The Horror That Came From Guelph: Four Unsung Hometown Heroes
Around a month ago I moved from my hometown of Guelph, Ontario, Canada, to the only place people move to in this province, Toronto. As anyone who grew up in a smaller city knows, staying in your hometown can be suffocating.
But Guelph isn’t suffocating. It boasts longboarders, one of the founders of Arcade Fire, and a Green Party MPP. It was the safest city in Canada for years. On the weekends the downtown area is conquered by burlap sacks and tote backs bursting with fresh vegetables from local Mennonite farmers. You cannot walk a kilometre in the surrounded suburbs without hitting a dozen private libraries on people’s front lawns. Our yearly music festival, Hillside, ships performers to the island venue via kayak. When Opeth performed in Guelph, not long after they released Heritage, they gutted all the growls from their live setlist in a move befitting the sleepy city audience.
Guelph is a city without hustle nor bustle, paddling between Passenger’s “Hey Ho” and Certified Lover Boy. Despite that, it birthed one of Canada’s strongest thrash outfits, Razor. I became acquainted with the band not because of their pedigree, but because I met original bassist Dave Campagnolo through a school friend. He wasn’t a thrash metal musician, he was a dad.
So as much as Guelph is a Sunday-morning-walk-in-the-park type of city, there is a small vein in its forehead that needs popping. That’s the vein I’ll highlight with these four short releases from my hometown, all from this year. Purely by happenstance, they’re all single-member death metal or death metal-adjacent projects. None of them run over 25 minutes; they all recognize the value of your time. If you’ve got an hour-long work commute you can listen to over half this list before you clock in. That’s doing a hell of a lot for a city whose university is best known for its on-campus dining.
Take this column as a hurrah. Remember your roots. They aren’t pretty, and they’re often quite mundane, but the struggle of modern living is to find the eloquence amidst the doldrums. Seek out your local metal artists and support them as if they were Iron Maiden on their farewell tour.
Scorn—Son of Mud
January 8th, 2021
There’s something pure to Scorn. They deliver economically precise death metal in as distilled a package as possible, evidenced by their four-track EP Son of Mud. To make the release even more budgetary, Scorn threw on covers of both Coroner and Primus.
The opener “Troop” jaunts in the mid-tempo realm where death metal shines, where the grooves hypnotize and anchor the haphazard vocal rhythms. “Forgotten Origins” is a trek through trenches of savory riffs and machine-like drumming. Oh, and there’s breakdowns too, because what would small-town death metal be without breakdowns?
The two covers, Coroner’s “Son of Lilith” and Primus’ “My Name is Mud,” pair the band’s militaristic rhythms with the original tracks’ technicality. Both covers support the merits of artistic reinterpretation. They don’t modify much, because they don’t need to. Purely through Scorn’s economic approach do the covers become the band’s own. “My Name is Mud” is particularly disturbing. The distant vocals repurpose the original song’s quirkiness into something perverted.
There’s no pretense to Scorn. Son of Mud is just about the cleanest cut of grass-fed death metal you can get. Its leanness is its beauty, and Guelph boasts a similar appeal. Guelph stands as one of the few Ontario cities that’s distinctive for reasons other than its proximity to the Greater-Toronto-Area and its university. It’s economical, tame, and happy to prosper as itself. Guelph isn’t so much a city of unbridled ambition as it is of refinement. Guelph is compact yet endearing, much like this release.
World Eaters—Grinding Advance
June 18th, 2021
World Eaters was previously mentioned in a Mostly Yelling column, but any death metal project that covers “Running Up That Hill” deserves more promotion.
Grinding Advance is the tightest release on the list, yet it has the broadest scope. It’s uncompromising death metal laced with Swedish buzzsaws. And let’s not ignore World Eaters’ groovy sensibilities. The bass imparts an empowering swagger alongside the guitars during the backend of “Armored Spearhead (Hellhammer),” while World Eaters builds “Expedition” off of a d-beat marching rhythm.
