Interview: Voivod’s Michel "Away" Langevin Discusses New Album, ‘Target Earth,' Artwork and Lineup Changes
Canadian progressive thrash metal veterans Voivod released their long-awaited 16th studio album, Target Earth, on January 22.
The album, their first to feature guitarist Daniel "Chewy" Mongrain, also marks the return of bassist Jean-Yves "Blacky" Thériault, who hasn't recorded with the band since 1991's Angel Rat.
I recently caught up with drummer Michel "Away" Langevin to discuss the making of Target Earth, plus artwork, lineup changes and more. Read the conversation below, and check out the band's official website.
GUITAR WORLD: Target Earth came out in January. It’s been a while since we got a new Voivod album.
Of course, it feels like quite an accomplishment. We tried to release material every year or so, but it’s difficult. Last year, we released the live album, Warriors Of Ice, and our very first demos, To The Death were re-released via Alternative Tentacles. In January we celebrated the 30th anniversary of Voivod with a new album, which is great. We worked very hard on it for a couple of years. We tried to make it very intricate and progressive.
Is it more progressive than the previous few albums?
It’s definitely more progressive than the three we did with Jason [Newsted], which were more like stoner-punk metal in a way, more rock and roll. This one is reminiscent of the progressive thrash metal years like Dimension Hatröss  and Nothingface . But there are ingredients of all the Voivod eras on it, I think.
I think it’s the first album to feature guitarist Chewy, who joined the band in 2008. What has his contribution been like
He’s been working a lot with Blacky, which was also the case in the '80s when Piggy and Blacky were writing a lot of the music. So they worked a lot together trying to build these very complicated songs, and eventually I had a couple of requests. I wanted one song to be a bit like Motörhead, which is the song titled “Kluskap O’Kom," and I wanted another one to be reminiscent of "Ripping Headaches," and that became our very first French song, "Corps Étranger." We also did a bunch of improvisation sessions that we recorded, and many parts of the new album were pulled from these recordings. Blacky and Chewy also rearranged a few songs.
Speaking of Blacky, he’s coming back into the band after a while. How did that come about?
Well, we did the album Katorz in 2006, right after Piggy passed away in 2005, and it was a bit grueling and difficult to finish that album, which we had started in 2004. Snake and I decided to take a break from the band for a couple of years. In 2008 for the summer, we were asked to play a festival in Montreal. So after a while, Snaky and I decided to re-form Voivod for that one show. But at this point, Jason was more concerned with mainly finishing the album Infini, which we also started in 2004.
So Snake and I reunited with Blacky. He was away for nearly 17 years, but we met up through a friend of his, and we had a great conversation. A year before reformation, Snake and I watched Blacky and his band perform a Voivod medley on stage. So we reformed in 2008 and after we did that one festival, we were offered another festival with Judas Priest and Ozzy in Calgary, and we were also asked to go to Tokyo with our friends in Testament. So it just kept growing, and in 2009 we decided to finish Infini. And when we worked on this new album, we realized we’re actually able to absorb all the ingredients from the previous eras of Voivod and write music that shows that combination.
What’s the plan for the rest of the year?
The plan is tour across North America, South America, Europe and Asia. Between tours we want to write another new album. That’s what we’re aiming for right now.
Have you already written new songs?
We have only one part of a new song written, and it’s the outro of Target Earth called "Defiance," and that’s also going to be the first song of the next album. So right now that’s where we are at for the future album. We have like two minutes written [laughs].
Is it going to be a sequel to this album?
Yeah, we’re hoping to make it like that. We’re always trying to improve. It was hard with Jason to make our albums as epic as we wanted, but luckily for Target Earth we were able to work a lot on the arrangements and make it very intricate. We’ll try to push it further on the next album, but again we need to still keep it a little thrashy.
The new artwork uses ideas from each of the previous albums. What inspired that?
It goes back to what I was saying earlier about the music. Many people who listened to the new demos mentioned that it had all the ingredients of all the Voivod eras, and there was a little something for everybody. So it gave me the trigger in my mind and I thought it would be cool to try to use colors from many different albums of Voivod, and try to see what it looks like on one front cover. So that’s the result. I also thought about the fact that it would come out on vinyl, so I tried to make it really eye-catching. But I know many people think it’s too colorful [laughs]. Somebody even compared it to bubble gum.
Did it come out more colorful than you were expecting?
It’s different to watch a JPEG on your screen as compared to when you get it in your hand, printed on the booklet. Normally, it darkens a lot in the printing process from the computer screen to the print, because it goes from RGB to CMYK, which is very different. So I really tried to make sure it’s going to stand out in its actual physical form.
I guess people judge too quickly without seeing the printed version of the artwork.
I’ve been surprised a few times before! Luckily I did a lot of covers and I know which type of luminosity to use with different colors and so on.
During the writing process, what else were you doing? Did the band play many shows or did you kind of keep it down just to concentrate on the album more?
We actually wrote the album while touring and in between tours during the years 2010 and 2011, and in early 2012, we went out to Pierre Rémillard’s studio outside of Montreal. We went and we were lost in the woods for 17 days non-stop, and we tracked everything.
Andrew Bansal is a writer who has been running his own website, Metal Assault, since early 2010, and has been prolific in covering the hard rock and heavy metal scene by posting interviews, news, reviews and pictures on his website — with the help of a small group of people. Up till February 2012 he was based in Los Angeles. After that, he had to move to India, but is still carrying on his heavy metal endeavors with the same intensity.