Housecore Horror Preview: Voivod

Nuclear winter’s never far from the Canadian thrashers

Just in time for Halloween, it’s all your radioactive nightmares come true. When Canadian legacy Voivod goes onstage at Emo’s Friday, 10:50pm, they bring with them a science fiction horror mythology inscribed over 30 years into the grooves of 13 albums beginning with 1984’s War and Pain.

Lots more horror converged on the group’s next three LPs, Rrröööaaarrr (1986), Killing Technology (1987), and Dimension Hatröss (1988), wherein Voivod turned heavy metal into something truly disgusting. Mostly that was accomplished by late guitarist Denis “Piggy” D’Amour throwing fork lifts at flaming axes, but it also had to do with the four bandmembers listening to a variety of punk and prog and combining the toughest elements of them into the speed of thrash without watering it down. Group co-founder and drummer Michel “Away” Langevin explains.

Voivod performing in its hometown of Saguenay, July 2014.

Austin Chronicle: You’re returning to Texas obviously.

Michel Langevin: It’s pretty exciting, actually. Just to see Samhain [at Housecore Horror] is pretty exciting. We’re thrilled.

AC: Did you see Samhain in its heyday?

ML: They came to Montreal while we were recording in Berlin, so I totally missed it.

AC: Punk and metal during the early and mid Eighties utilized a myriad of bizarre arrangements. That helped define Voivod.

ML: Those were the big crossover days, where a lot of punks turned to metal and vice versa. I think it was great. A lot of thrash metal people were influenced by Discharge and vice versa. Suddenly English Dogs became more metal, and D.R.I., and so on. It actually doubled the crowd in a way.

AC: Back then audiences were quite diverse.

ML: Right. Prior to the crossover it was a bit difficult. The scenes were very separated and didn’t get along that much. Suddenly, around ‘85 with the Cro-Mags and all that.... I remember in ‘85 being in New York City with Venom and the Cro-Mags. It was insane. Really cool.

AC: That’s become a legendary show.

ML: It was our very first U.S. show. We came out with the gas mask and smoke machine and bullet belts.

AC: Was the smoke something the band did often?

ML: We used to do that all the time, but eventually it got harder to cross the borders with that type of equipment, so we forgot about it after a while. After the first U.S. tour with Celtic Frost, we got rid of all the gear. Crossing Canada/U.S.A. borders was difficult.

AC: Even more so now, probably.

ML: Now it would be impossible. The first time we went to the U.S.A. for the show with Venom, we only had the gas mask and smoke machine, but when we went with Celtic Frost in ‘86 we had the homemade pyros. They totally freaked out at the border [laughs]. We toured across the U.S.A. with homemade pyro that our bass player Blacky was triggering. Nowadays, it would be impossible to go over the border with that stuff.

It was our first experience going full tour in the U.S.A. and we didn’t think about lawsuits. Actually, I believe it was in Austin where the smoke machine was not ready. We had to go on earlier and so Snake sort of sprayed the kids with hot oil. They came backstage afterwards and were like, “The show was great!” But they all had these red dots on their faces. We thought, “Oh my god, we could get sued so bad!” Not to mention the possibility of setting the club on fire with the pyro.

AC: The hot oil was part of the smoke gun?

ML: It was a smoke machine that used baby oil, basically, and it turns it into smoke. You have to heat it a lot prior to the show so it comes out as smoke. I don’t know if it was plugged in enough or what, but it just sprayed the kids with burning oil! It all sounds real Spinal Tap-ish now to me.

AC: These days it’s more about lighting.

ML: We had this whole thing that was part of the thrash metal scene with the bullet belts and all that: We were very cold war-oriented against nuclear war. Around maybe ‘86/’87, we forgot about the whole gimmick and became more interested in developing the music, while also becaming quite good on our respective instruments.

AC: Around Killing Technology the band started sounding tighter.

ML: Exactly. At this point we were living all together and rehearsing every night, doing long stretches of touring, and putting out an album a year. These were exciting times when we shared the stage with Kreator, and Possessed, and Celtic Frost. Although nowadays we still share stages with these people [laughs]. Exodus, Testament – we see these people all the time.

AC: Voivod always had its own sound, but sometimes it reminds me of what Black Flag was doing around 1985.

ML: We were listening to punk rock in the tour bus all the time and it really rubbed off on everybody. Also all the prog rock that Piggy was listening to, and what we call the alternative scene, like Killing Joke and Bauhaus, which Blacky was listening to. Snake and I were more into hardcore and punk. It all became a big mixture of that.

AC: I’m reminded of Black Flag’s In My Head and Loose Nut, yet Voivod had a crunched, distorted sound.

ML: We also really liked D.R.I., C.O.C., and M.D.C., and a lot of the English punk stuff: Exploited, G.B.H., Discharge, Broken Bones. A lot of the Crust material as well: Conflict, Amebix.

AC: Dead Kennedys....

ML: Dead Kennedys. Actually, Jello re-released our very first demo a couple of years back, To the Death... 84.

AC: That was a cool release. A lot of Dead Kennedys topics touched on similar themes in terms of the horrors of technology.

ML: I was actually not that aware of nuclear stockpiles and everything before listening to the Dead Kennedys, and Conflict, and Crass. It really opened my mind to it, and I started to be very paranoid about it and totally integrated that into the Voivod concept.

AC: Jello Biafra said he was glad when the space shuttle blew up because the next shuttle was supposed to take plutonium up into space for Reagan’s Star Wars program or something. That sounds like a Voivod song. Crazy shit.

ML: Actually, the album we put out last year, Target Earth, the concept of the title track is about a hacker taking control of one of these satellites and aiming the missiles wherever he wants then blackmailing whoever he wants. So, total Voivod territory there.

AC: Did you know Greg Ginn now lives ear Austin?

ML: I’ve never met Greg, but I’m a big fan of his playing and Black Flag. Big influence on me as well.

AC: Are you a horror movie fan?

ML: Yes, if it integrates sci-fi elements. But I also have a tendency to like zombie movies because of the apocalyptic nature. It’s always interested me. There’s one movie showing at [Housecore Horror] called City of the Living Dead. I never saw this one. I think it’s 1980. It has two titles, so it’s called Gates of Hell as well.

I really liked Alien when it came out, but prior to that there were reruns from the Fifties and Sixties, like The Incredible Shrinking Man, where he goes through a radioactive cloud, starts shrinking, and fights with a spider. That really scared me as a kid. All the Godzilla movies about mutation were tied to the nuclear subject. It never really left me, that fear of would it be a nuclear war or a Fukushima [meltdown].

Back then we talked about Chernobyl. Now we talk about Fukushima. So, the stress in my head is still there.

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Voivod, Housecore Horror 2014, Michel Langevin, Denis D’Amour, Samhain, Discharge, English Dogs, D.R.I., Venom, Cro-Mags, Celtic Frost, Dead Kennedys, Jello Biafra, Crass, Black Flag, Greg Ginn, Kreator, Possessed, D.R.I., C.O.C.

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