VOIVOD – Nothingface: Live-stream (May 30th, 2021)

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As some parts of the world are finally opened up for concerts, Canadians are still struggling with covid variants and waves, and the country is currently being ignored by tour announcements. Seeing a live show seems like a distant dream if you live in the North. Enter local heroes Voivod, the pioneers of mixing thrash and prog, who quenched our thirst for live music with a special livestream on May 30th, playing their album “Nothingface” in its entirety.

Released at the tail end of the 80’s, “Nothingface” is regarded by a huge part of the fan base as their favorite Voivod album, and in a perfect world, its ground-breaking nature should warrant a place in the highest echelons of metal. Last May 05th, the band got together for the first time since August 2020, with the aim of creating something special for their fans – the idea was to bring “Nothingface” to a new era, giving a chance for the old-schoolers to revisit it, and for the new-schoolers to experience it for the first time. They had only 3 days to rehearse all the songs from the album, many of which hadn’t been played since the tour to promote it.

The band couldn’t play together for ten months due to covid, and all members had to do their homework individually to relearn the songs. Rehearsals (with the appropriate protocols) were held at Francis Perron’s Radicart Studio, and the recording of the livestream was done on May 08th and 09th. Every song was played and recorded with no cuts, as if Voivod was playing in the listener’s living room.

Thematically, “Nothingface” tells the story of the character of the same name, on a journey inside his own mind. Existentialism and science fiction collide, as we learn that he doesn’t have any arms, legs, eyes or mouth, as represented on the album cover. He’d like to be part of the outside world but he can’t for some reason. The story is about him meeting people who are in fact himself, and who are trying to convince him to make his arms and legs grow, along with his eyes and ears and mouth. Are you with us yet?

If the band experienced any difficulty in relearning the songs from the album, one couldn’t really tell from watching the livestream. The current lineup (Away on drums, Snake on vocals, Chewy on guitars and Rocky on bass) is absolutely on fire, and successfully updated the tracklist to the 21st century. As great as the original recording is, the reboot brought a freshness to the band’s sound, and it was great to watch Chewy’s and Rocky’s take on this material. They did justice to those songs without playing them verbatim, but added their own twist to them: Chewy has tackled the seemingly impossible mission of replicating the parts created by original composer Piggy, and he does so with incredible aptitude and respect. Rocky’s gnarly bass sound is very similar in tone to that of original member Blacky, and he doesn’t deny that Voivod was a massive influence in his musical upbringing, which certainly helps him in his current job!

Another cool addition to the livestream were the statements from band members between songs. Snake commented on his apprehension before tackling the Pink Floyd song “Astronomy Domine”, Away told the idea behind “Into My Hypercube” (and the influence of Iron Maiden’s “Remember Tomorrow” at the beginning of the song). Chewy and Rocky commented on the first Voivod show they attended, which coincidently was on the “Nothingface” tour.  

It’s hard to comment anything new about such a celebrated album in the band’s pantheon, but the highlights of the livestream performance were probably “Missing Sequences” or “Sub-Effect”, where Snake’s vocal lines follow the guitar arrangement. Or maybe “X-Ray Mirror”, where choruses and verses are morphed, reversed and re-sequenced. Seriously, how does Snake figure out where to start singing on these songs, and how come he never misses a step?

The band tackled the material with equal parts of finesse and aggression, creating definitive versions of these songs here. Sonics wise, all instruments could be heard clearly, and it’s a joy to realize that the current lineup works almost telepathically on stage. Voivod is a rare case of a group whose later day lineup is embraced by the fans as much as the original one. Away, the only original member to never leave them, is a force of nature, playing double bass drums from the first song to the very last, and tackling odd-time signatures like it’s a walk in the park.

Cryptic and sometimes self-doubting lyrics abound on the album, as exemplified on “Inner Combustion”: “One, two, three for nothing/ Projection ponder/ Under a raven’s wing/ Catalyst fusion/ Inner combustion/ A transmutation/ For I am all”. “Astronomy Domine”, the aforementioned Pink Floyd cover, fits in like a glove with the rest of the material, and casual listeners would easily assume that Voivod penned that song. Several riffs on the album are heavily influenced by Igor Stravinsky‘s “The Rite of Spring“, specifically the centre section of “Pre-Ignition”. At the end of the journey, it’s safe to say that the listener is left with more questions than before the needle hit the vinyl – or in today’s case, before we liked on the livestream link. What happened to the protagonist? What’s his next move? And how come so many elements are mixed together in the band’s sound? Thrash, punk, fusion, classical music and prog are put in a musical blender, and their musical melange, while difficult to absorb at first, reaps incredible rewards once you click with it.

After the livestream ended, the virtual after party had a few surprises for those who hung in there. It was Away’s birthday, so celebrations were in order. The Zoom call had other special guests, such as Zach Blair of Rise Against, Tomas Lindberg of At the Gates, and former members Eric Forrester (vocals) and Jason Newsted (bass). Eric and Jason in particular were great guests, sharing stories from the road and complimenting the band for carrying on through all those years. Away announced that the band is already working on new material, and that there are tour dates being discussed. When asked about playing “Nothingface” in full on a possible upcoming tour, he confirmed that it could happen, which was met with excitement from everyone on the call. The next step for Voivod, however, is the livestream of yet another classic from their arsenal, the equally incredible “Dimension Hatröss,” scheduled for June 27th. Check out our page for a review of that event as well!

VOIVOD Setlist:

The Unknown Years / Nothingface / Atronomy Domine / Missing Sequences / X-Ray Mirror / Inner Combustion / Pre-Ignition / Into My Hypercube / Sub-Effect

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