Back in the heyday of thrash metal forging new paths in heavy and extreme music, while most stayed on the well worn path laid down by Judas Priest, Black Sabbath for its heavy riffage, and the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, or NWOBHM that emerged and had a few years of deeply influencing most thrash bands of today and by association, death metal as well. Iron Maiden are the champion survivors of the NWOBHM, although Saxon and Def Leppard were and are very successful.
Canada had its hands in heavy music as long as the US and Europe. Rush of course is the most revered rock band to ever come out of that great country, but Anvil, Devin Townsend and his Strapping Young Lads, FM, and Annihilator all have their legions. One band however, hailing from the aluminum mining country of Quebec chose the sci-fi/industrial route and single handedly took metal and with jazz knowledge in hand and the fury of the best thrash and created a sound that is still nearly untouched. Only King Crimson perhaps could be referred to. I recall hearing their (Voivod’s) greatest album and literally loving its originality and really having no comparison to its approach and unbelievable musicianship. It was thrash metal intended for 100 years from now, and will still be ahead of its time. That gem will be revealed here, as we look at ten of the greatest Voivod albums ever.
First by introduction, however, the band was anchored musically by Denis d’ Amour, aka “Piggy”, on guitar, and he truly played like absolutely nobody else at the time. No shredding, but plenty of lead was present, but it was his phenomenal vocabulary on ultra advanced chord work from the jazz world with distortion and thrash’s power that made the band sound more futuristic than Ministry, Fear Factory, or Tool, who had keyboards and samples, whereas “Piggy” used only guitar to create his world of a maelstrom of metal. Only the tiniest bit of keyboards ever showed up on a Voivod album. However, there is some string quartet included on The Wake. “Piggy” tragically passed away from brain cancer years ago, and many fans including yours truly wondered if the band, given its incredibly original sound could find somebody to fill those shoes.
Luckily, Dan “Chewy” Mongrain, with his prerequisite nickname came to the rescue and was so good at replicating “Piggy’s” sound and style one could hardly tell the difference but after Target: Earth he quickly grew into his own, and while faithful to the Voivod template, has a brilliant style all his own, leaning toward Allan Holdsworth’s trickier stuff. “Chewy” also prepared the horn sections for the Montreal Jazz Festival, after that esteemed event invited Voivod to attend, knowing what their secret was. By most accounts, at least from the band, they were impressive. “Chewy” is also a college jazz music instructor, so that just impresses me that much more.
Known only as “Rocky”, this bass player is the latest player to hold down the bottom end, and he does it with incredible musical skills and power. For two albums, when vocalist Dennis “Snake” Belanger left for a break, bassist Eric Forrest took over on bass and vocals for two albums, and is the only Vod to not have a nickname. Rocky however is brilliant, and one hopes he’ll be around a long time.
Singer Dennis “Snake” Belanger started out with a typical early thrash roar, as the music itself had yet to develop into the band we know today. But his vocals would improve and he is as expressive and understandable as anybody can be in this genre. Clean singing and intelligence are his hallmark. He provides the lyrics, which feature alienation, frustration and other topics dealing with a future still to come to pass.
Finally we save drummer Michel “Away” Langevin because it’s his band. “Away” is an artist extraordinaire and does all Voivod’s artwork. His drumming is pretty impressive as well. So, the band has been around since the mid 1980’s, and here are ten of their best.
# 10 – Killing Technology
This is where Voivod took off for uncharted territory. While the production at the time was a bit thin, the guitars were unique and it was where the quirky rhythms and punishing riffs like “Ravenous Medicine”, a medical nightmare set in metal if there was one. It’s the first of a trilogy of sorts, just because of the extraordinary ideas that would be used to such great effect in the future.
# 9 – Dimension: Hatross
I have long declared and still insist this is one of the greatest heavy metal albums of all time, regardless of genre. There isn’t one tired lick, one worn out lyric or arrangement to be found on this mind blowing album. It’s coming for you when you start it up and you are trapped in its industrial crushing yet captivating hooks in a totally different way until it finally relents and lets you pick up the pieces of your mind off the carpet. It is THAT incredible. Released in the late ’80’s, if it had been released today, it would still be considered far into the future of metal and extreme music, leaving everything else behind. Several bands try to imitate Voivod, but this is the bar set far far too high for us to clear. This is the album I mentioned at the first of the article, by the way.
