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Saturday, June 04, 2011

Album Review: Voviod - Warriors of Ice

Voivod - Warriors of Ice
2011 Sonic Unyon Metal
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Admittedly, there is a strangeness to life in Voivod without Denis "Piggy" d'Amour. Then again, this is one of the most-respected metal acts of all-time, even with member departures and returns resulting in some (at-times) peculiar lineups. Recall the cataclysmic death pell of Eric Forrest's ralphing regime on the insanely-brackish Negatron and Phobos? Hoo-eee! Jason Newsted's tenure with Voivod was a grand gesture that helped put the band's name on the map, yet sadly, the death of Piggy marked an assumed finish to Voivod much as Newsted had helped resurrect them.

So heartbreaking was this loss that Voivod's last two Piggy-assisted albums, the well-assembled Katorz and Infini were the most bitter of bittersweet farewells. Then the bizarre happened.

A couple years ago, Dan Mongrain of the Voivod-idolizing Martyr suddenly appeared onstage in Piggy's daunted spot. Perhaps Mongrain would've been booed upon sight if not for the off-setting appearance of the well-loved Jean-Yves "Blacky" Theriault back on bass. No disrespect to Newsted, Forrest or any of the session players Voivod used to get the job done following The Outer Limits; Blacky is the one who could match Piggy note-for-note. Together, those two were confirmed magic.

To Mongrain's credit, he brought his waist-tickling locks and the majority of Denis d'Amour's revered licks to the table, easing more than enough tensions that a post-Piggy Voivod wasn't so blasphemous after all. So enamored has the band and Voivod's loyalists become of Mongrain he now boasts his own nickname, "Chewy."

Warriors of Ice is a live album recorded shortly after the Japan concert presented on Voivod's 2009 DVD Tatsumaki. Precisely, this show was belted out in the band's home turf of Montreal at Club Soda on December 12, 2009.

Named after one of the shredding cuts from Voivod's 1984 album War and Pain, Warriors of Ice comes loaded with a fusilage of classic tech thrash. Spanning the early days with "Voivod," "Nuclear War" and "Ripping Headaches" and touching upon key tracks from Killing Technology, Dimension Hatross, Nothingface, Angel Rat and even Infini, this is one mean mother of a live album, if a bit cluttery.

It goes without saying we should cut Dan Mongrain some slack at this point. Just listen to "Chewy" slay on "Overreaction." Piggy would be proud, believe it. You can hear Blacky's and Away's pride as they meet Mongrain with blazing speed and even push him to the nth. Mongrain is up to the task, even with a few sliding hiccups on "Ravenous Medicine." He somehow can't replicate the echoing reverb on "Tribal Convictions" as gnarly as Piggy could, but Mongrain nails the rest of it. He also nails precise details on "Panorama," "Global Warning," "The Unknown Knows," "Nothingface" and "Brain Scan." On the fastest tunes like "Tornado," "Ripping Headaches" and "Voivod," Chewy, Blacky and Away are frigging demonic together.

Warriors of Ice, however, doesn't do Denis "Snake" Belanger a lot of justice. Or rather, he doesn't get into the pocket vocally. It's a given Snake has been pushing and straining his chops since combating his addictions and unfortunately, they've taken their toll upon the man. Belanger undeniably gives it his all on the mike and sometimes he does a fairly agreeable job, but in many spots he forces himself through the ruts. The band rescues him on "Nothingface" long after he's stirred his Quebecois audience to a rousing stir early on with "Voivod." God bless him, though, because Snake is obviously shaking off the loss of Piggy as much as his bandmates and it all sounds like a healing in-progress. Just hearing Blacky's distorted "wows" on "The Unknown Knows" is therapeutic.

All told, Warriors of Ice is a compulsory pick-up for every Voivod fan. Despite some roughshod moments, it serves as a curiosity piece to witness Chewy's comeuppance, but mostly, it serves to honor and remember Piggy's memory at the speed of jagged nanoseconds.

Rating: ***1/2

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