One of the most influential thrash metal acts of the eighties, progressive Canadians Voivod have never been content with sitting back and churning out the same record over and over again. A constant desire for change and reinvention has meant the quartet from Jonquière, Quebec has had to endure much unnecessary and often ludicrous pigeon-holing over the years. Post-Thrash. Punk. Speed. Proto-Industrial. Avant-Garde. Progressive. And even Nuclear Metal (whatever that is).
From ’86 to ’89, the three brief years spent signed to German label Noise Records might not have been the happiest time in the band’s life, but it was certainly the defining period of their career. After the lukewarm reaction to their 1984 debut album War and Pain, Voivod upped the ante, getting faster and thrashier, Rrrröööaaarrr blasting eardrums into fleshy little pieces just two years later.
From the opening industrial grind of ‘Korgüll the Exterminator’ to the fuck-you punk of ‘Fuck Off and Die’ and the speed and aggression of ‘Slaughter in a Grave’, ‘Thrashing Rage’, ‘Build your Weapons’ and closer ‘To The Death!’, Rrrröööaaarrr is an uncompromising, raging attack on the senses. No room for nuance or experimentation, just punky, unrefined thrash that took their earlier blueprint and smashed it into the wall at full speed.
Although still heavier than a sack of spanners, the first clear signs of progression appear on 1987’s Killing Technology. Heavily cloaked in Dystopian science fiction, the album’s complex structures allow guitarist Denis D’Amour (aka Piggy), bassist Jean-Yves Thériault (aka Blacky) and drummer Michele Langevin (aka Away) more room for creativity, especially on the likes of ‘Forgotten in Space’ and the massive title track. Subjects such as nature, science and apocalyptic terror drive the likes of ‘Tornado’, ‘Ravenous Medicine’ ‘Overreaction’ and ‘This is Not an Exercise’ while the band begin to explore their penchant for early progressive rock with subtle nods to King Crimson during ‘Order of the Blackguards’.
Whereas the stylistic shift between Rrrröööaaarrr and Killing Technology was certainly noticeable, it was the arrival of Dimension Hatröss in 1988 which saw the band taking an even bolder leap. A full-on science fiction concept album in which the band’s mascot, Korgüll, ventures into a self-created micro universe and over the course of eight mind-bending tracks, encounters totalitarian societies, brainwashing and rebellion. Not only do Piggy (RIP), Blacky and Away seriously get to stretch themselves but now vocalist Denis Bélanger (aka Snake) joins the party with total commitment, adding genuine melody to his trademark ragged bark. Although a far cry from their early punk thrashings, Dimension Hatröss remains a firm favourite among most fans.
A six-disc set of remasters which sees the inclusion of ‘Too Scared to Scream’ and ‘Cockroaches’ on Killing Technology and the supremely silly ‘Batman’ on Dimension Hatröss, the impressive package also contains No Speed Limit – Live ’86. A gritty, no-frills live performance recorded at the Spectrum, Montréal on October 12th 1986 which not only features a set of favourites lifted predominantly from their first two albums but also includes suitably frantic versions of the as yet unreleased ‘Tornado’, Overreaction’, and ‘Ravenous Medicine’.
A further disc, the self explanatory Dimension Hatröss – The Demos features good quality recordings of songs a tweak or two away from their final recordings while a bonus DVD Chaosmöngers is comprised of interviews, live performances, behind the scenes footage, promotional videos, a previously unreleased live show from Chicago in ’88 and an audio concert from 1985.
Also included on the vinyl version box set is a variety of nicely presented swirl/splatter designs, a USB stick including all the music and videos listed above plus Cosmic Drama, a forty page booklet (reduced to twenty pages for the CD box set) full of previously unseen photos and new sleeve notes from Away.
An absolute must for Voivod fanatics and compulsive completists alike.
9 / 10
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