1989.07 Metal Mania Interview
VOIVOD: FUTURE SHOCK! by Mike Gitter
Metal Mania Magazine, July 1989
Re-typed by Marko Capoferri
Contributed by Jason Justice
It was one of those years. The best of times and the worst of times for French-Canadian techno-metallers, Voivod; a year they will long remember. Triumph and defeat, agony and ecstacy, and quite nearly tragedy. Winter 87/88 found them putting the finishing touches on Dimension Hatross, the fourth installment of an avant-thrash legacy. Long seeking to escape from the “black metal” tag they’ve outgrown years ago, they were beginning to be recognized by critics worldwide as “Voivod music”, a sound and approach of frightening originality. Spring saw the release of Dimension Hatross, increased popularity and a video for the track “Tribal Convictions” winning
substantial MTV play. A tour headlining over Bay Area stalwarts Testament was planned and negotiations were being completed for the band’s signing to Mechanic Records, and off-shoot of the powerful MCA label. For the one-time struggling undergroung act, it was like a dream come true. Then, disaster struck. On a routine, pre-tour check up for a long-lasting head cold, guitarist Dennis “Piggy” D’amour was diagnosed with cancer. With a young tumor lodged on the hormone secreting pituitary gland located dangerously close to his brain and optic nerve, doctors warned that if they were to operate, the fiercely innovative guitarist may never be able to play again.
“We freaked out when we got the news,” says drummer Michel “Away” Langevin tersely through a heavy French accent. “If any member of the band were to leave, we would never be able to continue, considering that each member is important to Voivod as a whole.”
There were rumors, word of Piggy wasting away, never able to play guitar again and certain break up looming in the band’s future. While Voivod fans were tolling funeral bells the world over, truth was far less severe than most were led to believe.
“They never had to operate,” beams a robust, healthy Piggy. “The tumor was too young to operate on and could be dissolved by pills. The funny thing was that I had that tumor for five to eight years and I never knew it. The symptoms were so subtle and the tumor grew so slowly that it took an X-ray examination to realize what was going on. When you find out something like that, you start to realize how fragile the body is.”
“Flesh and bones are cheap,” adds Away with an off-worldly gleam. “We should be nothing, psychic entities that think but don’t exist.”
Doctors warned the band that while Piggy could have safely toured during the summer in the event of complications, he would have to seek medical attention. At a cost of $25,000 for a stateside operation that at home would have been paid for by Canada’s program of socialized medicine, the band postponed their U.S. visit while Piggy made his two-week stay at a Montreal University hospital.
“I feel responsible,” laughs vocalist Denis “Snake” Belanger. “I wrote songs like “Ravenous Medicine” and “Brain Scan” and to be honest, everything that happened this summer really scared the me- I hope it wasn’t my fault.”
Ironically enough, even before Piggy’s alarming malady, preproduction on The Nothing Face, the band’s fifth album and the latest installment in the saga of Away’s evolutionary, atomic hero, Voivod found the nuclear hero boldly going where no French-Canadian mutant has gone before-the brain! With new song titles including “X-ray Mirror,” “Into My Hyper-Cube,” “The Unknown Knows” and “The Sub-Effect,” Voivod take their strangest journey yet.
Away stresses that he had been working with his tale of an inner-body trip, inspired by numerous French philosophers as well as Don Juan author Carlos Castaneda long before Piggy’s brush with disaster. This summer has really helped the psychic atmosphere around the band,” says Away. “It might be a bad way to get publicity, but the way things have been so strange, it only helps our self image.”
“While there’s no definite storyline as on Dimension Hatross, there is a basic theme to the new album,” describes Away. “A lot of it has to do with the mind, paranoia against schizophrenia, depression and personality-split while maintaining our science-fiction edge.” A privileged listen to the demos the band has prepared for the album’s up-coming mid-winter recording, yields an even deeper plunge into the chasms of Voivod’s aural insanity.
Piggy’s seering guitar work touches upon the classic Voivodian atmospheric snarl colliding with highly influential elements of early Rush, Genesis and Yes. Snake’s vocals cut over them with the zest of a rusty butter knife (possessing more feeling then ever before) while Away’s drumming and bassist Jean-Yves “Blacky” Theriault whip up a rhythmic storm, a most brutal descent into maelstrom. The band’s most recent signing to Mechanic/MCA proves that there is indeed hope for a truly fresh and original voice on the metal scene.
A longtime Voivod fan, label president Steve Sinclair saw the uncompromisingly original edge the band has long possessed and hopes to elevate them to Bon Jovi/Metallica/U2 status the world over.
Face the fact sheckie, Voivod have as much to do with the spandex ‘n’ Satan set as they do with Tom Jones. They’re the kind of band that deserves throng of followers who at the slightest French-accented mutterings would invade chem-labs at high schools the world over, mix the right chemicals and insure Voivod’s reign of intelligensia.
Transition: They’re smarter than the average bear. “We’re a band for the nineties,” says Away. “Every decade there’s a few bands that emerge as leaders for the next generation. In the seventies, virtually everything original in music was destroyed by disco and the only thing that was interesting survived into this decade. That was the punk movement, something we definitely came out of. We’re going to get a lot bigger in the next couple of years because people want something that’s totally out of the mainstream, a void we definitely fill.”
Expect only the unexpected from these Canucks. With each album they’ll inevitably unveil a teeming horde of fresh ideas and unexpected twists.
While their sound can be described as a wistful amalgamation of art-damage punkers such as Killing Joke and the little known Chrome, Venom-influenced metal and King Crimson-like progressives, each album can be taken as an evolution in their overall sound. From the crude yammerings of their 1984 debut, War and Pain, to The Nothing Face’s near melodicism, Voivod aren’t about to linger on relatively safe ground.
“Look at what Metallica did on their last album,” interjects Blacky. “They went and recorded an album that sounds like every band that ever copied them. They should have been way more adventurous, trying new avenues and taking risks. They’ve found a formula and they’re just beating it into the ground. You shouldn’t be afraid of what people are going to think because if they aren’t going to follow now, chances are they’re going to follow in a couple of years.”
“Our goal has always been to be part of a musical evolution,” continues Away. “We want people to think of Voivod as part of a great, intellectual boom that will occur at the end of this century. Personally, I don’t see the next century very positively and I think it’s good to serve as a warning to terrible tragedies like the death of intellectual thought. A lot of what’s going on now with yuppies
acceptably using drugs reminds me of 1984 or Brave New World where the government gains control of the population by brain washing. It seems that anyone can be a good American as long as he makes $50,000 a year, owns a house and snorts coke. That’s just empty and meaningless to me.”
What a year. Voivod can rest a bit easier knowing that they’ve looked death square in the face, spit in its all consuming maw and come up smiling.
They might just re-write the all-too complacent face of metal! “There’s a strange aura about us these days,” concludes Away. “We’ve come this far and worked our asses off to get where we are today. We’ve also managed to keep our integrity totally intact which is something a lot of bands lose sight of. People may not understand what we’re doing 100% at first but that will soon change. We are the sound of the future!”