QRD - Current Issue   About QRD   QRD Archives
QRD #29, January 2006
about this issue
If Thousands interview
Kobi interview
Plumerai interview
Timothy Renner interview
Torch Marauder interview
Bill Horist interview
Erin O’Brien interview
Nadav Carmel interview
Memories of Piggy
Plumerai Tour Diary
The Day She Carried Me
Four Pieces by Patricia Russo
QRD - Thanks for your interest & support
QRD - Advertise
Silber Records
Silber Button Factory
Cerebus TV
Silber Kickstarter
Memories of Piggy or how I became a teenaged metal-head
by The Torch Marauder

It’s difficult to put into words how much Voivod means to me and how saddened I am by Piggy’s death.  So, I’m going to have to go all the way back to the beginning…. 

I think it was in the summer of ‘84, my last summer before starting high school that I met these two kids, Bob Barnovitz and Kevin Kowalski.  I was a little scrawny guy with hair down to my shoulders, and these were two smaller dudes with hair down to the middle of their backs.  I was immediately jealous at how long their mom’s let them grow their hair.  They both played guitar and were in a band called Mutilation.  They asked me what kind of music I liked, and I replied “Zeppelin, Sabbath, Purple, Priest, Maiden, etc.”  They said that stuff is lame and that I needed to hear some real metal.  Some fast and hard shit.  I said, “There ain’t nothing faster and heavier than Sabbath and Priest!”  Then they started hitting me with sounds I’d never heard before.  Bands with funny names like Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, and Slayer.  At first I hated them.  I said, “You guys must be joking.  These guys can’t even play.  They’re just screaming and banging their guitars into their amps or something.”  But it wasn’t long until I was diggin’ this stuff.  They continued to turn me on to all kinds of other underground metal bands like Exodus, Possessed, Venom, Hirax, Zoetrope, Impulse Manslaughter, Exciter, Death, Celtic Frost, Sacrifice, Cryptic Slaughter, Death Angel, Destruction, and Motorhead (who I had heard of but never heard, and who they contended were the only “old dudes” who were any good). 

So I was exposed to a whole new world of brutal music that was a perfect soundtrack for any semi-angst ridden adolescent.  Out of all these new bands I was listening to, there was one that stood out from the crowd and that was Voivod.  The first thing that separated them from the pack (besides their amazingly cool name) was Piggy’s guitar playing.  It sounded like nothing I’d ever heard before, and I was now accustomed to all this thrash metal.  Bob and Kevin explained to me that Piggy used jazz chords and chords he “invented” that no one else used.  The rest of the metal world was strictly bar chords at this point.  Other guitarists didn’t dare deviate from that; otherwise they could lose their heavy sound.  That was the beauty of what Piggy did.  He created this bizarre sound that was completely his own and he was still just as heavy as anyone else around, and in many ways even more ominous.

Something else about this band that caught my attention was their names: Blacky, Piggy, Snake, and Away.  Bob and Kevin explained that no one could pronounce their real names due to them being from Quebec, which might as well have been another planet to us back then.  And that was appropriate, because they seemed to be from another planet or another dimension.  Most of their albums were concept albums about the character “Voivod” and his adventures on his home world of Morgoth and his journeys into space, other dimensions, and even into his own mind.  Their drummer, Away, did the artwork for all of their albums and it was amazing.  I could stare at it for hours.  I thought it was so cool that the drummer of the band did the artwork himself and also came up with most of the concepts for the albums and songs.  The bassist, Blacky, designed the pyrotechnics for their live shows.  Then there was Snake, the singer.  He had an amazing charm to his broken English/French accent delivery.  He also wrote lyrics that no one who spoke English as a first language would or could write. 

