I’m In the Machine, Going Through My Dreams: A Thing About Voivod’s Dimension Hatröss

I’ve discussed Voivod a bit in these pages before, and I will write up the fourth installment of my Voivod Primer some day soon(ish), but today, I wanted to share something a bit more personal re: Voivod and their fourth album (and my favorite), 1988’s conceptual progressive thrash masterpiece Dimension Hatröss. I won’t go into the particulars of the album too much here, as I’ve discussed it before, and also I don’t have time for that right now, but here are the basics of the storyline:

  1. Voivod’s namesake character/mascot, a.k.a. Korgull the Exterminator, has already destroyed his own land and much of outer space, but his lust for conquest has not subsided, so he devises a laboratory experiment in which he creates a portal into another dimension and visits that realm in an attempt to utterly dominate the inhabitants.
  2. Things don’t go exactly as planned for Korgull.

The album absolutely fucking rules, and when I first got my copy back in June 2008 (almost 20 years to the day after its initial release date, coincidentally), I was completely and utterly under its spell. My copy had no lyrics inside, so I printed a copy off one of those advertisement-laden lyrics websites and listened over and over and over again while reading along; it’s safe to say that I was in the throes of a full-blown Dimension Hatröss addiction.

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One night, while listening for probably the fifteenth time that day, I began to doodle on my lyric pages, letting the dissonant riffs and herky-jerky rhythms guide my pen. I just let the music flow through me, drawing and scribbling whatever I happened to see and feel at that particular moment. Some of it is throwaway, but I rather like other parts, and since I can’t very well separate the parts I like without damaging the overall picture, I hereby present my Dimension Hatröss Lyric Doodles, shared here for the first time ever with anyone other than Mrs. Stay Heavy. (Click on each image below for an embiggened view.)

Track 1: “…Prolog…Experiment” – In which Korgull creates Dimension Hatröss and enters. I find it hard to imagine how I made that Voivod logo. Not that it’s a particularly brilliant rendition or anything, but I used to have so much more patience for that kind of detail…also more time.

Dimension Hatross lyric doodles page 1

Track 2: “Tribal Convictions” – In which Korgull arrives in the dimension to find a tribe performing a ritual dance around a “grand fire”. The tribe believes Korgull to be “what we’ve been waiting for…the flying lord, the god of all time”.

Dimension Hatross lyric doodles page 2

Track 3: “Chaosmöngers” – In which a gang of dissidents appears on the scene and tries to destroy Korgull, believing him to be a creation of the Technocratic Manipulators.

Dimension Hatross lyric doodles page 3

Track 4: “Technocratic Manipulators” – In which Korgull has begun to settle into his new, albeit temporary, life in Dimension Hatröss. He notices that the inhabitants seem to be under some form of mind control, all with “a number between their eyes”, taking “orders from the big head”. Korgull tries to avoid complacency; he’d “rather think, but there’s something wrong”. This song is creepily prescient with regards to modern society.

Dimension Hatross lyric doodles page 4

Track 5: “…Epilog…Macrosolutions to Megaproblems” – In which Korgull learns the true intentions of the Chaosmöngers: “The discord is real now, echo is very loud! No more! Control! Leave minds! Alone!”

Dimension Hatross lyric doodles page 5

Track 6: “Brain Scan” – In which the Technocratic Manipulators turn the tables on Korgull and get inside his brain in an attempt to control his thoughts and extract his knowledge.

Dimension Hatross lyric doodles page 6

Tracks 7 & 8: “Psychic Vacuum” & “Cosmic Drama” – In which Korgull fights the brain scanning process, reverses it, and steals the knowledge and “unique power” of the Manipulators, then reverses the process that brought him to Dimension Hatröss in the first place, destroying the dimension as he flees back to his own time and space.

 

Dimension Hatross lyric doodles page 7

 

Dimension Hatross lyric doodles page 8

By the time I got to the last two pages, I was kind of wiped out (that creature from the “Brain Scan” page had a lot to do with it), which explains the increased abstraction on the final two pages. Speaking of wiped out, I’m not exactly, but I do have other things I need to do (until someone decides to pay me for writing this). I have more to say about Voivod in general and Dimension Hatröss in particular, but it’ll have to wait. Until then, I do hope you’ll stay heavy.

