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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Metal On Ice – A book review

As we saw in the last two posts, hard rock and heavy metal were a driving force behind the success of Canadian bands beyond the national border. While some bands fared better than others, the world – meaning mostly Western Europe, parts of the United States, and Japan – were becoming acquainted with hard and heavy sounds from Canada.

Canada’s love for heavy music was surely obvious by the eighties as several bands paid homage to heavy rock fever. Anvil’s anthem “Metal on Metal, Helix’s party rock hit “Heavy Metal Love”, Kick Axe’s “Heavy Metal Shuffle”, Killer Dwarfs’ “Heavy Metal Breakdown”, White Wolf’s “Metal Thunder” and Lee Aaron’s “Metal Queen” all offered different takes on what heavy metal meant and sounded like to them and nearly all of these songs reached the radio waves and late night video programs. Add to that the debut album by Sword, “Metalized”, and there’s no doubt that Canadians loved their metal.

In spite of the fact that Canadian rock had made great headway through the seventies and into the early eighties, there were still great hurdles for bands to overcome. As many bands discovered, deals with record labels didn’t guarantee their albums would make them superstars. And as the nineties began, a lot of bands who had fought hard to achieve some degree of international success and play in the big arenas found themselves back in the bars as grunge made metal subgenres like thrash and glam passé almost overnight.

The story of the Canadian heavy metal band in the eighties has been wonderfully retold in a book by musician Sean Kelly (Crash Kelly, Helix, Nelly Futardo). Metal On Ice: Tales from Canada’s Hard Rock and Heavy Metal Heroes takes the reader on a journey from fandom to budding musician, to bar band to debut album, to arena band to canned band wondering what to do next. Kelly interviews over a dozen Canadian hard rock and heavy metal musicians about their early days in their respective bands, their experiences in making their way to the peak of their success and what happened after the grunge explosion hit plus where they are at now and how they look back on the eighties and early nineties. There are stories of harrowing winter road travels packed in a small touring van and the wild lifestyle that evolved around glam metal in particular. While the book doesn’t expound upon episodes of gratuitous debauchery, certain suggestions of youth-gone-wild are mentioned where artists are willing to offer a little insight. More importantly are the common trials shared by Canadian bands trying to make the big time.

For this book – remarkable for its subject matter (how many other books can you name that deal with the subject of Canadian hard rock and metal?) – Kelly interviews members of Coney Hatch, Helix, Headpins, Haywire, Harem Scarem, Slik Toxik, Sven Gali, Voivod, Sword, Lee Aaron, Sacrifice, Killer Dwarfs, Razor and more. Plus he recounts his own experiences as a youth first exposed to heavy metal, learning to play the guitar, the life on Younge Street, Toronto, and his own pursuit of heavy metal-dom into the nineties. It makes for a very entertaining read if you were/are a fan of Canadian hard rock and metal. That last point – the Canadian one – is very important because there is a strong sense of Canadian identity running throughout the book. Near the end, musicians are asked if being Canadian had any influence on their lives on the international scene and how they were regarded or treated as Canadian musicians abroad.

Finally, the book ties in the heavy metal arena with the hockey arena; musicians share their thoughts on how hockey and heavy metal are related in Canada and how the relationship is reflected in the life of a Canadian rocker.

If there are any cautionary points to make about this book, then there are three that I noticed. The first is that this is a very Canadian book and perhaps Europeans will be sympathetic but I suspect some Americans might be less so. As a Canadian who is proud of his country’s hard rock, heavy metal, and progressive rock output, I felt a glow of pride often while reading the book. But Canadian pride is often and personal thing and not something we shout about to the rest of the world. So I felt it would be a little humbling to sit next to an American reading this book. The second point is that this book is very Ontario/Toronto-centric. I felt most bands mentioned were from Ontario or on the periphery but western bands in particular received less mention. Not something to really complain about however as there was plenty for me to learn about from a Torontonian’s perspective. And it’s thanks to this book that I learned muscleman Thor was from Vancouver! Furthermore, Mr. Kelly’s life experiences as a metal head in the eighties are not so far from mine (we are only a year apart in age), and as Toronto’s Younge Street became like the Sunset Strip of the North, it was interesting to read about.

My biggest warning to any potential reader, however, is that you may feel tempted to go add some Canadian metal albums to your collections, and finding some of these like Sven Gali and Slik Toxik means tracking down expensive collector’s copies or finding used CDs in excellent condition. This means it can be a little expensive to satisfy the craving for Canuck metal that this book encourages.

“Metal On Ice” is published by Dundurn and is available on Amazon.ca for $14.98. It’s 208 pages and includes several pages of B&W images.

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