Since the mid-'80s, northern Quebec's Voivod have forged a unique and globally influential sonic identity. Their shifting personnel has never tempered their iconoclastic yet ever-evolving sound, which juxtaposes death and thrash metal with dissonant prog and hard rock, fueled by jazzy riffs, odd and quickly shifting time signatures, home-made sound effects, and manic, thundering drums. Their lyric themes are inspired by dystopian and sci-fi imagery, political critique, and keen societal observation. Voivod made their international debut on Metal Blade with 1984's War & Pain, offering a glimpse of the hoary, shapeshifting array of sounds that fully emerged on 1986's Rrröööaaarrr and 1987's Killing Technology. 1989's Nothingface became their biggest commercial success and made the American charts, while 1991's Angel Rat established their global reputation. 2001's self-titled offering included former Metallica bassist Jason Newsted. Voivod won a Juno (Canada's Grammy equivalent) for 2019's The Wake. The quartet returned with Synchro Anarchy in 2022 to celebrate their 40th anniversary.
Voivod was formed in 1982 in Jonquière, Quebec (now Saguenay, Quebec), about 50 kilometers north of Montreal. Its original lineup included guitarist Denis "Piggy" D'Amour, drummer Michel "Away" Langevin, vocalist Denis "Snake" Belanger, and bassist Jean-Yves "Blacky" Theriault. Deeply influenced by the emergence of hardcore punk, '70s prog rock, and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, Voivod set out to create a truly original sound. To that end they forged a distinctive brand of heavy music whose lyric themes reflected then-relevant Cold War politics, post-apocalyptic literature, and science fiction. Their self-issued debut cassette, Anachronism, offered 22 covers of tunes by Venom, Motörhead (their two greatest influences), Judas Priest, Budgie, and others. They followed it with War & Pain, their 1984 Metal Blade debut. It was adorned with Langevin's cover art, further signifying their brand -- the drummer has created the cover art for each album since. Produced by the band, it offered a roaring, lo-fi intro into the band's kaleidoscopic early vision of heaviness.
Voivod introduced more thrash-oriented fare on 1986's Rrröööaaarrr. They came into their own on 1987's Killing Technology, wherein they revealed the extent of how fast, aggressive, and technical they could play, developing an early model for technical death metal in the process. The album's sound kept the thrashcore, but spiraled out to embrace prog (via Piggy's remarkably dissonant syncopated rhythmic approach to guitar playing and Belanger's gritty, punky vocal attack). Interestingly, while the underground press celebrated the band's originality and aggression, the mainstream rock press, deeply enamored with that decade's hair metal phenomenon, offered only derision -- and it would be years before they caught up. 1988's Dimension Hatröss marked the band's first significant architectural alteration to their sound. For starters, the rhythm section offered enhanced, often-syncopated grooves that depended less on speed/thrash tropes; they used the latter only to relieve the pressure generated by Piggy's jazz-tinged guitar playing, which impossibly blurred the traditional roles of lead and rhythm. Their songwriting was dense and disjointed, full of asides, intros, interludes, and jagged transitions, it presented listeners with a challenge. A confrontational outing, it is regarded as one of the band's finest efforts, the first to showcase all the complexities in their sound, and a blueprint for 21st century prog metal.
Voivod signed to MCA for 1989's Nothingface. They had perfected their trademark fusion style after hundreds of road and club dates, resulting in the most commercially successful release of their career, spearheaded by a video for their cover of Pink Floyd's "Astronomy Domine" (which enjoyed airings on MTV's Headbangers Ball) and a headlining tour featuring a pair of bands that would change the landscape of rock by the early '90s, Soundgarden and Faith No More.
Rather than capitalize on the commercial success of their previous outing, 1991's Angel Rat became one of the band's most misunderstood releases. The album left thrash and speed and, for the most part, prog by the roadside. Instead they opted to explore a more accessible rockist take on garage- and post-punk that informed the development of alternative metal. Fans and the indie press initially greeted the album with confusion and some hostility. With repeated listening, however, most came around. Despite its artistic merit, Angel Rat's failure to match the commercial success of Nothingface led to the interference of MCA and created internal conflict between bandmembers, resulting in the departure of Blacky, and the band went on hiatus while looking for a new bassist.
