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Thursday, July 23, 2009

CD Review: Voivod - Infini

Voivod - Infini
2009 Relapse Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Voivod has long been a part of my music-listening DNA so it's uncontrollable not to put a personal stamp on this review now that Infini is in all likelihood the final trip down their sonic vacuum tube.

Killing Technology was love at first hear back in the mid-eighties while Dimension Hatross became absolute obsession. The earlier Voivod albums War and Pain and Rrroooaaarrr were animalistic slabs of noise exploration within a thrash construct (a crackly vibe resurrected later on Phobos when Denis "Snake" Belanger had briefly drifted out of the band), yet there's no doubt in most longtime metal fans' minds Voivod were carving paths with their first four releases. By the time their less abrasive and far more progressive 1989 masterwork Nothingface came along the pike, one might've considered heavy metal forever altered. If you trace everything happening in metal since, you can see the point.

It was at this point in Voivod's innovative career when I was writing a heavy metal and punk column in my college newspaper. From '89 into 1990 I made it a crusade to expose Voivod to as many eyes and ears as possible, boldly declaring Voivod the band of the future. For my efforts, Voivod's former label Mechanic lavished me with a motherload of a press kit, my very first shoulder-rubbing with the industry. I remember seeing Voivod headline over a quickly-rising Soundgarden and Faith No More, overall the second best show I've been witness to and still Voivod reigned supreme over their equally game openers. I also remember a local FM radio station playing Voivod's cover of "Astronomy Domine" for a Smash or Trash segment, and considering the clientele this AOR station catered to, it still broke my heart to hear so many jughead "play it safe" listeners who thought Great White's "Once Bitten Twice Shy" cover was not only their own song but a killer one at that slag Voivod to death. Those fools...

Though it would be until 2006 before I was able to interview Snake for Pit magazine as the remnants of Voivod had banded together to honor their fallen guitarist Denis "Piggy" D'Amour with Katorz, I never lost my love for the band. Yeah, they took many strange but interesting turns with Angel Rat, Negatron, Phobos, the oddball remix and live compilation Kronik and their self-titled "comeback" album from 2003 featuring "Jasonic" Jason Newsted amidst their ranks. Of course, The Outer Limits is perhaps Voivod's most underrated album in their entire career, while it all comes to boil nicely in 2009 with the release of Infini, assumedly their final output.

The first spin of Infini for me was melancholic and emotional, I'll have to admit, albeit it was a frequently breathtaking experience. It all has to do with the realization of finality knowing Voivod had purposefully divvied out Piggy's recorded guitar tracks to create two posthumous celebrations of the late shredder's contributions to metal. Katorz had a been joyful confrontation, knowing Snake, Jason Newsted and Michel "Away" Langevin were apt enough to build solid tunes around Piggy's archived guitar parts.

Infini, however, is something far grander. Could anyone honestly expect an album whose principal sound generator is no longer with us to come out not only strong, but memorable, an easy contender for one of Voivod's hallmarks? It couldn't have been easy in either the case of Katorz or Infini to work without the physical presence of their rhythm engine, however Voivod has the grace on Infini to put Piggy out there front and center like the actual breathing superhuman of the six strings he was, using the steady headbobber "Deathproof" as an example.

Ever since making the controversial decision to walk from Metallica, Jason Newsted has restored a large bit of his street cred by hobknobbing with Voivod. You can see his attraction. From the get-go when Jean-Yves "Blacky" Theriault was still in the band, Voivod's resonance has relied on bass-heavy projection to assist with their cybernetic air duct cadence. Theriault was nearly superhuman himself as one of the few remotely able to keep up with Piggy's blinding and constantly interchanging guitar lines, which is why Killing Technology, Dimension Hatross and Nothingface are three of the genre's most eloquent albums ever recorded.

As Voivod has slowed considerably over time, the capacity of Newsted's methodic and personable bass (criminally bleached over many times by his former comrades) has been a no-brainer character to reviving them. It's not necessarily the name, but the punctuation Newsted brings to the table. Infini may be Piggy's salutory farewell, but undoubtedly it's a signature album for Newsted as well, who is loud with a vengeance on "Pyramidome," "God Phones," "From the Cave" and "Global Warning." Never to the point of drowning Piggy's leads, however, which is why Infini is a tremendous success.

