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To best describe Katorz would be that it gets everything the eponymous 2003 album got right, only much righter. To a degree, there's a bit of an eerie, sci-fi back pedaling through this than its predecessor, reflective of the band's 1988-1991 phase; but for the most part, it's still the same roots heavy rock/metal/punk hybrid sound they'd started with Jason Newsted in the fold, just the songs are better written, almost completely kicking ass throughout the 45 minute run time. Nowhere will you come up against a cut without some bludgeoning, mesmerizing groove, and Snake's vocal lines are twice as memorable as anything he laid out on the previous album. In fact, Katorz was the best Voivod album to have come out in 15 years (since Angel Rat), and even though it's dropped down a few percentile pegs on my listening board, I still love it through and through.
The production here is nothing fancy, a little less fleshed out than the prior album; the band involved Glen Robinson, who has quite the resume, but it still feels open, raw and honest. The guitars are a little more flooded than on Voivod, the drums more aggressive, the bass slightly less affected but just as potent, and the vocals a nice, thin slice through the meatier rhythmic backdrop. The album does possess some sentimental resilience, since Piggy had tragically passed away almost a full year earlier; the organic, raw tone of the guitars can be attributed to the fact that they wanted to use his prerecorded tracks without much alteration. So, considering the crushing effect this must have had on them all, they did a commendable job of using their own instruments to compliment him without unnecessary tweaks. There aren't exactly a metric ton of quirks to the album, mainly predominant walls of riffing, but a few alien tones made it to the final product, like the intro to "After All", or "No Angel" with its atmospheric sliding. If anything, Katorz gives the listener the impression he/she is sitting in the studio right next to the band as they track it; sincerity defined.
As on its predecessor, the lyrics here are simplistic and more political in nature than a weird trip like Killing Technology or Nothingface, aesthetically fit for the brawling barrage of punk-inflected chords in a piece like opener "The Getaway" or the groovy "Mr. Clean", which is almost like early Clutch or Stone Temple Pilots with its swerving, bold flow of guitars, and not at all in a bad way. Newsted does occasionally engage the fuzz ("Silly Clones"), and rather than simply rock the spot, the guitars often create these dense walls of force that envelop the wrestler in Piggy's strange, atonal composition. That said, this is not so complex as Nothingface or Dimension Hatröss in scope. There's a dark atmosphere lurking in most of the tracks, darker at least than albums like Angel Rat or Voivod, but overall very few traces of the pure sci-fi thrash that the band had developed at their peak, and I can say that those who loathed the 2003 album are not likely to dive deep into this, despite its more swollen, textured sound.
Personally, I fucking adored this, and it evokes a lot more testosterone with the mightier numbers like "The X-Stream" and "The Getaway" than anything from its predecessor like "Gasmask Revival". Pure heavy metal riffing patterns soaked in a road ready attitude that meshes well with the self-reflective in most of the lyrics; but with that added, 'secret ingredient' in the guitars and vocals that always made this band stand out from the crowd, even as early as their primordial War and Pain record. Though Piggy's songs were also involved in the following album, Infini, Katorz is more of a proper sendoff to the extent that it never feels like anyone is fleecing his corpse for ideas. A workmanlike, fully memorable swansong for one of the greatest and most unsung guitar gods in all hard music, everywhere, for all time. As I'm positive there were extraterrestrials also listening to and loving Voivod, I like to dream that they've somehow, using higher technology, preserved the guy's conscience, and that he's out there wrecking their worlds just as much as he rocked this one.
In times of "silly clones" of legendary rock'n'roll bands and rock revival times, Voivod contribute in their own unique style to this new trend and create an amazingly fresh rock'n'roll record with ten heavily addicting and straight songs. They are all killers and no fillers and the young and modern "Motörhead" or "AC/DC" clones may just get blown away by this album of the good old Quebeckers. They have just lost one of the best guitar players in the world during the writing session of the album, but this album has nothing about sadness or goodbye. Voivod are digging the grave for the modern rock bands, but they live a very personal resurrection after the one-dimensional and dumb self-titled album. After thrash metal, progressive metal, extreme industrial metal and alternative rock, this diversified band goes rock'n'roll.
The amazing straight opener "The getaway" already shows that this album works best when you play it on a warm summer day at a maximum of volume in your car. "The x-stream" goes in the same direction, has an amzingly tension filled chorus, interesting breaks and would have been a perfect single in a very positive meaning of this term. Nobody who likes good rock'n'roll would be able to not amazingly adore this song. "Polaroids" is my third favourite song on this album and is the most diversified one on the album, it has all the trademarks which made Voivod what they are today.
But "Polaroids" is a little and fresh exception because the rest of the album offers really straight and good rock'n'roll, only some sound effects and samples in the end of some songs show us the connection to the band's addiction to science-fiction and the story about the Voivod creature which had found its end with the last album and just before Piggy has passed away. Liberated from the conceptual perfection, the band really breaks free on this album and tries something new.
