Winter music: Black Metal of Québec

Trails of Anguish

Québec is a land apart, claimed by bold frontiersmen whose legacy resonates in the tenacity and passion of its people to this day.  Accordingly, the Québécois metal scene features rarefied versions of the established styles; black, death, and speed metal are all represented, but the presentation of the bands stands apart as much as the province itself. They operate in a vacuum enforced by language and distance, and many of the highly-regarded bands in their regional scene are almost completely unknown to the outside world. Their lyrics and often the band names remain in their French mother tongue, so the isolation is willful. This doesn't seem to stop them from making some truly great black metal, and the lucky few who get in on these well-kept secrets will find a treasure trove of killer riffs and excellent musicianship. Check out the list below to chart a course through these obscured metal hinterlands.

1) Chasse-Galerie – Like most bands on this list, this hunting party plays and impassioned brand of black metal that relies on a combination of staccato strings and dire minor chords. Their approach tends to run towards the mid-paced and muscular, like a tribal warrior trudging through the untamed reaches of the northern climes. Chasse-Galerie's work feels traditional and rustic, and their understated presentation on stage is free of corpse paint or spikes. The music speaks for itself just fine, rest assured.

Recommended release: Ars Moriendi

2) Malvery – This infamous band has always had a difficult reputation, even within their unconventional scene. A lot of people simply couldn't tolerate their anguished brand of suicidal black metal. Vocalist Amer Le Chatier wailed, moaned, and screeched across songs crammed with spastic drums and dementedly fractured riffs, and then he killed himself just to prove he wasn't kidding around. Suicidal black metal posers, take note. Their sole full-length is not for everyone, but its avowed indifference towards cultivating an audience makes for an unnervingly memorable listen.

Recommended release: Mortal Entrenchment in Requiem

3) Frozen Shadows – It's mystifying how this band didn't get bigger, other than the aforementioned nature of their insular scene. Everything a fan of blazing black metal could desire is on display here, with icy guitar tones, cruel vocals, and explosive drumming that will crush you flat. Seriously, the drums are unbelievable. Despite their regular application of speed, the band maintains a musical center that prevents them from spinning out into a wash of noise. Accordingly, the songs are memorable, powerful, and black as black can get. Frozen Shadows also has a share of slower numbers that are every bit as effective, much like the better efforts of fellow speedsters Marduk. This is a band that deserves to sit alongside the best works of the Norwegian Black Circle, so if you haven't added their albums to your collection, fix that immediately.

Recommended release: Hantises

4) Forteresse – Here’s a band that may not even want to exist outside Québec. Forteresse is tailored specifically for the region, as they stump for the province’s sovereignty with straight-ahead black metal with anthemic flairs. While there aren’t a lot of surprises here, the content is very well-executed and quite listenable. All content is in French, and if you’re not aware of the complex socio-political situation within Canada’s Francophone culture, you might not fully grasp the point of their message. Fortunately, the music stands up well on its own even if you blow off reading about the Québec sovereignty movement.

Recommended release: Thémes pour la Rébellion

5) Trails of Anguish – Several notable black metal acts have traded on violent reputations, but the sadly defunct Trails of Anguish remains unsung as one of the most singularly dangerous bands to ever malign the underground. Their output was compressed and spasmodic, with harried screams egging on the machine-gun drum tempos; it was essentially rabies set to music. The band notoriously expressed this sound in a live setting by making their shows a full-contact experience. Self-mutilating on stage, attacking the audience, and even assaulting each other in mid-song were all regular features. They also usually wore gauntlets covered in 10-inch nails while all this went on, by the way. If you’ve never been punched, stabbed, or clubbed with a bass guitar by a member of Trails of Anguish, you’ll never really know what made them such a phenomenon. The two EPs they managed to release between blood-lettings are all that is left to tell the tale.

Recommended release: Relentless Abhorrence of Misery's Grievance

6) Sorcier Des Glaces – Alongside Frozen Shadows, SDG stands as a blackened jewel in the scene’s metal crown. Contemporary of the 2nd wave black metal out of Norway, this duo sporadically releases albums that remain unchanged by trends or styles. Shades of classic Darkthrone, Emperor, and even early Satyricon co-mingle with the inimitable Quebecois sensibility, and the results are truly forbidding. The world of Sorcier Des Glaces is one of permanent winter, a black spell that few bands are able to conjure in the current era. Burn, fire, burn!

Recommended release: Ritual of the End

7) Csejthe – Similar to Chasse-Galerie and Fortresse, this QC trio offers a clear-headed interpretation of black metal, but with a little more in the way of atmosphere and melancholia than their counterparts. The Songs are layered into a wall of sound with sustained notes and chamber voices in places of keyboards for an immersive and moving experience. The difficult name is enough to keep them out of most metal conversations, but the music is definitely worth exploring.

Recommended release: Réminiscence

8) Monarque – This group is much more locked into the traditional black metal model than many of their peers, replete with corpse paint, buzzsaw guitars, and relentless shrieks. Sustained synth tones and gothic organ music augment the melodies with ominous effect. While Monarque doesn’t deviate much from the standard approach, their version of it surpasses many of the more celebrated current acts.

Recommended release: Lys Noir

9) Esker – Rising from the walled city of Quebec in the early 2000s, Esker defied convention with a sound that has since come to define black metal in the new millennium. Their three demos showcased songs full of knotted and discordant passages full of open chords and meandering melodies. Even with such an odd bent, this group remained focused on writing with coherent anchor points that allowed the chaos to bloom around them. Like every band on this list, the passion and ardor of the work is palpable, and the performances point to a high degree of natural talent. Totally obscure and ahead of their time, Esker is another band that deserves to garner a posthumous fan base.

Recommended release: Du nord...

10 ) Brume d'Automne –  Pastoral with a mean streak, this act fuses primitive black metal with traditionalist themes attached to the land of their pioneering ancestors. This could be a much uglier result if it wasn't for the adept musicianship and the requisite ear for a solid melody. Even so, their recordings feature tinder dry production, so adherents to the raw approach should definitely apply.

Recommended release: Brume d'Automne

11) Sombres Forêts – Epic, atmospheric, and mystical, this dark forest assembly creates hymnals that are affecting and powerful, and sometimes winsome. Vocals run to overwrought in places, but the authenticity keeps them from becoming absurd. The instrumentation is top-flight on all fronts, and the band's affinity towards classical music in the way they build, release, and rebuild once more makes for a grand listening experience.

Recommended release: La mort du Soleil

12) Gevurah – Despite being the newest band on this list, Gevurah have already distinguished themselves with a great demo and even better EP, and now a confident full-length. Taking arms somewhere near the territory of French overlords Antaeus, this Montreal duo is probably one of the heaviest examples of métal noir Québécois. With downtuned guitars, pummeling drums, and ragged howls, Gevurah channels the Qlipphothic current with a devastating force that surpasses many of their forebears. Highly recommended.

Recommended release: Necheshirion

A majority of the releases above are available through Sepulchral Productions.

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