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So here we are. 2012. Another original member of Voivod, bassist Jean-Yves Thériault aka Blacky, has since returned to the fold, along with Martyr guitarist Daniel Mongrain aka Chewy. Both have been active with the band for several years now, but at last we finally have a taste of new material. The legacy of Denis D'Amour aka Piggy will certainly live forever for longtime fans, but the question is, will new songs still sound like Voivod? And if so, which Voivod will they sound like, since there are so many incarnations of the band, from early dirty thrash to futuristic sci-fi metal to psychedelic rock to more radio-friendly pop-alt-metal? Will Mongrain attempt to "sound like Piggy" or will he bring a completely different guitar sound to the band? Can Voivod even be "Voivod" without Piggy?
Judging purely from the new single, Mechanical Mind, the answers are more positive than I would have expected. I for one was not a fan of the more poppy sound of their last three releases (and frankly I never really considered the Eric Forrest era to be Voivod...Snake is an essential element of the band as I know it). I assumed they would continue in that style, if indeed they continued making music at all. But the opening strains of this seven-and-a-half minute opus will immediately remind one of Dimension Hatröss. As the song continues, other influences from that time period become apparent, most notably Nothingface and to a lesser degree The Outer Limits. Minor keyed, aggressive, with dissonant chords galore, this is remarkably like the Voivod we all know and love from the late 80s. And as a result it is by far the freshest, most visceral material from the band since those very albums. Is it a case of cannibalism, ripping themselves off? That's subjective, of course, but for me this is a wonderfully enjoyable and thrilling song that sounds both old and new at the same time.
The biggest relief, perhaps, is Mongrain's contribution to the guitar sound (and presumably songwriting). It's well-known that he has been a long-time fan of the band, and his style on the Martyr albums shows that pretty clearly (albeit in a death metal format). His guitar lines do remind one of Piggy to a degree, especially in the opening few minutes of the song and in the overall songwriting style. And yet it doesn't really come off like copycat syndrome, especially with regard to the solos on this song...they aren't Piggy-like at all. He's here in spirit, though, that is for certain. And that's the ideal outcome of a new album from this band, no? To keep Piggy alive in a sense, but without tarnishing the memory of him. If the band had taken an entirely new sonic direction and abandoned the "Piggy sound" entirely, it would be perhaps more than a bit insulting.
It's hard to guess if other forthcoming songs will be as powerful and emotive as this one, but if they maintain this flavor throughout an entire album, it will probably be their best work since Nothingface.