Gig review: VOIVOD – The Underworld, Camden, London, 20 May 2015

Support Acts: Krokodil, Desert Storm

There are two types of bands in this world; those that you can do without and those that you cannot have enough of. Canadian Prog Thrashers Voivod do not simply fall onto the latter category – they have practically invented it! 30 years in the music business, the Quebec-based quartet has followed a very unique musical path, constantly pushing musical boundaries and inventing new styles of playing along the way – a state of affairs that’s certainly deserving of a celebratory show like the one scheduled to take place at The Underworld in London on the evening of the 20th of May 2015.

I actually made my way to the north London venue fairly early on the day, seeing as I was scheduled to interview the band’s charismatic frontman Denis “Snake” Bélanger – an interview that I can only describe as one of the most delightful ones conducted thus far in my career as a music journalist. With records signed and memento photos taken, I positioned myself very close to the front of the stage and patiently began to wait for the time that my childhood heroes will perform what I was absolutely convinced would be another killer show.

VOIVOD – The Underworld, Camden, London 20 May 2015

First band to make its way onto the stage of the Underworld was the UK Stoner Metal quintet Desert Storm – a band that I had no prior knowledge of but whose warm groove-laden riffs soon won my interest. Clearly well rehearsed and making themselves as comfortable as humanly possible in the Underworld’s diminutive stage, the Oxford-based noisemakers focused their set on this year’s “Omniscient”, wining quite a few new fans in the process.

Perfectly complementing the riff assault undertaken by the guitar duet of Chris White and Ryan Cole, Matt Ryan’s deep and powerful vocals were reminiscent of those by Phil Anselmo, so it was not at all surprising to see fans sporting Down and Eyehategod T-shirts banging their heads to the band’s tunes.

VOIVOD – The Underworld, Camden, London 20 May 2015

UK sextet Krokodil, the second opening act of the show, were a different ballgame altogether. Though featuring compositions that were more thematically challenging than those of their predecessors, the band’s music failed to register with me and that was purely on the strength of Simon Wright’s scream-type vocals which I found to be a tad too overpowering.

Last year’s “Nachash” provided the main body of the band’s thirty minute set – a set that seemed to have appealed to a healthy number of Voivod’s fans, as suggested by the round of applause that the band received following the end of its performance.

VOIVOD – The Underworld, Camden, London 20 May 2015
Photo: Jason Hughes

It took the crew twenty or so minutes to prepare the stage for Voivod, by which time the main floor of the venue was comfortably full of people – a very welcoming sight indeed, considering that the two opening acts had to perform their craft in front of what would not have been more than seventy people tops. This crowd went absolutely ballistic the moment Denis “Snake” Bélanger made his way onto the front of the stage and started singing the opening lines of “Kluskap O’Kom” – an unusual but solid introductory piece to this much anticipated show.

Having taken his place at the right of the stage, newly-acquired bassist Dominique “Rocky” Laroche looked both relaxed and confident in his performance and threw a few delightfully looking shapes with smiling guitarist Daniel “Chwewy” Mongrain – a man whose guitar solos raised quite a few eyebrows throughout the night. Filled with unrivalled energy and perfect in its execution, it was the opening drum beat of “Tribal Conviction” that turned the crowd absolutely wild, offering the first (of many) highlight of the show.

VOIVOD – The Underworld, Camden, London 20 May 2015

When in his presence, drummer Michel “Away” Langevin comes across as the most quiet and relaxed person in the planet but during the performance of both “Ripping Headaches” and my personal favourite “The Unknown Knows” we all got to see the man’s more dynamic side – one that finds him more than willing to beat the hell out of his solid-looking drum kit.

Riffs and melodies are further manipulated in “Chaosmönger” while “The Prow” let’s the band’s more melodic side rise onto the surface. This state of affairs does not remain for long as we are all consumed by the maddening rhythmical patters of “Order of the Blackguards” and the intricate guitar riffs provided in “Mechanical Mind” by Daniel “Chwewy” Mongrain – the only musician I have ever seen smiling and head banging at the same time.

VOIVOD – The Underworld, Camden, London 20 May 2015

This beautiful trip to memory lane continued “Psychic Vacuum”, “Forgotten in Space”, “Inner Combustion” and “Overreaction” performed with surgical accuracy while the band’s main set concluded with a UK premiere of layered/thematically challenging new piece entitled “We Are Connected”.  Moments after having left the stage, “Snake” returns on stage, asks us “are you going to sing with me” and then goes on, with the assistance of his highly skilled colleagues, to tear the roof of the venue off with a killer rendition of the all time classic “Voivod”.

Much to my personal delight, the band chose to finish tonight’s set with a masterfully performed version of “Astronomy Domine”, during the performance of which “Snake” asked us to rhythmically sing the name of the band’s fallen comrade and founding member Denis “Piggy” D’ Amour – a pretty emotionally-charged moment and, hands down, the absolute highlight of an amazing show!

It’s been less than twelve hours since I watched Voivod’s show that I started working on this review and I still feel as if my feet have not quite yet touched the ground.

Actually, I feel fairly confident in saying that, as far as live performances in 2015 are concerned, this is hands down the best of the lot and, though not even half way through the year, I anticipate than no other act will be capable of presenting London’s metal heads with a performance of a greater technical and emotional value.

There is a good reason why Voivod are treated as legends by the majority of their colleagues – attend one of their shows and you will find out for yourselves. Voivooooooooood!!!

Review by Yiannis (John) Stefanis

Voivod Set List:

“Kluskap O’Kom”/ “Tribal Convictions”/ “Ripping Headaches”/ “The Unknown Knows”/ “Chaosmöngers”/ “The Prow”/ “Order of the Blackguards”/ “Mechanical Mind”/“Psychic Vacuum”/“Forgotten in Space” / “Inner Combustion”/“Overreaction”/“We Are Connected” (UK Premiere) Encore : “Voivod” /“Astronomy Domine” (Pink Floyd cover)

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