Run through the VOIVOD's 1980s

“War and Pain” (1984)

As so many other great bands do, Voivod developed their sound a lot as they matured. The end of the 80′s would see this Quebecois act do some incredible things and virtually reinvent the genre of thrash metal. Early on though, these experimentations were much less pronounced. ‘War And Pain’ shows Voivod playing straightforward thrash metal, with a slightly forward- thinking, sci-fi twist. While lacking the innovation that made their later work so great, Voivod’s debut is still a classic for its style, and a very fun listen at that.

Although this is Voivod at a much more primitive level, the band’s trademarks are still here to some extent. Most notable is Denis ‘Piggy’ D’Amour’s distinctive guitar work. Especially on the album’s last track ‘Nuclear War’, Piggy wails away with the guitar, creating psychedelic soundscapes with feedback. The chords and riffs are also slightly more dissonant than the genre is used to, especially given the fairly early context this album has within thrash. Suffice to say, Piggy’s performance here is the highlight, above and beyond. The rest of the band performs admirably, getting some good force through despite the grimy production. While ‘Snake’ Belanger’s vocal performance here is fairly generic, the lyrical themes are sufficiently advanced beyond what a typical thrash band might sing about. Here, Voivod takes themes of nuclear holocaust and war, and filters them through a futuristic setting. Although the music is straightforward, the lyrics help create imagery of this band playing in the middle of a bombed out city.

The songwriting here has a few gems, but in general, the songwriting sacrifices depth for speed. Its certainly fun, but upon subsequent listens, I found the music losing its initial shock. Voivod are one of my favourite bands, but as my personal tastes stand, ‘War And Pain’ is the sort of album I will only be able to put on once in a while. There is plenty of energy and vitality to this band’s performance, but musically speaking, the waters are a bit shallow, and the more familiar I get with the music, the less I find myself moved by the primitive approach they were going for at this point in their career.

Voivod – Killing Technology (1987)

When it comes to the fast-paced and volatile world of thrash metal, few bands have been as inventive and groundbreaking as Canada’s Voivod. Also one of my favourite metal bands, it is rather remarkable to hear them go from the relatively primitive speed metal of their early records to the more dissonant and experimental thrash of what I consider to be their best albums. Their biggest transition album would be their third record, ‘Killing Technology’. Although it is much less refined than the following masterpieces ‘Dimension Hatross’ and ‘Nothingface’, it sets the stage for them by presenting Voivod’s exciting refurbished style, and progressive tendencies. Although the first two albums were charming enough, ‘Killing Technology’ is where the Voivod I love really came alive.

Hot on the heels of the band’s second record ‘Rrröööaaarrr’, ‘Killing Technology’ is most notable for being the first record where Voivod decides to adopt a progressive metal sound into the thrash formula; something that was even more rare back then, than it is today. Although the fairly raw bite of the early Voivod is largely left intact, ‘Killing Technology’ features more complex and intricate compositions, as well as a more adventurous style of musicianship than before. Most notable and progressive in the way that Voivod plays is the excellent and startling guitar work of Denis ‘Piggy’ L’Amour, who remains one of my favourite rhythm guitar players ever. Heard here, he has a very unique style of riffage that relies mostly on strange chords and frantic switches that sound as if they could be rooted in space rock. As with every notable Voivod album, Piggy’s guitar work remains the centerpiece of the music.

Looking back on Voivod’s career, it does feel as if the follow-up ‘Dimension Hatross’ overpowers ‘Killing Technology’ in virtually all respects, taking the paranoid prog thrash sound to the level of mastery, The work here is fantastic all the same however; staying fast and energetic throughout most of the record, but throwing in surprises that keep the music interesting. Although it is usually up to Piggy (especially on this album) to make the band’s sound unique, the other musicians flesh out Voivod’s sound very well. Michel Langevin’s drumwork here stands out, often going beyond merely keeping time and giving some killer fills to the songs. Denis Belanger’s vocal work here is much less melodic than it would be in the band’s future, instead revolving around a much more thrash-oriented style of screams and howls, which can get monotonous at times when compared to the much more dynamic melodic style of Belanger, but stays on par with the energy of the band. Unfortunately, Jean- Yves Thierault’s bass playing isn’t nearly as audible as it would be on the next two records, but it still manages to keep the rhythm section going while Piggy solos.

While not nearly as impressive as some of the material Voivod would release in the few years after this, ‘Killing Technology’ is an essential album in the band’s development, really taking both them and the thrash metal sound to new heights that had not been yet heard before. Things still sound a bit raw and light on memorable songwriting to call ‘Killing Technology’ one of the best Voivod albums, but it remains a great album for the band and genre.

Voivod – Dimension Hatröss (1988)

Before even touching upon the music of this Canadian band’s classic fourth album, I should say that over time, Voivod have become one of my favourite metal bands of all time. With one of the most inventive and unique approaches in thrash metal, the work of the band’s classic lineup (being everything up to ‘The Outer Limits’) has not disappointed me, and ‘Dimension Hatross’ is no exception. Widely considered to be the band’s greatest album by their more thrash-leaning fans, there is not yet the sort of perfection that would be heard on the fifth record ‘Nothingface’, but the charm and quirky excellence here still ranks this among the band’s greatest achievements.

