Voivod answers to no trend, and over the past thirty years, they have always looked different on the metal landscape. For a multitude of reasons, the band continues to be most worthy of exploration. Gonzo thrash gone prog; vicious nerd space rock; mutable metal sci-fi adventures…
Articulating twists in the stark, grimy origins of War and Pain and Rrröööaaarrr are practically primitive scrawl compared with the clearer narratives alongside increasing sonic complexities of Killing Technology and Dimension Hatröss. Then Voivod matched — if not expanded on — the latter’s ambitious lyrical depth and melodic metallic dystopian nightmare visions via Nothingface.
From weird pop metal to extended electric epics, trimming to a trio and returning to punky roots, losing their beloved axeman and honoring his memory well — twice, and now carrying Piggy’s spirit onward and upward, tuned into the Chewy channel, boldly controlling transmission to reach the stage where hyper-drive’s engaged in a galaxy far, far away across the steely sky.
Voivod will not apologize for its evolution — indeed, evolution is its essence.
Chosen by Last Rites scribes for our ongoing Devil’s Dozen series, where the number 13 looks just like this:
VOIVOD[War And Pain, 1984]
Not only the band’s eponymous statement, but also the first track on the first album, “Voivod” is an introduction in more ways than one. After a half-minute of spacey industrialized sound, Snake screams “VOIVOD!” and the band careens into ragged violence, blending Piggy’s signature skronk with raw thrash, bits of Motorhead-ish rock, science fiction imagery, and all filtered through a harsh, almost post-apocalyptic production. Snake growls and screams – his nasal croon wouldn’t appear until later – and this is Voivod the sci-fi thrashers in full effect, with only slight hints of the progressive to come. “Voivod” sums up early Voivod exactly as well as a self-titled track should. [Andrew Edmunds]
PSYCHIC VACUUM[Dimension Hatross, 1988]
Blues historian Albert Murray has a theory regarding musical revolutions that I tend to agree with–they don’t exist. At least, they aren’t consciously fomented in the way we like to think; blues went from Count Bassie to Ornette Coleman by way of novel idiomatic atunement and technical elevation. Which is to say, the blues doesn’t change, only the language we use to express it does. The same story applies to Voivod, who always struck me as a band who was trying to make regular thrash records, but were just too bizarre to pull it off. The riffs in “Psychic Vacuum” swing in a way that suggest the band’s deep rooted traditionalism, but Voivod‘s delivery represented a new way to summon the old ghosts. [Ramar Pittance]
NUCLEAR WAR[War And Pain, 1984]
No, please, go ahead. Tell me all about how you’re a “sophisticated metalhead.” About how you like your music progressive and conceptual and well-behaved. No, seriously, please carry on, and don’t mind me creeping up on you here with “Nuclear War,” which is Voivod at the band’s most primal, ‘kill you with a hammer and roast you on a spit constructed of several femurs soldered together’ best. It’s probably for the best you don’t let your freshly-pressed trousers get mussed by Blacky’s relentlessly stabbing triplet bass that’s always tumbling forward, just a nanosecond away from jumping the beat. Or by the solo. Or that other solo. “When the bombs will hit my face / It will drive me insane.” Unsuitable for polite company. [Danhammer Obstkrieg]
TORNADO[Killing Technology, 1987]
The significance of “Tornado” is best heard in its echoes. The propulsive dissonance of its opening bars is still being employed by modern acolytes like Blut Aus Nord and Deathspell Omega. At 4:23, the band unleashes one of their more vicious thrash breaks, a concise but complex slice of rage that would sound more at home in the catalogue of the countless tech-death bands Voivod would inspire. But it’s the hook that sticks with you, and demonstrates that no matter how weird these Canadians got, the whole works was inspired by their quirky tunefulness. [Ramar Pittance]
MACROSOLUTIONS TO MEGAPROBLEMS[Dimension Hatross, 1988]
While I’ll never be sure exactly how “Macrosolutions to Megaproblems” fits into the overall story of Dimension Hatröss, the lyrics could easily be taken as the band’s modus operandi. “No more… control! Leave minds… alone!” Like the music, which shows Piggy at his most otherworldly and the band’s almost smartass mechanical feel at its pre-pop-indulgence height, these lyrics are a rejection to being pigeonholed, and a celebration of exploring ones greatest extents. During the chorus, Snake – in one of his finest moments as a vocalist – continues the theme: “You better shake up your mind… cuz if you’re just staying blind… integrity you won’t find.” Consider all minds sufficiently shaken. [Zach Duvall]
JACK LUMINOUS[The Outer Limits, 1993]
SEVENTEEN MINUTES?! This goes beyond merely having “parts” — this is a saga unto itself. A slow-burning intro, a cleverly chosen sound sample from The Outer Limits original TV series, and hey… is that… did they actually predate the common use of emoticons when they created a character named “President X-D”? Voivod really is from the future, and fearlessly transcend the curve.
