Canadian metal might not always get appropriate credit, but its influence and impact are significant. Alongside the obvious—Bay-Area thrash, Swedish death metal, Norwegian black metal—are Ontario’s late-’80s wave of death-thrash and Quebec’s 90s death metal boom. And while the scene has since schismed into one larger entity, harder to pin down both by region and sound, Canada’s metallurgy remains one the best on the planet. So how can we quantify something so vast into a curated list of the best of the best?
To put it plainly, you can’t. At least not without some wiggle room. For us, narrowing down Canada’s best metal albums is less an attempt at objectively rating releases as it is finding the balance between influence and timelessness; between overall appeal and immediate impact and those hidden gems that inspired our favourite bands.
Cryptopsy – None So Vile (1996)
From the Quebecois death metal scene there is perhaps no release more important, more consistently violent, than Cryptopsy’s second album. None So Vile improves upon the brutality and technicality of Blasphemy Made Flesh with reckless abandon, rumbling an improved low-end through 32 relentless and primal minutes. The highlight here is obviously Lord Worm, whose wordy lyrics are rendered irrelevant with his blurred, animalistic delivery. None So Vile is everything a death metal album should be, effortlessly mixing breakneck speeds and technicality with equal parts groove and destruction.
Cursed – One (2003)
Few bands lived up to their name as literally as Cursed, but before being burdened by a string of bad luck and shitty circumstances, they were terrorizing the country as Canada’s loudest metal band. The opening moments of “Polygraph” remain one of the genre’s finest, immediately bludgeoning the listener with the band’s sludge-soaked, gut-wrenching take on metallic hardcore. For many, metalcore became defined by shitty haircuts and desperate breakdowns. For us, that definition is one word: Cursed. Their three albums didn’t so much combine the two genres as they smashed them together with unrelenting ferocity, and One is where it all began.
Goat Horn – Storming the Gates (2003)
A caveat of listening to metal is choosing whether to play into the stereotypes or to ignore them. Whatever the case, they exist, and using them to their advantage is what makes Goat Horn’s second album so strong. Storming the Gates turns the traditional metal dial up a notch from the doom-y Voyage to Nowhere, ramping the speed up with a pinch of the NWOBHM sound and making for an album that isn’t afraid to be a lot of fun. It’s a formula that would later crumble with off-shoot Cauldron, but one that has rarely been as solid as heard here.
Gorguts – Obscura (1998)
There is no other death metal album more immediately challenging that Obscura, which while perhaps not the best thing Gorguts have done (From Wisdom to Hate) represents a paradigm shift in technical death metal. While many of their Quebecois peers were focusing on playing more notes at increasingly hilarious speeds, Luc Lemay was writing riffs that sounded as much like they came from a guitar as a buzzsaw. For Gorguts, this album represented a jarring shift from their early albums. But as the past remained unchanged, Obscura was clearly the future. Fifteen years later and we still haven’t heard anything like it.
Megiddo – The Devil and the Whore (2000)
Here’s one of the least obvious albums on our list. Representing a small Toronto scene that started but never took off in the early oughts, The Devil and the Whore bridges first and second wave black metal with a sharp snarl, cacophonous drums, and lyrics that aim to be as evil as they are unironic. This isn’t nihilism so much as it’s self-destructive, and while this would be their first album, it left an indelible mark.
Razor – Evil Invaders (1985)
Evil Invaders rips from the second it starts and doesn’t stop pulling the thread until the closing seconds of the brilliantly named “Thrashdance.” With its crude production and snarled, snot-nosed vocals, Evil Invaders is remembered as much for its smoke-stained attitude as its—pardon the pun—razor-sharp riffs. Probably the best thing to ever come out of Guelph, Ontario, Razor’s second album remains one of thrash metal’s purest snapshots. Forget the Bay Area; this is the genre at its most primal.
Rush – 2112 (1976)
Canada’s proto-metal prodigal sons, Rush, and their 20-minute epic remains one of the genre’s finest hours, breaking genre barriers before the confines even existed. From its grandiose opening overture to Geddy Lee’s delightfully shrill vocals in the opening of “The Temples of Syrinx,” Rush’s confusing nod to the idiocy of Ayn Rand remains nonetheless a heavy metal classic. It is their biggest, boldest and best release. It is the path by which all progressive metal bands begin and an indictment on compromise for commercialism’s sake. It is, regardless of what you might argue, one of Canada’s best metal albums.
Slaughter – Strappado (1987)
California has Slayer; Canada had Slaughter, and not even Strappado’s relentlessly shitty production values can take away its influence. Both distant and muddy, this Toronto trio’s only full length is raw, sloppy, and better for it. Chuck Schuldiner is rightly credited with creating death metal in the demos leading up to 1987s Scream Bloody Gore, but before then he held a brief stint with Slaughter. And released the same year as Death’s debut was Slaughter’s Strappado, already mixing the genre into their crusty, scuzzy brand of thrash.
Strapping Young Lad – City (1997)
City showed Canadians that industrial-tinged metal didn’t have to be plagued by keyboards, synthetic dreads, and dudes wearing make-up. On their second album, Strapping Young Lad created a sound that was, and remains, uniquely their own. Carried by the legendary Gene Hogland’s metronomic drumming, City is as precise and mechanical as it is anguished, thanks in no small part to Devin Townsend’s incomparable throat-shredding vocals. The result is thrash but with a woofer-busting low-end and a sound that can only be described as the machines becoming cognizant… and angry.
Voivod – Dimension Hatröss (1988)
Thrash metal by way of Isaac Asimov, Voivod’s best album is their fourth, channelling their punk ethos into a progressive work of art. Rather than blaring balls out at all times, Dimension Hatröss plays along at mid-pace, jangling through rhythmic time changes and confusing technobabble. We’ve talked about Gorguts and Strapping Young Lad for their importance and influence on modern metal. Without Voivod, neither would exist.
Check out our lil’ Best of Canadian Metal sampler (we couldn’t find everything in this list on Rdio).