Voivod Timeline (2009)
Greg Pratt wrote this awesome Voivod timeline for Exclaim magazine, which has since been removed, but you can still read it here on Voivod.net
To Infini and Beyond
By Greg Pratt
Quebec progressive metal band Voivod have an influence that can’t always be heard in today’s musical climate, but can most certainly be heard through the praise bestowed upon them by artists as diverse as electronic grindcore freaks Agoraphobic Nosebleed and pop punks All. In the early to mid-’80s, Voivod combined raw punk, blinders-on thrash metal and a love of Motörhead (the umlauts over the “i” that sometimes appear in Voivod’s logo could be a tip of the hat to Lemmy and the boys; or, it could just be ’80s metal for you) and Venom together with heady multi-album sci-fi concepts and a visual aesthetic resembling Mad Max characters that had many in the metal community wondering what exactly was up with these four weirdoes with the strange nicknames from way up north in icy Canada.
Those in their long-running fan club, the Iron Gang — kind of a Kiss Army for the reclusive — knew exactly what was up. A member of hardcore band Cro-Mags knew what was up when he labelled the band “déco-metal.” They were the “Warriors of Ice,” they were obsessed with post-nuclear and technological themes and they were one of the first Canadian thrash bands to achieve success outside of Canada. But it hasn’t been an easy road for Voivod. Faced with myriad record label changes, the poverty that comes with creating such weird music, core members leaving and the death of their unique guitarist, the band has overcome huge obstacles to get to where they are today. It may or may not be the final chapter of Voivod, but if their new album, Infini, closes up this long and strange tale, it’d be as good an epitaph as any.
In Jonquière, a small town in northern Quebec, home to the largest aluminium plant in North America, a five-year-old Michel Langevin is plagued by nightmares as a result of getting hit by a car. After the accident, he spends a lot of time drawing pictures with themes of both biology and technology, motifs that will end up recurring throughout his musical and artistic career. “I was drawing my nightmares,” says Langevin. “I had a fear of mechanical things. Also, I lived by a factory and the noises of the factory made me think of mechanical monsters. So I had bad nightmares with these creatures. As I would wake up I would draw these monsters.”
Langevin has begun playing drums and jams with local guitarist Denis D’Amour and other metalheads; the other metalheads end up forming Death Dealer but D’Amour and Langevin immediately have a chemistry with each other. “[D'Amour] and I clicked with each other’s playing, so we started looking for other people that we would click with,” says Langevin. Langevin spent a lot of time in his room as a teenager, reading science fiction and drawing. Inspired by Heavy Metal magazine and getting the word “Voivod” from Dracula, he created the Voivod character. The post-nuclear-war vampire creature resides in Morgoth, a land of never-ending war. “I was a bit of a geek and really into Lord of the Rings, so the Morgoth land where Voivod lived is based on Lord of the Rings mixed with Dracula,” he says. “I was also into sci-fi a lot, so mixed everything up.”
An early version of Voivod gets together with Langevin, D’Amour and bassist Jean-Yves Thériault, whom D’Amour knows because he is a DJ spinning metal tunes at a local club. Unfortunately, Thériault doesn’t know how to play bass. Luckily, D’Amour is a skilled musician and teaches Thériault how to play. But because D’Amour was the only one who really knew how to play, and the band’s jam space gets flooded, the band falls apart quickly. Langevin tells D’Amour he’s going to take a year to rehearse every day to get up to D’Amour’s level of playing.
Voivod reform in November once Langevin and Thériault have learned how to play their instruments marginally better. Jean Fortin, later of Death Dealer (who are later Deaf Dealer), briefly plays bass before Thériault rejoins. The band jams and looks for a vocalist.