Funny, and conveniently enough, considering the old YouTube upload length limit, there is a celestial shift some ten minutes in. Not unlike the other song I covered in this Dozen, a portion of “Jack Luminous” is dedicated to listing off heavenly bodies, and damn, Denis D’Amour fervently replies with a most memorable and soaring riff. It frequently returns opposite Away’s driving drums versus Pierre St. Jean’s furious-yet-fleeting session bass, and serves as a testament to Piggy’s enduring, endearing talent. [Matt Longo]
BRAIN SCAN[Dimension Hatross, 1988]
For those who perhaps aren’t aware, Dimension Hatröss represents a concept album detailing the adventures of a scientist who creates an entirely new dimension of individuals who end up thoroughly fucking him over before he’s finally able to exact his revenge during the album’s closing minutes. By the time we reach tune #6, “Brain Scan,” our protagonist finally meets hisBrave New World’s highest form of living: A being comprised mostly of brain matter who, based on the warped yammering that crops up around 1:30, also apparently serves as Allfather for every adult you’ve ever heard speak in Charles Schulz’s Peanuts. This tune also flashes the album’s most erratic right-angles and jarring riffs, so get ready to leave your neck looking like it fell out of M.C. Escher’s ass. No sun for the grey children! [Michael Wuensch]
THE UNKNOWN KNOWS[Nothingface, 1989]
As the opening track on the band’s most commercially successful record, 1989’s Nothingface, “The Unknown Knows” marks the beginning of Voivod’s full immersion in progressive metal, distancing itself further from the thrash leanings of Killing Technology and Dimension Hatross and entirely from the sonic rawness of Rrroooaaarrr and War & Pain. It’s a long way from where the band started, but it’s in that transition that Voivod truly crafted its legacy – Nothingface is the last of the three undeniable Voivod classics, clearly moving to the cold, almost robotically inhuman sounds of later records whilst still retaining the faintest bits of the earlier, angrier days. [Andrew Edmunds]
CHAOSMONGERS[Dimension Hatross, 1988]
Calling Voivod (especially circa Killing Technology and Dimension Hatross) twitchy and nervy is basically an exercise in supreme redundancy. Nevertheless, on the whirlwind ride that is “Chaosmongers,” Snake’s vocals hop odd intervals in unison with Piggy’s guitar, and Blacky’s bass dances an unexpedcted hopscotch underneath a wicked Piggy solo, which (of course!) dissolves into a staccato klaxon as the song returns to some form of a verse. But as with all of Dimension Hatross, “Chaosmongers” is remarkable not for how weird it is, but for how thoroughly it mainstreams its weirdness. This is your new normal. [Danhammer Obstkrieg]
RAVENOUS MEDICINE[Killing Technology, 1987]
For Killing Technology, Voivod was shedding the rabid thrash that characterized its earlier records, moving steadily towards the more progressive approach that characterizes most of the group’s career, but in this transition phase, there’s still no shortage of crossover-tinted ragers. “Ravenous Medicine” is one of Technology’s finest moments, with its beautifully ugly chorus riff perfectly complimenting the charging verses led by Blacky’s gnarly bass tone. Many of the hallmarks of later Voivod compositions were born in these tunes, but these are still fueled by the primal energy of War & Pain. “Electric shock to you,” Snake barks atop it all, and the sound is just that. [Andrew Edmunds]
ASTRONOMY DOMINE[Nothingface, 1989]
I’ve often said that Voivod’s take on Pink Floyd’s “Astronomy Domine” is my all-time favorite cover (although Priest by way of Death is a close second). Voivod edges in front because the band not only adapted the tune to its own style, but also seamlessly integrated it into their finest album, themes and all. Further, these have to be the sweetest and smoothest vocals from Snake, before or since. There are few bands who can confidently soar into the stratosphere with trajectories so angular. [Matt Longo]
TRIBAL CONVICTIONS[Dimension Hatross, 1988]
“We are getting weirder in our musical hate.” – Drummer Away from a 1988 Metal Hammer interview.
That quote alone is a perfect summation of the overall Dimension Hatröss vibe; this record represents the perfect peculiar storm between the tornado’ing assault of the band’s first three releases and the more off-kilter cosmic rock that dominated the three that followed it. And as strong as the first tune smacks right from the gate, “Tribal Convictions” is the one that constantly whispered in my ear in the halls of my high school to forsake the more melodic, twin-lead-assault side of metal in favor of Voivod‘s nervy, punky, discordant noise. “Who’s god? Who’s dog?” Who cares when you’ve got a song that so perfectly transitions from weird space-metalling into infectious ripping thrash? “Tribal Convictions” also boasts the most delay-effected riff break-out in all of metal! [Michael Wuensch]
KILLING TECHNOLOGY[Killing Technology, 1987]
After two albums of violent, relentless thrash built some serious momentum, Voivod announced its true arrival with seven-and-a-half minutes of perfection. The title track of the band’s third album is a technical, snarling, pummeling masterpiece. From the bright, punchy verses and unforgettabe chorus to the complex, progressive structure, it was clear that Voivod had taken a great step forward in its evolution. Perhaps the most obvious sign that the group had fully discovered its true personality and mission? Those key robotic vocals. The message had been delivered. Ready or not, we are connected. Plug in or face extinction. [Zach Duvall]