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TRACKBACK: Voivod’s Earth Rebirth

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Photo by OpethPainter http://www.flickr.com/photos/opethpainter/

Man, that is really “something else.” That little expression is endlessly justified by the music of Voivod. It’s fascinating, marked by a tangible futurism and beautiful desolation. That’s what first grabs the ear. And then when its novelty fades, to the fore comes its sophistication: The melodies and dissonances of a Voivod song plow new paths in the human brain; the construction of a Voivod song would be envied by Frank Lloyd Wright, hailed by Stanley Kubrick, and copied by Stravinsky (and vice versa lol); the gauzy, jagged narratives of a Voivod song discomfit and enthrall like a disturbing, claustrophobic dream. The effect of Voivod music is totally “something else.”

But fans might’ve pondered the viability of future Voivod once guitarist Denis “Piggy” D’Amour passed away in 2005. An architect of an intensely singular style, D’Amour left behind two albums of material — 2006’s Katorz and Infini in 2009 — and a very specialized job opening. And after touring since 2008, a Voivod line-up with founding bassist Jean-Yves “Blacky” Theriault and Martyr guitarist Daniel “Chewy” Mongrain now unveils the first album of a new era: Target Earth (Century Media). And it’s awesome! Sweet Tits McGee they pulled it off!!

To discuss Target Earth and to revisit pivotal points on the Voivod timeline — and talk Jason Newsted, Wayne’s World, and 3-D glasses — we connected via email with 75% of Voivod: Mongrain, singer Denis “Snake” Bélanger, and Michel “Away” Langevin (drums, art). Read and jam!

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“Target Earth”
Target Earth (Century Media)
January 22, 2013 (order here)

Anso DF, MetalSucks: Target Earth marks the return of founding bassist Jean-Yves “Blacky” Theriault to VOIVOD’s recording line-up. It’s awesome for fans to hear his bass rumble in the album’s first seconds. How awesome is it for VOIVOD to have him back?

Daniel “CHEWY” Mongrain, guitars: Being a fan first, I think it’s amazing to have his personality back into the music. He is a prolific composer, a very intense and authentic person. His way to play his bass is very unique — he could play with any amp, it would still sound like the blower bass in my opinion, since he plays with his heart and guts. He plays the role of a second guitar, as well as the role of bassist. He has a lot to do with the original (early) sound of the band, and you can tell right from the first track of the new album. Plus, he is a good friend and a true genuine person.

ADF: Bassist Jason Newsted recently described the “crazy, heavy emotions” that accompanied his departure from Metallica, and revealed his chemical dependency that followed his shoulder surgeries in 2006. These issues coincide with his tenure in VOIVOD. Was it apparent to you guys that Newsted was battling?

Michel “AWAY” Langevin: We were aware of Jason having some neck injuries from years of thrash metal action, but it didn’t keep him from playing with both VOIVOD and Ozzy for the whole summer of 2003. Two shows a night! After the release of Katorz in 2006, Snake and I took a break from recording while Jason recovered from his shoulder surgeries. We were finally able to finish the album Infini with him in 2009.

By then we were also touring the globe with the new line-up of Blacky, Chewy, Snake, and I.

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“Mechanical Mind”
Target Earth (Century Media)
January 22, 2013 (order here)

ADF: “Mechanical Mind” was the first of Target Earth‘s tracks to emerge. In what ways does the song best introduce the new VOIVOD?

CHEWY: I think that track possesses a lot of the VOIVOD textures from pretty much all of the previous albums. It’s intricate, progressive, still aggressive and melodic. Lots of tempo changes, twists and turns, but not in a way that someone would feel totally lost. And I think it also has that new colour from the present line-up. We thought a lot about what song should be our first, and we all agreed on that one in the end for those reasons. We felt it was the right choice.

ADF: Since the moment that Target Earth was first planned, each member of VOIVOD must’ve been anticipating the start of a new era for your pivotal metal band. But on the day of “Mechanical Mind”‘s premiere, were your emotions as you had been expecting?

Denis “SNAKE” Bélanger: It’s always a thrilling experience to release something new. As any artist, when it’s time to reveal your creative work, there’s a feeling of excitement, joy, anxiety, and fear, all mixed together. Everyone has their own taste and expectation, and you just wait and wish the verdict will be positive. In this case, we were playing it live as it was available for streaming. So each night, it was a great moment on the set list, we could see people with their eyes and ears wide open, absorbing every note of the song. It’s like being high on something.

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http://youtu.be/qd8OBjiiZrs

“We Are Not Alone”
The Outer Limits (MCA)
August 3, 1993

ADF: I am intrigued by VOIVOD’s incredible skill at ending each album with a massive, conclusive song. What’s the secret to making a song that will brilliantly represent the album’s final message?