Denis Bélanger is hired as Voivod’s vocalist in January. “The first song we played together was ‘The Ripper’ by Judas Priest, but [Bélanger] did it in a kind of Sex Pistols way,” says Langevin. “We were all a bit puzzled but felt it was perfect.” Their Motörhead-meets-Venom brand of early thrash metal is a wonderful headache, one of the most extreme sounds in metal at the time. It is widely hypothesized that the band play such an intense music because they come from a remote region of Canada. The band play their first show on June 25. It is recorded and released as their Anachronism demo. From this point on, the band members are known by their nicknames: Langevin becomes Away, D’Amour is known as Piggy, Thériault is Blacky and Bélanger’s moniker is Snake. “It’s just kid’s stuff, man,” Away will tell livingdamned.com in 1999. “…we met at high school and I think everybody in Jonquière had one, and I’m still trying to work out why our nicknames were in English! Piggy and I still call each other by our nicknames, we’ve been doing that since we were young.” Away got his nickname after being absent from rehearsals when he was studying science at university, as well as from the guys making fun of him drawing in between songs at the jam space and his far-out artistic concepts; Piggy because he was a bit of a round kid; Snake after Away saw him doing an impersonation of a worm in a flashlight when he went to ask him to join the band. And Blacky “was the name of my dog,” he says, “a German shepherd, poisoned by the neighbour. He was a very nice dog and only bit a few people. But also it suited my character at the time… seeking [the] dark side of things… troublemaker, that would be it. And it’s spelled Blacky, not Blackie, that’s the dude from W.A.S.P.”
The To the Death demo is released. A copy gets sent to Metal Blade, who take the song “Condemned to the Gallows” and put it on the fifth instalment of their popular Metal Massacre compilation series. It is Voivod’s first official recording. Each of the band members borrow $500 from Snake’s mother to record their debut album, War and Pain, which is released this year. “We paid it back many years after,” chuckles Away. While recording the album, the owner of the studio demands Piggy turns down his guitar. The album immediately establishes the band’s unique sound and identity. While it doesn’t have the prog tendencies they will become known for, its primitive clash of noisy thrash, antagonistic punk and post-apocalyptic themes, along with details like the two sides of the cassette and vinyl being called “Iron Side” and “Blower Side,” make people notice this band of isolated Canucks. And the isolation certainly played into things. “It certainly could be a factor coming from north of Quebec, it’s another culture,” says Snake. “It’s French-speaking people, the culture, everything is different. There’s always been the feeling of being different than others because of this isolated, far-out place. We had to work harder than other people, to get out of the woods. I think it made us stronger in the end, because of that.” Away is juggling first-year physics and science in university with his Voivod duties; he leaves university to focus on the band. The band receives their infamous Kerrang! review. “The first main review we had was in Kerrang!,” says Away. “They called us ‘The worst band on Earth.’ We were just like, ‘Yes!’ We really wanted to be bad and punk and all that. We thought, at least we’re not in the middle somewhere. We’re the fucking worst band on Earth. It’s still a joke to us. I think it’s cool.”
Voivod make their American debut on April 4, opening for Venom and Cro-Mags at the Ritz in New York City. The band are making waves through the metal underground for their extreme sound and freaky, apocalyptic imagery, but making extreme metal in the mid-’80s isn’t a recipe for living large. Still, the band forge ahead, writing material for their second album. “We didn’t have a label; we were very, very poor,” says Away. “We had $152 a month each as welfare. Then we got some of our gear stolen.” The band and their management organize the World War III festival in Montreal, playing with Celtic Frost, Destruction, Possessed and Nasty Savage. The band make enough money to help out with buying gear and recording costs. They begin recording in October in Montreal for their second album, even though they had no record label. “We had to make a move,” Piggy will tell Blackthorn magazine in 1986, “because War and Pain had been released more than a year before we decided to enter the studio and record Rrröööaaarrr. Our material had been ready for a long time and we were looking forward to listening to our new songs. You know, Voivod is not that kind of band who sit there and wait until things happen. We are warriors and we like to provoke things.” The band relocate to Montreal. “We moved into a small apartment, the four of us,” says Snake. “We had cockroaches. When we came back to our apartment after rehearsals, we use to take the newspapers from downstairs and roll them and we’d open the door, and turn the lights on and run into the apartment and kill these roaches. Fuck, I can’t believe we did that,” he laughs. Celtic Frost bring some Voivod demos back from the fest to their record label in Germany, Noise Records, who like what they hear and sign Voivod for three albums. “It turned out great but these were very lean years, ’85, ’86,” says Away.
