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It's not a massive aesthetic departure from Negatron, but Phobos is clearly the better of the two E-Force fronted Voivod records, with an even more obscure, grimy finish to the vocals, and the most unified concept coursing through it since Nothingface. Still seems to be a bit of a 90s alt rock infection here, especially with the minimalist song titles and the constantly grooving drums, but in general I enjoyed the pacing of this music and it's slightly less accessible overall polish. The major influence seems once more to be Dimension Hatröss, since it lacks the elegance and strong melodic hooks of the 1989-1993 works, but despite the myriad of simplistic grooves and familiar riffs here, Phobos is a place of paranoid dystopian depression in which you can lose yourself.
Naturally, I enjoy the more experimental nature of the music, including all the ambiance and feedback woven through the intros and interludes, and often the central songs themselves, to create a freakish vortex of both overcast metropolitan smog and subterranean claustrophobia. Vocal effects, echoing guitars and distant, filthy distorted lyrical lines are threaded through pieces like the title track or "The Tower", and I always felt like I was witnessing the birth of some bio-mechanical intelligence. Our new overlords have arrived! The riffs are exceedingly simple, often just vacuous open notes being wrought over the predictable thrash patterns, or 2-3 discordant chords, but they never seem to distract you from the record's negative, thematic outlook, and for a full hour, Phobos never breaks character, at least until the cover of King Crimson's "21st Century Schizoid Man", which, while not as effective as their tripper Pink Floyd covers ("Astronomy Domine" and "The Nile Song"), seems a natural fit.
The atmosphere is comparable with Negatron, but ever so slightly grimier, as if they wanted to keep the flow of the record loose and adaptable rather than the bone wrecking crunch of something like "Insect". The bass lines, while not up to a Blacky level of personality, are more fluid and functional than the prior album, flooded with similar distortion but standing further apart from Piggy's guitars. Some of the tracks here hit so heavily that they seem like an extraterrestrial doom, especially "Neutrino" with its warlike drumming and effects snapping on as it thunders into Eric's vocal lines. A few of the tunes seem a bit lengthy on the surface, 7-8 minutes, but often some of that extra space consists of ambiance, pulsing electronics ("Bacteria") or other doses of irradiated experimentation that all seem to function in the overall architecture.
What Phobos isn't, is 'catchy'. They don't often go for the bigger, melodic chorus hooks here that we even heard a few times through Negatron, and rarely does the composition escape its cybernetic gloom. While nearly every earlier Voivod album had a number of 'singles' you could separate from the rest to impress your ignorant friends and family who were negligent of the Canadians' genius, Phobos must be experienced in its entirety to be fully appreciated (though you could clip off the cover at the end). While I was all too happy to have Snake back in line for the band's following album, the eponymous 2003 record with Jason Newsted, I must admit that this album showed some promising development with the three-piece lineup, and it's possible that E-Force's continued contributions could have yielded some fruit worth chewing. With the exception of Negatron, I wouldn't place this above any of the earlier or later albums in terms of quality, but it's still good enough that I'll occasionally come back around to it.
Voivod are a band that is either loved or hated due to their particular sound, but even the fans are split over the course of their career, especially after Angel Rat. The Forrest-era is particularly despised by mostly everyone due to the change in sound, but well, it's not like they never changed, right?
While Negatron might be rough and cold, Phobos has a warmer psychedelic sound. From the very beginning of Catalepsy I this record takes you back to the greatness of Dimension Hatröss. Of course this is still heavier. It may be the heaviest Voivod record actually as the production here is deep and powerful with a lot of low-end, something which is lacking even on Negatron. This is also arguably their darkest record since Killing Technology. The guitar here blends Piggy's trademark psychedelic sci-fi sound with more modern-sounding riffs, the latter of which are exemplified on Forelorn, a vicious mid-paced mosher.
One of the other elements of controversy here is obviously E-Force; while his bass playing is slightly buried in the mix, I'm not sure the style and production of this album really calls for a prominent bass like the earlier records where Piggy's guitar is mostly playing in the high register and needed a counterpoint. His vocals are, in my opinion, quite stronger than his work on Negatron. While he certainly doesn't have Snake's unusual inflections, his performance here is more varied, including screams and cleaner parts complemented by robotic sound effects. It might still put some persons off, but I think it fits well with the tone of the record.
Away's work here on drums is immaculate as expected. He has quite a creative use of tom fills, but also has some very tight double bass playing and a great sense for unusual rhythms. He also wrote most, if not all, of the lyrics on this album, I believe (I may have to check the booklet again). This is their first full-length concept album since Dimension Hatröss, considering, I believe, Nothingface was only half about the Voivod storyline. Anyway, it picks up after Nothingface. It's about the Voivod rising from some sort of artificial coma, or being resurrected. The lyrics are slightly cryptic so it's not easy to be sure, but Mercury seems to hint at a rebirth. I'm not sure I actually understand everything (anything?) past that point. It also seems to reveal the name of the Voivod as being Anark...I think.
