Voivodentine’s Week: The Art Of Away

In the world of Heavy Metal Album Artwork, Voivod stands alone. Now, they don’t so much stand alone because their art is better than everyone else’s – it’s so idiosyncratic that it likely isn’t to everyone’s tastes – but because it’s both extremely unique and comes from within. Voivod’s visual side is provided by the band’s one constant force: drummer Michel “Away” Langevin. For this reason, there’s a closer connection to the music heard on Voivod’s albums than even Derek Riggs’ timeless work for Iron Maiden could ever provide.

It also helps that it’s such a naturally cool combination of style and subject matter. Away’s early style was basically a refined version of the type of scrawling so many metalheads did on the backs of their notebooks in school. Much of the art on the early demos might have actually been drawn when Away was supposed to be learning trig. The subject matter was a combination of science fiction, war, aliens, monsters, and whatever else came to his mind to fit the band’s wild tunes. It’s exactly the kind of fun, twisted, imaginative stuff a kid thinks up when he’d rather be playing drums or watching sci-fi/horror movies instead of figuring out coefficients.

Like the music, Away’s art showed a very natural evolution over Voivod’s first several albums. The War and Pain art is big on both war and pain, and wouldn’t be out of place as a Sodom cover, while the Rrröööaaarrr art (my personal favorite) amped up both the futuristic feel and the destructive capabilities. Killing Technology brought big shifts in both the music and the art; that alien thing might still look like it’s up to no good – just as the music was still quite aggressive – but the sci-fi had clearly taken over. Dimension Hatröss and Nothingface completed the evolution both musically and visually, with the latter depicting a being fully plugged into some sort of far future network.

As you’ll see below, this run contained most of our favorite of Away’s works, but he continued to change it up to results ranging from the downright fun (The Outer Limits) and somewhat confusing (Angel Rat) to glaring but fitting (The Wake) and total nightmare fuel (Phobos). His style became so popular that he started doing work for other bands, most famously Dave Grohl’s Probot project (which of course included Snake on a tune), but most of his work remained dedicated to his band. Across the decades, through lineup shifts and tragedy and lean years and a massive revival, Away was always there to provide the visuals to Voivod’s otherworldly, singular music.

So go grab your sketchbook and artist pens. Your own Korgüll awaits. [ZACH DUVALL]

For maximum Awayness, be sure to click on the images for the biggest versions we could track down (or capture from our own collections)!

WAR AND PAIN

You certainly don’t need little ol’ me to remind you just how much heavy metal enjoys making a startling and gruesome first impression. It’s something that clearly endures today, but it was even more crucial three+ decades ago when an album cover was quite often the first and only introduction available for bands. One of the fundamental iron laws of the land circa 1984: Do whatever’s necessary to elicit an immediate pause when some scurvy hair farmer with a $20 in their pocket flips through the record bins. And glory hallelujah, War and Pain—the notably alarming debut from Jonquière, QC’s Voivod—was definitely the sort of record that demanded a full stop in the relatively scant “V” section of any local shop.

As has been the case for everything visually related to Voivod since day one, this bleak and dramatic artwork was inked and colored by permanent percussive fixture Michel “Away” Langevin, and it is an ideal representation of the sonic boom that rattles the bolts behind that attack on the eyeballs. Spikes dominant enough to scatter across two incredibly stabby looking assault rifles, and holy hell can a feller ever stare directly into the abyss upon locking eyes with that strangely stunned gas mask miraculously drifting between armaments. Furthermore, Korgüll’s face has a particular sort of sour rot in the overall tint that’s enhanced considerably by the worrisome strands fighting to keep his / her gob shut. Even the stringy webbing of hair dangling loose from the iron helm finds a unique way to underscore an overall sense of “This here soldier bears the curse of a witch like it’s their goddamned job, and they still show up to the party venting the unstable energy of a hydrogen bomb. You really wanna fight this battle, stud muffin?”

Sealing the deal for War and Pain’s design shrewdness, however, is the fact that Away opted to draw and incorporate the band logo and album title himself to better fit the overall concept of the piece. How many hundreds of bagillions of times have we all been subjected to great cover artwork that quickly becomes dashed on the rocks because of poorly placed band names and titles? Not this time, bucko. This time Away shows us all just how perfect war and pain can actually be. [CAPTAIN]

NOTHINGFACE

It takes some serious cojones to cover Pink Floyd. It takes some seriously BIG cojones to choose to cover “Astronomy Domine” from their generally underrated debut album. And it takes serious cojones from another planet to then make a music video of that cover and use it as the lead single for your fifth album. It would appear Voivod are entirely made of cojones since that’s exactly what they did.