Rrröööaaarrr is released on Noise Records; the album is as much of a racket as their first; it’s half-baked noisy thrash and speed metal with only hints of the greatness to come. Some are disappointed the album doesn’t have the intense bass sound the debut had, the result of Blacky’s amp being stolen. A video for “Ripping Headaches” is made, which annoys the public now and again. The song “Fuck off & Die” is apparently inspired by the band’s former label, Metal Blade. The band goes to Germany in October to record their next album. “We had to tour for Rrröööaaarrr in USA and Europe but we knew that at the end of the tour in Berlin we would have to stop for a month or two to record an album,” laughs Away. “So before leaving we had to write Killing Technology.”
Killing Technology finds the band starting to enter the realm of more mature and progressive ideas. Piggy begins to develop his unique style of playing. While still primitive, songs like “Ravenous Medicine” and the title track show the guys experimenting and flexing their musical muscles. The band head to the UK to play the Christmas on Earth fest, but it doesn’t go so well: customs confiscates the band’s gear. They go to the fest anyway, and watch the other bands play. Like the end of ’86, the band return to Germany in December to start recording their fourth album. “It was really, really intense,” says Away of the schedule. “At this point we had been rehearsing every night since ’83 and living together in Montreal in the same apartment, so everything was really united and coherent; the art was related to the music which was related to the story. But it was so intense that the band almost imploded because of that. We had been working for four or five years non-stop, we already had three albums, we had a good reputation in the underground thrash metal scene, but we were still living, the four of us, in the small, cockroach-infested apartment in Montreal, on top of a topless bar.”
Dimension Hatröss is released and it marks a new point in the band’s career, one that abandons the light-speed Venom worship of past and instead bows at the altar of early Pink Floyd and deeper sci-fi themes and favours songs that focus on musicianship over pure aggression. They are going to cover the Dead Kennedys’ “Holiday in Cambodia” for the disc but decide not to when L.A. band Lääz Rockit beats them to it. The video for “Tribal Convictions” gets a lot of play and leads to a deal with MCA Records; the band members can afford to move into separate apartments. “That helped a lot,” laughs Away. The band picks Cro-Mags, who they were opening for in ’85, to open for them for a couple of U.S. shows. Voivod cancels European touring for Hatröss when Piggy is diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumour. When told that surgery could make him blind, Piggy opts to not have the surgery. Instead, he starts taking a new, experimental pill to stabilize the tumour. It works. Because the tour is cancelled, the band spend a good amount of 1988 writing their next album; a lot of it is based around Piggy’s experience at the hospital. This writing will create their best work yet.
Nothingface, the band’s fourth album in four years, is released. It’s their first for Mechanic/MCA. Plans for a video for “The Unknown Knows” are scrapped and instead the band films a video for “Astronomy Domine,” a Pink Floyd cover. It’s a good decision: they find the most mainstream success of their career with the single. “It was a bit surreal,” says Away about the band finally seeing a bit of the big time. “It really happened quick. Nothingface was really successful in the metal community and also the start of the alternative community. To our surprise, it soon sold 250,000-300,000 copies, and the music was still weird.” The video is a staple on MuchMusic’s Power Hour and MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball. The album is the band’s first to get on the Billboard 200 charts, peaking at number 114. The disc is the band’s most mature yet, dominated by strange, innovative mid-tempo songs that, naturally, some of the band’s old school fans think are a bit too tame. Conceptually, it is noteworthy as the Voivod character is now focusing on internal — not external — struggles. Some of the songs are about the risk of the band’s family and friends getting Alzheimer’s from the aluminium factory in their hometown. “Some scientists were saying Alzheimer’s disease was from aluminium factories and stuff like that, it was on the news back in the day,” says Snake. “I’m not sure if it’s true, though, today. But there was a big factory where we lived and some parts of the town are so smelly, it’s disgusting, I cannot live there, it’s really poisoning. And there’s a big purple lake there. It’s pink and purple and you can almost walk on it. We used to do strange drugs and go walk around that lake while we were young. It was pretty trippy,” he laughs. “But because the wind blows in the same direction, mainly, cancer rates are really high in that part of town, and you can feel it, when you pass on the road it starts to smell like rotten eggs. People live there… it’s pretty crazy.”
