Steers oil and screaming death

Calgary’s heavy metal scene is thriving underground

It may come as a surprise to some that Calgary has an active and supportive metal scene but to a great many local musicians and an ever-growing legion of fans it’s been a long time in the making. In spite of a significant lack of traditional methods of promotion and the often-misguided stigma that surrounds heavy metal in general the number of local bands writing quality music and playing entertaining shows is on the rise.

Attendance records prove there is a demand for metal in Calgary. Local bands like Caveat and Kilyakai frequently pack venues like Vern’s The Underground and The Stetson. Tickets for major-label acts are snapped up months before shows take place — Gigantour 2008 headlined by thrash-metal legends Megadeth has sold out its May 14 Calgary stop one of only two sold-out shows on the festival’s six-week North American cycle.

“It was rare to see a really big metal act come through town [a few years ago]” says Terese Fleming. Co-founder and concert producer for Scarab Productions Fleming figures that changes happening in the recording industry may be forcing bands to tour more cities and more often to keep record sales up but they’re having positive effects on Calgary’s metal community.

“Two years ago I had to go to Edmonton to see big shows” says diehard metal fan Russell Trout who checks out an average of five local metal shows a month and the bigger shows when he can afford them. “Now it seems we’re superseding Edmonton — and even Vancouver — as the heart of metal in the Canadian West. More and more metal bands are stopping here. Nighwish Dream Theater Opeth and In Flames just to name a few are performing in May alone.”

“It’s great because it exposes more people to the music of the bigger bands” Fleming adds “and it gives local bands an opportunity to play with some of these bands.”

With Calgary finally on the global radar as a worthy mosh-pit stop the opportunity to open for some of the genre’s elite is the ultimate tool for any local metal band trying to build their name and attract their own fans.

Calgary’s own progressive metal veterans Caveat were asked to open for Gwar last November. “There were thousands of kids looking at us with a ‘Who the hell are these guys?’ look on their faces” laughs Greg Musgrave one of Caveat’s vocalist-guitarists and the bassist for the grindcore juggernaut Exit Strategy. “By the end of our set we had a multitude of mosh pits going on and a room full of approving Gwar fans. It was an incredible experience.” The exposure local metal bands gain by opening for international acts provides them with the best means of promotion out there — word of mouth.

When Kilyakai landed on Calgary’s metal scene less than two years ago they were just another band dragging their gear from the basement to the stage. Sharing the stage with bands like Caveat has in turn affected their own escalating fan base. “Playing with pros makes a show better and playing with seasoned musicians is always an advantage” Kilyakai’s bassist Nate Reno says.

Aside from sharing the stage with more established local bands Kilyakai does everything they can to promote the band and their music just like every other act in town. “We rely on everything from the Internet to posters to the airwaves” explains Reno. Although metal isn’t that widely played on Calgary airwaves CJSW’s Megawatt Mayhem has been supporting local and international metal for over 22 years by firing out the tunes every Saturday night. “They always give a shout out to the local bands and let everyone know what’s going on” Reno says.

Probably the most widely utilized way of spreading band news to local metal-heads is Albertametal.net a portal to all that is metal in Calgary and the rest of Alberta. “Albertametal.net was a brain fart I had a few years ago as a way to have an online venue to showcase which shows were happening in Alberta” explains Shane Hawco founder of the forums and vocalist for local grindcore act Exit Strategy. “When I first put it together it was basically just a listing with band links. I told Christine Garton about it and she really took the idea to a higher level. She’s single-handedly done a lot for this scene and the whole community owes her a huge debt.”

It’s been eight years since Garton took over the maintenance of Albertametal.net and the site currently boasts more than 1500 registered users. “We seem to have a smaller scene than most genres which can sometimes lead to low turnouts at local shows” Garton says. She explains that while these numbers are improving due in part to the upcoming shows sections of Albertametal.net and other networking sites like Facebook and MySpace many metal bands still don’t promote themselves as well as they could.

“It could be that a lot of them are unaware of the resources that exist or perhaps they have a lack of contact information. Maybe they received negative results when attempting to liaise with these contacts” she suggests noting that harmful stereotypes have always been associated with metal and are a definite reality for Calgary’s metal scene.

“There are misguided opinions” says Martin McNeilly who has been actively involved in Calgary’s metal community for nearly a decade. “Violent mosh pits devil worshipping and all the crazy things about metal? It’s silly it’s tiresome and simply not true.” A moderator for the Albertametal.net forums and a former booking agent with the Warehouse and The Undergound McNeilly is currently acting as the Alberta Field Representative for the Ontario-based Cyclone Records. He chooses to ignore the stereotypes instead believing in the music the musicians and the fans.

“Metal has a real identity and purpose” he says. “It’s a way of life or at least an important aspect of life for many metal-heads. In all my years I’ve rarely seen the level of loyalty shared within a structured music community such as this. The metal crowd is a great bunch of people from all walks of life and all backgrounds and cultures. They are peaceful sociable and a lot of fun.”

Über-fan Trout seconds the loyalty card and compares the local metal community to a mosh pit. “If you fall five pairs of hands — belonging to people you most assuredly don’t know — reach down and pick you up before you even hit the floor” he explains. “There’s a definite feeling of support.”

According to McNeilly the best way for people to get over the negative connotations surrounding metal is to simply watch listen and spread the word. “Calgary has a wealthy supply of incredible talent” he says “and I recommend to anyone who has never taken in a metal show to take the plunge and see what they’ve been missing out on. They won’t be disappointed.”

Calgary’s metal crop

This is but a small example of what Calgary metal has to offer. For a more comprehensive band listing consult Albertametal.net.


With two albums released on Toronto-based Cyclone Records this is progressive melodic metal at its best from some of the most technically adept musicians in the city.



Recently signed to Nuclear Blast Records — one of metal’s most prominent labels — Divinity’s brutally complex blend of thrash and death is proof that Calgary metal has a place in the international mosh pit.


Exit Strategy

Hard-hitting and original grindcore that balances musical chaos with politically conscious messages. It’ll make your blood cells vibrate.



Embracing a wide range of sounds from across the metal spectrum this six-piece has a crushing energy that makes you want to jump face first into a mosh pit again and again.



These local melodic death thrashers are currently holed up in a studio working on a full-length CD set for indie release later this year.


Ost Est Ima

This thrash-metal quintet offers a hint of old-school death metal mingled with messages of modern-day morality.


Sacred Ally

Rapid dual-guitar leads and a penchant for speed-inspired progressive metal help Sacred Ally stand out.


Verbal Deception

Who doesn’t love songs about pirates played with distorted guitars and seriously heavy grooves?