It’s hard to believe there was a time when Voivod took top billing above the likes of Soundgarden and Faith No More, but in 1990 that’s exactly what happened. The Canadian Thrash Metal pioneers were at the top of their game and seemed almost unstoppable, their lofty position due in no small part to the trifecta of albums which had preceded the release they were touring at the time – 1989’s Nothingface (MCA); an unholy trio of seminal albums that have been lovingly re-mastered and re-released by BMG.
Unfortunately, a combination of the crumbling Thrash scene, the poor health of guitarist Denis “Piggy” D’Amour (who would eventually, tragically, succumb to cancer in 2005), and quite possibly an increasingly overt predilection towards all things Pink and Floyd would soon all but end their hopes of making that final decisive leap into the big leagues, but in 1990 they could do no wrong. All a long way from their early days.
Formed in 1982 in Jonquière, Quebec, the band’s 1984 debut War and Pain (Metal Blade) met with the approval of an already growing number of fans, but was also on the receiving end of some quite scathing reviews. However, any such negativity – including the acquisition of unwarranted nicknames such as “Avoid Vod” from certain corners of the music press – was swiftly forgotten with the band’s sophomore release.
The first of these eagerly awaited remasters, the subtle and quietly understated RRRÖÖÖAAARRR, sounds every bit as apocalyptic and intense as it did in 1986. The recording has been cleaned up, but not excessively, so it still attacks you with the same raw, punk-infused aggression as it did back then. Right from the Eraserhead style industrial opening of ‘Korgüll the Exterminator’, the album grabs you violently by the back of the neck and smashes your face repeatedly into a wall of steel and concrete, with titles such as ‘Fuck Off And Die’, ‘Slaughter in a Grave’, ‘Ripping Headaches’, and ‘To The Death!’ acting as the soundtrack to the catastrophic devastation of your skull.
Although only one year had passed since RRRÖÖÖAAARRR, Voivod were already showing a new level of maturity and exploration with their third album Killing Technology. While the band were still fully capable of shattering neck vertebrae from a hundred yards away, the highly effective, but relatively simple, thrash and bash of the first two albums was quickly giving way to more complex song structures and increasingly original ideas. You still felt like your face was being mangled, but now it was being done creatively.
As well as boasting improved sound, the remaster also includes the ‘Too Scared To Scream’/’Cockroaches’ EP – although as with previous pressings, the two tracks have been split up, with ‘TSTS’ appearing halfway through the record, interrupting the flow a little. However, that tiniest of minor gripes aside, Killing Technology still stands as one of best Metal releases of 1987.
Taking another bold leap forward, 1988 saw the band release the hugely ambitious science fiction concept album, Dimension Hatröss. Stepping further away from the thrashing rage (sorry) of their early albums, the band aimed for an even more progressive approach this time, concocting a bizarre story about a creature called the Voivod (the band’s album cover mascot) who creates a micro-universe while experimenting with a particle accelerator.
A problem which befalls many concept albums is that the music isn’t able to live up to the overall vision, but that certainly isn’t true here. A psychedelic web of tangled riffs, tribal rhythms, sneering vocals, and complex, almost jazzy, time signatures, Dimension Hatröss is simply one of the best examples of progressive metal in the 1980s. Even if this version does happen to include the rather daft cover of the ‘Batman’ theme.
With each of these albums released as a three-disc set (2 CDs and a DVD), hours will undoubtedly be lost going through the archive material lifted from early shows. The video footage, as you would expect, is rather raw, and the sound quality on the discs can be quite erratic, but there’s simply no doubting the sincerity of the performances.