Viva Voivod

Something happened in me – to me – the summer of 2009. When Voivod, the Canadian cross-over metal band to end all cross-over metal bands, stepped on stage in the sunny Swedish afternoon and ripped into “Voivod”, I experienced a sonical come-up of proportions rarely duplicated since, and one that changed me to the core. “I’m a paranoid/The wine of blood/I’m a crazy god/The ferocious dog”, a French-Canadian maniac called ‘Snake’ snarled at me. Who would have known that all this time, the emptiness in my 23-year-old soul had been calling out for a dystopian nuclear robot bred in an atomic wasteland? 

Through-out their set, which continued with pop-metal hymns like “Panorama”, deconstructed riff fests like “The Unknown Knows” and ended with the razor-sharp rendition of Pink Floyd’s “Astronomy Domine”, I felt a deep connection with this band – like they were mine. I had heard Voivod before, introduced to me by the very same friend who was now simultaneously losing his shit beside me, but live in concert it was another beast. From that point, Voivod would go on to impact me ceaselessly throughout the years. I interviewed them several times, even joined them on tour as a journalist. Later on, in a case in point of magical thinking, they used my suggestion when naming a new song of theirs, and even later my own band would tour with them. If anything, the more Voivod I was exposed to, the more I learned and discovered about the world they had made for themselves, and as I grew as a music fan and musician, they would somehow always be beside me. It’s been mentioned many times before; their uniqueness can not be understated. So what is it?

In no particular order, reasons to love Voivod: The songs about nuclear war. The songs about very bad weather. The absence of machismo, but the presence of strange sex appeal. The fact that when the band started out, the drummer Away (Away!) realized he wasn’t quite good enough, so he took one full year to practice on his own, and then returned 12 months later, ready to make history. The insane guitar tone and riffs. The insane bass tone and riffs. The way Snake pronounces “hospital”, like “höspitööööl”. The fact that their mascot is a cyborg called Körgüll. The fact that they are literally the tightest live band on earth. Blacky’s 1980s haircut. The fact that they are somehow both hippies and punks at the same time. Lyrics like: “Talk to me you flying shadows/Wandering into the ozone stew/Keep your myths from the embryos/Who would misconstrue”. The fact that they managed to replace their passed away genius guitarist Piggy with someone who was the perfect choice. And on and on I could go.

When Voivod ended their 1986 European tour in Berlin to record their third album Killing Technology, they were not only faced with the bleak reality of a divided city – but also with the modern German music movement their producer Harris Johns was involved in. Snake, Blacky, Piggy and Away were already obsessed with apocalyptic themes, sci-fi and nuclear warfare. In the Cold War-era of the 1980s, life sometimes felt like the future was already present. Musically, they were now introduced to experimental noise rock like Einstürzende Neubauten, directly leading to the album that came to be Killing Technology being dipped in a bit of scrap metal-pummeling, liberal pedal effect use and a pinch of tape manipulation. Perhaps not too far out by today’s standards, but keep in mind that the late 1980s thrash metal scene was conservative, and already had its doubts about the strange Canadian group. They were left-field of both the macho Bay Area and the more punk-oriented cross-over bands – to the point of once getting booed off the stage while playing with Testament in Santa Monica. But by that point, the band’s leader Piggy was perhaps a metalhead merely on paper. His real love lied with progressive rock, especially King Crimson. Away, the peculiar dreamer of a drummer loved offbeat prog bands like Van Der Graf Generator and worshipped Magma. This expansive and free approach to music was juxtaposed with the raw and cold influences of the bassist and singer. Blacky was into post-punk bands like Killing Joke. Snake loved The Stooges and The Sex Pistols. When auditioned, Snake sang “The Ripper” by Judas Priest in the style of Johnny Rotten. A red thread of Motörhead bound it all together, even though silently ‘rock n’ roll’ was somewhat of a dirty word. Once Voivod returned to Berlin in 1987 – again at the tail end of a European tour – Harris Johns had expanded his arsenal with sequencers and samplers, which pushed the band even further into uncharted territories. Producing was easier, too – now they could sample and slow down the sound, instead of cutting and glueing. Dimension Hatröss stands as a masterpiece of progressive metal music to this day. Small eccentricities in the music make them stand out; a single guitar player focused on high frets and dissonance; a hi-hat happy, busy drum style played with a light hand; a very distinctly heavy bass tone to balance out the guitar; and a theatrical, poetic punk as a frontman (Snake had originally been invited to try out for the band after he’d performed a free-theatre improvisation of a drunk worm caught in the light of a flashlight). I can also not think of many other bands who, on their level, are respected and revered by more or less all other players in metal. Line-ups have changed, of ­course – but Voivod remains as an all-mighty concept, force, inspiration, drawing from a seemingly never-ending well of beautiful dissonance, like a hi-vis comic book – true to their legacy, while at the same time continuously staying relevant, because how can you not be in your own universe? I look to Voivod when I think of how perfectly playfulness and seriousness can be intertwined, and with what dignity they carry their career having experienced both success and obscurity. RIP Piggy, viva Voivod.

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