Canada: Northern Bastion of Heavy Metal

As AMG writes in their review of Riot City’s new disc, “The 80s were the Golden Age of metal. A Pax Romana if you will, and Riot City aim to bring that glorious era back.”

Proof of those glory days, and of their continued existence among the heavy metal Rebel Alliance, is contained in every track of Riot City’s astonishing creation, Burn the Night. So, you better nab it, pronto.

But what AMG fails to note in their otherwise excellent review is that Riot City is from Canada. Location? The mighty West: Calgary, Alberta. And as the band proudly states up-front on Bandcamp: “Screaming Heavy Metal from Canada, recommended for fans of Judas Priest, steel, spikes and leather!

The only flaw I can detect as a critical reviewer lies not in the music, but only in the missing Oxford comma. Oh well, I guess it got burned up in the night.

Indeed, Canada remains a northern bastion of heavy metal. There is no need for me to point out the origin and locale of Rush, is there? In any case, the ongoing ferment yields its riotous rewards, and abundant proof is around for those willing to look for it.

Enjoy Riot City, yes, but be sure not to miss Smoulder’s album, Times of Obscene Evil and Wild Daring, also out this year. It’s an epic combo of doom metal and power metal. Highly recommended, as AMG also affirms. The album art alone should draw you in, never to return for days.

Smoulder began in Calgary back in 2013, and is now based in Toronto. Their sword-and-sorcery narratives are perfectly paired with their chosen musical style. Mark my words, these two bands are headed for my 2019 Top Ten list.

Of course, Canada has no monopoly on the classic heavy metal sound. Also out this year are the truly superb releases from Black Sites (Exile)* and Spirit Adrift (Divided by Darkness)* and Battle Beast (No More Hollywood Endings) and Soen (Lotus).

But that’s why I am content to simply identify Canada as the northern bastion of a classic metal Night’s Watch. Everyone else has their own indispensable international contributions to make. Keep it up, y’all.

Nonetheless I am happy to report that Canada is more than pulling its weight, thanks to the two great bands I have named above. And if you want a third band, how about Unleash the Archers? If you haven’t got Apex yet, add it to your shopping list. Can’t wait to see what they release next.

In the meantime, I have just given you a solid half-dozen of recommendations. So, keep on rockin’ in the free world. Scandinavia is indisputably a northern bastion. But Canada also has your northern flank secure.

*Note for prog lovers: Don’t miss the exceptional musicality on the tracks “Feral Child” and “Cold City” by Black Sites on Exile, and on “Angel and Abyss” by Spirit Adrift on Divided by Darkness. The entire albums are excellent, but these just may be the right introductory tracks for pulling you all the way in.

Pan Rocks Steel Drum Orchestra + @MikePortnoy Cover Rush’s “Spirit of Radio”

This is a fun one. Mike Portnoy’s latest collab finds him drumming with the Pan Rocks Steel Drum Orchestra on an instrumental cover of Rush’s classic “Spirit of Radio.” It pretty much sounds like Rush on a Caribbean vacation, and it is super fun. Check it out!

Ancient Empire has a new album on the horizon

Here’s the preview, “On the Horizon,” taken from the upcoming album Wings of the Fallen, out this summer via Stormspell Records.

NWOTHM = New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal.

Stormspell Records’ series NWOTHM Full Albums aims to gather the best of Old School Heavy Metal albums by the bands of the new generation. If you like NWOTHM, buy the albums.

Concert Review: Riverside Rock Chicago – 5/19/2019

Riverside, Live at the Chop Shop, Chicago, IL, May 19, 2019

Setlist: Acid Raid, Vale of Tears, Reality Dream I, Lament, Saturate Me (instrumental intro only), Out of Myself, Second Life Syndrome (first part only), Left Out, Guardian Angel, Lost (Why Should I Be Frightened By a Hat?), The Struggle for Survival, Egoist Hedonist (without third part, extended second part), Wasteland

Encore: O2 Panic Room, River Down Below

Last night I saw Riverside for the first time. If I can help it, it won’t be the last. Wow. You don’t really get an appreciation for how good these guys are until you see them live. For me, there wasn’t a single moment of disappointment during this show. From the setlist to the performance to the crowd, everything was exceptional. They deserve to be playing much larger venues here in the United States.


The show opened with Australian heavy metal band, Contrive. Contrive are a two-man group comprised of identical twin brothers. Both were great, and the drummer was particularly exceptional. The guitarist was quite good too, mixing many different styles throughout their hour-long opening set, including a few seconds of Hackett-esque tones. Opening bands can be hit or miss, but they did a good job of warming up the crowd for Riverside. They even started a few minutes before the stated showtime, which was nice since the 8pm start time on a Sunday evening with work the next day was already a bit much.

I’ve never seen a road crew break down and get ready for the main attraction so quickly. Everything was already set up for Riverside, but they had to take down all the gear from Contrive – and they did that and got everything ready for Riverside in less than 10 minutes. It was entertaining just to watch that.

The Mighty Duda

Riverside didn’t waste any time getting into it, starting out with “Acid Rain” from Wasteland. Within seconds I learned something I had never realized about Riverside – Mariusz Duda’s bass drives the show. I originally thought the driving riff on “Acid Rain” was from a guitar. Nope. All bass. I didn’t realize he was that good. I had a blast watching him play the whole night. I’ve seen John Myung live (probably the most acclaimed bassist I’ve seen live), and I’d say that Duda’s performance matched or surpassed that. At some points during the show, he was strumming one of his three or four bass guitars. Who the heck does that? The mighty Duda, that’s who. Maybe this is old news to most of you who have been listening to them for years, but allow me as a relatively new fan (I didn’t start listening to them until after Piotr Grudziński passed away) to gush over how great Riverside is.

Continue reading “Concert Review: Riverside Rock Chicago – 5/19/2019”

Nothing’s Bad Luck: The Lives of Warren Zevon

It’s essential to read the book review by Joseph Bottum:

Warren Zevon was a minor genius, ridden too hard by his demons to make the move to major genius of the pop-music genres in which he worked. His greatest achievement may be that he was himself and only himself, an artist who had only the smallest of gaps between the on-stage persona he constructed and the off-stage person he lived. In lyric after lyric, he produced songs that could only be by one writer. In performance after performance, he delivered work that could only be by one singer. In episode after episode, he lived a life that could only be by one person—the genius and the disaster that was Warren Zevon.

Relentless Mutation

At the frontiers of metal, and probably beyond that, resides Archspire’s dizzying precision. Here compositions tend to proceed in convulsive strides — of synchronized riff–drums and robotic vocals, stepping from one atypical rhythm to another. Abruptly and frequently switching to varying palates — from “Sound of Perseverance” like scathing guitar harmonies, to math rock signatures. But everything stitched together into a seamless train, almost propelling at this dissonant pace and agility.

Drum patterns on the title track, with every single beat astonishingly audible and precise, pretty much illustrates this measured approach to compositions. Even though rooted in the ‘Effigy of the Forgotten’ like riffs, those dialed down hardcore-punk influences make the band more symphonic, in a classical music sense. So, quite akin to a brutal-math-metal orchestra, with novel and yet coherent influences, Archspire is well into that inimitable territory.


Royal Albert Hall Finally Fixes Its Sound System

Royal Albert Hall appears to have finally sorted its acoustics and sound system issues. I’ve never seen a show there, but I’ve heard many live albums from progressive rock artists who have played there. Most of those recordings sound like garbage because of the physical environment in which they were recorded. Hopefully this new system they have will remedy the 150 year old problem.