AWAY: When we were living together in the ’80s, we listened to a lot of movie soundtracks: The Thing, Mad Max, The Shining, etc… I think we learned to transpose the dystopian concept musically with variants in dynamics because of that.

ADF: The Outer Limits was VOIVOD’s final album for longtime major-label home MCA Records. Were you guys thinking, ‘Well, this could be our last chance to do some amazing high-tech 3-D album art’?

AWAY: It took a while to convince the label because of extra-costs, and it delayed the album release a bit, but the result was fantastic! It came with VOIVOD glasses, which would have been difficult to achieve on an independent label.

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“Golem”
Angel Rat (MCA)
November 12, 1991

ADF: Like many VOIVOD moments, “Golem” is rendered so vividly that any listener could create a video clip for it: It begins with a tight, thudding march before blossoming into a weightless, spacey journey beyond reality. How did it become a goal to go beyond self-expression and stimulate the imagination of Voivod listeners?

SNAKE: Well, for me, music is a sensitive form of communication. It sort of interferes and interacts with your emotions and feelings. It’s like how reading a book can make you travel outside of your room– music does the same. It gets inside you, and it can make you feel happy, sad, angry, free, tortured, spaced out, etc. For us, it’s not even a goal, it’s the only way to do it. VOIVOD always had this natural instinct of doing things on its own and trying to make people travel in their head.

ADF: The creation and release of Angel Rat coincides with the huge popularity of “Wayne’s World,” a recurring sketch on comedy show Saturday Night Live. Have you guys noticed the awesome similarity between Wayne and Garth’s famous “flashback wipe” sound effects and the bridge/solo section of “Golem” (at 2:26)?

SNAKE: Ha ha! No, I’ve never noticed that. “Wayne’s World”…Ouf, that was a long time ago. It’s funny to see how people notice little details like that. As far as I know, it’s coincidence.

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“Pre-Ignition”
Nothingface (MCA)
October 13, 1989

ADF: Take us back to the very start of Nothingface‘s creation: After the critical and artistic success of Dimension Hatross, was the band’s excitement level high for its follow-up?

SNAKE: Yes, especially because we got signed to a major record label. At the time, we were heading for the big league and expectations and hopes were high. We had a bit of pressure, but it was good pressure. We knew it was a big step ahead, but we stayed focused and tried not to be disturbed by any outsiders or compromising decisions. At first, I wasn’t sure about the cover [Pink Floyd’s] “Astronomy Domine,” but once it was recorded, I knew we were heading in the right direction. It ended up being one of the highlight songs on the record. Overall, it was a great period of our careers, things were getting bigger and better, we were travelling the world… Who could ask for anything more.

ADF: It’s appropriate to describe the guitar work of Denis “Piggy” D’Amour as singular genius. When first getting acquainted with “Pre-Ignition,” were you guys blown away by the incredible number of awesome riffs in just one song?

AWAY: Piggy’s material was heavily influenced by dark progressive rock like King Crimson or Van Der Graaf [Generator]. It was always a thrill to create my drum tracks around it. By the time we wrote and recorded Nothingface, we had rehearsed pretty much every night for six years so we were able to perform the music really well live and in the studio.

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listen

“Empathy For The Enemy”
Target Earth (Century Media)
January 22, 2013 (order here)

ADF: Its Japanese Koto-style intro propels “Empathy” beyond the established borders of VOIVOD country. Is this a result of a desire to demonstrate VOIVOD’s mission to keep evolving even without Piggy?

CHEWY: Actually, the intro was recorded and composed by one of our good friends, Periklis Tsoukalas, from Greece. He is a fantastic musician and a huge, long-time VOIVOD fan. He plays an instrument called an “Oud” on the intro. We met him in Athena, Greece, while touring, and he showed us around. He hadn’t slept for more than 24 hours — he had just come back from touring — but he kept showing us around. At the end of the day, he played his Oud on the roof of the hotel for us, like a private concert… It was Magical!! That’s where we got the idea about a collaboration with him. He is a great guy, a brother.

I think VOIVOD is evolving “with” Piggy. Even if he is not here physically, his musical heritage is very strong within the band and the music community.

ADF: VOIVOD’s tone and lyrics tend to conjure images of future dystopia and the far reaches of space. To what extent do present-day Earthly affairs influence a song like “Empathy”?

CHEWY: Snake came up with all of the lyrics and the concept, but I feel you can interpret it in many ways. I personally see it as the absurdity of hatred between cultures and the manipulation of people’s opinion over the centuries about cultures that are different from their own. It has a lot to do with feeding people’s mind with fear and encouraging  ignorance and intolerance. I guess, a good way to look at a human behavior sometimes is to transpose it to some other fictional events…It gives a different perspective, another angle of our own creation and imagination…At least it makes your mind spin and makes you think about it…It triggers our ability to think by ourselves and question what we took for granted in our way of thinking…

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Order Target Earth here and fancy deluxe Target Earth here

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