The Canadian prog-thrash crew Voivod was always idiosyncratic, always ahead of its time. Inspired equally by Rush and Discharge, science fiction and scientific fact, Voivod forged an ambitious and unusual form of thrash that framed rich mythology and astute allegorical commentary. Those themes of nuclear proliferation, endless war, and brinksmanship have been vital for more than 30 years now. It’s an unfortunate sort of continual relevance.
Fortunately, Voivod hasn’t grown jaded, even as the threats to human existence perennially loom. Instead, the band has enjoyed a renewed energy and momentum through a still-new lineup of drummer/co-founder Michel “Away” Langevin, singer/co-founder Denis “Snake” Bélanger, guitarist Daniel “Chewy” Mongrain (who fills the enormous space left by late co-founder Denis “Piggy” D’Amour) and fresh bassist Dominique “Rocky” Laroche.
With the new EP, Post Society, Voivod shows it hasn’t lost a step over the years. Brimming with the intensity of Voivod classics like Nothing Face and Killing Technology, Post Society fully embraces the band’s long-standing thrash and prog inspirations. It’s a sharp, invigorating EP, capped off by a strong cover of Hawkwind’s “Silver Machine.”
A day before Voivod embarked on yet another long tour—one which brings them to Kings tomorrow night—the INDY caught up with Langevin to talk about the band’s new era and lasting inspirations.
INDY: With Post Society about to come out and this tour with Vektor getting underway, it seems like there’s a lot going on with Voivod these days?
MICHEL “AWAY” LANGEVIN: Yeah. We’re leaving tonight and starting tomorrow in Providence, and we’re going to be touring for about a month with Vektor and Eight Bells, then we’re going to come back in early March and keep recording material that we write in the bus.
How is the new material shaping up?
In terms of demos, we have a few songs in the works. We aren’t going to release any more songs—the next release is going to be a full-on album, so we need to write and record a whole batch of songs this year. Hopefully we’ll have the new album late this year or very early next year. We have a lot of touring first. We’re doing the West Coast in May and then we’re going to play a few festivals in Europe in the summer, and then a club tour in Europe. We tend to set up a small studio in the back of the bus and, in between touring, we go off in the woods at RadicArt Studio and record the stuff.
It seems like Voivod has been so much more active in the past couple of years. Is there anything you would attribute the new energy and momentum to?
Right after the release of Target Earth [in 2013], Snake, our singer, was taken ill and had to get an operation. So the year 2013 was very slow, just a few festivals here and there. Then we started to pick up again in 2014, but Blacky parted ways with us so it slowed us down a bit. But with the new lineup, we’ve been touring a lot already, like all across North America with Napalm Death and all across Europe with Carcass, Napalm Death, and Obituary. Now, we’re going full-speed ahead. We asked our agents to book as many shows as they can.
Do you feel like Post Society is representative of the new material you’re going to create with this lineup?
Definitely, although we didn’t really overthink the writing part. It’s just the way we are now, what we are now, and what we want to play now. That’s always how it’s been with Voivod. We write the music that we want to play at this specific time, and sometimes it’s a bit out of sync with whatever’s going on. We’ve always evolved in a parallel dimension.
It sounds quintessentially Voivod. I can play it right next to Nothing Face, and it stands up with all the best stuff. But it doesn’t feel like you’re going backwards, either. There’s a lot of fresh inspiration there.
We work really hard on every song, and every bit of every song. It’s a long process. That’s why we’re releasing 7-inch vinyls and EPs and stuff like that. It’s a combination of everything Snake and I have learned all through the years, with a new touch from Chewy and Rocky. It sounds like old Voivod, but there’s something new and fresh. It’s really exciting. I’m excited to play it live.
Having been a band for so long, and having built a very dedicated fanbase, how do you pay respect to the legacy of Voivod but also keep things exciting for you?
That’s a tough one. It’s obvious that Chewy kept Piggy’s spirit intact, and that’s one place we are consistent. We don’t want to repeat ourselves, but we’re trying to sound like Voivod as much as we can, so we keep our signature. People into Voivod recognize us. But it’s hard. It almost goes back to what I was saying earlier—we don’t over think that part too much. We don’t sit down and think, “OK, let’s do that this way, because otherwise people are going to be lost if we’re too different.”