This record has a really grim dystopian feel, and while it might seem rough and blurry on the outside, it is quite sophisticated when investigating further. The title track especially stands out in my opinion. Other favorites include Rise, which is a strong opener and Neutrino, which for some reason really gets me when the pace picks up halfway through, but this is truly a record to experience as a whole in order to grasp its full potential.
Most editions also include two "bonus tracks" that are not part of the storyline (actually, I have both a US promo and the Candlelight remaster and both seem to have it, so…). Those are M-Body, penned by Jason Newsted, which is probably my least favorite song here, and a rendition of King Crimson's classic 21st Century Schizoid Man, which is rather good, but not particularly original since…well…Voivod do sound like King Crimson a lot, so this mostly sounds like a heavier take without the saxophone. It's certainly well done, but it can't really be much different. I still welcome these two extras, but they slightly disrupt the flow of the album.
As a side note, I also own the 2lp version which takes some of the tracks from Negatron and Phobos, and while it sounds great on vinyl, in my opinion it also ruins the whole flow of the album and leaves out many important tracks. Not the best version in itself, but still worthwhile since it also comes with the full albums as a digital download in 192kbps mp3, which is actually quite ironic since 180g lps are mostly aimed at audiophiles.
Easily one of the greatest metal bands to have come out of Canada, thrashers Voivod have always made me proud. However, as virtually every band that has been around for so long can tell you, it's nearly impossible to keep the same level of quality throughout a career. Gracing the 80's and early 90's with such epic works as 'Nothingface' and 'The Outer Limits', the latter half of Voivod's work would see a turn for the worse. The result of some line-up changes, the band's album 'Phobos' represents a real disappointment in their catalogue. It appears that even the best bands will have lapses in judgement at times, and Voivod is no exception to this.
'Phobos' is a stark contrast to the groovy and upbeat thrash I was first introduced to the band through, and instead goes tends to go down the route of alternative metal. The change of line-up in the musicians is most noticeable with the vocals here, which deviate from Snake's charming Francophone inflections to something more akin to grungy screaming; all to mixed result. Having said before that this may very well be Voivod's most uninspired release, it brings to mind another album by a well-known metal band, Metallica's 'St. Anger'. In an apparent attempt to strip their sound down to a lo-fi bout of anger, the band looses alot of their charm, although the uninspired songwriting and muddy production here is made all the more bearable by a couple of really great moments.
The lesser of the two songs that spark my interest is the album's opener 'Catalepsy I', which features an eerie riff, courtesy of Denis. However, it is generally short-lived and doesn't take long before succumbing to the first of a great many songs here that do little for the imagination. However, 'Phobos's real strength lies in its title track; which- quite contrary to the rest of the album- is actually incredible. An eerie buildup leads to a highly spacey and dark riff, simple in construct but carrying plenty of presence through its ingenious use of delay effects. The anger brought about by the vocals is mixed with the eerie approach of Denis and his guitar work, creating a piece of music that instantly transports me to the Martian lunar landscape, and gives me a really unsettling feeling that I only wish the band had recreated on any other song here.
Of additional interest here may also be the closing track, '21st Century Schizoid Man'. Originally written and performed by prog rock giants King Crimson, it's unfortunate that Voivod does not bring their own magic to this classic track, but instead butchers it through a brutal production value and noisy delivery. Not to mention the lack of saxophone that gave the original such charm, but it may be of slight interest to a fan of either band.
'Phobos' really shows Voivod working with only a shred of their charm and magic. While this band has never stayed in one place for too long, it does feel as if the best aspects of Voivod's delivery are void here. Besides Denis' atypical guitar work (which is always of interest) and one fantastic track, there is little of interest to speak of here.
This is the ultimate apocalypse, the dystopian genocide or at least the vision of it. Dark, eerie, mechanically thrilling industrial sounds and weird voices suck the listener into an infinite black hole of despair, into a strange universe - the universe of the Voivod. Disharmonic song structures, depressing and melancholic monotony are mixed with angry screams of crazy despair, a singing style that works as a metaphor, as a dark instrument. Low tuned and spacey shredding guitars mechanise and “instrumentalize” the singer and make you travel between the universes as your synapses collapse. The bass guitar sounds low tuned, darkly vibrating. The drums feel like volcanic eruptions or colliding meteors in a hellish parallel universe. This diabolic mixture slowly leads you to a hiatus in madness. "Phobos", that's the perfect title to it, making allusion to the moon of Mars and the term of fear in a apocalyptic world with ho tomorrow. Songs pass by like the final chapter of a book of suffering, telling without a pity about a devastating dystopia leading to its final downfall. Strange, confusing and uneasy interludes give us some breaks, just to make us think about the unspeakable horrors in this universe. Rarely any album has been that intense and atmospheric, created such a tension and leaded us to such a dramatic climax, just to let us in doubt, depression and fear as the apocalypse has approached but not yet passed in the end. This is no easy stuff!
