Bedroom walls covered in posters. Closets covered in merch. And cassette tapes, CD’s and vinyl scattered everywhere. We’ve all been there with a band. Those artists who’ve soundtracked our lives and shaped us into who we are. But imagine if decades later you get the golden ticket: you step into the shoes of its late, iconic guitarist and help carry the torch into its 40th year? For many of us, it’s just a dream. For Daniel ‘Chewy’ Mongrain, it’s a reality. 2022 marks forty years of Canada’s thrash metal veterans VOIVOD, as well as the release of Synchro Anarchy, their 15th album. It’s a lot to take in as an observer, let alone as a member of the band. So how does it feel for the kid who grew up obsessed with the band?
“Just being part of this journey for me is quite surreal, because I grew up listening to VOIVOD from 11 years old. I bought my first guitar because of them!” Beams Chewy from his home in Montreal, who having joined in 2008 still wakes up as excited as a kid at Christmas.
Forty years can feel like forever, but for VOIVOD it feels like they’re only just getting started. Whilst they’ve endured great personal tragedy and their fair share of professional struggles, they’ve built a legacy as genre alchemists, weaving prog-rock, thrash-metal and fusion together. And it’s what Chewy hopes they continue to do.
“Being able to celebrate Piggy’s music is important to us, and what better way to celebrate his music than to play the catalogue of VOIVOD and bring new songs to that catalogue,” he states, as if this has been his life’s mission and purpose all along. But after so long in the trenches, what keeps a band like VOIVOD swimming against the current?
“There’s always, since the beginning, been that curiosity and will to do different albums, to have an evolution musically, lyrically and conceptually. I always appreciated that as a fan, and it fed into my imagination at a young age, and I want to do the same, to have the same standards to surpass ourselves every time, and to learn new things and push the envelope without forcing it, but by exploring things.”
VOIVOD have always been outliers. In a time when their American counterparts commercialised proto thrash, they found themselves climbing down a rabbithole of experimentation. And for Chewy, it’s the reason they’re alive and kicking today. “I think that’s what makes a band like VOIVOD interesting over four decades, you never really know what to expect next and there’s always something new sound-wise or song-wise.”
And it’s true. On Synchro Anarchy, their first in four years and fifteenth overall, VOIVOD – completed by vocalist Snake, drummer Away and bassist Rocky – they continue to push the envelope on what thrash metal can truly be. And like all legacies, they found themselves down memory lane in order to enter new territory.
“[During the pandemic] we did streaming shows online, we learned whole albums of the back catalogue like Dimension Hatröss and Nothingface, so we got active with those two albums and I think that influenced the way we wrote the new album, as they’re both very progressive.”
Synchro Anarchy is riddled with retrospective without resting on nostalgia’s laurels. Closer Memory Failure could’ve fit on any of those albums, whilst Mind Clock verges off into DREAM THEATER goes thrash territory. But what is it by design?
“I think it was pretty subconscious, but I knew it was happening at the same time, because it set the mood. I didn’t think about it having to sound this way or that way, I just went with what was happening spontaneously, trying to create with what was coming in my head,” Chewy reflects on the recording process, pausing to consider it. “I’m a big fan of those two albums, and with not being in the band at the time, it’s nice to tap into that VOIVOD era. I think the dialogue between guitar and bass on the new record is really good, there’s a lot of exchange musically and you can hear that a lot on Nothingface, so maybe that’s a byproduct of playing those two records.”
Ironically, so much of Synchro Anarchy is a by-product of their experiences. Its title is steeped in their sci-fi signature, yet is far more closer to home than you might think. In fact, it all started at a jam session as Chewy explains. “Away wanted to climb up to his drum riser in the jam space, but his shoelace was untied, so he almost killed himself! So, when I did the MP3 later on, I arranged the riff and called it ‘the shoelace incident’ and it became this idea of knowing life can change in the most stupid way.”
Away from the theatrics of it all, the lyrics within aren’t as otherworldly as usual. Sure, there’s so much sci-fi you could write a Hugo award-winning novel. But it’s underpinned by paranoia and anxiety. It begs the question, were they influenced by the pandemic?
“It’s free to interpretation of course, for us it’s attached to a single event, but it can be extrapolated into many other theories, you can relate it to many things in life,” he suggests, as much as a disclaimer as it is the truth. “Without wanting to write about what’s going on, because we’re talking about that non-stop everywhere – on social media, in the news – we’re so tired of it but you cannot ignore it at the same time.”
Chewy’s right. COVID-19 has caused chaos in our daily lives. It’s disrupted the way we eat, sleep, and breathe. And if nothing else, Synchro Anarchy is here to act as an antidote of sorts. “Music is a way to express this in a parallel dimension, so we can talk about it without talking about it directly, and that’s a way to let out some of the energy coming from that kind of tension which is global right now. Sure, you can read the lyrics and listen to the songs and totally relate what you hear to what is going on right now in the world with climate change and the fear of what’s going on, but we use music and science fiction to indirectly deal with that.”
COVID-19, whether they care to admit or not, came with its own challenges for VOIVOD. For the first time, they found themselves firing files across to each other, rather than working each song out note-for-note in jam sessions. But it’s that ability to adapt, that willingness to walk through the fire, that keeps them so fresh after forty years. It’s what the mission has always been and will always be.
“We didn’t even have time to think about a goal, our main goal is to do the best we can in whatever situation we’re in. I think that music took over our thought process, because we’ve been in an emergency state wondering how we were going to survive, so all we want is to put a good product out, and we’ve got a good album with good songs and that’s always the challenge.”
Syncho Anarchy is out now via Century Media Records.
Like VOIVOD on Facebook.