Monday 3 July 2017

ALBUM REVIEW: Voivod - "RRRÖÖÖAAARRR", "Killing Technology", "Dimension Hatröss" (Reissues)

By: Mark Ambrose

Album Type: Full-length
Date Released: May 5, 2017
Label: Noise Records

RRRÖÖÖAAARRR – track listing

1. Korgüll the Exterminator, 2. Fuck Off and Die, 3. Slaughter in a Grave, 4. Ripping Headaches
5. Horror, 6. Thrashing Rage, 7. Helldriver, 8. Build Your Weapons, 9. To the Death!

Disc 2: Spectrum ’86 – No Speed Limits Weekend – Live in Montreal, October 1986

1. Korgüll the Exterminator, 2. Ripping Headaches, 3. Blower, 4. Fuck Off and Die
5. Tornado, 6. Iron Gang, 7. War and Pain, 8. Warriors of Ice, 9. Nuclear War
10. Overreaction, 11. Helldriver, 12. Ravenous Medicine, 13. Voivod, 14. Thrashing Rage

Killing Technology – track listing

1. Killing Technology, 2. Overreaction, 3. Tornado, 4. Too Scared to Scream, 5. Forgotten in Space
6. Ravenous Medicine, 7. Order of the Blackguards, 8. This is Not an Exercise, 9. Cockroaches

Disc 2: Spectrum ’87 – Live in Montreal, September 1987

1. Killing Technology, 2. Overreaction, 3. Ravenous Medicine, 4. Tornado
5. Korgüll the Exterminator, 6. Ripping Headaches, 7. Blower, 8. Live for Violence
9. Tribal Convictions, 10. Order of the Blackguards, 11. Cockroaches, 12. To the Death!, 13. Voivod
14. Batman

Dimension Hatröss – track listing

1. Experiment, 2. Tribal Convictions, 3. Chaosmöngers, 4. Technocratic Manipulators, 5. Macrosolutions
Megaproblems, 6. Brain Scan, 7. Psychic Vacuum, 8. Cosmic Drama, 9. Batman

Disc 2: Spectrum ’88 – A Flawless Structure – Live in Montreal, December 21st 1988

1. Overreaction, 2. Experiment, 3. Tribal Convictions, 4. Chaosmöngers, 5. Ravenous Medicine
6. Korgüll the Exterminator, 7. Technocratic Manipulators, 8. Macrosolutions to Megaproblems,
9. War and Pain Medley, 10. Brain Scan, 11. Psychic Vacuum, 12. Order of the Blackguards
13. Holiday in Cambodia, 14. Batman

The Review

For at least a decade, since the remastered re-release of 1984’s debut album “War and Pain”, Voivod fans have clamored for the long-promised follow-up reissues/expansions of the key “Noise Records Era” triumvirate of thrash-speed-prog-punk-industrial madness from Quebec’s cornerstone quartet of metal.  This desire to “plumb the vaults”, as it were, was only exacerbated by the untimely death of guitar wizard Denis D’Amour in 2005.  D’Amour, better known as Piggy, left enough material to cut two additional albums: “Katorz” (2006) and “Infini” (2009).  Remarkably, the band has continued to perform and produce new albums, though not at D’Amour’s breakneck pace.  In that time, performers as disparate as Dave Grohl, Vektor, and Ryan Adams have espoused the legacy of Voivod, arguably raising the profile far beyond what D’Amour would have expected in his lifetime.

As for the records themselves, what else can be said for Voivod’s early output in 2017?  For one, this is the sound, the feel, the overall aesthetic of a band enmeshed in creative unity.  In the lengthy essays accompanying each album, D’Amour’s surviving band mates explain their remarkable commitment to collaboration: Away took a year off to hone his drumming ability before the recording of “War and Pain”, while developing the visual elements of band.  Snake, presented with Away’s artwork and Piggy’s compositions, crafted lyrics that distinguished Voivod’s unique brand of obliquely political, dystopic storytelling.  Blacky, meanwhile, worked extensively with Piggy to create complimentary riffs that, especially when reviewing the live tracks and videos, illustrate the remarkable sonic fullness of the band, despite lacking a live rhythm guitarist.  With these four elements operating at the top of their respective games, it’s still remarkable that in the span of three years, Voivod created a trio of albums that thrash harder than 90% of thrash acts today.

“RRRÖÖÖAAARRR”, the “pure” thrash record, is a step up from their Metal Blade debut production wise, though the band laments the subpar bass tracking, due to a last minute robbery of the recording space.  This may be a case of artistic perfectionism, as the dynamics on display are as crisp as any I’ve heard recently.  Thankfully, none of these reissues suffer from the massive compression of some others from the same era, eschewing the excessive volume tinkering and allowing the original recording to mostly stand on its own merits.  And over the course of its nine tracks, “RRRÖÖÖAAARRR” proves why it won over early skeptics – from the first minute, it just fucking rips.  Sure, Snake’s vocal attack is idiosyncratic at times, but as a veteran performance artist, he sells every verse with a punk’s intensity.  Away may still be imitating Motörhead, but the propulsive energy is undeniable.  And Piggy’s chaotic riffs on homemade guitars and effects pedals stand up to any of his contemporaries’ technical precision. 