The band spend the year touring and enjoying continuing success. They tour clubs with Soundgarden and Faith No More opening. Voivod also open for Rush in a tour of Canadian arenas. “We got to meet our heroes,” says Away. “1990 was a great year for Voivod.” The band’s luck, unfortunately, is about to take a turn for the worse.
Voivod release Angel Rat, an album that has that unmistakable creepy Voivod vibe but also features more stripped down, concise rock songs, such as the single “Clouds in my House.” It is the first disc that does not focus on the Voivod character. At this point, the band’s record label was pressuring them to write more simplistic songs. Mechanic and MCA are involved in a dispute months after the release, dampening the album’s promotion and the band’s spirits. “We were stuck in between,” Away would tell RIP in 1993. “During the legal stuff MCA bought our contract off Mechanic, and we couldn’t tour, we couldn’t do anything.” The band feels the heat in these non-metal times. “After touring with Soundgarden and Faith No More, we realized things had changed in the alternative rock scene with new bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden, with a new groove,” says Away. “Voivod were still concentrated on playing very complicated songs. We had less interaction with the public because of that. We forgot the rock roots of our music, like the Motörhead roots. We decided to write shorter and less complex songs but we wanted the album to be very moody and still progressive, but in psychedelic way. That’s why we hired Terry Brown to do it.” Piggy was happy to be playing more straight-ahead songs. “Playing all those complex guitar parts in front of an audience — are you kidding me?” he says to Guitar World in 1991. “I used to spend all my time looking at my hands on the frets and my feet on the pedals. I wouldn’t even notice there was an audience until the fourth or fifth song.” The album also found Voivod dealing with a label interfering in their creative process for the first time. “There was an instance where they did a remix of a couple of songs and leaked it to the radio,” says Away. “That’s really where it went sour. We never agreed to that being leaked to radio. We thought it was awful — there were cheap keyboards and female backing vocals. We thought it was a joke and said, ‘No way are you going to release that to the radio.’ They said, ‘It’s too late, it’s done.’ We almost had a fight with the guy who owned the company,” he laughs. After Blacky records his bass tracks he decides to leave the band. He is there for part of the mixing process but disagrees with Brown’s decisions. “It really went bad,” says Away. Blacky will move to Vancouver in 1992 — where he will live until 2001 — and co-form the Holy Body Tattoo Dance Society dance troupe; in 1997 he released the Electronic Voice Phenomena disc with Mark Spybey and started X-voto Records. “We had a difference of opinions about the direction of Voivod’s career,” says Blacky, “so I felt it was better for me to simply leave then.” Away will tell Thrash ‘n Burn magazine in 1991 “…we could feel that it was coming, because he was getting more and more into writing music for modern dancing, with keyboard sampling, and he was less and less into playing bass, and he was into his solo thing. We felt he was more interested in going into alternative new wave, and we were getting more and more rock. We just had to part ways.” He added that Blacky was “tired of waiting” for commercial success, that Voivod music “doesn’t exactly pay the bills” and that Blacky has moved on to writing “weird ballet.” Speaking of weird, Away plays drums on Men Without Hats’ Sideways album.
