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Canadian eccentrics Voivod return here on good form, with an album that is accessible in the same way ‘Angel Rat’ and ‘The Outer Limits’ were. Yet it retains a complexity and discordance that is in tow with ‘Dimension Hatross’ and ‘Nothingface’, albeit more with a more compact and contemporary twist.
This has always been to their advantage; as many speed metal bands of the 80′s became accessible for the purpose of more commercial appeal, Voivod were able to retain a vitality in their output that didn't shift as many copies as ‘The Black Album’ or ‘Countdown To Extinction’, but retained its cutting edge without any of the watering down.
Always moving with the times, yet always keeping heads above water, ‘Target Earth” continues the bands fixation towards science fiction concepts, having a similar musical approach that could be compared to Killing Joke’s more recent work. The crunchy production job also echoes this influence, made prominent by the loud, upfront drums of Away, who is quite high up in the mix.
Whilst the guitars swirl a cosmic vacuum upfront, Blacky’s bass is thankfully thrown up in the mix and given plenty of room to breath, as well as plenty of short intervals in which to accentuate itself, whilst the ghostly and surreal French-Canadian croon/snarl of Snake narrates, guides and glues each song together.
Daniel Mongrain is an excellent addition to the band on guitar, and whilst his form of guitar playing is consistent with that of Piggy’s, it is not imitative. Capturing a similar disjointedness and staccato as his predecessor, there is an excellent transition between riffs and imaginative solo playing. A fluidity not unlike what one would hear on Obliveon’s ‘From This Day Forward’ or Supuration’s ‘The Cube’ is present here, but with more angular chord playing.
Particular highlights include the opening title track, the excellent ‘Mechanical Mind’ and the psychedelic ‘Empathy For The Enemy’. To the uninitiated, ‘Target Earth’ might take a couple of spins to work any of its wonder, though will surely satisfy devotees of the band, as it works the different points of their catalogue into a cohesive whole.
A decent start to 2013.
In 2005, the metal world had to bear some terrible news; Denis "Piggy" D'Amour of Voivod had passed away from cancer. It was a crippling blow to Voivod. Their driving force, the one that gave them creative ideas and kept the band's creative juices flowing was no longer with them. It would only mean the imminent demise of the band, and fans would have had held their heads down saying "There goes another one, just like Death". But as it turns out, Voivod's story had a happier ending. They would recruit Daniel "Chewy" Mongrain of the death metal band Martyr and soldier on with him at the creative helm. The result was 2013's "Target Earth", an album that came out of the blue and gave fans a sense of the renewal and rebirth of Voivod.
You would think that replacing a guitarist that was completely ahead of his time would not be a good decision on the band's part, but Chewy really had an idea of what Piggy would have written had he still been with them. He must have studied his work real hard, cos he knew what diminished and augmented chords and arpeggios were when he joined Voivod. He incorporated those techniques into the music, making it sound as if Piggy never even left. Songs like "Kluskap O'Kom" and "Kaliedos" sound so much like Piggy's work, it would do him real proud. Those are diminished and augmented chords in there, alright, they're part of Voivod's signature sound. "Target Earth" doesn't sound like it was made by any other band, it sounds like Voivod did it. Chewy is also a specialist in jazz guitar, so Voivod's sound might not have been so hard for him to perfect. You can hear the jazz influence in the music too, especially in the title track before the solo. The bizarre chord patterns, jazz influence, and science fiction lyrics all fit together nicely, showing that the space adventure of the Voivod shall continue on to more distant galaxies.
The album also marked another major change in the band's lineup. Gone is Jason Newstead, who had been with the band throughout the '90s and 2000's, and in comes Jean-Yves "Blacky" Thériault. His booming bass guitar work can be heard in parts of the title track, as well as the interlude of "Kluskap O'Kom" and the intro of "Warchaic", all songs that greatly benefited from Blacky's return. Blacky knew Voivod's sound well, as he was a founding member of the band that had known it better than Newstead, so I guess that adds to Voivod's rejuvination in "Target Earth". Also part of Voivod's signature sound are the progressive elements. There might not be as many time signature changes in many of the songs as there were in songs on Voivod's earlier efforts. There are approximately two to three different tempos in "Kluskap O'Kom" and "Warchaic" only had one or three, whereas "Macrosolutions to Megaproblems" on their "Dimension Hatross" album had more than five. It might not be much to take away from the band's sound, but the change is still somewhat noticeable. Voivod also did a song on here done entirely in French, as they are from Montreal; "Corps etranger". Since I took German in high school, I have absolutely no idea what Snake is singing in that one. Regardless of that, it's still a pretty ripping song that still holds true to Piggy's guitar work from the past.
"Target Earth" is proof that a band cannot always be brought down by the passing of a founding member, even if he or she contributed much to the band's sound. Voivod may have had a close call, since Piggy was one of the few people on this planet who knew the band's sound better than everybody else. He did, after all, create it. But they have made the wise decision to continue with a guitarist who would be familiar with the sound, and that decision paid off. Because of this, the book has never closed on Voivod, and it will continue to bring Piggy's style further into the 21st century and beyond.