Bob and Kevin were what we called tape traders back then.  The way they got into this stuff was by sending demos of bands they liked to other traders, who in turn sent things to them.  None of these bands were played on the radio and it would be a good while before MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball would give these bands some exposure.  Looking back, it was a revolutionary time in music that pre-dated the whole DIY indie rock movement.  So this brings me to the day that Bob got the self-titled Voivod video in the mail.  You could hear Piggy’s creepy volume-swell guitar intro, but see only fog, then you hear Snake yell, “VOIVOD!!!!” and the band tears into it.  It was so low budget, but so cool.  They were decked out in all their metal glory; huge spiked wristbands and bullet belts with Snake wearing a gas mask.  These guys were into theatrics and performance, and I was loving it.  You could see all the kids stage diving and going crazy.  It was a world I wanted to be a part of.

I remember Voivod coming to Chicago with Celtic Frost on the RRROOOAAARRR tour.  For some reason I didn’t go, and I regret it to this day.  Bob, Kevin, and every one of my friends who went couldn’t stop talking about how amazing the show was.  I’m still kicking myself for missing that historic event. 

It was in 1988 that I finally got to see Voivod live.  They played at the Cubby Bear, a little bar across the street from Wrigley Field.  Violence was the opening act (the first of three alliterative metal shows I would see there ? the other bands were Dark Angel with Death, then Kreator with Coroner).  Dimension Hatross was the new album they were supporting.  My memories of this show are vague, but I do remember a few specific moments.  The first thing I remember is hanging out in the bar before the show and seeing all four members of Voivod walk right in front of me.  Bob and Kevin along with some other friends of mine said hey to them and were chatting them up a bit.  I was too scared.  I was star struck and afraid that anything I said to these gods among men would just sound stupid.  I held my tongue, and I’m glad I did, for I know that I would have uttered something completely idiotic, such as calling them gods among men.  The next thing I recall was how balls out they were when they took the stage.  They opened up with “Overreaction” from Killing Technology.  It was blistering and fantastic.  Blacky was playing his bass with this grossly oversized triangular pick that must have been 3 inches long per side.  He was playing full chords on the bass; I’d never seen anyone do that before.  The whole band sounded amazingly tight, yet full of raw energy.  Away’s drumming was thunderous, yet precise.  Piggy’s guitar playing was dissonant and intense.  His solos were amazing, this guy could shred with the best of them.  And he was flawless, a real technician, but with intense passion.  Snake was a madman; not by jumping all over the place, but by the look in his eyes and his bizarre stage movements.  They covered The Dead Kennedy’s “Holiday In Cambodia” and even did the Batman TV theme as an encore for fun.  (The latter tune being on the CD version of Dimension Hatross, I had it on good old-fashioned vinyl, so I didn’t know they had recorded it.)  You could tell the whole band was genuinely appreciative of all the fans in the club who were giving them such a great energy to feed off of.  Snake even gave a shout out to local metal hero Sean Glass and was wearing a Syndrome T-shirt which was the band Sean was playing in at the time.  They came off as very humble and grateful to be in that club rocking for us, and I’m eternally grateful to them for that night. 

A year later, Bob got an advance copy of their next album, Nothing Face, in the mail.  He told me, “You’ve got to hear this to believe it.”  I was absolutely blown away.  They had lost much of their brutality, but had replaced it with such well-crafted musicianship, songwriting and production that they were now kicking your ass in a whole new way.  They did a Pink Floyd cover.  Pink Floyd was the enemy to most metal bands, but Voivod -- who were twisted geniuses themselves ? were paying homage to the twisted genius of Syd Barrett, and showing the kids that there was good music before 1983.  I remember listening to that advance copy for hours upon hours.  I drove my friends and my girlfriend nuts by playing it constantly.  Then the actual album came out.  Away’s artwork had matured along with the music.  He had an illustration for each tune.  I could go on to describe the album, but there’s nothing I can say that would do it justice.  Plain and simple, this is Voivod’s masterpiece.  Each member was at the top of his game and there’s not a clunker on this record.  Every song is gold.  I continue to drive people nuts by playing it constantly. 

