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Review originally published at http://www.metal-realm.com/View_Article2.php?Table=Reviews&Rec=1316
Oh my, oh my! Fact number one. Piggy's not dead. Having shown the world what it's like to be the most original, sublime and subliminal guitar player of the planet, the apostle of discordant divinity, he has been relocated to some other place in the universe, which is more or less voivodian territory by the way. Fact number two. Snake is, by far, the coolest person on planet Earth at the moment. This intimidating guy, even in this time of mourning and despair, delivers one of the most memorable, hard- rocking vocal performances of all time, unleashing all the rage and fury upon the mic, employing all means possible, be it humming, laughing, growling, spitting his words around. Fact number three, Katorz is the most straightforward thing Voivod have ever done, as they take all their distinguishing elements, they strip them down of what's surplus, then add tons of groove and forcefulness to create an album that is innately as progressive and as classic heavy metal can be.
Compared to the exceptional previous Voivod album, the self-titled, it is kinda weird to admit that....this album is even better! Stunning! While “Voivod” was slow, grinding and had the vocals in the spotlight, flirting with some post rock kind of thing here and there, all in all, excellent but vanguely reminiscent of the band's earlier works, “Katorz” refocuses on Voivod's primary attribute, that is chaotic riffing and take the things the band tried to do with the “Voivod” album to an entirely new level. The reason why “Katorz” is superior, more enjoyable is that it has really memorable songs, while “Voivod” was really really good, but lacking when it came to this issue. The guitars are certainly the main thing to look out for in this release, their sound is unbelievably robust and rich, guaranteed to blow you away. Piggy spawns timeless riffs with every new note and swarms the place with leads as if there is no tomorrow. This is by far the Voivod album with the most pure metal guitar leads, and as such, I would like to suggest that “Katorz” may easily be for Voivod what “Painkiller” is for Judas Priest.
Jason has been completely incorporated into the band by now and he has made space for himself to be able to lay out his bass leads and scales and together with Away they provide a megaton framework, a beastly rhythm section that needs to be heard in order to believe. It seems he is the bassist that Voivod never had – kudos to Blackie -. Overall, the production of “Katorz” is a little more raw than that of “Voivod” and that may be a pejorative point for some. Long time voivodians will notice that the production is much closer to “Negatron” and “Phobos” and therefore it kicks ass and it's much more loyal to what the band has done in the past, which in my opinion is better than the highly polished production of “Voivod”.
Now let me explain you why this album just feels so right. Track number one, “The Getaway” kicks in with a monster riff and quickly escalates into a frantic delirium that sweeps everything in its wake. This song is about the war in Iraq and it's not hard to make out where the band stands with lyrics such as “Find a getaway, time to getaway” or “Let's call it even, before it's too late”. We've never known Voivod to talk about politics in the past, to my knowledge (except maybe Gasmask Revival, which again is fictional), and it's very refreshing to have songs like “The Getaway” or “Mr Clean”, which would qualify as thinking man's metal. There is a great surprise in the end of “The Getaway”. The song naturally fades out and there are some “special effects” that sound like a horror movie and Piggy plays an acoustic guitar, that we now know that these acoustic guitar parts are the last thing he recorded while he was being hospitalized. This is a ending that will completely spook you out and reveal the structure of the album, as this is more or less happening with each track.
Then storms in track two, “Dognation”, a 100% voivodian trademark song, chaotic, diverse and heavy and you are beginning to see why Snake justifies all this praise, although Mr Newsted marginally steals his thunder here, because his bass fills are simply inspired. An excellent start so far, because “The Getaway” is fast and agile and “Dognation” is pure Voivod metal madness.
“Mr Clean” follows with another freakingly awesome riff and by now, maybe your neck will be getting tired. “Mr Clean” is also a song with political content, with lyrics such as “Last call for the rascals, Mr Clean said...”, “Who will be the next one to get thrown out, just like a garbage bag, you'll join your friends” and “The homos out, the poor out, the coloured out, the stripped out, the stained out, wipe them all, wipe them all, wipe them”. It culminates with a guitar lead, the exact point when Mr Clean has wiped almost everyone, making the society completely homogenous and trendy, with no flair whatsoever and he comes for “me and you”. With a breath-taking passage riff, the song closes off with Snake sarcastically commenting how it's all about a “nice and clean society” and “long live democracy!”. Snake just dominates this song.
The next song “After All” begins with one of this spooky passages, with the acoustic guitar and some effect, then comes the voivodian, off key, intro riff and you know this is going to be.....great. Well I am at a loss for words to describe the succeeding riff. If this riff doesn't make you want to bang your head somewhere and scream to the top of your voice, then you must pinch yourself, because you may be dead and not knowing it yet. “After All” is all about how one gets tired of doing the same things, time and time again, and how everything around us blurs and loses its meaning after a while. There is a point to be made about the songs in “Katorz” and that is that the songs are all similar in their endings, most fade out with drums pounding at a slow rate and some appropriate riff and there is a reason for that, to make it smoother so that the “spooky passages” can be sewed seamlessly with the rest of the music. Now, this doesn't really work for “After All” and this is the first objection so far with this album, because in my opinion the last minute of the song had the potential for greater things. In any case, this is a killer song and Snake continues to shine, showing us everything he's got.
