The Month In Metal – September 2021
Mike Krawczynski remembers the time two rock stars crashed his record store. “We were just about to close up,” Krawczynski says over Zoom. “They came in and started going mental. All of my employees’ jaws were dropping. They pulled out this massive pot bud that was almost fluorescent red. Everyone looked at me and I said, ‘Well, close the door, okay? We’re closed.’ All of these kids outside were pressed up against the window.”
In his memoir 18 And Life On Skid Row, Sebastian Bach doesn’t mention smoking out a record store with Lars Ulrich directly, but does unspool quite the yarn about the beginnings of a legendary Toronto bender. According to Krawczynski, when they got to him, the two musicians still had a lot left in the tank.
“They said to join them at this club where they had a VIP room. That was crazy,” Krawczynski says, still registering an air of bemusement. “They’re on these couches with all of these chicks all over them. Spinal Tap was on the TV. A customer of ours was drinking beer through his nose. The next day, Metallica played down at the Exhibition. You could tell that Lars was really fucked up. He looked like he couldn’t play anything. Every time Metallica ended a song, he looked like he was going to puke.”
Hell of a tale, but for the employees of Toronto’s famed Record Peddler, it might as well have been another day. From November 1977 to April 2001, Peddler was the place to be if you loved music. Thanks to its knack for stocking up on artists and trends before they broke out, it earned a diverse clientele of faithful patrons, from music nerds to the musicians themselves. In turn, multiple scenes grew up in and around the store, such as a uniquely Torontonian variant of thrash that boasted bands like Sacrifice, Slaughter, and Razor. Some of those bands eventually released records on Fringe Product, Peddler co-owner Ben Hoffman’s label, an eclectic licenser and releaser of underground music that, in 1988, found itself in court charged with violating Canadian obscenity law.
This is the story of Record Peddler told from the perspective of Krawczynski and Hoffman, two people there at the beginning. Within that story is how Peddler helped seed and shape Toronto’s metal scene as recounted by the authors of Eve Of Darkness: Toronto Metal In The 1980s, a new book written by Derek Emerson, Chris Turner, Fran Grasso, Shawn Chirrey, and Simon Harvey and released by UXB Press, the publisher of Tomorrow Is Too Late: Toronto Hardcore Punk In The 1980s.
“Metal has always been born among the factories, in the suburban homes of blue-collar families, and Toronto is no different,” Turner writes in an email, capturing a certain slice of Toronto’s essence. “Some of the earlier inklings of metal came from the blue-collar suburbs such as Oshawa and Whitby with bands like Black Mass and Minotaur trying to recreate their best Sabbath- or Maiden-influenced brands of metal. As you moved closer to the city’s core, musicians in areas such as Scarbourough and Etobicoke produced sounds that mixed with the urban decay to create something more menacing and street-level, more abrasive and confident with a bit of that ‘fuck you’ attitude. However, even though Toronto was a large city by Canadian standards, it was still small enough that different styles of metal or hardcore bands had to share the few venues that would allow them to play, collating a fragmented scene and creating their own individual sound.”
In those Wild West-y days, when inchoate collectives were defining their rules and recognizing their people, Record Peddler played its role to perfection, exuding the iron-sharpens-iron vibe of an old school record store while also acting as a beacon for those whose tastes ran counter to the mainstream. In a way, those who remember it best remember themselves. But before we can get there, there’s another tale to tell: how Ben Hoffman ended up with a van full of records.
Hoffman’s passion for music was sparked by an older sibling. While the family radio was permanently tuned to the CBC, Hoffman’s brother had some 78s to spin on an old Victrola: Elvis, Fats Domino, and, etched into Hoffman’s memory, Jim Lowe’s “The Green Door.” Big brother then gifted the younger Hoffman an essential piece of equipment. “At some point in the early ’60s,” Hoffman writes in an email, “he bought me a transistor radio that I kept permanently tuned to 1050 CHUM.”
Hoffman kicked off his own record collection with the Royal Guardsmen’s “Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron.” He added selections from The Beatles, Cream, and Jimi Hendrix (“Electric Ladyland [with] the UK sleeve, of course!”) to the stack a couple years later. These choice picks hinted at the wide-ranging and encyclopedic interest in music he’d soon develop thanks to a format change: “The big musical moment was July 1968 when CHUM-FM switched from a classical format to an underground progressive rock format; it opened an entirely new world of music.”
Fast forward to the mid-’70s, and Hoffman, by his own account, had “developed a voracious appetite for vinyl,” making biweekly “expeditions” to raid Toronto’s record shops. He’d start at Yonge and Bloor Street with Round Records and then step into the “half a dozen” stops along the way before ending his trek on Sam the Record Man‘s third floor. “I was into volume over any other criteria, so my specialty was deletes/cut-outs. It wasn’t a good trip if I found fewer than 10 LPs, but I often came home with 20–30 discs, mostly priced from 99 cents to $2.99,” Hoffman recalls.
When the contents of the cut-out bins started going stale, Hoffman began buying records through the mail. “Through some Rolling Stone classifieds, I found a couple of companies that also did wholesale at what seemed like bargain prices. Better yet, they mostly had completely different stuff from what was available in Canada. Initially, I ordered for myself and one or two other friends.”
