Voivod are the reason I bought my ticket," says Paul Salter. "They were originators, there's no other way to describe them. I'm glad they emerged again."
Dressed in a maple-leaf cap and faded Voivod T-shirt, Salter was one of 70,000 heavy-metal fans at the Download Festival in England last week - just one stop on the Quebec band's concert circuit this summer, and one more sign that Voivod hasn't stopped rocking since it lost its guitarist and primary songwriter Denis (Piggy) D'Amour to colon cancer in 2005.
Now Canadian metal is really established. We were the lumberjacks cutting the trail. Michel Langevin
"When Piggy passed away, we thought we would call it a day," said drummer Michel (Away) Langevin backstage at Download. "But being a musician, you want to go back into the studio and on stage. Now we don't want to stop."
Despite being virtually unknown outside heavy metal circles, Voivod has reached iconic status among its peers. Since the band's formation in 1982, its members have moulded thrash, industrial and progressive-rock influences into an ever-evolving sound of their own. And yesterday, they released their twelfth album, Infini - record No. 2 of songs written by their departed guitarist.
"We were working on 23 songs when Piggy started to get sick," says singer Denis (Snake) Bélanger. "It was so fast. He got sick in April and he died at the end of August. But he managed to record them onto computer all by himself at home for us to continue. He called Michel to the hospital and said, 'Here's the password.' He knew he might fall into a coma at any moment."
With enough material recorded for two albums, 10 songs made their way onto 2006's Katorz . But they didn't know how to perform the songs in the studio. "It was like being in a bad dream," Bélanger says. "This time around we had the time to mourn Piggy and we had a better vision of the whole thing."
The bass on both Katorz and Infini is played by one of Voivod's biggest fans, Jason Newsted, who from 1986 to 2001 was one quarter of Metallica.
"We knew Jason even before he was in Metallica," says Bélanger. "We met him on one of the first tours we did. We invited him to play some tracks for us in the studio, but he got really excited about the new songs and ended up joining the band. He was always a Voivod fan. He always dreamt of playing in Voivod."
Although Newsted didn't deliver Voivod into the mainstream, his arrival in 2002 did propel the band back into the metal spotlight.
"We did the Ozzfest tour with him in 2003, which was amazing. We had a lot of exposure everywhere," says Langevin. "[Newsted]was playing with Ozzy [Osbourne] too, so he was doing two shows a day the whole summer. He got really exhausted. He might be playing live with us in the future, but he wasn't available this year. Now we're touring with our original bass player, Blacky [Jean-Yves Thériault]"
Meanwhile, there is a certain irony to Voivod's post-Piggy career surge: Only now, four years after the band's guitarist died, has heavy metal finally caught up with his ideas.
"Piggy brought that prog-rock influence to the heavy-metal scene," says Bélanger. "When we started out, we were considered the most advanced band."
Langevin adds with a laugh: "Now Canadian metal is really established. We were the lumberjacks cutting the trail."
Voivod plays Woodstock en Beauce, Que., on July 3, and Jonquière, Que., on July 4.
Special to The Globe and Mail