Voivod then came to the Vic Theater in Chicago headlining over a couple of unknown bands called Soundgarden and Faith No More.  I was up in the balcony for this show with my friend and bandmate, Tom Kelpinski.  We were in a band called Misconception.  Tom played guitar and I was the singer.  We were heavily influenced by Voivod.  The reason we were up in the balcony and not right in front of the stage is because we wanted to see how these guys did what they did.  We couldn’t do that while fighting for survival in the mosh pit.  Tom was just as drop-jawed as I was watching these guys.  I remember they played every song from Nothing Face except "Sub Effect," plus they played two songs each from Dimension Hatross and Killing Technology.  My only disappointment was that they didn’t play longer.  They hadn’t even touched the first two albums yet, and there was so much more to hear from the other records.  But alas, they put on a hell of a show.  I was so happy for them, and I thought this is finally their big break through.  They should have been playing arenas next, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. 
The next time I would see them would be in ‘93.  They were on tour supporting The Outer Limits.  Blacky had left the band after the uneven Angel Rat album.  I almost gave up on them, but when I heard that The Outer Limits had 3-D artwork by Away complete with 3-D glasses, and that the album had a 17-minute opus on it plus another Pink Floyd cover, I had to get it.  I didn’t love it quite as much as the older stuff, but it still had moments of brilliance.  They had a session bass player for the album and the tour.  I was sort of glad they did that rather than try to replace Blacky.  None of these guys were replaceable to me.
I remember going to the show with my friends, Rich Biancalana and Steve Stodden.  These were a couple of guys who I had newly turned on to Voivod, and not being old school metal heads, they were really into the later, more polished albums.  If I remember correctly, the openers at this show were Clutch and Tad.  The Show was at a small suburban club called The Thirsty Whale.  The Whale was the club that my band, Misconception played the bulk of our gigs at.  We played our very first show there in ‘89 and our last one in ‘92.  It was sort of depressing to think that this was now where my heroes were playing on tour.  Metallica was becoming fashionable with frat boys, rednecks, jocks, and regular folk selling out huge arenas while the far more inventive Voivod was playing on a stage that I had played on.  It just didn’t seem right.  But at least on the other hand, as a fan, it was great to see these guys in such an intimate setting.  For this show they played stuff from their entire catalogue, focusing more on the newer material but still slipping in at least one song from every album.  Even with Blacky gone, and a session man sitting in, they were still fantastic.  After the show the band were all walking past me.  This time I had the confidence to speak to them. 
Snake was the first to go by.  I just said, “Hey man, that was a great show”.  He said “Thanks a lot, rolled his eyes into the top of his head, stuck out his tongue, shook my hand while patting me on the shoulder and walked outside for some air.” I’m glad it was that brief for I was still fairly intimidated by him.  I then broke the ice with the session bass player.  I asked him if he was on the new album.  He said no, he was just doing the tour and was having a great time being on the road with the band.  Then I had a funny chat with Away.  With his thick French accent, he explained to me how the band liked to be in “a certain frame of mind” when they wrote their songs.  They also liked to be in the same frame of mind when they practiced, recorded and performed their songs live, that way they always kept things consistent.  He was extremely friendly and happy to talk to all of the fans there. 
Then I got to speak with Piggy.  He seemed gentle, shy and easily approachable.  He was very appreciative of the compliments I paid him and was willing to hang out and chat with me for a while.  I told him that I had read about his house being broken into and about some of his guitars being stolen.  He said that it really sucked since they were custom made guitars and difficult to replace, but didn’t seem to let it get him down at all.  He seemed quite happy with how he was doing at the moment and that it was great to be on tour playing music and doing what he loved best.  Like Away, he was very generous with his time and gracious to everyone who wanted to speak with him. 