Much like Pink Floyd, Voivod has always been odd, but it’s an oddness that never feels forced. Everything they do is strange but natural. The cover art for Nothingface is precisely the same way. It’s strange enough to be striking with its pinkish-purple design laid over what looks like a peaceful blue sky, but it’s more subdued compared to many of their other covers and provides a certain natural calm when looking at it. I’m sure that purple people eater has hit a bong and gotten lost in a laser light show at his local planetarium, but he also looks like an X-Men version of an alien that Fox Mulder has spent his life tracking. That combo is what Voivod sounds like too – a deft balance between the bright fun of a Saturday morning cartoon and the heady technicality of a sci-fi drama.

To listen to Nothingface is to have an experience that will leave you looking quite similar to that experimental creature. You’ll want all the listening contraptions possible hooked up to your head to pump this gloriously wild music directly into your brain. It will transport you to another world and your inner-thrash alien will achieve a state of zen peace no other band could truly illicit. [SPENCER HOTZ]

DIMENSION HATRÖSS

There are a number of curious things happening on the artwork for Voivod’s watershed 1988 album Dimension Hatröss, with some running in contrast to the art and evolution I mentioned in the intro up top. Obviously, the creature on the cover does not appear to be in attack mode, which is in strong contrast to the menace or outright blitzkrieg onslaught of the first three records. Here our subject is plugged in, fully integrated into technology instead of using it (or being used by it). However, the strips of metal at the bottom have a medical quality and suggest a haphazard construction. Was Korgüll a victim of the early wars, requiring a hasty use of mechanical parts to preserve the biological side? That certainly appears to be the case, and much like Darth Vader, the hybrid seems to have become more than the sum of its original parts, even if its new purpose remains vague.

So yes, the Dimension Hatröss is nowhere near as directly violent as the art that adorns Rrröööaaarrr, but it’s no less dark in its own way. Something unthinkable happened, and we’re left with a very unnatural being.

Away’s style on this piece perfectly communicates this setting and the unnatural state of it all. Our character – biological and mechanical parts and antennae and wires and transmissions and all – is rendered in a very sterile grayscale. The lines are hard and refined, a long way from his early school notebook scrawlings, giving it all an unsettling stillness. The burst of color in the background does nothing to alleviate the sense of otherworldliness. Nowhere on Earth can such a glaringly pink sunburst be seen; this is not our world. Even the bright red of the band logo, title, and signature adds to the harshness of the mood by providing further (garish) contrast to the subject.

Like a lot of Away’s art, the Dimension Hatröss cover has an appealing coolness that reveals underlying horror the more you gaze at it. A fittingly bleak and wildly imaginative cover for one of metal’s most unimpeachable classics. [ZACH DUVALL]

THE OUTER LIMITS – IN 3D!

I would imagine I’m not alone in my fascination with vintage science fiction, in whatever form it comes, be it books or films or comics or magazines or any other. So while Voivod’s dissonant oddball racket appeals to the heavy metal fanatic in me, Away’s idiosyncratic artwork appeals to my inner SF fan, and probably nowhere else as much as on their 1995 space-prog underdog The Outer Limits.

Even a casual science fiction fan should know that this album takes its name from a classic science fiction television show (one I should revisit, while I’m thinking of it), a “harder” SF compatriot to the classic series The Twilight Zone, and Away’s art clearly nods to the pulp mags and comics of the same era. The cover itself is a take-off on one of the popular science fiction magazines, with the “summer edition” and “number 8” declarations in the upper corners. (The Outer Limits is Voivod’s seventh studio record, but it’s their eighth overall, if you include the Best Of Voivod compilation.) Inside the booklet, each of the album’s nine songs gets its own art panel, from the hieroglyphic frame and UFO for the cover version of Pink Floyd’s “The Nile Song” to the pointy-eared alien being that inhabits that of “Jack Luminous” to the creepy bridge-and-adorable-demon for “Le Pont Noir.” All of Away’s artwork is relatively rudimentary and simple, but it’s brilliant and it’s clearly impassioned. And as if that all wasn’t cool enough, in the album’s biggest and most gimmicky throwback to science fiction history, each panel is presented in anaglyphic 3-D, with a small pair of Voivod-branded red-and-blue 3-D glasses included in the booklet. It’s admittedly a little silly, the kind of thing I had when I was a child, but that’s also exactly why I love it, and why I can distinctly remember my early listens to this album, sitting there with those stupid tiny glasses on my nose and starting at every line in these doodles while Piggy and Snake and Away (and session bassist Pierre St-Jean) cranked out some of their weirdest and yet sometimes most accessible progressive rock. It’s a nostalgic look at the futurism of the past, the kind of heartfelt whimsy that can only come from a childhood spent devouring every tale of alien encounters and flying cars and trips to Mars and all those things we were supposed to have by the year 2000, but instead we got a Y2K panic and the Backstreet Boys. Perhaps this is the dystopian future we always feared after all…

And seriously, though, how cute is this little demon fellow?  [ANDREW EDMUNDS]

AWAY REDISCOVERS HIS DOODLES

Away’s early art was a clear evolution both in terms of the subjects (war and violence to total sci-fi) and style (more refined, less doodly), but since the early 90s he’s kind of been all over the place, even if most of it is still recognizable as him. (We still don’t know what was happening on Angel Rat and the less said about some of the CGI or airbrushed choices the better.)