One of the friends was a bud from high school, Mike Krawczynski, brother of future The Gate album cover artist Mark Krawczynski. “I was in college and driving the college bus,” Krawczynski says. “I’d park it in front of Ben’s place when I’d get home. And we’d just listen to music and talk about shit.” Some of that shit? Selling records. Per Krawczynski, the plan at first was flea markets. And then, the idea of a store started taking shape.
“[Hoffman] was definitely way more knowledgeable than I was,” Krawczynski admits. “He knew everything. ‘We’re going to buy this, we’re going to do that.’ And I’d say I was scared. I’m going to be behind a cash register. I’ll have to answer questions. He’d say, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll learn.’ Which I did. But, it was almost like an offhand thing: ‘Want to open a store?’ Yeah, sure. ‘So, we need money.’ I borrowed a little bit from my dad. He borrowed some money, too.” Even after the familial loans, the two didn’t have a ton of capital, but they did have an ingenious/insane way of stocking the shelves: road trips.
While Hoffman held down a few odd jobs before giving in to his store dreams, he always smoldered with an irrepressible entrepreneurial spirit that wasn’t compatible with school or a boss. That drive and nose for business led to Hoffman making connections with “wholesalers, rack jobbers, and other dodgy places with piles of old records” in New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, and other locales up and down the East Coast of the United States. The records were waiting, he just needed to get there. Hoffman puttered his “beat up” Econoline van across the border, embarking on a geographically expanded version of his old expeditions, and crammed in as many deletes and cut-outs as possible. Krawczynski was aboard for one of those early trips: “On the way back we found a truck stop and slept on top of the records. Then we came back and set [the store] up.”
That store was Record Peddler, originally located at 115 Queen Street East between Church and Jarvis Street. It would turn out to be a good location. “Next to us was CITY-TV,” Krawczynski says, although Hoffman clarifies that CITY-TV was at 99 Queen Street East, “across the street was Attic Records.” Better yet, there were no major record stores in the area.
The doors first opened in November 1977. People came in, the deletes went out. “They went like crazy,” Krawczynski says. “We had a Max Webster album deleted in the States, but it was still [in print] in Toronto. We got a cease-and-desist order within two weeks.” In what would become a theme, Record Peddler improvised and found a solution. “Okay, let’s put it under the counter and people will request it. ‘Do you have that Max Webster album?’ Yep. Right into a bag. Thank you!”
While Record Peddler found the right place, it also opened at the right time. “’77 was an interesting time because we were right on a street that started off punk,” Krawczynski remembers. “That’s where we really got a foothold. The Viletones had a store called New Rose just down the street from us.”
Punk provided Record Peddler an early inroad into establishing its name and the store’s vibe. “All of the other record stores along Yonge Street dismissed punk offhand and said, ‘Nah, it’s a fad,'” Krawczynski says. But Hoffman and Krawczynski knew that there was something there. “When we started getting into it, we’d go to these concerts. ‘This is fucking crazy. It’s dangerous.’ You know, people are getting into fights, spitting on the bands. And I thought, Man, this is better than anything. This is actually exciting. You don’t just sit in a chair and hold a lighter above your head.”
While Hoffman notes that the local punk scene was small, Toronto was a crucial tour stop for US and international bands. Eve Of Darkness co-author Shawn Chirrey fleshes that out: “[The city] at that point was considered an important market to break in music – right behind New York and LA – especially for UK and European bands trying to break in the US.” That dynamic had significant after-effects on a receptive arts culture looking to define itself. In Turner’s opinion, what put Toronto’s creativity into overdrive compared to other areas was that the city had more of everything.
“Simply put, it was the largest city in Canada, therefore all touring acts came through Toronto, feeding dreams to the daydreamers,” Turner explains. “It had more college radio stations that allowed their airwaves to be hijacked by maniacs with a taste for metal and punk. More record stores vying for a demographic to cater to. More struggling bars with nothing to lose but let the derelicts take over. More high schools with greater numbers of disenfranchised youth to seek each other out by the band names on their t-shirts. All of this happened in a time when both scenes were in their infancy looking for somewhere to incubate.”
Record Peddler turned into one of Toronto’s heat lamps thanks to a killer business plan. Hoffman mirrored the international touring band dynamic by turning Peddler into an adept importer and, eventually, a key distributor.
“I started buying imports from a local company PJ Imports who had been around for a few years and were a force in bringing early krautrock to Canada and later were the first company to import punk singles from the UK,” Hoffman writes. “By 1978, they were facing financial troubles, so in search of alternatives, I started importing from US companies like JEM, Dutch East India Trading, and later, Important in NYC. In 1980, I went to Europe to set up deals with labels directly and exporters who handled small, independent labels. The basis for all of this was to fill the bins at Peddler. The opportunity to distribute was obvious, as by that time most Canadian cities had a couple of indie record stores that needed stock.”
Building relationships with distributors, following the trades, and paying attention to the words coming out of customers’ mouths gave Record Peddler a leg up on knowing what was what. “Knowing what to buy was, of course, the most important thing,” Hoffman writes, “but the vetting of suppliers and the logistics of moving the product from sources around the world at the lowest cost and the greatest speed were equally important. We had local competition, but we were far ahead, usually having new UK releases on the shelves the same or next day after the official release dates.” People noticed.
