In recent years, Canadian metal bands have more often than not been followers instead of leaders. Ever since the groundbreaking progressive hard rock of Rush, the fun power metal of Anvil, and the distinctive, inimitable music of Voivod (arguably the nation’s greatest metal export of all time) burst on the scene, not many Canadian metal bands (with the exception of Strapping Young Lad) have dared to take the proverbial “bull by the horns” and come forth with something new and bold. In the last year, though, Canadian metal seems to have awoken from an extended slumber, a handful of bands having stepped forward with some top-notch albums. Ontario band The End’s Within Dividia dared to attempt the technical precision of Meshuggah, Woods of Ypres incorporated a Nordic folk element into their death metal, and Saskatchewan stalwarts Into Eternity released Buried in Oblivion, a superb exercise in technically dizzying Scandinavian-style metal. As great as all three bands are, though, the perception persists that Canada seems to always be playing catch-up with the rest of the world.
Enter Hamilton, Ontario quintet Cursed, who have emerged in 2005 as the Great Canadian Metal Hope, and justifiably so, as this is one band who seems to have the right combination of talent at just the right moment. Equal parts hardcore and metal, Cursed have chosen the perfect time to release their second album, as hardcore innovators such as The Dillinger Escape Plan, Converge, and Pig Destroyer have managed to make the sound as popular as it’s ever been. What makes each of those bands so great, though, is an ability to carve out their own distinctive sound in an otherwise limiting genre, and to their great credit, Cursed do just that on their latest, the bluntly-titled Two.
It would be easy to compare Cursed to Converge, as the former incorporates the same mixture of searing, extremely intense hardcore chords and intense yet simple drumming as the latter, not to mention the impassioned howls of singer / lyricist C. Colochan. But the more you listen to the record, the more you realize there’s a very strong sludge metal influence lurking underneath. Brilliantly produced by veteran noisemeister Ian Blurton, Two is rife with sweaty, churning guitars, served up in a thunderous, claustrophobic mix that finds a comfortable middle-ground between the dense tones of Eyehategod and the grating intensity of Pig Destroyer’s great Terrifyer. As a result, you begin to detect influences that veer away from typically popular hardcore, bands such as Entombed, the Melvins, and Mastodon.
It’s all there in the pounding intro to “Fatalist”, which manages to sound contemporary and old-school at the same time, before exploding in a rapid-fire hardcore assault, a 90-second climax that has Colochan screaming about “the dead hollow shells of consumer investments that promised completion but just left more holes to fill”. The great “The Void” plows along like a stoner rock juggernaut, guitarists C. McMaster and R. Moumeneh adding touches of Fugazi-style dissonance in the choruses, as Colochan paints a compassionate portrait of homeless life. “Head of the Baptist” is similar, sounding like Ian Mackaye fronting Black Sabbath, a monstrously heavy track, boasting a great guitar lick that echoes Colochan’s vocal delivery of the line, “I’ve got a one track mind”. The hint of piano during the somber musical interlude “Two” acts as an enticing bridge between the album’s first and second halves, which contains the album’s highlight, the downright beastly “Clocked In, Punched Out”—the band making no attempt to hide the fact that they’re churning out some good, old fashioned, Southern fried sludge. Here’s where Blurton’s production works its magic, as the sustained guitar and bass notes, so warm in tone, rumble in your guts for nearly seven minutes. In fact, it’s every bit as good as anything from Mastodon’s great debut album Remission.
With Two, Cursed have pulled off an impressive feat, creating an album that has the ability to appeal to both the hardcore punk crowd and the legions of stodgy, finicky metal fans. By dipping into both sides of the pool, they’ve created a surprisingly strong piece of work, one that is easily the finest metal / hardcore / whatever you want to call it album to come from north of the border in a long while. If there’s any justice in this world, Cursed in 2005 will attract as much attention as Converge did in 2004.