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Our Land – A brief consideration of Quebec’s black metal

The Canadian province of Quebec, nestled inconspicuously between the Atlantic coast and the country’s heartland of Ontario, is known to foreigners for perhaps one reason above all others – its inhabitants are proud speakers of a dialect of French that has remained unchanged for over two hundred and fifty years. Ever since the eighteenth century, the Québécois have fought a long, dismal culture war against anglophone Canada to maintain their autonomy, religion, and most of all, their language. Since their absorption into the British Empire centuries ago, the region has faced a cloudy history of oppression and rebellion, first by British authorities who attempted to disenfranchise and integrate the francophone population with the rest of Canada, and then by the new Canadian government who continued the trend.

This cover of a four-way split between Quebec black metal acts features a fleur-de-lys, the province’s symbol, atop an inverted cross, symbolizing the marriage of provincial pride and its black metal vehicle.

This cover of a four-way split between Quebec black metal acts features a fleur-de-lys, the province’s symbol, atop an inverted cross, symbolizing the marriage of provincial pride and its black metal vehicle.

The result is a region and a people that have been under cultural siege for centuries, and the Québécois have responded by doubling down on their traditions. Unlike the rest of the country, French remains the province’s official language, but there’s a conscious refusal to accept any English – with English loanwords such as “weekend” and “parking” replaced by French transliterations. The province’s flag, adopted in 1948, features the fleur-de-lys – a symbol of the old French monarchy – and is often flown without an accompanying Canadian flag – effectively thumbing its nose at the establishment. Secession, for many Québécois, is not an unfeasible dream, and the province’s secessionist Parti Québécois came precariously close to realizing that dream this past April.

The province’s preoccupation with tradition, thus, made black metal an inevitable development in the extreme metal scene of Quebec. Black metal’s nihilistic philosophy – whether it’s spitting on Christianity or pining for a return to nature – revolves around an active rejection of modernity and, in many cases, a yearning for the way things used to be. As the genre has aged, this fervent desire has manifested itself in myriad ways, most notably in an idealization of black metal’s Scandinavian heyday and a rejection of the genre’s modern practitioners. Quebec’s bold refusal to lose their culture and fixation on tradition, thus, was the perfect commonality with the genre to cause what’s become a rapid explosion of black metal in the province’s twin metropoli of Quebec City and Montreal. While the province is no newcomer to extreme metal, having birthed death metal household names such as Cryptopsy and Gorguts, its black metal scene is an entirely recent phenomenon that began to materialize only at the turn of the millennium, and has grown exponentially since.

forteresse live

Forteresse are regarded as one of the most influential black metal acts in the Quebec scene, and the movement takes its name from their 2006 album “Métal Noir Québécois”.

Québécois black metal, or “métal noir” as it’s stylized, is a reflection of not just the province’s cultural identity, but the fierce pride that characterizes its people, who are well aware of their history and remember it fondly, as Neige et Noirceur, a revered act within the scene, intones (translation mine):

In my ancestor’s time
In the age of pioneers, lords, and trappers
Our old fiddlers would tap their foot and sing
All summer long, and come fall return north

Blazing through forests, mountains, rivers and countryside
From Gaspé to Matane, from Trois-Rivières to Natashquan, in the sight of wolf, fox and lark
And in winter, at the wood stove, they feared neither cold nor wind.

From ‘Ancien folklore Québécois’ on La Seigneurie des Loups (2010).

Indeed, the province’s history and culture is a recurring theme in most Québécois black metal. As a whole, métal noir is less focused on now-cliche black metal tropes such as Satan and nature, instead focusing on patriotism and pride. Artists like Chasse-Galerie, who take their name from a Québécois folktale, have devoted several full lengths to sinister, Second Wave-tainted retellings of Quebec’s traditional stories. More conspicuously patriotic acts, such as Forteresse, wax poetic on tales of battle and victory, and their choice to write exclusively in French lends the band’s message a more subversive undertone as the band brazenly trumpets victory not only in the context of its music, but in the linguistic and cultural battlefield Quebec continues to fight to this day.

