For the Love of Voivod

Voivod, May 13, 2023 Photo by Ray Van Horn, Jr.

You may recall the name Voivod from one of my Five From the Shelf editions here at Roads Lesser Traveled a few months back. I have many all-time favorite musicians and bands from all genres, but if there’s one band I feel like they’ve been a part of my DNA since discovering them in 1987 with the mind-blowing progressive thrashterpiece, Killing Technology, it’s these guys.

A lot has happened to the French-Canadian metal legends throughout 40 years of their Morgoth Tales, as the band is touting their current live run, which I was more than pleased to catch last Saturday at Baltimore Soundstage. In-and-out personnel changes, the tragic death of guitar wizard Denis “Piggy” D’Amour, a near crack at breaking into the mainstream with a masterful cover of Pink Floyd’s “Astronomy Domine.” Nearly dead twice, revived both instances.

This is a band whose technicality demands the highest pedigree, so much Voivod once hosted a tour for their exceptional Nothingface album in which they were supported by future titans of heavy music, Faith No More and Soundgarden. I was in attendance to that outrageous show in 1990 at The Bayou in Washington, D.C. and most people who were there agree; it was one of the all-time greatest live spectacles ever assembled and still Voivod won the day. I’ll never forget standing beneath former bassist Jean-Yves “Blacky” Theriault and feeling the pummel of his vibratum, his own innovated “blower bass” sound almost no one can match. Blacky’s otherworldly bass pitches added to the rich, cybernetic tones Voivod carried through their music after evolving from straight-on thrash-punkers to, in my opinion, the most daring sci-fi-based, sociopolitical prog metal units the metal genre’s ever known.

I could gush about the playing prowess of Voivod all day and all night, but what’s more important to me is to convey how deep a bond I feel with the band over the course of 36 of their 40 years. This is a band I was so enamored with I wrote a review of Nothingface along with a companion op-ed segment for a column I wrote in my college newspaper, Spectrum called “Musically Speaking.” I declared, with my balls swinging, with full certainty that Voivod, circa 1989, was the “Band of the Future.” I’d already been playing Killing Technology and its successor, Dimension Hatross, on repeat more than any other metal album, save for anything by Iron Maiden and Megadeth’s Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying?

Nothingface was such a game-changer of its time, its roundabout time signature changes forever molded the heavy metal genre. The fact Michel “Away” Langevin could roll twice the amount of fills beyond the familiar thrash patterns, the way vocalist Denis “Snake” Belanger conveyed his windy namesake through spellbinding lines followed, note-for-note by Piggy and Blacky, yeahhhhhh. They were the Band of the Future.

I got it in my head back then to mail a copy of my Voivod articles to their label, Mechanic Records, a subsidiary back then of MCA. You can’t imagine what a 19-year-old going on 20 felt like, receiving a care package from the label a month later, filled with band promotional photos like the one above, a stack of Voivod stickers filled with Away’s wonderfully lunatic drawings, a Nothingface poster which hung on my bedroom wall until I moved out of my parents’ house and a CD copy of the album. This considering CDs were still emerging in the market. Though I already owned Nothingface on cassette tape and vinyl, the CD cemented my fate. It was that promo CD which compelled me to buy a new stereo with CD player and yes, I rebuilt my collection from cassettes to compact discs, holding on to my vinyl for much of my life until recent downsizing. To this day, though, I still have my Voivod CDs through their current album, Synchro Anarchy. I’m so much an uber fan I went and got Nothingface and the band’s follow-up album, Angel Rat, on Japanese pressings.

After the Nothingface goodie box from those kind folks at Mechanic, I started doing the same thing with other bands I reviewed for “Musically Speaking.” Caroline Records sent me a glossy pic of the Bad Brains after I sent them my write-up of Quickness. Word got around in the underground in a hurry this post-teen college kid was writing up metal and punk acts and soon I started getting unsolicited demo tapes sent to me and more of those care packages. What a rush.

Though “Musically Speaking” only lasted a couple years while I became the Assistant Editor of Spectrum before graduating to the second of my two colleges, my fate as a music journalist was sealed. Later in life, I began writing full force in the music industry while working a full-time job. Those stories can hold for another day, but you can imagine the pain I felt when I had to report on the passing of Voivod’s Piggy. Bad enough Snake had left the band for a spell to deal with personal issues, along with Blacky’s first departure between the Angel Rat and The Outer Limits albums. Eric “E-Force” Forrest took both Snake and Blacky’s positions when Voivod went as a trio as bombastic as their early years on Phobos and Negatron, albums only the true diehards know. Even I had to sit in wonderment what had gone wrong with “The Band of the Future.” This before Piggy’s tragic death, which had even me believing The Iron Gang, Voivod’s dubbed fan flock, would have nothing else to cheer for.