Bands don't often get a second chance at glory. In fact, most bands don't even get a first shot. They record material, get signed by a label, get a few accolades (if the music is solid), then fade into relative obscurity. Very few bands rise above their peers to make their mark. Voivod did just that in the late 1980's with 3 progressively (pardon the pun) more exciting albums in a row. First was "Killing Technology", which kept the thrash aesthetic of the previous releases but added more technical, angular riffing. Next came "Dimension Hatross", which tightened the new approach and expanded upon its predecessor. Finally, there was "Nothingface", which took the ideas of "Dimension Hatross" and created an atmosphere all its own, combined with an excellent melodic approach that birthed what is arguably the band's best album. So when original vocalist Denis "Snake" Belanger" left the band after 1993's "The Outer Limits" release, some thought that would be the end of Voivod. But they emerged as a 3-piece with new bassist/vocalist Eric Forest and re-visited the more aggressive thrash days of yore, while keeping much of the sci-fi element and not forsaking the progressive elements that brought them to the front of the scene. When "Snake" came back to the band and they put out their eponymous 2003 album 10 years after his departure, it seemed as though they were moving in the right direction. Tragedy struck the band, however, when original guitarist Denis "Piggy" D'Amour was diagnosed (a 2nd time) with cancer, and after battling with it a few years, finally gave up the ghost in 2005. He left his band-mates enough guitar tracks and song ideas for 2 albums worth of material, but fans once again feared the reinvigorated band would die.
Enter guitarist Dan "Chewy" Mongrain in 2008 to help the band along during a number of live shows in support of the "Katorz" and up-coming "Infini" album material to pay tribute to the band's fallen comrade. Something happened during his time with the band, however, and he gelled with them more than I suspect any of them would have guessed. Dan's style was modeled after Piggy's playing, and his playing fit the band like a glove. A live album in 2009 solidified Chewy's playing as a component of a once again revitalized Voivod, and now 4 years later we have what should permanently cement Chewy as a full-fledged member of the Voivod family in the album "Target Earth", the band's first release of truly new, collaborative material since 2003's self-titled release.
There was a bit of buzz leading up the album's release, hailing it as a triumphant return to form, a return to the "classic" Voivod sound, and the best thing they'd done in years, etc. That kind of talk gets thrown around a lot when an old band makes a new album, and it's usually just shop talk. When the rubber meets the road, however, the old dogs don't often deliver on the promise of "returning to their roots". Voivod, however, has recorded one of the most fulfilling and listenable albums of their career without sounding as though they're repeating themselves too much. It's a sort of return to the "golden era" of the band's sound and style, without sounding like a rehash, also without forsaking the other material they've released. So what you get is a decidedly heavy Voivod album that sounds a whole lot like the triumvirate of "Killing Technology" through "Nothingface" with doses of the thrash from the first 2 albums and later Eric Forest material, as well as some of the more groove-oriented stuff present from "Voivod" forward. It's an excellent summation of the total Voivod sound. Need more to whet your appetite? Read on.
For me personally, as a long-time Voivod fan and proponent that "Nothingface" is the band's strongest work, what had been missing for a long time was the angular, jazz-inspired riffing that used interesting time signatures and unique (for metal, anyway) chording. That was part of what separated Voivod from the rest of the pack, and helped put them in a league all their own. After E-Force's tenure with Voivod ended and Snake returned to the fold, I never quite felt that they recaptured that approach. That doesn't mean they didn't have some good riffs, because they did. "Voivod" was a strong record, and "Katorz" had some interesting ideas, but the overall feel of Piggy's riffs didn't match the strange sci-fi atmosphere the band had created years before. And though Jason Newstead provided solid bass work during his time with the group, it didn't match the more nimble and interesting playing of original bassist Jean-Yves "Blacky" Theriault. So with the band back together in its original form, save for Chewy in place of Piggy, the sound has come much more full circle and recalls a more atmospheric and "spacey" feel that the band had lost somewhat in the last 15+ years.
Unlike the occasionally sparse atmosphere of "Nothingface", "Target Earth", by contrast, is far more dense and immediate. This record is never suffocating, but the almost constantly pulsing bass and propulsive drumming of Michael "Away" Langevin provide a slightly more evenly paced affair than "Nothingface". The guitar sound has been brought into modern times as well, recalling and touching on the sound of previous albums, but having a nice weighty tone to it. Chewy's riffing sounds like a late 1980's Piggy with modern production, which I'm sure is what he was aiming for, and the whole band sounds hungry, as if they know they're not going to be around forever and the amount of time they have left to bring the metal is limited. In short, Voivod sounds as if they know this is the best set of songs they've recorded in years, and they're strutting their stuff because they know they have a winner on their hands.