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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.

Oh, Tell Me That’s Not Glorious: A Thing About Racebannon

This post has been a long time coming.  Even before I started to consider starting to consider starting a blog, I’ve been writing about this album.  I’ve filled probably 20 pages or more, between my hard drive and my notebooks, about what is easily one of my Top 20 personal favorite albums, in any genre (and honestly, it’s in the Top 10 most days).  Naturally, most of those pages are not fit for human consumption, but I feel pretty confident that I can put together something at least remotely meaningful about Satan’s Kickin’ Yr Dick In, the third album by Bloomington, Indiana’s own genre-defying metal/punk/noise juggernaut Racebannon.  I’ll start with a bit of background on how Racebannon came into my life.

promo_racebannon1

Photo from musicalfamilytree.net

The year was 1998.  I was still very much a Metalhead, but I was also sad, which led me to the dark, sad world of emo (back when emo was played and listened to by sad dudes with receding hairlines wearing sweaters and khakis, and not skinny dudes with haircuts that swooped over one eye wearing gaudy t-shirts and their little sister’s jeans).  Jawbreaker was an immediate favorite, because I have ears and a soul, and Jawbreaker vocalist/guitarist Blake Schwartzenbach’s post-Jawbreaker band Jets to Brazil was also big shit to me.  I also really dug the Promise Ring (they once played Rhino’s All Ages Club with a little band called Jimmy Eat World opening for them – that’s history right there, kids), Braid, and early Alkaline Trio (I still listen to their first two albums several times a year).

Anyway, one Sunday afternoon shortly before my 21st birthday (April 12, 1998 to be precise – sometimes it pays to keep a journal), my brother-from-another-mother Travis and I went to the aforementioned Rhino’s to see an all-day mostly emo show, headlined by Braid.  A total of seven bands played, most of them forgettable, but the fifth band would go on to have a profound effect on my life, albeit several years later.  Travis and I had never heard of Racebannon (in fact, we thought they were called “Rayspan”), and all we knew was that they were a local band.  We assumed they would sound more or less like the other bands on the bill.  I can’t speak for Travis, but personally, I’ve only been more wrong once in my life, and that was when I married my ex-wife.

Four scruffy-looking dudes around the same age as Travis and me got up on the stage, and the one with the giant pile of curly hair on top of his head walked over to a chair with a tape player sitting on it and pressed play.  Some forgotten sample began to fill the small room as the band stared menacingly out at the crowd, the curly-haired frontman pacing back and forth like some kind of escaped mental patient.  The tension built for maybe a minute or so, and then all hell broke loose in a concussive explosion of skull-splitting drums, chest-rattling bass, and riffs thicker than a Porterhouse steak.  The instant the music began to crash out of the monitors, the frontman began to convulse and flop and shriek and scream, and we had to get the fuck out of that room.

If you’ve never been to Rhino’s All Ages Club, it may be difficult to understand how bad the sound can be in there; they often have really good/great shows, but if you’re not standing in just the right spot, the sound can be atrocious – all cacophonous and drenched in echos.  Imagine standing under an overpass of a busy interstate highway during rush hour, directly beneath the flight paths of the nearby international airport while someone stands next to you repeatedly hitting a metal trashcan with an aluminum baseball bat, while another person stands on the other side of you and yells directly into your ear.  That should give you a tiny bit of an idea what Racebannon sounded like in that tiny club that gray Sunday afternoon.  But in a really good way.  We ended up watching their set from the other side of the big front window of the club, safely out of range of permanent hearing damage, and it was a thing of demented beauty.

