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As an outsider looking into the band's career, I find it extremely difficult to fathom why a group with such a consistently brilliant core lineup as Voivod would ever dissemble, barring circumstances beyond its control. And yet, that's what started to happen through the 90s, as first bassist Blacky stepped away from the band post-Angel Rat, and then vocalist Snake, two intrinsic pieces of the perplexing puzzle that manifest such essential listening as Killing Technology and Nothingface. Oh sure, there are real life situations that will catch up to a band of struggling musicians who haven't earned even a fraction of what they deserve in credit and compensation for their artistry, but one might cross his fingers and hope they could still pull it all together. If that one was me...
At any rate, where Voivod managed to pull it together despite the loss of Blacky for The Outer Limits, a damn fine album, this was just not to be the case for its successor, Negatron, a record that in part attempts to disseminate the genius of Dimension Hatröss into a 90s-ready, simplified industrial/thrash formula, and in part seems like a mere 'breaking in' for the new kid in the club: E-Force, aka Eric Forrest. In all fairness, he had a tough job ahead of him, replacing not one but TWO of the band's classic members, so I can, to some extent forgive that he's incapable of completely filling their sizable moonboots. As a vocalist, he brings a bit more fire and acid, a gravelly timbre that is admittedly more aggressive than Snake post-1988, and he also can emit a cleaner, nasal inflection to cover the considerable array of quirky, melodic post-punk vocals that his predecessor excelled at. As a bassist: somewhat less interesting. He embellishes his lines with a solid chunk of distortion flush with the band's post-apocalyptic visions, but many of them just stumble along below Piggy, nowhere near as compelling as Jean-Yves Thériault on, say, Nothingface.
Granted, I don't think E-Force is the primary issue I take with the underwhelming Negatron, as he seems to do the best he can within the context of these songs. Love or hate records like Angel Rat and The Outer Limits (I'm in the former camp), they were imaginative, ambitious expansions of the group's sound, pushing the band beyond expectations while keeping that enigmatic center which defined them increasingly through the 80s. Negatron seems like a partial 180-degree turn to simpler thrash and simpler times, utilizing a lot of mundane palm muted riffing patterns and then glossing them over with Piggy's dissonant, effects-driven aural landscape. The music here, while not by any means awful, just doesn't have that same spark, that same odd enthusiasm. A lot of the hooks are meaty, bouncy and groove-based, feeling somewhat dumbed down from the band's earlier incarnation. I doubt Voivod were heavily influenced by the nu- or groove metal that was dominating heavy radio in this period, but it's hard not to think its ugly surface rubbed off on the Canadians, especially some of the chugging riffs or Aways predisposition towards tribal fills and beats.
Don't get me wrong: this still feels like a Voivod record, and the dour palm muted expressions in a piece like "Project X" do a fair job of opening the mind's window, especially with the impressive atmosphere of Eric's grating vocal being cast out unto the nuclear. You're still getting a lot of that spacey psychedelia through the simple melodies in a piece like "Cosmic Conspiracy", and I actually do favor the post-industrial mix of the record. The drums sound great, the bass is good and ruddy, and Piggy's tones are as exquisitely chosen for this moment of their career as they ever were, but nonetheless, at least half the tracks on the album leave something to desire. Aside from the chorus of "Nanoman", or the tormented verse vocals of "Insect", and a handful of the riffs, so much of this feels as if it were recycled from their 1987-88 period, stripped down and delivered in a more crushing envelope to sate the subdued audience of the 90s, who had been corrupted by the sounds of Korn, Sepultura (Roots era), Machine Head and just wanted grooves to mosh to.
Other hangups include the infantile computer graphics, which in attempting to capture Away's trademark imagery seem a little on the fruity side. Not terrible, but just not as fascinating as anything beforehand. The style and coloration functions better on the following album, Phobos, but here the whole package feels as if they were just struggling to survive and get something happening post-Snake. To Voivod's credit, even at their worst (i.e. this very album), they still never managed to excrete some absolute turd of an album. I'd take Negatron over just about anything the 'Big 4' of thrash released from about 1995-1999, but beyond a few of the atmospheric aesthetics and the decent mix of the record, it still feels like a creative closing of shop. I've never had the heart to turn this into a beer coster, but I revisit it with dwindling frequency as the years roll on.
