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Poor Angel Rat. Few seem to love you as I have, for you arrived at a time when people were simply not equipped to appreciate the many values you wore like a billowing gown upon your many-hued flesh.
On the heels of such masterpieces as Dimension Hatröss and the ensuing Nothingface, albums so far ahead of the metal mindset in their time that they are still widely misconstrued and underrated, it would have been a tall task for Canadians Voivod to match themselves effectively with another full blown, heady concept record, and so they didn't. They penned a number of smooth, melodic curiosities, imbued them with the dark, futurist melancholy of Nothingface, and set out to create what was their most accessible album to date, perhaps STILL the most accessible (though the eponymous 2003 album comes mighty close). Lacking the grand, experimental unification of its predecessor, which if we're being honest, had just about abandoned the band's thrash roots entirely, Angel Rat was an attempt at creating a 'metal lite' style that still honored the Canadians' psychedelic, progressive influences like Pink Floyd and Rush, and it's no surprise to me that it was an inspired, if understated success.
Though I had quickly become used to the idea that Voivod was going to be one of those bands who would put out effort after effort of evolving, reliable fascination, I didn't warm to Angel Rat quite as quickly as my brain melted to the two previous albums. The strange collage of images relating to individual songs seemed a bit unusual, as did the classic scrawl of the band name and title font. Yet it still kept that purplish background hue, and I'd be shocked if this turned out NOT to be Away's favorite color. Once I listened, I found that the songs were deceptively simple, quite airy, and focused more on simple melodic hooks. Piggy's dissonant development was subdued throughout, and the band's aggression did not return to its previous heights from the mid 80s. The vocal lines seemed aimed at a broader audience, and Snake was relying less on the punkish pitch he was built on. Also, while Nothingface had turned out a mellower album than its own predecessors, there was still something cryptic about it, unfriendly to the mainstream; where, in a kinder world, Angel Rat could have easily gotten some airplay on rock radio for a "Panorama" or "Clouds in My House".
But don't let this subdued, simplification deceive you into thinking that these tunes aren't poignant and haunting, because frankly they're among the most hypnotic the Canadians have written. Take "The Prow", a fetching piece of maritime mermaid-punk with incredibly catchy verse lines and chorus, and then this trippy bridge with organs, mellow vocals and scintillating guitar harmonies that wouldn't have been out of place on the 1989 album. "Clouds in My House" is what might happen if the Rolling Stones overdosed on space dust and David Bowie covers, while "Twin Dummy" is simultaneously happy and creepy, bass lines flowing like melodious syrup while the titular homunculus makes a new 'friend'. More powerful than any of these, the machine-like, pseudo-industrial rock of "Golem" tells us the sad tale of an artificial intelligence becoming self aware despite its monotonous, predictable existence. I'll take that over any sentimental Star Trek: The Next Generation episode in which Data discovers and contends with another facet of his humanity.
Angel Rat doesn't sound like it was on quite as mighty a budget as Nothingface, but whether it was simply rushed, or underfunded, I couldn't tell you. Regardless, the music is so well structured and memorable that it achieves its own sense of timelessness. The guitars, while not as driving and central as on earlier works, are so light and beautifully scripted to the vocals and drums that I can envision seraph wings sprouting from Denis D'Amour's back. The bass is still slightly distorted, not as often brought to the fore as it was in 1989, but still perhaps the central instrument. Drums are much easier on the ears this time out, and Away could have probably made himself a snack while performing most of these with a single hand and foot, but then the songs don't call for much more energy. As a whole, Angel Rat steers between uptempo, jubilant swathes of melody and steadier, slower pieces that build a more psychedelic resonance, but it's got a remarkably deep track list, of which only the mellow "Freedoom" and "Nuage Fractal" come up a fraction short (and both are still pretty good...)
