Rising From The Ashes: Heavy Metal Returns to Whitehorse

“I want to hear something different.”

These six simple words were an unexpected call to action that local promoter and musician Joel Gilchrist received from Karla Watts, a bartender at the Jarvis Street Saloon.

“I want you to put on a metal show,” she told him. “You’ve gotta bring the metal scene back.”

Live heavy metal shows currently are few and far between in Whitehorse, much to the dismay of the small but passionate metal community.

It wasn’t always this way; when I was in high school, there were a plethora of bands, several promoters and shows at least every month, many of them all ages. They provided an occupation for us in the winter months, serving as a gathering place and as stomping ground for bands to cut their teeth and find their sound.

Around 2012, one of the best-known young metal bands, Bushwhacker, moved south to Vancouver, and took with them some key members of the metal community. Those left behind saw a decline and eventual near dissolution of the scene; shows became a rarity, bands retreated to basements.

Gilchrist, vocalist for now-defunct death metal band Cervexecution, is one such. His partner in promotion, Rory O’Brien, headed south with Bushwhacker, and Gilchrist dropped the mic, packed up his lyric book and retired (he thought) for good.

A die-hard metalhead, Gilchrist looks the part – shaved head, blood-and-guts metal shirt, signature gravelly growl and plenty of punk rock attitude – yet, he is positively ebullient as he fills me in about the opportunity he’s been offered.  

“I’ve had people asking me when metal is coming back,” he says. “There are new people to town that are looking for metal shows that just don’t exist anymore… there are people that don’t like going to bars and listening to Top 40.”

Gilchrist explains that the lapse in live shows does not mean there are no bands, they just lack locations to perform.

“A lot of the bands that play metal don’t have venues to play at because venues and promoters are lacking,” he says.

Due to the raucous nature of metal gigs, it can certainly be a tough sell for a bar to host one, even though the heavy metal community is generally one of the most respectful I’ve had the pleasure of working with.

Karla Watts has much the same sentiment: “Not many of the non-conventional musicians have anywhere to play in Whitehorse, so when I had the chance to put (a metal show) together, I jumped at it,” she says, adding that the real thanks should go to the Jarvis Street Saloon for hosting the show. “My boss, Kim Dolan, and the owner, Debi Welch, have very open minds, and are willing to give everyone a chance on stage.”

For his part, one chance was all Gilchrist needed.

“When I got the phone call, I just said, ‘Absolutely.’ There was no question.”

Gilchrist promptly booked what he hopes will be the first metal show of many to come, on Friday, Oct. 7.

The lineup will feature three bands, and plenty of familiar faces, he promises. Without giving away the surprise, many local metal musicians will be coming out of retirement. One of the bands will be Gilchrist’s own new project, which will feature three original members of his old band and two new. Titled Chainsawdomy, the group will be playing old-school death metal in the traditionally gory vein of Cannibal Corpse, with some modern twists.

With another show, this one all ages, already in the works at The Old Fire Hall on October 28, Gilchrist’s promised re-ignition seems to be well underway; he has high hopes that the community will come together to support the revival.

“Back when the metal scene was happening, it was a little community that was starting, a following,” he says. “Come out and show your support, let’s get this show back on the road!”

Be a part of the re-ignition on Friday, Oct. 7 at the Jarvis Street Saloon. Doors open at 9:30 p.m., music at 10 p.m.

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