By Mark Allard-Will
The Junos, Canada's equivalency to either the USA's The Grammys or the UK's The Brit Awards, is the star-studded, red carpet event to celebrate the achievements in music of the world's second largest nation. It joins the likes of the aforementioned Grammys in having a designated Metal category and, for our March Metal Madness issue, that is what we shall be focusing on.
Saskatchewan had a glory moment for the 2015 award year, when Saskatoon's Doom band Shooting Guns received a nomination for their Brotherhood of the Ram album. The award that year ultimately went to Vancouver's Devin Townsend for his Z2 album and the Junos for the 2015 music year would ultimately prove to be less of a first and more of a blip on the radar of routine nominations of big label bands from BC, Quebec and Ontario.
Shooting Guns posing in-front of The Roxy Theatre's marquee in Saskatoon
If you're dissecting my assessments here and concluding that, well, not much Metal comes out of Saskatchewan as full albums each year; you'd be right, but simultaneously wrong. Sure, nowhere near as many full Metal albums come of Saskatchewan each year as the previously mentioned BC, Quebec and Ontario; but albums of note have released nonetheless.
Since 2015, there have been absolutely cracking albums to come out of the world's bread basket. What of Saskatoon's Untimely Demise with their 2016 Black Widow or their 2018 No Promise of Tomorrow? What of Regina's Into Eternity with their spectacular 2019 full-album return with The Sirens (their first album release since the end of their Century Media era with 2008's The Incurable Tragedy)?
"But", I hear you argue, "those are indie and/or small label releases, that's why they weren't nominated!". Correct, they are, but it's entirely worth mentioning that The Junos Metal category doesn't seem to care about label and release distinctions; because the one and only Saskatchewan nomination, Shooting Guns's Brotherhood of the Ram, was released through an indie label out of California called RidingEasy Records. Toronto's Skull Fist, who joined Shooting Guns in 2015 in receiving a nomination for their Chasing The Dream album, are likewise signed to an indie label in the form of Noise Art Records out of Austria. It's worth noting, however, that in the balance of presenting the fairness of fact that the sole majority of nominations, and all of the wins, have been for major label releases. This all serves only to further confuse one's understanding of the category's selection distinctions by laying bare that the bar for entry might not necessarily be major or 'recognized' label releases. So, what are the selection distinctions? What is the bar for entry?
Shooting Guns performing live at Saskatoon's Lois' Pub
The Metal/Hard Music Album of the Year Award (the official name given to the Junos Metal category) criteria listed on the Juno Awards website doesn't clarify what type of album publication classifications are eligible for nomination; in-fact, you can see the criteria for yourselves here (you'll be looking for category #41). Sheri Clish, offered a clearer insight by e-mail, saying: "All craft categories are judged based on the quality of the music. In order to be nominated an artist/group must submit. All judges are anonymous and The JUNOS looks for diversity, gender and age balance, industry sector and for individuals in locations across the country. Anyone from Canada is welcome to submit as long as their release meets the eligibility criteria for that year. New categories can be proposed by those in the community."
With that somewhat clarified, we can come full circle to the burning question. What gives? We now know that the artists themselves are free to submit their works themselves for consideration. So, why have the absolutely belting Metal albums that have come out of Saskatchewan since 2015 not had a look in? Are Saskatchewan Metal bands not submitting their works to the Junos? And, if not, are they even aware that they can submit? Could it therefore be argued whether a good enough job is being executed by The Canadian Academy of Recordings Arts & Sciences, the body responsible for The Junos, in promoting to Canadian independent artists the availability to submit their works for consideration by the judging panel?
These are the answers we won't know any time soon. Instead, we're free to speculate when we'll see another nominee from Saskatchewan listed for the Metal category of The Junos.
Shooting Guns's Brotherhood of the Ram can be found on Spotify and Deezer or purchased directly from the website of RidingEasy Records.