People that had long felt alienated from Voivod through their 80s progression might have heard this and exclaimed 'what the fuck?' loudly, but I can't say that Angel Rat is ultimately that much of a surprise. It's a subtler record than Nothingface. It doesn't hit you over the head with its outlandish, convulsions of being 'Other', but it just slowly settles onto your spirit like a drugged haze. It may have breached the band's 'perfect streak' in terms of my own reaction, but it's still an amazing album and was a highlight for me in 1991, a year in which I had an adverse reaction to many of the latest records from many of the extreme metal titans (Sepultura, Morbid Angel, Death, etc). It's not heavy in the slightest, at least not in terms of the riffing or aggression, but it's unique, compelling, and very often beautiful...
After achieving the pinnacle of their musical objective with the complex futurism of Nothingface, Voivod produce the most accessible work of their career with Angel Rat, essentially a melodic rock album whose songs have more in common with alternative rock than progressive rock or speed metal.
“the time is coming
the world is dying
I'm more than worried”
These are directly engaging songs defined by catchy pop-style melodic choruses, with noticeable elements of post-punk, bearing only a distant resemblance to previous albums. Relaxed and even lighthearted at times, the songs range from simple up-tempo melodic rock to dreamy and cosmic-rock ballads, very well-written and appealing for their elegant expression of conceptual substance and the band’s characteristic quirky charm.
Snake’s distinct vocals are at their most melodic and expressively diverse, while Piggy’s dissonant riffs mostly take the shape of atmospheric rock riffs using eccentric chord shapes, along with classy rock-style solos, as a lurking bass guitar provides a strange creeping pulse in rhythmic constructions that are far more conventional than before.
“tomorrow we will know
something about the code
salvation's on its way
in the light of today
cloud of all destiny
ghost of reality
nobody can detect
the butterfly effect”
A spacey, sometimes gloomy, aura permeates throughout, and the band’s odd tendencies remain, but this has all the feelings of a transitional work. Lyrics depart from the Voivod saga for more direct, easily relatable, yet cleverly constructed observations of social isolation, redundant negativity of media, and destructive environmental alterations, treated with the insight and imagination that is identifiable with the band, only simplified in harmony with the more approachable music, which, despite its apparent appeal to mainstream conventions, upholds the band’s trademark consistency and conceptual unity, and for that proves deceptively enduring.
Although I'm entering the fanhood of Voivod a little later than most of the band's dedicated apostles, I've been listening to the albums from this band's illustrious career, and piecing together a timeline of their stylistic changes. The band started out with a clearly defined root in thrashy speed metal, but around the middle of their career, Voivod was morphing their sound with every album. 1989's 'Nothingface' was one such album that showed Voivod doing something new, and as the peak of their metal output, it was a jaw-dropping display of progressive thrash metal. Now, after such an exciting style that the band had finally found for themselves, a fan of the band at the time would probably have thought that Voivod would continue to pursue that sound for themselves, releasing album after album of similar sounding 'Nothingface' successors. Even though it came out twenty years ago, the band's sixth album 'Angel Rat' still comes as a big surprise to me. Instead of sticking with this golden style that they had innovated with 'Nothingface', they instead move on again in search of new ways to approach their music Toning down their metal grit in favour for a more mellow take on Voivod's distinct sound.
I would restrain myself from calling this a metal album; while Voivod was most certainly a metal band in earlier albums, there is not nearly the same bite here that they used to have. The songs are given mostly conventional structures, and if I was going to give any label to this music, it would have to be 'spacey hard rock'. While hearing 'Angel Rat' described like this would have me think that they were dumbing down their sound in the commericial vein that a few other thrash bands did in the early '90s, but Voivod would maintain their progressive edge in the music, despite things being a little less sporadic in the music itself. The songs here still have the sci-fi vibe of earlier Voivod material, and these songs feel more influenced by Voivod's prog influences than the metal. Piggy's riffs are still quirky, but the vanguard experimentation has been toned down. This is a very band-based effort that focuses on good songwriting. It lacks the shock and jaw-dropping nature of 'Nothingface', but the music is good. The band's performance is tight, and this may be Denis Belanger's greatest vocal performance in Voivod's history.
