Metal Legacies

METAL LEGACIES: DENIS “PIGGY” D’AMOUR OF VOIVOD – DIED AUGUST 26, 2005

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piggyMetal Legacies is an ongoing memorial to extreme music pioneers who kicked the proverbial bucket way too soon.

This is only my third Metal Legacies entry, yet it is by far the hardest to write. As a college radio metal/hardcore DJ at The University of Texas from 1988-1990 I was a huge Voivod fanatic.

It was War and Pain that did me in first.

Then Rrröööaaarrr.

Then Killing Technology blew my mind.

By the time I started playing cassettes and LPs (remember those?) late Friday nights for the imaginatively titled The Metal Show, Voivod released what I believe was their greatest album, Dimension Hatröss. And while I admired every aspect of the Quebec, Canada-based futuristic space thrashers — from Snake’s wailing vocals to Blacky’s angular bass playing to Away’s soulfully robotic drumming and one-of-a-kind artwork — the key selling point was always Piggy’s guitar playing.

Innovative, melodic, atonal, heavy, skronky, annoying, and so far ahead of its time, Piggy’s guitar style was practically indefinable. He combined the proggy sensibilities of Robert Fripp, the Godzilla stomp of Tony Iommi, the slit throat punk aggression of Black Flag’s Greg Ginn, and fused it with his own twisted William Gibson/Bruce Sterling cyberpunk sensibility to create a wholly original, instantly recognizable sound that had never been unleashed in metal.

Completely sated by Dimension Hatross, I would have been happy had the band never recorded another note. Thankfully, they bested themselves just one year later with the continually mind-expanding masterpiece Nothingface. From album opener “The Unknown Knows” to “Into My Hypercube” to the greatest cover song ever recorded; a trippier-than-trippy version of the Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd’s “Astronomy Domine.” I’m sure I spun at least one Voivod song every weekend during my entire three-year tenure as the UT metal DJ.

I was also lucky enough to catch Voivod in their prime on tour with Celtic Frost back in 1986 at a small club in Austin, Texas, and then four years later, headlining the same club with a couple of up-and-coming bands named Soundgarden and Faith No More. Not surprisingly, Voivod blew them both away (no pun intended).

One of the highlights of my radio career was interviewing Piggy, Snake, and Away as Voivod passed through Austin in support of Nothingface. All three men were incredibly polite, generous to a fault, and went against the grain of every metalhead stereotype in the book. Each man was thoughtful, pensive, and a pleasure to speak with. Piggy, especially, seemed genuinely interested in my radio program and was full of praise and compliments. He just seemed like a sweet, gentle man. A decent human being. A nice change of pace in a world oftentimes filled with mooks, meatheads, and sycophantic egomaniacal control freaks.

Unfortunately, as with many metalheads during the early ‘90s, I began to lose interest in most things metal and, instead, turned to industrial, noise, ambient, and electronic music for my vicarious thrills. As a result, I lost track of Voivod, especially after being disappointed with 1991’s Angel Rat. (It would be much later before I learned the error of my ways in regard to that album, which is actually quite brilliant.)

Sadly, I did not revisit one of my favorite bands until Metallica’s Jason Newsted joined a decade later. Seemingly rejuvenated by the presence of Flotzilla, Voivod cranked out the impressive self-titled album, Voivod, in 2003, toured the second stage at Ozzfest, and were seemingly prepared to make an even more lasting impact on the suddenly resurgent extreme metal scene.

The amount of bands directly influenced by Voivod and the guitar tones created by Piggy are massive. Bands as diverse as Between the Buried and Me, Into the Moat, Opeth, Hypocrisy, Satyricon, Atheist, Death, Cynic, Isis, Neurosis, Crisis, Kataklysm, and Brutal Truth are but a few that cite Voivod as a massive influence on their own styles of playing.

Sadly, Voivod’s imminent return would forever be halted by the ultimate equalizer – cancer.

Just one year after the release of Voivod in the summer of 2005, Piggy was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer that had spread to his liver. Doctors informed the guitarist that his condition was inoperable. On Thursday, August 25, Piggy slipped into a coma from which he never returned. He passed away the following evening, August 26, at 11:45 p.m., in a Montreal hospital surrounded by his friends, family, and bandmates. He was only 45 years old.

Piggy’s musical legacy, however, did not cease that day.

Shortly before his death, he sensed his time was short, so he summoned Away to his bedside. He informed his drummer and good friend that he had dozens of guitar tracks recorded on his laptop and he wanted them to be used in some fashion. Away downloaded the material and promised Piggy that the music would be put to good use. The following year, Voivod recorded the album Katorz using Piggy’s guitar tracks. The album was considered a major success and a testament to the brilliant guitar player. Voivod’s final album featuring the final work from Piggy, Infini, was released earlier this summer and has also received much praise from all corners of the music world.

Snake made sure to honor Piggy with a symbolic Viking funeral for his friend’s guitar.

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Photo by Lon Levin.

-CM

[Corey Mitchell writes books about serial killers, mass murderers, and the evil that men do. He is also the founder of the #1 true crime blog, In Cold Blog, and was just interviewed by 48 HOURS about his book, MURDERED INNOCENTS.]

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