Voivod’s Denis “Snake” Bélanger Talks Ultraman EP, Big Four of Canadian Thrash & More
For 40 years, Voivod has been storming stages worldwide, perpetrating an uncompromising blend of metal to the joy of an undying cult fanbase.
Few bands would endeavor to take a ’60s sci-fi series and turn it into a multi-lingual EP of metal meets mayhem. And while few would, with its Ultraman EP, Voivod did just that. For new fans or those unfamiliar with so-called “sci-fi metal,” it may be difficult to understand. Still, for fans of the legendary Canadian thrashers, Voivod, the Ultraman EP is just another day at the office.
In paying homage to their childhood memories, the boys in Voivod have opened a proverbial pandora’s box of musical exploration. Through whimsy, and an ability to relent, Voivod has hotwired our collective consciousness once more through modern-day metal flourishes bristling with undertones of nostalgia.
Ever thankful and eternally appreciative of his place in the pantheon of metal, Voivod’s voice box, Denis “Snake” Bélanger, took a moment with me to recount his love for Ultraman, Voivod’s place in the metal world, what he’s most thankful for, and a whole lot more.
Give us the background on Voivod’s Ultraman EP.
We’ve always been big fans of Ultraman since we were young. And obviously, the Voivod has done some other covers over the years, like Batman and things like that. We grew up watching these things, and we just felt like paying homage. But one thing people may not realize is that, musically, this stuff is way more complex than you would think. It’s got a lot of rock ‘n’ roll in it, but beyond that, there are complexities you’d never imagine if you’re not listening past the surface of it. After we got going, we learned quickly that the quality of the musicianship required to pull this off was quite impressive. So, we had a real challenge in doing this.
Can you dive deeper into those complexities?
Musically, it was complex at a certain point because there are many parts with the Ultraman theme; it’s not one-dimensional. There’s the opening portion, and then there’s a battle section, and then the last part of it. So, it’s multiple parts, and they all have different nuances. The other thing was, and this has nothing to do with the music, it was not easy to settle the publishing because it’s the same writer, but the two different partners, who both used different publishing, and we had to wrangle that all in just to be able to do it. So, we had to have a little bit of compromise, and then, of course, we’ve got several languages on this. We’ve got French, English, and Japanese, too. But I don’t want to make it sound too awful because we really did have a blast.
Take me through the recording process.
We did it pretty much all at the same time we did the Synchro Anarchy album. And the whole process was like, “Okay, what should we do? How do we want to do this, and what do we want to concentrate on first?” Because there were multiple parts, and we had to figure out what we felt made sense to do first. But the recording was a lot like our other music; it’s just that with the Ultraman EP, we didn’t write the music, and we had the additional languages. And Chewy [Mongrain] was a big part of that because he knows Japanese, and we just had a lot of fun with it.
Was there ever a consideration to include the Ultraman tracks on Synchro Anarchy?
No. From the start, there was never a question of putting them on Synchro Anarchy. We always felt the Ultraman tracks should be set aside as their own release. We did them during the same sessions, but we actually did the Ultraman stuff first. We did it that way so that as soon as they were done, we could focus on the rest of Synchro Anarchy stuff after that. It was sort of like a big tornado, and we had a lot of things swirling around us. We had a big task of making an album ahead, so it made the most sense to get the Ultraman stuff done because then we’d be able to concentrate on doing the music and the vocal parts for Synchro Anarchy
What went into the decision to record the Ultraman EP in multiple languages?
Oh, we had many chats about it. I can’t recall exactly how it started, but I do know that we always wanted to include a French version. And it seems, at least we were told, that the Japanese people enjoy the French language; they think it’s exotic or something. [Laughs]. So, I think we got the idea to do it in both French and Japanese, and English, of course. That was tough because we wanted to translate the theme in an obvious way to people who watched the show as a kid but also for fans of Voivod.
Honestly, that got tougher when we decided to do the multiple languages, so we just went with what we knew but made it more modern in a Voivod sort of way. It was fun to do, the singing, I mean, but it was a challenge because I don’t speak Japanese. I found myself holding back, and I remember not being entirely sure about myself. But I had a good teacher in Chewy, and it was a blast.
Would you consider doing more releases centered around similar shows you grew up with?
Sure. We’re always open to new things, and one thing we’ve learned over the years in Voivod is that we never say never. Like I was saying earlier, we’ve covered Batman, and now we’ve done Ultraman, so with other releases or covering other things like this, why not? We don’t have anything in the works, but it’s possible that we’d do this again, sure.
Does Voivod plan to insert any of the Ultraman tracks into its setlist?
That is something I’m not sure about. Honestly, I don’t know if we’ll include anything from this in our shows. Some of our next shows will be with Opeth, and we’ll be opening, so we have to be selective about what we play. We’ve already got so much stuff that we play live, so right now, there’s no plan for that. But it could be interesting, and maybe when we’re doing a headline show, perhaps we could put some of the Ultraman stuff in there. But for now, no, there’s no plan for that.
