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Forever Left in Voivod’s Wake

voivod the wake

Progressive thrash metal legends Voivod returned this year with their release The Wake. This is the third release with Daniel Mongrain, formerly of technical death metal band Martyr, acting as head songwriter following the LP Target Earth from 2013 and the Post Society EP from 2016. For those who have heard those previous two releases, a simple way to describe The Wake is it doesn’t break the tradition set by those before it. The sonic template is very much one designed to harken back mostly to early- to mid-period Voivod, roughly from Rrröööaaarrr to Dimension Hatross.

In those days, as now, there were plenty of thrash riffs and up-tempo passages, married against progressive structures and the signature jazzier chords full of suspensions and dissonances and tensions that the band made their own within the metal world. Mongrain once more employs an encyclopedic knowledge of former guitarist Piggy’s sonic tendencies, and for good reason; Voivod is one of the very few groups that can hit a single chord and immediately signal to you that it’s them you’re listening to.

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What makes this record exciting is an unexpected influx of influence from The Outer Limits, their 1996 record that featured, prior to this, their only track to crack the ten-minute mark. On that record, like the two that preceded it, Voivod first began dabbling in extended mid-tempo passages, easing away from thrash and into more purely progressive waters. Those moods make their way back to the group on The Wake, benefiting not only the songs themselves but also the overall shape of the record.

This is perhaps the best paced Voivod record since, funnily enough, The Outer Limits, with the band offering enough variance both track to track and within the tracks themselves to make the record feel like it breaths in and out. The songwriting here feels a notch tighter than on the past two records as well. Martyr, the group Mongrain hailed from, were just as capable as delivering a twisting, turning slice of technical death metal with non-repeating sections and linear songwriting that busted your skull open as they were to produce riff salad that didn’t stick in the head. Here, the variance in tempos and textures helps nail the riffs and transitions in the head a bit more keenly.

This success compared to their past two excellent releases is perhaps due to their return to the concept album form. Concept albums have always tightened Voivod’s writing, what with their first few following the antics of band mascot Korgull terminating at Dimension Hatross, charting one of the largest aesthetic leaps record-to-record that metal as seen before or since. Outside of that form, it seems Voivod does not always know how to pace records, writing song-by-song quality material but sometimes losing focus of how the collection will sound once everything is assembled. In retrospect, this was the one key issue with Target Earth, a record that was pound-for-pound the best Voivod in roughly two decades (if not more) but was a tiring listen. Post Societyaddressed this in EP form by simply cleaving the runtime in half, delivering 30 minutes of topsy-turvy post-King Crimson thrash. The Wake solves it in a more sophisticated way, scoring itself according to the beats of Snake’s plot.

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Everyone sounds of fine form here. Mongrain and Dominique Laroche, who made his recording debut with the group on Post Society, riff like the natural progression of Piggy and Blacky before them, while iconic drummer Away and vocalist Snake sound as good as they did in their prime. The time spent with side-project Tau Cross clearly has resparked Away’s interest in his signature prog-punk drum beats, playing with more complexity here than the group has seen from him since the 1990s.

The most satisfying part of this record, which will no doubt thrill long-time Voivod fans, is that the group doesn’t seem fatigued or lacking ideas or chemistry whatsoever. We can’t predict the future, but it seems like Voivod has quite a bit of gas left in them yet, and the continuously increasing quality of releases from them over the past five years feels very much like we may be entering into a second golden age for the group in their golden years. A delightful record, one so good it retroactively makes ones before it just a little bit worse, dimmer in its light, and one of the very best of the year.

The Wake released via Century Media last Friday. Follow the band on Facebook.

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