Interview with Denis “Snake” Belanger, Voivod, by Ray Van Horn, Jr. Pit magazine

The name Voivod may not be familiar to you, but no doubt the name Jason Newsted, former Metallica bassist (also of Flotsam and Jetsam fame) strikes a chord. For a short spell, Newsted, who gained the in-house band brand “Jasonic,” since all Voivodians have prerequisite nicknames, brought Voivod back to life. The bass position in Voivod has been in such a flux over the years (they’ve even had four session bassists), Newsted’s arrival following the rocksteady pumps of Metallica’s Load albums had a similar effect on Voivod’s straightforward self-titled and Katorz albums. Snake had also returned to the fold as the latter album came post-mortem from guitar parts Piggy reportedly recorded prior to his death for his bandmates to build around.

It was during the Katorz promotional cycle when I was offered an interview with Snake for Pit magazine. All the royalty of heavy metal I’d interviewed prior to, I felt my heart leap with joy getting on the phone with Denis Belanger to recount his path back into Voivod and to keep Piggy’s memory alive in word. It was one of my proudest articles. A year later, I would interview Away in split time promotion of Voivod and his former side project, Kosmos. As one of the most rapid-fire and precise drummers on the scene, I was quietly geeking, the same way I did with Dave Lombardo, still with Slayer at the time. My own drumming aspirations were riding high, though I went nowhere in my percussion pursuits.

Voivod, May 13, 2023 Photo by Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Which leads us to the now. Following the death of Denis “Piggy” D’Amour, Voivod selected Dan “Chewy” Mongrain to play a handful of tribute shows. I was following Mongrain’s other band, Martyr, at the time, and made comment in my review of his work that he had likening to Piggy in his playing without ripping the latter off. Sure enough, Chewy became so meticulous in his replications of Piggy’s parts, he, and his mountain of hair, was hired into the band permanently. Even better, Jean-Yves “Blacky” Theriault reclaimed his spot on bass as the revivified Voivod dropped their impressive comeback album, Target Earth.

Dan “Chewy” Mongrain, Voivod, May 13, 2023 Photo by Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Unfortunately, reported disagreements between Away and Blacky tore the two apart and Blacky once again departed Voivod. These days, Blacky has been focusing on his own music in partnership with Monica Emond as Coeur Atomique and Twin Adventures-Renaissance Synthetique. Voivod themselves carried on with current bassist, Dominic “Rocky” Laroche to drop an unexpected latter-day masterpiece in The Wake while soldiering into the future. Like their own song edicts, the unknown knows…

Over the past few years, I have developed a long-distance friendship with Blacky and we have ramped up our correspondence of late. I can say he and Monica seem happy in the DIY life they have built for themselves and it’s been surreal the two of us sharing our life details between each other. Of the friends I’ve made in the music business, my still-developing buddyship with Blacky is one of the most meaningful. It’s a goal we have to travel up to Quebec to hang with the man himself and Monica. It’s a profound thing, this love affair I have with Voivod and where’s it’s taken me.

Meanwhile, the current inception of Voivod tore Baltimore Soundstage apart last weekend and Blacky told me he wishes his former bandmates all the best and says he is happy for them. The set I saw was mostly deep cut tracks the most devout Voivod fan would know like “Obsolete Beings,” “Rebel Robot,” “Rise”, “Macrosolutions to Megaproblems,” “Pre-Ignition,” “Holographic Thinking” and “Fix My Heart,” ending by way of curtain call with the band’s signature thrash salute with their own namesake, “Voivod.”

I stood beneath Snake and Chewy relative stage right and just had a blast watching them act like kids onstage but dropping it on the dime when it was time to be serious. It felt awkward taking the live photos you see here from a cell phone behind the barrier instead of with a professional camera on the inside of the photo pit like I did for 16 years. Not too shabby what I got, though. At 53, I found myself headbanging quite often like I did in my teens, shimmying and dancing, pogoing and singing along with Snake every time he dropped down in front of us. Right after the completion of a two-week move, this old dog was ecstatic for such stamina.

Even as I write this, I still marvel at Away’s rhythmic bashing and couldn’t believe the band could drop the title cut from “Killing Technology” only a click slower than the original recording. As Voivod themselves sing, we carry on…

All live Voivod photos, May 13, 2023 by Ray Van Horn, Jr.

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