If “RRRÖÖÖAAARRR” was the reiteration of Voivod’s place among the cutting edge of thrash, “Killing Technology” is the anarcho-punk speed metal hybrid that cemented their reputation as genre defying tech wizards.  Now a road hardened machine, the band was expanding their musical tastes, and it shows: while the metal spirit remains, there are definitely more hardcore and punk influences on display.  Piggy’s riffs are sometimes minimalist, creating tonal soundscapes before erupting into technical acrobatics.  Away continues to hammer out double-bass marathons, but also shifts on a dime throughout, verging on jazz polyrhythms in classics like “Tornado”, “Order of the Blackguards”, and the explosive title track.  Snake sounds even better, embracing production to slide into different characters.  And ok, the bass really does sound better than on “RRRÖÖÖAAARRR”.

“Dimension Hatröss” is, without a doubt, a full on prog metal masterpiece.  While the earlier albums were arguably conceptually unified, for the first time Voivod crafted a true concept album around their band “mascot”, Korgüll, who travels through a universe created by a particle accelerator.  With their avatar charting new territories, Voivod was spiritually freed – incorporating industrial elements, fusing thrash shredding with propulsive hardcore riffs, and all the while Snake blossomed into the singer/storyteller/actor he’d always verged on becoming in the earlier records.  Perhaps the most remarkable element of “Hatröss” is the relative economy of songwriting; each song hovers around 5 minutes, but doles out concentrated prog power that most bands can’t equal in multi-part “epics”.  Plus, they’re actually catchy!  Chaosmongers” would feel at home in a punk compilation, albeit with the most technically skilled punkers you’d ever encountered.  Like a perfect short story collection, each track is stellar on its own, but together spells out a terrifying vision of extradimensional nightmare exploration that’s as exhilarating as you can imagine.  Plus, the Batman cover really rips.

Along with the original albums, these Noise Records deluxe 2 CD/1 DVD editions of “RRRÖÖÖAAARRR”, “Killing Technology”, and “Dimension Hatröss” include hours of supplementary tracks, video, and bonus materials.  All the live video content is, not surprisingly, very raw stuff, mostly captured on camcorder, while the live CD audio varies between competent and pretty good bootleg quality.  In all, each DVD contains at least 5 hours of video footage, culled from each album’s respective tour, plus live demos that most diehards have already traded with other Voivod completists.  Perhaps the most interesting “bonus content,” for a visual obsessive like me, are the slideshows of Langevin’s artwork, a key component to this era of the band.  It’s easy to see how the disturbing, Heavy Metal inspired pieces Langevin was producing could help Snake craft such evocative lyrics, and inspire Piggy and Blacky’s discordant, broken tech songwriting.

At the purely musical level, the bonus discs increased my admiration for Blacky’s bass-as-rhythm-guitar style, and Piggy’s ability to balance both rhythm and impeccable lead, nearly simultaneously.  As a testament of a version of Voivod that many of us have never seen, however, these archives are invaluable.  There’s undeniable exuberance and showmanship even in the dingiest punk clubs (some remarkably sparsely attended), while the increasing ferocity of the band’s following is evident from tour to tour; Voivod was infectious in a way few can comprehend, relying largely on word of mouth and a relentless pace of output and live performance.  In what can be seen now as a disastrous precursor, the band was sidelined after “Dimension Hatröss”, as D’Amour has his first terrifying encounter with cancer, from which he would eventually recover.  

They would go on to push the genre even further with the major label releases “Nothingface” and “Angel Rat” (which could use the same type of loving reissues), but still mostly headline the club and theater circuit, perhaps too abstract for the metal masses of the early 90s, but also victims of bad luck.  Blacky would leave the band and they would hopscotch among indie labels before D’Amour’s death from colon cancer at the age of 45 – which would spell certain doom for 99% of other bands.  And yet, here we are, with Voivod touring, still receiving raves for their current output, and we’ve been presented an embarrassment of riches that serve as testament to a band and a guitarist whose statures only seem to increase with each passing decade.  That is, perhaps, the most unlikely triumph of this trio of albums: exceptional dedication, artistic integrity, and solidarity are timeless.  Dimensional displacement, war, apathy, cancer – all are subsumed in the power of undeniable artistic triumph.  Voivod cannot be killed.  Now crank it up or Fuck Off and Die!

Band info: facebook