After a lengthy search, they settled on session bassist Pierre St. Jean, and started writing and recording 1993's The Outer Limits for Geffen Records.
The album featured the band's grandest production level yet with the heavily textured sound of Piggy's guitars amid the swinging, groove-laden approach of the rhythm section. The biggest improvement, however, was in the presentation of Belanger's superb vocal performance. While the majority of the songs continued to chug along the hard-cum-prog rock trajectory showcased on Angel Rat, the music sounded more kinetic and less clinical. They offered another Pink Floyd cover in "The Nile Song" and included the labyrinthine, 17-minute long "Jack the Luminous"; it remains one of the band's most complex compositions. Unfortunately, after completing a support tour, vocalist Belanger left Voivod as well.
Belanger's departure marked the beginning of a period in the wilderness that would bring tragedy, redemption, and ultimately, rebirth. By the mid-'90s, Voivod's lineup had been scaled down to a trio -- newcomer Eric Forrest doubled on vocals and bass -- resulting in 1995's Negatron, an extremely dark, industrial-sounding album, and 1997's punishing, noisy, dissonant, doomy left turn Phobos, which garnered better reviews, and sales, than its immediate predecessor and closed with a riveting cover of King Crimson's "21st Century Schizoid Man." The odds-and-ends compilation Kronik and the live set Lives saw release in 2000.
Forrest departed Voivod in early 2001, and the remaining members decided to call it a day. That said, the band reunited later that year with Belanger back on vocals and the appearance of ex-Metallica bassist Jason Newsted in the ranks. This quartet issued the eponymous Voivod album in 2003 to mixed reviews.
After touring the album, D'Amour began writing in earnest. The band scheduled several recording sessions for the spring and summer of 2005. In June he was diagnosed with colon cancer. After scheduling a routine operation, several complications developed leading doctors to diagnose the cancer as metastatic, rendering an operation non-viable. D'Amour slipped into a coma in the palliative care unit of a Montreal hospital on August 25, 2005. He died the following day surrounded by family, friends, and bandmates.
On his death bed, D'Amour instructed his bandmates on how to complete his contributions to the band's forthcoming offering Katorz, which arrived in 2006. It was greeted with positive reviews for its display of the rootsier, hard rock/death metal/post-punk hybrid they'd developed with Newsted.
Piggy had also left numerous songs and arrangements for another album on his laptop. In 2009, Voivod used his demos, guitar parts, and arrangements and constructed the album Infini, co-produced with Glenn Robinson; all of Piggy's original guitar parts were added without editing, re-recording, or overdubbing. It was to be Voivod's final album. The band toured across Europe, Japan, and North America as a farewell, with Martyr's Daniel "Chewy" Mongrain on guitar, a friend and fan of D'Amour's. The tour also saw the return of Jean-Yves-Theriault on bass. A 2009 show at Montreal's Club Soda was recorded and eventually released as Warriors of Ice on Sonic Unyon Metal in 2011.
Voivod didn't split after all. Mongrain became D'Amour's permanent replacement and the band released their 13th studio album, Target Earth, in January of 2013. The single "Kluskap O'Kom" followed, as did an international tour. After completing the tour in 2014, Blacky left again; he was replaced by Dominique "Rocky" Laroche.
Voivod toured for the next year to break in their new bassist. In 2015 they issued a pair of split singles: "We Are Connected" b/w "Language of the Dead" by At the Gates, and "Forever Mountain" b/w "Phonetics for the Stupefied" by Napalm Death. Those two tracks, a widely acclaimed cover of Hawkwind's "Silver Machine," and two new songs made up the Post Society EP, released by Century Media in February 2016. Two years later, the full-length The Wake arrived. Recorded and mixed by Francis Perron at Canada's RadicArt Recording Studio, it consisted of futuristic prog/thrash metal and mutant psychedelia, and employed a string quartet. The album won critical acclaim and commercial success. Many metal critics compared it to the trilogy of Killing Technology, Dimension Hatross, and Nothingface. The Canadian music industry rewarded Voivod with a Juno award for Heavy Metal Album of the year. The following year, Century Media issued Lost Machine: Live recorded in Quebec City during the 2019 support tour for The Wake, performing material ranging from across their career.