The Best of Voivod is released. With grunge dominating the musical landscape, metal — particularly bookish Canadian progressive metal — gets a cold shoulder from the music industry. Voivod continue to deal with the Angel Rat backlash. “I think people expected another Nothingface and we didn’t do that,” says Snake. “There was a sentiment of disappointment.” The band only play sporadic shows and with no bassist, use hired hands for the gigs. Voivod go on a short hiatus and find session bassist Pierre St. Jean. They write their next album, which is to be their poppiest yet. “The people who listen to Voivod are really loyal,” says Away, “so the 150,000 people or so that listen to Voivod bought Angel Rat, but it was not up to the expectations of MCA, of course. But back then we still had a long-term development deal with MCA, which allowed us to have even more money than Angel Rat for Outer Limits. So we were still given the chance to record with a huge budget.”
The band release The Outer Limits. It contains both their most accessible and their most ambitious material, such as the 17-minute “Jack Luminous.” “We had pressure by the companies after the success of Nothingface; they really wanted to have a hit,” says Snake. “For us, it was not really important. We wanted to write and do things the way we do. The company wasn’t really happy about it. When we did The Outer Limits, we wanted to say, hey, we can do crazy stuff like a 17-minute song, which is not what the record company wanted. It was us saying, ‘We’re going to do you a hit — a 17-minute song!’” The album, which contains 3D glasses to view the artwork and another Pink Floyd cover in “The Nile Song,” is considered a miss by critics and fans alike, even though, like many Voivod albums, fans will grow to appreciate it in years to come. The album will also be Snake’s last. “It must have been frustrating for Snake and Blacky, the fact that I was writing a lot of the concepts and Piggy was writing a lot of the music,” says Away.
Snake leaves the band amidst rumours of drug and other personal problems. “I had personal problems,” he says. “I was kind of disappointed by the whole thing, more like the music industry. Grunge started up and metal didn’t mean anything to anybody. I was also depressed. All I wanted was some time off but you cannot have a band put everything on hold just for you. I couldn’t ask for that. But I needed a break. When I joined this band, I was 18 years old. I had never experienced anything else in life but doing music. I had to experience something else. So I did.” He goes on to form Union Made, a band more rooted in punk. “Snake was getting discouraged with a lot of aspects of the Voivod saga,” says Away. “He left the band to my surprise because we still had a contract for three or four more albums with MCA and things were going well.” The band auditions Eric Forrest of Toronto bands Liquid Indian and Thunder Circus to replace both Snake on vocals and Blacky on bass. It goes well. “After about ten minutes of jamming, they said, ‘That’s it, you’re in,’” says Forrest. “Then we hit the bar for some drinks. I will never forget it.” Forrest needs a cool nickname: E-Force is born. Voivod contribute “In League with Satan” to In the Name of Satan, a Venom tribute album.
MCA feels the material the band is demoing is too heavy so they let the band out of their contract; they part on good terms and the band sign to Hypnotic Records. Negatron, the first album to feature Forrest on bass and vocals, is released. Voivod as a trio are streamlined and heavier than they have been in a long time; fans are divided. “It was a lot heavier; [Forrest's] approach was more in the Sepultura school, so it was a lot heavier than the last couple albums we had released,” says Away. “Both he and I thought we had gone far enough in the psychedelic prog metal side of Voivod and we were missing our hardcore and really heavy roots. We had started writing ‘Nanoman’ and songs like that for Negatron and Snake was not into the direction we were heading for when we first wrote material after Outer Limits. He wanted it to be more punk and a bit less heavy metal.” The album features contributions from Jim Thirlwell of Foetus, who sings on “D.N.A.,” which he also wrote the lyrics for, and Men Without Hats singer Ivan Doroschuk, who contributes lyrics to “Nanoman.” Although the Forrest-era albums feature some strong material, something is amiss. The band continue to tour but the shows are only getting smaller.
The band do “endless touring of Europe and the USA,” says Away. Piggy and Away visit old pal Jason Newsted (ex-Flotsam and Jetsam, currently of Metallica) at his recording studio to hang out and jam. A fun project called Tarrat is started between them; it is a sign of things to come. They continue over the years to get together to jam. But touring, at least in North America, isn’t always a good time for Voivod. “In America and Canada, it was pretty tough,” says Away. “We were playing small clubs when we would headline or we were doing really hardcore shows as openers,” says Away. “It was much better for us in Europe. The more you’re on the road and the more chances you get to have a crash…” The band gets into a crash while on tour with Pro-Pain in the States. “We were sharing an RV and it burned down to the ground. It was pretty hardcore,” says Away.
