Published Nov 01, 2005The Montreal music scene has been receiving more international attention than ever before, highlighting bands like the Arcade Fire, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Wolf Parade. But despite the light being shone onto the city and the province of Quebec in general, most fail to address or even acknowledge in passing one of the most successful and vibrant current scenes in Quebec. Since Voivod began thrashing their way into heavy metal history, Quebec has seen more than its share of aggressive bands commanding respect for their musical savvy. The province has been steadily exporting some of the world's most cutting edge extreme music acts for more than two decades, a diversified base of bands that have made their scene an original with unmatched staying power. Now that aggressive music is steadily clawing its way into the mainstream, this provincial pedigree is manifest in the dynamic bands that have broken the threshold of international praise.
Since the early '90s, most of Canada's renowned metal acts have come almost exclusively from Quebec, standing alongside Sweden, Norway, Florida and the Bay Area as premier hotbeds for aggressive music. But while those famous communities are generally known for a signature style that defines them, Quebec's sound ranges from classic blistering death metal to strange prog-oriented journeys, from Swedish-style melodic metal to modern metalcore. The newest hybrid, credited to bands like Neuraxis, Ion Dissonance and Despised Icon, is a poignant fusion of quirky, mind-boggling tech and elements of traditional death metal. Alex Erian of Despised Icon comments, "[Quebec metal bands] are all over the place we're influenced by so many scenes that I don't think it gets watered down. There's a lot of diversity [so] we don't get typecast as one kind of metal." This is just the latest wave in two decades of pioneering. Cryptopsy, Gorguts, Kataklysm, Necronomicon, Martyr and Quo Vadis are just a few bands that have pushed the envelope and earned Quebec an international reputation, albeit on a relatively small scale. Eric Galy, the architect behind Galy Records, notes that though the scene has been steadily expanding, it isn't always noticed. "There have always been times in the media when they talk more about it, then they talk less about it, but when they don't talk about it it's not like there's nothing happening."
Though the strength and diversity of the scene has been relatively overlooked by media, the support from within is stronger than anywhere else in the county. Cryptopsy drummer Flo Mounier says, "There are a lot of people [across Canada], but Montreal is like double, triple the [audience] turn out." This avid fan base has allowed an intricate, self-sustaining network of labels and promoters to thrive, resources invaluable in creating momentum and maintaining the energy. As Erian casually notes, "there are lots of people making it happen around here." Because the scene has existed within its own insular world for so long, it's continued to inspire new generations of bands and labels that, in turn, inspire more up-and-comers. "It's sort of a cycle," Erian says. "The more they get recognised, the more they open doors for younger generations of bands that are surfacing." Galy agrees that success breeds success. "There's something about Quebec they produce a lot of good goalies for hockey too. Because a few of those goalies made it, all the kids want to become [goalies]."
While most contemporary bands share an affinity for aggressiveness, the diversity and enthusiasm for heavy music in the province can be traced back to Voivod's impressive legacy. Their remarkable rise throughout the '80s put Quebec on the metal map. War and Pain (1984) was the first of a dozen albums on various labels, including MCA, Metal Blade and Noise. The popularity of 1989's Nothingface marked a high point in the band's career; they toured with future legends Soundgarden and Faith No More while their video for a reworked version of Pink Floyd's "Astronomy Domine" earned generous airplay on MTV. This mainstream success wasn't enjoyed for long and the 90s saw turbulent times for the group members even as they continued to create important and provocative music. Things were looking up with the 2002 addition of ex-Metallica bassist Jason Newsted, who recorded a self-titled album with the band and released it on his own Chophouse Records. The recent death of axe marvel Denis "Piggy" D'Amour was a tragic loss, but drummer Michel "Away" Langevin was recently quoted saying that the album being demoed prior to his death will be completed as a tribute. This prolific career inspired legions of loyal fans and a Quebec tradition that demanded innovation and dedication will undoubtedly serve to immortalise his memory in the consciousness of metalheads everywhere.
An inspiring history of diversity means that Quebec's extreme music scene can't be pigeonholed into one specific genre; nor can the fact that these bands hail from the largest Francophone community in North America be looked at as a defining factor. It would seem easy to jump to the conclusion that this music is a sonic manifestation of a people confined by linguistic isolation, or that its success is a show of French cultural solidarity. Yet this doesn't seem to be the case. Most bands with primarily French-speaking members don't vocalise in their first language and don't see themselves as trying to maintain any strict cultural history. As Galy notes, "There are a bunch of bands that will sing in English but you couldn't even talk to them in English. I remember Voivod was like that in the beginning." The reality of having to appeal to a largely English international demographic is well understood and in light of this, English vocals have become common practice. Erian believes that most share aspirations to disseminate their art form beyond provincial confines. "Bands that have the guts to [vocalise in French] are stuck in a situation where they only play in Quebec 'cause their message only appeals to French people," he says. "I'm not passing judgment, it's not like it's a bad thing, but I'm into communicating to and reaching out to as many people as we can." This attitude is paying off, but there's a long way to go before anyone will be willing to admit they've reached the top of the proverbial ladder. Galy says, "For right now it's positive, it's all good. I guess we'll have to wait for the negativity about it [to see] if it's going to last or if it's just going to be a hype thing."
Nine Defining Moments in Quebec Metal
Voivod Nothingface (Mechanic/MCA)
The album that encompasses the sound Voivod are best known for and an important landmark for Quebec's legacy.
Cryptopsy None So Vile (Century Media)
An astounding breakthrough that raised the bar for technically-oriented death metal.
Gorguts Obscura (Olympic)
A fiery technical opus that has become the bible for many modern tech metal bands.
Neuraxis A Passage Into Forlorn (Neoblast/Galy)
Helped pave the way for the newest generation of Quebec metal.
Kataklysm Temple of Knowledge (Nuclear Blast)
A fine introduction to the honed and definitive sound they became known for.
Martyr Warp Zone (Galy)
An eclectic illustration of the innovative spirit and musicianship present in Quebec's metal history.
Quo Vadis Defiant Imagination (Skyscraper)
Markedly melodic and progressive example of the diversity currently colouring the scene.
Ion Dissonance Breathing is Irrelevant (Willowtip)
Helped put Quebec back on the map after a brief lapse in the late '90s with a blend of tech excellence and death brutality.
Despised Icon The Healing Process (Century Media)
A solid record from one of the most promising bands to emerge from the newest generation.