With Newsted manning the production console, Infini sounds contemporary, straightforward and heavy, heavy, heavy. Very little prog shows up on Infini, instead directly pinpointing the grooves Piggy injected into his hard drive, albeit "Pyramidome" comes close to the progressive overtones of Nothingface and Angel Rat. Largely, Infini hums on the backbone of Piggy's distinctive, lofty chords (which many guitarists have gone on record stating they're damn near impossible to replicate), plus it pulses with Newsted's focused undercurrents, Away's busy drum fills and Snake's gravelly pipes.

As Snake penned the lyrics to Infini, he's more content with growling his words through the album than attempting to hit the higher cleans, which sometimes foiled him on the self-titled album. "Morpheus" is one of his leaner moments on the mike, which will bring longtime fans a large feeling of warmth, even as the song escalates in tempo and Snake does likewise with his octaves. Piggy's solo on "Morpheus" is utterly cosmic as the tune stays on an uptempo soar.

"God Phones" confidently hails Infini into being with Piggy's isolated riffs before stamping forward behind him as the leader he was. Ditto for the subsequent track "From the Cave," one of the more traditional-sounding Voivod songs bearing shades of Dimension Hatross and Nothingface with Piggy running amok on his solo and the bridges. Perhaps the surprise cut of Infini is "Earthache," surprising only because of its dirty clout and tougher than nails rhythm. Piggy's intro to the headbanging, sometimes garage-oriented "Treasure Chase" could show Queens of the Stone Age a few tricks, particularly in the way Piggy and his bandmates texture their tune atop its gleeful wave.

Whether they know it or not, Voivod gets revenge (at least in this writer's eyes, anyway, considered the aforementioned Smash or Trash story) with "Krap Radio" while "A Room With a V.U." resurrects their unwavering affinity for Pink Floyd. As in the past, Voivod sends Infini on a brisk note with the grungy and hammering "Volcano." Though not as in-your-face as Voivod's other fast tracks in the latter part of their existence, "Volcano" rides way high on Piggy's wristing and da-da-daaaaa note sequences, leaving an indelible impression you've been treated to a glorious and appropriate farewell.

The second spin of Infini for me bore far less personal stakes--other than to determine how high to rate this thing. It's safe to say once you've accepted Infini as Piggy's curtain call, its value skyrockets not just because of his inspirational efforts to leave so much of himself behind before passing away, but because Voivod as a whole come off adrenalized by association. Infini is all about Piggy to be sure, but it's a monster group effort no one would dare accuse of being a cash-in. When everyone in their mother is trying to rope duckets off the death of Michael Jackson, Infini reminds us some people have their hearts in the right place.

Rating: ****1/2


Martell said...

I don't understand Voivod at all these days. First of all the whole recording riffs in your bathroom on the laptop doesn't seem to make sense to me. Also Jason is on the record, and paid for it, but doesn't tour with them. All just seems a bit off to me. Just a rant, but WTF.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

Welp, Piggy is no longer amongst the living, so he recorded as many guitar parts for future songs as he could before dying. The rest of the band wanted to honor his memory by recording these two albums by building around the parts he left for them. Thus your bathroom analogy is a tad brutal, friend.

Also, the reason for no touring is obvious since Piggy is no longer alive. Voivod wouldn't be the same without him. Also, Newsted did tour with Voivod on the s/t album, doing Ozzfest second stage with them that year. Pretty humble coming from Metallica and the first stage, wouldn't you say?

Regardless, thanks for reading, Martell!

DPTH International said...

Voivod's Nothingface is one of the earliest metal albums I borrowed from my stepbro. Varga's Demo, Death Angel's Frolic through the park ... and Exodus's Pleasures of the flesh were the other albums early in my metal years.

I spent years trying to get Nothingface on CD, couldn't find it anywhere. Eventually found it in a used CD shop last fall.

Voivod has had a varied discography, but each has a distinct Voivodian feel. A great band and one of my favourites.

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Maybe the best disc from this enigmatic band! Voivod is simply awesome!