As I hinted at in the last paragraph, instrumentation sounds great here. Chewy's guitar sounds a lot like Piggy did on "Nothingface" but with a bit more beef to it, and Blacky's bass has that nice rumble we've come to expect from him, just with a bit more presence due to the production. Away sounds as good as ever behind the drums (how is he so nimble at his age?), with lots of powerful double bass drumming, snappy snare hits and fills, and crashing cymbals when need be, but his usual dynamics present when the song needs something a bit more subtle. And Snake is in near top form here, with a good combination of his more gritty approach utilized on recent records and on the band's early material, and the more melodic singing/droning he developed in the mid-late 80's and beyond. The production itself is spot-on as well, with good separation of instruments and giving everything just enough room to breathe without sacrificing that dense atmosphere I mentioned earlier.
With everything that they've done right, what's not to like here? My concerns are mostly minor, honestly, so mileage may vary with others. The final track, "Defiance" feels like a bit of a throwaway, because it's basically a 1-minute instrumental intro, followed by the start of something that fades out shortly after, resulting in a minute-and-a-half track that closes out the album fairly clumsily. My only suspicion is that Voivod is "pulling a Marvel", essentially giving us a hint of how the next album is going to start by giving us a taste at the end of the current release. Be that as it may, it's still a bit distracting after an album of such great material. The cover art has also been a source of frustration for many fans. Away has done all the Voivod art over the years, and while it hasn't always been top-shelf ("Phobos" or "Kronik" come to mind), this feels quite amateurish. My final gripe is far more personal, in that, I wish Snake utilized a bit more of the melodic approach to his vocals than the grittier voice, but the heavier nature of the material on the record suited the grittier approach throughout much of the album, so that's simply a preferential thing for me as a fan of his voice.
All in all, this is a very strong record, and indeed, statement from Voivod that they're not going to just go away now that Piggy is no more. Piggy's memory lives on in the minds of fans like myself, and Voivod has done him proud by making a record worthy of his legacy. Chewy should be awful proud of himself for striking that balance between aping Piggy and providing his own take on the Voivod sound. "Target Earth" is a clear victory for the band, and it's my hope that enough fans took notice of this album that the members of Voivod are invigorated and energized so they can go back and write more material for us. If "Target Earth" is any indication of the caliber of material we can expect from them in the future, we're in for a treat. If it wasn't already evident, let me be perfectly clear. Voivod is back, and are here to stay.
Originally posted on MetalFRO's Musings:
Proving themselves to be as indestructible as one of the many futuristic creations to have graced the cover of a Voivod album, the genuinely legendary Canadians continue their elaborate progressions on their 13th album in glorious fashion. "Target Earth" marks the beginnings of a new phase in the band's tumultuous 30-year career - a history which matches the peaks and troughs of metal's journeys through 80's glory to 90's wilderness and back, before the recent coming together of three-quarters the original line-up - this is the first album of new material written without the left-over riffs of tragically departed guitarist Piggy. Those boots are filled by Dan 'Chewy' Mongrain and boy does he do well; his fractious thrashing riffing in "Kluskap O'Kom" is a stunning reminder that despite all the band's proggy tendencies there lies a thrash band at it's core. Consider too the Discharge-bred punk overtones in "Corps Étranger" and "Resistance" or his jumpy chord structures in "Kaleidos" as just two examples of how well his work has settled in here.
What of the rest of the band? Snake on vocals veers from punky snarl to thrash packleader with continued aplomb. The more destructive sound to his vocals may be lost along with the most visceral qualities of the band's 80s output but he does a fine job in leading the band's inimitable style. In Away and Blacky on drums and bass, the rhythm section as heard in "Warchaic" and the title track bring to mind two other of thrash's elder, progressive entities: Coroner and Watchtower, both of whom one felt could do away with the guitars and vocals and still be worth listening to. Let's not forget though how Mongrain's lead soloing in said title track bristles with the character and spice of Watchtower's Bobby Jarzombek, just before you thought I was pining for the removal of his instrument.
Far from ever being the all-out thrash band Voivod are not afraid to slow the pace through moments of "Empathy for the Enemy" and "Warchaic". This diversity and the extreme competence of all ten tracks goes to make "Target Earth" a very listenable release and serves as a fitting reminder to the outlandish brilliance that Voivod bring to metal. Our musical world would be a poorer place without their unique visions.
Originally written for www.Rockfreaks.net
Bands are obviously a group effort, with equal measures of importance being placed upon each member. However some bands do or have had members whose influence on the band as a whole has been undeniably huge, and whose imprint will forever be left on the bands legacy. When you lose that member then, it can be hard to move on. Sometimes it works. AC/DC brought in Brian Johnson to replace Bon Scott after his death in 1980, and while they’ve yet to release anything that matches up to their 70’s material they have managed to cement their place as one of the most revered rock bands to have ever existed. Black Sabbath replaced Ozzy Osbourne with Ronnie James Dio, whose presence sent their sound spiraling into exciting new directions that rejuvenated what was at the time a failing band into once again an enormous juggernaut of heavy metal. It can be unsuccessful however. For example Fear Factory’s decline into mediocrity after the departure of Dino Cazares was only halted by his return, and while Tim “Ripper” Owens-era Judas Priest did have its great moments, they only truly returned to their rightful place as metal gods when Rob Halford rejoined the band. With some bands, such as Suicide Silence who recently lost their vocalist Mitch Lucker to a motorcycle accident, it is yet to be seen how and if they recover. So an important question about French Canadian progressive thrash legends Voivod’s 2013 release “Target Earth” is how they have managed to fare without Denis “Piggy” D’Amour.
