Voïvod

Four young men in Quebec, addled by art, high on hash, fueled by Venom and Motorhead. Post-heavy metal, pre-MTV. The 80s were upon them and the threat of nuclear war seemed almost inevitable. Why not live out the endtimes sipping absinthe, writing music, and donning leather and spikes? Michel Langevin conceived a universe, a character, an anti-hero; The Voivod. Dressed in fanciful garb woven by Bram Stoker and Stanley Kubrick, the Voivod was a vampire lord in a post-nuclear age. Immortal and unstoppable. The ultimate goal of any artist. Michel chose to take on the powers of his creation by breathing life into the Voivod’s universe. By creating a musical vehicle for the Voivod’s saga. By starting a garage band. Denis D’amour provided the music. The young man nicknamed “Piggy” composed a debut album of brutal power, metallic ferocity, mad jazz-shifts, and brash noise. He also began to develop an almost lunatic style with his chords, solos, and tones that combined the technicality of Robert Fripp with the lumbering heaviness of Tony Iommi. Piggy worked hard to develop >“Away”, “Blacky”, and “Snake” into a formidable unit. And he succeeded. Local shows and early tape trading led to interest from labels as far away as Los Angeles. Brian Slagel used his independent label Metal Blade to discover and develop important underground artists like Metallica, Slayer, Celtic Frost, …and Voivod. Compilation tracks led to contracts and a modest budget allowing for time in a Montreal 8-track studio. The first Voivod album War and Pain was recorded and released unto the world in the prophetic year of 1984.

More albums followed and tours too. Voivod began to find a worldwide fanbase of rabid metalheads who couldn’t get enough of the violent sound on War and Pain and it’s follow-up Roooaaarrr. Away painted graphic images of future warriors and weaponry to adorn the covers of these records that matched his lyrical concepts. Snake hideously sputtered these words, shrieking over the “blower bass” foundation laid by Blacky. A successful U.S. tour in 1986 with Celtic Frost led to greater interest, and greater vistas. Combat/Noise records signed Voivod and sent them to Berlin to record with Kreator producer Harris Johns. As the band aged and grew, so did its abilities and ideas continue to develop exponentially. The third outing Killing Technology was a paradigm shift beyond its predecessors that nearly no one expected. Now the Voivod character was a cyborg in outer space that had survived multiple nuclear wars and was prepared to take on the tyrrany of a totalitarian world. More sophisticated lyrics demanded more intricate music, which the band was now competent to provide thanks to their many travels. But listeners were not spared an ounce of brutality. Sharper focus. More deadly riffs. An evil sound commenced that to this day is as alien and effective as it was in 1987.

By 1991, there was pressure for Voivod to be better yet. MCA’s definition of better was to cut out the most demanding elements, tone down the metal, and work with a name producer. During the Angel Rat sessions, tensions flared. The opportunity existed for Voivod to create a masterwork which might move their music into a new field entirely. From progressive metal to progressive rock. The Voivod character had been abandoned, and so had many of the most recognizable elements from previous albums. With the right combination of events and people, this might have been an album to rival Nothingface which was so unique and perfect and uncompromising. But, not unlike Brian Wilson’s failed attempt to create a masterpiece of Smile, that combination of events did not transpire.

Blacky quit the group, ending a stunningly artistic first period in the group’s history. The following album “The Outer Limits” and its tours would require session bass players to fill the gap he left. The Outer Limits succeeds in all of the areas in which Angel Rat failed, except for one: nothing ever broke the band to a mainstream audience. Chalk it up to internal and external pressures, the dual ghettos of the prog-rock and metal crossroads where the Voivod dwelt, and the untimely explosion of Grunge and Alternative. It was all these elements and more that created a band more resigned to its fate. That realization, along with a healthy severance budget from MCA, made it possible for the band to create a lasting work of art, possibly its last for a corporate sponsor. From the jagged crush of “Lost Machine” to the 17-minute opus “Jack Luminous”, The Outer Limits is a rich jazz/metal journey into psychedelic spatial realms, that manages to retain melody and pop sensibilities without compromise.