Despite the concise nature of the songwriting, I do find this to be Voivod's biggest grower album, and it's precisely for the fact that it is so mellow, when compared to the rest. There's no 'in your face' attitude or proggy vibe here, just songs, and for a band who would have me constantly guessing at what new exciting things would be coming the listener's way, that can be a big adjustment. Although I didn't find myself liking it all too much at the beginning, 'Angel Rat' is a greatly written album that fits snugly into the middle of Voivod's golden years.
They are not from this world any more! Voivod has transcended the waves of space and time and floats somewhere high above an ordinary human state of mind. I may warn you, because this album has nothing to do with the band's early thrash metal albums or the later extreme post industrial metal. This isn't even metal at all, it is pure and perfect progressive rock, somewhere between King Crimson's "In the court of the crimson king", Rush's "Moving pictures", Genesis' "Wind and wuthering", Pink Floyd's "Darkside of the moon" and the band's previous "Nothingface", just to give you an idea.
When I first bought and listened to the album, I thought that somebody had put the wrong CD in the slipcase. This doesn't sound like anything you have heard from Voivod before and later on. Even today, when the band still plays "Panorama" or "The prow" live on stage, it sounds much heavier and down to earth than on this album and doesn't have the same feeling at all. Voivod truly created something that they were never able to do again, they wrote this song in a very special mood. This album is softly floating and I wouldn't be surprised to know that those guys were completely on acid while they composed this album. Singer Snake completely flies away in the video clip for "Clouds in my house", high above the earth, sorrounded by starnge white paper floating around him like snow. This image represents perfectly the mood of this album.
Snake sounds softer and more emotional than ever before, the drumming is relaxed but still tight in the same way, the bass guitar creates really eerie or spacey vibes and the melodic guitar produces sounds that you have never heard before. Voivod even integrate some new instruments like the harmonica part on "The outcast", but those surprising elements are decently used and fit perfectly to the songs. Voivod do not abuse those new elements and that's why there are many little surprises to discover on this album.
It is difficult to mention highlights on this album which works as a whole masterpiece, but half of the songs of this album also work out of the conceptual basis and give me regular chills and goosebumps.
"Panorama" reminds somehow of the syle of the previous album and is the heaviest song on the album and very well chosen as a tight opener.
"Clouds in my house" is a perfect title as this song makes you dream and fly away and has brilliantly tender and dreamy finale.
During "The prow" you hear ocean waves and the song has a mystic atmosphere that surrounds it in a very eerie way and you can't get this song out of your head once you have listened to it.
The title song "Angel rat" is the most spacey song on the album, has a really eerie atmosphere and feels like a bizarre dream with its floating guitars, multiple dreamy choirs and voices and almost electronical or decent new or dark wave parts.
"The outcast" surprises with many interesting changes of style and the harmonica part in the beginning.
"Freedoom" begins as a very tender hippy ballad and is the most relaxed song Voivod have ever written.
I just mentioned six songs out of twelve which are six unique masterpieces to me. The other ones are almost as strong and the whole twelve songs form something really unique and perfect. Thrash or heavy metal fans may not get a good approach to this album which has been largely discussed, criticized and is until today very controversial. If you are a fan of progressive rock, you will adore this album though and maybe see it as the rebirth of a whole genre, it is the greatest progressive rock album since "Wind and wuthering" almost fifteen years before this one.
Every song creates a really bizarre, tender, spacy, floating, mysterious atmosphere and makes you dream and chill. This album is the most underrated album I know, it is one of my favourite albums of all time and really close to perfection!
Since the release of 'Killing Technology', Voivod have worn their Die Kreuzen influence very conspicuously on their sleeves -- namely, within the angular diminished chord riffing and bizarre handle on narrative -- but with 'Angel Rat' the influence swallowed the band entirely, and they came to follow the same alternative rock melodrama that the once-vital Die Kreuzen were hopelessly degenerating into. ('Century Days', in particular, appears to be the exact prototype for this album. A fabulously gay song about cloud formations? Check. A carnival song about a fucked-up and possibly paedophilic clown? Check. And the list goes on!) Of course, Voivod put their own progressive spin on the formula, incorporating choice bits of King Crimson, Yes, and especially Rush circa 'Moving Pictures', but it's all condensed into radio-length candy rock form-- certainly a jarring transition after the scientifically engineered, sleek-as-chrome brilliance of 'Nothingface'!
