ecording a rock band these days is a disjointed process. Typically, the drummer records first, then guitars, then vocals. Mixing and mastering follow, each of which affects an album like editing affects a film. What we end up hearing as a singular entity almost always involves multiple instances of time and space. The Postal Service and Alias & Tarsier arose through post and email, respectively, but Voivod's Katorz, through tragic circumstances, one-ups them. Denis "Piggy" D'Amour recorded the guitar tracks for the album into his laptop prior to his death in August 2005 of colon cancer. His bandmates pulled the tracks from his computer, arranged them into songs, and recorded parts around them.
Voivod began in the early '80s as a raw, wildly intense proto-thrash outfit. After two albums, the Canadian band began forging its identity on 1987's Killing Technology. It introduced sci-fi elements, lyrical and sonic, that the band honed on Dimension Hatross and arguably perfected on 1989's classic Nothingface. Every Voivod album sounds different, but a common thread running through the band's work is abstraction; D'Amour often layers complex, dissonant chords on top of meaty riffs, liberally using alternate tunings and effects (Voivod's cover of Pink Floyd's "Astronomy Domine" is a veritable feast of guitar tones). In 1995, Eric Forrest replaced original singer Denis "Snake" Belanger for three albums that reintroduced the band's early aggression in focused form. However, Forrest was badly hurt in a car accident, and the band disbanded. Eventually, D'Amour and drummer Michel "Away" Langevin reunited with Belanger, and enlisted ex-Metallica bassist Jason Newsted for a strong, self-titled comeback in 2003.
In summer 2004, D'Amour was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer. Shortly before his death, he called Langevin to his bedside and presented him with around twenty-four songs of guitar and bass tracks he and Newsted had done. D'Amour had an amazingly realized vision of the songs, recording all necessary embellishments and solos and even instructing that his tracks be re-amped (played through an amp and re-mic'ed) to bolster their tone.
Re-amp his guitars the band did, and they sound massive. When Newsted joined Voivod, he brought a directness that made the band sound rawer and less spacy. It's this more rocking Voivod that bursts from the speakers on Katorz. Langevin ably lays down drums to D'Amour's guitars, a difficult task given that the tracks often wavered in time. As a result, the album ironically sounds live—like a band playing together in the studio. D'Amour's driving riffs have a '70s hard rock quality (the MC5 and Steppenwolf come to mind), and would likely appeal to fans of Queens of the Stone Age. Newsted's fluid bass lines also have a classic rock feel. But it wouldn't be Voivod without spiky dissonance, which rears its head on "Dognation" and "Red My Mind." After 20+ years, Belanger's vocals aren't so bratty anymore—they even sound downright wise on "Odds and Frauds" and "No Angel." The songs are catchy, the sound is electric, and, as he's done throughout Voivod's career, Langevin provides quirky, tasteful artwork.
In short, this is a package D'Amour would be proud of. Sam Dunn, director of Metal: A Headbanger's Journey, is making a documentary about Katorz and D'Amour's life. Supposedly his laptop has another album's worth of material, including rare acoustic guitar work. It may be difficult for his bandmates to go into the studio again and record to his "ghost" tracks, but let's hope they do.