Personally, this is maybe the best hard rock or rock'n'roll album I have ever listened to and it has still slightly Voivod trademarks. The band has gone into another universe and jumped the period of experimentation and transition as this first rock'n'roll album of the band goes straight in your face without any warning after the faceless alternative rock reunion album.
Believe it or not, but before listening to 'Katorz', I have never heard Voivod's music before. Now, after listening through the whole discography and seeing them live, I became a huge fan of the band. 'Katorz', the record that started it all, still holds a special place in my heart. But putting personal feelings aside, let's take a closer look at this album and see if it is any good.
To begin with, this one is different from the band's previous releases (maybe excluding the preceeding album 'Voivod'). It resembles a mix between the bands punky roots and the 'weirdness' that they are known for. Also, the recording of this album was somewhat unusual. After the unfortunate death of Dennis 'Piggy' D'Amour, one of Voivod's founding members and main composer, the band, following their friend's last wish, took the ready music parts and converted them into a full album. One of the difficulties of this process involved the danger of creating an album that would be only a tribute to Piggy, instead of a full-blown Voivod record. Luckily, the band managed to overcome all the odds and create a trully great piece of music.
I mentioned the punky elements in this album, and they are noticeable right from the start, as the LP starts furiously with 'The getaway', one of the best openers in the bands career. Being a fast, agressive rocker, this track immediately grabs the attention of the listener. It also sets a few certain elements that will occur throughout the whole album. Simple, yet powerful riffs, angry vocals, a bit 'dirty' production, those characteristic 'weird' moments and a general feeling of fun. But even though, they are not all alike, as we have a plenty of variety here too. From fast, catchy rockers such as 'The x-stream', to mid-paced, groovy songs like the laid-back 'Odds & frauds'. Overall, the album keeps the momentum going from the start to the last notes and stays in memory long enough to draw the listener back to give it another spin from time to time.
Let's take a closer look at the cast of this album. All the guitar parts were recorded by the deceased Piggy, as mentioned before. His works contain the trademark eerie riffage known from previous band albums, but this time they are often a lot more simple and rough. Simple does not mean weak in this case, as they suit perfectly the albums atmosphere. Most of the songs are written around a single, strong riff that keeps them going. There is little usage of effects too, mostly relying on heavy distortion.
The bass is handled by Jason Newsted himself (apparently his involvement attracts a lot of people to Voivod, including myself). Some people, judging from his involvement in previous bands, might tell that he is just an average bass player. Well, not in this case. He seems to perfectly suit the band with the angry, growling low-end (at times resembling Lemmy's works) sound that is perfectly hearable throughout the whole album. Sometimes he plays the role of the second guitar, another time he adds more dimension to the whole song. Plus he has his moments acting as backing vocal (right from 'The getaway').
The other part of the rhytmic setion is played by Away, who handles not only the drums but also all the dark, eerie drawings that are part of the bands unmistakable image. His playing on this one is suited to the albums atmosphere, simple, yet angry with some interesting interludes, often acting as a propellant for the songs.
And last but not least, the vocals by Snake. He keeps some of his trademark vocal patterns, but also shows his less quirky but a lot more angry style. Also, it seems that he is in top form, sounding very convincing and not forcing anything. This is especially important because of the fact that the lyrics are not the typical science fiction stories that we got used to from previous albums, but rather deal with some 'anti' topics. Anti-war, anti-politics and such all all present here, ant although they might sound cliche, they are well-written, inspired and sound convincing thanks to Snake performance.
All of this is wrapped in great production, that allows us to hear all the elements of the music, without sounding too modern or too polished. The sounds is often 'dirty', with lots of distortion overlapping and creating a punky, heavy atmosphere.
Reasuming, this album is really great piece of music and a real fun to listen. It works not only as a tribute to Piggy but as a Voivod album as well. And not a mediocre one by any means. This one is a real highlight in their carrer, successfully combining all the elements the band is known with more straightforward punk attitude. It should satisfy not only older fans, but any newcomers as well. I highly recommend: get 'Katorz' ASAP! Guaranteed that this will not leave your cd player anytime soon.
Review originally published at http://www.metal-realm.com/View_Article2.php?Table=Reviews&Rec=1316
Oh my, oh my! Fact number one. Piggy's not dead. Having shown the world what it's like to be the most original, sublime and subliminal guitar player of the planet, the apostle of discordant divinity, he has been relocated to some other place in the universe, which is more or less voivodian territory by the way. Fact number two. Snake is, by far, the coolest person on planet Earth at the moment. This intimidating guy, even in this time of mourning and despair, delivers one of the most memorable, hard- rocking vocal performances of all time, unleashing all the rage and fury upon the mic, employing all means possible, be it humming, laughing, growling, spitting his words around. Fact number three, Katorz is the most straightforward thing Voivod have ever done, as they take all their distinguishing elements, they strip them down of what's surplus, then add tons of groove and forcefulness to create an album that is innately as progressive and as classic heavy metal can be.