One of the greatest things about Voivod is that they have never been content to stick with the same sound throughout their career. Falling in between the raw speed metal of the band’s earlier material (via ‘War And Pain’) and the proggier, Floydian leanings of albums like ‘Angel Rat’ and ‘The Outer Limits’, ‘Dimension Hatross’ is a very strong transition record for this band. Voivod remains an overtly thrashy act here, but by this point, progression was seeping through the cracks of their style. Even from the irregular time of the album’s opening riff on ‘Prolog/Experiment’, Voivod places themselves within the realm of the ‘thinking man’s metal’. As with much of Voivod’s material, their biggest distinction here is the dissonant and left-of-center style of their guitarist, Denis ‘Piggy’ L’Amour. While the typical formula for thrash guitarists to prove themselves is through rapidfire soling and speed, Piggy puts his very original spin on playing the guitar into each song, often using chords that don’t at first sound right to the human ear, but don’t take long to become equally as catchy and fun as anything more conventional.

Although the sound and songwriting isn’t quite as outstanding here as it is on my personal favourite ‘Nothingface’, the album has a surprising longevity for a thrash metal album, with appreciation only growing from listen to listen. The only song here that feels unnecessary or out-of-place is- as anyone who has heard the album may tend to agree- the final track, which is a cover of the Batman theme song. Although undeniably fun and indicative of Voivod’s tongue-in-cheek nature, it does feel as if it takes away from the otherwise highly intelligent nature of ‘Dimension Hatross’. Personal highlights from the album would include the spacey ‘Brain Scan’ and ‘Chaosmongers’, but perhaps most of all, the incredible song ‘Tribal Convictions’, which has one of the most exciting introductions to a metal track I have ever heard. As one may guess from the song titles alone, the lyrical themes here generally revolve around spacey, science-fiction themes. Although he may be light on technical skill as a vocalist, Denis ‘Snake’ Belanger manages to take these abstract topics and make them incredibly fun and enjoyable, although they can tend to amount to technobabble at times.

‘Dimension Hatross’ comes very close to being a masterpiece for me, although it is evident that there would still be room for improvement, most notably in the way the band’s sound is mixed and produced. Although it would be improved upon and perfected with the follow-up ‘Nothingface’, ‘Dimension Hatross’ is a classic, and rightfully so.

Voivod - Nothingface (1989)

Although I would consider myself to be a fairly well-versed metalhead through and through, thrash metal is not a genre I have ever had much luck with. Being introduced to thrash by such albums as Slayer’s ‘Reign In Blood’, I was never impressed and found the obsessive tendencies towards soloing and speed to be somewhat tasteless. Now, enter Voivod; a progressive thrash metal band from Montreal that would not only change my view on thrash metal, but also my perspective of how one could play the guitar. Since being introduced to this majestic album, I since consider it to be one of my favourite metal albums of all time, and for very good reason. 1989′s ‘Nothingface’ is a unique album like no other in thrash, and with its combination of powerful originality and strong songwriting, Voivod have created what I now easily consider to be the greatest thrash album of all time, bar none.

Starting out as a more typical metal band, ‘Nothingface’ would see Voivod inherit even more progressive trends into their music. Changes in time signature, hallucinogen-addled lyrical themes and experimental musicianship would equate to a sound quite far flung from virtually all of the other metal released in its day. Like all of the best bands, Voivod’s sound is equally divided amongst its four members. Perhaps most important is the atypical and disharmonic style of riffing from Denis ‘Piggy’ L’Amour, now unfortunately laid to rest. A very clear alternative to the ‘skill through speed and soloing’ approach adopted by most thrash musicians, Piggy makes his talent shown through using very irregular, at times unsettling chord structures and frantic switches between riffs. As a guitarist myself, Piggy’s intricate work with chord experiments and unique tone stands as being one of my greatest influences; a guitarist who showed me that there was much more to metal guitar than going down the route of shredding. For that, I am indebted to him.

Also here are the keen bass lines of Jean-Yves Theriault. Usually the bass is not a particularly important instrument (instead gravitating towards a back-up), but Voivod makes it nearly as important as Piggy’s guitar in the mix. The result is a mixed sound that has a much deeper resonance to it than most other bands. There are some surprisingly technical bass riffs here, which add to the already schizoid nature of Piggy’s riffs. Denis Belanger’s vocals on the other hand are not nearly as skillfully accomplished as the craft of the bassist or guitarist, are full of charisma and expression. An incredibly unique voice with a bit of a Francophone tinge to it that can only be found in Quebec, he leads the band very well, although some of the lyrics can get weak and amount to little more than technobabble over abstract science fiction concepts. The least remarkable aspect of the performance on ‘Nothingface’ is the drumwork of Michael Langevin, but it remains quite strong, leading the time signature changes with precision.

‘Nothingface’ is easily one of the strongest metal albums ever made. Some strong songwriting is made even more incredible by the band’s innovative performance. If you’re like me, you might be starved for some really original sound in the genre of metal. Voivod has accomplished this with ‘Nothingface’, and in doing so, they have made what is one of my favourite metal albums ever.

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