Saturday, 15 May 2010

It's All Their Fault No.2.....VOIVOD

This is the second in an irregular series of blogs dedicated to people who have helped make me what and who I am today AND will, hopefully, continue to shape and influence me in whatever I do into the future.

This is a BIG one. One of the biggest musical influences/obssessions throughout my life thus far.....VOIVOD.

I first clapped eyes and ears on Voivod one school dinner-hour sometime in 1988 when I was watching a tape of the ITV 'rock' TV show 'The Power Hour' that I had recorded the previous night. The show was on at some unholy hour of the morning so I used to programme the video to record it while I slept, and then I would watch it - mostly on fast forward - the next day. If I remember correctly, I had come home from school at dinner-time, and was eating and flicking through the previous nights recording when I decided to watch a video that had just been announced by Jacqui, the presenter, as being a track called 'Tribal Convictions' by Voivod.
Now, I had seen the name mentioned in passing whilst reading through 'Metal Forces' magazine, so I felt I ought to give them a chance, I mean, their name and song title didn't sound like the usual LA Glam/Sleaze horseshit that was the usual fodder of the show, so I let it play.

I was completely mesmerised. I had never heard anything like it.

Since discovering Metal via ZZ Top, Dio, Metallica and Slayer a few years earlier, I had progressed into heavier, louder and generally more extreme territory, into Thrash and Death Metal. I was always searching for the next band, the next link in the chain, and was always drawn to musical individualists. Along with my love of metal, I also liked the 'odder' sounds of bands such as the Cardiacs, Butthole Surfers, The Pixies and Talking Heads, as well as electronic music by Jean Michel Jarre and Kraftwerk, so when I heard Voivod, it seemed to bring EVERYTHING I liked together into one raw, weird slab of psychedelic metal.
The pounding tribal drumming, the odd noises, the chainsaw guitar, the discordant riffs, the weeeeird throaty vocals, the odd time-signatures and the rough psychedelic look of the video all just totally pulled me in, and I was in LOVE!

I went into Liverpool the next weekend and managed to get a cassette version of the latest Voivod LP 'Dimension Hatross' and a vinyl copy of their first LP 'War and Pain' from the legendary Penny Lane Records.

I must have listened to that cassette of 'Dimension Hatross' at least three times before I even got home that first day, and I knew that I had discovered something that was 'MINE'. THIS was MY band. I was a little taken aback by the raw bombast of 'War and Pain', playing the LP later, but it still sounded like NOTHING else I'd heard. The massive riffs of tracks such as 'Nuclear War' and the title track indelibly etched themselves into my mind, as did near enough every track on 'Dimension Hatross'. The artwork on both releases was so unique and individualistic, right down to the calligraphy used for the inlays and track-listing, and I was surprised to find that the man responsible was Michel 'Away' Langevin the band's DRUMMER, since we tend not to think of drummers as being 'thinkers' or 'artistic' types. It seemed that EVERYTHING about Voivod was unusual and interesting.

I read as many articles about the band and interviews with them as I could find, and thanks to Away and bassist Jean-Yves 'Blacky' Theriault, I picked up on a number of other bands and artists that I found I had a great liking for. Voivod really did broaden my musical horizons exponentially.....particularly after hearing their next record.

'Nothingface' was released in October of 1989, and completely and utterly blew my mind wide-open. It was simultaneously like nothing that Voivod had done before, AND like nothing that any other 'metal' band had done either. It was a whole new frame of reference for me. As far as I'm concerned, 'Nothingface' STILL stands alone today, and is categorically my favourite LP, full stop.
I could rhapsodise over its tonal nuances and intricate riffs 'til the cows come home - hell, I've listened to it so much that I have even memorized the double bass-drum parts - BUT that isn't the point of this article. The overarching point is to share my LOVE of Voivod.

