Growing up in the 1980s was a little bit scary. I’m sure it wasn’t as bad as other eras (the ’60s come to mind … my parents certainly have told me their share of frightening Cuban Missile Crisis stories), but looking back, it’s not so surprising many of us have ended up in therapy.
It was the height of the Cold War, and it seemed we were inundated daily with stories of the nuclear arms race, rumors of assaults by the Communists on our vital infrastructure (and I grew up in the land of the steel mills, so you can imagine the heightened alert), and bombing drills at school, you know, just in case. I still don’t get how hiding under a desk was going to help. So yeah, it wasn’t easy for a kid who was still in single digits age-wise to filter all of this stuff. Every thunder clap, explosion in the distance, strange-looking aircraft, or ominous cloud put that idea in our heads that maybe this was the end. Every day, we were on edge, just waiting for that moment when we’d be vaporized. Look, this probably sounds blown way out of proportion, but it isn’t easy making sense of these horrific things when you’re not even 10 years old yet. Even after many of these fears died down, these matters stuck with me. It’s hard to shake an era when you think your own fragile existence is threatened daily by the bomb.
This is probably why I instantly fell in love with Voivod. That isn’t the only reason. My eventual left-of-center musical interests probably were showing their initial buds the first time I saw Voivod on “Headbangers Ball” and heard their “Nothingface” album, a collection that helped shape my teenage years. But their likewise paranoia over nuclear war was something with which I identified immediately, and their sci-fi trappings and concept of the Voivod creature helped me escape into a world where the adventure was both fantastical and oddly realistic, and the soundtrack was inescapable. For some reason when I was in college, I fell away from metal for a few years (which is why it took me a long time to catch up on some of the great non-mainstream metal of the early and mid ’90s), but when I rediscovered it again right before the turn of the century, Voivod was one of the bands I instantly knew I had to revisit. And they’ve stayed with me ever since. In fact, two of the highlights of my journalistic career are 2003 interviews with Snake and Jason Newsted (Jasonic to Voivod fans), who played on and released the band’s self-titled comeback album. Newsted seemed hesitant at first, probably because he expected a barrage of Metallica questions, but that changed quickly when I inundated him with eager and, I’d like to think knowledgable, Voivod questions. We talked Voivod for nearly an hour. Snake was a goofy, incredibly friendly dude with much wisdom and jokes to impart.
But sadness struck in 2005 when guitar wizard Denis “Piggy” D’Amour succumbed to cancer, and the band was left in flux. This was a gigantic blow. Piggy never got nearly the accolades he deserved (his work on their self-titled record smokes), and now the band’s very existence was in question. They released two more records (2006’s “Katorz” and 2009’s “Infini,” both really strong, and each containing Piggy on guitar), and despite their murky outlook, hit the road anyway with bassist Jean-Yves “Blacky” Theriault returning to the fold and new guitarist Dan “Chewy” Mongrain joining Belanger and drummer Michel “Away” Langevin. The result of said sojourn is captured on their new live album “Warriors of Ice” (out on Sonic Unyon Metal), and any skepticism over the revamped lineup and their future instantly are dashed away when hearing this excellent 15-track album (captured at Club Soda in Montreal on Dec. 12, 2009). Really, any Voivod fan can find something of value on here because they span their early catalog generously, touching almost entirely on their classic material and popping in a touch of new stuff.
The band sounds excellent. I never imagined how these guys would persevere without Piggy, and we still don’t have a new studio album without him to really tell us, but Chewy represents himself just fine here. He plays Piggy’s parts nearly flawlessly, while also adding a bit of his own style to these songs, and the rest of the band is as firing on all cylinders as well. Snake is something of an enigma. No one is ever going to cite him as one of metal’s best pure singers, but he has a charm and a weirdness that always matched this band’s music perfectly. He’s nasal, sometimes a little off-putting, and many times bizarre, but his bark and moan always captures your attention, and it’s impossible not to smile along with him even as he’s telling some black, horrible tales. His interaction with the crowd here, both in English and French, portrays a guy who feels like he’s just a guy in the room, no better than anyone else and who never feels the need to put himself above the audience. Seeing him interact naturally and jovially with fans at an Ozzfest stop a few years ago proved this is a guy who values his audience and is fulfilled just being able to front the band he loves. This attitude is apparent and refreshing on this disc.
There’s no need to rehash the whole disc here for you. Just know that you’re in for the full gamut of the classic Voivod experience, from their well-known, well-aged songs such as set opener “Voivod” and “Nuclear War” from their 1984 debut “War and Pain” (in fact, the album title “Warriors of Ice” is grabbed from a song from that record); “Tornado” from “Killing Technology”; “The Unknown Knows,” classic Pink Floyd cover “Astronomy Domine” and the title track from “Nothingface”; and “Global Warning” from their last studio effort “Infini.” Obviously, the album is heavily weighted in their earlier era, which will thrill longtime fans, but those who just got into the band with their more recent work certainly will enjoy the ride.
It’s great to hear Voivod so full of life and, most importantly, so vital. This is one of the most important bands in metal history, one of the most influential, and while the Cold War era may have passed, one of the most sobering. While we may not be waiting for the Russians to bomb our mills and power plants anymore, we live in the time of global terrorism, and their paranoia and fear still applies. “Warriors of Ice” is a vital, must-have collection for any Voivod fan, young or old, and it serves as a nice history lesson for all the kids who are dining off the recent thrash revival. This, kids, is how it’s done.
For more on the band, go here: http://www.voivod.com/
And here: http://voivod.net/
To buy “Warriors of Ice,” go here: http://www.amazon.com/Warriors-Ice-Voivod/dp/B0051LVYQW/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=music&qid=1306764869&sr=8-1