Cosmic Conspiracy: A Voivod Primer, Part 3

What follows is Part Three of a five part series about the groundbreaking and visionary French-Canadian progressive metal band Voivod.  Part One can be found here, and Part Two can be found here.

Following the tour cycle for The Outer Limits, Snake left Voivod for personal reasons, and remaining members Away and Piggy took the opportunity to reinvent the band, resulting in a drastically different sound through the remainder of the 1990s.  With both vocal and bass duties needing to be filled, they opted in early 1994 to bring in Toronto native Eric Forrest (Voivod alias: E-Force – they can’t all be home runs) to handle both.  Forrest’s debut with Voivod, 1995’s Negatron, is probably the least Voivod-sounding album in the band’s catalog, and is probably my least favorite Voivod album, although that would be akin to discussing my least favorite bowl of Count Chocula, or perhaps my least favorite baseball game. In other words, I’d still rather have that bowl of Count Chocula (it was stale), that baseball game (Yankees vs. Red Sox), and this Voivod album than none at all.

The overall sound – a stripped-down industrial groove – definitely roots the album firmly in its release year (it would not be out of place on the shelf alongside Fear Factory and Pantera), and both Away’s drumming and Piggy’s guitar work are much more straightforward and simple than ever before, or since, but it’s important to remember that the simplest Voivod song is still too weird for the average person’s taste.  E-Force’s vocals are much more aggressive and shouty than Snake’s, and the album artwork is just as stripped-down and industrial as the sounds contained within. Ultimately, Negatron‘s biggest downfall is the relative same-ness of the songs.  A video was made for “Insect”, and there’s a good chance you’ve never seen it before.

“Insect” – This is the opening track, and if you were going to listen to only one song from Negatron, I would recommend that this be the one.

“Nanoman” – Ivan Doroschuck of Men Without Hats (a.k.a. the band that taught the world “The Safety Dance”) co-wrote the lyrics to this one.

“Cosmic Conspiracy” – Piggy’s guitar work in this one is more like classic Voivod than probably anything else on the album.

When the band returned to the studio to record the follow-up to Negatron, Away was ready to bring the original Voivod story line back into play, and he and Piggy made it clear to E-Force that they were expecting more vocal dynamics from him this time around. The resulting work, 1997’s Phobos, is easily the band’s most underrated album, as well as the darkest album the band has recorded to date. Negatron makes so much more sense when you hear Phobos and realize what it was leading to.

From the very beginning of the “Catalepsy I” intro, the album elicits feelings of isolation and desperation, and, like its Greek mythological namesake, it conveys a sense of cold, oppressive, absolute fear. One time when I played it at work, a co-worker described it as “burly as fuck”, and that is definitely an apt way to describe the sound.  Forrest’s vocals are indeed more dynamic throughout, mixing the harsh screams of Negatron with something much more Snake-like (“Bacteria” provides a good example of the latter), and his bass is much more prominent than the previous album.  Away’s drums are up to their old familiar off-kilter, herky jerky tricks, and Piggy’s guitars are overflowing with reverb, and are downright devastating here, from the opening notes of “Rise” through the jarring, unsettling staccato buzz of outro “Catalepsy II”.

As mentioned above, the album revives the story of Away’s childhood nightmare creation, the Voivod, marking his (its?) first appearance since 1990’s progressive masterpiece Nothingface.  The storyline is more straightforward than any of the other related albums, save perhaps 1988’s thrasy-prog masterpiece (and my personal favorite Voivod album) Dimension Hatröss.  The album begins with the Voivod (who apparently found his way out of his own mind, where we left him in Nothingface closer “Sub-Effect”)  “sleeping in death” until a mysterious and diabolical character named Demok sends signals from space, resurrecting him as Anark, wherein he makes his way back to Earth to “restart [his] fear program”, lays waste to the planet (“pure decay, dead planet, virus unknown, plague and curse fall on the globe”), and holes up in “The Tower” to rule the world, where “no one can reach him” and “none shall defeat him”. If we’ve learned anything from the Voivod’s adventures, though, it’s that nothing ever ends well for him, and the tale of Phobos is no exception, as we leave our protagonist “lost in this world, feeling forlorn…Anark my given name, close my eyes, fade away”.  Getting lost in this album, especially through headphones, is an absolutely breathtaking experience.

“Rise” – This song makes me wanna break everything around me.

“Phobos” – Undoubtedly my favorite song from Voivod Mark II (or Mark III, depending on who’s asking). Everything about this song makes me want to live inside it. Utter perfection.

“The Tower” – Like the title track to this album’s predecessor, Ivan Doroschuck co-wrote the lyrics to this one, as well.

“Forlorn – The current version of Voivod has been known to play this song live from time to time, which is a very exciting thing. In fact, I could only be more excited if they were playing “Phobos” live.

Phobos also contains two bonus tracks – a cover of King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man” and an original tune called “M-Body”, written by friend and superfan Jason Newsted (formerly of Flotsam and Jetsam), who also played bass on said tune. Both songs are good enough (the KC cover is especially tight), but frankly they add nothing to the Phobos experience, so that’s all the press they’ll get here. You would not be wrong to look them up yourself.

In 1998, Forrest was seriously injured in a car crash, so to fill the impending space between studio albums, the band released Kronik, a collection of live songs, remixes, and previously unreleased songs, including “Ion”, which was featured in the film Heavy Metal 2000, but was not included on the soundtrack album. It is very much of a kind with Negatron.

2000 saw the release of Voivod’s first official live album, Lives, which includes songs dating back to the 1984 eponymous debut, as well as a cover of Venom’s “In League With Satan”.  I am especially fond of Forrest’s take on “The Prow”, which originally appeared on 1991’s Angel Rat.

The story goes that the band recorded demos for a proper follow-up to Phobos, which would have been the final chapter of the Voivod saga, but after Forrest’s accident, the tapes were shelved, and have thus far not seen the light of day. I, for one, would give nearly anything to hear them. At any rate, Voivod lost their momentum and disbanded in 2001, only to re-form the following year with a couple of familiar faces on board – one old and one (mostly) new. That chapter will have to wait for another day.

Until then, friends, I encourage you to stay heavy, always.

P.S.: Jeff Wagner also has some real proper things to say about Phobos over at the Deciblog.

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3 thoughts on “Cosmic Conspiracy: A Voivod Primer, Part 3

  1. Pingback: Why All This Commotion Now?: A Really Short Thing That’s Kind of About Voivod | Stay Heavy

  2. Pingback: We Carry On: A Voivod Primer, Part 4 | Stay Heavy

  3. Pingback: Stay Heavy Time Capsule, Volume 1 – 1988: Thrash Metal’s Finest Hour? | Stay Heavy

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