From the very beginning, Piggy’s unique and innovative guitar style was at the very core of Voivod’s sound. Starting out as a straight up thrash metal group, in the late 1980’s they took a turn for more technical and progressive territory with albums such as 1988’s “Dimension Hatröss” and 1989’s seminal “Nothingface”. Even during the 1990’s when half of the line up left, namely bassist Blacky and vocalist Snake, replaced by bassist/vocalist Eric Forrest, and their sound became heavier and more industrial-influenced, Piggy’s guitar work continued to guide Voivod along a path of musical individuality and exploration. In the early 2000’s when Snake returned and ex-Metallica bassist Jason Newsted replaced Eric Forrest, a self-titled album was released, which transpired to be the last Voivod album released during Piggy’s lifetime. In 2005 Piggy died of colon cancer, and Voivod’s future was plunged into uncertainty. While two more albums, 2006’s “Katorz” and 2009’s “Infini”, featured Piggy on guitar as the band used riffs he had recorded before he died, the job of filling Piggy’s shoes fell to Martyr guitarist/vocalist Daniel Mongrain, adopting the pseudonym of Chewy for Voivod. While he joined in 2008, “Target Earth” is the first time he has featured on a Voivod studio recording, and happily, judging by this album, the story of Voivod’s career post-Piggy is one of the success stories.
Right from the get-go, it becomes clear that not only is Chewy the perfect replacement for Piggy, but that this is the best album the band have recorded for years, and is right up there with “Nothingface”. This album is full of everything that made Voivod exciting. Songs like “Mechanical Mind” and “Warchaic” follow the interesting song progressions that made Voivod’s classic releases such engaging albums, and the production too is superb. Unsurprisingly the musicianship is also infallible. Snake’s vocals are as good as ever, having a raw and visceral tone to them that was mainly absent before, and the rhythm section of returning bassist Blacky and drummer Away is tight and aggressive, providing the perfect framework for Chewy’s guitar to launch the album into the stratosphere. Chewy proves himself to be more than up to the job of replacing Piggy, his style obviously being highly influenced by his masterful predecessor. The songs too are stunning, as engaging and memorable yet progressive as the best songs from “Nothingface” or “Killing Technology”, ranging from the spiralling and pulsating title track to the furious riff-driven thrash of “Kluskap O’Kom”. “Target Earth” is a triumph for everyone involved, a stunning rebirth for one of metal’s most loved and influential bands. RIP Piggy, long live Voivod.
Voivod are back in force with a new guitarist called Daniel "Chewy" Mongrain who honours the heritage of the deceased Denis "Piggy" d'Amour for the very first time on a studio record. In fact, he almost appears as some sort of a reincarnation of that unforgettable and unique guitar player and his skills sound almost exactly like those of his biggest idol. Old school Voivod fans might be pleased and surprised by this talented continuation but I was rather hoping for a new and fresh touch as the new band member somewhat fails to add his own approach and identity to the sound. As I also know his previous band "Martyr" that plays a quite addicting progressive variation of death metal quite well, I'm aware of the fact that some interesting influences could have been added to make this new release really stand out. But maybe these elements will come into play in the near future and this was only a save call to integrate the new member to the band and the fans which has been very successfull in my opinion.
This is probably the only flaw of the great "Target Eart" record: Voivod don't try out something completely new and rather play a mixture of their classic stuff in the vein of "Killing Technology" (like the progressive but also agressive "Mechanical Mind"), "Dimension Hatröss" (as in the album highlight "Corps Étranger" that is performed in French which is at least something completely new for the band and which works very well even though Denis "Snake" Bélanger's French is as hard to understand as his English) and "Nothingface" (as in the diversified progressive anthem "Empathy For The Enemy" that has a few laid back passages and an oriental sounding folk opening which makes this song my favourite one on the release). The lyrical topics also haven't changed a lot and still turn around science-fiction topics apart of the song "Resistance" that is clearly inspired by the student protests in the streets of the province of Quebec that had shaken up the population in the first half of 2012. Apart of the quite similar approaches in "War And Pain" and "Rrröööaaarrr!!!" as well as the last release "Infini" that had something like a compilation status, this is the first time that Voivod don't progress their sound to try out something new but rather head back to their roots.
Despite this little flaw, all members are giving excellent performances. First of all, the drum play of Michel "Away" Langevin is diversified and energizing as always. The guitar play by Daniel "Chewy" Mongrain has the same high signature standard as the play of his predecessor. What really stands out is the vivid blower bass play by Jean-Yves "Blacky" Thériault who is back in the band and sounds stronger than ever and clearly better than the slightly overrated Jason Newsted. The vocals of Denis "Snake" Bélanger sound unique as usual but even more variable than before. Even the calmer parts of the atmospheric "Empathy For The Enemy" or the epic "Warchaic" are performed on a high level and remind me of his works on "Angel Rat" or "The Outer Limits" that I appreciate a lot for their progressive vein. This high quality of all four members makes this album a very enjoyable fun ride on a technically nearly perfect level.
