By Rob Hughes
And so the legend began. This release presents Voivod’s January 84 To the Death! demo cassette for mass consumption on CD or sickly green vinyl. This was the recording that launched the band’s career, gaining them a deal with the fledgling Metal Blade Records for Metal Massacre V and their debut album, War and Pain. Despite the rough-hewn quality of the demo’s performances and recording, it reveals that the essence of Voivod was present at the outset. While in 1984 it seemed unlikely that these four rivet-heads from Jonquiere would become prog-metal pioneers, it was obvious from the abrasive, alien nature of Voivod’s early material that this band was truly a breed apart.
On To the Death! they presented the songs as a pseudo live album, complete with song introductions from Snake (“You want war with Voivod? You’re on for…War and Pain!”). The set list included all of War and Pain, a couple songs from RRRÖÖÖAAARRR, and their Metal Massacre contribution, “Condemned to the Gallows.” For added curiosity value, Voivod acknowledged their influences with some cover versions, including a couple Venom songs and a brazen garrotting of Mercyful Fate’s “Evil.” The covers simply highlight that Voivod can’t be anyone but themselves—they’re best at playing Voivod songs.
The band were on fire and ready to thrash all comers. Never mind the dystopian themes and technological anxieties that became tied to the Voivod ethos; at this point they mainly just wanted to play really fast. The muddled shock imagery of “Suck Your Bone” tended to cancel out the more thoughtful “Nuclear War.” Their ability to fully articulate complex ideas would arrive on 1987’s Killing Technology. Voivod’s early material was basically mutated, punky thrash, very much worthy of the Banzai Speed Metal swirl that adorned the Canadian War and Pain release. The songs heave and creak, each one seemingly destined for disaster, yet they hold together due to the group’s enthusiasm and chemistry.
Piggy’s brilliance is already evident. His ability to switch rapidly between riffs and lead licks is deeply impressive. Away is still developing as a drummer. His tempos vary and his fills don’t always end up where they should, but his looseness is kind of endearing. Blacky is situated between the two, keeping up with the manic drummer while providing support when Piggy tears away for another solo—“blower” sound in full effect! Snake does his best to be audible as he howls and screams his vocals like Paul Di’Anno coming off of major dental surgery. Intelligibility be damned; he and his bandmates had mastered the universal language of metal and were doing their damnedest to expand its vocabulary.
The sound is decent, given the recording’s vintage. It’s much better than the live material on the War and Pain box set. The sonics may be raw, but the songs still shine through. Some are even a cut above their “officially” recorded versions. For instance, “Live For Violence” has a ferocity that it lacked on War and Pain. Listening to it now, it’s obvious why Metal Blade was interested in bringing these northern maniacs to the world. Voivod lacked the polish of the Big Four, but their bluster and strangeness more than made up for it. For the Voivod devotee, this release is a necessary artifact, if only for the chance to hear Piggy shred his way through these legendary songs again.