Recorded live at Club Soda in Montreal , Quebec's über cool sci-fi thrash prog punk experimental pioneers Voivod, have released their second live album, called Warriors of Ice.
The band has seen more than their fair share of turmoil throughout their history since forming as a proto-thrash / punk / metal outfit in 1982.
After failing to capitalise on achieving major label success in the early 90's with the awesome Nothingface album, the original vocalist Snake, and bassist Blacky drifted from the band, leaving guitar wizard and songwriter Piggy, and the incredibly talented drummer Away, to continue in an atypical trio line-up with Eric Forrest (now of E-Force) on bass and vocals, when they created the industrial thrash Sci-Fi albums Negatron and Phobos.
Their mark II line up was short lived though, as Forrest was badly injured in a crash on tour in Germany, and just as they were at their lowest ebb, they were rejuvenated a few years later by an excellent self-titled comeback album in 2003, bankrolled by Metallica's ex-bassist Jason Newsted who had been a fan, and stepped in on bass duties. The original singer Snake had returned too, and just when it looked like Voivod were once again in the ascendency, tragedy struck, with guitarist and songwriter extraordinaire Piggy tragically succumbing to cancer in 2005.
However, all was not lost, the guitar genius behind their otherworldly chord phrasing and idiosyncratic riffing, had actually recorded two more albums worth of material on his laptop which he bequeathed to the band. These excellent albums, surfaced as Katorz and Infini, with edgy punk sci-fi sensibilities, but the question remained; how would Voivod continue now that Piggy was gone?
Dan Mongrain, of the astonishing technical death metal outfit Martyr, stepped in to perform on guitar what were ostensibly tribute shows to Piggy, in giving the fans a chance to hear the newer material and the classics played live once again. His genius with guitar saw him nail Piggy's unique style and so positive was the reaction of the fans that the band recently announced that they were working on new material with Dan staying faithful to the signature Voivod sound.
If this sounds like a long introduction, it is; I have followed Voivod since the superb Dimension Hatross in 1988, and this live album, with three quarters of the original line-up has been a long time coming!
The sound is heavy, and new guy Dan plays so much like Piggy that it is almost impossible to tell them apart! I am always wary when line-ups change and new guitarists play original band member's solos, as so few can retain any personality in the style. It often sounds so utterly soulless and by the numbers, as in Megadeth's recent incarnations, as no one since has come close to nailing Marty Friedman's Rust in Peace output, or else it's just plain boring, as in KISS, when Tommy Thayer leadenly mimics Ace's bonkers 70's chops. Yet, Dan Mongrain has managed to pull out all the stops in his tribute to Piggy's totally unique and unorthodox style.
Warriors of Ice sees the band nailing their classics, from their raw 1983 debut War and Pain album comes Voivod and Nuclear War, and from their experimental classic NothingFace comes the amazing title track, The Unknown Knows and the superb Pink Floyd cover Astronomy Domine, and even the underrated psychedelic album Angel Rat sees The Prow and Panorama getting an airing.
The drumming from Away is fantastic, as is the deep, distorted grind from Blacky's blower bass. Vocalist Snake gargles and hollers his way throughout the proceedings, with his few brief introductions between songs, predominantly in Quebecois Francais before giving the song name in English!
But Voivod are not a band that is necessarily just looking to the past; there are also two punk/ thrash/ prog / metal songs from their newest album, Treasure Chase and Global Warning, to bring the set bang up to date, and pay tribute to the last works of the enormously talented Denis D'Amour. (Piggy to his mates!)
Overall, the album is thrash-heavy, with the likes of Ravenous Medicine, Overreaction, Tornado (although the chorus is sung in Japanese now, being Tatsumaki!), Brain Scan, and the fantastic Tribal Convictions, highlighting just how adventurous the band were in the 86-88 heyday of thrash metal, writing fast, aggressive Sci-Fi themed songs, with unpredictable tempo changes, weird vocal FX and obscure chord phrasings.
In short, this is a superb live album that captures the band on fire, and it is a fitting testament to Piggy's memory. Voivod's loyal cult following have warmly welcomed the new guy, and I too, look forward to what they are going to come up with next. One thing is for sure, is that it won't be predictable!