Heavy Metal

Heavy metal. Rock music subgenre and stylistic approach. Heavy metal evolved ca 1968-9 from such British psychedelic- and blues-rock bands as Cream, Led Zeppelin, and Black Sabbath.

Heavy metal

Heavy metal. Rock music subgenre and stylistic approach. Heavy metal evolved ca 1968-9 from such British psychedelic- and blues-rock bands as Cream, Led Zeppelin, and Black Sabbath. The distorted electric guitar is supported by the electric bass, powerful drumming, an often high and piercing vocal style, and sometimes electric organs or other keyboards. Structural and musical influences are drawn from the electric blues, but lyrics rely more heavily on the subjects of mysticism, freedom, and sexuality. Heavy metal songs have traditionally been written from a male perspective, at times risking reasonable claims about sexism.

A dominant structural feature of heavy metal is the contrast between controlled guitar "riffs" (relatively constricted, often rhythmically energetic or complex cyclical patterns) and virtuosic melodic solos (whether improvised or carefully designed). The meaning of "heavy metal" has varied substantially over time, and its elements have been explored by genres such as hard rock, progressive rock, punk, and hard alternative rock. The origin of the term "heavy metal" has been attributed to the phrase "heavy metal thunder," used in the Steppenwolf hit of 1968, "Born to Be Wild." However, the term appeared earlier in William Burroughs' novel Nova Express (1964).

Heavy Metal Styles

The terms heavy metal and hard rock have often been used interchangeably - eg, heavy metal fell under the hard rock category at the Juno Awards until 2012, when the award for best heavy metal album was introduced. Heavy metal, however, is often considered the more extreme of the two. In its first 25 years, heavy metal developed a wide range of subgenres, among them "speed metal" (in which guitar riffs are played as quickly as possible); "thrash metal" (similar to speed metal, but showing the a-melodic influence of punk rock); and "death metal" (with dark, gothic tendencies, both musically and lyrically). Most heavy metal bands, however, have explored a variety of acoustic, psychedelic, and pop-rock elements.

In the mid- to late 1980s, a number of mainstream bands appropriated features of heavy metal, causing controversy for some fans. At about the same time, the trend toward "power ballads" (love songs that slowly build up from pop-like, often acoustic beginnings to metal-influenced power chords and drumming) brought aspects of heavy metal to a broader audience. Commercial uses of heavy metal continued to characterize "post-alternative" hard rock bands of the mid-1990s through the 2000s.

Heavy Metal in Canada

Many artists have used only certain elements of heavy metal or combined these with other types of music. In Canada, such bands as April Wine, BTO, Haywire, Headpins, Loverboy, Max Webster, Toronto, and Triumph have been classified at one time or another as heavy metal, although in some cases the description might be better applied to songs, periods of their careers (eg, Rush's less "progressive"-oriented music), or single albums (eg, Haywire's Nuthouse). Domestic sales of more than 100,000 for heavy metal albums are rare, but these included 18 of Rush's albums 1975-98 (including 2112, 1976; Moving Pictures, 1981; Presto, 1989; and Counterparts, 1993); Helix's Walking the Razor's Edge in 1984; and Lee Aaron's Bodyrock in 1989.

Bands 1970s-80s

Early Canadian bands in the power rock, hard rock or heavy metal style, in addition to Rush, included Thundermug (London, Ont), and Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush (Montreal) in the early 1970s; followed by Anvil, Goddo, and Moxy in Toronto late in the decade. Moxy made several LPs for Polydor, while Goddo, led by the singer and bass guitarist Greg Godovitz, recorded for Polydor and Attic. Anvil's LPs 1981-3 for Attic, Hard 'n' Heavy, Metal on Metal, and Forged in Fire, were among the first from a Canadian band to use "metal" terminology. Fronted by the singer and guitarist "Lips" (Steve Kudlow), Anvil found its greatest popularity outside Canada, as did several of the heavy metal bands that followed in the 1980s, among them Sword, Killer Dwarfs, Voivod, and Annihilator. These bands toured in Europe and/or the US, both on their own and as opening acts for the leading international bands of the day.

Sword, formed in 1981 in St-Bruno, Que, had the LPs Metalized and Sweet Dreams issued by Aquarius in 1986 and 1988 respectively, documenting a classic heavy metal style. Killer Dwarfs, formed ca 1981 in Toronto, showed an unusual flair for melody and humour on such albums 1986-90 as Stand Tall (Maze), Big Deal, and Dirty Weapons (Epic). The "cyber-punk" band Voivod, formed in 1982 in Jonquière, Que, reached cult status internationally by the end of the decade on the basis of the science-fiction orientation of its five albums 1984-9: War and Pain (for Metal Blade); RRRoar!; Killing Technology and Dimension Hatröss (Noise); Nothingface (Mechanic); and Angel Rat (MCA). Annihilator, a speed metal band established in Vancouver by the guitarist Jeff Waters in 1987, had Alice in Hell and Never Neverland issued by Roadracer Records in 1989 and 1990 respectively, with international sales exceeding 350,000.Other popular Canadian bands at the hard rock end of the heavy metal spectrum during the 1980s included Coney Hatch (Toronto), Kick Axe (Vancouver), and Brighton Rock (Hamilton, Ont), whose albums Coney Hatch (1982), Vices (1984) and Take a Deep Breath (1989) respectively, each sold more than 50,000 copies domestically. The Montreal singer and guitarist Aldo Nova, whose debut LP Aldo Nova (1982) sold more than 200,000 copies in Canada and included the international rock hit "Fantasy," returned in 1991 after a recording hiatus with the hard rock album Blood on the Bricks.

