Diamonds & Rust: Voivod – Dimension Hatröss

1. Experiment [6:10]

2. Tribal Convictions [4:52]

3. Chaosmöngers [4:39]

4. Technocratic Manipulators [4:35]

5. Macrosolutions to Megaproblems [5:33]

6. Brain Scan [5:08]

7. Psychic Vacuum [3:49]

8. Cosmic Drama [4:54]

Release date: March 1988. Label: Noise Records.
We all have those linchpin records from our past to forever be venerated for their role as gateways into new worlds we either previously avoided or had no idea existed in the first place. If you’re lucky enough to call yourself a music obsessive, this experience happens throughout your life and never loses its potency. However, a surplus of charming sorcery gets attached to the releases from our youth that warped our brains when the gray matter was still developing. In an effort to augment the backstory here a bit, recognize that my early linchpin records painted a slow and steady gravitation from hard rock in the early 80s toward material that featured as many guitar solos as humanly possible, peculiar / stand-out vocalists, and artwork that pushed the journey into mythical realms. Please consider the following ten-point roadmap, beginning with what I consider my very first linchpin rock & roll jump from back in 1980:

AC/DC’s Back in Black → Scorpions’ Blackout → Dio’s The Last In Line → Iron Maiden’s Powerslave → Judas Priest’s Defenders of the Faith → Slayer’s Hell Awaits → Metallica’s Master of Puppets → Candlemass’ Epicus Doomicus Metallicus → Fates Warning’s Awaken the Guardian → King Diamond’s Fatal Portrait

By around 1987, I’d get pissed if an album didn’t display track lengths, because 7+ minute songs were often a fortunate omen, as were bands that featured more than one guitarist. In essence, I was most interested in bands that pushed the envelope relative to complexity, sophistication and escape. Above all else, though, I craved boundless melody, which is what made my introduction to Canada’s Voivod all the more improbable.

Early fall, 1988: I had enough money to buy one new cassette and one gently used cassette that fell somewhere in the five buck range. The brand new Helloween, Keeper of the Seven Keys Part II, was the lure that brought me into the record store, but no one wanted to walk away with just one album in hand, so the hunt for my +1 was on.

Dimension Hatröss was only about six months old at this point, but that was enough time for some schlub to test the waters and subsequently get thrown by what Voivod opted to deliver—not at all uncommon during an age when most of us had no choice but to jump in mostly unaware of what to expect. And as to why I never had the opportunity to experience the band via earlier records leading up to that point? Let’s just say this remains one of life’s unsolved mysteries for me. I was a regular consumer of both Metal Blade and Noise releases, but it wasn’t until that decisive day that Voivod finally landed in the net. Suffice to say, something about the album’s vibe drew me in that day, and that began with drummer Michel “Away” Langevin’s irresistible artwork. The color choice alone—the crimson red quickly bruising to purple—immediately caught the eye, and the illustration had a very unique way of straddling the line between graffiti art and something one might see scrawled on the dust jacket of a high school social studies book*.

* Sidenote / desperate attempt to hurl you back to the ‘80s: Textbook dust jackets made from paper grocery bags were the earliest form of the all too common patched vest of today. They were an integral part of development for most every young metal fan in the ‘80s, and one could quickly find kinship simply by haphazardly glancing a Bic-generated Eddie, Slayer logo or any sort of flaming skeleton embellishment on someone’s crappy text book teetering on the edge of a desk. (I distinctly recall scribbling the full lyrics to Yngwie’s “I Am a Viking” on one of my book jackets, which is likely all the proof necessary to discover I was desperately ostracized.)

So, yes, the artwork for Dimension Hatröss struck that perfect balance between “primitive scrawling” and “wildly imaginative,” and the album title itself opened up endless potential for escape. One look at Korgüll’s transformation into some sort of debris blowing hopper made it clear science fiction was Voivod’s end goal, but everything about the whole aesthetic made it feel more Heavy Metal the film or Mœbius’ Arzach than, say, Return of the Jedi.

Right, let’s quickly revisit the absurdity of Helloween’s Keeper of the Seven Keys Part II finding a way to exist in the same sphere as Voivod’s Dimension Hatröss. You might be familiar with polarization such as this if you’ve ever experienced pouring a fresh bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios first thing in the morning and discovering the toy hiding inside the box is actually a wild boar meatball. In this completely plausible scenario, Helloween was the shot of sugar hitting my bloodstream in a matter of moments, and by comparison Voivod was…a thing I’d never fucking encountered before. Was this punk? I did not like punk. I didn’t realize it at the time, but punk was essentially the reason I preferred the Dickinson-era of Iron Maiden to Paul Di’Anno. Punk was too loose, too discordant, too stripped down, too… topical and political. There were no sorcerers, dragons, swords or distant planets in punk, so I didn’t like it, and I was fairly certain punk didn’t like me.

I’m guessing my first run-through of Dimension Hatröss involved endless moments where I’d pause Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out! to stare out the window and attempt to get a grip on what the hell was exploding out of my headphones. Away’s drumming felt like a pneumatic hammer to the face, while Blacky’s bass clearly spewed diesel exhaust. And even more off-putting, the only thing that eclipsed Snake’s persistent sour bark was the absolutely tumultuous fret-work from Piggy, which to my ears sounded like he opted for a 4-stroke lawn trimmer in lieu of a guitar pick. The experience was jarring, and I was beginning to understand why I found the album used.

