Derek, how did you discover music and hard rock/heavy metal particular? What did you find so exciting in this music?
As a kid in the 70’s we were bombarded by music – disco, funk, soul and of course hard rock.  Like many of my peers, KISS made a huge impact on this 7 year old kid.  In fact my dad took me to see them as my first real rock concert. Being from Toronto Canada, RUSH was another amazing discovery – this amazing band lived in the same city as we did??  Wow!  The power and theatrical aspects of both bands captured my imagination at an early age.

At which point and how did you turn into the underground world? How did you discover fast, brutal music?
By the late 70’s Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Van Halen, etc... were my soundtrack.  We had a TV show in Toronto at the time called The New Music which promoted exactly what the name says – providing exposure for NWOBHM, punk, new wave music in a time long before MTV existed.  That provided a window into a wild world of possibilities.  Many kids here in Toronto cite the time The New Music aired Iron Maiden’s ’20th Centry Box’ UK TV footage with Paul Di’Anno in 1981 as their big ah-ha moment that flicked the switch and I’d agree it had the same effect on me.  Also around that time, discovering ANVIL, again being from the same city, was a revelation.  To me, their second album Metal On Metal still contains some of my favourite heavy metal songs ever – Mothra is epic and 666 is an undisputed killer song!  What inspired me and my partner Glenn to start a fanzine as discovering more ’underground’ bands like Metallica, Voivod, Slayer, Hellhammer via the tape trading underground between 1982-84 or so, and thinking we needed to tell more people in our city about these new amazing bands they’d yet to hear about.  We were compelled to spread the word so we began writing to those bands and many more, eventually gathering enough material to print our first issue in fall 1984.

What did/does mean to you underground, to be underground respectively?
I’ve always felt compelled to shine a light on overlooked artists whos work I appreciate and enjoy.  From my fanzine days with Metallic Assault, to Let Me Be Your Band (feature length documentary film my wife and I produced about One Man Bands in 2003) to the current books I’ve helped create documenting Toronto’s hardcore punk scene in the 1980’s (Tomorrow Is Too Late, released 2018) and Toronto’s metal scene of the 1980’s (Eve Of Darkness, August 2021) – so many amazing, talented yet overlooked musicians who deserve much more attention than they’ve received.  Now is our chance to right those wrongs and share their stories with a wider audience.

Did you also get involved in the tapetrading scene very soon? How did it happen?
Yes I was an avid audio tape trader from 1983-88 and then became involved in trading video during the later 80’s before the advent of YouTube.  During the mid-80’s I was frantically trying to tell as many tape traders around the globe about the bands popping up in Toronto – Sacrifice, Razor, Slaughter, Haggath, Death Militia, Blood – so many great bands I felt the world needed to hear.  It felt satisfying when our local bands would appear on radio station charts / playlists around the US.  Confirmation that someone out there was listening and enjoying what they heard too.

At which point did the fanzines enter in your life? Do you still remember which fanzines did you get in your hands for the first time?
Kerrang and Metal Forces were the earliest magazines I recall that provided exposure to ’underground’ bands – those that had recorded demos but had yet to secure a record deal.  I found it fascinating that there were so many of these groups popping up everywhere, and from such distant lands.  I distinctly remember Tom Warrior’s Pen Pal ad in Kerrang, going by the name Satanic Slaughter, announcing the arrival of his ’infernal occult metal trio Hellhammer’... from Switerland??!!  Tell me more!!  I started corresponding with Tom by the time Hellhammer was transitioning to Celtic Frost.  Writing to him as well as many other bands all over the world was the best and sometimes only way to find out what bands were up to.  We traded fanzines with other editors – Guillotine, Sledgehammer Press, etc.. – in effort to circulate their zines in Toronto and our zine in their home towns.  It was a slow process connecting with this vast network of bands / zine editors / tape traders but the fact that it was time consuming and labourious meant that anyone who took part in the scene to that level was highly dedicated to the cause.  Metal was what we thought about obsessively, day and night.  

How did you like them? Was this a brand new world for you?
Fanzines offered the power of communication.  A way to express how incredible the music was and why people needed to listen.  Mainstream media might give you a taste of the Scorpions, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, but no slick magazine in their right mind at that time was going to provide exposure to Sodom, Hellhammer, Bathory, Crowley, Nasty Savage, Hirax, etc..  Real ’music critics’ laughed at those bands and us fans for listening.  We thought, fuck the media, we aren’t looking for their stamp of approval.  Let’s write our own reviews and set the record straight.

