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Kelly, Sean
Metal On Ice (Book Review)
October 2013
Released: 2013, Dundurn
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: JP

Normally, at we try to avoid writing duplicate reviews of releases of any sort. In this instance we are making a rare exception because of the interesting nature of this book. Last month (Sept 2013) Celtic Bob reviewed this title and gave it top marks. I had planned on reviewing METAL ON ICE as well and seeing as that we are a Canadian site, a book about Canadian Metal, written by a Canadian, was very intriguing. I have a different perspective from Bob about this title so we agreed to do another review.

I was very excited when I heard about this title and very pleased to check it out. It’s an oversized paperback and METAL ON ICE is 206 pages long and there are tons of very cool, black and white photos of performers and memorabilia. The book also comes with the usual extras; Foreword, afterword and a select discography of the authors favourite albums that influenced him. The book is nicely laid out and designed.

A veteran of the Canadian music scene, Sean Kelly, wrote METAL ON ICE rom the heart. Kelly has been kicking around the scene for a couple of decades making a go of it as a session guy, touring musician and sometime member of bands like Helix. The book is a combination of autobiography, oral history and documentation of the Canadian Hard Rock and Heavy Metal scenes. Kelly is an enthusiastic and engaging writer and he describes some of the unique conditions that helped shape the music industry in Canada from the late 70’s to early 90’s. I said that METAL ON ICE is an amalgamation of styles. Kelly talks about his life and career, providing some nice context. There are many of these stories published in recent years about people growing up in the 80’s and his story is no better or worse than the books in this style. They succeed on how well people identify with the author. One of the books strengths is that is in an oral history as well. Kelly has tons of quotes from key people in the music business (mostly bands) from that era who add lots of great stories and life to the tale. Lastly the book is held together with his excellent and accurate historical narrative of the scene and the era. All three components blend together to make an excellent story.

However, there are lots of little problems with METAL ON ICE. The focus is far too narrow, Kelly really only covers a very tiny fraction of what was happening. He choose to focus on about a decade of time and never really expands outside of the early 90’s. He does mention that a few people from a few bands are still going but he neglects basically the last 25 years. Canada is one of the world’s most productive and prolific nations when it comes to Hard Rock and Metal but that point seems to missed.

Second flaw is that the book is very Eastern-centric. For those not familiar with Canadian politics, until very recently there is a very longstanding scenario that the Central provinces (traditional the center of power for commerce, industry, art, etc) would indirectly discriminate against the outlying regions of the West and East. This was not always conscious, just a lack of understanding about the rest of the country combined with massive distances between cities. Accordingly, being a kid from the Ontario, Kelly barely mentions the scenes in most of the country. Yes, Toronto was the center of the Hard Rock scene for about 10 years, and he does mention the rare band that was not from Ontario, but ultimately his information about most of Canada is very, very sparse. I don’t expect him to mention every little bar band in every province but his focus was on his own backyard, and that’s fine because you have to write about what you know, but he left the rest of the country high and dry.

Next issue with the book, I had was that he really did just focus on Hard Rock and Melodic Metal. Sure a couple of other bands in other genres got an honourable mention, (he even spoke to that point) but it seems Kelly was really clueless or just choose to ignore every other heavy genre, even big bands from Ontario. I understand he can’t mention or reference every band but he leaves some huge gaps by not talking about huge international touring acts with record deals such as Thor, Piledriver, Gorguts, Infernal Majesty, Disciples Of Power, Voi-Vod, Slaughter and Sacrifice or even bands in the genres he prefers such as Von Groove, Emerald Rain, let alone some of the big regional players in the West, like Big House, Smash L.A., Sacred Blade, and Labyrinth. Don’t get me wrong, I loved reading about Lee Aaron, Harem Scarem and Brighton Rock; I love ‘em all, got the albums, saw them live many times, but I was disappointed in Kelly for stopping there and not digging deeper. On the plus side, the Power Metal band Eidolon gets mentioned but more for the work outside the band that the Drover’s did, not the fact that Eidolon had seven superb albums and were signed to an American record label.

His technical analysis of the industry was also quite weak. There were many magazines and record labels active in the country that supported Rock and Metal but they don’t get mentioned. Admittedly, they weren’t as big as industry players in Ontario, but he leaves the impression that the nation was a barren wasteland of for heavy music outside of Ontario. I’m not sure if this is because Kelly doesn’t know or just didn’t think it was important to mention, which brings us back to the whole concept of being discriminatory (at worst) or (at best) ignorant, in the purest sense of the term, of the national music scene.

There were lots and lots of bands that wrote, recorded, toured, shot videos all over the country but very, very few get mentioned. Smaller record labels, licensers and distro’s from that era such as Viper, Cobra, Banzai, Rock and Roll Productions don’t get mentioned. The heavier labels don’t get mentioned such as Galy Records, GWN Records, Skyscraper Records, or magazines, like Unrestrained. There was (and is) so much going on in Canada but all the new industry players like Maple Metal Records, Metalodic Records, or Spread The Metal Records I suspect aren’t even on his radar.

There are other events in Canadian Metal history that could have been covered such as the infamous World War III Fest in Montreal, the Trois Riveires Metal Fests, the rise and fall and rise again of the Metal category of the Canadian National Music awards (the Juno’s), any number of things would have added to the book, but instead he talks about how the guitarist for the Killer Dwarfs joined the army after the band broke up. A cool piece of trivia for all of us Killer Dwarfs fans, but was it relevant? Not really.

Ultimately, despite the list of problems I had from an analytical perspective, I was won over by the sense of familiarity. Being Canadian and having spent some years in Toronto during that time I was very familiar with his stories and references. I hung out often at Rock And Roll Heaven (the bar of the day) and saw the local bands he talked about such as Winter Rose and Slash Puppet. I grew up watching the Power Hour and reading M.E.A.T. magazine from the day I picked up issue #1 on the floor of a Sam The Record Man on Younge St. in Toronto. There was much that was fun and familiar and Kelly’s own experiences paralleled mine to a large degree. One different point was that Kelly had a large love for Canadian Hard Rock (Coney Hatch, Santers, Headpins, Honeymoon Suite, Haywire, Triumph) and I was more of a Metal guy, but we crossed over in tastes on many bands. Kelly set out to look at a very narrow, but vibrant and dynamic time, in Canadian Rock history and he fully accomplished this goal. METAL ON ICE is an interesting and important documentation of a point in time and he got most of it right. With the benefit of nostalgia and familiarity for Canadian fans of a certain age, I highly recommend this book and for all other Metal fans from other countries and younger generations, I’d say approach with caution. The definitive book of the history of Canadian Metal has yet to be written but until then, this is the first and best.
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