Something super fun has happened in recent years, however; Away has returned to his doodling roots, in a way, with a whole heap of sketchbook and scratchboard works adorning several EPs, splits, singles, and the new full length. That they were likely drawn digitally is besides the point—these look closer to the stuff he was scratching on paper during the band’s demo days than anything he drew in the interim decades, even if they also show how his creativity kept growing no matter the style.

The subjects typically range from UFOs and aliens to monsters that are also probably aliens, but are united by an overwhelming feeling of spontaneity. They’re quick and sometimes a little sloppy but always fresh and fun (and maybe making references to some popular science fiction?). Away probably didn’t spend too long on that cover for the “Kluskap O’Kom” single, but that doesn’t take away from the menacing nature of that creature (is that The Shrike?). The art for the EP release of “The End of Dormancy” also looks quickly drawn, but you can’t help but feel bad for Mr. Spaceman there (“Awwww… cannot get your ship out!”). And how perfect is that color choice? Way cool, I say.

Even Voivod’s split partners let Away handle their art for those releases, because of course they did! Voivod’s resurgence has been incredible on the musical side, but this series of sketches shows that Away is in a fun, loose, confident groove on the visual side as well. [ZACH DUVALL]

KILLING TECHNOLOGY

There’s some seriously great art in the world of Heavy Metal and the best of it reflects the music of its album. Sometimes it’s indirect, an allusion or reflection. Sometimes it’s as subtle as a syringe to the eye. Look at the Killing Technology cover art for an I-told-you-so. If you know the album, you know the art is an absolutely perfect visual rendering of the music it signifies: equal measures dark and vibrant, alien and familiar, pointy and fleshy, weird as hell and still decipherable, just like the songs.

As an art in itself, the cover is perfectly arranged, a strange and wonderful no man’s land of symmetry and imbalance, order and chaos. Away’s color palette is super effective, pulling the viewer’s eye to all the important points with green, including the band logo and the Voivod character, or brighter gray to white, including the album name, before allowing it to explore the rest of the scene.

As with all good art, this cover is telling a story, sort of vague but exciting and fun. Again, Away’s composition works hard to effectively connect us without giving it to us outright and, with help from the Voivod story so far and Snake’s lyrics inside, we can sort it out. The space fighter, Korgüll, front and center has his eye on us, but we’ve only noticed the eye after realizing that the illuminated sphere, dead center, is in the Voivod vessel’s flight path. Uh oh. Well, then, why’s his eye on us? Because, it appears, we’ve somehow interrupted Korgüll in the midst of some emergent activity indicated by his attention to the impossibly advanced CRT monitor on the right there. Uh oh again. That’s crosshairs on that monitor, centered directly on the planet we first noticed in the viewport there. Hope it’s not ours! But we know it is. Our proclivity for nuclear solutions has given us away. Now our eyeballs skit about the cabin, noticing the Voivod insignia, space exploration and combat gear, cracks in the glass, a couple of appendages reaching our direction, and we know we’re done for. This is not an exercise. The Voivod is here to take out the trash. [LONE WATIE]

RRRÖÖÖAAARRR

In the category of “Badass Vehicles On Heavy Metal Album Art,” there’s inarguably an abundance of contenders for the top spot. From the Painkiller bike or the dragon/tank on Defenders Of The Faith to the furious Orgasmatron train or the conveniently three-seated Bomber plane, a battle-ready ride is a surefire hit for a cover. Adding in Away’s distinctive style and a few extra spikes makes Rrröööaaarrr tank arguably the coolest set of wheels to ever grace the jacket of a heavy metal album.

Beneath the solid iron plating, however, is a bit of a reflection of where the band were at the time. Rrröööaaarrr had more spikes, more artillery, more armour than the formidable debut of War And Pain. The cover art for both reflects as much, going from a singular post-apocalyptic alien trooper to a full terrestrial amoured assault vehicle piloted by another infantryman who no doubt suffers from work-induced scoliosis. The technology of Voivod improved–and while it was still landlocked, the stars weren’t far from their sights.

Regardless of how much rose-tinted reflection it’s seen through, Rrröööaaarrr is indisputably badass. The nostrils are hit with the pungent stench of diesel just looking at it. You can almost hear the clanking of the treads, not to mention the growl of the engine thrown across the whole piece as it, well, rrröööaaarrrsss out the album title in a stylistic choice that would win Image Comics artists Eisner awards twenty-odd years later. It’s a testament to Away’s artistic vision–the audio and visual components are so intertwined they become inseparable.

Have I mentioned that tanks rule?
[RYAN TYSINGER]

Posted by Last Rites

GENERALLY IMPRESSED WITH RIFFS

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