[8 July 2009]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Denis “Piggy” D’Amour’s highly unique guitar sound was such an integral part of the music of Voivod that when he succumbed to cancer in late 2005 we had every right to believe that there was no way the band could possibly carry on. Interestingly enough, although D’Amour’s time on this earth was running out, he was far from finished musically, writing songs and recording guitar tracks the whole while, and after he passed away, his surviving bandmates—drummer Michel “Away” Langevin, vocalist Denis “Snake” Belanger, and bassist Jason Newsted—crafted an album together, working around those completed guitar takes. The resulting full-length, 2006’s Katorz, was not only a classy way for the band to pay tribute to such a valuable member, but it turned out to be the most spirited Voivod effort since their ambitious progressive metal trilogy of 1988’s Dimension Hatross, 1989’s Nothingface, and 1991’s Angel Rat.
Although fans were well aware that there was another album’s worth of guitar tracks for the band to piece together as a follow-up, it took a great deal of time for Langevin, Belanger, and Newsted to end the grieving process and go full steam ahead once more, with Langevin openly admitting it wasn’t until Voivod’s triumphant Montreal performance in June of 2008 (with Martyr guitarist Dan Mongrain ably taking D’Amour’s place) that the creative spark was lit again. And you can hear the difference on the new record, Infini. The fact that Katorz succeeded in spite of the highly unusual circumstances surrounding the recording was in itself a big story, but with the band settling down and spending more time refining and enhancing the remaining songs the second time around, it makes Infini feel more fleshed-out, more fully-realized, and far less rushed than the previous album.
As far as the actual songs go, stylistically there’s not much of a difference from Katorz—the arrangements very streamlined, focusing more on groove than complexity. Still, as straightforward as tracks like “God Phones” and “From the Cave” may be, a Voivodian groove is unlike anything you will ever hear in metal music. Langevin’s fluid beats don’t so much anchor the sound as making it glide gracefully, while D’Amour’s trademark dissonant tones always mask a subtle melodicism that rivals Killing Joke’s great guitarist Geordie Walker. Newsted truly steps up on the new record, his bass tone much fuller and playing off of D’Amour’s riffs more effectively, a terrific example being “Earthache”, in which he both complements and punctuates the guitars. In fact, you’d have to go back, past all his work with Metallica, to his days with thrash band Flotsam and Jetsam to hear him play such a prominent role on record.
Belanger also contributes his best work in a very long time. Always one of the more unique voices in metal, Belanger has come off as a bit thin-sounding in the past, but there’s a vigor and richness to his vocalizing on Infini that we haven’t heard since 1986’s Killing Technology. Some metal vocalists do end up sounding better with age, and that appears to be the case with Belanger as well, as his impassioned growls dominate such cuts as the propulsive “Global Warning” and the murky standout “Destroy After Reading”. His lyrical topics are standard Snake fare, touching on science fiction and conspiracy theories, but he does pull off one shocker in the form of “Treasure Chase”, where he delves into much more personal territory, singing at one point, “The treasure I’ve found in your eyes / All the diamonds out of this world / All the precious stones dug from earth”. That’s right, Snake has written an actual love song.
For all the excellent efforts of the surviving members of Voivod, Infini is still D’Amour’s record. While the guitar tracks on Katorz were meticulously re-amplified, Infini‘s guitar tracks were left untouched, and as a result the overall sound is a lot rawer than we’re used to from Voivod. It suits the album very well, whether it’s on a more expansive song like “In Orbit”, the slithering “A Room With a V.U.”, or the explosive album closer “Volcano”, the latter of which sees D’Amour channeling Killing Joke, Discharge, and Motörhead all at once, with his bandmates all following suit.
Voivod’s future as a live act is still intact for now, as the band will be playing shows with Mongrain this summer and into 2010, but Langevin remains mum on the potential any new recorded material. Judging by what we hear on Infini, though, it’s one hell of a high note to go out on.