To make it explicit: this is not at all a Metal album. Save for a few headbanger riffs thrown around for good measure, this is pop-prog that seems to wallow in its own nostalgia more than anything else. The "post-apocalyptic space vampire" concept that was so central to Voivod's '80s speed metal discography is also scrapped completely, never to be revisited until 'Phobos', released five years later. Instead, lyrics are fashioned around some sort of interdimensional fairy tale that was no doubt hatched after a few odd electric acid kool aid tests. (For more evidence, just watch the video for "Clouds In My House" with the guy's face that pops out of the bass drums every time Away hits the kick-- goddamn, that's creepy!)
However, 'Angel Rat' doesn't receive a total failing grade because -- if you have even the slightest soft-spot for prog -- the attractiveness of its craft is really difficult to resist. Like an old-fashioned boxful of chocolates, this album tempts you with brightly wrapped, sweet and tasty riffage that you'll scarf down by the handful even though you know it will make you fat, lethargic, and diabetic. Denis "Piggy" D'Amour -- who was climbing into his thirties and had probably grown weary of composing complex and daring starscapes -- had cast aside purposeful songwriting and embraced the role of a proper guitar hero in the lineage of Lifeson/Gilmour/Page/et al., focusing on whipping out the perfect solos with all the classic embellishments. And as always, he just smokes the fretboard like a ten dollar blunt. But to what end? The songs sound "nice" -- after all, the album received state-of-the-art production courtesy of Rush technician Terry Brown (though you could blame him for totally neutering Blacky's bass tone) -- but their ultimate effect is that of a carousel ride: you'll climb on that dinky unicorn and go for a spin, and for a glorious fleeting moment you're a kid again without a care in the whole wide world. But then when it ends, you've gone nowhere and you're right back where you started. Well, how's that for a total waste of time?
So, yes, there's a few good reasons why 'Angel Rat' has gone down in the books as "The Voivod Sell-out Album", although for the most part it failed to actually "sell" despite the era's overwhelming demand for alternative crap. For your own sake, just stick to the '80s catalogue, or jump on over to the surprisingly vicious, surprisingly astute Eric Forrest-fronted 'Negatron' for an all too rare example of quality '90s speed metal.
Voivod have always seemed to have a screw loose when it comes to songwriting ((that's not meant as an insult, I'm talking about how the band tend to intentionally inject some avant garde weirdness into their music) and that's definately clear with this recording. On this one, Voivod drop the punkish, aggressive sci-fi speed/thrash in favour of a more alternative sound, taking a lot of influence from commercial punk and new-wave. Considering this was 1991, this was probably an influence on other bands intrigued by metal's extreme, over-the-top tendencies but also by mainstream music's accesibility, along with Faith No More and Metallica's Black Album.
Well, there is still some old metallic Voivod in here, the opening riff sounding much more Motorhead than Radiohead. However, the majority of this does indeed contain some alternative riffs and leanings. Not to say that it's a bad album, just that it isn't the skull-throttling insanity of War & Pain and Killing Technology. The usual Voivod weirdness is still present too, in the sometimes disharmonic riffs and off-sounding note arrangements, and of course Snake's unique vocal approach for which he is well known. But of course, if you're not much of a fan of new wave and alternative (as i'm not) this can bring the album down in parts, I mean Twin Dummy could easily be a Beach Boys cover.
Highlights? Panorama is a good opening track and Clouds In My House is quite a nice, laid-back dirge with it's dreamlike riff in the chorus. Then The Prow, which is the catchiest and certainly the most enjoyable. There aren't really any bad tracks or any sections that really grate at me, it's just that it doesn't pull any Tribal Convictions or Psychic Vacuum out to crush my skull and force me to surrender to the gods of thrash. Angel Rat is quite a nice ballad, with some enjoyable leadwork too. I also like how the last track is titled None Of The Above, even if the song itself is fairly average.