For whatever reason, there came a point in Voivod's career where everything went to hell. up until 'The Outer Limits', Voivod were releasing album after album of classic, engaging, and even groundbreaking material, turning the thrash metal world on its side with a spacey, forward-thinking approach. Sadly, Voivod's vocalist Snake Belanger leaves after an impressive tenure with the band, and in comes his replacement, Eric Forrest. Not to mention that Voivod is just a three-piece at this point, the band has all but split up for all intents and purposes. What is left is a hollow shell of a band that once created some of the best albums metal has ever seen. Although the band would eventually pick themselves back up with Snake's return, 'Negatron' and its follow-up 'Phobos' represent the darkest period of Voivod's career.
AWhile band members have changed, so has the style. The music here would be completely unrecognizable from Voivod's signature prog-thrash sound, were it not for Piggy's distinct style of playing. Incidentally, Piggy's dissonant edge is the best thing about 'Negatron'. As for the rest, Voivod has gone down a fairly lo-fi avenue, throwing away their growing sense of melody in exchange for aggression and noise. In a sense, it is quite like Voivod's two earliest albums, but as all 'back-to-roots' albums usually end up, it doesn't possess the same power. Eric Forrest's contributions are the biggest disappointment. Although some of his vocals manage to get a strong aggression across, he usually sounds like he is trying to scream parts that should have been sung by Snake. Perhaps this is just a fan's bias, but the music feels the loss.
'Negatron' is a darker album than much Voivod work, and that does work to its benefit. I think that the style they chose to go in here is not inherently bad, but the uninspiring songwriting and lackluster ideas lead the album down a path to mediocrity that is best left forgotten by Voivod and their fans.
After several line-up changes, Voivod continued as a trio and explored a completely new territory. From a warmer and progressive rock sound, they went to a cold and industrial sound which is very uneasy to listen to. Heavily shredding and dissonant guitars, heavy weight drums sounding like thunder and an aggressively roaring base guitar create the new musical universe of Voivod. The more physical and technical the creature Voivod becomes in the lyrics and stories, the more industrial and artificial becomes the sound of the band. Alongside with this comes the voice of the new singer E-Force which is more shrieking, more aggressive and more desperate than the voice of their previous and actual singer Snake. I would say that the voice of E-Force fits perfectly to the new sound of Voivod and he is doing and appropriate job.
All those changes are very interesting and innovating but the fact that pulls this album down is that is very uneasy to listen to. It is very depressive, very intense, but it is always repeating itself and after some really good songs in the beginning, it gets annoying and dumb to listen the whole time to this heavy and weird stuff. The listener needs a little break, a little change of style, a little time to breathe or think, but Voivod don't show any mercy or pity and continue always in the same style. The album slowly pulls you under in a parallel universe or even directly in hell , literally and musically.
Songs like "Cosmic conspiracy" have many breaks, are very strange and they only grow on you after you have listened to them at least several times. Some songs like the very dumb "Planet hell" or "Project X" are even more strange and difficult to listen to and I don't get an approach to them. That is really frustrating, because I've spent a lot of time on those songs and listened to them carefully.
The highlights of this album are the straight and fresh sounding opener "Insect" which introduces you directly to the new universe of Voivod, the atmospheric and epic title track "Negatron" and "Nanoman". This last song is somehow the "hit" of the album, he is very straight, very diversified and has a very simple, but intense chorus and an amazing guitar solo. I got directly addicted to this song and it is without any doubt one of my favourite ones of the band.
In the end of the album, there are sadly some filler songs that are really just disturbing, annoying and dumb. With a few breaks and one or two easier songs, this could have been an even more diversified album, but as it is today, this album finds rarely its way in my radio or music centre. With their next effort "Phobos" Voivod had corrected their mistakes and created a really disturbing masterpiece while this album was their first try, the experimentation towards a new kind of sound and universe.