Compared to the exceptional previous Voivod album, the self-titled, it is kinda weird to admit that....this album is even better! Stunning! While “Voivod” was slow, grinding and had the vocals in the spotlight, flirting with some post rock kind of thing here and there, all in all, excellent but vanguely reminiscent of the band's earlier works, “Katorz” refocuses on Voivod's primary attribute, that is chaotic riffing and take the things the band tried to do with the “Voivod” album to an entirely new level. The reason why “Katorz” is superior, more enjoyable is that it has really memorable songs, while “Voivod” was really really good, but lacking when it came to this issue. The guitars are certainly the main thing to look out for in this release, their sound is unbelievably robust and rich, guaranteed to blow you away. Piggy spawns timeless riffs with every new note and swarms the place with leads as if there is no tomorrow. This is by far the Voivod album with the most pure metal guitar leads, and as such, I would like to suggest that “Katorz” may easily be for Voivod what “Painkiller” is for Judas Priest.
Jason has been completely incorporated into the band by now and he has made space for himself to be able to lay out his bass leads and scales and together with Away they provide a megaton framework, a beastly rhythm section that needs to be heard in order to believe. It seems he is the bassist that Voivod never had – kudos to Blackie -. Overall, the production of “Katorz” is a little more raw than that of “Voivod” and that may be a pejorative point for some. Long time voivodians will notice that the production is much closer to “Negatron” and “Phobos” and therefore it kicks ass and it's much more loyal to what the band has done in the past, which in my opinion is better than the highly polished production of “Voivod”.
Now let me explain you why this album just feels so right. Track number one, “The Getaway” kicks in with a monster riff and quickly escalates into a frantic delirium that sweeps everything in its wake. This song is about the war in Iraq and it's not hard to make out where the band stands with lyrics such as “Find a getaway, time to getaway” or “Let's call it even, before it's too late”. We've never known Voivod to talk about politics in the past, to my knowledge (except maybe Gasmask Revival, which again is fictional), and it's very refreshing to have songs like “The Getaway” or “Mr Clean”, which would qualify as thinking man's metal. There is a great surprise in the end of “The Getaway”. The song naturally fades out and there are some “special effects” that sound like a horror movie and Piggy plays an acoustic guitar, that we now know that these acoustic guitar parts are the last thing he recorded while he was being hospitalized. This is a ending that will completely spook you out and reveal the structure of the album, as this is more or less happening with each track.
Then storms in track two, “Dognation”, a 100% voivodian trademark song, chaotic, diverse and heavy and you are beginning to see why Snake justifies all this praise, although Mr Newsted marginally steals his thunder here, because his bass fills are simply inspired. An excellent start so far, because “The Getaway” is fast and agile and “Dognation” is pure Voivod metal madness.
“Mr Clean” follows with another freakingly awesome riff and by now, maybe your neck will be getting tired. “Mr Clean” is also a song with political content, with lyrics such as “Last call for the rascals, Mr Clean said...”, “Who will be the next one to get thrown out, just like a garbage bag, you'll join your friends” and “The homos out, the poor out, the coloured out, the stripped out, the stained out, wipe them all, wipe them all, wipe them”. It culminates with a guitar lead, the exact point when Mr Clean has wiped almost everyone, making the society completely homogenous and trendy, with no flair whatsoever and he comes for “me and you”. With a breath-taking passage riff, the song closes off with Snake sarcastically commenting how it's all about a “nice and clean society” and “long live democracy!”. Snake just dominates this song.
The next song “After All” begins with one of this spooky passages, with the acoustic guitar and some effect, then comes the voivodian, off key, intro riff and you know this is going to be.....great. Well I am at a loss for words to describe the succeeding riff. If this riff doesn't make you want to bang your head somewhere and scream to the top of your voice, then you must pinch yourself, because you may be dead and not knowing it yet. “After All” is all about how one gets tired of doing the same things, time and time again, and how everything around us blurs and loses its meaning after a while. There is a point to be made about the songs in “Katorz” and that is that the songs are all similar in their endings, most fade out with drums pounding at a slow rate and some appropriate riff and there is a reason for that, to make it smoother so that the “spooky passages” can be sewed seamlessly with the rest of the music. Now, this doesn't really work for “After All” and this is the first objection so far with this album, because in my opinion the last minute of the song had the potential for greater things. In any case, this is a killer song and Snake continues to shine, showing us everything he's got.
