Voivod in­hab­its its own planet

TAR­GET EARTH keeps the Que­bec metal band on a sin­gu­lar path while hon­our­ing the spirit of late gui­tarist De­nis D’Amour

Montreal Gazette - - Arts - AL KRATINA SPE­CIAL TO THE GAZETTE

Like the Pope or High­lander, there can be only one Voivod. The Que­bec metal band is unique, and has been for most of its 30-year ex­is­tence. It re­leases its 13th stu­dio al­bum, Tar­get Earth, on Tues­day, con­tin­u­ing a long tra­di­tion of ex­per­i­men­tal ag­gres­sion.

Yes, other bands have blended thrash metal’s buzzing fury with prog rock’s in­tri­cacy and New­to­nian time sig­na­tures. But Voivod’s re­liance on com­plex, crys­talline chords — the sig­na­ture style of late gui­tarist De­nis (Piggy) D’Amour — gives many of its songs the er­ratic dis­so­nance of wind chimes out­side of an in­sane asy­lum. And the sci­ence fic­tion el­e­ments per­vad­ing the band’s lyrics and im­agery make Voivod all the more dif­fi­cult to de­fine.

Be­ing un­con­ven­tional comes at a cost, and Voivod hasn’t ob­tained the success of thrash-based con­tem­po­raries like Slayer or Me­gadeth. But that comes as no sur­prise to the group.

“I don’t think Voivod could be a com­mer­cial success,” says gui­tarist Daniel (Chewy) Mon­grain. “It’s too unique, too un­pre­dictable.”

Mon­grain, also of Que­bec death metal band Mar­tyr (cur­rently on hia­tus), has a unique per­spec­tive on Voivod. Though he joined the group only five years ago — orig­i­nally as a tour­ing gui­tarist — he’s a life­long fan.

“The first song I heard was (1987’s) Rav­en­ous Medicine. I was 11 years old,” says Mon­grain. “I be­came a fan right away. I picked up a gui­tar be­cause of them.”

Mon­grain says he was drawn in by the band’s in­ven­tive ap­proach to metal. “(Un­usual) song struc­tures, in­tri­cate parts, coun­ter­points, di­a­logue be­tween in­stru­ments, tex­tures, dis­so­nance, tempo changes and odd time sig­na­tures,” Mon­grain says. “That’s Voivod.”

Voivod be­gan in 1982 in Jon­quière, re­leas­ing its first al­bum, War and Pain, two years later. Ini­tially, the band’s mix of thrash, punk and Iron Maiden-es­que in­flu­ences fu­elled speedy, ampedup tracks that evoked Motör­head over­dos­ing on it­self.

Its third al­bum, Killing Tech­nol­ogy, in­tro­duced pro­gres­sive rock el­e­ments, and be­gan more of a fo­cus on sci­ence fic­tion — not the meta­phys­i­cal me­an­der­ings of Dune or 2001, but the grungy, vi­o­lent apoc­a­lypse of a stack of burn­ing Judge Dredd comics, brought to life by the graphic de­sign of drum­mer Michel (Away) Langevin.

The mu­sic came to in­clude in­flu­ences rang­ing “from movie sound­tracks to Stravin­sky,” Mon­grain says. “Ev­ery al­bum (started hav­ing) its own sound, its own ap­proach, but the spirit and es­thetic (stayed) Voivod.”

As the band changed, its fans fol­lowed.

“They were not the kind of band (that did) the same thing all over again,” Mon­grain says. “And as a fan, you felt like you (were) evolv­ing at the same time. You (couldn’t) wait for the next one, be­cause you knew it’s go­ing to be new and dif­fer­ent and fresh.”

In the ’90s, lineup shifts al­tered the band’s chem­istry. Orig­i­nal bassist Jean-Yves (Blacky) Théri­ault and vo­cal­ist De­nis (Snake) Bélanger left, and re­place­ment singer and bassist Eric (E-Force) For­rest quit in 2001 af­ter be­ing se­ri­ously in­jured in a car ac­ci­dent.

But its sound con­tin­ued pro­gress­ing, be­com­ing more com­plex and lay­ered with­out los­ing any of its raw en­ergy, like a dog­fight in an orches­tra pit. And the 2002 ad­di­tion of former Metallica bassist Ja­son New­sted — along with the re­turn of Bélanger — raised Voivod’s pro­file.

In 2005, how­ever, the band suf­fered a dev­as­tat­ing tragedy when D’Amour died of can­cer. D’Amour’s dis­tinc­tive sound — full of de­lib­er­ate dishar­monies and schizo- phrenic pro­gres­sions — helped de­fine Voivod’s style over the years.

“It was very unique sound­ing,” Mon­grain says. “Ev­ery other band was play­ing power chords, (on the) low reg­is­ter of the in­stru­ment, but Piggy played key­board-style chords up on the neck, very high pitched, and it sounded like chaos. To­tal post-nu­clear vibe.”

The band re­leased two more al­bums based on ma­te­rial D’Amour had recorded — Ka­torz in 2006 and 2009’s In­fini — be­fore bring­ing Mon­grain on as a full-time mem­ber for Tar­get Earth, which also features the re­turn of orig­i­nal bassist Théri­ault.

The band’s longevity, Mon- grain says, comes partly from its ap­proach to song­writ­ing, which helps it stand out. He at­tributes Voivod’s orig­i­nal­ity to Que­bec’s di­verse metal scene, which breeds mu­tated mu­si­cal styles like a womb full of lead paint and ura­nium.

“The men­tal­ity (in Que­bec) is quite dif­fer­ent from Europe, the rest of Canada and the States, and at the same time it’s a com­bi­na­tion,” Mon­grain says.

“Even the lan­guage makes us dif­fer­ent … be­cause mu­sic is a re­flec­tion of the lan­guage, of phras­ing. The way you com­pose is di­rectly at­tached to the way you speak. That’s what makes Que­bec’s metal dif­fer­ent … and I think Voivod was the start of it all in Que­bec.”

Be­com­ing an of­fi­cial mem­ber of Voivod came with its own set of chal­lenges — es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing D’Amour’s im­pact and in­flu­ence. “Piggy (was) a real mu­sic tal­ent,” Mon­grain says, “so I put a lot of pres­sure on my­self.”

But the other mem­bers im­me­di­ately ac­cepted Mon­grain as one of their own, ab­sorb­ing him into the cre­ative process. “I felt very wel­come,” he says. “Ev­ery­one is in­volved in the cre­ation of the songs. … It’s really team­work, and that’s the se­cret of the sound of Voivod.”

With Tar­get Earth, Mon­grain hopes to build on Voivod’s legacy while paying trib­ute to D’Amour.

“Piggy is not here any­more, and he was a big part of Voivod. But his spirit is still here; his her­itage is here,” Mon­grain says.

“I’m hon­oured to con­trib­ute so the band can play live, and the mu­sic of Piggy can live on ev­ery night we play.”

Tar­get Earth is re­leased on Tues­day. Voivod holds a pub­lic lis­ten­ing party for the al­bum Thurs­day at 8 p.m. at Café Chaos, 2031 St. De­nis St.


Daniel Mon­grain, right, was a fan of Voivod long be­fore he joined Jean-Yves (Blacky) Théri­ault, left, Michel (Away) Langevin and De­nis (Snake) Bélanger.

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