The top 10 Toronto metal bands of all time
The top Toronto metal bands of all time make for a curious collection. Toronto's metal scene has never really been big enough to capture worldwide attention the way Sweden, San Francisco or even Quebec scenes have throughout history. Often our best and brightest have toiled underground, with little chance of mainstream recognition. In spite of it all, there have still been some key figures from right here in Hogtown that managed to leave an indelible mark on the evilest of music and its diehard community.
It's tough to narrow Toronto's metal scene through the ages down to ten groups, not least of which is because a number of our bands really push the boundaries of what metal even is. One of the arguable forbearers is Rush, who early on were blending elements of traditional heavy metal with progressive playing in a way that was pretty hard to categorize. Since then, some of Toronto's best metal-makers have successfully fused the genre with all sorts of styles, from punk to jazz to electronic.
Without further ado, here are the 10 of the most significant metal bands to come out of Toronto. As always, convey your thoughts (or raging all-caps disagreement) in the comments.
Of course, there's no way we could ignore Anvil, one of the first Canadian mainstream metal acts to make it big and the subject of one of the most well-received rock docs in ages. Early albums Hard 'N' Heavy and Metal on Metal helped sow the seeds of NWOBHM-derived speed metal as we know it today.
Perhaps just as importantly, frontman Steve "Lips" Kudlow forever messed with the world's notion of "polite Canadians" by strutting stages in bondage gear and strumming his guitar with a vibrator. The film might be a little guilty of overstating Anvil's importance, but there's no denying that they were one of the most fearlessly heavy and subversive bands around at the time.
Overproduced rock and gaudy hair bands of the early eighties spawned a reaction that gave birth to thrash metal, and while the American Big Four are credited with taking it to worldwide fame, Canada had it's own Big Four of pioneers: Voivod, Razor, Annihilator and the Scarborough-based quartet Sacrifice.
MuchMusic (back when that was a thing, *sniffle*) put their video for "Re-Animation" in high rotation when very little metal was played on the station, and a handful of memorable shows with Razor and Exodus spawned an influx of thrash bands eager to play Toronto. As the metal scene began to soften, Sacrifice came to a sudden end in '93, but an undying fan base encouraged the group to reform in 2006.
Though doomed to be confused forever with a much worse band bearing the same name, Toronto's Slaughter were essential to the emergence of the death subgenre. Their seminal album Strappado was recorded in just a terse 24 hours in 1985, yet took an agonizing two years to be released; once it saw the light of day, extreme metal was never the same.
An incarnation of the lineup briefly included Chuck Schuldiner on guitar, who wound up leaving to reform the now legendary band Death. Who knows, maybe his musical achievements would've been different had it not been for the fleeting influence of these viciously fast-playing Canucks.
The local metal scene was really starting to wane in the mid-nineties - let's blame boy bands for that - but Rammer was one of the few groups who valiantly tried to carry on the angry underground music tradition... y'know, without resorting to the horrors of nu-metal.
Their only full-length release Cancer was a landmark offering that indiscriminately ran through thrash, death, black and even punk influences with technical precision, and their live shows were pure, joyful carnage. Bad timing and frustration led to their eventual split; still, their legacy lives on.
Woods of Ypres
Even three years later, it's still a little tough to talk about David Gold. The frontman and founder of Woods of Ypres was admired as much for his musical ingenuity as for his humanity, always happy to reach out to fans who'd discovered the band's powerful, dramatic, utterly northern swell of blackened doom metal.
Then in 2011, three days before Christmas, he was suddenly killed in a tragic car accident. The loss reverberated worldwide - heartbreaking proof of just how influential Woods of Ypres had become even without mainstream recognition. Though they bounced around from Windsor to Sault St. Marie, they spent many of their formative years recording and performing in Toronto.
Thanks to file sharing and sites like Pitchfork, people seeking reprieve from teen-pop mania in the early 00s could delve into the Internet to find newer, weirder and refreshingly heavy stuff. Toronto-born (but now Berlin-based) Nadja is exactly the type of band that could benefit from that era.
Comprised of duo Aiden Baker and Leah Buckareff, the project takes the genre to experimental new heights with droney, dreamy soundscapes that wash modern electronics over metal's massively distorted fury. One of their best offerings is DagdrĂ¸m, a collaboration with The Jesus Lizard's Mac McNeilly that marries old experimentation with new - read all about it in our 2012 interview with them here.
It's shocking how much impact a band can have in such a short period of time. Mare produced only one recording in their brief existence, a five-song EP released on Hydra Head that turned heads as a dark, sludgy masterpiece melded with experimental jazz, chamber music and even Gregorian chant.
Then suddenly, it was over, "a lack of motivation to write and record more material" according to the band's MySpace farewell message. It was the ultimate tease, and in a way, Toronto's experimental metal community has been at least partially spurred on by the desire to recreate Mare's genius ever since.
See what I mean about Toronto bands pushing boundaries? One of our best metal acts today is also somehow one of our best punk acts, too. Cancer Bats have never really fit neatly into either group; even their early and more straightforward hardcore offerings were steeped in thrashy low-end riffs and the southern-metal twang of Liam Cormier's vocals.
Over the years, the scales have slowly tipped towards the darker side, culminating in their recent foray as Bat Sabbath, a Black Sabbath cover band. But really, who cares about labels? Cancer Bats are a prime example how bands no longer actively try to get filed in any particular section of the record store anymore, and thank goodness for that.
Everything old is new again, and sins of the past have been forgiven. Toronto's Blood Ceremony are leading the current revival of psychedelic doom, their hypnotic dirge paying loving tribute to the roots of metal through authentic paganistic references, ghostly vocals and, yes, flute solos that could even make Jethro Tull gasp.
The aurally demanding, often difficult nature of most of Toronto's metal scene is part of what makes it so important, but bands like Blood Ceremony are essential to its ecosystem, reminding us of the beauty and resilience that can be found in such dark music.
Today, Toronto's metal scene is more diverse than ever, large and independent enough to ignore outside trends in favour of creating its own. Thantifaxath certainly aren't looking to hop on any bandwagons; one of the few black metal purveyors here, its members refuse to reveal their identities and insist on only providing the public with the darkest, most effectively frightening music that's possibly ever been produced in this country.
Their efforts for anonymity - right down to the hooded cloaks they wear during rare live gigs - are symbolic of modern Toronto metal's lack of ego; community and artistic integrity are far more important to work on than individual fame or buzz. If you aren't paying attention, it's your loss.
Writing by Shazia Khan. Photo of Blood Ceremony in Moscow by Alexandr Horoshilovâ via Facebook.
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