Not long after 'Nothingface' came out I actually started writing to Away, and I still treasure his letters in return. The penmanship is unmistakeable, and I hold them very dear. It was another few years before I actually got a chance to see them live and meet them in the flesh (on the 'Outer Limits' tour, by which time, sadly, Blacky had left), but when I did, Away remembered me well and I felt very honoured to be able to spend some time with him.
I got to the venue - The Marquee, fact fans! - very early, in hopes of meeting the band beforehand and managed to do so and get all of my vinyl signed and chat to them. They were kind enough to offer me a guestlist spot and give me a free shirt too, which I was bowled over by. Amusingly, when I first spied them coming out of a pizza place near the venue, I pointed over at them in open-mouthed awe, and they responded by looking behind them to see if someone more famous was there. They were very surprised to see such a big fan in the UK, and just couldn't have been nicer.
For the record, Voivod are THE only band I was ever 'starstruck' over, apart from feeling nervous the first time I met Elvis Costello - of whom I am also a great admirer.
The show was literally like a dream come true for me, and I was ecstatic for the whole thing. It was even worth not being able to get home from, and being stuck outside Sheffield trying to hitchhike back from. Looooong story.

It was sad to see them decline, to some extent, following 'Angel Rat'- which I have always LOVED - and the departure of Blacky followed by the subsequent departure of vocalist Denis 'Snake' Belanger just after the significantly more 'mainstream' ROCK sound of 'The Outer Limits', but I resolutely stuck by them throughout the years with Eric 'E-Force' Forrest on bass and vocals, and saw them several more times. Again, every time I saw them Away was a perfect gentleman and always had time for me, and Eric was a very nice guy too. I remember his being touched at my concern over the near-fatal car accident he was involved in, when last I saw him with the band.

I was given the opportunity to study in the US for a year in 2001, and chose to study in Plattsburgh, upper NY state, mostly due to its proximity to Montreal -'hometown' of Voivod. Even though things had been quiet in the Voivod camp for a while and there were stories of legal issues following Eric's injuries, I still harboured hope that they would continue to exist, and I was rewarded when I found out that not only had Snake rejoined, but that they were playing with Motorhead and Morbid Angel in Le Medley in Montreal, on April 28th 2002 - whilst I was still in the country! Naturally, I went without a second thought, braving the snow because, IT WAS VOIVOD, DAMMIT!!
Unfortunately, I was unable to pin Away down to talk, but the show was still outstanding and I was so happy to have Voivod back in my life again. Not that they'd ever left my heart, mind you.

The next year, following Jason 'Jasonic' Newsted taking over on bass and releasing the solid but not exceptional 'Voivod' LP, I was just glad they were still HERE. Sure, it would have been great to have seen them live again and for them to have made more 'challenging' music, but the fact that they still existed was good enough for me! Sadly, things were about to change......

Towards the end of August 2005, it was revealed that Denis 'Piggy' D'Amour was very ill with colon cancer. I was devastated, but still hopeful since he had already beaten cancer of the hypothalamus back in the eighties. My hope was shortlived, and it was announced - maybe 2 days after I first found out about his illness - that he had died on August 25th 2005.

I freely admit that I was inconsolable. I was so very upset at the death of this man whom I had met only briefly on a couple of occasions but had touched my life in such a positive and thrilling way, I did not know what to do. I felt that my reaction was a little OTT, but then, when I actually considered it, it WAS a lot like losing a friend. It meant that there would be no more of the music that I loved so much.
The knowledge that he had left behind already recorded guitar parts for songs that he had written at home was some small consolation, but following the release of 'Katorz' in 2006 and 'Infini' in 2009, there was nothing left save the recordings - to paraphrase William Burroughs.

Yes, Voivod continue - in tribute to Piggy - playing live, with new guitarist Dan Mongrain but if they DO record again, it will NOT be 'Voivod' - No disrespect to Dan. I'm sure I will enjoy it - Dan is a great guitarist - but the band will have a different spirit without Piggy.

VOIVOD will, however, ALWAYS live on in my heart and soul.