I mean, between Angel Rat and Rrröööaaarrr, it’s almost two bands, you know? We were always tempted to explore as much as we could, either extreme hardcore and thrash metal or psychedelia like on The Outer Limits. I think a good balance is the key. I will always have the double-kick attack to keep it thrash metal. And we will always have angrier prog-rock beats and triadic chords and all that. To keep it fresh, it will be hard to find a way to keep it fresh; it’s something pretty unconscious. We’re pretty lucky that we got Chewy and Rocky on board, and they’re the perfect fit.
I love to record. I love to play music. I love to travel. I just can’t stop. I’m always excited. We’re leaving at midnight tonight, and I’m really excited. To be able to do that, still, 33 years, I think, down the road, it’s pretty crazy. People into Voivod are pretty loyal. And ever since we reformed in 2008, there’s been a lot of newer kids with Voivod shirts and a resurgence of the old-school thrash metal. We share stages with all the people we toured with back then like Destruction, Kreator, Megadeth, Testament, Exodus—all over the world in Tokyo or Rio. It’s really cool that thrash metal is still relevant somehow.
I look at bands like Vektor, who you’re touring with, that seem to have taken a few cues from Voivod along the way and taken it in their own direction—even going so far as the visual aesthetic, the artwork, and logo design.
Yeah, I really like these guys. We played at Hellfest with them a couple of years back, and we did an interview with them, both bands together. One of the guys explained to me that at school he got in trouble for drawing the Voivod logo instead of listening to the teacher. It totally brought me back to when I was doing that for KISS. In the mid-nineties, I started to feel a Voivod influence in other bands—Fear Factory, Meshuggah. I’m not even sure if they were influenced by Voivod, but it’s always fun to hear Piggy’s chords here and there, and backwards beats, a little bit of industrial feel. Then again, we didn’t invent it. We were influenced as well by Motörhead and King Crimson, Discharge. It’s cool when you finally feel like you have some kind of an influence.
Is it kind of odd to think back to how you started and think that now people are looking up to you for inspiration?
It’s great. I never forget where I come from. When we tour with a band that I know was heavily influenced by us, I don’t take it for granted. We’ve opened for our heroes—Motörhead, Iron Maiden—and if they weren’t nice to me, it would have been such a disappointment, like the kind of situation where you don’t listen to the band anymore. I’m always very nice to everybody.
That seems like a good way to live, in general.
[Laughs.] It’s like they say, you know, if you’re not nice on the way up, people won’t want to help you when you’re on the way down.
As much as Voivod has changed, it seems like there’s a real consistency of vision. You’ve had these sci-fi elements and the industrial feel that really runs through a lot of it. What’s changed, and what’s stayed the same?
I think it’s the influence of an artist, hardcore music, and the fact that I was heavily into scientific magazines like Omni and Discover in the eighties. Before that, in the seventies, I was really into the magazine called Heavy Metal. They had amazing artists—Moebius, Philippe Druillet—and they all became my favorite artists. That’s where I got the concept of Voivod, but it was more sci-fi and fantasy-art oriented. When I discovered, through hardcore music and the documentary If You Love This Planet, that there were stockpiles of nuclear weapons everywhere, I sort of redirected my concept. When we formed Voivod, it developed into something metal—a mixture of hardcore and metal and sci-fi. We were also heavily influenced by Rush. We ended up touring with them and they were super nice. Also, it was the Cold War.
We try not to stick to the same subject, like nuclear war and stuff, but there was always some awareness of the destruction of the earth. Back then we had the ozone layer going, and now it’s global warming. Back then, we had Chernobyl to talk about, and now it’s Fukushima. And of course the high-tech weaponry will always be really scary. So even though we grew up in a different era, everything is still relevant. It’s our main worries everyday that make us write these concepts.
Snake and I always sat down to write lyrics together, and when we’d do that, it was based on the magazines that were trying to predict the future. They were right. And I could say the same with bands like Conflict and Crass. They were right, too. That’s why it’s sort of a consistent path that we’re following with Voivod. We try to describe the chaos on earth through some kind of sci-fi folk tales.
Even if the details change, the big stories do stay the same. We’re always going to find some new way to destroy the planet.
I remember in the nineties, people were telling me it was passé to talk about about nuclear weapons and all that. I was like, “Well, I don’t know. The weapons are still there piled up. And they’re still building more, and ever more high-tech every year.” Now with nanotechnology, everything is really, really small and easier to transport. It’s always been a scary thing for me, ever since I saw that documentary from the Canadian National Film Board. It was called If You Love This Planet; it really changed my life.