The day will come where we shall crush
The disease that gnaws on the roots of our people
And in the scarlet snow, we’ll plant our standard
As sons of patriots, and fathers of renewal.

From ‘Fils de patriotes, pères du renouveau’ on Les Hivers de Notre Epoque (2008)

Many artists – whether they perform in French or English – incorporate passages from Québécois folk music as a further expression of provincial pride, and this is far from the only noteworthy aspect of métal noir’s instrumentation. When compared to Toronto’s more symphonic-minded scene and the Cascadian atavism and bestial war metal of the west coast, métal noir, in another fit of focusing on tradition, is firmly rooted in the genre’s lo-fi, grim Norwegian days. Not only does this afford the Québécois scene ‘purity’ points, but it also allows métal noir to maintain another form of independence from the rest of Canada.

Chasse-Galerie - photo by Pamela Paradis Saathoff

Chasse-Galerie – photo by Pamela Paradis Saathoff

It’s this fervent desire to be recognized as different, born of years of tensions with anglophone Canada, that gives métal noir a special spark. It is, for all intensive purposes, a rebellion against an entity that has long sought to homogenize Quebec into the rest of Canada. This reactionary nature, bred from a checkered history of past oppression, makes the brash, acerbic pride of Québécois black metal that much more understandable. “This is our land” they unequivocally proclaim “And we will never let it go.”



  1. Lesní Samoty

    June 22, 2015 at 6:39 am

    another SJW, you live in Québec. maybe you should leave… eh…

  2. Lesní Samoty

    June 22, 2015 at 6:38 am

    good, racist and proud

  3. Adronera

    May 15, 2015 at 4:37 am

    You forgot Dark Tales, Triskele, Adronera, WWII, Nord, Magisterdixie, Arkos and many others…

  4. Amanda Blodøks

    July 2, 2014 at 5:50 pm

    So many problems with this article. There is a problem of elevated racial intolerance in Québec as compared to elsewhere in Canada and much of the province is situated on unceded native land (the city of Vancouver, Canada has just formally admitted this fact). That said, some of the information in this article is true and there is a battle of the French versus the English in trying to preserve Québec culture, language and heritage, but the crossover into blatant intolerance to accomplish these things is visible in PQ Pauline Marois’ public campaign to attempt to ban downtown retail workers from being able to say “Bonjour/Hello” in order to bilingually greet a mixed Anglo tourist and resident shopper. On the other hand, many Anglophones move to Montréal and make no effort to learn the French language, which is, in my opinion, shameful. This is what upsets the Québecois. It is absolutely not true that the Québecois consciously refuses to accept any English, the opposite is true, unfortunately. Being surrounded by English, Québec French is rife with Anglicisms from “beurre de peanut” to “check ça”. France French has far fewer Anglicisms, but it’s an entire French country. It’s also not true that Québec was narrowly averted from secession this year, the PQ released a Québec Charter of Values that tried to ban Jews and Muslims from wearing openly religious symbols (very much like France) in public and they had their worst results since 1970; Marois also resigned. Ultimately, many Anglo bilingual Québecois are proud of groups like Cryptopsy, Gorguts and Forteresse, but troubled by racist overtones in some of the music. I believe it is possible to recognize and sing about Québec and Canada as “True North”, to revere our land and be proud of our country’s beauty and our place here without forgetting to pay heed to the cultures who lived here before we tore it from them (French or English).

  5. nick

    June 30, 2014 at 1:06 pm

    nah man, you just want to see it as being racist so you are seeing it that way. Try actually listening to the bands, reading lyrics, learning the history and what they are actually talking about, etc. I’m assuming you’re an overly PC college kid?

  6. Sebastien Bazinet

    June 30, 2014 at 10:22 am

    You forgot about Akitsa! Although not really a patriotic group, it’s still one of our best BM act IMO.

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