Rabbit Holes #7: Quebec's Voïvod remakes its own best songs

In 1984, Metal Blade Records of Van Nuys, California, released the fifth edition of its Metal Massacre series, which had already unleashed such bands as RATT, Metallica, Slayer, and Lizzy Borden onto an unwitting music-buying public. On the second track, among future stalwarts Overkill, Fates Warning, and Metal Church as well as no-hit wonders Lethyl Synn and Jesters of Destiny, was an oddly named band from Jonquière, Quebec: Voïvod, spelled Voi Vod on the album cover. Voïvod's four members were Blacky, Away, Piggy, and Snake.

The band was new, had played its first concert just the year before and released a cassette of that performance. Anachronism was mostly covers with a couple of originals. The sound is atrocious, the band positioned, apparently, at the bottom of a well, a cheap recorder placed haphazardly in a bucket, instrumental separation not even an afterthought. The band chose one of the original tunes, "Condemned to the Gallows," for its Metal Massacre entry. The song was, happily, rerecorded, and the January 1984 studio take is an improvement, hinting at the band's potential with its mix of nascent thrash metal and punk but with a typical flat, unsubtle Metal Blade Records sound.

"Condemned to the Gallows" is the opening track to the just-released Morgöth Tales (Century Media/Orchard, available on CD and LP), which celebrates the 40th anniversary of the band's founding. (The album's name recalls Morgöth Invasion, another cassette-only demo.) Morgöth Tales puts an interesting spin on the Greatest Hits concept, combining nine songs from the band's history, rerecorded by its current lineup, with a brand-new title track. The CD version adds a cover of Public Image Ltd.'s "Home."

Finally, "Condemned to the Gallows," presented in listenable sound. The newly recorded track has a much wider frequency range, the pulse of Michel "Away" Langevin's kickdrum is beautifully audible, and Denis "Snake" Bélanger's vocals no longer overwhelm the proceedings.

Voïvod recorded War and Pain, its full-length debut, for Metal Blade Records later in 1984. The combination of thrash roots, "Piggy" D'Amour's individual, almost jazzy lines, and Langevin's artwork and dark–sci-fi aesthetic was even more apparent on the full-length, especially on the title track, though as with most thrash bands circa 1984, they had not yet fully extinguished the Metallica/Slayer influence.

Voïvod got more distinctive on 1985's wonderfully titled Rrröööaaarrr, for the German Noise imprint, from whence comes the second track on Morgöth Tales. "Thrashing Rage" was the first song on side B of an LP made in a better studio, but the feel on the original version is still that of a band recording as they would play live, a mosh-pit in a mudslide. The 2023 rerecording is revelatory, exposing details hard to hear in the original. Langevin's development into one of metal's most inventive drummers is evident where it wasn't before, his relentless pummeling crystal clear.

Like a classic sitcom in late-season form, the next two Voïvod albums—1986's Killing Technology and 1987–'88's Dimension Hatröss—are exemplars in its catalog, both on Noise, both recorded at Harris Johns's famed Music Lab Berlin. The band was now mature and unique in the genre, its progressive-rock flourishes and dystopic vision abetted by multitrack recording and effects. The 2023 version of Killing Technology's title track dispenses with the eerie, nearly minute-long intro, and Bélanger's vocals are not as nimble as they were 30-plus years ago, but the mix is friendlier to bass and drums. Still, for "Killing Technology"—the song—the original version is better. Dimension Hatröss yielded the band's most successful song, "Tribal Convictions," which did well thanks to a video during the heyday of MTV's Headbangers Ball. From this album, Morgöth Tales opts for "Macrosolutions to Megaproblems," one of the band's most complex songs and a feature for D'Amour. The bass response is a bit better on the new version; if not better than the original, it is nearly its equal.

Those two releases were followed by a move to a major label, MCA, where the band stayed for its next two albums, 1989's Nothingface and 1991's Angel Rat. The former album put the band's prog-rock influences in stark relief. It's a concept album in the grand 1970s tradition, and it includes a cover of Pink Floyd's "Astronomy Domine." The shift toward prog continued with Angel Rat. "Pre-Ignition," from Nothingface, is faithfully rendered on Morgöth Tales, and the new "Nuage Fractal," from Angel Rat, is edgier than the original.

Thériault left the band after Angel Rat. Bélanger left after 1993's The Outer Limits, on which Pierre St. Jean recorded bass tracks and others filled in live. For the next two albums, Phobos and Negatron, Eric "E-Force" Forrest took over bass and vocals. Forrest was severely injured in a car accident during a 1998 tour, leading the band to close up shop in 2001, until Bélanger returned in summer 2002 for the group's eponymous album, with former Metallica bassist Jason Newsted appearing as Jasonic.

The same quartet made 2006's Katorz. That album and 2009's Infini marked difficult times for the band. D'Amour had died 2005, from cancer at just 45, but his guitar was tracked earlier, for both releases, and the rest of the band filled in around him. On 2013's Target Earth, guitar duties were handled by Quebecoise Daniel "Chewy" Mongrain; 2014 saw the arrival of another young French-Canadian, Dominique "Rocky" Laroche. The lineup has been stable since, including on 2022's Juno Award–winning Synchro Anarchy. This is the lineup behind Morgöth Tales.

Buyers should opt for the LP, since the four-page booklet rich with Langevin artwork is of far greater interest than the Public Image Ltd. tune on the CD. But act fast—for now, the LP version is available only as an import.

mcduman's picture

They are my all time favorite rock/metal band and Dimension Hatross is my all time favorite album. Followed by Nothingface. The artwork, lyrics, Piggys riffs and complex time signatures.

There is kickstarter campaign to erect a state of piggy now