CRUSHING. THRASH. HEAVY. METAL.
Although Canada’s Voivod never reached the critical or financial heights of Thrash’s “Big Four,” the recently unearthed To the Death 84 suggests that some of the earliest thrash groups were overlooked.
To the Death is the group’s first demo tape which was recorded in a live set up. In many ways, it’s the proto-version of their debut LP 1986 War and Pain. Most strikingly, it’s impressive as to how tight the band is in its live set up. The first LPs for most thrash bands (Slayer, Megadeth and even Voivod) were hampered by inexperience in a recording atmosphere, leading to sluggish or mechanical sounding releases. But, because the band is unhampered by “sound quality” here, the music becomes much more dynamic. The players hit harder on down notes and when they start to shred, they go off the rails, creating some of the most vibrant early thrash.
Equally interesting is to how Voivod was able to walk the fine line of dark, without falling into the traps of over-the-top satanism or silliness. Slayer might have been evil, but there are only so many references to Satan before it becomes rote. Exodus could shred, but at times it seemed the members were identical to characters featured on comedy shows. Here, Voivod approaches dark subjects, such as senseless wars on “Nuclear War” and the result of misused religion on “Iron Gang” without preaching or repeating what had been said before. Rather, Voivod took an extrospective stance, describing horrible situations, but interestingly, without directly pointing blame, leaving it up to the listener to assemble the scenes into something personally meaningful. It’s doubly interesting that the band was able to take a fairly reserved distance from the topic at hand, considering its choice of two Venom covers and a Merciful Fate cut, considering those bands’ willingness to delve more directly into their music,
Wisely, the band tweaks the sound quality so that it is resembles a studio LP of the time, but doesn’t do much more fixing that that. The result is an LP coated in grime, which adds atmosphere and genuineness to the sound while still being sharp enough to rock out.
While Voivod would eventually morph beyond ITS beginnings, this document nicely illustrates how it was one of the few thrash bands to mesh energy with darker topics without coming off as corny. Overlooked? Maybe. But thankfully, not forgotten.