The concept of progression is nothing new to metal; in fact, one could rightly argue that the genre was partly born out of the strides made by the progressive rock movement of the 1970s. Nevertheless, over the subsequent decades of its development, the manner in which metal has opted to express its evolutionary methodology has taken some rather unique turns, particularly in regards to more extreme offshoots that began taking shape soon after the peak of the NWOBHM. Arguably the most consequential band on the western side of the Atlantic to bring a less conventional take on musicality to the emergent thrash metal sub-genre is Quebec’s own Voivod, whom were already pushing the envelope within a year of Metallica’s ground-breaking debut Kill ‘Em All hitting the market. Their exploits since have been a continual exercise in defying the traditional boundaries of sonic aggression, culminating in 4 decades of stylistic expansion that has now seen this forward-looking quartet come full circle with an upcoming LP of re-recorded material dubbed Morgoth Tales and a correspondingly named 40 Years of Morgoth Tales tour that would bring down the house in Fort Lauderdale on May 16th, 2023.
The eve’s excursion into the extraordinary would commence with a truly otherworldly showing by opening act and New York born avant-garde trio Imperial Triumphant. To the uninitiated, this outfit has been experimenting at the stylistic fringes of black metal since the late 2000s, taking a similarly progressive approach to that of the night’s headliners, but going taking it to a far greater extreme with an array of jazz, ambient and noise elements that arguably redefine the concept of fusion. Their visual presentation was correspondingly theatrical and bizarre, donning elaborate masks and flowing cloaks like an otherworldly homage to Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, and true to form the haunting atmosphere was topped off with a laconic presentation that saw this fold going from one song to the next with no spoken asides. The musicianship was a next level affair, as the technical chops of drummer Kenny Grohowski, who is widely known for his work with numerous fusion bands, riveted at every opportunity as if he were from another planet. Guitarist and front man Zachary Ezrin proved no slouch at his instrument either, and he found unique ways to engage the crowd while maintaining his de facto silence, a highlight moment consisting of him cracking open a champagne bottle and pouring it directly into the mouths of several front row onlookers. Yet it would be bassist/keyboardist Steve Blanco who would top off the set by later using the aforementioned bottle as a slide for his bass during an ambient segment, while his pantomime-like movements and ritualistic poses further bolstered the performance’s primeval sense of surrealism.
The headlining performance turned in by 40 year veterans and men of the hour Voivod would prove a bit more familiar and by-the-numbers, though by no means any less impactful. Lead vocalist Denis “Snake” Belanger was a perpetual fountain of engaging asides and anecdotes between nearly every song, reminiscing about the history of each song selected from the band’s formative years up until the mid-2000s, and made a particularly humorous splash with a good-natured retelling of his entry into the band back in 1983, right after quitting school to the dismay of his father no less. The more up close and personal presentation was accompanied by a gravely and power-infused vocal display during each song that betrayed a massive degree of youthful exuberance for a man now well into his late 50s, which was matched by the stellar drum performance turned in by founding member Michel “Away” Langevin, also standing dangerously close to the age of 60 yet sounding closer to 30. The relatively newer faces of this quartet in guitarist Daniel “Chewy” Mongrain and bassist Dominique “Rocky” Laroche were no less impressive in their apt performances of material that predated their entry into the fold, though they both opted for a more static stage presence to allow Snake the freedom to move about the stage and feed off the avid reactions of the crowd.
Though it may seem counterintuitive given Voivod’s progressive bona fides, the final take away from this colossal performance could be summed up as a blast from the past. The crowd response was largely a consistent roar of approval, though one couldn’t help but be taken aback by how enthused fans both young and old were to hear old school 80s thrash staples such as “Thrashing Rage” and “Killing Technology”, songs that were hinting at the signature progressive metal niche that has since become their standard, but were more closely aligned with the mosh pit-instigating fair that Metallica and Megadeth were putting forth circa 1983-86. Nevertheless, more typical mixtures of dissonant tonality and nuanced rhythms like “Pre-Ignition”, “Nuage Fractal” and “Fix My Heart” from this quartet’s middle era provided some equally potent highlight moments for this on-stage auditory retrospective. But ironically enough, the most raucously laudatory shouts from the audience would be heard in anticipation to the performance of 2 entries from the 2003 eponymous album in “Voivod” and “Rebel Robot” respectively towards the end of the set, if for no other reason than that Jason Newsted himself would join the band on stage and gel with the rest of the band as if he had been with the band for the past 20 years and not been a virtual ghost to the scene for the better part of the past 10. It was the perfect conclusion to a performance that marked an era long passed, and also one that will hopefully usher in a new beginning for all involved
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