“Alan [Anton] and I would make a weekly trek over to the Peddler to go through the weekly influx of indie imports from the UK,” Cowboy Junkies’ Michael Timmins said in a Paste feature on musicians’ favorite record stores. “If an album had a cover that struck us, we would buy it to see what lay inside. And then one day, there on the wall, was an album with a textured black cover and this odd squiggly pattern in the center… and that was how we were introduced to Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures.”
Record Peddler happened to be early carriers of another album, too. “We had been selling a bit of NWOBHM,” Hoffman remembers. “The US distributors started offering this ‘trash stuff.’ At the time, I was ordering virtually everything new that came out if it sounded remotely ‘not popular.’ Kill ‘Em All was one of those.” Metallica’s debut LP was an instant success, eventually earning the store a gold record courtesy of Music For Nations. “It became one of the best selling records ever at Peddler. We played the shit out of it in the store because every time it played, people would rush to the counter to find out ‘WHO IS THAT?'” Pretty soon, those people were meeting each other.
“I think we met the Slaughter guys at a store called the Record Peddler,” Sacrifice guitarist/vocalist Rob Urbinati said to Snakepit Magazine. “This was one of the only stores in Toronto that had underground metal on the shelves. The employees would play all the new stuff for us, a lot of us would meet up there. Although most of us were underage, a legendary bar called Larry’s Hideaway let most of us in. That club was our metal scene along with the Record Peddler.”
In a now-archived interview, Slaughter guitarist/vocalist Dave Hewson had a similar origin story concerning meeting vocalist/bassist Terry Sadler as a young pup. “We were at the Record Peddler — a famous place where all bands would kind of hang out … we had some really nice Motörhead buttons, so when Terry saw us with those, he asked his brother who we were and then on we just started hanging out with him …”
Eve Of Darkness goes deep on this fertile period of metalheads meeting metalheads, when expanding friend groups started bands and penned zines and developed a new strain of hyper-aggressive thrash in the process. “From my perspective, I’ve always felt Toronto produced some incredible yet underrated bands, particularly in the punk and metal genres during the ’80s, and we wanted to help spread the word about these bands,” co-author Derek Emerson writes in an email. “Myself and a friend started our first thrash fanzine in 1984 called Metallic Assault. This new book, Eve Of Darkness, is sort of a continuation of that mission, nearly 40 years later, and with a whole lot more perspective than when we were teenagers.”
Since the Eve Of Darkness authors were there, they remember the events that laid the groundwork, like how a Slayer show in 1984 set Toronto’s thrash bands in motion. “Before Slayer’s visit in late 1984, traditional ‘heavy metal’ bands were what you would see at Larry’s or the Gasworks,” Emerson explains. “Once Slayer blew through town, thrash was the new order of the day. Several key bands in attendance at that show, most notably Razor and [Sacrifice], cite that evening as the lightbulb moment that inspired them to push their music to a higher octane level.”
Naturally, Record Peddler played its part in cultivating this new style, stocking the shelves with what the new patrons desired. “It was clear it was a different world when you entered it,” Chirrey recalls. “It had all the show flyers, zines, and tickets for shows. It felt like a community hub from the minute you entered.” Not to mention, Record Peddler helped a young Emerson get the word out about Metal Assault and its later incarnation, Deathcore: “Record Peddler was pretty much the only store that would touch Metallic Assault/Deathcore! No other stores in the city were interested in anything as extreme as what we were covering. For that matter, no other stores were nearly as open to accepting items on consignment, which is yet another reason Record Peddler was so important to fostering a community spirit that helped the scene to grow the way it did.”
Some of that community spirit could be tied back to canny marketing. Besides developing tight bonds with radio stations and record labels, Record Peddler was smart about scheduling signings and appearances and allowing CITY-TV’s The New Music to shoot artist interviews in and around the store. As a result, the amount of heavies that made their way through the doors is jaw-dropping. “Razor may have been the only ‘local’ band to do an in-store appearance at Peddler,” Emerson writes. “However, there were numerous touring bands that did formal appearances (and sometimes informal drop-ins) — Slayer, Death Angel, Anthrax, Celtic Frost, Motörhead, Exciter are the first that come to mind. Also, the classic Mercyful Fate autograph session at the original Peddler location on Queen Street East.”
“Motörhead was always part of the deal,” Krawczynski says, who remembers giving a Motörhead member some good-natured grief after outing him as a “closet Depeche Mode fan” based on the stack of wax he brought to the register. “When they’d play in Toronto, they’d always stop by the store. We had a lot of fun with those guys.”
Of course, you never knew who you might see in the shop. Hoffman points out that Geddy Lee was a regular. And Krawczynski recalls that some fans had near-run-ins with their heroes whether they knew it or not. “When we were on Yonge Street, the lead singer of the Cult, Ian Astbury, lived around the corner. He’d be in the store every other day, just leaning against the counter. He said to everybody, ‘I just want to be incognito.’ Some kid would come to the counter with all of these Cult records, and I’d be thinking, God, do you ever look sideways? He’s right beside you.”
That said, there was one musician customers expected to encounter, one who provided Record Peddler some of its intimidating atmosphere. “Working behind the counter was none other than the man, the myth, the legend himself… Brian Taylor,” Kevin Theodoropolus wrote in a piece about his first visit to Record Peddler for his blog Heavy Ghetto. “He was a gruff-looking individual who didn’t come off as friendly or social, but none the less I felt like I was in the presence of a very important person.”
