Desfosses, Felix – No Speed Limit:Quebec Metal (1964-1989) (Book review)

Spread the metal:

Reviewed: March 2021
Published: 2021, Quartz Publications
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: JP

This book has been in the works for what seems like years and it finally available.

It is no secret that the largely French-speaking province of Quebec is undisputedly the most ‘Metal’ province of Canada. They have had the strongest scene for decades, more clubs, more magazines, more bands and just a better industry infrastructure due to the local government support for development of the arts. Accordingly, the province has always had a strong music scene and have their own ‘star-system’ unique to Quebec and very often apart from the rest of Canada.

International acts tour and they will hit central Canada; Montreal, Toronto and for the most part leave the rest of this huge country alone.  It is not uncommon for a big band, especially traditional and Power Metal bands like Nightwish or Helloween only play two gigs in Canada; always one in Montreal.  There have only been a few international Metal acts that have recorded a live album in Canada (Gamma Ray, Rhapsody etc)  and it is usually recorded in Montreal. So you can see what a hub the province is.   The overall history of Canadian Metal is too big to tackle so it is wise to break down the nation into digestible chunks. It was only a matter of time before some brave soul(s) wrote a book about Quebec Metal.

NO SPEED LIMIT is a semi-independent publication via Quartz and it is quite well done.  It is an oversized paperback, black and white and is about 286 pages long.  One interesting feature is the Table of contents is in the very back. While not conventional it makes a lot of sense because if you imagine picking up a book (for a right handed person) you generally thumb the pages from the back and the first thing you see is the Table of Contents. Clever.

Overall the design and layout looks good; it is very old school, lots of white space but it is supposed to look a bit like a DIY project.  We get an old piece of art from Michael Langevin, which is awesome but sometimes I wish we could see art from someone else besides him. There are other great artists in Quebec but he is by far the most recognizable and famous so it was a natural choice.

The development of this book was many, many years in the making.  Although journalist and fan, Felix b. Deffosses is technically the official author, a small group of people, Ian Campbell, Ronald McGregor, Louise Girard and half a dozen more (translators, graphic designers, editors) all helped to make this unique project come to fruition.  These activities are nicely detailed by Ian Campbell in the Foreword and by Ronald McGregor in the Preface to explain how NO SPEED LIMIT came into being.  The book also has all the necessary parts, notes, citations, a bibliography, an index and so on, it is very well researched and referenced.   As for the sub-title, Quebec Metal 1964-1989, we are promised Part I (1990-2000) and eventually Part III (Post -2000)  It will be quite the epic trilogy when it is done!

If you are wondering why a book about ‘Metal’ starts in 1964, Desfosses starts with an examination Rock and Roll, Prog Rock and the musical climate of Quebec before Metal was even Metal.  Then we follow various developments; Hard rock, biker rock, early Metal, Speed, Thrash, and on into early phases of Death Metal.

A detailed account is provided across the years; key personalities in the scene, major festivals, which clubs and bars supported Metal, what radio stations played Metal, fanzines, magazines, compilations, record labels (Banzai!), managers, stores, and more. The industry and infrastructure in Quebec gets just as much recognition explaining how the scene (the bands) could flourish.

I found the part about Cite 2000 very interesting. It is a massive old industrial factory converted into a giant rehearsal place where dozens of metal bands, all stored their gear, practiced, ate, slept, drank and I’m sure much more.  What is the French word for shenanigans?  I have heard about this place many times from Quebec Metal bands that played out here in western Canada where you could walk down the hall and hear ‘Band A’ rehearsing in one room and ‘Band B’ in the next. It was interesting to learn more about it, more cities need places like this.

In terms of the Metal, all the bands are included in NO SPEED LIMIT.  Deaf Dealer, Sword, Dagger, Dissection, Soothsayer, Eudoxis, Aggression, and this new, young band called Voivod that I think people are going to like.  Dozens and dozens of bands get a write-up in a fair and neutral manner.  In his introduction Desfosses says he is not a Metalhead but a Metal enthusiast and above all a music lover. (p. 12).  This is actually a positive attribute for because he is not just a nostalgic, biased and gushing fan boy talking about the ‘good old days’ when some obscure demo by his friend’s band (limited to 10 copies) was the best thing ever created.  He gives all bands, styles and genres equal credit; both the bands that were maybe a bit more derivative and the innovative pioneers.

The book is great took at, it is loaded with flyers, and clippings and old photos, ads and more  and the whole thing is anchored with a hundred interviews and quotes from the people who were there.  It goes without saying that NO SPEED LIMIT is the most comprehensive look at Quebec Metal ever. Have you ever read a book about Metal and said to yourself, ‘Well, the author forgot about this and this and this?”  Well, I don’t think this will ever be topped, no one would bother to try.  It will stand as the definitive look at the scene.

NO SPEED LIMIT is a bit special to me, being Canadian. I have a small amount of (unearned) patriotic pride in the Quebec scene.  I say ‘unearned’ because, residing just about 3666 km away, I was not involved in the Quebec scene at all, other than just as a fan, buying records and tapes and seeing bands on tour.  As an observer of Canadian Metal for decades, and now as an industry person, I’m just happy for the success of the bands. When Cataclysm (2016) and then Voivod (2019) won the Juno Award for Metal, (that is Canada’s national music award) I felt that those decades of struggle and hard work were finally validated at some level.  This book also captures that same spirit and feeling for me.

There have been many books written about various regional scenes; Finnish Black Metal, Swedish Death Metal, American Black Metal, the NWOBHM, and now it is our turn to uncharacteristically wave the Canadian/Quebec flag of Metal.