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.