White Rock metalcore quintet A Mourning Star helps foster a thriving metal scene in the suburbs
Built in 1923, and situated along one of the more scenic stretches of South Surrey—off a winding forested road, and a veritable stone’s throw from Crescent Beach—Elgin Hall is a quaint, wooden heritage building where you can, per the suggestion on the City of Surrey’s website, “host your banquet, wedding reception or birthday.”
For Elijah Robinson, concert promoter and vocalist for White Rock-based metalcore group A Mourning Star, the hall also seemed like it would be the perfect spot for an onslaught of punk kids to go sicko mode in the pit. Fittingly, that scene played out as planned when his band headlined an all-ages show at the off-the-beaten-path venue last November. All told, it was a smashing success.
“The turnout was really good, and the venue was awesome, as far as sound goes,” Robinson explains over a Zoom call between the Straight, himself, and A Mourning Star guitarist Kurt Cuffy. “It’s [also] just in a really serene little area down by the [Nicomekl] river—it’s a funny place to have a hardcore show, but it’s a good spot.”
Since 2021, Robinson and a couple of friends have been promoting shows around the Lower Mainland under their Here and Now Promotions banner. While they host hardcore events at downtown Vancouver venues including Fortune Sound Club, more and more they seem to be operating as a broader Metro District thing. They’ll book concerts for local and international talent at New West spots like Bully’s or The Front, while in South Surrey, they’ve co-promoted gigs at Elgin Hall and Ocean Park Hall with White Rock Hardcore (run by Ghaul vocalist Rob Doucette).
To be fair, Vancouver hardcore has maintained an off-and-on relationship with the rest of the Lower Mainland for decades. Local punk fans of a certain vintage may recall the turn-of-the-century matinees taking place at the Java Joint, an all-ages coffee shop that sat in the heart of Whalley; or the late ‘90s run of Punk Strikes Back festivals that Gob booked at the Langley Civic Centre; or the rural shed shows at J.K.’s Farm in Cloverdale. Strain—the local, Chretien-era mosh juggernauts whose lone full-length, 1996’s Here and Now, is the namesake inspiration for Robinson’s production company—even headlined Elgin Hall back in December ’96.
But as Vancouver rents continue to skyrocket, Robinson theorizes that booking shows outside of the city these days is an increasingly practical measure, since a good chunk of the hardcore community may already be part of the bridge-and-tunnel crowd.
“I think there are a lot more people that live out of the city at this point,” he suggests. “They’re coming to shows from Surrey, New West, Coquitlam, and even the [Fraser] Valley. So, to have a show in White Rock…that’s not super unreasonable for them to drive 20 minutes less than it would to come into [Vancouver].”
As for the members of A Mourning Star, they’re currently flourishing in White Rock. Robinson and guitarist Christian Frizelle had previously performed together in Backbite, a detuned, mosh-forward wrecking crew that broke up at the beginning of 2020. Right at the dawn of the pandemic, though, Robinson moved into a South Surrey home with his drummer friend, Byron Mayer. As COVID measures intensified, the housemates began bonding over their love of early ‘00s metalcore groups like Undying and Poison the Well, as well as the barbed-wire melancholia of Swedish death metal band At the Gates. The pair set off on starting a band that melded the approaches, quickly recruiting Frizelle to add his brutalist lead style to the group. They’d later add bassist Tyler Pearson and rhythm guitarist Cuffy.
Cuffy is a Toronto transplant, having moved to the West Coast a few years back. Prior to linking up with A Mourning Star, he’d played in Big Smoke-area bands, and toured North America while taking concert photos for U.S. hardcore heavies Every Time I Die. When the photographer/musician first arrived in Vancouver, he thought the scene seemed a bit sleepy, but those notions were shaken up after he caught a rowdy bill of bands at long-gone venue 333, a converted auto garage-cum-show-space off the Downtown Eastside. “Someone threw a trash can in the pit,” Cuffy recalls with a laugh. “This was the vibe—Vancouver, you’ve got it going on.”
A Mourning Star themselves are coming off a particularly frenzied 2022. Last spring, the band’s debut EP, To See Your Beauty Fade, found tracks like “Discretely Shadowed Beneath a Mighty Wing” loaded with metal-edged riffery, Robinson’s feral howling, and beats that land like a donkey kick to the sternum. The group followed this up with a bruiser called “Avatar of Darkness” on a split cassette with Calgary’s Serration and closed out 2022 with the armor-piercing precision of their high-speed “A World Beyond” single.
The night before the members of A Mourning Star spoke with the Straight, they were running through pre-production for an upcoming vinyl 12-inch through U.S. imprint DAZE, which will compile all their 2022 releases with a clutch of new tunes. Though scant on the details, Cuffy promises these latest songs will push the band into new extremes
“I typically listen to modern [metal]—a lot of djent that the other guys don’t typically love or listen to actively,” Cuffy says, perhaps hinting at a denser rhythmic punch he delivers on guitar, compared to shredder Frizelle. Cuffy also suggests he and Robinson may broach a more expressively melodic vocal approach, in addition to their harrowed screams. “I’m trying to put us in a spot where we really stick out, in terms of dynamics. I feel like a lot of the older-style bands would do one thing really well; I’m trying to do a bunch of things great.”
As for Here and Now, it’s bringing hardcore back to Elgin Hall on March 3, with San Jose beatdown unit Sunami headlining a bill along with locals Poisoned Seeds and Delinquent. From there, the bookers hope to push their hardcore reality even further out into B.C.
“I’m interested in getting a show going somewhere else—maybe Port Moody, or some far-out place,” Robinson says. In other words, a world beyond Vancouver hardcore’s norm.
A Mourning Star’s A World Beyond is available now.