Taylor was the singer for Youth Youth Youth, one of Toronto’s early hardcore bands. He became an employee in an… interesting way. “He was always hanging around the store, and one day when it was either really busy or somebody didn’t show up, he got appointed to ‘door duty,'” Hoffman writes. “It wasn’t long before he was full-time.”
In addition to Youth Youth Youth, Taylor was producing punk/hardcore releases like Chronic Submission’s Empty Heads Poison Darts and Sudden Impact’s Freaked Out. Then, as recounted by Hewson, Slaughter and Sacrifice answered a call for submissions for a possible compilation curated by Diabolic Force and dropped their rehearsal tapes off at Record Peddler. Both cassettes got to Taylor. Urbinati remembered the rest: “[Brian Taylor] asked us and the guys from Slaughter to come down and talk and he offered to pay for our recordings and he would sell them at the store to make back the money.”
For Hoffman, the deal made sense. “Brian brought the demo tapes to the store to sell on consignment. My label Fringe Product was just getting established and we were looking for local bands to supplement the foreign recording we were licensing for Canada (Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, etc.). I talked to Brian about Youth Youth Youth and we did their album. After that, we moved on to release Brian’s productions of the first Slaughter and Sacrifice albums.”
Fringe Product was another of Hoffman’s fortuitous good calls, recognizing a prime opportunity when it surfaced. “The guys at Ready Records were just getting started around 1980 and they were bringing their initial releases like the Demics to the store to sell. In 1981, they had made a lot of connections outside Canada and were being offered records that in no way matched what they had in mind for Ready. [Founders] Angus [MacKay] and Andy [Crosbie] came by one day to discuss doing a one-off project outside of Ready, which by this time was prepping the Spoons release and had moved in a more mainstream direction. They wanted to know if I was interested in a joint venture. They had been offered the Dead Kennedys’ Too Drunk single but didn’t really know what it was all about. I immediately agreed, and in 1981 it became the first Fringe release and the beginning of a lengthy relationship with the Dead Kennedys and Alternative Tentacles.”
Looking at it today, Fringe Product’s discography is diverse, bouncing around between punk and hardcore, SST releases, Swans, crossover, rock stuff like Fuzztones and the Flamin’ Groovies, and its share of other beguiling obscurities and oddities. So how did Hoffman decide on what to license and/or release? “A secret sauce? Mostly availability, affordability, sales potential, and personal (eclectic) taste,” he answers.
With the benefit of hindsight, Fringe Product’s taste in metal is particularly exciting, stamping its logo on releases by, among others, Corrosion Of Conformity, D.R.I., Disciples Of Power, Dissection, Dogs With Jobs, Paradox, Razor, Sacrifice, Slaughter, Splatterpunk, and Virus. The old MP3 blog Model Citizen…Zero Discipline called Fringe Product “one of Canada’s most important punk rock and heavy metal labels, if not THE most.” And perhaps that influence, along with its ability to distribute, is what worried the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Record Peddler had run-ins with the RCMP before, such as a coordinated multinational raid on record stores trafficking in bootlegs inspired by the Canadian Recording Industry Association’s hyperbolic call for a crackdown. (Montreal’s Rock en Stock got caught in a similar dustup a decade later.) Now, did Record Peddler have bootlegs? Well, yeah, it was a record store in the ’80s. “Q107, the radio station where you’d find metal, they’d buy any bootleg we had that was metal,” Krawczynski says with a laugh. “And then they’d put it on their ‘live’ concert series on a Saturday night. And you’d go, Oh, holy shit, that’s a bootleg, dude.”
Krawczynski says the RCMP wasn’t so amused by the bootleg situation when they descended on Record Peddler. “RCMP came in and said, ‘Where are they? We’ll tear the place apart.’ Ben took them to the back. Meanwhile, I’m in the front selling bootlegs.”
Hoffman writes that the RCMP seized the entire bootleg section, although it might be more accurate to say they borrowed it. “After about two years, their case fell apart. They tossed in the towel and everything was returned and immediately put back on sale!” What happened in 1988, though, had longer-lasting implications.
A few years earlier, Hoffman picked up the debut LP from Dayglo Abortions, a Victoria hardcore/punk band with a confrontational and, for the time, controversial sense of humor. “I took some copies of the original Out Of The Womb release on consignment. I don’t remember exactly how, probably just over the phone. They sold quite fast, but I was unable to contact the band to pay for the records and/or get more. A check had been cut for them and it got pinned to the wall in my office. One day this scrawny punk guy showed up demanding that they get paid. That was my first contact with [Dayglo Abortions’ drummer] Jesus Bonehead, I pointed to the check pinned to the wall, which settled him down, and we chatted. They had finished recording Feed Us A Fetus and were trying to get it released in the US by Toxic Shock. We struck a deal for Canada, which began a very interesting relationship over three albums.”
As Hoffman remembers, that relationship sure got interesting quickly. “I got a call one morning from the warehouse to let me know I needed to get in ASAP as the Ontario Provincial Police had raided the warehouse and had a warrant for my arrest.” It was no bootleg bust. Charges were brought against Fringe Product Inc., Record Peddler, and Hoffman in August 1988 for “possession, and possession for the purpose of distribution, of obscene material as defined in section 159 (subsequently section 163) of the Criminal Code of Canada.”
