Music

Voivod: War and Pain

Adrien Begrand

Voivod

War and Pain

Label: Metal Blade
US Release Date: 2004-06-15
UK Release Date: 2004-07-22
Amazon
iTunes

Growing up in the shadows of North America's biggest aluminum plant in the Northern Quebec town of Jonquiere, young Michel Langevin immersed himself in science fiction and vampire novels as a means of escape, and used that inspiration to hone his artistic skills. An extremely gifted visual artist, he conjured his own character, called the Voivod, a post-apocalyptic vampire who comes to earth from the planet Morgoth to inflict pain on mankind. The band he formed in his teens with his friends Denis Belanger, Denis d'Amour, and Jean-Yves Theriault, named itself after Langevin's fictitious creation, with each member taking on aliases of their own: Away (Langevin), Snake (Belanger), Piggy (d'Amour), and Blacky (Theriault). Unbeknownst to them at the time, Voivod would go on to be a well-known word, not as the name of a comic book character, but as a symbol of musical virtuosity and creativity in the world of heavy metal, the name of one of the most respected bands in metal history.

Like most great metal bands, Voivod were products of their very unique surroundings. Black Sabbath and Judas Priest both hailed from the factory city of Birmingham, England, and like those seminal bands, Voivod drew its inspiration from the robotic crashes and roars of heavy machinery in Jonquiere. Only, in Voivod's case, their isolation would also be a major factor in how they sounded. Starting with their debut album in 1984, and through their flawless late '80s trifecta of the classic albums Killing Technology, Dimension Hatross, and Nothingface, these boys sounded like they hailed from another planet. When you consider just how far removed Jonquiere is from the rest of North America, well, they might as well have been alien beings. Twenty years after that first album, Voivod's sound is still very unique, identifiable, and completely inimitable. It's a sound all their own, one that has aged very, very well, as both their back catalog and their triumphant 2003 comeback album has proven.

That first album from '84, the seminal War and Pain, tends to be the overlooked gem in the Voivod discography, as their albums from 1986 to 1991 always garner the most attention from metal devotees. However, one cannot gloss over the importance over War and Pain. Until then, Canada was not exactly a leader in the heavy metal world. Aside from workmanlike power metal bands like Anvil and Exciter, the great progressive power trio Rush, the more middling power trio Triumph, and the fun party metal of Helix, the country had little to offer, metalwise, by the time 1984 rolled around. War and Pain changed all that; here was an album that was not only so extreme it was startling, but it was also one that derived heavily from the various stalwart bands in the underground metal scene at the time, yet remained completely different from anything that came out that year.

Along with labels like Megaforce and Noise, Metal Blade Records were the one of the leading purveyors of underground metal music in the early to mid-'80s, and today, they are aware of just how crucial a debut War and Pain was, and to celebrate the record's 20th anniversary this year, they've put together a fantastic (not to mention reasonably priced) deluxe edition, jam-packed with so many tantalizing extra features, you could hear the collective drooling of the 30-40-year-old ex-headbangers when the tracklisting was announced. And the fans' excitement is indeed warranted, because this terrific, three disc box set delivers on all accounts.

The most important part of this reissue is the original album, which is presented in remastered form. The improvement in the sound quality is noticeable, but most importantly, the original feel of the album has not been tinkered with. One of the best things about early '80s underground metal was all the little happy accidents that popped up, primarily due to the fact that owners of small studios didn't know how to record heavy metal at the time. Savatage's great 1983 debut Sirens is a perfect example of a young band naively trying new things, and Voivod's War and Pain is another. Recorded in three days in a basement studio located in a remote part of rural Quebec, in the dead of winter, the sound on the album is decidedly claustrophobic, in direct contrast to all the huge-sounding metal records emerging from the UK and Europe at the time. However, as amateurish as the production was, there was one thing that set Voivod apart from other highly influential bands, like Venom, Celtic Frost, and Possessed: their first album, unlike the other bands' debuts, is tight. Extremely tight.

You hear it instantly on the classic signature song "Voivod"; after an ominous intro of the sound of big, plodding footsteps and rattling chains (Snake says in his notes that it's the sound of someone walking outside in the snow, slowed way down), the song explodes out of the gate, Away delivering a ferocious thrash metal beat, Blacky holding down the fort with a muscular bassline that echoes Piggy's main riff. All the while, Snake hollers away in broken English, not to mention some vocal phrasing that is truly otherworldly, with a harsh, sinister, screeching voice (he wouldn't find his true vocal range for another four years). As great as the entire band sounds on tracks like "Warriors of Ice", "Iron Gang", and the progressive thrash brilliance of "War and Pain" and "Nuclear War" (the album's two finest songs), it's Piggy who emerges as the band's most potent weapon. Shredding away on his homemade flying V guitar, with no effects pedals to speak of, his playing style is already clearly defined, as his riffs move with blinding speed, his lead fills seeming quirky, yet economical and melodic. While Away and Snake were a few albums removed from coming fully into their own, Piggy was already there.

The extras are lacking in the sound quality department, but are still great fun. The three tracks from the band's first ever performance in 1983 is interesting, especially when you hear how solid the band is, while the three demo recordings are highlighted by the rare "Condemned to the Gallows", which previously appeared on the 1984 Metal Blade compilation Metal Massacre 5 in 1984. The second disc boasts an entire performance by the band in December, 1984, and while the sound is, again, a bit muddy, the intensity of the show is palpable, as the band unleashes nearly 80 minutes of mayhem, including several songs that would appear on their 1985 album Rrroooaaarrr!, as well as chaotic covers of Venom's "Witching Hour", and Slayer's 1984 classic "Chemical Warfare". The multimedia disc is just as enjoyable, especially for the older fans, with a band biography, tons of photos, lots of sketches by Away, and the original music video for "Voivod", the clip serving as a real trip down memory lane for anyone who was a Canadian metalhead during the 80s.

War and Pain was not without its faults, the most blatant example being the extremely goofy "Suck Your Bone", which contains the most unintentionally hilarious line ever, "Go shit! I'm not a fish," but in actuality, this album is the sound of a band already in mid-stride, and the rate at which they improved as the years went on remains one of the most stunning runs in heavy metal history. This swanky re-release will please old fans to no end, and serve as a revelation to younger listeners, proving that it deserves to be placed among Metallica's Kill 'em All and Slayer's Show No Mercy as one of the finest debut albums in '80s underground metal.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image