The birth of something wonderful yet terrifying, and mandatory listening.
Alex Deller 2012-02-15
Voivod, bless ‘em, were never going to be a household name. Their weird and singular take on thrash metal has always been far too confusing and gloriously out-there to ever endear them to the masses, and the fact they seemed ill-inclined to ever write a straightforward anthem a la Angel of Death or Master of Puppets has led to their remaining the cult preserve of heavy metal epicures.
That said, Voivod are not just an excellent and overlooked act, but also a very necessary one. Like a lone traveller charting his course through a Larry Niven tale, the band took it upon themselves to explore heavy metal’s outer limits and report their findings back to Earth. In so doing they ensured the path was safe for modern-day travellers like Mastodon, Converge, Starkweather and The Dillinger Escape Plan, all of whom have nodded towards the band’s punked-up prog-thrash and eye-gouging dissonance over the years.
To the Death 84 sees the band at their most protean and is light years away from the likes of Dimension Hatross or Killing Technology, the tracks culled from a primitive live-in-the-studio recording that was slapped onto cassette and stuffed into envelopes destined for far-flung fanzines and record labels. Despite – or perhaps because of – the limited means powering them on, the tracks positively boom from the speakers. Each song is a rough-cut brute of a thing comprising buzzsaw riffing, irrational drum clatter and the truly bizarre howls, squawks and grunts of Denis ‘Snake’ Bélanger, whose coffin-lid screech would remain as much a part of the inimitable Voivod blueprint as the wildly inventive guitarwork of Denis ‘Piggy’ D'Amour. What they’d yet to learn by way of nuance and refinement they more than made up for in gusto and bloodlust, these early cuts nodding to the likes of Motörhead and Die Kreuzen as well as the two lynchpin acts whose songs they cover herein: Venom and Mercyful Fate.
While the majority of the tracks would later resurface on the band’s War and Pain debut, the raw blur and bluster of these earlier incarnations means there’s something new to be found no matter how many times you’ve hoisted a doom claw during Live for Violence or Warriors of Ice. Rather than a mere curiosity for diehard fans, To the Death 84 instead offers a rare chance to witness the birth of something wonderful yet terrifying, and this alone makes it mandatory listening.