There are also a few intriguing new elements and ideas that should take a bigger place on the forthcoming records and that add a fresh touch to the band. The weird throat singing in the punk influenced "Kluskap O'Kom" is a perfect example and the unusual introduction really came as a pleasent surprise to me. The French lyrics in "Corps Étranger" work very well and should maybe be used on a more frequent basis in the future as they are particularly diversified and profound in my opinion. The short album closer "Defiance" works as an appetizer for a similar song on a future release. Even though this idea has somewhat been stolen from Venom, the final result works very well. The track kicks off very promising and one gets almost sad as soon as it ends and can't wait for the things to come in the future. Voivod still have quite a lot to say and never really fail to deliver high quality material.
I might add that many of the new songs sound less complex and intellectualised. The record includes many quite catchy songs as "Kluskap O'Kom", "Empathy For The Enemy", "Warchaic", "Resistance" and "Corps Étrange" which wasn't always the case in the past. This element makes the music more approachable and should make these songs work very well in concert in my opinion. As you can see, even if there are a lot of old patterns that had been used during the song writing, there are still some glimpses of innovation here and there.
Any Voivod fan should immediately grab this release. Anybody who doesn't know the band should buy this album as well as it's a perfect introduction to almost anything the band has done before apart of the early death and thrash metal stuff and the more hard rock inspired millenium releases. If you can, you should grab the limited edition featuring two bonus live tracks as well as an energizing live cut from the 2011 edition of the Roadburn Festival that had only been released on vinyl before. This new release is already an early highlight of the year and as it's almost always the case, I still expect this album to grow on me. I'm happy this band is back and that this new release makes it straight not only into my personal top five records of that unique French Canadian legend.
Voivod really are like a machine in that they keep pumping out consistently high quality products and in doing so have given us the first amazing release of 2013. Until now the year has been cursed and plagued with atrocities such as The Wretched And Divine and the latest hunk of crap thrust upon us by the over-produced mass murderers of good music everywhere Hollywood Undead. That ends with Target Earth, the thirteenth studio album by thrash veterans Voivod. Not only is this a whirlwind of fantastically crafted riffs from new guitarist Daniel Mongrain and a blitzkrieg of varied drumming, but it is also highly consistent across its entire duration which clocks in at just under one hour. This is an unforgettable album that perfectly merges the progressively-oriented thrash styling of Voivod's early releases with more of a commercial nature in the vein of bands such as Judas Priest with their highly catchy vocal lines.
For those expecting a straight to the point, thrashy as hell roller coaster then this is definitely not the album for you. Target Earth has perhaps even more of a progressive bent to its sound than any album the band has put out before, with its frequent tempo changes and riffs that switch quick enough to set off every epileptic kid on planet Earth. The Quebec quartet has really taken their progressive nature overboard with songs such as Mechanical Mind (which also happens to be the longest song on the album). This track packs in so many different riffs and a high level of technical proficiency that it was destined to be an incredible thrash song right from its inception and it really does not let you down with a sound to it that screams "Hi, im Target Earth, I'm here to kick you in the crotch". This song has so many different tempo changes that it is a wonder the members of the band can keep up with some really amazing faster paced riffs and then the slow and plodding category of guitar work that crushes your skull underfoot. This is not a song to be messed with as it really is a highlight in the band's discography and is just one of many reasons why Target Earth is an integral part of any thrashers I-Pod.
The vocal work on this release is something rather special with a varied performance from Denis Belanger that jumps from his higher register to his usual mid-range tones with some occasional lower notes that help him fit in when the songs slow down a little. Kaleidos is a work of art on the vocal frontier with some brilliant jumps from the higher side of his voice to the lower notes providing a feeling of real variety. Something that should be noted right from the get-go with this release is that this is not break neck thrash, being much more mid-paced for the most part which does dive back and forth between the faster speeds the genre is known for and Belanger really fits in well among this seemingly random mixture of tempos, always managing to keep up and till excel no matter what speed the band is playing at. The drumming provides some of the most incredible thrash beats in years with a highly technical performance that never once bores the listener and always sounds absolutely amazing no matter what speed Michel Langevin is playing at.
This is one hell of an album that should have any thrash listener more than ready for the rest of 2013 to see what other gems it has in store for this album really is brilliant. It is a varied thrash album that never sticks to just the standard lightning fast tempos of the genre and instead strives to go that extra way to make it more of a progressive release with a lot of cool tempo changes. The guitar work is sheer madness, the vocals are varied and the drumming is some of the best in the genre. The songs that are recommended are the title track that opens the album up with some great mid-pace riffs, Warchaic with its clever use of progressive song structures to make for an interesting listen and definitely check out Kaleidos for a superb vocal performance.