Phobos is another solid album, but the band’s popularity continues to decline; touring is an almost embarrassing affair at this point. “There were quite a few periods where we were so underground, it was pathetic,” Away will tell Chartattack in 2009. Despite the small gigs, the band try to keep their spirits up. “I love playing music so I don’t really remember being depressed or anything about playing shows but I do see some periods as tougher than others,” says Away. Although some very strong cuts like “Forlorn” and “The Tower” have held up well, this album is also significant in that it features a song, “M-Body,” written by Newsted. The disc also features programming by James Cavalluzzo of Toronto industrial-metal weirdoes Malhavoc. Phobos is conceptually the return of the Voivod character, the first album since Nothingface to be about him.
The band release Kronik, which collects live material, new songs and remixes from the Forrest era. Voivod get into a bad van accident in August on tour outside Mannheim, Germany. Forrest is thrown out of the van and badly injured; the band lose more steam while he gets his health together. “It was a huge bad trip that brought us down,” says Away. “We were never really able to regain the momentum.”
Voivod open for Iron Maiden and go on a co-headlining tour with Neurosis, with Today Is the Day opening. Forrest plays but is still using canes to walk. He tells Metal Hammer he has “totally baffled medical science,” as he was told it was highly unlikely that he’d ever walk again. The band reunite for one gig with Snake on vocals.
Voivod Lives, a live album featuring Forrest, is released on Metal Blade and Century Media. It is notable for giving everyone a chance to hear Forrest tackle more Snake-era tunes (Kronik gave a taste of this) and in that is the first Voivod album released on Metal Blade since the band’s debut. Voivod contribute their version of the Captain Scarlet — a ’60s sci-fi TV show with puppets — theme song to FlashBack, a compilation of children’s songs. But all is not so cheery within Voivod. “At the end of 2000, the spirit was not there anymore,” says Away. “Piggy and I decided to split the band.”
They briefly disband, but not before recording an album-length demo that is never released but is noteworthy in that it is the last chapter of the Voivod character’s tale. This marks Forrest’s last recordings with the group. “Just for the record, I did not quit Voivod,” says Forrest. “I suppose you could say I got sacked in a nice way. We had a band meeting in March 2001 and Away and Piggy told me it’s over, meaning Voivod completely. Well, I did not believe it for a minute and knew Snake was on his way back. Looking back, at the time it was the right thing for the band to do. And bringing in Jason — how can I compete with the original singer and the ex-bass player of Metallica? No hard feelings; it was an honour and privilege to be there in the first place.” Forrest will go on to release impressive albums with the bands E-Force and Project: Failing Flesh. After Forrest parts ways with the band, word spreads about a lawsuit between him and his former band-mates relating to his injuries in the accident in Germany. “As for as a lawsuit goes, let’s just say some realities got distorted,” says Forrest. “Voivod was never ever sued. All I would like to say is one word — insurance. Anyway, we are all still good friends.” “It was a minor detail in the fact that Piggy and I wanted to split the band at this point,” says Away on the lawsuit. “But it brought the spirit down a little. I see 2001 as the point where Piggy and I wanted to try something else. If anything, Voivod are an example of perseverance, but there were a few times where we had to take a year or two off to really reconstruct ourselves personally.” Snake returns as the band’s vocalist. “They knew I wanted to come back,” says Snake. Dave Grohl’s Probot super-collaboration project, which involves both Snake and Away, is getting underway and helps bring Voivod back together. “After the crash with Eric, Eric was not in good shape,” says Snake. “They wanted to move on with somebody else. I came back in the picture with the Probot thing. That’s how it happened. It was like I never left, really. It was like nothing happened.”
