The Polishing of Metal
Part 7 - The Canuck Connection

By Derek McDonald

The Bands of Canada - Where It All Started.

It is commonly believed that the genre known as heavy Metal evolved entirely in America or England, however evidence is now showing that these two nations only played a part in its evolution.

This misunderstanding is a common one due to several factors. After all, Rock-n-Roll, Heavy Metal's father, was born in the Southern USA and Pop-Rock, its sister, gained popularity in England. Many of the biggest artists to ever cut the vinyl in these genres (including Metal) cane from these two nations like: Michael Jackson, Boston, Queen, Elvis, The Who, Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Kill, Iron Maiden, Metallica, Motley Crue, etc. These countris also have the most advanced music industry to promote their acts above anyone else. Such overwhelming evidence must give one the conclusion that America and/or England are the fatherlands.

As the courts of any western nation have discovered, circumstantial evidence doesn't always lead to the smoking gun and this case is no exception.

Although England and the USA have produced more than their fair share of artists and produce a river of vinyl it would be from the North that this invasion came. Yes the North: Canda.

Canda, the world's second largest land mass under one government, a place where more than 70% of its land is either rock or arctic tundra. Parts of the nation see perpetual day or night for 6 months of the year. Winters are long and summers are short. The temperature in southern regions swings from 35 centigrade to -60; the arctic stays perpetually cold, rarely moving the mercury above 0. It is also one of the most sparsely populated areas on the earth: only 28 million people live in Canada.

First home to indigenous people then discovered by the Vikings 500 years before Columbus' famous voyage and later fought for by the English, the French and the Americans, Canada is now a proud and independent nation of the North..

Canada is still listed as a monarchy, under the rule of Queen Elizabeth II of England, but in reality operates as an independent nation with a Parliamentary Democracy and a Prime Minister as the actual head of state and a written constitution equally as powerful as the American one.

The Europeans often see Canada as a piece of England, with slightly American mannerisms and customs, conveniently and strategically placed at the front door step of America. Americans see Canada as the 51st state with a slightly re-arranged political system. During the cold war it was a territory conveniently separating America from most of the USSR. All these conclusions make Canadians very angry sa they fear that their friendliness with the world's two largest and most influential empires of the 20th century will consume what little unique culture they have.

What Canada lacks in land value it gains in creativity. Canada is a nation of dreamers and creators. The world's most technological sports stadium, tallest tower, biggest bridges, longest railways, world's fastest man, bountiful natural resources, free Medicare, a place where all colors, religions and creeds come together and live peacefully in cosmopolitan cities with all the latest comforts and relatively low crime. They are one of the most technological nations on earth and one of the hardest rocking ones!

Yes: Canadians like to rock and roll!

The hardest rocking region on the earth, per capita, is the province of Quebec. There are more Heavy Metal fans in this region of 8 million people than just about anywhere else. In overall statistics Canada ranks 3rd in its per capita music consumption. Canada follows only the USA and England.

Canada is a host to most of the world's major record labels. The Canadian government has institutionalized grant and loan programs to help up and coming artists cut a record and promote it and these programs are extended to small record labels to encourage them to sign Canadian bands. But never mind the public and corporate help. Canadian musicians, especially in the past few years, have demonstrated they have a unique but marketable sound.

But even before such programs, 30 years ago, in Toronto, the band Steppenwolf was formed. Their Born To Be Wild was heralded as the first 'Metal song,' the song that named and gave birth to a new genre. An industry within the music industry.

Since then Metal has become Canada's national music with the naming of Rush as the 'Official Ambassadors To Music' then later awarding them the Order Of Canada, the highest civilian medal of honor available. A medal awarded only to people who have contributed greatly to "the Canadian civilization."

Sure Canada may be a wonderful place for Metal, but even the Garden Of Eden had a bad apple. Metal, although institutionalized, isn't promoted well but the problem with Canda, in general, is that they don't promote anything they do very well nor does their small population offer a profitable enough market thus causing many musicians to leave for the USA or Europe. This "brain drain" is not unique to music or Heavy Metal, it extends into medicine, motion pictures, TV; even technology. The net result is that Canadians have become an important part of the American and European entertainment and technological communities while being forced to leave their own.

It is important to remember that the development of Metal is not 100% unique to Canada. Developments in both England and the USA as well as other nations created the environment and template for its creation and the marketing efforts and creativity of these nations gave it a place to grow and prosper. Given more time it probably would have happened elsewhere, but it was Canada where the rare lightning bolt struck the primordial soup to give life.

Previously in this text we covered some uniquely Canadian bands such as:

Thrash band from Toronto (my cousin is the singer so I have to plug him as much as possible).

From Toronto, winners of the Order of Canada and Official Ambassadors to Music.

