The capital of Newfoundland and Labrador punches above its weight culturally, with a downtown core full of bars where you can hear live music on any night of the week. The province’s best-known acts are Celtic-infused bands like Great Big Sea or folk rockers like Hey Rosetta! — artists with styles that fit NL’s popular image as a quaint, rural, somewhat old-fashioned place.
But the local St. John’s scene is more varied that outside appearances suggest, and a thriving metal scene is part of that diversity. And as of a year ago, the city has a legitimate metal expert at Memorial University in Harris Berger, the research chair in ethnomusicology and director of the Research Centre for Music, Media and Place.
Ophelia Ravencroft, a PhD student at Memorial, is now studying that scene in her graduate work years after unexpectedly becoming a metal fan when she first moved to the city as a teenager.
“When I came here, I was not a fan of metal. I was listening mostly to Gordon Lightfoot,” says Ravencroft, who started going to all-ages metal shows in St. John’s because they offered a social outing for someone her age — and was surprised to find a small but supportive community of music fans.
Metal’s working-class roots
Thanks to bands like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, metal initially came out of working-class communities in the U.K. and the U.S. that were experiencing economic decline in the early 1970s, Berger says. And over the years, the genre has often been played and listened to by kids who likely felt outside the norm in some way: socially, culturally, economically.
“There is no question that historically, metal has had a substantial fan base in white, working class communities in North America,” says Berger. The working-class, economically downtrodden explanation certainly fits with Newfoundland and Labrador, a province that has seen a few economic downturns in recent decades.
Within our scene, there are black metal bands, female-fronted power metal, ’80s thrash, stoner rock, melodic death metal — in lots of cases maybe one or two representing a genre, and all playing together on the same bills.– Nadine Hodder, local metal community member
But metal, especially the heaviest subgenres of the music, is also particular popular in places with some of the highest quality-of-life rankings in the world. Nordic countries like Finland, Sweden and Iceland have high concentrations of metal bands, as…