Silence yawned over the Voivod camp for some time. Their “Iron Gang” fan club had long since disbanded. Founding member and vocalist Snake had departed after the TOL tours, despite evidence of a growing audience of Angel Rat fans who were beginning to discover the rest of the band’s catalog. Away and Piggy were left holding the reins of their creation. But truly, Away was responsible for the concept, the artwork, the drive. And Piggy wrote much of the music. By the mid-90s, an underground metal scene was brewing once more. A scene for which Voivod was as influential and responsible as their metal heroes had been to them.

Enter Eric Forrest and Slipdisc records. The best solution for filling two vacancies? Hire one man. Forrest’s abilities on the 4-string as well as the strength of his voice provided the perfect match for a leaner, hungrier Voivod. With digital recording costs dropping throughout the industry, independent money for a record became a viable solution, particularly for a trio with more direct ambitions. Negatron was not an album so much as an experiment. Michel “Away” Langevin, Dennis “Piggy” Damour, and Eric Forrest went in the studio without a concept, and jammed. The results were cruder and more aggressive than any previous recording, yet retained a sonic excellence and truly modern sensibility that placed them less in the prog-metal camp, aligning the group closer to groups like Neurosis and Brutal Truth.

As the band worked on their 14th album, disaster struck VOIVOD again. In the summer of 2005, guitarist Denis “Piggy” D’Amour was diagnosed with colon cancer, and as he entered the hospital for a routine operation, several complications led his doctors to find out that his cancer was inoperable, as it was too advanced and had already spread to his liver. Denis slipped into a coma on Thursday August 25th and died less than 24 hours later in the palliative care unit of a Montreal hospital, surrounded by family and friends. He was 45 years old. The band chose to use the guitar demos Piggy had recorded for the new album, and finished and released the recordings as an album titled Katorz, as a tribute to the guitar genius. On 2009, the band used other unreleased guitar demos Piggy had recorded and built a new album around them, with the help of Nothingface’s producer Glen Robinson. The album was titled Infini. After Piggy’s passing, and despite the almost certainty that Voivod’s story as a band had come to an end, some reunion jams in 2008 with original bassist Jean-Ives Theriault and Martyr guitarist Dan Mongrain, led to the band to start touring again as Voivod. As some touring opportunities were offered to the band, they did some major touring in 2008, 2009 and 2010, playing in the USA, Europe and Japan, and releasing the Live DVD Voivod Tatsumaki Voivod Japan 2008.

With Blacky and Dan “Chewy” Mongrain on board, the band continued to tour around the world in 2011 and 2012, and in 2013, the band finally released the long-awaited new album, Target Earth, the first Voivod album without its guitarist and founder Piggy. Target Earth surpassed all expectations, and drew positive reviews all around the world, and was included in some Best-of-2013 Metal lists. Due to some problems’s with Snake’s health, the band was not able to tour extensively in 2013-2014, but they still managed to play some metal festivals and shows all around the world, including Japan, Chile, and Brasil.

On July 11th 2013, Voivod announced the departure of bassist and founding member, Jean Ives “Blacky” Theriault for “personal reasons”. The band recruited Dominique “Rocky” Laroche as their new bass player and he made his debut with Voivod on 2014.06.12 at the Jonquiere en Musique Festival, in their hometown Jonquiere QC, Canada. Following 2014, where the band played only 11 live shows, Voivod has been increasing their touring frequency with 74 live dates in 2015 and whooping 101 live concerts in 2016. In 2015 Voivod released split 7-inch with Napalm Death, followed by the sucessful “Post Society – EP” Mini-CD released on February 26th, 2016 via Century Media Records. The band then released another split 7-inch with Entombed A.D. followed by a European tour with the same band at the end of 2016.

© 2003 by Nathan Carson,© 2017 by Yuri Jossa

Mots-clés: Featured Band, Groupe Québecois, Groupe Affilié, Groupe International

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