Looking for a heavy-metal shirt in Toronto? It’s not as easy as it used to be, but these shops still keep the flame burning.
At some point in time, many of us Torontonians will be faced with the need to purchase a Rotting Christ t-shirt. Or, perhaps a more formal occasion—a wedding, say, or your grandmother’s 90th birthday—would necessitate the procurement of that Cradle of Filth hoodie emblazoned with an image of a masturbating nun and the words “Jesus Is a Cunt.”
Unfortunately, finding specialty shops downtown that cater to metal fans isn’t so easy. Years ago, the metalhead’s pilgrimage down through the head shops and fake I.D. emporiums of Yonge Street and across Queen West would have yielded a bounty of over-sized black cotton tees. But, these days, the ranks of like-minded, metal-savvy retailers have thinned.
Subterranean metal destination Rock Zone (formerly at 335 Yonge) easily had one of the best selections of black and death-metal shirts (and one of the skeeziest tattoo parlours) in the city. Its building, however, collapsed in a 2011 fire, leaving a rather significant void—literally and figuratively—in the market. Likewise, the decently stocked Criminal Records on Queen West kicked the bucket back that same year. Hits & Misses also had a few gems before it too closed down this past summer.
What seemed so ubiquitous only a few years ago in Toronto is now vanishing faster than artistic integrity in a Metallica documentary. Blame internet commerce if you will, or the fact that many of us choose to purchase shirts straight from a touring band’s merch table. But there’s still something to be said for heading downtown in search of a Danzig shirt when the urge strikes you. We present a survey of the few remaining spots in Toronto where proper metal fans can outfit themselves.
Shop: Sonic Boom
Address: 782 Bathurst St., #ANX
The deal: Chances are, if you enjoy buying or listening to music, then you’ve set foot inside one of the Boom’s two locations. The largest, on Bathurst, is home to an impressive selection of metal shirts, CDs, and vinyl. “There are metal fans who work at the store, so we stock things that we would like to wear,” says Boom buyer Brad Davis. “Metal is a genre that respects and cultivates its own history, so classic designs sell consistently. You don’t get much better than a black shirt with the Bathory logo printed in white on it. I always feel that, the fewer colours printed on a metal shirt, the better. The devil has great graphic designers.”
Is it worthy?: A look through the shirt section reveals tops from Watain right through to Mayhem and Dio, as well as plenty of other classics, while Davis explains that some of Sonic Boom’s best sellers include Burzum, Deicide, Carcass, Emperor and Slayer. You can tell this is a case of merch stocked by the fans, for the fans.
Shop: Rock Variety
Address: 625 Yonge St., #DTN
The deal: A massive wall of bongs line one side of the shop while incense wafts through the air and Q107 blares over the speakers. This place is trying to be many things to many people but, in between the pot flags, tie-dyed tops with airbrushed wolves, Che Guevera tees, and South Park and Sons of Anarchy merch, there are some decent metal finds including a very respectable number of Iron Maiden shirts (and baseball jerseys!), as well as popular choices like Mastodon, Sabbath, Motörhead, and the like. When asked about Rock Variety’s role as a destination for metal heads, the gentleman behind the counter said he couldn’t talk about it because “his mind wasn’t here right now.”
Is it worthy?: It’s got a serious hard rock vibe to it, and you’ll have much better luck finding a Dark Side of the Moon shirt than you will a Venom top. If you’re in a pinch (or need a new bong), this place is worth a look. If not, steer clear.
Shop: Le Richie
Address: 227 Queen St. W., #QNW
The deal: A mainstay on Queen West, Le Richie has a solid reputation online for carrying a wide selection of metal shirts, patches, and hats. One step inside the claustrophobia-inducing store confirms that—the walls are literarily covered with them. It’s insanely cluttered, and you feel like you’re slowly being eaten by Cannibal Corpse shirts. Before that happens, a quick look will reveal all the regular metal tees you’d expect, plus some pleasant surprises such as Nile and Therion (and a sweet Broken Bones shirt for the punks and thrashers).
Is it worthy?: Absolutely. Whoever’s doing the ordering knows a thing or two about metal, even if the shop can only fit six or so people comfortably.
Shop: World of Posters
Address: 664 Queen St. W., #QNW
The deal: Don’t be fooled by the name—while posters do take up a lot of real estate up front, the store’s back is all about shirts. They do cover a broad spectrum (I’m pretty sure I saw a Miley Cyrus shirt), but the store’s collection of metal tees is very much worth a horned salute. This is, of course, in addition to all the Slayer belt buckles, Pantera toques, and studded arm bands you’ll find. The shop gets a few bonus organizational points for supplying customers with a binder that alphabetically lists all available shirts, and a quick survey yields everything from Bathory and Emperor to Cryptopsy, Necrophagist, and Usurper. “We have obscure shirts they can’t find anywhere else,” says employee Matthew of the store’s popularity with metalheads. “We’ll order stuff in if they can’t find it. A lot of Americans come in here specifically for shirts and posters.”
Is it worthy?: The selection is pretty damn amazing, the alphabetized binder is genuinely helpful, and they have Slayer belt buckles. So yes, it is.