Live Review: Voivod - Manchester
20th April 2023
Support: Damnation's Hammer, Cryptic Shift
Words: Dan Barnes
Photos: Rich Price Photography
Canadian legends, Voivod, make a Manchester stop on their 40 Years of Morgoth Tales tour at the Rebellion Bar and demonstrated there’s no substitute for experience.
Opening up is reasonably-local heroes, Damnation’s Hammer who have steadily been making a name for themselves with rock-solid, unapologetic metal shows over the past few years. Such is the proportions of the stage at Rebellion that Gary Bevan’s drums are placed front and centre, with the rest of the band taking up flanking positions. Chunky and choppy riffs that are too slow to be considered Thrash but too heavy to be merely Metal, Damnation’s Hammer crank out a dark, dirty and abrasive music that evokes images of denim, leather and studs.
Gates of the Necronomicon begins as black as anything Scandinavia has to offer and even manages to get Tim Preston quoting Lovecraft part way through. So traditionally metal is this performance that I’m not sure if the whiff of patchouli oil I get is actually there, or my olfactory system is having a flashback.
Yet it’s not all driving, destructive riffs, as the band blend the heavy and metal with moments of subtlety and seem to have taken a leaf from the headliner’s playbook in adding cosmic vibes to their sound. Hammers of War closes the set with huge chugs and an incessant, underscoring fuzz.
With equally little room to play come Cryptic Shift, who return to the Rebellion Bar after an incredible supporting slot for Cattle Decapitation back in August. The Leeds crew’s take on epic, progressive, jazz-infused death metal is just the starting point for the sonic journey through space and time. For all the virtuosity on show, the four-piece are still a fierce and uncompromising death metal band at heart and can knock out anything as grim and blood-curdling as Scott Burns presided over.
The song titles alone offer insight into the vast and celestial scope of the compositions: Planetary Hypnosis, Cosmic Dreams, (Petrified in the) Hypogean Gaol and The Arctic Chasm seem a (literal) world away from Hammer Smashed Face or Chopped in Half; the soaring guitar interludes veer toward a sound more in keeping with early Opeth, the dramatic use of pauses and rests not only gives room to breathe but somehow adds even more weight to the set.
Trying to define into which sub-genre Voivod is best placed is a task as thankless and impossible as platting smoke or herding cats. The Thrash roots of their early recordings keeps them with a toe in that camp but, generally speaking, everything from Killing Technology onward has seen them utilising the likes of progressive rock, hardcore punk, alternative and the avant-garde to become something utterly unique.
Denis – or Snake – makes reference to the passage of time’s effect on him, the band and the primary audience. Waistlines might have gone in the opposite direction of the hairlines, but that doesn’t stop us reliving the time before jobs, mortgages and responsibilities.
It’s a deep dive into Voivod’s recorded history with eleven of the band’s fifteen studio albums being visited in tonight’s set; only Target Earth, Infini, Kartoz and Negatron not getting a mention.
From the outset, Thrashing Rage make the building feel as though it is having its foundation shaken and we are reminded that for all Voivod’s nuance and complexity, they are a ferocious musical juggernaut at their heart. “It should be fun tonight” states Snake while introducing Obsolete Beings and urges the sound guy to turn it up due to his age and encroaching deafness at the beginning of Synchro Anarchy.
It's the first of three visits to the latest record and it proves the creative juices still flow strongly through the band. Holographic Thinking and Sleeves Off slot seamlessly into the older, more established material, with hardly a trace.
Daniel and Dominic – Chewy and Rocky – give stellar performances, conjuring the technical guitar wizardry of Piggy and Blacky respectively. Behind it all is Michel Langevin – Away – the only ever-present and constant guiding hand. Still one of the best drummers in the genre, he presents as being the coolest Professor on campus – adorned in a The Damned shirt for tonight – and knocking seven shades out of his kit.
The set does not shy away from the Eric Forrest era, with Snake making comment about his seven year absence from the band as he introduces Phobos’ Rise, following it with his return to the band on their self-titled 2003 record. In introducing Rebel Robot, Snake gently ribs Jason Newsted and – what was that band he used to be in?
Of course, this is a consummate performance, from the pounding mechanics of Macrosolutions to Megaproblems to the epic trip that is Killing Technology. The set finishes with the solid rocker – and Editor-in-Chief favourite - Fix My Heart from the underrated The Outer Limits album.
Which leaves just the single encore of the particularly punky-thrashing self-titled song, ending what has been a glorious performance and proof – should it be needed – that Voivod should have been far bigger than they are. Perhaps it’s the complexities of their music, perhaps it’s the resistance to categorisation, who (but the unknown) knows?
That they can drop stone-cold classics like Order of the Blackguards, Tribal Convictions and The Unknown Knows and still deliver a fan-satisfying show is testament to the talent and longevity of the band. Long may they reign.