Originally written for Sputnikmusic.com
For over three decades now, Canadian legends Voivod have been making a name for themselves as one of the most forward-thinking metal bands to ever pick up instruments. Their sci-fi-damaged punk-thrash has never been copied (though some have tried); they are one of those bands that is truly unique in every sense of the word, thanks to the singular musical alchemy created when its individual members come together. That alchemy seemingly came to a tragic end in 2005 when founding guitarist Denis “Piggy” D’Amour passed from this plane of existence due to a bout with thyroid cancer. The band went on to release two albums welded together using riffs D’Amour had recorded prior to his untimely death (2006′s Katorz and 2009′s Infini), but it appeared for all intents and purposes that the warriors of ice were no more in the wake of the loss of their beloved guitarist.
Enter Daniel “Chewy” Mongrain, known for founding respected tech-death band Martyr as well as playing on Gorguts’ final album From Wisdom to Hate. The surviving members of Voivod asked Mongrain to step into the six-string spot for a series of one-off/D’Amour tribute shows, and the success of that collaboration bore fruit far beyond what anyone expected, leading to a fully reactivated band. The end result is Target Earth, Voivod’s first collection of new material since 2009, and to say that it’s a scorcher would be a gross understatement.
Many longtime fans will be pleased to hear that Target Earth is the most metal-sounding thing Voivod have done since 1997′s Phobos. While the last few albums were enjoyable slabs of hard rock littered with the band’s trademark spaced-out weirdness, Target Earth is a heavier, more aggressive undertaking. This may be the result of Mongrain’s influence, or perhaps due to the return of original bassist Jean-Yves “Blacky” Thériault. Mongrain’s playing recalls Piggy’s off-kilter axe-work, but brings a ferocity and forcefulness to the table that wasn’t always present on latter-day Voivod recordings. Blacky’s patented “blower bass” tone was an intergral part of early Voivod, and nothing against Jason Newsted (or Eric Forrest for that matter), but it’s nice hearing that trademark low-end gnarliness back in the mix.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Target Earth is the most cohesive and well-written batch of songs the group has penned since re-convening with original vocalist Denis “Snake” Belanger (who sounds great here, BTW) back in 2002. Granted, it might be unfair to judge this album against Katorz and Infini due to their patchwork nature, but the band does sound legitimately re-energized and rejuvenated on tracks like the epic “Mechanical Mind,” the punk-fueled “Kluskap O’Kom,” or the spacey yet rocking “Kaleidos.” Each and every track here has it’s own unique character, but each track is also unquestionably Voivod. It’s as if the band cherry-picked the best aspects of their various sonic eras and combined them into one album.
Ultimately, Target Earth is many things; a testament to the surviving members’ resolve, a tribute to their fallen friend, and the first great metal album of 2013. But most of all it’s a new beginning, full of possibilities as vast as the multiverse, and a chance for metal’s original post-apocalyptic warlords to once again evolve, grow and conquer. Voivod lives.
Originally written for That's How Kids Die.com
You'd have to have engaged on a long-distance space mission, beyond communications range, over this past year or so to have avoided the veritable shit-storm of hype Voivod has gotten since announcing their new guitarist Daniel Mongrain (who had previously been filling in for them at live gigs), announcing their new album, and then releasing a number of live video clips and inevitably samples, met by many eager fans with a swath of enthusiasm. I doubt the Canadians had experienced such a wave of good vibrations (in terms of their musical output, at least) since the mid 90s, and all indicators were stacking up to their 13th full length Target Earth as a rousing success before the album dropped. As usual, when a band hints of returning to a beloved era of productivity to reinvigorate itself, there's this incredibly vocal (online) minority which suddenly comes to life, praising the latest opus as the greatest work of their career, denouncing everything the band has done since the 80s (even if, ironically, many of the people doing so were not even alive or listening to the band then), bada bing bada boom, queue the gross hyperbole and exaggerations for six weeks until the next object of internet lust arrives at the precipice...
Now, granted, that's fucking life, and I'd have better luck pissing into the exhaust of a jet engine than trying to shut myself away from it all. In truth, as a long term raving Voivod lunatic myself, there are few other bands in the world which deserve such a break, and I only pray that this time the world at large can wake up to what it's been missing as early as the 80s. I am, frankly, ECSTATIC that so many people are enjoying the music of this stunning band, and that they've managed to produce their first work without the beloved Denis D'Amour (aka Piggy), while honoring those musical techniques and songwriting aesthetics that counted him among the most unique guitarists in thrash (or any metal, really). But this comes with some degree of caution. Contrary to a lot of comments I've read, Target Earth is not a 'comeback' album. Dark Roots of Earth was not a comeback album. Ironbound was not a goddamn comeback album. The existence of this album does not suddenly counteract or overwrite its predecessors, opening a black hole to swallow them unto oblivion. Does Target Earth retrofit more of Voivod's later 80s thrash qualities than the 6-7 works leading up to it? Undoubtedly, and it does so without entirely Xeroxing itself from their Golden Age of 1987-1993. But is it perfect? Is it the best album evar (until six weeks from now). Absolutely, resoundingly not.
