Despite the public perception that metal is music for loners, the music is all about community. Since metal was hatched in England in the late ’60s and early ’70s, it’s been a place for people to find others who share their interests and passions. It’s a place to find a connection in an often indifferent universe. Metal has continued to thrive because of both those global and local communities – because it offers something close to home for those that love the music.
Laura Wiebe, who died recently at 46 after a cancer battle, believed in community. She was an indispensable part of the global and local metal communities and tirelessly committed to building the metal scene in Canada. She was one of the first academics to study metal seriously, a dedicated blogger and music writer, a constant presence at Canadian shows, and even a musician in the early 90s. There isn’t a single part of the metal scene she didn’t touch or make better in some way. I met several close friends through the Canadian metal site Hellbound; her vision and dedication to that site are why those friendships exist.
Wiebe became a metalhead in the 80s in the middle of metal’s second generation. The music quickly became her life. She was the vocalist and keyboardist of the Canadian metal band Embrace in the mid-90s. She earned a Ph.D. from McMaster University in 2012 (her thesis was on Voivod). While metal scholarship is now a given, Wiebe was one of the first to commit to studying the music and wrote scholarly works on Norwegian black metal and apocalyptic and dystopian themes in metal.
“As a woman, she could annihilate any man who questioned her cred, but she was far too soft-spoken and kind to do that, and that friendliness reflected in her writing,” said Wiebe’s friend and longtime Decibel contributor Adrien Begrand. “One thing I remember most is how eagerly she listened. Whether it was a random metalhead or with yours truly over drinks, she listened to learn rather than listen to respond. She carried herself with a level of cool and grace that I wish I could emulate.”
It would have been understandable for Wiebe to focus on scholarship but she never lost a direct connection with the metal community. While still a professor, she edited Hellbound for years despite the enormous time commitment. Running a music website requires tenacity and attention to details like release schedules, editorial calendars, and end-of-year features. It also requires strong editing skills. Wiebe had both. During her tenure, Hellbound not only covered Canadian bands and metal but even expanded into video interviews and other formats and provided a bedrock of solid music writing and a platform for emerging bands.
Wiebe was also a beloved teacher and an animal lover. She is survived by her partner of 12 years, Adam Wills, and her sisters. Donations in her memory can be sent to:
Thank you, Laura, for your tireless work connecting metalheads and helping others understand what makes the music special. Safe travels.