In a move that has many in the metal community extremely stoked, Newsted, who left Metallica in 2001 after playing with them for 15 years, joins Voivod. His nickname? Jasonic. “I feel that I’ve been able to live out two dreams in one lifetime, so far,” Newsted will say in an interview with Transcending the Mundane in 2003. “Metallica was a complete dream, I was always wondering when I was going to wake up from it. I knew there would be some level of us recording together as Voivod. We had our first talks in the earlier part of 2002, it was just going to be the four of us getting together in the studio for 30 days and that was it… After we played in a room together for four or five days, it was very obvious that things have to go on. We had to keep carrying it on. There’s too much power, too much conviction, feeling, purity. It’s there because they never really got big. They haven’t been tainted by the bullshit of the business. They’re still hungry and still seeking out the feeling you get from playing in a band. We still feel that.” The band spend a good part of 2002 writing their next album. They hit the studio in October to begin recording, with Newsted producing what will end up being a strong comeback disc. In December, Voivod fans are fooled into thinking the band’s new demos have leaked online. Really, it’s the demos of Collapse, a band from the UK.
The band come back with a vengeance with the release of Voivod, the first album since 1993 to feature Snake on vocals. Newsted releases it on his own Chophouse Records. The CD finds the band stripping down even more than ever, but with a heavy punk/rock edge. With Newsted in the band, Voivod feature a resurgence of popularity that no one could have foreseen. This album is the first to enter the Billboard charts (#21 on Top Independent Albums) since Nothingface (their next album, Katorz, will also enter the charts at #37 on that chart and #43 on Top Heatseekers). They play the second stage of Ozzfest and get heavy rotation for the video for the tune “We Carry On.” Newsted is also playing bass for Ozzy Osbourne.
Because a tour with Ozzy is cancelled due to Ozzy’s four-wheeler accident, the band spends 2004 writing and demoing a ton of material: all told, 23 songs that become their next two albums, Katorz and Infini. The Probot CD is released. Snake sings a song, “Dictatosaurus,” and Away designs the logo and artwork.
D-V-O-D-1, a long-promised DVD, is finally released. The band’s first, it collects material from the band’s beginning to Angel Rat and is an impressive document. The band starts prepping Katorz. But tragedy strikes when Piggy dies on August 26 due to complications from colon cancer. He was 45. Apart from leaving behind a powerful musical and personal legacy, he leaves behind a bunch of guitar tracks he has recorded. “In the afternoon of the August 24, he called Michel and told him he needed to come right now and bring his computer,” Newsted will say in a 2006 interview with about.com. “He told him with his last bit of lucidity where everything was. He then went to sleep and that was it.”
After a period of mourning, the band get back to recording and, through Canadian indie The End Records, release Katorz (“katorz” is another way of spelling “quatorze,” which is “fourteen” in French) the first album to feature material found on Piggy’s laptop; he left instructions for the band on what to do with them. The rest of the band record with Glen Robinson for the first time since their breakthrough disc, Nothingface. “It’s really hard for me to hear these [songs] because they were done at the very end when Piggy was very sick,” Away says in an unpublished interview in 2006. “It’s hard for me to listen to it.” But the album is positive, upbeat. “Everything was pre-written,” Snake says in the same interview, “so I didn’t want to change things because I knew Piggy loved what I’d been doing so far, and I didn’t want to put some kind of sadness or thoughts of Piggy’s death or relation to Piggy’s departure on it. I think this album is all about being alive.” “It’s a process of accepting the departure of Piggy,” Snake tells Chord magazine in 2006. “But at the same time, it feels like he’s really alive. He’s really here.” The band do not tour. In November, the song “The X-Stream” from Katorz is on Guitar Hero II. Newsted is involved with TV reality-show band Supernova.
Kosmos, a krautrock band featuring Langevin, release their debut album through The End Records; Langevin’s other other band, Les Ékorchés, a stripped-down fun acoustic thrash/manic folk project also featuring members of Quebec bands B.A.R.F. and Ghoulunatics, release their first album. Voivod are effectively on hold. “We spent 2006 and 2007 not really thinking about Voivod,” says Away. “I actually thought people would forget about Voivod. It went the other way. There were more and more demands for us to go back in the studio and also we were getting crazy offers from festivals in Europe to reform and play.”