You were part of that new metal approach that took place during the early 80’s with the tape trading circuit, the whole underground thing, what did cause that new metal movement at that time?
For me it was a combination of what I said earlier, the knowledge that all these amazing bands were forming and no one in the mainstream media gave two shits along with the fact that mainstream ’metal’ became boring.  Ratt, Quiet Riot, Def Leppard all seemed limp and weak compared to what Metallica, Slayer, Voivod, Exodus and many others were playing by 1983-84.  The new energy was undeniable – it was going to steamroll over the wimp rock being played on radio and we wanted to be driving that steamroller. 

Would you say that tape trading helped lots of bands gain exposure at that time to the point that a lot of bands wouldn’t have maybe gone very far without that underground scene?
Absolutely, 100%.  Tape trading was exciting as you’d discover bands from all over the world and realize that this movement that was forming was WAY bigger than you’d initially realized.  We excitedly traded our local bands to those in other countries in hopes that their names and reputations would spread far and wide.  It feels satisfying to know that Metallic Assault conducted the first inverviews that Slaughter, Sacrifice, Razor ever did and many decades later, the mark that those bands made is still apparent in the fan bases each band still enjoys today.

What did that period mean for you?
The DIY spirit of that period has remained with me always.  It has instilled a skepticism about that which the mainstream upholds as holy and compells me to consider the value of that which the mainstream casts aside as garbage.

When did Metallic Assault start exactly? Did you come up the name with?
Our first issue was released in fall 1984. Don’t really recall how the name came about but we were fans of ’extreme’ metal of the period which most people considered an aural assault so it likely stemmed from that.  We wanted to assault people with this new form of metal.  Haha.

How about the staff? How did you get to know each other at all?
I met my zine partner Glenn in grade 7 music class.  It’s a funny story that’ll appear in the upcoming Toronto Metal Book but the summary is that he and some friends were lip syncing to AC/DC as part of a music class talent show when one of them lit his bass on fire and started smashing it in the classroom.  Absolute mayhem broke loose and I figured, me and that guy need to talk.  Haha.  We became friends, spurring each other on to discover more extreme bands which eventually led to the release of Metallic Assault.

What was your motivation, goal with the fanzine? What did inspire you founding a fanzine?
As mentioned above, to spread the word about the many amazing bands we had been discovering.  We felt like the world, or at least the sympatitic hard rock / metal crowd in our city of Toronto, needed to hear about the new breed that was coming.
Did you have contributors/helping hands as well?
Not really, it was mostly Glenn and I who wrote the content (for better or worse).  Several photographer friends like Nelly Moorji and Rita Laberto contributed photos they shot locally.  And a school friend, Dennis Vidiac, who LOVED Rush and absolutely HATED the bands we promoted, was kind enough to draw our first cover – skeleeton figure crushing a Def Leppard logo.  Seemed fitting at the time.

Did you, I mean the fanzines, help and support each other or was it rather a competition among you? Did you also trade with each other?
Competition was the farthest thing from our minds!  We were all on the same side.  There was an ’us against the world’ feeling at that time amongst those into extreme metal. You knew exactly where your allies stood and you would back them 100%.  We would trade zines with authors in other cities, selling their fanzine to friends in Toronto and they would return the favour in their city.  It’s how word spread pre- internet.  There were so relatively few people into this new music that you had to stick together.

How did you get in touch with bands that were interviewing/featuring in each issues? How did you choose ’em? Did it depend on your personal musical taste or…?
Bands were selected strictly on personal taste.  If we liked your demo or record or live appearance, we wanted to help spread the word of how great your band is.  Since we were kids and had no money, we would typically write to bands (rather than incur long distance phone bills) and then wait for their interview replies to return along with photos to print in our zine.

Was it easy to get in touch with the outfits back in the day?
Yes bands were receptive and quite friendly at that time.  We were all basically kids.  Bands like Slayer, Megadeth, Metallica, Exodus, none of them had expeienced any real success by that point so none of them had egos to contend with.  We share some of our funnier run-ins with these bands in the upcoming Toronto metal book if your readers are up for a laugh.

Being based in Toronto, can you tell us more about the underground scene of the city?
The main club for the birth of the thrash scene was Larry’s Hideaway (Sacrifice, Slaughter, Anvil, Razor) and for the glam / hard rock scene it was The Gasworks.  There was some crossover between the two scenes but for the most part people stayed within their respective camps.