Bands 1990s-2000s

Newer acts emerging with major-label recordings in the early 1990s included the Los Angeles-based Tim Karr; Vancouver's Paul Laine and Chrissy Steele; and Toronto's Brat Farrar, Big House, Harem Scarem, Sacrifice, and Slik Toxik. Canadian thrash bands in this period, whether of punk or metal derivation, included Disaster Area (Halifax, then Toronto); Dyoxen (London, Ont); NoMeansNo (Victoria, BC); and Overthrow (Toronto). Other Canadian heavy metal artists (including fusions with hard rock, thrash, and hard alternative) to emerge in the late 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s have included Cryptopsy, Ivory Knight, I Mother Earth, Borislav Miti?, Kataklysm, Gorguts, Eidolon, Kittie, Brown Brigade, Three Days Grace, Sum 41, and Finger Eleven.

Canadian women in heavy metal have included Lee Aaron; and Morgan and Mercedes Lander, and Fallon Bowman of the all-female band Kittie (London, Ont, formed in 1996).

Canadian Musicians Abroad

Several Canadian musicians have been heard in British or US hard rock/heavy metal groups. The drummer Corky Laing (b Montreal 26 Jan 1948) was a member 1969-74 of the prototypical US band Mountain. The guitarist Pat Travers (b Toronto 12 Apr 1954) has had a long British-based career in hard rock, recording several albums in the 1970s and early 1980s for Polydor. The Bahamas-born singer Sebastian Bach (b Bierk), who spent part of his youth in Peterborough, Ont, and began his career in Toronto, became a member of the US band Skid Row in 1987. Daniel MacMaster, of Barrie, Ont (d Thunder Bay, Ont 16 Mar 2008), began singing with the British band Bonham in 1989. That same year the guitarist Pete Freezin, originally of Saskatoon, joined the touring band of US singer Alice Cooper, who in the mid-1970s had employed the Toronto musicians Whitey Glann and Prakash John. James La Brie (b Penetanguishene, Ont 5 May 1963) became the lead vocalist of the US progressive heavy metal band Dream Theater in 1991. Drummer Shawn Drover (b Montreal 5 May 1966) and his brother Glen Drover (b Ottawa 25 May 1969), both of the band Eidolon, also played guitar 2004-8 with the US heavy metal band Megadeth.

Publications and Documentaries

Several publications have documented the activities of Canadian heavy metal bands, most notably the monthly M.E.A.T. ("Metal events around Toronto"), introduced in 1989 by Drew Masters. Distributed free through record stores, it had a circulation of 35,000 by 1991 and ceased publication in 1995. Brave Words and Bloody Knuckles began in 1994 under Tim Henderson and Martin Popoff (10 issues per year, circulation of 25,000-30,000), and the quarterly Unrestrained! began in 1997 (quarterly, circulation of 15,000). The Canadian-made documentary Metal: A Headbanger's Journey (directed by Sam Dunn) was released in 2006, profiling Rush, Voivod, and Kittie among other international metal bands.

See also Rock 'n' Roll and Rock Music, Anglo-Canadian; and Rock Music in Quebec and French Canada


Further Reading

  • Mills, Kathryn. "Anvil," Canadian Musician, vol 4, Sep-Oct 1982

    Melhuish, Martin. Heart of Gold (Toronto 1983)

    Sharp, Keith. "Little big men [Killer Dwarfs]," Rock Express, 124, May 1988

    Jones, Andrew."Interzone [Voivod]," Montreal Mirror, 21 Dec 1989 - 10 Jan 1990

    Perlich, Tim. "Voivod: a hard-rocking Canadian band that sees a future of fantasy," Toronto Now, 11-17 Jan 1990

    Freeman, Dave. "Annihilator: made in Canada selling elsewhere," Canadian Musician, vol 13, Jun 1991

    Walser, Robert. Running with the Devil: Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy Metal Music (Hanover 1993)

    Weinstein, Deena. Heavy Metal: The Music and its Culture (New York 2000)

    Petkovsky, Ashley. "Metal on metal: how metal magazines--and their fans--keep the Canadian music magazine industry afloat," Ryerson Review of Journalism, 12 Nov 2007

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