# 8 – Nothingface
The follow up to Dimension: Hatross to me was almost painful in my anticipation thereof. How did a band follow up such a genius work of art? Well, they did it. Knowing repetition is not a good plan if you can avoid it, Nothingface put a bit of a progressive polish on the proceedings, and included a great cover of Pink Floyd’s “Astronomy Domine”. “Piggy” was so good he could replicate those acidy keyboard parts on his guitar. This album did better in sales because it was a little more accessible, and it’s possible Rush fans, fellow Canucks all, started listening. It’s possible, given the band just released a brand new album. But the most amazing track to me is “Missing Sequences”, a virtual musical piece that is so amazing it can’t be described in print. These three albums are must haves in a Voivod world.
# 7 – The Outer Limits
Cool because it has an alien 3-D cover and 3-D glasses, or it used to, and I still have them! Voivod by this time is getting more melodic but no more poppy. There is a definite Rush co-relation now, not in style but taking a signature style and making it possibly more accessible, which, in Voivod’s case, is a good thing because it demonstrates just that much more of their prowess. Its two most interesting cuts are “The Lost Machine”, where “Piggy’s” guitar sounds like some steel foundry of the future while still carrying a melodic chord. Why studios in TV, cable and Hollywood never employed this band’s services is beyond me. The 14 minute long opus “Jack Luminous” is progressive and a great experiment with longer song lengths as it never grows dull.
# 6 – Angel Rat
This album was produced by Terry Brown of Rush fame, and it is the most commercial sounding album of all their work. Again, it doesn’t show a decrease in quality, but we get a Voivod that can dip their creative tootsies in more accessible waters without compromising quality.
# 5 – Negatron
Singer Snake departs, and Voivod decide to go on as a three piece, as they lose a bass player as well. Eric Forrest joins and this album, the most brutal and angriest album of their career, gives us a band whose principles, Away and Piggy, are apparently really mad and decide to show it in the music. For his part Forrest is a great bassist, and a near death metal roaring vocalist who puts everything in what he does. The title track, and the closer “DNA (Don’t No Anything)” are just two bruising tracks that make this a truly pounding experience.
# 4 – Phobos
Still angry as they can be, but there are some synth touches here and there amidst the hammering riffage. Forrest again leads the charge and does a nice job on their cover of “21st Century Schizoid Man” as well. He would suffer in a car accident however, and be unable to perform with Voivod after this album.
# 3 – Target: Earth
Sadly, this is the first post-Piggy album, his having succumbed to cancer. He left computer tracks for three albums but those three lack lead work, and it’s possible it was work that needed editing and the usual tweaking that goes on before put on an album. So they are passable, certainly, but not particularly brilliant. However, Chewy shows us we were wrong to doubt his chops and while he stays a bit close to Piggy’s style on this album, it is still great and Voivod fans are confident they have a good man to fill a pair of shoes that most of us thought impossible.
# 2 – The Wake
This album is a stunner. It has so much going on it’s impossible to enumerate all its sonic ideas and creativity. Lots of instruments make the recording outside the band’s usual parameters a delight. Chewy especially has come into his own, and this album, hailed as one of the greatest of 2019, still amazes. Plus, it has an additional CD of music, Post Society and live recordings from their trip on the 70000 tons of metal cruise.
# 1- Synchro Anarchy
While the previous album could have been considered a bit long, this time the band decided to cut to the chase on one of the angriest and punky albums since Killing Technology, but much more musically advanced. The album rocks out mightily and leaves nothing in its tracks to sweep up after it moves through. And yet Mongrain’s and Rocky’s bass especially throw in incredibly impressive and difficult music that still keeps the jazz present but doesn’t let metal sneak off and hide somewhere, either. It’s a great album, no doubt about it.
Top 10 Voivod Albums article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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