But there are many other Canadian bands who deserve equal coverage: Annihilator, Anvil, Voivod, Razor, Toronto, Triumph, Helix, Headstones. There are still others, but this is a good place to start:

This Canadain power trio formed in Toronto in 1975. The band consists of highly accomplished musicians in areas of high-tech melodic rock. Interest grew slowly for this band until a breakthrough with Progressions Of Power, in 1980, their fourth album. Allied Forces and Never Surrender were the pinnacle of their career obtaining Gold status in the USA. Following releases like Thunder Seven and a follow up live recording were flat and disjointed from poor production and in live sessions the band had to utilize an extra guitarist to make up for the limitations of a 3 man team. Later releases would see them gain back some of their glory, but when Rick Emmet, one of the founders, left much of the character went with him.

In 1979 drummer Jim Fox, American bassist Nick Costello and guitarist Brian Allen departed another Canadian band: Rose. This nucleus created the basis of a new band who took its name from their locality: Toronto. The line-up would be soon completed with the addition of another guitarist and vocalist. Despite both A&M and MCA selling their record in Europe they never gained popularity outside Canada. Later the band would be billed as Holly Woods & Toronto when Costello and Fox left handing it over to the vocalist Holly Woods in 1983. The last album was in a Lee Aaron vein and was a marked improvement, but with faltering sales they folded shortly after.

Voivod came about in the early 1980's. The release of their first record made them one of the first thrash style acts to make a name for themselves worldwide. This first record was avant-garde, certainly unconventional. The second album advanced more into neo-industrial sounds. Several records later with Dimension Hatross saw Voivod assume the role of pioneers in Metaldom. Unfortunately this meant that calling them a thrash band would not be accurate as there was much more to their sound and perplexed reviewers had to concede that new frontiers were being explored here. Nothingface once and for all saw the thrash shedded away. Now more than ever so called "progressive" tendencies were infiltrating their music, but at the same time they managed to keep their fan strongohold across the metal spectrum. To this day the band receives international coverage and heavy rotation at home.

From West Central Ontario come Helix. They formed in 1978 and released their first record: Breaking Loose. The next one, White Lace and Black Leather was a marked improvement on their basic hard rock, but met with a less enthusiastic reception. But these releases got the attention of Capitol Records who signed the band. Under this label the first release was No Rest For The Wicked in 1983 which was a solid collection of rock songs and sold well. They finally managed a stable line-up for their remaining releases with Capitol. Wild In The Streets was their most commercial release but Capitol was no longer amused and dropped them. This problem was compounded by the 1982 bus accident taking their guitarist Paul Hackman's life. Some of their best works include Rock You, White Lace and Black Leather and Heavy Metal Love.

Formally known as Lips, named after the alias used by thier founder and singer, Anvil is a four-piece from Toronto which made a significant impression on the thrash scene in the early 1980's. The band is technically excellent and able to play at a breakneck speed that few of their peers can manage. Their first 3 records were their best with the premiere Metal On Metal showing the most promise. There would be a four year gap from the first three releases until Backwaxed, a compilation record, due to artistic differences within the group and legal disputes with their record label. Backwaxed was released against their wishes and contained songs which they recorded but rejected. The next record, Strength Of Steel, was a fair comeback attempt, but it would be overshadowed by the works of Megadeth, Metallica and Slayer. Ironic considering that many of these bands city Anvil as an invluence on their careers. Anvil, often now held up for ridicule, just won't die and recently released another record.

Originally a vehicle for the expressions of classically trained guitarist Jeff Walters, Annihilator set the underground scene alight with "Phantasmagoria." They then relocated to Vancouver to release their debut album, Alice In Hell. This was a tour-de-force of intricate thrash with Walters playing all guitar and bass parts including the production and writing. He did enlist the help of Randy Rampage (vocals; ex-DOA), Ray Harmann (drums) and augmented by Anthony Greenham (guitar) and Wayne Darley (bass) for after the recording. The sizzling guitar work helped the record become the best selling debut in history for the record label RoadRunner. Almost instantly the band had line-up problems with Greenham being replaced by Dave Scott Davis, whild Rampage was replaced by ex-Omen frontman Coburn Pharr. Another relase, Never Neverland, would see the band mature musically, but again suffer from more line up changes: Davis left on the eve of a European tour with Judas Priest. The shows were difficult with one man short, but they survived. After a long rest a replacement was found: Neil Goldberg (guitar) and Aaron Randall (vocals). Their next two records would be the last for RoadRunner but their Music For Nations release, King Of The Kill, which received heavy rotation on Canada's Much Music network, saw Walters take over vocals and saw melody being mixed with their basic thrash style and continuing the evolution for this rising star. At the time of writing they have another release on the market.

Regardless of its beginnings, Metal has evolved into an international movement involving millions of fans and thousands of bands. It has defined a generation, transcended borders and has become an ambassador for the accomplishments of man in artistic and technological endeavors. It is uniquely a 20th century invention and this "tank" shows no signs of stopping. So long as even one Heavy Metal fan wants it then it will be there.

Yes, long live Heavy Metal!