How did you view it compared to other Canadian scenes?
Montreal / Quebec had the only other comparable scene at the time, producing bands like Voivod, Aggression, Soothsayer, Voor, Capitalist Alienation, etc.. and hosting monumental events like No Speed Limit and World War Three festivals.  Many of us from Toronto made the trek to Montreal for these festivals – mind blowing!

Did you always use own material or did you perhaps borrow articles from other fanzines, too?
We always created our own material.

I would ask you to give us every details about the issues of Metallic Assault! I mean, how were they done, what about the content of each issues, how in depth were the interviews, how were the reviews, how many issues were released, how much time did pass between each issues etc.. I’m interested in everything what comes to your mind!
Issue #1 was released in fall 1984.  We used a standard typewritter, our writing was very primitive as we were teenagers.  I have never considered myself a writer or even a huge fan of reading books / novels to be honest but the content I’ve written about over the years has fuelled my drive to complete these projects.  Again, it’s that urge to tell people about amazing bands / artists.  We wrote to the bands and waited patiently for their responses to come in the mail.  Our questions were very straight forward in the beginning – who are your influences, what’s your favourite venue or city to play in – not very exciting stuff.  But we began to ask more informed questions by the time issue #2 rolled around.  Layout was primitive cut / paste with scissors and a glue stick.  Oh, and letraset, who can forget that!  Before computers and typesetting were a thing, we would buy Letraset rub off letters to create ’professional’ looking type.  Issue #2 was released in spring 1985 and was more professionally printed (saddle stitched on the spine rather than staples on the top left corner).  We received compliments from the bands and readers and are happy to have been thanked on numerous benchmark records of the period by Bathory, Voivod, Destruction, Razor and several more that slip my mind at the moment.

Did the fanzine satisfy the demands of the underground fans?
Yes!  Both issues of Metallic Assault sold out quickly.  People like yourself track us down for interviews like this still to this day.  Who could have predicted such interest in a photocopied zine that was produced by kids almost 40 years ago.  It really is kind and humbling to see that kind of interest. 

How were they sold and distributed/promoted? Were all of the issues sold out?
Most copies were sold via our local record shop the Record Peddler.  The store was infamous in Canada as they imported / exported all of the earliest metal releases from around the globe.  They also ran Diabolic Force Records (Sacrifice, Slaughter, Sudden Impact) and Fringe Records / Distribution from the Record Peddler location.   
Did you receive letters from other continents, too?
Yes we sent and received letters from all over the planet.

Were you also in touch with record labels? Did you get, how often did you get promo packages respectively?
Yes, Metal Blade, Megaforce and other independent labels and bands would send their records and demo tapes for review.  Generally, we would review the ones we liked and tend not to run bad reviews about those we didn’t care for.  Unless it came from a mainstream label – then we were merciless!  We considered their material fair game to rip apart.

On which format did you get the releases?
Mostly cassettes, some vinyl.

With which label(s) did you get on well?
See above.

Did it happen that the materials, that you’ve got from bands or labels, weren’t featured in the issues because of lack of space or did you always have enough material for every issue?
We packed in as much material as we could and prioritized the bands / releases that most appealed to us at the time.

What about the production cost of each issues? Were your costs cleared, that you were investing in them?
I think we broke even on both issues.  Although we were pretty poor kids, we saved up to release the zine and we weren’t at all concerned about making money.  Our hope was that we wouldn’t lose too much money and that we would have fun putting the magazines together.  So in that sense we were very successful.  

During the 80’s a lot of compilations were released by several labels, such as the famous Metal Massacre, Speed Metal Hell, Thrash Metal Atack, Beyond Metal Zone, Stars On Thrash, Raging Death to name a few. Did it help a lot for the bands to make a name for themselves? Were these samplers good things to introduce newer bands for the fans?
I tended to buy those comps to check out new bands but the likelyhood of discovering the ’next Slayer’ was always elusive.  In fact I remember buying SA Slayer’s ’Prepare To Die’ EP in 1983-4 and thinking this doesn’t sound like ’Show No Mercy’... what happened??  Haha.
What do you recall of the fanzine world of the 80’s as a whole? Blackthorn, Shock Power, Deathfuck, Violent Noize, Kick Ass Monthly, Metal Mania, Headbanger, Aardschok, Metal Madness, Grinder, Metallic Beast to name a few…
Some of those zines made their way to Canada, others didn’t.  We always seemed to get Kick Ass Monthly on our shelves here in Toronto – we loved that zine!

