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With the exception of the Eric Forrest years, Voivod is perhaps one of my overall favorite bands to have ever picked up musical instruments and given the career a go. This is in part because I am a massive nerd whose tastes run between science/speculative fiction and metal music, of course, but also because they are just that distinct. That important. That unforgettable. Being the case, I waited patiently for about 15 years until I could finally buy an official live album. There were bootlegs and clips out there, some of which I purchased, but I never found them satisfactory, and having witnessed the band several times on stage even by 2000, I really wanted to translate the experience into my car, or on my home stereo. Not that the studio efforts didn't offer enough value on their own...fuck, they're so creative and fascinating they'd last me dozens of lifespans, but the point remains. I wanted a live album.
So it's admittedly bittersweet that, when this finally happened through Metal Blade, it was during the 'trio' years, with E-Force handling bass and vocals. Don't get me wrong, I found Forrest to be a talented enough individual, who did a decent job of growing into his role with the band, having to replace not one, but two core members that were around during the Canadians' unstoppable hot streak in the 80s. I'll go more into depth on this situation when I'm covering the studio records he was involved with, but needless to say my tenuous interest in his phase of the band's career rubs off on my feelings of Voivod Lives, as I find it to be the single worst Voivod live offering of the three I own, patched together from two performances in New York and Holland. I attribute much of my disdain for these recordings to the selection of material, much of which is taken from the mediocre Negatron album, and also the fact that the crushing, dumbed down, simpler style of songs they were writing for this period simply did not translate very well to the live setting.
Of the 11 tracks on this live, six hail from Negatron, another is a Venom cover, and the remaining four are strewn about the rest of the band's classics. Pieces like "Nanoman" and "Project X", while maintaining Piggy's patented, dissonant and alien feel to the guitar tone, are simply too much like the band wanted to revert to the most basic of thrash, without all that punk energy of their formative years. There are a handful of decent riffs throughout this material, to be fair, but the mix here is really rough, with Eric's voice sounding like he's entirely one-note, the harsh, gravely tone; the bass drum sounds like crap, and the guitars are a bit too clunky and distorted sounding to make a difference. Where I constantly turn to this band for their brilliant sense of variety and exploration, much of the playlist on Lives flows together in a clunky manner that does nothing to build any anticipation. Even the songs I WANT to hear, like "Tribal Convictions" and "Voivod" itself, don't leave much of an impression, with the possible exception of the trippy bridge to "Nuclear War".
It's like ordering a feast, only to receive scraps because they ran out of meat. Forrest had only been in the band for a few years, granted, so I can somewhat forgive them for not loading up the set with the more progressive material from Nothingface or Angel Rat (none of which exists here unless you have the digipack with "The Prow"). But this doesn't excuse the questionable audio quality, the lack of real balance across instruments, and having to suffer through a lackluster song selection in general, and Voivod Lives was unfortunately nowhere NEAR worth the wait. Avoid this unless you like spending money on things that make you sad.
I have already seen Voivod live on stage and know that they are able to do transfer their energy to the crowd and deliver a sweating and intense performance.
But in the mid-nineties, it wasn't the same thing. The band had chosen the path of a very dystopian, depressive and destructive sound and parted ways with their former singer and bass player and played in front of little and shy crowds. They really chose the worst time to release an energizing live record.
That's maybe the reason why there isn't much of a live atmosphere on this album and why the live versions almost sound like the studio versions of the songs. Sure thing is that E-Force is doing a better job than in the studio on the vocals, Piggy is playing above all standards and Away's drumming is straight and tight as always, but there is an important thing missing: the magic of the music. This record sounds too much like a routine job and has no atmosphere. As live recordings from two or three (with the bonus tracks) different places has been chosen, the live recording is somehow cut into pieces and doesn't sound really straight.
The second reason why I dislike this album is the set list. The band had chosen to play mostly songs from the very difficult and depressive "Negatron" album. Those songs do not work better live than on the regular studio album and sound very difficult, dumb and annoying. The band does not play enough songs from their great masterpieces of the eighties, but when they do, the results are surprisingly good and you are not missing the old member. A surprising fact is that the bonus tracks "Forlorn" and "The prow" are the most intense songs on this album.
All in all, this live album is surely a good album from a technical point of view, but the set list is weak, the crowd is lame and the magic is missing. I would only recommend this album to the "hard core fans" of Voivod. The "Tatsumaki" DVD presents a way better live performance of the band in a more interesting line up.
Voivod are a band that should be able to deliver a highly destructive, intense and moving live document of their vast and varied history. Sadly, Voivod have decided to release a weak (though often entertaining) collection of Voi-metal that falls short of the high expectations we have come to appreciate. Sure, Eric Forrest is a good musician and covers the old songs well, but something here is missing. The band are tight...almost tight to the point of being stiff. The production is flattened and odd and the record doesn't place you in the front of row of the crowd as a concert recording should do. Even the booklet is devoid of effort...it makes you wonder what contract clause this record was made to fufill. It's Voivod so it's solid...but solid from a band that is often great ranks as a vast dissapointment despite it's momentary enjoyability.
The band runs through some classics such as "Tribal Convictions" and "Ravenous Medicine" alongside newer material like the classic "Nanoman". The record is too oriented to obscure new songs that really don't match up to the older classics to feel complete unfortunatly. The bands deep back catalog is barely touched upon. While these songs are all reasonaly good - the record falls a bit flat when only a handful of the songs being those that the common Voivod fanatic such as myself would have loved to hear new versions of.
Voivod will please with this, simply because it matches a certain standard of skill and class that only Voivod could reach at their worst. Unfortunatly, the record is also quite dull in many respects. As a Voivod fanatic the cover of "In League With Satan" was enough reason to buy this...but don't be expecting something with the firepower commonly expected from the Voivod machine.