35 years in the making. Almost four decades in of pushing the outer bounds of Progressive Thrash Metal. Some 19 years since their last tour. After a near-eternity on the scene, Voivod and friends proved that age is no barrier to ripping through a fierce, energetic and diverse array of classics with talent, humour and poise.
Setting the scene early, In Malice’s Wake brought the riffs charging from the get-go, their blistering up-tempo blend of early Sepultura-era Thrash and classic, chug-heavy Death Metal undertones waking the early stragglers and standing them to attention. A shirtless frontman gave the obligatory quips to the devastatingly hot weather outside, and the fact that, “We’ve got a two-man moshpit now!” He otherwise spent the set barking like a madman in between the relentless rhythm section battery and virtuoso dual guitar solo trade-offs. A small but thankful and dedicated crowd cheered them on, Thrash loyalists who braved the searing heat for glorious riffage.
El Colosso toned things back a notch on the tempo dial, managing to sacrifice none of the performative energy or flair of the prior act. Strutting out a bunch of long-haired dudes, any initial expectations of another Thrash follow-up were quickly dusted away by the Southern-fried hard blues-meets-alternative rock amplifier worship. Proclaiming that, “You Metalheads are too just too kind!” the enigmatic, crooning frontman threw mutual fist-pumps and rock star posturing alongside his equally energetic bandmates. Featuring phaser-washed riffs and vocals that hearken back to the days of Soundgarden, the large but laid-back style was taken in appreciatively by a slowly but steadily growing audience. To keep things in perspective, the band brandished enough Metallic moments into the mix with some meaty breakdowns to keep the ardent Metalheads sated for the next act.
Local Melbourne Metal institution Contrive, the Haug brothers’ two-piece who have been toiling away as scene regulars, took to the stage immediately ready to brandish fury despite featuring drums and guitar only. A synth-drenched intro was quickly seared away by a wall of Strapping Young Lad-worthy riffs, the vocalist craning his head high to the mic stand with a mixture of barks, screams, and Burton C. Bell-styled clean vocals whilst his brother hammered the kit relentlessly alongside him. Mixing these more straightforward heavier sections with lots of ambient segues, the latter was unfortunately a bit low in the mix. These subdued sections were played with no less passion (it’s not often you see two dudes headbanging hard through slow Prog interludes), but the slower, spoken-word sections were a bit lost on the restless crowd. Fortunately, the duo came back swinging with a couple of faster thrashers from the latest LP, which were well-received. Kicking it up a gear towards the end earned them a rowdy, whooping applause well befitting their veteran status.
And then, it was time. With the green-lit shades and electronic intro, the world’s greatest retro-futurist Progressive Space-Thrash band hit the stage. Voivod were back on for the first time in nearly two decades, and judging by the absolute firestorm of riffs, pouncing, jumping and prowling it was evident that 35 years had hardly made a dent.
Ripping through the complex sections of Post-Society like paper, the first incredible element of their live show was evidently their talent. With Chewy (Daniel Mongrain) providing an endless serpentine labyrinth of riffs that traded between dissonance, old-school Thrash fervour, histrionic soloing and effects-drenched warbling, the ever-grinning and stupidly talented guitarist was backdropped by the relentlessly tight, shifting and polyrhythmic efforts of the stupendously precise and fast drum and bass duo of original founding member Away (Michael Langevin) and Rocky (Dominic Laroche). Atop it all was the sneering, snarling and other trademark antics of sprightly and tireless frontman Snake (Denis Belanger). Moving perfectly through the band’s incredibly varied landscape, none of the members showed signs of slowing through fast punk sections, palm-muted Thrash attacks, and no slip-ups through their various dissonant, stop-start experimental time signature changes. From Order of the Blackguards, Voivod and Overreaction through to several cuts from their latest banger ‘The Wake,’ the audience were forever moving and appreciative, mustered into an endless tango of gang chants, shouts and headbangs prompted by the heavily French-accented Snake.
Aside from the amazing musical histrionics and talent on display, what really made this gig equally special were the touches of humour and sentiment. From the slow clap in the second encore dedicated to fallen brother Piggy, to playing Top 40 rock riffs randomly, inviting us to dance, throwing plenty of playful barbs at each other, the audience and themselves, as well as a healthy amount of totally goofy antics onstage, it’s clear the youthful spirit of the band remains largely intact. Asking everyone to “go crazy” for multiple encores, when the pit responded in kind, the appreciation on those proverbial-eating grins of the band members could’ve been visible from space. The dashes of humour and affection brought an extra element of mutual appreciation, participation and camaraderie between one of Metal’s most underrated institutions. A night of technical brilliance, experimentation but above all, plain good fun. We hope it’s not 19 years before we see them again.