Quebec-born thrash metal trustees turned progressive metal trailblazers Voivod are, if nothing else, a band of historical consequence. Originally cutting their teeth in the studio by playing an assortment of covers by noteworthy NWOBHM icons such as Tank, Venom, Sweet Savage and Raven, their rise from underground thrash metal upstarts to a Metal Blade Records-backed thrashing powerhouse could be likened to that of Metallica, and given their proficiency at their craft it is unsurprising that they would later enjoy the services of said band’s bassist Jason Newsted for a considerable length of time. But even more profound than the impressive cast of characters that has cycled through this outfit over the years is that its legacy has carried on for a full 16 years since this outfits’ founder and mastermind Denis “Piggy” D’Amour’s passing, an occasion that the current fold has marked with two impressive live streaming events, performing the entirety of their 2 most stylistically consequential albums of the late 80s in “Nothingface” and “Dimension Hatröss” respectively.
Following a quirky introduction that features a jargon-steeped explanation of the catalyst of the events depicted in the lyrics of the latter aforementioned album being performed, the visual depiction of the band perfectly embodies the mysterious and otherworldly character of the music being featured. The stage set is itself fairly small and mundane when compared to the elaborate and spacious amphitheaters frequently featured in streaming events over the course of the past 15 months, giving off a more up close and intimate feel to things. But the simplistic lightshow and the highly proficient musicianship on display by each member of this four piece veteran group managed to convey a sense of largess that few could hope to match. Perhaps the most dynamic presence in the fold was that of tech death trustee and guitarist Daniel “Chewy” Mongrain, whose tenure with the band has been relatively short, but manages to flawlessly realize the dichotomy of loose, jam-band styled jazzy stylings and rhythmically tight thrash metal mannerisms inherent to Piggy’s original handiwork.
The ebb and flow of the performance would prove an exercise in visual and auditory precision, as each of the 8 chapters of “Dimension Hatröss” are presented with clear points of separation and further divided into two acts in a manner mirroring the album’s implicit structure. The first half of the set would be ushered in by a powerful and seemingly effortless rendition of the highly elaborate and fairly long “Experiment” to the backdrop of a spiraling green light. Along with standout performances of the rhythmically nuanced and spacey to the point of turning psychedelic anthem “Tribal Convictions” and the more disjointed and quirky “Chaosmongers”, the presentation of this stylistically transitional album would prove quite smooth and organic in feel, as if it were the destination point rather than a stepping stone to even more bizarre sonic territory. Yet amid the highly complex and almost meandering cacophony of shifting beats, wandering riffs and foundation-maintaining yet often complex bass work, vocalist Denis “Snake” Belanger’s vocal display is arguably the greatest stabilizing factor, despite his delivery often appearing effortless to the point of being nonchalant.
But if the first half of this masterful trip down memory lane was a display of musical proficiency, the second would prove the more poignant of the two. Standing between the former and latter acts would be a brief intermission where Snake would take time to reminisce upon the closing days of the last tour with Piggy in 2003 and along with his current band mates, unveil some keepsakes from said tour that had been away in storage for more than a decade, including two toy guns, drawings and other belongings of their fallen comrade. The segue back into the musical performance would prove a bit abrupt, but the gradual build from a drum intro into an offbeat bass groove that ushered in “Macrosolutions To Megaproblems” would do much to mitigate things. Indeed, while the final four songs to close out the album had more of a rocking character to them and seemed to downplay the thrash elements even more, the energy level would continue to rise with the Motorhead-infused speeder with a mountain of twists “Brain Scan” and finally culminate in a pair of fast-paced bangers in “Psychic Vacuum” and “Cosmic Drama” that could be likened to Rush played at double the tempo.
Opting to conclude things on a seemingly comical note, this quirky quartet would give the online onlookers a sendoff with a noodling ditty and rendition of the 1960s Batman television show theme as an encore, complete with the animation of the caped crusader and his trusty sidekick from the intro of the series playing in the background. In the final moments as Snake repeated the theme’s title into the microphone, in a clear tribute to the man who’s artistic vision birthed the band, he brought the same toy guns from Piggy’s keepsake box and fired them into the microphone for added effect as the song ended, adding an additional layer of Sci-Fi weirdness into an already unconventional reinterpretation of a 1960s rock song. It was a perfect blend of comedic wit and a heartfelt tribute to a fallen friend to close out a brilliant performance, and one that those fortunate enough to have caught live on June 27th will surely be discussing in the weeks and months to come.
Experiment / Tribal Convictions / Chaosmongers / Technocratic Manipulators / Macrosolutions to Megaproblems / Brain Scan / Psychic Vacuum / Cosmic Drama