For the curious, Rob Bowman wrote the definitive, exhaustively researched account of the R. V. Fringe Product Inc. in “Argh Fuck Kill — Canadian Hardcore Goes On Trial: The Case Of The Dayglo Abortions,” a chapter in Policing Pop, a collection of essays edited by Martin Cloonan and Reebee Garofalo. The truncated Movie Of The Week version goes like this:
One day in Nepean, Ontario, Jim Fitzgibbons’ 14-year-old daughter borrowed a Dayglo Abortions album from a friend. She asked her father, a police detective, to make her a tape of the record, which as many commentators have snarkily pointed out, broke Canadian copyright law. Anyway, the elder Fitzgibbons didn’t approve of anything Dayglo Abortions were offering. Instead of keeping the matter in the family, Fitzgibbons took the album to the authorities. “And I guess they said, ‘Let’s make them famous!’ Murray “The Cretin” Acton told Vice. “Actually, I don’t think that was the real intention, but these guys couldn’t have been very bright. I tried to write the guy a thank you note that said, ‘This is actually the best thing that anyone has ever done for my band!'”
Fitzgibbons applied for a search warrant on June 13, 1988. RCMP raided Hoffman’s warehouse one month later. Hoffman doesn’t remember his exact feelings, “but it was likely something like ‘this will be fun and should be good for business.'” Little did he know at the time how painful things were going to get.
Dayglo Abortions escaped charges. The Buffalo News noted that, confusingly, “under Canadian law, it is an offense to distribute obscene material, or publicly perform it, but its creation is not a crime.” Angus MacKay, the Ready Records founder who was then working as Fringe Product’s label manager, added that the band “was not charged because, as in America’s 2 Live Crew case, the band’s lyrics at a concert were indecipherable.” (In a bit of bad luck, Hoffman said MacKay came on “just days before the Dayglo’s raid.”) While Dayglo Abortions skated, Fringe Product, Record Peddler, and Ben Hoffman weren’t so lucky. UPI reported that it was the “first time in Canada a record company has been prosecuted under Criminal Code provisions that have existed since 1959.”
The charges’ effect on business was immediate. Bowman’s breakdown pointed out that Sam the Record Man and other record stores, worried about similar abuses of the nondescript language in the Criminal Code, stopped carrying Fringe Product’s products. Worse, Cinram, the vinyl pressing plant, got cold feet over fulfilling Fringe Product’s order of Dayglo Abortions’ Here Today Guano Tomorrow. Those setbacks wouldn’t be the end of the financial ramifications.
As the case moved through preliminary hearings and the trial, legal costs continued to mount. “My lawyer, Marlys Edwardh was spectacular (and charged like she knew it!),” Hoffman writes. Again, per Bowman, to mitigate costs, Fringe Product exercised a liability clause in the Dayglo Abortions’ contract, holding back royalties to help foot the massive bill. The band, now losing gigs and studio time, became embittered. “Ben Gets Off,” a song of ample shade, would later kick off the final Dayglo Abortions album with Fringe, 1992’s Two Dogs Fucking.
Hoffman did get off, in the legal sense. Thanks to Edwardh’s legal maneuvering, a jury ruled after nine hours of deliberation on November 8, 1990 that the Dayglo Abortions albums Feed Us A Fetus and Here Today Guano Tomorrow were not obscene. “The jury identified a consensus of what we will tolerate others to see and hear. It’s difficult to find, but considering Canada’s size, diversity and cultural mosaic, it speaks broadly to a commitment to tolerance,” Edwardh said to the Buffalo News. Thirty years later, Hoffman described his reaction to the verdict with one word: “Relieved!”
(R. V. Fringe Product Inc. is sometimes identified, like in Christopher Nowlin’s Judging Obscenity: A Critical History Of Expert Evidence, as a significant “prelude” to R. V. Butler, a judgment with a complicated legacy. That’s a discussion for another time.)
So, what did the next 30 years hold for Record Peddler? The store, which had moved a few times, notably from Queen Street to Carlton Street and then to its most prominent location on Yonge Street, found its final resting place on Queen Street West near Bathurst when Hoffman decided to shut things down. Krawczynski had left in the ’90s before HMV and other corporate-backed record stores bullied their ways into more significant market shares, devouring many of the mom and pop shops in the process. McKay had moved on in the late ’90s, as well. Hoffman chugged along for a few more years but encountered health issues at the turn of the millennium. By that point, Record Peddler wasn’t doing its hey-day numbers. So when the lease came up for renewal, Hoffman pulled the plug. “It was a good thing in a way,” Hoffman writes, “the entire building burned down in a fire not long afterward.”
These days, Hoffman is still burning through what’s left of the Record Peddler stock on eBay. In his free time, he does “a lot of wilderness canoeing.” “Besides the paddling, I’m still collecting music (mostly with a cut-off date of 1990) but strictly in the digital format. The last ‘record’ (CD) I bought was Metallica’s St. Anger, what a piece of twaddle that was!” Indeed.
While that’s a bummer of an album to go out on, what Hoffman and Krawczynski had a hand in constructing will last far longer. Even the record-buying nadir of the ’00s couldn’t bury Record Peddler’s legacy. As the younger people who were born too late rediscover the classics of Toronto thrash, Record Peddler is revived. And those who were there won’t soon forget. Few other record stores elicit the kind of long comment threads full of people remembering the store that they orbited like planets to a sun during their salad days. Needless to say, it meant a lot to many people.
