Skip to content

With the likes of Ice Age, Lady Beast and Savage Master there’s no shortage of quality traditional metal. St. Johns, Newfoundland, Canada heavy/power metal revivalists Category VI already left a favourable impression in 2013 with their charming and unassuming little debut “Fireborn”. Since the last record the band has acquired the services of a new drummer and inked a recording contract with German imprint Killer Metal Records. In other words, Category VI is ready to bring its music to a wider public. “War Is Hell” is very much cut of the same cloth as “Fireborn” but is more muscular, rugged and possesses a greater focus and combativeness. Ideal for a record dealing with the horrors of war.

The primary appeal of Category VI lies in its blue-collar charm and down-to-earth approach to their craft. They live and breathe the music they produce. On “War Is Hell” the Category VI core remains unchanged with Geoff Waye’s burly riffs and fiery soloing, Keith Jackman’s lively bass guitar licks, and Amanda Marie Gosse’s soaring vocals. Evinced by her choice of melodies Gosse is an ardent disciple of the late Dio. Befitting of the war thematic “War Is Hell” is still traditionally inclined, but far more muscular and combative all around compared to the more conservative “Fireborn”. The midpace is occassionally broken for a mildly faster section, but unlike Lady Beast “War Is Hell” is more about atmosphere and feeling than it is about speed. Not that Category VI would describe itself as a speed metal band in the first place. Would it benefit Category VI to let loose and put the pedal to the metal? Probably, but they are obviously comfortable in their midpace. Some changes in pace would lend it a considerably greater sense of dynamics and scope.

‘Strike Of the Axe’ opens the gates after a bit of guitar psychedelia and it’s rather evident that guitar solos have been given a more prominent place. Moreso than on “Fireborn” at any rate. The riffs are more muscular without becoming thrashy and drummer John Angelopoulos is given more to do than simply keeping time. ‘Full Metal Jacket’ has a pumping groove and ‘Crossing the Avalon’ is one of the band’s fiercest tracks to date, even with all the psychedelic guitar noodling that it engages in. Interestingly, 'The Traveller / The Dark Warrior' and ‘Crossing the Avalon’ are two songs from "Dark Warrior", the 2002 independently released and distributed demo from Waye's erstwhile band Oberon, here given a due re-recording. ‘Arise’ isn’t a Sepultura cover instead its a pulsating cut reminiscent of something off Iron Maiden’s “The Number of the Beast”. With Waye’s guitar pyrotechnics and Jackman’s clanging bass just waiting to break out it’s puzzling that Category VI insists on a midpace as often as it does. These three men obviously have the chops to write and play something more demanding and adventurous. Evidently it isn’t frontwoman Amanda Marie Gosse that is holding them back from doing just that. What an amazing set of pipes this redheaded lady has. Not only is she powerful, expressive and commanding, her falsetto and higher register is equally full of emotion and girth. Category VI has obviously experienced a considerable growth spurt since its debut. Are they living up to the potential that “Fireborn” hinted at? Well, not entirely. The band has yet to pen its own ‘Rime Of the Ancient Mariner’ and they still tend to second-guess themselves every step of the way. Up the Irons already, guys!

Category VI is all about efficiency. At 47 minutes “War Is Hell” is about 5 minutes shorter than the debut. Their unpretentiousness is translated in the matter-of-fact production work and accompanying visuals. It’s functional, it’s earnest and oozes with the kind of heft and body that a lot of today’s overly sterilized productions lack. Amanda Marie and her men obviously have their heart in the right place and the disarming honesty of their music is ultimately works in their advantage. In a world where everybody’s a crook, and in an increasingly disingenuous scene, they are a welcome breath of fresh air. Arguably the metal scene needs more people just like them, but in all likelihood they will probably remain criminally overlooked just because they do things on their own terms. Admittedly the visual aspect remains on the amateurish side for a band now on a professional label. Imagine what Category VI conjure forth with a canvas from Jan Meininghaus, Péter Sallai, Samwise Didier, Thomas Ewerhard, or Jan Yrlund? In the grand scheme of things it’s a minor qualm considering how well-developed Category VI’s music is for a band of their age.

“War Is Hell” has Category VI on the verge of greater things; of finally unlocking their innate potential as a band, of Gosse elevating herself from a mere frontwoman to an underground icon, and their blooming songwriting finally matching their ambitions. “War Is Hell” is that kind of record. One where a band's entire future hinges upon. The Great White North has given the underground its fair share of now-classic bands in a variety of metal genres. Whether or not Category VI becomes the next institution depends on how they handle this record. There are plenty of bands with not half their promise that remain inexplicably popular with the masses. It’s high time for Category VI to claim their rightful place in the Canadian – as well as the international scene. If “War Is Hell” is any indication they are on the threshold. Together with Pennsylvania stalwarts Lady Beast (fronted by the indomitable Debbie Levine), Category VI is the best traditional metal is likely to get.