They say you should never meet your heroes, because you will inevitably be disappointed.  I feel like that might be true in most cases, but I’m very glad that I got to shake Piggy’s hand and tell him how much his music means to me.  I was not let down at all by meeting him, in fact just the opposite.  I’m honored to have spoken with him, even if it was only one time and very brief.  He made a strong impact on me. 
This was sadly the last time I would ever see Voivod live.  Snake left the band after that tour.  They continued on through the ‘90’s as a trio with E-Force on bass and vocals.  I bought that line-up’s albums, but they just didn’t have quite the same magic for me.  They returned to a heavier sound, which was cool, but E-Force had the daunting task of trying to fill two pairs of very big shoes.  He was a competent singer and bassist, but he couldn’t match Blacky’s technical prowess or Snake’s sneering vocal delivery. 
Then early in the new millennium, Snake rejoined the band, and Jason Newsted from Metallica came in on bass to round out the new line up.  While I would have preferred a full on original reunion with Blacky, this line up managed to deliver the goods.  In 2003 they released a 13 track self-titled album.  It’s a fantastic record.  It’s not often a band can put out a record of that quality so long after their peak years are behind them.  For me their peak years are Killing Technology, Dimension Hatross and Nothingface and I would say that while this new album isn’t quite as good as any of those, it’s pretty damn close.  I find myself putting it into rotation quite often.  I’ll get a riff or song from it stuck in my head, at first I’ll assume I’m thinking of one of the old tunes, then I realize I’m humming Rebel Robot or The Multiverse. 
They did a tour with Sepultura and also played on the Ozzfest second stage (they should have been on the main stage) but sadly I wasn’t able to catch any of those shows.  I always dreamed of seeing them live in concert again and I missed my chance.  I think that is part of the reason that Piggy’s death has hit me so hard.  Had these guys broken up a few years ago or had they been making crap albums, I could have thought at least they had given all they really had to give.  But this was not the case.  They were just getting started on a whole new chapter and I was very excited to see what they would come up with next.  They had new life and new energy in the band and they were actually getting some attention in the media due to Jasonic being in the band.  They put out a great album.  Then Piggy dies.  It’s just not fair damn it.  Why him.  Why now.  He had so much more to offer. 
I don’t want to tread on the negative side of things, so let’s look to the good news.  I just read an interview with Away.  They were working on a new record at the time of Piggy’s death, and Piggy had demo-ed all of his guitar tracks.  The band is going to finish the album and put it out as a tribute to Piggy.  And the news gets even better…apparently Piggy was quite prolific and recorded tons of music on his computer.  Away has now inherited all this music and it looks like Voivod will put out possibly another four albums.  I’m so glad they are going to continue on their mission.  I’m hoping that they’ll let Blacky play bass on some of these tracks.  It would be incredible to have all four original members together on a recording again. 
Voivod has also just released their first DVD.  It’s got some fantastic footage of the original line up.  My only complaint is that there isn’t more of it.  It’s only 80 minutes total running time…I want at least three hours of that stuff.  They are going to release some more DVDs featuring the other line-ups, which I’m sure I’ll enjoy, but I want more footage of those early days. 
I could write so much more about this band but I should wrap this up.  In many ways I feel like I’m just scratching the surface here.  I didn’t even get into their lyrics being much more punk rock than metal.  Many metal bands were getting to be as mullet-headed as today’s pseudo-country stars.  In the midst of metal bands jumping on the pro-war band wagon, Voivod still sang protest songs with socio-political messages, even going so far as to put the words “Stop Animal Cruelty” behind them as back drop in their video for “Ravenous Medicine”.  They were not your typical thrash band. 
As a teenager, you find those bands that change your life.  They become your heroes.  You hang your hopes and dreams on them.  You can’t wait for their next album to come out.  You feel that they’re speaking directly to you somehow.  There’s a common list of who these bands usually are for most folks, bands like The Ramones, The Minutemen, Bad Brains and The Velvet Underground.  They are bands who are underdogs, pioneers, and not truly appreciated in their own time.  Voivod are that band for me.  I’m a proud member of the Iron Gang and I’ll continue to “turn up at maximum volume level for true Metal feel” TO THE DEATH.