“Odds & Frauds” sets out with a riff that is pretty basic for Voivod and it continues on to tell the tale of corrupted politicians and how they scam the people. The refrain bears a close resemblance to “Nanoman” from the “Negatron” album and generally, this track sounds as if it could have been in “Negatron”, because the guitarwork is pretty disorderly and Snake's voice, even though not suffering heavy effects like Negatron had, is indecipherable in its anger. “Odds & Frauds” is a solid track, maybe it will be considered by some to be the weakest track of the album, because of the said issues.
Striding into the second half of the album, we find “Red My Mind”, a three-minute track that reeks of Voivod and straightens things again for those who felt “Odds & Frauds” was average. “Red My Mind” is about the violence taking place around in the world today, especially on TV, and it feels like a sequel of “Bio-TV” for me, because of lyrics like “It has to stop, I've had enough, I used to be good, now I'm bad for good” that remind me of “Bio-TV is what you'll be, Bio-TV is what you need”. It seems like it's the other side of the same coin. Musically, “Red My Mind” is heavy as hell, Snake again sings with unbelievable realism, one feels that he is not a singer but a character in his stories, much like Geoff Tate was a character in Operation: Mindcrime and the song, even though it's quite short, has enough diversity and quality guitar leads to keep everyone happy. Not to mention that we get the acoustic guitar again, this time for a longer duration. At this point you begin to see that his album is not a selection of songs, it's not a concept album either, it's more than that, but I will share my feelings about that in the end.
“Silly Clones” is yet again, a song about society and how people try to look alike, “hundred percent restored”, giving away their personal traits and originality to look like what they perceive is beautiful, but on the inside they are monsters and they end up to “die alone, in the valley of silly clones, where the people die alone”. It's a drum-propelled track, with a few nice leads and even though it misses some of the diversity of the other songs, I think that the lyrics are the thing to notice here.
“No Angel” is a story of bitter romance, as lyrics like “you ain't got all my time, your loving is a crime, my mind is behind bars, the future seems so dark, I can see your demon horn, as you stick out your reptile tongue, I've got hallucinations, your loving is a crime” would clearly indicate. At the same time, it's the song that strays away from the voivodian medium and that's why it's the tune you are sure to memorize right away. On the refrain, you have Snake crying out “You're no angel” and you have the other guys doing backing “gang” vocals, shouting “No way through” and then Snake goes “la-la-la-la” above the backbone riff of the song. Piggy's leads and solos guarantee that it works out of course. An outstanding track that fades out in the aforementioned way while the “spooky parts” get all the more spookier with each song.
One song before the curtains fall, things lighten up with the agitated, flowing song that is “The X-Stream”. Now, this is possibly the “hit” of the album, it obviously deals with the extreme in its various forms and the ways people employ to get their adrenaline pumping up. There is no need to talk about personal performances here. Every member of the band is giving everything they got, so this is music that would resurrect you, even if you've pinched yourself during “After All" and you found out you are dead after all. It's simply one of the best songs Voivod have ever composed.
With no “acoustic & samples” passage this time, “Polaroids” rages right away with a generic but catchy riff that is seconded nicely by the bass guitar and it is the first song during which Snake's voice is manipulated with effects, making it sound cold and bizarre in places. “Polaroids” is about an expedition to the Pole and how its members managed to survive. “Turning in circle, always a nightmare, no more supplies, no food to share”, these lyrics sum the story up, but again I must say that Snake is so convincing that he freaks you out. “Polaroids” is the crowning diamond of this album, a track that is so intelligent and powerful at the same time. To continue with the analogy I gave earlier, hoping that I can get away with it, it serves the purpose that “One Shot At Glory” serves for “Painkiller”, that is sealing the album with a mark of timeless vigor. An album has to end in a great way in order to be great and I think this condition is a given for “Katorz”.
Right after the main part of Polaroids, we get the epilogue, the last acoustic guitar part that is almost a whole minute long, as opposed to the others that were considerably shorter. You know what, I don't really want to talk about it, because it really gives me goose-bumps when I think that this is a dying man's last recording. You will need to buy “Katorz” to find out what the line between life and death looks like by listening to this last acoustic guitar part. Boy, this album is so deep that it feels so revitalizing when you hear it through, it gives you the strength to go on and do something with your life. So, now you get the whole picture about what the acoustic guitar passages are about. They bind the songs together to form a breathing unit, a testament that there are things that are beyond life and death, such as true friendship, a tribute to a dead friend's memory, his last fucking metal rites. These guys cheated on death, proving that you can't kill Voivod, because Voivod is a virus that cannot be put down by such simple means. So, this summer, starting on 28th July, when the “silly clones” rub each other's back with coppertone on the beach, stupefied beyond all correction, you need to prove it to yourself that you too have the guts to live your life by the right principles. Crank your car's speakers up to full volume and show the world that in 2006, V is for Voivod.