On its independently released debut album Category VI, Newfoundland’s only female-fronted traditional metal combo, are on the verge of unlocking their blooming potential as a veritable creative force. Built upon the foundation of electrifying traditional metal with a dash of rugged thrash – and technical chops “Fireborn” oozes with old school charm, and proves conclusively that female vocals can be an asset when used properly. Even though it hardly reinvents its genre of choice, its proclitivity towards genre purity and traditionalism make it a record worth hearing. There’s definitely room for improvement on a few minor issues, but overall it is one of the more promising debuts. On the basis of the independently released “Fireborn” and its tireless DIY promotion campaign Category VI recently signed with German label imprint Killer Metal Records.

Category-VI-promo-photo-1While Canada has always been a good provider of extreme metal, it is the country’s underground that outshines its established and more mainstream brands. From the once-relevant Kataklysm, the everchanging Neuraxis to the notoriously inconsistent Cryptopsy to name a few of the most established outfits, the Great White North has a pedigree in all branches of metal. A fairly new addition to the traditional metal pantheon is St. Johns, Newfoundland-based Category VI. Like the phoenix amongst the flames on its cover, Category VI rises among the crop of forgettable retro metal acts as a signpost of hope in a genre that is now rapidly becoming saturated by mediocrity and shortsighted hero-worship. “Fireborn” is a breath of fresh air in the increasingly stale growing traditional metal scene.  Along with Crucifliction and Ironstorm they are among the most conceptually realized of the current crop of retro metal acts in the region.

According to the bio on the band’s website they are the only traditional metal and female-fronted outfit of the city. The band is fronted by auburn haired songstress Amanda Marie Gosse (vocals), although the true creative force is guitarist Geoff Waye who co-wrote all the material with valuable input from the rest of the band. All the bass guitar parts were written and recorded by Tristan Adey, who Keith Jackman (who appears in all the promo shots, and subsequent music videos) went on to replace post-recording.

Gosse has a considerable range, and sings with as much power as the late Ronnie James Dio, and Bruce Dickinson. Especially her higher register wails are the best she has in her arsenal. There’s a prominent place for the bass guitar in both the music and the production, and the funky licks add a lot of character to the rather typical sounding riffs and chord progressions. Category VI is at its best when it steps out of the expected traditional metal conventions, and truly shows where its passion lies. Most of the album remains in a steady midpace with occassional faster and slower tempos to keep the songs dynamically varied. It would be interesting to hear Category VI tackle faster material, especially since “Fireborn” doesn’t contain a ‘Run To the Hills’ to speak of. It’s fairly obvious that UK stalwarts Iron Maiden (especially the 80s output up to and including “Powerslave”) is the main influence, although the band will occassionally venture into more adventurous and technical territory. The throbbing bass guitar licks excellently play off the well-realized guitar riffs and solos. One can only hope to Category VI will expand on this in future recordings because this is where its strenghts lie.

The songs deal with a variety of subjects. ‘Vinland’ is about the discovery of Canada by Leif Erikson as told in the Icelandic Sagas. ‘The Raven’ and ‘Fireborn’ are about determination, self-reliance and overcoming strife and adversity. ‘Real Lies’ and ‘Silence Befalls the Crowd’ are about questioning authority and the influence of the media. Some of the longer songs tend to plod on without much of a payoff. While the band clearly grasp the traditional and NWOBHM concept, a good deal of the songs lack that spark to truly set them apart from the many competitors in this field. That defect is thankfully complemented by the strong atmospheric – and technical sections that occur through out many of the songs. All three tracks of the “Vinland” EP from 2011 were re-recorded for this session making it a complete package. While there are no weak songs to speak of, the record does seem to miss a signature song or two, as each of the songs is strong – but none of them really stand out in any meaningful way. The closest to signature tracks are possibly ‘The Raven’ and ‘Reborn’ as the former is the most dynamical song on the album, and the latter the most aggressive. ‘Reborn’ was also the subject of a promotional video clip which the band used to further promote the album post-release, as was ‘Silence Befalls the Crowd’ in a much later stage of the album’s promotional cycle. A case could be made for ‘Descent Of the King’ as a stand out track but it arrives near the end of the album.

“Fireborn” was engineered and mixed by Rick Hollett. The drums were recorded at Stagehouse Recording in St. Phillips, while the vocals were laid down at Redhouse Recording in St. Johns. The elaborate cover painting was rendered by Jeremy Smeaton. One can only hope that Category VI continues to hone its organically sounding production on the next record, and maybe commission a painting by Andreas Marschall, Jean Pascal Fournier, or Jowita Kamińska. There’s a definite potential for greatness here as Category VI eschews the genre’s usual tenets for bombast and cheesiness. The record by no means reinvents the traditional metal genre, but within the strict perimeters it sets for itself it is a wonderful genre exercise. It is also completely bereft of any pretentiousness, or delusions of grandeur. Unlike the Hammerfalls and Rhapsodys of this world the band doesn’t lose itself in pompousness and excess. Sidestepping that obvious rake there’s a blue-collar appeal about the record that a lot of the established and professional bands in this genre have lost over time. Only time will tell whether Category VI will be able to live up to the promise they are on the verge of unlocking here…