It is announced that the band will play some shows; there are rumours that Andreas Kisser of Sepultura will play guitar, but despite the fact that Kisser did offer to play live with the band, nothing comes to fruition; Kisser living in Brazil doesn’t help. Dan Mongrain of Martyr, Quo Vadis and Gorguts is enlisted for six-string duty after Away and Snake see him playing in a band with Blacky; as well, Blacky returns to play bass in Voivod. “When Away called me I couldn’t believe it,” says Mongrain. “I was speechless. I’ve been a fan since I was 12 and knew the songs pretty much already. It’s great playing with them. I’ll do it as long as they want to go on.” The band return to the live setting on June 22 in front of 22,500 people during the Heavy MTL festival in Montreal. “I wasn’t too sure [about playing again] but Snake said, ‘Look, if we don’t go and play live and go into the studio to finish the next album, the music’s going to rot and die,’” says Away. They hit the summer fest circuit, playing shows that focus on their early material.
The band release Infini on June 23, featuring the last of the material Piggy recorded. Due to Newsted recovering from shoulder surgery, both Blacky and Forrest are originally invited to play bass on the disc, which is released on Relapse Records in the States and Sonic Unyon in Canada. But Newsted recovers and the band end up recording with him. Voivod would like to do some shows with Newsted in the future but Blacky is back with the band as touring bassist. It’s a busy year so far for Away: Les Ékorchés release their second album and his book of artwork, compiled by Toronto-based journalist Martin Popoff, is released after much delay. “Michel’s influence is somewhat quiet and underground,” says Popoff, “but scratch the surface and you’ll find tons of rock stars and artists who have been inspired by Away, going back to the first flyers and demo cassettes of the early ’80s.” It features, along with artwork that will be familiar to Voivod fans, many unreleased pieces and prose giving it all context. Interviews with heavy music heavyweights like Phil Anselmo, Newsted and Dave Grohl are also included. A Sam Dunn-directed documentary on Voivod is put on hold. “We’ll probably do it further down the road when everything’s stable for us,” says Snake. In an interview with bravewords.com, Away reveals that two Piggy solo albums were written and recorded before his death. Forrest joins the band onstage at the Hellfest Summer Open Air festival in France and sings the Hatröss tune “Tribal Convictions” alongside Snake. “A dream come true once again,” says Forrest. Voivod hit the road. “We want to play live as much as we can for the next few years,” Away tells Chartattack in 2009, “but I’d also love to finish Piggy’s two solo albums with Snake, write with Dan eventually, and see what comes up.” “It’s certainly the last album with Piggy,” says Snake. “But Dan, he grew up with the band and Piggy was his mentor, so he knows how to play Piggy’s craziness. Maybe I’d like to sit with Dan and write some songs. That could be the future for this band. Right now we’re more focused on touring. Blacky came back and now with Dan, it’s a good feeling. After three or four years of mourning Piggy, we wanted to hit the road and make this thing happen. It takes time to reconstruct the band but I’m glad we did. It’s really worth it to see the reaction of the people. Maybe some of the people were thinking they weren’t going to see Voivod again and now they’re seeing it and they have a happy face.” “Piggy was unique, a genius, a true artist,” says Mongrain. “My job is basically to make it sound right and do it with passion, I just hope the fans can enjoy it when we play and can feel the same kind of vibe as when Piggy was there. It’s big shoes to fill.” It’s safe to say this is probably not the end of the band. Considering what Voivod has been through so far, no one would be surprised if something exciting came up, like more unreleased Piggy material. “…anything is possible with Piggy,” Snake said in an interview with Lords of Metal. “We might find a treasure hidden somewhere someday…” In July, the band comes full circle by playing, with Deaf Dealer, the same venue where Voivod played their first show, in 1983, an outdoor venue on the waterfront in Jonquière.