VOIVOD – Open Invitation to The Wake

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Dan Mongrain

Since the early ‘80s Canada’s have cranked out 14 records that are strong in heavy prog, thrash and sci-fi storytelling.  They have cemented their spot as the Rod Serling of metal, introducing fans to strange and different music of the macabre and unexplained.

The Wake is new music and the second recording with this lineup. “It’s pretty much a concept album,” guitarist Dan Mongrain says.  “Snake (Denis Bélanger) wrote all the lyrics.  I worked on the music with everybody.  We worked a lot to make it intricate, aggressive but very melodic and rich in harmony and chord progression.”  The tritone and chords will be there.  “It’s pretty complex but flows smoothly.”

The concepts about a global threat against the earth that will change the world as we know it with a lyrical message that we’re not the only ones in the universe.  “It’s all connecting songs,” Mongrain says.  “The last title is a recap of every riff and musical idea into the same song.”  It’s a conglomerate mixture of the record.  The record was written and sculpted together with traditional and nontraditional instruments all balanced with the music and the sound.  “It was a very fun journey to write and be together.  It was a rich, sharing creative moment between us.  It was very easy to work together.”

The cover art could have many meanings, “It could be seen as the band members looking over the planet at the desolation and destruction we’ve caused,” Mongrain explains.  “It’s like being witness and trying to do something but feeling useless at the same time.”  It can also mean awake or awakening.  “Like opening consciousness to what we can do to make it a better place.”  Or it could be interpreted as the waves created behind a boat.  “It reminds me a little of the last song, Sonic Mycelium.  It’s a very complex communication with nature.  The music’s all connected on the album.  We tried to connect all the songs together and make it a big piece of music with different chapters.”

The song Obsolete Beings is a potential, future story of humans on earth. “I think Snake wants to communicate [that] humans may not be on the planet not so long from now,” Mongrain says.  “If we don’t care for each other and where we live, nature will wipe us off the earth.  Earth will continue without humans at some point I think.  In that way we’re Obsolete Beings.”

The song Event Horizon has nothing to do with the ‘97 sci-fi horror movie he says, “Event horizon is the point in a black hole where light is imprisoned by the gravity of the blackhole.  It’s trapped, so it will never go back to where we can see it.  It’s a metaphoric way of giving an image to the sound of the song.”

The Wake will be released in several versions including a double CD with 2016’s Post Society EP and live tracks from 2018’s 70,000 Tons of Metal Cruise, “The most complete is the one with the EP,” Mongrain says.  “It’s giving it another life, which I’m very proud of.  The live set is a different energy and different songs from the back catalog.  It’s pretty complete, representing how the band and chemistry is right now.  We’re very proud and happy to present that to the fans.”

He’s been a freelance guitarist for 20 years, playing in a variety of bands, metal and non-metal.  “I came from metal,” he says.  “ was my favorite band since I was 11.  I’m very open minded when it comes to music.”  He studied at university, becoming a teacher.  “Life is good when you’re a musician,  life is harder when you only play.  It’s good to have a job.  I’m in a good professional spot right now.”

Voivod’s been in his musical DNA since childhood, “It’s part of my vocabulary when I write music,” he says.  “The songs are pretty natural for me.”  There was no official audition for him, just a show invite. “They said we have an opportunity to play one show in Montreal.  Can you make it?  I couldn’t believe it. My favorite band was asking me to play tribute to Piggy (Denis D’Amour) and the band.”  He’s proud of everything he’s done with the band from that show to modern day.  “Every time we play, we pay tribute to Piggy.  We have new music going forward.  It’s really good for everyone.”

Voivod started in the early ‘80s, “We’re celebrating the 35th anniversary this year,” Mongrain says.  “It’s a long career with lots of ups and downs but we’re on an up for sure.  It’s a pleasure to play together and an honor for me to play with the guys.  We really appreciate each other.  We’re like family.  There’s never an argument. It’s a pleasure to create together.”  He adds that the melodic part of Voivod is very important and part of the bands identity with parts ranging from melodic, thrash, to black metal.

He was nicknamed Chewy while playing in Martyr. “I scream very loud, with long hair almost at my knees.  At some point someone called me Chewy.  In Voivod they all have nicknames.  I thought it sounded like Piggy or Blacky, so we went with it.” Though the Star Wars universe spells it Chewie, he still wears it with pride.  “I was a big early Star Wars fan too.” He jokingly references the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special as “memorable.”

The rest of 2018 will be busy for the band, “We’re gonna promote it and play the music wherever we can.  We want to tour the planet.”  That tour starts in Europe in September and October.

Though they’ve played many festivals opening for metal giants he’d love to play and tour with his teenage hero bands Testament, Annihilator and Judas Priest.  In earlier years they toured with Soundgarden and opened for Rush, opening for Metallica last year.  “It was a great career moment.  I love to tour with a headliner as direct support.  It’s the best spot for us.  You get to play earlier and get to see a great band after.”

This tour will focus on new material and the songs fans come to hear.  Although it brought them acclaim years ago, their version of Pink Floyd’s Astronomy Domine will be shelved for the most part.

Mongrain says music’s changed with technology and social media, “Facebook helps a lot as far as promoting, being in touch with the fans, being active every day and advertisement about tours and shows.  Voivod has a strong fan base.  Information’s always easy for fans to find.  It helps the band out a lot.”

He’s OK with fans taking pictures and capturing memories but isn’t a fan of the bright filming light. “When they put the light in your face and kind of disturb the performance, I’m not really for it.  It happened a few times and I had to grab their phone.  You’re putting that light in my eyes and it’s not cool.  I have no problem with it as long as it’s not disturbing anyone in the crowd or on stage.  It can be done with respect.”

Geographically, crowd reactions are always different, “It depends where we play.  In Japan it’s more contemplating and appreciating the music in another way.  There’s no bad way to enjoy a show.”  As long as there’s mutual crowd respect and no intentional violence occurs, “I like after a song when people cheer and make noise, show their appreciation.  If we don’t hear it, we give more.  It’s an exchange of energy, you give and receive.  When the exchange is there, it’s really cool.  That’s how we communicate.  That’s pretty much the lungs and heart-beat of a show, that pacing between the band and the crowd.”

If you’re new to the band he suggests starting with The Wake. “It’s the most true album about where we’re at in 2018,” Mongrain says.  “There’s elements of each era plus new stuff so I think it’s a good start.  It’s the kind of album you have to listen to five or six times.  There’s still a lot to discover after that many listens.”  His favorite record trilogy is Killing Technology, Dimension Hatröss and Nothingface with ‘90s favorites, The Outer Limits and Phobos.  “I would suggest them all.  That’s my personal top five excluding what we wrote.”

For now, they’re taking a break. “It’s been an intense recording and creative process.  We’re just enjoying going on tour again and re-learning the songs.  We’re really excited about the new record.  We can’t wait to share it around the world.  Obsolete Beings is the appetizer.  It’s probably the most straight forward song.  I can’t wait to share the rest and visit everybody in every country and all the fans that supported the band through all these years, and the new fans as well.  We’re really excited about what’s coming up with touring, meeting people and playing with other bands.  It’s all positive.  We can’t wait to meet up with our fans again.”

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