It seems prudent at this point to emphasize the fact that I was already fairly well-versed in thrash by 1988: the Big Four, Bay Area thrash in general, plus teutonic heavyweights such as Kreator, Sodom and Destruction, not to mention bands such as Celtic Frost and Coroner—all pillars producing benchmark albums tailor-made for roaring around with buds and being, you know, villainous teenagers. Voivod was very different, though, as none of the other thrash acts in my life felt nearly as delirious and dissonant. I had no idea that Dimension Hatröss represented Voivod’s first significant hazard away from the even noisier, more combustible thrash that dominated the three records that prefaced it, but this goddamned thing still felt as if it was roaring through my ears like a vehicle straight out of Mad Max 2. Here’s the thing, though. As clashing and clanking and jarring as Hatröss felt from the jump, it still managed to hook. Voivod has always nailed the hook, which a younger version of me eventually (and thankfully) came to realize is an integral part of even the rawest of punk.

Over the course of the next week, the Helloween album felt increasingly… light, and Dimension Hatröss went on to plant a seed that really no other album in my collection came close to duplicating. Sure, there was plenty of speed and tense power to behold in records like Pleasure to Kill and Power and Pain, but Hatröss maintained an indescribable quick and nervous energy that was singular to Voivod alone, and everything was always offset by Snake’s penchant for drilling earworm choruses directly into the brainpan.

Lyrically, Dimension Hatröss was next level, particularly when stacked against the band’s peers. Sure, it’s a dystopian tale not that far removed from Nineteen Eighty-Four—in this case, a still frighteningly relevant parallel universe created in a particle accelerator that explores “terrorism, totalitarian governments and religion” and the fear that “technology moves faster than our ability to cope”—but it was much more intricate compared to most of the lyrics delivered by extreme bands at the time, and the way Snake articulated the words within the songs, and the way he warped his voice into various snarls and mechanizations while maintaining that relentlessly sharp hook: rather genius. And yes, the rebellion and anti-establishment conventions prevalent in punk were also very much present here, but the brilliant sci-fi slant to the narrative connected with metal fans because we’ve always been… well, a fairly nerdy collective. And to have Away painstakingly present all the lyrics in a hand-written font also unique to Voivod somehow gave everything an even deeper conviction.

I have ignored the tunefulness at play here, which is a disservice because it does truly play a significant role in the overall view of Voivod, largely beginning with Dimension Hatröss. While 1987’s landmark Killing Technology took a few notable steps away from the corrosive thrash assault behind Rrröööaaarrr (1986) and War and Pain (1984), it was the material the band wrote while touring for Killing Technology that reached a next level of sophistication without losing the dissonance that gave them such a singular raw edge. That discordance became even more smoothed out with 1989’s Nothingface and moving forward, but the Dimension Hatröss shift eased the listener into a little more of a rocker slant in the corners that made it seem likely the Voivod collective appreciated the early face of bands like Blue Öyster Cult as much as they did Motörhead.

But again, that signature tense energy still dominated the overall heart of the beast, and even though Voivod circa 1988 became quite adept at balancing it with their peculiar sense of melody and all those hook-driven choruses, you still never knew when Piggy might swing in and just snap everything in half with a nuclear riff—around 1:20 into the vital “Macrosolutions to Megaproblems,” for example. Hell, even the prog nerds floating around the perimeter had to take notice of this new interpretation of Voivod, as a song like “Brain Scan” found ways to blender multiple tempos, moods, hairpin genre shifts, and the unlikely voice of Charlie Brown’s teacher into something that still managed to feel like a perfectly reasonable fit in the overall Hatröss scheme.

Conjuring notably dusty memories pertaining to this record in 2022, I still find myself taken aback by how much of an impact Dimension Hatröss managed to have on my life. Not just because it opened a 30+ year kinship with one of metal’s most interesting and diverse bands that now finds Voivod circling back to their more aggressive voice and producing material as crucial as it was in the ‘80s (it is this writer’s opinion that 2018’s The Wake is one of the finest records of the last 10 years), but also owing to the way the record opened entirely new doors for me amidst a pivotal point in my young life. I’m guessing I eventually would’ve found a deep appreciation for punk bands spanning the likes of Gang of Four, Wire, Buzzcocks, Mission of Burma et al., but it was Voivod and Dimension Hatröss that unwittingly planted that seed for me all those years ago.

Nowadays, having spent the majority of my life as a music obsessed nerd with a penchant for the strange & heavy, I am quick to point toward Dimension Hatröss not only as one of the more sacred linchpin records of my youth, but as one of metal’s finest accomplishments, period. Lofty praise, for certain, but the album holds so many of the necessary traits for being considered as such: It was impossibly ahead of its time in 1988, it still manages to sound innovative 30+ years later, its blueprint is oft imitated / never replicated, and its ranking as one of the more crucial segue records of the genre is off the charts. It is, in fact, one of those rare cases where a 10/10 is truly warranted.

« In remembrance of Denis “Piggy” D’Amour. Forever rest in peace. »

Posted by Captain

Last Rites Co-Owner; Senior Editor; I got the Wordle in 1 guess; Just get evil all the time.

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