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TUESDAY, JULY 12, 2016
Lord Worm: day-time profession: English Teacher
This was originally written for the Capilano Courier of the North Vancouver university, Capilano University.

Powerful emotions can create the most interesting, harsh, and beastly forms of art, and they come from many sources. The frustrations of a small city, industrialization, blue-collar culture, the sense of hopelessness, and the dream of something bigger can easily manifest bitterness, aggression, and even hate within youth. These emotions then go on to find a perfect expression through explosive music. The harshest and most enigmatic style within music today is the force of nature that is known as death metal. This is it for the embittered youth too young to know what punk really was. This is the sound for those fascinated by the macabre, the taboo, and the downright fucked up. This is the music for those seeking complexity, aggression, and power. It is the darkest limit of beauty.

As a musical style, death metal appears universally incompatible with the mainstream due to the genre’s unique nature and aesthetics. Those who hate it, or simply fear it, dismiss it for its chaotic qualities. But the style is not all chaos. On the surface, death metal uses heavily distorted and detuned guitars, complex drumming, and bass-heavy rhythms based on whiplash chord progressions. The key characteristic is guttural vocals spitting verses about carnage and absolute horror. People will always notice the vocals, as the style is endemic to the genre; no other form of Western music uses such harsh and animalistic vocals. As austere as it sounds, this is a breed of music that has seeded its way throughout the many corners of the world. This music has infiltrated the vast underground of Northern Europe, the United Kingdom, America, Japan, and even Canada.

The improbable history that is the creation story of extreme metal spans the map from the Pacific to the Atlantic and back, but if Canada’s contribution starts anywhere, it started in the 1980s, in the industrialized, blue-collar, bleak little city of Jonquière, Quebec. Founded in 1847, Jonquière first saw development and growth through privately-owned pulp and paper mills 200 kilometres north of Quebec City. Today, the area—along with the defunct cities of Kénogami and Arvida—is no more than a borough of the city of Saguenay. It is at this location that Quebec’s own extreme metal scene was cemented. This is where Voivod began. "It's all Voivod’s fault," quips Alex Leblanc, singer of the modern Montreal death metal band Neuraxis, during my interview with him in Vancouver's Commodore Ballroom, four hours shy of the sold-out Summer Slaughter Tour. The birth of the Quebec death metal scene can be blamed on Voivod's birth in 1982, and Voivod would go on to find mild success in the 80s and early 90s with their unique dystopian sci-fi based lyrics and their atmospheric brand of Pink Floyd inspired punk and heavy metal. Although they weren’t a band that many would call death metal, Voivod's successes in the US granted a much-needed ego boost to the many fledgling metal bands within Canada. Leblanc elaborated on this, stating, "It's not so much a musical influence as I think it is just having role models within the scene… It started in the 80s. They were more like the forefathers of what was to come… bands like Cryptopsy… a new generation."

Voivod: think Metallica if they read H. G. Wells instead of H. P. Lovecraft.

While Voivod was the early metal example, the true father of Quebec death metal was the Quebec City band Gorguts, who refined the sound to its evil edge. Formed in 1989, the band was notably different for their time due to their musicianship and overall style. They were heavily influenced by European bands and took up the progressive tendencies of Voivod. Falling into the camp of what is referred to as technical death metal—a sub-genre distinguished by complexity—the band was considered an enigma within the underground. Gorguts epitomized their tech-death status with rapid tempo changes within songs and a harsher, yet more conceptual, musical sound.

Gorguts: think Cannibal Corpse if they watched films by Jean-Pierre Jeunet instead of George A. Romero

They helped open the doors for other Quebec bands in the 90s who were baby-stepping into recognition. Yet in the mid-90s, American and British scenes experienced a drastic drop in popularity because the underground scene viewed death metal with disdain. At the time, the scene was experiencing an influx of generic bands that sounded the same. It was at this time that Montreal stepped up to draw critical acclaim.

Quo Vadis playing Break the Cycle off of Defiant Imagination

In 1994, during a time where most bands sought out raw production value, excessive speed, and lyrics based on horror and gore, the Montreal act Quo Vadis (Latin for "Where are you going?") blasted out an album that changed North America. With their debut Forever…, Quo Vadis cemented their stance as the high-class metalheads of the day by trading in themes of violence and hate for introspective philosophies. They replaced dissonant and rampaging sounds for layered melodies more akin to classical music. The album's classical inspiration was further exemplified with the incorporation of violins, cellos, and operatic vocals—along with traditional death metal vocals and drumming, of course. This influence was then passed to fellow Montreal band Cryptopsy, who were also rising from the underground in the mid-90s. Juxtaposing Quo Vadis’s more classically melodic efforts, Cryptopsy found influence from the likes of jazz musicians and metaphysical poetry, and their 1996 release None So Vile marked this creative peak. The album took everything that was death metal and dished it out by the blood-drenched fist-full, complete with violent abstract lyrics penned by vocalist Lord Worm (whose real name is less awesome) and guitarist Jon Levasseur's sinister yet catchy chainsaw riffs. They created some of the darkest forms of technical death metal. The album's sound was rounded out by a complex jazz- and funk-inspired rhythm section orchestrated by drummer Flo Mounier and bassist Eric Langloisc. Cited in Albert Mudrian's book Choosing Death: The Improbable History of Death Metal and Grindcore as an essential album and a modern classic, NSV would eventually become one of the most critically acclaimed albums in the movement. Compared to the "breathless, shuddering, sexless orgasm" that is a satisfied drug addiction by online magazine Stylus the album, to this day, is hailed as the Platonic ideal of death metal.

Cryptopsy playing Graves of the Fathers off of None So Vile

Alongside this success for Cryptopsy, in 1998 the original innovators of technical death metal, Gorguts, recorded the Dadaist wet dream Obscura, which was critically lauded upon its release for its experimental sound and avant-garde approach. The band created monstrous soundscapes with discordant riffs, atonal fingertapping, and melodies composed of pick slides or general noise. Obscura also featured many of Gorgut's trademarks such as spastic drumming and break-neck tempo changes. In an interview with, Gorguts songwriter and guitarist Luc Lemay pointed out the ability of Quebec bands to stay original: "It's cool that in Canada, every band has a different sound … Nobody sounds like us. Nobody sounds like Cryptopsy. Nobody sounds like Kataklysm … Every band has its own sound." Quebec's brand of try-anything death metal was branded as genius within the world scene and to this day is hailed among fans; yet those that spawned it have mostly fallen.

Gorguts playing La Vie Est Prelude... off of Obscura

Though Quo Vadis are still alive and well, bands such as Voivod, Cryptopsy, and Gorguts have all but disappeared. Voivod and Gorguts both experienced the deaths of key group members (guitarist Denis "Piggy" D'Amour from Voivod; drummer Steve MacDonald from Gorguts) and Cryptopsy finally lost shred-master Jon Levasseur and the disgorging vocals of front man Lord Worm. However, Quebec's underground still lives on through a multitude of unique bands performing within the province. Mr. Leblanc noted the scene's seemingly symbiotic condition: "We all know each other as it is a small scene. . . . We've all played with each other, so we all know each other." Leblanc's band Neuraxis—whose five members have the combined experience of having played in 10 individual bands—stands as an epitome of the Montreal scene.

The Quebec death metal scene may remain as obscure as the bands who started it; but as a piece of art, it is one of the most compelling and inspired artistic movements that Canada has to offer. It is fucking brutal, and it is amazing.

I would like to thank Kevin Murray for editing this.



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