Grinding Advance’s tracks all run at least six minutes, ample time for them to leapfrog over grooves and become ever-evolving compositions. “Expedition” devolves into the spacious “Tomb World,” a coda infested with lost souls. The track’s earlier rhythmic focus recedes and the bass clarinet haunts the track. It’s not something you’d expect from a project that openly embraces Bolt Thrower as much as World Eater does, but then again, World Eater surprises in their tangents.
The progressive tinges of World Eaters reflect how deceptively spacious Guelph is. The EP itself is tight at three songs (not counting the Kate Bush cover), but they venture down their own rabbit holes. Even the restrained “Escape from the Underdark” breaks from its own formula halfway through. You’ll never expect the mandolin that pops up in the last quarter of the track, segueing into the Grinding Advance’s most serene sequence. Likewise, Guelph has more than enough hidden walking trails to lose oneself in. They appear modest at first, as it’s not until you’ve walked for an hour that you realize you’ve entered the opposite end of the city.
Midir—Let Me Sleep Forever
March 8th, 2021
If World Eaters are the tightest act on this list, then Midir are the most conflicted. The muffled production recalls a victim screaming from a basement, compounded with doom-laden riffs and hardcore punk howling.
Midir transpose doom metal chunkiness and death metal tuning into two-minute punk revolts. They meld these aspects through fervent frustration, like the crossover track “Sick and Tired.” There’s enough angst in there to induce a post-puberty growth spurt as the song hopscotches between bellowing bridges and hardcore choruses.
Let Me Sleep Forever conveys a frustration like staying in one’s town for too long. It’s the same feeling as realizing that the only way a place has changed over two decades is by an overflow of condo developments and gentrification. Guelph has a complacemency that makes it an ideal place for settling down. It’s the perfect city to raise a family in or to retire to. Its only major developments are small touch-ups to downtown businesses and finding more pockets to fill with condominiums. They are safe investments in the city’s infrastructure that sadly chip away at Guelph’s history.
That same safety is what Midir rile against. They reach down and extract whatever embers burn in their guts. It’s necessary they find this fury within themselves because there’s nothing to rile them up in the city. Guelph suffers from its own safe-haven status; Midir try to upend that complacency.
Soyboy247—Blood Swamp of the Rotting God
August 6th, 2021
Bedroom death metal has an appeal that solo metal acts usually lack. They don’t reach into the recesses of one’s mind to solve their solitude. There’s no push to convey one’s thoughts through musical soliloquies. There’s only a guttural desire to riff. And riff Soyboy247 do. Yes, those riffs might be compressed by a steamroller, but they nonetheless riff.
Blood Swamp of the Rotting God could be considered a modernist approach to death metal. It reeks, gurgles, and bubbles with randomness. And those random splashes, like the vocal lines and guitar pinches of “Beneath the Waters”, don’t coalesce until Soyboy247 adds more to the pieces. It becomes clear that you can’t expect Soyboy247’s next destination Soyboy247 because he doesn’t know where he’s going either. He’s beholden to the draws of the instruments, communicating through instinct instead of conversing something beyond himself.
Clear communication is not one of Blood Swamp of the Rotting God’s goals, based on its incredibly compressed production. Everything could have been recorded through concrete, which only endorses Soyboy247’s desire to tour through a bloody swamp. There’s only one time when he’s direct; when he asks “why did I leave home?” at the end of “Cordyceps Humanitas.”
Soyboy247 doesn’t reflect Guelph’s pungency as much as it does the city’s bedroom-like mystique. Guelph is like a city of bedrooms, where all is quiet and sheltered. Not in the comforting sense—it's more like the apartment in Silent Hill 4, whose small quarters only make it more unsettling. The EP’s narrow scope allows it to reign in its scope on putrid riffs and contorted song structures. The tracks writhe against their parameters, scaling up the walls and crawling on the ceiling.