Oh yeah, and ya gotta love that cover art! Seriously, that is fucking boss, one of the best covers of the 90s.
If you don’t like this album, you’re probably not that big of a Voivod fan. It’s really that simple. And that’s not to sound condescending; it’s just the way it is. Voivod were all about change, progression, and experimentation. And they were surprisingly good at everything they attempted. None of their migrations sounded forced or out of place.
We have their first two albums, which were mostly-straightforward thrashy garage metal. On Killing Technology and Dimension Hatross, they began exploring a “future metal” that was more clinical, progressive, and mathematical, while still retaining much of their thrashy aggression. Nothingface refined Dimension Hatross’ ideas to a nearly sterile level, often considered their “perfect” or ultimate album.
Enter Angel Rat. Where could they go after Nothingface? They most certainly couldn’t keep belaboring the Hatross/Nothingface style…they had already mastered that. Well, we found out on the previous album that psychedelic rock was an obvious influence to them (“Astronomy Domine”), even if it had never been extremely apparent in their own songs. Angel Rat is simply the embodiment of that influence, but with their own unique and inimitable twists.
The funny thing is, I’m not even a fan of psychedelic rock/metal. It’s often so lost in its own spacey world that if you’re not high, it’s hard to enjoy. Further, I’m not unable to realize when a band has made a mistake. Case in point, I do not like the two Eric Forrest albums at all, even though I recognize what they were exploring (but perhaps I’d have enjoyed them somewhat if had Snake been on vocals?).
The thing that makes Angel Rat so interesting is that they make psychedelia tasty for your brain…without the need for smoking up. Take “Golem” for example…the lyrics alone are wonderful, even without the music. Sad, sci-fi, BladeRunner-ish sentient apparatus musings. And how can one NOT like “The Prow”, a unique and bittersweet ode to the fate of a ship’s prow carving? Can’t you admit to feeling a little creepy after hearing “Twin Dummy”?
This, and The Outer Limits to a lesser extent, was a foray into a more mellow, moody, contemplative Voivod. And I do have to be in the right frame of mind to fully enjoy it. But even so, I must admit I somehow loved this album when it first came out. And I still love it today. Others are finally starting to realize just how good Angel Rat actually was (“ahead of its time” is perhaps not the right phrase, as there was nothing new about the genre that was explored, but “ahead of its audience” might be accurate).
The main hurdle for this album’s success was in how much it took their fans by surprise after Nothingface. Whereas the latter challenged you, Angel Rat asked you to sit back and relax. So when you’re ready to do exactly that, you’re ready for this album.
I can see why Voivod fans would hate this album. If you go from angry thrash to something radically different, there's no guarantee that those who were with you for the angry thrash will be with you to whatever your new direction is. I however, am not a fan of older Voivod, but I do like the sound of this album.
The style of this album is somewhat hard to pinpoint, it's on the borderline of metal and non-metal and I guess the band it most closely reminds me of is Deep Purple in the 70s. Overall, it's a little more progressive and psychadellic than Deep Purple was as a whole and there's less noodling than if Ritchie Blackmore was involved, but they could easily cover Pictures of Home or Hush on this album and it would not sound the least bit out of place.
I mentioned that there's some psychadellia on here as well. Not heavy psychadellia just some moments remicient of the late 60s movement of psychadellia (but heavier of course).
Snake's vocals leave a little something to be desired, they're a bit nasaly and unrefined for the style of singing he's going for, but dispite that, he manages to create some catchy vocal melodies.
The bass lines are great as well. The Prow in particular sticks out as an example of some of the fine bass lines of the album. The same goes for the drumming (althogh to be honest with you, analyzing drumming is my weak point).
The guitar riffs are a bit weak, but if you're expecting something cookie cutter thrash metal, you will be disappointed. I do think they fit the sound that Voivod was aiming for here.
The first 2/3 of the album are stronger than the last 1/3 and it starts to trail off a little. This brings the album down some, but not much.
All in all, I'd reccomend this album if you're looking for something different, and are a classic metal fan who also enjoys some psychadellic stuff.