“I was at a party,” Krawczynski mentions. “Someone said, ‘How do you know so much about records?’ I said, ‘Record Peddler.’ And the guy dropped to his knees and said, ‘You’re a god. You’re a god.’ I said, ‘Stand up, you’re embarrassing me, dude.’ He got his girlfriend and said, ‘This guy took all of my money!’ It was pretty funny. But we had a really solid reputation.” Yep, and one hell of a tale to prove it. –Ian Chainey
Sarke - "Bleak Reflections"
Location: Oslo, Norway
Subgenre: black metal
Sarke is the eponymous project of main-man Sarke, a veteran of the Norwegian black metal scene who put together a supercrew of fellow Norwegian old heads for his namesake. The band are masters of a stripped down, husky, rock-forward and infectious brand of black thrash, and they’ve been doing their thing for over a decade now, pounding out subtle earworms that will pop up in your head years after the first listen. A key part of the killer formula has always been none other than Nocturno Culto’s groaning growl, isolated up front and crystal clear in the mix in a way that is both understated and in your face at once. Culto is of course a master at creating absorbing atmospheres out of minimalist production with his better-known Darkthrone, but with Sarke there’s a different pep in his step thanks to the tight ship run by captain Sarke himself. On “Bleak Reflections,” juxtaposed with barely there organs and an opening haunting 70s-inspired riff that would make for a killer Ghost song, it’s a masterfully catchy thing and it’s even playful; recall the track “Old” from the band’s debut, when Nocturno Culto gruffed “I’m old, I’m dying, hell can wait, I’m always late!” before moving on to bark about a grey woollen cardigan and being drenched in coffee. “Bleak Reflections” holds similar charms, full of awesome and surreal juxtapositions that could only be pulled off by absolute pros like these. [From Allsighr, out 11/5 via Soulseller Records.] –Wyatt Marshall
Michel Anoia - "L'ombre Et L'errant"
Location: Lyon, France
Subgenre: death metal
Doug hipped us to Michel Anoia in 2016 when their second release, Plethora, was midwifed by many different labels. (It’s now available as a free download via Bandcamp. Don’t say I didn’t find you an album today.) The trio was far shaggier back then but still measured up to its intended RIYLs: “Psyopus, Krallice, the Dillinger Escape Plan, Cephalic Carnage.” Perhaps it wasn’t totally pro, but it reached a high level in the technical metal/core farm system. It oozed with promise, at least. Indeed, at its best, the French trio found rhythmically intriguing ways to stack its techy shred, easily exceeding the basic As The Sun Sets-isms of the lazier annoycore bands. What a difference five years makes. Nervures, Michel Anoia’s new and perhaps final full-length if its messaging on Bandcamp is to be taken literally, has been promoted to ‘oh damn’ status. It’s a giant leap forward, taking what worked on the older material and applying it to the all-genres, kitchen-sink style embraced by bands such as Sigil.. .just… if Sigil were more Plebian Grandstand? Anyway, doesn’t matter. It’s not worth spending time accurately triangulating comparisons, deciding if this is more Comity than not, because Nervures will confidently Euro step around categorization. These seven tracks feel like they’re equal parts everything, uniting tech death, black metal, and various shades of prog. Where Michel Anoia now excel, elevating them above their previous incarnation, is that they’re not content to mush these styles together. Instead, they find the common thread between them, seam-rip it out, and use that thread to sew together obsessively detailed tracks. The rhythm section is imposing as heck in this regard. Bassist Simon and drummer Ugo, who is also in the awesomely named and solidly grindy Civilian Thrower, develop the insane flow of people who have played together a lot. They’re magnetized in the attract and repel sense, flipping the poles whenever it best suits the songs. It makes a hell of a foundation for guitarist/vocalist Charles to build upon. That Charles’ riffs are rife with hooks without compromising the structural integrity of the nutty shred is… I mean, damn. Shame if this is the last call, but what a way close down and go home. [From Nervures, out now via Total Dissonance Worship.] –Ian Chainey
Nocturnal Wanderer - "Distant Stars In Distant Skies"
Location: Portland, Oregon
Subgenre: black metal
We’re within the realm of lo-fi black metal here, but there’s a remarkable richness to “Distant Stars In Distant Skies” that grows stronger as the song progresses from its initial blasts to mesmerizing peak riffage. You’ll hear it first in that exquisite sandpaper rasp, which drips palpable phlegm through the speakers. While that’s got your attention, perfectly tailored riffs set a grand stage for a setting far more epic than what you might initially imagine. The musicianship from this anonymous new solo project is top notch, with acrobatic guitars churning out superhero solos, a lively bass plonking away, super tight drums, gorgeous watery effects and other atmospheric twists applied with just the right touch, and a perfect sense for how to pull it all together. It’ll hook you and bring you back for more, and with each listen you’ll get a greater appreciation for the dark, detailed world Nocturnal Wanderer so subtly and artfully crafts. [From Gift of the Night, out now via the band.] –Wyatt Marshall
Cerebral Effusion - "Maniacal Disturbance"
Location: Ermua, Spain
Subgenre: brutal death metal
