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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.