Evolutionary change has been a watchword with this band of French Canadian eccentrics since their crude mid-’80s beginnings in youthful Motörhead-meets-Mad-Max power thrash. Montréal’s Voivod is a thrilling anomaly, staking out a unique terrain on the postmodern frontier. While often classified as metal, what the group does is better described as dark progressive rock with a strain of conceptual sci-fi.
Beginning the band’s album-by-album concept — the adventures of a futuristic warrior entity called the Voivod — War and Pain is a crude, careening blast of youthful energy, post-apocalyptic Mad Maxisms and prickly power-thrash reminiscent of Motörhead. Exciting tracks like “Voivod” and “Black City” possess a raw, neo-bluesy quality that overcomes the poor production quality.
Rrröööaaarrr takes Voivod’s original style to its logical extreme/dead end, offering a homogeneous wall of cathartic riffing and Denis “Snake” Belanger’s most tortured vocal articulations. While “Korgüll the Exterminator” is convoluted enough to be memorable, the rest of the album’s white-noise metal is a blur that leaves no substantial impression. A change was both imminent and necessary. (The picture-disc EP consists of four tracks from the album.)
By 1987’s Killing Technology, the twin influences of progressive rock (Floyd/Crimson) and post-punk/industrial (Killing Joke/Foetus) had begun to mutate the metallic Montreal quartet, although they retained their quirky nicknames and drummer Michel “Away” Langevin’s futuristic space-warrior lyrical concepts and artwork.
Killing Technology brought Voivod into maturity. Soaking up disparate influences (especially prog/psych rockers like Pink Floyd and Van der Graaf Generator and post-punk/industrialists like Killing Joke and Einstürzende Neubauten), Voivod formed a fresh, dissonant sound, merging metal’s power with these other genres’ experimental imperatives, and doing it better than anyone since Chrome. Like the Voivod himself (who, at this point, ventures into the unknown vastness of space), the album reveals a band making a successful, brave transition from primitivism to futurism. The CD and cassette include two bonus tracks.
Subsequent releases continued this upward climb in quality and imagination. Dimension Hatröss conceptually capsulizes the rise and fall of an alien universe, primed by complex songs that flirt with melody yet retain all of Voivod’s previous energy. With the appearance of electronics and Snake’s new-found singing abilities, this is an excellent album.
Nothingface showcases a full-blown melodic sensibility, vibrant production, the integration of sampling technology, guitarist Denis “Piggy” D’Amour’s increasing stature as the Robert Fripp of alternative metal and a stunning rendition of Syd Barrett’s “Astronomy Domine.” The haunting “Missing Sequences” is only one of many high-quality songs, all mated to the band’s most serious (subjects range from ecology and alchemy to existentialism) and deftly composed lyrics yet.
Pruned down to a threesome (bassist Jean-Yves Theriault played on the disc, but departed before its release), Voivod entered the ’90s with the brilliant Angel Rat, a dozen surprisingly evocative dream images (“Zoning in a hall of glass / Plasma flowing from a cask”), and a less dissonant, even more advanced and individualistic prog-alternative sound (like Faith No More without the funk leanings). The driving “Panorama,” the robotic “Golem” and the jaunty mariner’s reverie “The Prow” all signal a newfound commitment to melodic, atmospheric riff-rock, while upholding the band’s essential science friction and spiraling chord changes. “Clouds in My House” and the title track hum with a keyboard-enhanced, semi-sweet drone, as Denis “Snake” Belanger’s voice reaches a new level of linear melodicism. “Nuage Fractal” is threaded by D’Amour’s delicate neo-gothicisms; he waxes Edge-like on the gentle “Freedoom,” using the pealing guitar motifs to accelerate the tune’s dramatic Dark Side of the Moon mood.
Proceeding as a trio, Voivod pursued its playful, human side on The Outer Limits. The kitschy space-alien cover art and comic-book interior illustrations are printed in 3D (with appropriate viewing glasses included). Musically, the band continues the innovations of Angel Rat — albeit less homogeneously and welded to more basic rock power. The confident opener, “Fix My Heart,” boasts a simple, effective metallic riff spiking introspective lyrical musings, which contrasts with “Moonbeam Rider,” lushly energetic and rife with ethereal solos and staccato rhythms, and the Bauhausian “Le Pont Noir.” For the second time in its career, Voivod dips into the Pink Floyd well, this time for a lucid version of More’s “The Nile Song.” Meanwhile, at 17-plus minutes, “Jack Luminous” is the group’s ultimate sci-fi opus — a 2112 for the ’90s. Soon after the record’s release, Belanger beamed off the Voivod ship for good.
Langevin and D’Amour are joined by new vocalist/bassist Eric Forrest for the disappointingly regressive Negatron. Songs like “Nanoman” and “Meteor” sound like outtakes from the Dimension Hatröss period, and the loss of Belanger’s psychedelic melodicism is a systemic flaw the record never overcomes. Forrest’s one-dimensional Pantera-style roaring adds little drama to the proceedings; there are a few decent industrial-metal riffs but little resonance. Jim Thirlwell co-wrote and performs on the dense closer “D.N.A.,” not coincidentally the album’s most engaging track. Although the disc boasts an extra multimedia track for CD-ROM users, Voivod — for the first time in its future-now existence — seems sonically remedial. (Foetus’ involvement may have been a payback for Langevin’s participation in his Steroid Maximus project. The Canadian added percussion and other bits to a couple of tracks each of Quilombo and Gondwanaland.)
The 1992 best-of, a solid overview up to that point, mainly sticks to a simple chronological format of two tracks per album (plus the menacing rarity “Cockroaches”), which clearly documents the band’s stylistic growth. But newcomers be warned: it may be difficult to reconcile the sharp contrast between rough early noise-metal like “Ripping Headaches” and the more sophisticated later material.