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

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

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.