“Odds & Frauds” sets out with a riff that is pretty basic for Voivod and it continues on to tell the tale of corrupted politicians and how they scam the people. The refrain bears a close resemblance to “Nanoman” from the “Negatron” album and generally, this track sounds as if it could have been in “Negatron”, because the guitarwork is pretty disorderly and Snake's voice, even though not suffering heavy effects like Negatron had, is indecipherable in its anger. “Odds & Frauds” is a solid track, maybe it will be considered by some to be the weakest track of the album, because of the said issues.
Striding into the second half of the album, we find “Red My Mind”, a three-minute track that reeks of Voivod and straightens things again for those who felt “Odds & Frauds” was average. “Red My Mind” is about the violence taking place around in the world today, especially on TV, and it feels like a sequel of “Bio-TV” for me, because of lyrics like “It has to stop, I've had enough, I used to be good, now I'm bad for good” that remind me of “Bio-TV is what you'll be, Bio-TV is what you need”. It seems like it's the other side of the same coin. Musically, “Red My Mind” is heavy as hell, Snake again sings with unbelievable realism, one feels that he is not a singer but a character in his stories, much like Geoff Tate was a character in Operation: Mindcrime and the song, even though it's quite short, has enough diversity and quality guitar leads to keep everyone happy. Not to mention that we get the acoustic guitar again, this time for a longer duration. At this point you begin to see that his album is not a selection of songs, it's not a concept album either, it's more than that, but I will share my feelings about that in the end.
“Silly Clones” is yet again, a song about society and how people try to look alike, “hundred percent restored”, giving away their personal traits and originality to look like what they perceive is beautiful, but on the inside they are monsters and they end up to “die alone, in the valley of silly clones, where the people die alone”. It's a drum-propelled track, with a few nice leads and even though it misses some of the diversity of the other songs, I think that the lyrics are the thing to notice here.
“No Angel” is a story of bitter romance, as lyrics like “you ain't got all my time, your loving is a crime, my mind is behind bars, the future seems so dark, I can see your demon horn, as you stick out your reptile tongue, I've got hallucinations, your loving is a crime” would clearly indicate. At the same time, it's the song that strays away from the voivodian medium and that's why it's the tune you are sure to memorize right away. On the refrain, you have Snake crying out “You're no angel” and you have the other guys doing backing “gang” vocals, shouting “No way through” and then Snake goes “la-la-la-la” above the backbone riff of the song. Piggy's leads and solos guarantee that it works out of course. An outstanding track that fades out in the aforementioned way while the “spooky parts” get all the more spookier with each song.
One song before the curtains fall, things lighten up with the agitated, flowing song that is “The X-Stream”. Now, this is possibly the “hit” of the album, it obviously deals with the extreme in its various forms and the ways people employ to get their adrenaline pumping up. There is no need to talk about personal performances here. Every member of the band is giving everything they got, so this is music that would resurrect you, even if you've pinched yourself during “After All" and you found out you are dead after all. It's simply one of the best songs Voivod have ever composed.
With no “acoustic & samples” passage this time, “Polaroids” rages right away with a generic but catchy riff that is seconded nicely by the bass guitar and it is the first song during which Snake's voice is manipulated with effects, making it sound cold and bizarre in places. “Polaroids” is about an expedition to the Pole and how its members managed to survive. “Turning in circle, always a nightmare, no more supplies, no food to share”, these lyrics sum the story up, but again I must say that Snake is so convincing that he freaks you out. “Polaroids” is the crowning diamond of this album, a track that is so intelligent and powerful at the same time. To continue with the analogy I gave earlier, hoping that I can get away with it, it serves the purpose that “One Shot At Glory” serves for “Painkiller”, that is sealing the album with a mark of timeless vigor. An album has to end in a great way in order to be great and I think this condition is a given for “Katorz”.
Right after the main part of Polaroids, we get the epilogue, the last acoustic guitar part that is almost a whole minute long, as opposed to the others that were considerably shorter. You know what, I don't really want to talk about it, because it really gives me goose-bumps when I think that this is a dying man's last recording. You will need to buy “Katorz” to find out what the line between life and death looks like by listening to this last acoustic guitar part. Boy, this album is so deep that it feels so revitalizing when you hear it through, it gives you the strength to go on and do something with your life. So, now you get the whole picture about what the acoustic guitar passages are about. They bind the songs together to form a breathing unit, a testament that there are things that are beyond life and death, such as true friendship, a tribute to a dead friend's memory, his last fucking metal rites. These guys cheated on death, proving that you can't kill Voivod, because Voivod is a virus that cannot be put down by such simple means. So, this summer, starting on 28th July, when the “silly clones” rub each other's back with coppertone on the beach, stupefied beyond all correction, you need to prove it to yourself that you too have the guts to live your life by the right principles. Crank your car's speakers up to full volume and show the world that in 2006, V is for Voivod.