Can you measure the influence of the sci-fi genre, in general, on Voivod?
As a kid, I remember being quite afraid when Ultraman was starting because the music was startling to me. And I think that’s something that never left me, and it certainly influenced Voivod. Of course, Voivod has always been into that was sci-fi, and I think we found a lot of ways to include those things into our music while also mixing in the sounds we were hearing in the underground thrash scene. Also, we’ve always been fascinated by technology, futuristic visions of what could happen, and different ways the world could be, and we’ve always written from that perspective. We love the idea of, like, aliens and monsters killing technology, how they might fight each other, and that’s undoubtedly been a playground for us musically.
Voivod is a part of what’s referred to as the “Big Four of Canadian Thrash Metal,” which is a bit of a divisive signifier. What are your thoughts on the overlooked nature of the Canadian metal scene?
We take a lot of pride in being a Canadian band; we really do. Honestly, I don’t think we’ve ever looked for any sort of status or whatever. From day one, we’ve always done what we wanted to do, and of course, there are certain things that people will think, write, or say when you’re being different. We’ve never cared about that. A lot of people say that, but with Voivod, I promise you that it’s true. We’ve always known that we’re a different sort of band, and we’ve never expected the masses to follow what we’re doing.
But the fans that do show up, we feel that’s something special. But yes, you’re right, Canadian rock and metal have never been afforded the same level of exposure that other scenes in the U.K. or the United States have been, and that’s been a very tough trail to walk in. But sometimes, you have to be the one to open the trail for others, and we’ve always tried to do that in Voivod. As far as recognition, I think we have great followers, and I believe that once you’re hooked on Voivod, you’re hooked forever.
Over the years, Voivod has touched on nearly every form of metal. What has kept Voivod so genre curious?
First and foremost, we’re just creating music. And basically, when we’re creating music, we don’t restrict ourselves. We don’t censor what we’re doing or feel as if we need to keep on making a certain type of metal just because it’s what we’ve done before. When we started this puzzle called Voivod, it evolved from overtly thrash to going to speed metal, and we went from there. We never wanted to make albums that sounded like each other, which is why our music has evolved. And seriously, to this day, I cannot tell you what our next album will sound like; all I know is that it will be Voivod. [Laughs]. It all depends on the circumstances; like, with this last one, we made it in a very different way, and that was an evolution, too.
What made Synchro Anarchy different from previous records Voivod has made?
It was different because of COVID. We were in a situation where we couldn’t really see each other or meet because of the pandemic. And so, Synchro Anarchy was made differently in that we had to write and do a lot of our parts separately, and it was recorded in a really short period of time. Another important thing to remember about Voivod is that we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We have an instinct inside us where we say, “Is what we’re making representative of Voivod? Is this worth our time, or is this just an idea we need to forget?” And that instinct helped us with Synchro Anarchy because it allowed us to make an album that we knew was what I’d call “Voivodian,” even if we were separate. So, no matter the circumstances, each album is different every time out.
What are some of the things from the earliest days of Voivod that remain the same to this day?
Oh, there’s tons of different stuff, but I would say that our drive remains to keep this alive and make interesting music. That has never stopped, and that drive has never changed. I think that our sticking together as a team and us being able to come together as we have; it’s similar to the early years of the band, too. Voivod has been around for 40 years, and it’s like a brotherhood, especially having Chewy and Rocky [Laroche] in the band for quite a while now.
So, what’s the same? We still have the same goal of making music and doing it our way. We don’t compromise, and we aren’t going to change our style or our vision for anybody. We like to connect with people when we travel the world, and that’s been like that from day one. Of course, as time goes by, fashion changes, music evolves, and tastes become different, and with that, we choose to either alter our approach or we don’t. There was a time when we were more technical, and I hate to say it, but we even had a period where we were maybe a little bit commercial. But we went through all of that, we survived, and we’re to a point where we understand what Voivod is, we know each other, and we’re not going to compromise for anyone.
After 40 years as a band, what are you most thankful for, Denis?
I’m thankful just to be talking to you right now. I’ve been through a lot of different things. I mean, just two days ago, I was in a minor accident driving from the studio where someone hit the back of the car, and that reminds you that life is short. We shouldn’t need it, but it reminds us to be thankful and live. I walked away with only a little whiplash in my neck, but it could be so much worse. So, you never know what to expect in this life, and just being alive is the greatest gift.
I’m thankful for each day; with that, I try to do the best I can with what I have. I’m grateful to be still traveling the world; I’m thankful to be still creating music with the boys. I’m grateful that my mom is still alive. I’m thankful for many things, especially that I get to have a great life and don’t have too much to complain about. Nothing is perfect, but I’ve grown to understand that life can be hard and that it’s harder for some than others. I try not to complain. I’m happy to be here and still enjoying it.