Noctis organizers reminisce on the past and make their top picks for this year’s final festival

In the six years since its debut there’s no doubt about it: Noctis has become a force in the western Canadian metal scene. It’s not just because of the names it has attracted — speed-metal legends Exciter and U.K. death mainstays Carcass are among this year’s biggest names while grindcore legends Brutal Truth and black metal progenitors Venom have played in previous years — but it’s grown as an extreme music hub attracting academics journalists and labels to its Calgary conferences. Sadly this will be the last iteration of the festival.

Yet it has undoubtedly created a legacy. When we ask fest director Terese Fleming for her favourite memories she settles on one: Introducing Calgarians to awe-inspiring Cleveland black metal act Midnight.

“When I asked them [to play Noctis last year] there were about 20 Calgarians who knew of them and introduced me to their music” says Fleming. “I think they were pretty much playing a small circuit in and around Cleveland at the time. We put them on the bill and the Noctis tribes didn’t take too much note of them until they got onstage.

“I remember watching the band absolutely kill it with such a fresh sound and I looked around at the reaction of the audience. People were standing with their mouths hanging open saying ‘Who the fuck are these guys?’”

Assistant producer Joshua Wood for his part has had plenty of mouth-agape moments at Noctis. As for his favourite memories? “Tough one. There was a special magic about the Slough Feg show at the Noctis kick-off show in 2010 or maybe Melechesh back when it all started.”

But yes this year’s festival. Along with the fistfuls of bands playing at Dickens Lord Nelson’s and Mac Hall (we recommend Quebec death act Gorguts and Toronto proto metal-leaning troupe Blood Ceremony) there’s also the extra-musical activities: a metal marketplace will bring Lock & Shock merch collection from California; artist Dan Seagrave whose creations graced the covers of Entombed Morbid Angel and Vader records will be at the Ramada Hotel; and among the conferences on offer there will be a focus on women with metal academic Sarah Kitteringham Deena Weinstein and Laina Dawes tackling gender bias in the musical movement.

But then there’s the music — and with three packed days of both classic and emerging acts it’s hard to pick which bands to see. So we asked Fleming and Wood to help us out.

Fest honcho Fleming quite obviously loves Noctis’s programming in its final year. “It’s like asking a mother which one of her children she loves best. I think I will go with the classic bands on the bill not only because they were around when I was young but some of these bands are touring less and less.” Those bands?

• Exciter. Hailing all the way from Ottawa their roots extend back to 1978 making them one of Canada’s and the world’s speed metal progenitors.

• Pagan Altar. Travelling from Brockley U.K. the reunited Pagan Alter are a cornerstone of the new wave of British heavy metal. (NWOBHM natch.)

• Possessed. Along with Exodus Possessed fly the banner of classic Californian death metal. Not to be missed.

Wood works for Scarab the production company responsible for Noctis full-time. “I work in the office with Terese and spend a lot of time drinking Slurpees and listening to death metal.” That said here are his Noctis picks.

• Candlemass. Yet another time-tested classic this Swedish doom band was one of the genre’s originals. “I saw them in a bar in Seattle years ago and now I get to see them on the big stage with good sound and lights.” Perfect.

• Exciter. If only for their personal influence to Wood. “[They are] one of the first and best speed metal bands influential to my tastes growing up.”

• Girlschool: The all-female British band is no stranger to bending convention. “They are veterans innovators and survivors in a tough genre with great catchy songs.”