1988.03.12 SOUNDS Interview
1988.03.12 SOUNDS magazine interview with Voivod
by Paul Elliott
Snow and slush cover the streets. Ice clings beneath cars and eaves. Montreal groans under the weight of another heavy winter: . : ”
The air’s cold, even inside the pokey rehearsal room Voivod have rented. Its walls are lined, in makeshift fashion, with flattened egg cartons. An old, worn backdrop decorates one end.
All in black, the four members of Voivod loosen up a little… smoke, gulp down some beer and run through a handful of songs from their new, fourth album, ‘Dimension Hatross’.
“We don’t know all the songs yet!” laughs tall singer Snake with an apologetic shrug. Yet there is nothing to excuse. If they were still feeling their way along difficult passages it doesn’t show. There’s a fluid power about Voivod even if, at this stage, a cold stiffness and slapdash preparation dulls a few edges. The band outnumber onlookers but, in such bare surrounds, they still generate greater energy than do many of their contemporaries live. ‘ Piggy hunches over his guitar, hair shielding his face, right hand often a blur, riffs surging then folding back on themselves, leads shooting out of nowhere. Away busts a cymbal in a confusion of crushing rhythms. Blacky lopes around, head bowed, pulling hard and fast at his bass strings. And Snake shakes his legs, his head, his fists, seizing at the lyrics and sneering at melody.
‘Macrosolutions To Megaproblems’, ‘Tribal Convictions’, ‘Chaosmongers’ are titles that carry the essence of this Intelligent, sometimes difficult, sinewy, heavily- wrought music. It’s individual, absorbing yet exhausting and nearly overloaded. Innovative and uncompromising metal. Voivod have broken with tradition and have burst free of their thrash cocoon. Like the great Celtic Frost, Voivod don’t fight shy of risks or progress. ‘Dimension Hatross’ is a brilliant record for it.
Set deep in the French Canadian province of Quebec, Montreal retains a strong ‘European flavor, although close to the US. American and European culture rub shoulders on busy streets. Many of the city’s people are bilingual and, while Voivod’s mother tongue is French, Away, especially, has little difficulty in articulating their convoluted album concepts in English. The seed of his tales is the Voivod itself.
“The Voivod is an aggressive creature living in a post-nuclear ‘ world. The first album, ‘War And Pain’, is about his awakening after a nuclear war. It was a really raw album. “The Voivod’s experience is reflected in each album’s music and cover.
On the second album, “RRRRQOOOAAAARRR”. the Voivod becomes ‘Korgull The Exterminator’ (the title of the album; first and killer track). As this album deals with oppression, the music grows tight and mechanical.
“On ‘Killing Technology’ the Voivod is a cyborg in space, so the music has space effects. This album is about technological improvement outstripping social improvement.
‘”Killing Technology’ was inspired by the US Star Wars defunct project, and at the same time there was also the Challenger shuttle explosion and the Chernobyl accident, examples of man’s inability to deal with technology.
“On the new album, the Voivod creates a parallel micro-galaxy with a, uh, particle accelerator (phew!). It forms a new dimension – ‘Dimension Hatross’.
“‘Hatross’ is a word I created from an English word, ‘hate’, and the French word ‘atroce’ from which ‘atrocity’ is derived. The music had to be a bit weird for this album, although we kept the heavyness of it.”
DIMENSION HATROSS’ features their most detailed concept lo date; futuristic sci-fi babble is sprinkled with parallels in late 20th Century society. Weird music for a weird trip. Away continues. “The first track, ‘Experiment’, is about the creation of ‘Dimension Hatross’. With ‘Tribal Convictions’, the Voivod enters the world in a flash of energy. The primitive people there see him ma a god. He can take whatever he wants from them and then destroy them.
“Its Images are about religion, especially the line ‘Who’s the god and who’s the dog? ‘. “On ‘Chaosmongers’, the Voivod meets people with weapons —aggressive people, not brainy. This is to do with terrorists. “Technocratic Manipulators’ is about a totalitarian government like Nineteen Eighty Four or something. There is a war between the Chaosmongers and the government. “After this war the Voivod has a battle for mind control with these psychic entities on Brain Scan, and in ‘Psychic Vacuum’ the Voivod finds the power to psyche out these entities.” .
Away slows up, a little bewildered by it all himself.
“It’s, uh, science fiction!” he explains.
“You know when one galaxy collides with another and eats it? Like Pacman?”