Cerebral Effusion are a standout brutal death metal quartet from Spain that scaled the sicko ranks when they released their fourth album, 2014’s Idolatry Of The Unethical, on New Standard Elite, a label that continues to burnish its reputation as the most robust and consistent purveyor of goo. Seven years later, Ominous Flesh Discipline proves that few bands are better at pure, no-frills, brutal death metal. And let’s chat about that distinction: Is this the best BDM record of the year? Hmm, it’s close, but if the season ended today, I’d probably give that honor to Nephilim Grinder’s Spiritual Torment. But, if Ominous Flesh Discipline isn’t yet the best, it’s at least the ideal BDM experience, stripped down to solely the active ingredients and activating the hell out of them for 34 minutes. Ah, but that is the thing: This album has zilch for you if you’re not already a devoted degenerate; no Disentomb melodic life preservers, no Wormed-y wooshes, no Deeds Of Flesh widdles, no Dying Fetus/Knuckle Deep toughguy juds. This is drier than a Drudge Skeleton chugging vermouth. To reiterate, no frills. In fact, it’s like if Disgorge’s atoms crashed into Brodequin’s and all of the “frills” electrons were bounced out. Then again, what are “frills”? When Ominous Flesh Discipline is on, I have a hell of a time because the elements never fail to find that BDM Goldilocks zone. Bassist/vocalist Kosme and guitarist/vocalist Pe’s vocal interplay, a series of rhythmic belches that either expand upon or underline the other’s burps, has a complementary style that should be taught in couples communication classes. (This video at 0:56 still cracks me up. Find a partner who, etc.) Same deal for the riffs: Kosme, Pe, and guitarist Jabo’s tones unify into this unholy static, like if someone blasted None So Vile through an LRAD. Eihar’s inhumanely athletic drumming always hits the right spot at the right time, no matter how deep this beast is into a fill or blast. (While I’m flapping my gums, the production is also bizarrely great. I don’t remember the last time I bought an album that sounded so different on speakers and headphones.) All of that rules. I hope the next one doesn’t take seven years, but I know I’ll get more than seven years out of this one. [From Ominous Flesh Discipline, out now via New Standard Elite.] –Ian Chainey
Kaldeket - "Dissolute Intentions"
Location: Minneapolis, MN
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal
“Dissolute Intentions” is all over the place, hyperactively switching from jaunty riff to disheveled solo at breakneck speed, but the song, and Kaldeket, really come alive with unexpected and awesome synth work that takes the charmingly pared down track to a darker, higher plane. Just before the two minute mark, Kaldeket hit a different gear, the storm clouds part, and a solemn, momentous incantation changes everything you thought you knew about what was happening to that point. There’s a lot to like in the lo-fi, paper thin production, but the bigger, massive vision Kaldeket craft with the sounds in play is remarkable. Kaldeket is from two former members of the now defunct False, which was one of Minneapolis’s leading black metal bands that disbanded following allegations of sexual assault against one of its members. On the demo’s Bandcamp page, the duo writes, “After a tumultuous year of global, personal and artistic tribulations, Travis and Kishel started Kaldeket out of necessity to further explore their feelings of rage and sadness, despondency and apathy, happiness and exultancy.” [From Votiate, out now via Big Bovine Industrial Waste.] –Wyatt Marshall
Conjureth - "Wet Flesh Vortex"
Location: San Diego, CA
Subgenre: death metal
Conjureth’s debut LP, Majestic Dissolve, is one of the most Aaron Metal albums I’ve ever heard. Thus, to properly convey its Aaroness, I will now channel my inner Lariviere. Ahem. INTO COFFIN! No, wait, trying this again. Behold, from the depths where foul formations and other demonic demos once writhed rises a fully full-length punisher of butts. Hereth Conjureth, no doubt pronounced like how a toothless magician would describe themselves on a date. Its staff of three hails from San Diego, a hellish frontier where 350 days a year of temperate weather, clear skies, and a sea breeze turns many death metallers most brutal. Conjureth are indeed brutal but not in the wet-meat-sounding way preferred by Ian. Nay, this three-headed ripper emphasizes the OS and barges in the DMs of OSDM. It’s a nasty one, ruthlessly jacking the typical playback speed to 1.5x, like if Necrovore was given the poison in Crank. Guitarist/vocalist Wayne Sarantopoulos and lead guitarist Ian Mann are riff maniacs. “Wet Flesh Vortex,” a phrase that will get you banned on Christian Mingle, straps a ton of Tampa titans into a sled harness and keeps cracking the whip until it boldly self-obliterates three minutes and forty-three seconds later. Some of that reproductive-organs-out energy comes from drummer Frankie Saenz, who has perfected that delirious Deicide stomp at speeds Legion-era Steve Asheim would’ve appreciated. You bet, strong good Deicide vibes aplenty; Dr. Deicide, DDS, performing a root canal with a chainsaw. There’s an unhinged solo in here, too, which is like sprinkling meth on your meth. A pic of Sarantopoulos’s guitar better summarizes anything else I could ever want to say about this band. And, at this point, I can’t say much: I just drool and mumble “rips so hard” on an infinite loop. Glorious. End of blurb. [From Magic Dissolve, out 10/25 via Memento Mori / Rotted Life Records.] –Ian Chainey
Sadness - "A Capture And Pink Dream Moment Spike"