Fast forward to late August 2006.  I’m separated from that ex-wife I mentioned earlier, and have moved back to Bloomington after three years in Austin, Texas.  I’m living in a tiny bedroom in a house in the middle of Campus Partytown, USA with two hippies, an aloof self-styled philosopher/scholar, a dog, and four cats (for the record, I still love all those people and animals dearly, except for one of the cats; Monk was a total asshole).  I was sad and angry, and I was desperately searching for something that would speak directly to my soul.  Meanwhile, I took a part-time job at a fantastic restaurant/brewpub, where something about one of my supervisors stirred some unknown thing in the dark recesses of my memory.  I knew that I knew this guy from somewhere.

About a week into the job, one of my co-workers mentioned an upcoming Racebannon show.  Here’s what happened in my brain:  “Racebannon!  Holy shit!  Mike A. is that insane curly-haired lunatic from Racebannon!  Why did I marry her?!  I’m so scared of him now!  But he seems so nice!  I should buy a Racebannon album!  Goddamnit I hate her!  I wonder which album I should buy?!”  I had a lot to work out in my brain.

Next payday, I walked directly to Landlocked Music and perused the Racebannon selection, settling on the one with the title that made me laugh: 2002’s Satan’s Kickin’ Yr Dick In.  I walked home and put it on the stereo, and it literally did not leave my stereo for the next two months, except for the day I listened to it on the way to and from work through a borrowed Sony Discman (I cut a full three minutes off my walking time that day).  I would work, walk home, press “Play”, select “Repeat”, and sit in my room, usually reading the lyrics.  Sometimes I’d try to write, but the album was too distracting to write much.  Sometimes I’d hang out with some friends, and sometimes I’d watch a movie or something, but when I wasn’t working, hanging out, or watching a movie, I was listening to Satan’s Kickin’ Yr Dick In, over and over and over again.  I would fall asleep every night listening to it on repeat, which meant that I would wake up listening to it.  Maybe you’re wondering what drew me so strongly into the album, and I wish I could put my finger on it, but I have never been able to do that.  All I know is that I could not stop listening to it.  I even bought all the rest of the Racebannon albums to try to break myself out of the trance, but after a few songs I’d put it right back on.

I suppose I should say something about the album itself.  It’s a concept album (one of the greatest ever made, and I’ll fight anyone who tries to argue that) which tells the story of a frustrated young man named Rodney Mitchell, who wants nothing more than to be a star.  One night in a fit of desperation, Rodney smashes his face into the bathroom mirror, declaring, “My pointless vanity has finally broken me.  Still, fuck this world!  I wanna take it all!  I would give my soul just to take it all!”  Old Scratch himself then appears before Rodney and makes the young man an offer he can’t refuse before disappearing with some parting words: “And remember, one day I’m coming back.  Till then, show the world what yr made of.”

Rodney wakes up to find himself transformed into Rhonda Delight, who quickly rises to the top of the entertainment world, becoming the most famous and most-loved diva the world has ever known, star of stage and screen, hobnobbing with the likes of “Sean Penn, Thurston Moore, and John F. Kennedy, Jr.”  Like the very best Faustian bargain stories, this one finds the protagonist quickly spiraling out of control while living a life of excess (“Let me kill this fifth of whiskey and I’m good to go.  I’ll perform fine.  Aww, what do you know?  I could do this paralyzed, deaf, blind, fuck you, I’m ready to go.”), only to end up on life support as the Father of All Lies comes to claim what belongs to him.

There aren’t a lot of words I can think of to describe how this album sounds, but a few come to mind: terrifying, beautiful, spastic, sublime, perfect.  Satan’s Kickin’ Yr Dick In is absolutely fucking superlative.  I’m listening to it (for the fifth time in two days) as I write this, and parts of it are moving me to tears.  It is SO FUCKING GOOD.  I can’t recommend it highly enough, but I do recommend that if (when?) you check it out, you do it up right: cancel all meetings, send your kids to their grandparents’ house (where applicable), turn off your phone, your television, and anything else that might distract you, get yourself a tasty beverage, sit down with the lyrics in front of you, and press play.  If you enjoy any form of extreme music, I can’t begin to imagine that you’ll be disappointed.  Just know that you might have trouble getting away.

I should point out that the rest of their albums are really great, too.  This one, however, has what the French might call a certain je ne sais quoi.

Until next time, Stay Heavy, you heavy fuckers.