Was it a kind of impenetrable scene? I mean, there were a very big amount of fanzines, as every day or week popped up a new one…
There were very few fanzines produced in Toronto during the 80’s.  Metallic Assault was the first to cover these type of bands, then came Brutal Torture (only one issue), Deathcore (two issues), Keelhauled / Doomhauled, One Solution, Wipeout, Enema Shitzine, Drastic Solutions.  In 1989 M.E.A.T. magazine appeared – the acronym stood for Metal Events Around Toronto.  They mainly catered to the glam scene but would also run features on Sacrifice, Razor, Anvil, etc..  The fellow who ran the mag, Drew Masters, was a fan of a WIDE range of metal.  Still is.  

Because of the big amount of fanzines, was it hard to pick up them for the fans/collectors?
Only a limited number of fanzines were available on record store shelves here in Toronto in the mid-late 80’s.  We would often have to mail order directly to other zines to buy copies.  There was only a small number of die hard people who were willing to go through that hassle.

What is/was the importance of the fanzines in your opinion?
They were / are crucial in circulating info about bands that the mainstream ignored.

During the existence of Metallic Assault did the staff remain constant or were there guys that got out of the fanzine and others joined instead of them?
Glenn and I were the only two people who worked on Metallic Assault.  We had a third issue partially completed but decided to part ways for some reason – it wasn’t that we were fighting as we remained friends for decades and even started a band together one year after Metallic Assault disolved.  I guess our writing partnership had just run it’s course.  Glenn went on to produce two issues of his next zine, Deathcore, and continued to produce dozens more zines in the following decades.  In fact his 2017 zine entitled ’I Was A Teenage Metalhead’ is a hugely entertaining visit back to the era through his eyes and experiences.  Highly recommended if you can find a copy!

What about the prime cost of the certain issues?
Not sure I understand the question...

Were all of you satisfied with every Metallic Assault issues?
Hmm, I can’t say I’m proud of some of the language or derogatory terms we used in the zine that were in vogue at the time (ie. Using the word ’fag’ or ’gay’ to describe a lightweight band or record that didn’t appeal to our thrash / death metal sensibilities).  On the other hand I am proud that we got off our asses to seek out the bands we covered, and put together a magazine that we really had no clue how to execute until we were hands on in the trenches.

Why and when did you stop doing Metallic Assault?
See above – there was no big bang moment that ended the zine, we just drifted in different dirrections.

Did you go on writing for other fanzines/magazines later on? If so, in which magazines/fanzines did you take part?
Glenn did many other zines over the years (here’s a link to a couple more -  I went on two write two full length books documenting Toronto’s Heavy Metal and Punk scenes during the 1980’s via our imprint UXB Press.

In your opinion, did the scene become oversaturated at the late 80’s/early 90’s?
Yes, and in fact I veered more towards the hardcore punk side of things as the decade progressed, eventually forming a hardcore band (MSI) by late 1986.  We released two 7” records during that era and a retrospective of all our studio material was released by Schizophrenic Records in 2018.

Are you still proud of Metallic Assault these days?
Mostly, yes.  See above.
Who are/were your best friends from the scene? Are you still in touch with them?
I remain friends with many of the people from Toronto’s early metal scene to this day.  Have reconnected with even more while researching the upcoming Toronto Metal Book.  Great times, great people. 

Do you often read webzines? What do you think about them?
To be honest, I browse but rarely have time to deep dive like I wish I could.  I think webzines are a natural extention of what we did back then and are another crucial way to help spread the word!

Do you still keep an eye on what’s going on in the underground? How do you view the scene these days?
Although I still attend shows (pre-covid) and buy records, I must admit that my tastes tend to veer towards bands from the 80’s vs newer bands of the day.

Do you often go to concerts, festivals these days?
Pre-covid I would attend concerts every few months – looking forward to doing that again soon!

In your opinion, did the mp3 files/downloads cause a lot of troubles, problems, harm for the metal scene?
I’m not the best judge of that question as my deepest involvement in Toronto metal happened before the advent of MP3’s.

Derek, thanks a lot for your answers, what are your closing words?
Thanks for giving a shit about our zine and Toronto metal in the 80’s!  Anyone who likes Toronto bands from that era should check out our new book – tons of photos and artifacts that will blow your mind!

Interview by Leslie David
Answers by Derek Emerson

July 2021