Sure, there is a lot to discover here, but it's really heavy and weird stuff that you can't listen to very often.
After two albums that were more lightweight (both musically and production wise) in the beginning of the 90s, original vocalist Snake left Voivod. That was a big loss because Snake’s voice was an important characteristic of the band’s sound. When Voivod announced a new album with some guy called Eric Forrest taking over both bass and vocal duties I was very sceptical. Well, “Negatron” surprised me extremely positively. Not only is it a lot heavier and darker than the two preceding albums but Eric also proved to be a very capable vocalist who managed to preserve the Voivod magic. No one can be like Snake but this is as good a replacement as you’ll get. Eric’s throaty and pretty dry voice was exactly was this album needed. He also sounds like Snake during some parts, which I think is great.
The production is heavy as lead, sounding very close to the production of bands like Nevermore and Pantera. The guitars are thick and crushing (which really increases the impact of Piggy’s signature dischords), the bass is distorted and the drums have that clinical triggered sound to them. The mood of this record is very bleak and oppressive. Lyric wise the band deals with technology, aliens, conspiracies, distrust of authorities and alienation. This is the usual Voivod stuff of course but this time I’d say the lyrics are more paranoid and apocalyptic than before.
Along with the considerable “heavification” of the production Voivod also wrote some of their most aggressive stuff since 1987’s “Killing Technology” for this album. They even brought back the good old thrash which I thought they had abandoned for good. When you start listening to this album you immediately feel the punch of the production as the monstrous (dis)chords of “Insect” start slamming against your eardrums. After expecting something along the lines of “The Outer Limits” or possibly even softer from this album I was both dumbfounded and floored in a “Holy shit, this is HEAVY!” kind of way. For parts of “Insect” Eric successfully assumes a voice very reminiscent of Snake, e.g. the “People from the outside/Craving for utopia” part.
“Nanoman” is a mid-paced song with extremely heavy riffing and this is one of Voivod’s catchiest songs ever due to its accessible and simple structure. “Reality?” is another straightforward song with good drive and Eric’s high-pitched throaty vocals leading the way. This track also has some thrashy parts that are good for headbanging. The title track is slow and doomy for the most part (although it speeds up a bit in the middle) with a very claustrophobic feel to it. Eric puts on a good vocal performance on this song too, singing the verses with a twisted semi-clean voice and screaming powerfully in the chorus. “Meteor” starts with a flurry of meaty dischords courtesy of Piggy before launching into an all-out thrasher that is a guaranteed neckbreaker.
“Cosmic Conspiracy” brings back the doomy mood again. It starts with a great slow guitar melody, which soon gets joined by the drums and the bass. This part is one of my favourite ones on the whole album as it sounds fucking dark. Eric’s vocals have some weird distortion on them during the first half of the song. It sounds as if his voice would be coming from inside a test chamber. The melody in the beginning is repeated a few more times later in the song, always to great effect. I’m fortunate enough to possess the Japanese version of “Negatron” which includes the bonus tracks “Vortex” and “Erosion”. “Vortex” is a heavy mid-tempo track with a great typically Voivod sounding muted main riff and Eric screaming his balls off in the chorus. “Erosion” has a fast thrash part in the middle after which Piggy plays a four-note guitar melody with lots of reverb on it that sounds like it could come from the “Killing Technology” days. Also otherwise I’d say that this track sounds like older Voivod stuff. “Negatron” has been re-released by Blackend but I don’t know if this version contains the two bonus tracks.
The strange track on “Negatron” is “D.N.A. (Don’t No Anything)”. It’s a collaboration between Voivod and Jim Thirlwell who is known among other things for his electronic music project Foetus. This collaboration results in a track which mixes electronic music with metal and I must say that result is pretty interesting even if it for sure isn’t my favourite track. Thirlwell also sings the vocals on “D.N.A.”. It’s seldom that a band goes back to playing heavy after they’ve started moving in the opposite direction. Voivod did just this though and it was definitely the right way to go.