Sadness has always existed at the point where despair, delirium, and euphoria intertwine, growing from more clearly identifiable melodic depressive black metal roots, back when Bandcamp was beginning to turn metal heads, into the full and evolving kaleidoscopic splendor we hear here. “A capture and pink dream moment spike” perhaps embraces the euphoria part of the equation more than anything from Damián Antón Ojeda’s solo project to date. A watery muffled electronic melody grows and then dramatically bursts into full-fire life, an extended interlude feels like a dream, and then an outro for the ages that’s as satisfying and awe-inspiring as you could conceive. It’s a thing of beauty, audio bliss that belongs on loop for fans of the style. Hard to believe, but Sadness has been showing up on The Black Market for five years at this point, but with new bags of tricks and fresh magic Sadness sounds as youthful and earnest as ever, with shouted clean choruses that carry an innocence amidst the cascading multitude. It’s a deeply moving and inspiring experience, and it’s unlike anything else out there. [From Rain chamber, out now via the band.] –Wyatt Marshall
Serpent Column - "Disobedience"
Location: United States
Subgenre: black metal
One of my favorite things about Serpent Column is that everyone explains its sound differently. Look through the Bandcamp comments for its newest EP, Katartisis, and you’ll find a disparate set of descriptions and comparisons. It’s stripped-down, melodic, technical, grindy, dissonant, blackened, progressive, groovy, brutal, chaotic, and on and on. It has offered FFOs of Oranssi Pazuzu, Infant Island, Exhausted Prayer, and Playing Enemy. I don’t think any of that is wrong; you hear what you hear. Serpent Column’s own Bandcamp recommendations also make sense: the dark metal of Mefitis, a band that released an absolute melon-melter this year; the warped leads of D.L.’s Kostnatění; and the expansive ambition and vulnerable catharsis of An Isolated Mind. Anyway, it’s just neat to me that Theophonos’ solo project has, over the past four years and five releases, garnered such acclaim with little consensus on how to describe it. And, I mean, that’s awesome? Perhaps that’s the mark of genuinely cutting-edge music that’s built to last. Katartisis, from its Jane Morris Pack artwork down to the hypnotic flow, evokes a bunch of other touchstones and defies pat descriptors. We’re not even to the point where we can say something is Serpent Column-esque because that contains too many multitudes and potentialities. Interesting times!
Like last year’s Endless Detainment tweener, Katartisis is Serpent Column mostly in miniature, albeit not as frothingly face-ripping. Five of the nine tracks are shorter than two minutes. At the risk of adding another oddball label to the growing list, this is the punkiest that Serpent Column has been, untangling the thicket of riffs and rhythms of the absurdly brainy and absurdly good Kathodos for something occasionally more immediate. I write “occasionally” because these songs don’t sit still for long. Even the six-minute “Edelweiss,” which contains a downer flip of the original Rodgers and Hammerstein lyrics, zooms through an album’s worth of timbres and tempos, sandwiching a section I can only describe as classic Leatherface between hyper-dexterous black metal played with old Converge’s lust for Slayer-derived destruction. (A lot of Serpent Column, post-Ornuthi Thalassa, sounds like two Portrait Of Past records playing simultaneously to me. My dumb brain. Add that in with the wackier comps, I guess.) Maybe you hear something different. Just the fact that we’re all hearing it together shouldn’t be taken for granted. Enjoy trailblazers while they’re still active. [From Katartisis, out now via Mystískaos.] –Ian Chainey
Trhä - "Endlhëtonëg"
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal
We still don’t know anything of the biographical sort about Trhä, the entity that both defies Google translate and the laws of black metal, finding new kinds of utter bad-assery and impenetrable darkness with tools presumably available to everyone else. The 24-minute “endlhëtonëg” is a shadowed, dense dream, one full of incomprehensible headlong runs through solid matter, bottomless pitfalls, and inconceivable beauty interwoven throughout the murky vision that seems to outline monolithic shapes that never fully form. Trhä showed a mastery of a uniquely dark ingenuity on earlier releases, but on “endlhëtonëg” a more consuming atmosphere takes hold, with a level of incomparable regal refinement transmitted from the netherworld. The word gets thrown around in metal a good bit, but there are moments on “endlhëtonëg” that are downright and truly orchestral, with the kind of layered density and profound aural impact that should seemingly be the territory of the musical batteries of Mordor alone. I won’t describe specific jaw-on-the-floor parts in detail, but come prepared with a good set of headphones and the volume turned high. This is unreal stuff, prophetic and portending something profound. [From endlhëtonëg, out now via the band.] –Wyatt Marshall
Vauruvã - "Jequitibá-eté"
Location: Rio de Janiero, Brazil
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal
The Brazilian visionary Caio Lemos, the man behind the genre-exploding projects Kaatayra and Bríi, continues his string of superhuman feats with his fifth album since the start of 2020 and his first as Vauruvã. Lemos’ works, which tend to sound like black metal incarnations of Amazonian forest spirits come to life with vengeful intent, are wholly unique. There’s wildfire in his fretwork, which blazes with artful high-octane acrobatics, and furious strumming weaponizes his playing into a science fiction pulse cannon. Drums arrive in waves of absolutely overwhelming pummels, upping the already impossible speed and bringing things to what would be a breaking point in anybody else’s hands. Unleashed, the dark powers are as incensed as ever on “Jequitibá-eté,” a masterful whirlwind of arpeggiated madness and mind-shredding guitar heroics. A throaty, possessed roar from Bruno Augusto Ribeiro serves as the mouthpiece for the malevolence. When it wraps, there is a moment of stunned silence as the sounds of the forest floor return. [From Manso Queimor Dacordado, out now via the band.] –Wyatt Marshall