The Calgary metal scene is anchored by proverbial greybeards, guys like Greg Musgrave, who have been around, seen it rise and fall and stuck with it through it all. Now in his 15th year of playing live – meaning he’s been doing shows since some of you were in diapers – Musgrave has knowledge and experience of several genres and multiple instruments. But first things first: his progressive metal project Phantom Limb is on the verge of releasing their second full-length, entitled Mantra.
Musgrave graciously made the time for an interview while in the midst of a workday, speaking at length about his band’s intention to make their erratic and frantic brand of prog more accessible to the casual listener.
“There’s a lot more space within the music and not quite as dense or hard to listen to, if you will. The first record had a lot of going on and, if you’re not a prog fan, then it would be a little overbearing, I guess. In this one, we tried to make it more accessible to a broader scope of listeners,” says Musgrave.
Their debut, Mors Ontologica (2011), was built on a foundation of a million riffs with no repetition. It’s something that Phantom Limb – which also includes metal stalwarts Joe Sikorski (lead guitar), Terry Baldwin (bass/vocals) and Adam Proulx (drums) – consciously tried to move away from with this outing. That being said, Mantra still contains your traditional progressive metal tropes, with four songs spanning the entire 40 minutes and concept-based lyrics.
“I think the song ‘Anesthetize’ is the one that really stands out for me because it harkens back to some of the stuff we did in Caveat in the olden days with multi-layers and harmony vocals, lots of really cool guitar stuff,” says Musgrave, referring to a previous project that recently reunited for Calgary Metalfest. The group was an intriguing combination of Opeth and Dream Theater, albeit in a heavier guise. In contrast, Phantom Limb tracks were constructed to avoid potentially tiring the listener.
“It is kinda taxing when you’re listening to overly (technical) stuff that doesn’t have hook that stays for any amount of time.”
Alongside his work with Phantom Limb, Musgrave is also part of long-time death/grind metal fixtures Exit Strategy. With that experience in mind he offered some context into the ebbs and flows of metal in Cowtown.
“Calgary is kind of known for that cowboy hoedown Stampede thing but, within the metal community, there’s actually a really, really strong presence,” he begins. “How that relates to the scene 12 to 15 years ago when I was first starting out… the kinds of bands and the kinds of styles at the time were [very] different.”
Musgrave notes more extreme bands dominated the circuit then; now, things have diversified like crazy. The result is that Calgary boasts 84 active bands on the almighty Encyclopedia Metallum.
“It just seems so broad. It’s so hard to be original these days and you’ve got all these different bands. Back when we were doing Caveat and whatnot, there was a ton of black metal and devil worship and that kind of occult stuff. You don’t see that a lot today in the local scene anymore,” he reminisces.
While there is no void of such music from Western Canada, Musgrave is articulating an important point: subgenre classifications have divided the metal scene into specific niches and Calgary has certainly felt the effects. It’s both positive, due to the increased opportunity for unique sounds, and negative, given extreme elitism in micro scenes. Given his experience, a positive bent on the phenomenon reigned supreme.
“Nowadays, the subgenre thing has gone completely insane. You’ve got a subgenre for everything now.” He concludes positively, “I think that’s the thing to, there’s more to explore and so many people doing different things.”
See Phantom Limb on Saturday, October 12 with Archelaos. Both bands will be releasing brand new albums. Archspire will headline; Illuminated Minerva and The Lucifer Project will open.
By Brandon McNeil