It IS a pretty damn satisfying new link in the Canadians' chain, but that's coming from someone who has found nearly every Voivod studio album (excepting Negatron) to range from greatness to perfection. I enjoyed the softening of the band's spacey core through Nothingface and Angel Rat. The nightmarish evolution of Phobos. The simplified, stratified rock out of the eponymous 2003 effort, which approached the band's punkish roots from a different angle, and was later honed through the superior Katorz. Hell, I still listen to those albums when highway cruising and love to imagine myself speeding along a wormhole. I had no problem with any of that material, and even with the posthumous Piggy riffing of Infini, it felt like a fresh rendering of Katorz concepts backwards into an even more science fictional mold. With Target Earth, I've definitely been feeling a heavy Dimension Hatross vibe, threaded with some warmer and more harmonious elements from the band's 1989-1991 material. Not so much of a reinvention or 'step forward', apart from the obvious confirmation of personnel, but more as if the band took a time machine back to 1988 and then, from that album, opened a dimensional portal somewhere other than Nothingface.
The very idea of that gets me giddy, for sure, but ultimately this material seems slightly inconsistent, and short of a new masterpiece. But that's not to deny the labor of love here, or the array of strengths Target Earth has its disposal. The question on everyone's mind: how does Daniel Mongrain fit into this picture? After all, he's got such rare shoes to fill, but he's fully on board here, first with the appropriate nickname 'Chewy', and then a selection of riffs and techniques that fit D'Amour's style pretty snugly. Plus, he's obviously a pretty huge metal nerd and has stamped his territory not only with Martyr, but with a number of Canadian's most popular extreme metal acts (Cryptopsy, Gorguts), even in just a live capacity. I doubt there was a better choice possible, in fact, with the caveat that the tunes here really only give us faint traces of what he'll bring to the table in the future, assuming Voivod moves forward. Most of the chord configurations, grooves and Rush-like mechanical progressions could more or less be conjoined with half the tracks of Hatross and I'd be hard pressed to tell the difference, but I think his own personality comes through in the zippier leads, or a few of the crisper, almost speed/thrash metal licks that provide a busy contrast to the usual expectations.
But, despite the excellence of tracks like "Kluskap O'Kom", "Mechanical Mind" and "Resistance", it is not Mongrain who I was most impressed with through this hour of material, but rather Blacky and Snake. The former is in fine form, returning us to the buzzing grooves that were so prevalent and important on the 1988 and 1989 masterworks; a departure from Newsted's strong arming lines on records like Katorz (which I enjoyed for its own reasons), but then what else would we expect? Jean-Yves Thériault has long been a rock for this band, whenever he's appeared, and there's no reason to have doubted that his long awaited, 'official' return to this fold would pan out. Not to mention, he's already got experience playing alongside Mongrain (as a guest on Martyr's Feeding the Abscess), so the pairing is natural. If any one musician here is expanding upon past performances, though, it's Denis Bélanger, who seems to have burst from some ambiguous haze of the past three records, and offers a sharper and more seasoned inflection with some warmer tones and melodies than just the typical post-punk petulance. All the swirling psychedelic and progressive rock influences circa Angel Rat or Nothingface are still there, but there's just something more matured and refined about his delivery, without abandoning the anger and energy requisite to remaining a record rooted in thrash.
I suppose I should talk at length about Away's drumming, but truthfully it was the least standout element of the album for me, probably because he just does his usual pretty damn good job of peppy rock rhythms and lavishly anchors the more proggy, jamming, mathematical tempos. It's simply never at the fore of Target Earth's curiosities. As for his cover art, a bit of a letdown. I do dig this more cartoony logo, but the artwork looks very digital comic, simply not as detailed or mysterious as Dimension Hatross or Killing Technology. In spirit, it's got the spikes, the alien raygun, and a few floaty drone bots, but even the central figure looks a little disinterested in what's going on. The lyrics are decently written, somewhere between the campier sci fi approach of The Outer Limits and the more social and environmentally centered philosophical and political rantings and ravings of the s/t or Katorz (like the gasmask-punk of "Resistance"). Nothing so unified, cryptic or compelling as Nothingface, and I for one would have appreciated this retrogression of aesthetics to include the lyrics themselves, but these are at least pretty relevant to our beloved human condition, not short on effort, and substantial in their imagery. I dug the duality of the title track, which I expected to be about an alien invasion but really seemed to be about the potential danger of megalomaniac computer hackers.
In terms of songwriting, I felt as if there were a handful here with something quite compelling beneath them, and then the rest were more or less filling out the track list with a modicum of style and a few interesting gimmicks. "Kluskap O'Kom" is addictive, with a great, haunting chord pattern, nice escalated mutes that make you feel like you're on the edge of something alien, larger than life, and then the great use of the backing, percussive gang shouts that don't sound similar to any they've used in the past. Not to mention, they pack better riffs into this 4 and a half minute piece than most of the longer tracks that dominate the record. "Mechanical Mind" is also killer, from the quirky opening ambient/noise elements to the total Dimension Hatross styled structure. "Resistance" rocks your fucking gasmask off, and "Empathy for the Enemy" builds an excellent, atmospheric gap between "Kluskap" and "Mechanical" (for a straight shot of about 17 minutes of almost pure brilliance). Elsewhere, I wasn't too impressed. "Warchaic" has a nice melody and rhythm, but the riffs are largely just paraphrased from earlier Voivod tunes; even the later vocal harmonies seem like an attempt to just reinvent the patterns on "Astronomy Domine".
