30 years, 13 albums, a legendary status with a cult following as old as the band itself. A completely unique sound that paved way for generations of extreme metal musicians prone to smash out odd sonorities and uneven beats. So where do you begin?
Here, maybe: Blacky is back. A statement that really shouldn’t need anything else to send the VOIVOD fanatics into a frenzy. Blacky and his blower bass is back in Voivod, as if no time at all has passed since 1989’s Nothingface album, after which he left. But even though this is the return of one of metal’s most singular voices of that instrument – really, listen to the orbital bass lines on Dimension Hatröss (1988) and tell me you’ve heard anyone play like that, before or after, in metal. But what is really the extraordinary thing about Target Earth – the 13th album – is of course that it’s the first album without Piggy. Even though Katörzand Infini were released posthumously, they were the last offerings that Piggy achieved before
cancer robbed us of one of the most brilliant guitarists rock music has seen and heard. Daniel Mongrain, now known as Chewey, filled in as live guitarist, and seemingly infused the old guys (they are all approaching their fifties) with new energy to carry on and represent Voivod in the 2010’s not only as a moving museum honouring past acheivments but as a vibrant, living entity, as strong as ever before. So the big question is, do they succeed?
And the answer is: quite so! Raised in the Voivodian school of progressive science fiction thrash, Chewey knows and understand what Voivod is and represents, from within as a touring musician and from without as a life long fan. Killing Technology (1987) was supposedly his first metal album, that inspired him to pick up the guitar – I might quote a Swedish review: Chewey was born to shoulder the guitar in Voivod. The shoes that Piggy left behind him are perhaps not the biggest in metal to fill, but surely the most odd-sized and ill-fitting, and no-one could have stood up to the task as Chewey has. The unsettling, unforeseen chord structures, the ominous, free-floating (dis)harmonies, the interplay and dynamic contrasting with Blacky’s earth-shatteringly heavy and playful bass lines… it is as if they took all the legendary albums from the 80’s and the undeservingly overlooked ones of the 90’s, ground them into dust, snorted it and flew right into the 2110’s when they created this beast of an album.
That wasn’t a typo by the way, Voivod are still creating progressive thrash metal for the future, from the future. Like cyborg sentinels sent back in time to ward off the impending catastrophe inherent in all mankind’s undertakings, Voivod’s music is still based on that unsettling dynamism of primitive and feral versus intricate and abstract. Tribal expositions of rebellious violence set against uncomfortable yet somehow beautiful calm, like flesh protruding from complex circuits. Paranoia. The melancholy of a civilisation set to destroy itself and taking their world with them, against bursts of activity and hope. The catastrophe, the collapse, is never far away in the world of Voivod. Sometimes it has already happened, and other times it is happening constantly, but there are no traces of nihilism or hopelessness here: it is all a movement forward, into the unknown, regardless of where we end up. Voivod lights the path ahead of us.
Where to finish? Voivod has returned for a fourth decade of revitalized action. From a band belonging to a generation of bands you mostly hope will not make fools of themselves or succumb to meaningless nostalgia, we’re served Target Earth: dynamic, virile, ingenious, creative, and bloody heavy. When was the last time you could say that about, say, the “big four” of thrash metal? Highly conscious of their massive heritage, but far from resting on their laurels, Voivod does what has to be done, and more so. Album of the year, this early? Not unlikely…
(Even though I tend to object to albums longer than 45 minutes, all I can feel as “Defiance” fades out is – when will the next album come out?)
1. Target Earth