“Well. ‘Dimension Hatross’ is eaten by another galaxy in the final track. ‘Cosmic Drama’. And the Voivod watches this as he goes back into his laboratory…for the fifth album”
“The adventure,” winks Snake, “goes on and on.”‘ VOIVOD HAVE been up against steep odds from the start. . ‘War And Pain’ in particular was misunderstood. Critically trashed in underground metal circles, Voivod were tagged “the worst band in the world” for being different.
Their music isn’t stock metal and neither are their influences: they list Bauhaus, Killing Joke, Broken Bones, Swans, Sex Pistols, King Crimson, GBH, Einsturzende Neubauten, Bartok, Van Der Graaf Generator. And Motorhead influenced their use of speed.
Referring to his hard, future shock cover art on each Voivod LP, Away cites the books Nineteen Eighty Four and Brave New World plus the films Eraserhead and Pink Floyd’s The Wall as “morbid inspiration”. The breadth and originality of Voivod were always there, only some of it was slow to permeate the surface.
“We took risks,” agrees Away. “Instead of playing the big middle wave, trying to play faster than we really could, we decided to play more futuristic music. , “We knew we’d have to wait a few years to get any recognition,” he reasons, “but we wanted to play our music, science fiction music, although Satanic lyrics were the big thing.
“We were known as the worst band, but that’s better than being forgotten! Now people realize we have an original sound. I think they’ll quit calling us thrash metal too, because now we put more effects and more feeling into our songs.”
What were you trying to achieve with those first two records – the ultimate power noise?
“Er, we were really young” Blacky chuckles.
“There were good ideas on that first album,” Away protests. “Everywhere else there were lyrics about Satan and sex ‘n’ rock ‘n’ roll. There was no art rock.
“Our first album was really new, really fresh, different. We were taking another trail, we’ve kept following this trail, and now it’s a more intelligent concept, and It’s more accessible music.
“Essentially, we haven’t changed, but we get better. Now, people who like music other than metal can listen. We listen to different music and we try to get different people to listen to.
For VOIVOD seeking out a wider audience wouldn’t be any more difficult than the struggle to find their first, independent of a tired club circuit that bills only cover bands. Couple this with the country’s population being concentrated on opposite coasts, and spread thinly elsewhere, and it’s clear that Canada doesn’t provide an easy grounding for any band, let alone one so violently
against the grain as Voivod.
“Because the clubs wouldn’t book us, we had to produce our own shows in the north of the country where there was only a little bunch of thrash metal fans. We were always underground. Now we’re getting bigger but still in the underground.
“Rush can play all over Canada, but for a band like us, there’s Montreal and then a big hole between Toronto and Vancouver full of nothing but rednecks and ranchers!”
By comparison, Europe’s easier to tour — provided you can get in Voivod couldn’t when they were scheduled to play the Leeds thrash-festival with Megadeth, last December.
“The promoter didn’t know we were Canadian,” sighs Away. “We flew there from a studio in Berlin so he thought we were Germans. When we got there we didn’t have the right visas so we couldn’t play.
“We even have the Queen on our dollars. We were real upset,” he adds indignantly.
“But,” smiles Snake, “at least we got a photo of your policemen with their tit-hats!”
To date Voivod have only appeared once in the UK — as support to the now defunct Possessed at Camden’s Electric Ballroom in 1986; a night of explosive music and manic stage-diving. Voivod’s ideas have since broadened. Are they worried that the hardened stage-divers might not take to new material that isn’t dosed up on raw speed?
“We don’t really care,” shrugs Away. “There aren’t many good stage-divers who just jump straight off. Most use the stage to run. They go over Piggy’s pedals, through Snake, they fall on the drums. “Those stage-divers are shit! Most of them are like that, so I don’t care if they quit. Maybe then they’ll just look at the show and listen more.”
“If they like Voivod they’ll stay with us,” Snake Insists. “There’s still the punk energy on the new album that we’ve had since the beginning.
“But those who quit at ‘Killing Technology’ wont like it. The new album Is part of a progression which we have to follow.” Then even much harder to play,” admits Away. “They’re much more technical. The beats are really progressive. Our producer, Harris Johns, puts in a lot of his own ideas, like sampling. He told us our kind of music Is paradise to a sound engineer.
He’s an effects maniac!”
“He experiments,” adds Snake, “and there’s no limits.”
It’s that attitude that has led to Voivod emerging as one of the late ’80s’ most vital and original metal acts. Free of the constraints of fashion and tradition, Voivod are a slap in the face to the stupid, pompous, sexist, calculating, Whitesnake generation.
Voivod have power, inventiveness, bite and a solid grip on reality. They’ve personality without ego problems. They’ve all metal’s strength and none of its clichés. Voivod are metals future. And ‘Dimension Hatross’ is a key to great things.