TORONTO - Headbangers take note: the Juno Awards have added a new category to recognize the metal/hard music album of the year.

The Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, which puts on the awards, announced the new prize Wednesday, bringing the total number of categories to 41 for next year's show, to be held in Ottawa on April 1.

The academy says the new category will encompass a variety of genres, including thrash metal, death metal and heavy rock, and it's designed to honour excellence without regard to album sales or chart position.

Hamilton label Sonic Unyon, whose roster includes the heavy likes of Untimely Demise, Sacrifice and Augury, began campaigning the academy about a year and a half ago, after struggling to find an appropriate category to submit an album by Quebec metal innovators Voivod.

So Wednesday's announcement felt like a victory.

"It seems like these musicians are paying their dues, making great records and they definitely deserve at least a little bit of a tip of a hat of an award, just so people can recognize how great they are," said Sean Palmerston, who handles media relations for Sonic Unyon.

"Hopefully it'll just make (fans) say, 'Hey, we have good metal bands in our own backyard.' ... I definitely think it's going to make people pay attention."

The Grammy Awards added a category for hard rock/metal performance way back in 1989, before splitting the award into two separate categories the following year.

The Junos followed suit in 1991 -- Rush won the first-ever best hard rock/metal album award for "Presto" -- but the "metal" portion of the category was cut the following year and the award was eliminated altogether a few years later.

So, Palmerston said, some metal fans are likely to feel as though this decision was long overdue.

"People have always said to me, 'How come metal doesn't get celebrated the way that alternative does?"' he said.

"I think that Canada is ready for a metal category. I don't think it'll come as too much of a surprise."

It's the second category added in as many years after the Junos decided to begin awarding a trophy for the best electronic album. The inaugural winner of that award was Dundas, Ont., composer Caribou.

Submissions for the 2012 Juno Awards open Oct. 1.

And Palmerston, who will serve as co-chair of the metal committee for the Junos, says that judges will consider heavy bands from all angles of the metallic spectrum.

"There's a lot of diversity in metal," he said. "We're not doing this and hoping that it's going to be a band that sounds like Guns N' Roses that gets this.

"We really want submissions across the board and for people to really open their ears to the different sonic palette of what constitutes metal in 2011."