But Florida’s scene was to feature two important differences: the music was splitting into either more technical styles as with Atheist and Cynic, or slowing to a bone-crunching grind as with Obituary. But as death metal rapidly caught on and spread northward, brutal and technical music became the favoured approach as with New York’s Immolation and Quebec’s Gorguts.

Don’t Forget the Brits!

necroticismAll the while extreme metal was developing and evolving in the U.S., the British had their own scene going on. Across the Atlantic, hard core punk was branching into metal—the opposite of what had happened in the States—and a new subgenre called grindcore became the British answer to thrash. It didn’t take long though before British bands also took to brutalizing things up a bit. Carcass and Napalm Death fully embraced the deep, guttural vocal style, and after the release of a couple of solid grindcore albums, their styles took on a death metal sound. Close behind were Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride, whose vocals went even deeper but whose music was typically slower and more ominous, leading the way for the death/doom offshoot. Perhaps Britain’s first death-from-debut band was Bolt Thrower, who adopted war as its signature theme and released its debut, In Battle There Is No Law, in 1988. It’s important to note that Bolt Thrower’s foundations were built upon Discharge, Crass, and Slayer, once again bringing the British roots of hardcore punk and grindcore and the Slayer influence into the picture.

Mad as a Corpse Cannibalized on an Altar

altars of madnessOne of the most important albums in death metal would come in 1989 from Floridian band, Morbid Angel. Their debut album, Altars of Madness, set the bar for death metal by taking fast, technical, and brutal metal to a new level. If the mantra for death metal bands had been “faster, heavier, more brutal, more technical” then Morbid Angel carved it in bone. In fact, when looking at lists of top old school death metal and even death metal albums in general, Altars of Madness is more often than not at the top of the list. But as the Floridian scene rapidly evolved, New York’s brought forth one of the most famous bands in death metal with Cannibal Corpse, a band who took human corpse mutilation to the extreme of every horror film and novel, and whose album cover art represents some of the most imaginative, macabre, and grotesque ever to sit in a record store. Junior high school boys everywhere were thrilled!

vintage-cannibal-corpse

Cannibal Corpse with Chris Barnes

Oh, Those Ghoulish Swedish

left hand pathEuropeans can’t leave a good metal scene alone, and it was time for Sweden to rise from the grave to the occasion. Emerging also in the late eighties were the bands Carnage, Morbid, and Nihilist, who then fragmented into Entombed, Dismember, and Unleashed. The fourth of the Swedish Big Four was Grave. These bands lowered the tuning of their guitars and made good use of the Boss HM-2 distortion pedal. The Swedish take on death metal proved there was more than one way to explore and develop this new subgenre. In fact, a good point was made in the Banger TV episode about early death metal—that early death metal musicians looked at what they could do to define the death metal sound and the results were fairly diverse.

The brachiating of death metal—sometimes toward fast and technical, sometimes toward slow and massively heavy—continued until around 1992/93 when new avenues were opened up: the so-called melo-death or melodic death metal, death-and-roll, progressive death metal, and even more extremes of technical and brutal death metal. Death/doom had a short-lived period that for some bands led to gothic metal, such as with My Dying Bride, Paradise Lost, and Finland’s Amorphis. Perhaps 1993 is a good year to draw a line ending the old school death metal growth period. Production of death metal albums improved as the nineties advanced, and the old guard were often playing new styles or in some cases had disappeared.

I’ve compiled a list of frequently-cited old school death metal albums. I consulted several lists on the Internet: some private lists on RateYourMusic and also lists by LoudWire, MetalStorm, and Metal Music Archives. I’ve also checked lists of top old school death metal albums on YouTube. Here are thirty of the most often-mentioned albums released between 1985 and 1993. They are not in any exact ranking order; however, albums near the bottom of the list were more frequently mentioned than albums near the top. The album most consistently included on old school death metal lists was Altars of Madness.

Napalm Death – Harmony Corruption
Cynic – Focus
Immolation – Dawn of Possession
Incantation – Onward to Golgotha
Demilich – Nespithe
Death – Leprosy
Malevolent Creation – The Ten Commandments
Pestilence – Testimony of the Ancients
Pestilence – Consuming Impulse
Autopsy – Severed Survival
Death – Human
Demigod – The Slumber of Sullen Eyes
Deicide – Deicide
Obituary – Cause of Death
Death – Individual Thought Patterns
Unleashed – Where No Life Dwells
Autopsy – Mental Funeral
Terrorizer – Downfall
Death – Scream Bloody Gore
Atheist – Unquestionable Presence
Obituary – Slowly We Rot
Bolt Thrower – Realm of Chaos
Carcass – Necroticism Descanting the Insalubrious
Suffocation – Effigy of the Forgotten
Possessed – Seven Churches
Morbid Angel – Covenant
Carcass – Heartwork
Dismember – Like an Ever Flowing Stream
Entombed – Left Hand Path
Morbid Angel – Altars of Madness

Videos about death metal

Banger TV Early Death Metal

A Basterdized History of Death Metal

Death Metal versus Black Metal

Death Metal Doc

The Year of Extreme Metal

We are three quarters of the way into 2017 and this is only my third post of the year. It’s not because I haven’t been exploring music very much this year. On the contrary, I have bitten into to something larger than almost anything I took on in previous years, with the one exception being my conscious entrance into the world of progressive rock in 2012. I emphasize “conscious” because almost since I began exploring music in the early eighties I had been adding various albums to my collection that fall under the progressive umbrella. I simply wasn’t aware that the music was referred to as “progressive”.

