Next week sees the triumphant return of a woefully under-represented genre in the Whitehorse music scene – heavy metal – brought in the form of the progressive metal four-piece Bushwhacker.

The group has been hard at work in Vancouver over the past five years; they will be returning to their home turf on July 16th for a one-off show at Lizards, along with locals The Vagitarians, in support of Kona’s Coalition.

When Cavan Egan, Geoff Woods, Sean Komaromi and Keenan Dennehy played their last show at Foxy’s and hit the road to Vancouver in 2011, they knew that immersion in the larger Vancouver metal scene would be a shock. The reality proved to be more harrowing and more inspiring than they’d anticipated.

“Moving to Vancouver and observing the scene was a real shock that made us get our act together as fast as possible,” says Egan. “Going to a dive bar and seeing bands like Galgamex, Neck of the Woods and Archspire shred as hard and precisely as any extreme metal band we had ever listened to was a real kick in the butt… I think we all started to practice a lot more.”

A year into their Vancouver career, fellow Yukoner Rory O’Brien replaced Dennehy on bass, and things really began to take off. In short order, Bushwhacker released an EP called Fish Guy, and more recently, a full-length album called The False Dilemma.

The release of The False Dilemma showcases an important stage in the band’s development, Egan explains, as they were focused on being as musically tight as possible.

“The dark mood of the songs really demonstrates our psyches at the time…” he says. “Coming to Vancouver and realizing we weren’t as hot as we thought, and being broke musicians, definitely brought out a different and edgy side to us that we didn’t know existed.”

Egan adds that the new material the band is working on takes a bit of a return to the Fish Guy aesthetic, with a more fluid, progressive sound and more refined songwriting.

“We are all extremely excited to show our old friends how much we have improved as a live unit, but also how much our songwriting has progressed,” says Egan, who himself hasn’t been back to visit for three years. “I know a lot of people have listened to Fish Guy and The False Dilemma online, but we also have newer songs with a more unique direction. I’m certain that playing with our buds in The Vagitarians and drinking some brews with everyone after the show will be a party like no other.”

All the band members are looking forward to sharing their new work with old friends at the upcoming hometown show – it will be a nostalgic callback to fondly-remembered underage Heavy Metal Halloween gigs at The Old Fire Hall, where Bushwhacker and their contemporaries got their start.

“The Yukon not only shaped who we are as individuals, but I think musically it made it much easier to be ourselves,” Egan says. “In the Yukon, when someone put on a show, they didn’t worry too much about (genre)… we played a lot of shows with punk bands, rock bands, metal bands or whatever. It didn’t matter because people came for the music.”

Nostalgia for that era of Whitehorse counterculture is not limited to Bushwhacker; many locals, myself included, fondly remember those underage metal shows as our introduction to what is now our main identity and community.

It is in this vein that I ask Egan my final question: Why is it important for any city to maintain a metal scene or counterculture in general?

His answer is thoughtful: “Counterculture is an art form… I think that art is always a psychological reflection of the societies we live in. So if art is silenced or not robustly present in any given society, then minds become narrowed and obedient. In my opinion, a healthy and free society exists when individuality is recognized, encouraged and treasured. A metal scene is probably one of the greatest examples of such a counterculture… Individuality and personal sovereignty grow when young minds are shown this kind of unbound expression.”

Bushwhacker plays Saturday, July 16 with The Vagitarians at Lizards Lounge in the Town and Mountain Hotel, located at 401 Main St. All proceeds from the door will go to Kona’s Coalition.