It is difficult to mention so called "highlights" in a conceptual album like this which works as a whole one. Some songs even just work in this context and that is maybe one of the reasons why the band's concerts at that time weren't much successful. How can you recreate such an atmosphere and play such songs on stage? The only song which also works as a song itself is "Forlorn", the intense final chapter of pain and despair of this album with the most addicting chorus. The bonus song "M-Body", the bands first collaboration with Jason Newsted, is also a little bit more harmonic and easier to listen to. The second bonus track "Twenty first century schizoid man", a King Crimson cover, has been used on a few radio stations to promote the album and honours a great band and a milestone album and one of Voivod's main influences in the last years. The song has been adapted to Voivod's new and inhuman style without losing the uniqueness and charm of the original version, this band really has the talent to do reinterpretations and cover songs in a stunning and very personal approach.
The title song "Phobos" is somehow a summary of the album with its spherical shredding guitar play from another dimension and the crazy, inhuman screams out of nowhere mixed with weird and eerie sound effects. It is perfectly logical to make this song the title track. This song is the preview, the album is the entire movie, the bonus songs are the director's cut. If you like the song "Phobos", you must listen to the whole creation. If you are a newbie and want to get a good idea of the album, try this song first.
Voivod creates a dystopian, spacey, aggressive metal out of any category. This has nothing to do with the band's thrash and punk roots or the progressive works a few years ago, you can maybe best compare it to the previous "Negatron" but there are still world between those two records. Voivod don't care about expectations or trends, they offer really heavy and inaccessible stuff which causes you headaches and vertigo when you listen to it for the first time. This album doesn't give you any long break, the dystopian and disharmonic atmosphere is never broken and you get constantly addicted to it until it is too late to escape.
This album could be too much for you. It may disturb you, it may depress you, mix you up. You may not often be in the mood to listen to this albums. But if you are, you will adore this true masterpiece.
This is not just music, it is surreal art, it is a strange game play, it is about existential emotions. The unholy and suicidal atmospheres which most of the black metal bands try to create are nothing in comparison to this album.
The album is like a good old wine, the more you listen to it, the more you will like it and get drowned into it after a first shocking and disturbing experience. But as good old wine, too much of it may make you lose your mind. Don't underestimate this album - it is INTENSE!
This is by far one of my most favorite industrial/thrash albums ever. Though I have not heard any of this band's previous albums and have seen rather bad ratings given to them, I've decided to download this one and was quite impressed. I like how these guys combined industrial/electronic sounds in the background with thrash riffs that can induce a nice headbanging and doomy riffs that can be a rather subliminal combination when mixed in with the electronics. Thus, this whole album makes me feel like I'm lost in an alien world while banging my head to the thrashier moments present. Even the lyrics reflect this. For example, read the lyrics of the songs "Bacteria" and the title track. Oh and did I mention that the singer sings with a combination of death vocals and robotic/alien-sounding vocals?
My top favorite tracks so far are the title track Phobos, Bacteria, The Tower(one of the more thrashier tracks), Mercury, Quantum, and Forlon. Though the other ones that are not mentioned are also quite nice. The Tower so far is the track I listen to most. What I find pretty damn tight in this song is of course the riffs that go on as Eric sings:
Hear the sound,
Burn in his half-world hell!!
User of the dead hand!
Well the lyrics don't make the best of sense but they're just as cool as how Eric sings them and as the thrash riffs that accompany them. Also, several songs in this album mention a character named "Anark." Who the fuck is Anark? That leads me to guess that this is some kind of concept album telling some wierd sci-fi story. Whatever, that's not too important so long as I think this album is pretty damn enjoyable.
As for the King Crimson cover "21st Century Schizoid Man," well I don't really care for this one. It just sounds a bit too much like the original.
Well so far this is an album I can reccomend if you are into anything that has industrial and thrash in it. These Voivod guys made an original effort here but I'd still reccomend Scarve's Luminiferous album, the newest No Return album, or some Fear Factory over this. I gave it an 85 because it's not completely a thrash album and much less of Slayer or Dark fucking Angel-styled thrash. Still this is an album worth checking out.