Canadian metal bands compete for a shot to play at German music festival

For the third year in a row, heavy metal bands from across the country will battle for a chance to play at Wacken Open Air, the largest metal festival in the world.

The competition, which takes place north of Hamburg, Germany, is the brainchild of JJ Tartaglia; long-time Canadian metal drummer and label owner.

“(It’s the) third year it’s going on. Really happy about that,” says Tartaglia. “It’s been going strong ever since the first year and we’re just kind of rolling off that steam.”

Competitions of this nature are good for keeping up-and-coming bands working hard to hone their skills. Even if they are eliminated one year, it doesn’t mean they won’t return to compete again,

“I’ve been keeping an eye on the submissions and I’ve been seeing a lot of familiar bands come up,” said Tartaglia. “That to me is a really good sign because it shows that, okay, these bands played last year, they didn’t win but maybe they had a good time. It was a good experience for them and they want to be a part of it again which is great.”

For the submission process, bands are asked a number of questions upon which they are judged, including whether or not they have recorded material, a music video, a website, a fan base and why they feel that they would be an appropriate choice to play at WOA.

“The main thing is the music obviously,” explains Tartaglia. “It’s hard to judge a band when you haven’t seen them live. A lot of these bands don’t have money for professional recording so you take it with a grain of salt… having a video really helps.”

As bands compete in their respective cities, a panel of local metal aficionados gauge their musicianship and overall skill before deciding if they have what it takes to travel to the Canadian finals in Toronto. If selected, bands are then judged by a number of prominent figures from within Canada’s metal community. Last year even included Drew Copland, guitarist for Edmonton-based bands, Death Toll Rising and Villainizer.Wacken Metal Battle Canada returns for a third year. Submissions have already been pouring in from across the country.

Photo courtesy of Asher Media Relations

“They sent him with us out to Toronto so that there was a little bit more of a home field ad-vantage as we were kind of going into the belly of the beast, being so far away from home and all of that,” says Wes Deleeuw, lead vocalist for Alberta finalist Exit Strategy. “I thought that was a cool thing for them to do.”

However, for up and coming bands that are established in their own town, but may lack fans in other cities, not having their own fans there to support them poses a bit of an issue.

“Whoever from Alberta makes it out there, I just hope that the fans of the Toronto bands and the Montreal bands stay up at the stage for the western bands. That was the only uncool thing was that all of the fans up there just kind of went to the back and crossed their arms while we played and while the band from B.C. played,” explains DeLeeuw.

“It was funny. We’re all getting pumped up to play and then you get out there and you can hear birds chirping. It was almost comical.”

Besides this problem, DeLeeuw also expressed concern that not all of Canada was represented in this competition.

“I think that they should have a competition for Saskatchewan and Manitoba as well.”

This issue was addressed by Nathan Renaud, a Calgary promoter and member of local death metal mainstays Kyoktys, who will now also be overseeing battles in newly added Saskatchewan and Manitoba, a component of the competition added this year.

“(We’ve added) more towns, opening up more cities, trying to make it more representative of the whole country, which is hard because it’s huge,” said Renaud.

“There’s some really crazy talent in Manitoba, there’s some really crazy talent in Saskatchewan. I think that’s what would truly be as fair as possible, if a representative from each province could go to the final,” says Renaud. “I don’t know if we’ll be able to even achieve that this year, I think we’re doing kind of a prairie square-off thing.”

The winners of the 2014 competition was Montreal thrash metal band Mutank, who in comparison to some of the other competitors, are still in their infant stage, having only formed last year.

“We’ve definitely heard the infamous stories about what happens (at Wacken), you know, if you make it back, but it was surreal. We couldn’t believe it; we were pretty ecstatic about the whole thing,” says Lee Whiskey, guitarist for Mutank.Stephen Reynolds, of 2014 champions Mutank, unleashes hell upon the crowd during last years finals.

Photo by Mihaela Petrescu

Whiskey explained that although they are a relatively new band on the scene, the combination of having a group of hardworking, talented musicians and sharing a collective vision was their key to success.

“We did work very, very hard throughout the course of that first year. I’m not saying the other bands didn’t. We were just in the right place at the right time,” says Whiskey. “Certain people voted us to take it over and to represent the country and we were super stoked on that.”

DeLeeuw shared his feelings on the winning band, stating, “For Mutank, I will say this, there seems to be a trend of, like, traditional, best jean jacket wearing thrash that’s going around right now and I think that because that trend is so fashionable, I guess you could say, I think that that worked to their advantage. But good for them, though, there’s no ill feelings or anything like that. We had fun the whole time throughout the whole process, it was just a fun experience all around.”

Exit Strategy will not be competing in 2015, and are taking a break from music for a year. After going strong since 2006. DeLeeuw is heading back to school and their bass player and his wife recently had a baby.

“I think that any kind of battle of the bands, especially ones like the Wacken one is more for ei-ther up and coming bands, or bands that are really trying to push it for a living whereas Exit Strategy maybe at one point was doing that, but not so much anymore,” says DeLeeuw. “So I think that we should probably just stay out of the way and let the hungry people eat.”

Band interested in competing for their own shot at playing at the pinnacle of live metal music should visit www.metalbattle.ca and fill out a submission form. Battles begin next spring, beginning around March 2015.

prodgers@cjournal.ca