(POSTMEDIA) -- The Nickelback fans arrive after work in giddy anticipation. We're at the Tattoo Rock Parlour on Queen West in Toronto with a bucket of Molson Canadian and Smirnoff Ice coolers and an advance copy of Here and Now, the first Nickelback album since 2008's Dark Horse. The five Chad Kroeger aficionados are here after winning the Post's "biggest Nickelback fan" contest.
"Other people don't see what we see," says Cheryl Braun, 39, a mother of three who has seen the band perform live 17 times. "The heavier the Nickelback, the better."
Nickelback is perpetually on the receiving end of an unusual amount of venom. A group of four rockers from Hanna, Alta., the band is second only to The Beatles in terms of international artist record sales in the U.S. and have amassed almost 45 million album sales worldwide. They've been named Billboard magazine's "Group of the Decade" and earned 12 Junos, but when we announced our contest - in which fans were instructed to tell us what, exactly, they like about the band - we had to turn the comments off on our website. In Detroit, where Nickelback is scheduled to perform at the halftime show of the Lions game on American Thanksgiving, a petition was signed by almost 40,000 people to replace the group.
"Explain to me why you totally hate them. What have they ever done to you?" asks Rick Smith, a 43-year-old auto worker from Sudbury, Ont. "When I got the bug, I'd come home from work and crank it. My wife would be like, 'What are you doing?' I'd say, 'Listen to this.' "
While listening to Here and Now, our five contest winners swap stories of past concerts and share anecdotes about meeting the band. The record, 11 tracks recorded at Kroeger's studio outside Vancouver, mixes ballads and rockers, with the heavier tunes earning the highest praise.
"I'm not a ballad kind of girl," says Denise Byrne of Peterborough, Ont., who chooses not to disclose her age and mentions that while the band doesn't often grant mainstream interviews (they turned down multiple requests for this story), Nickelback's members are personable on Twitter, going so far as wishing fans a merry Christmas or happy birthday. "I wasn't expecting to like Here and Now off the bat, but I can't wait to go to the show and rock out to some of these songs," Byrne says.
Part of the criticism levelled at the band is the group's apparent misogyny. Singer Kroeger expresses a fondness for porn stars and strip clubs and the song Put It in Your Mouth eschews metaphor. However, the women assembled at our listening party disagree with the charge.
"If a guy thought about a girl the way they sing about a girl, she'd be a happy woman," Braun says. "Everybody thinks it and they just say it - there's nothing wrong with a guy singing about sex."
"Everybody thinks Chad's this arrogant prick, but he's not," Byrne adds. "If they were a bunch of douchebags it would be different, but they're not. They're out there working their ass off."
Nickelback toured for two years following the release of Dark Horse and the new record seems tailor-made for their vaunted stadium show. At Tattoo, the record's opening double-shot of rock songs, This Means War and Bottoms Up, a love letter to libations, receive high praise - as does the onetwo breakup punch of Trying Not to Love You and Holding on to Heaven. The contest winners believe Here and Now is a solid record, if not the band's greatest, and seeds are planted for everyone to meet up at Nickelback's rumoured show in Las Vegas this spring.
"This album has something for everybody," Byrne says.