Over the decades, I have generally been into either a band or a sub-genre. In 1986 I was into Nazareth. From 1989 to 1992 I was largely into various styles of Christian rock and metal. For many years, I followed the Canadian power pop rock band, Sloan and other Canadian artists. Then I was looking into Japanese bands. The I got back into Scorpions and after that once more into Deep Purple. The journey I have been making has always kept me exploring new avennues.

This year started out safely enough. I was determined to make 2017 the year I did not spend too much money on music. Early on I became interested in Dream Theater and bought five more albums, and decided to finish off my Opeth collection, purchasing four more albums. For the next eight weeks I placed no orders and only looked forward to a few new releases coming up in the early summer.

But with Opeth I realized that I was at last ready to delve into death metal. Back in the eighties I had loved thrash metal and was a fan of other extreme bands such as Bathory, Kreator, and Celtic Frost. By the time death metal truly became its own sub-genre of metal, however, I was moving away into sixties and seventies proto-metal and early hard rock. I didn’t appreciate the deathly gutteral growls and roars. Strangely enough, as heavy metal whethered the grunge scene and sprouted new branches like nu metal and groove metal, I was not particularly interested. Pantera, Disturbed, and whatever else my metal-loving friend was buying, did not grab me. I liked Marylin Manson a bit; Nine Inch Nails were interesting, but Rob Zombie, Fear Factory, Korn, and System of a Down just didn’t click. Slipknot? They were okay, I guess. As I had no connection with extreme metal bands anymore, I didn’t know what was happening. I just stopped buying Metallica, Megadeth, and Slayer albums and enjoyed the classics from the eighties.

So, Opeth was a kind of gateway drug for me, but I had already been primed by Devin Townsend and Strapping Young Lad, and some other bands like Baroness, Mastodon and Suspyre, ready for more aggressive, more brutal, and more compelx music.

Since around May of this year then, I have been exploring the world’s of death metal, Norwegian black metal, death doom metal, a little industrial, thrash and post-metal, and some progressive bands tinkering with metalcore or djent. I check out playlists on YouTube such as “The Best 50 Old School Death Metal Albums (part 1)” or “Top 50 Greatest Thrash Metal Albums of All Time” or “Top 10 Norwegian Black Metal Albums“. The lists go on and on.

Another big help has been Banger TV’s program, “Lock Horns“, which has introduced me to key bands and albums in various branches on the heavy metal tree. Some bands and albums will be mentioned in my YouTube travels two, three or even more times, and it’s those that I often decide to check out, first listening on YouTube to see if I might like them, and then placing the choosen albums in my Amazon cart and putting them on standby. Naturally, not only has my cart reached nearly a hundred albums but I have already brought home about sixty this year. The good thing is that extreme metal albums are often quite a bit cheaper than prog albums, and my guess the reason is because death metal albums –  the older ones anyway – are usually about 35 minutes long as opposed to prog albums which easily go over 65 minutes, sometimes even being double albums.

Choosing albums is not always easy either. Essential albums like Morbid Angel’s Altars of Madness, Cynic’s Focus, or Darkthrone’s Under a Blazing Northern Sky are easy enough; however, when it comes to bands it’s a bigger challenge. Do I choose the essential album, the debut, a recent release, or listen to various samples and choose the one I think sounds best? For Immolation I chose the debut, Dawn of Possession because it came up two or three times on these compilation videos. But it was the most expensive album in their catalogue! For Obituary I chose the album that I thought sounded best and ended up with World Demise, not one of their higher rated albums and not an easy album to get a hold of either (I got a used copy of the CD in near-mint condition but the case and booklet look awful). For Nile I chose the more recent Those Whom the Gods Detest and was duely impressed; however my next purchase of Annihilation of the Wicked didn’t thrill me as much, possibly due to a muddier production. And then there was Vader’s Revelations, one of the cheaper albums but one that got me interested in the band. Two more albums were recently purchased but again, not the same thrill level.

The quest for albums that totally impress me continues.

Yes, I have had a lot I wanted to write about this year. I read the biography of Dream Theater and wanted to write a post. I had things to say about Opeth’s interesting career. More recently, I am interested in just how it was that so many subgenres of extreme metal developed in the eighties and early nineties and also how heavy metal continues to evolve and develop new sounds, playing and song writing styles, and new sub-genres.

But I am still on this new leg of my journey. I am still watching, listening, reading and learning. It is now October and I usually try to wrap up my purchasing for the year by this month. Orders in November can become delayed and arrive just before or during my winter holidays when I have no time to listen to music. I’m considering the last ten albums to order. Should I make it twelve albums? Can I go until January with 90 albums in my Amazon shopping cart and a few more in my Discogs cart without ordering anything? If I watch a video that introduces an important, essential album, can I summon the willpower to just leave it until next year? More importantly, can I afford to keep buying so many CDs?

Music is far too attractive to a mind like mine. But I am loving this part of my journey into extreme heavy metal.