Then there are those like "Target Earth", with a nice little thrash hook in the verse rhythm but not much else happening, and no good chorus to speak of. The song in French, "Corps Étranger" has these two killer riffs, but never really reaches the climax I was anticipating, and the outro "Defiance" is not a healthy way to pad out an album for 90 seconds. A few of the transitions on the album feel rather slammed together, which is distracting, but only an occasional issue. Target Earth probably has one of the cleanest productions in the band's entire discography, with an appreciable balance of atmospherics and pure riffing, and each instrument occupying its own, audible place in the mix. I might miss some of the bulkier guitars of the last few albums, but those were likely the result of how they had to record the music without Piggy available. Voivod did a pretty impressive job producing it themselves, and I was happy to see they got another Canadian thrash veteran, Pierre Rémillard (of Obliveon) to record the music. Fuck, had they reserved a few guest spots for 'Lips', Dave Carlo, Lord Worm and Gordon 'Piledriver' Kirchin, and maybe replaced "Defiance" with a Sacrifice cover, this album could have been credited Canada vs. the Daleks and no one would have been the wiser. Maple leafs and death rays aplomb.
Surprisingly, though Target Earth is without question a more intricate, coherent and balanced experience than its predecessor Infini, I found myself enjoying it just a fraction less. So you'll have to forgive me if I'm not about to jump on the wagon of 'best album of the year' accolades when there is so much yet to come. It has proven to me that Voivod can continue to exist post-Piggy, and not only exist, but thrive. It's got a handful of tunes I'd certainly place on the career highlight reel, and it's well worth every cent I paid for it. But I don't really view it as this triumphant 'comeback', the Canadians riding through the streets of Montreal on chariots with robot horses pulling them and plastic-gowned future Québécoise with Rutger Hauer haircuts showering Voivod with holographic confetti. Target Earth is more about perseverance in the face of the impossible, and about old dogs hitting rewind before applying new tricks. I ask myself: how often has Voivod ever failed me? Not bloody often, and certainly not this time. So dust off the maser cannons, drag out the anti-aircraft missile arrays, test the silo doors, and keep your radars fixed on the sky. We are not alone, and I don't think they're friendly.
The latest Voivod CD, Target Earth, has to be one of the most anticipated releases in recent years. Sure, Infini was released only back in 2009, but for whatever reason Voivod is one of those bands that just solicits fanaticism with each release. A lot of people might have thought that with Piggy's passing the band would and should just call it a day, but such is not the case, and happily so.
Anyone familiar with the later years of Voivod's career knows full well that the all-in thrash assault of the early years is left to antiquity and nostalgia nowadays, but that matters very little when hearing an album of such fine quality like Target Earth. The album opens with “Target Earth”, a groovy metal romp through the fray of the accepted lines of progressive-singed metal. I really liked it, especially the chorus which is sort of ethereal and quite memorable. When “Kluskap O'Kom” emerges it's really apparent that Voivod is pulling out all the expected stops and is bent on creating a sort of proggy/metal hybrid that switches gears and tempos in the blink of a bleeding eye and tramples the anticipatory reservations of the fan base. The thickness of that ugly bass sound adds such a perfect element to the album's sound, and the jazzy feel to some of the lines makes the underlying base all the more enjoyable.
The initial single “Mechanical Mind” left me quite excited for the entire record to hit, especially after hearing how the band seems to, yet again, mix and match sounds and tones to an almost nonsensical brilliance. I actually had one friend comment that the sound is about as close as alternative can come to metal without actually going completely over to the 'dark side'. While I've long considered metal music to be the true alternative music if for nothing else the definition of the word alone, I can see the point and comparison. By no means is this 'alternative' in the media sense of the term, but I can see a broader audience enjoying some of the tracks on Target Earth; now, whether that's good or bad is entirely up to the listener and fan to process, but Voivod is still Voivod and reaching a less-informed audience can't always be a bad thing. This isn't your father's Metallica, after all.
“Resistance” is one of my favorite tracks from the album, followed closely by “Artefact”, which is unforgivably heavy and possesses that thick bass line I mentioned before that rumbles underneath like a belching fault line. I'm not entirely sure how any fan of Voivod can be disappointed in Target Earth; this is the total package in terms of what you should come to expect from the band. The luminous aspect of this album is what makes it so widely enjoyable; the stripped down approach to the music, all the while making it interesting and fresh, is the truly 'artsy' sum of all parts.
I still remember hearing War & Pain way back when and wondering why the band refused to learn to play its instruments correctly, but you know...out of the mouth of babes and all? As that album grew on me over the years for all of its primitive charms, the subsequent output from Voivod seemed to get stronger and better, and this latest record is just another flag for the band's poop deck. For the fan that needs familiarity wrapped inside a fuzzy new fiber, Target Earth provides a fascinating jaunt through the progressive-metal landscape that challenges you to dismiss it as something less than excellence.
(Originally written for www.metalpsalter.com)
My initial thoughts when I first listened to the album was exactly like I've been told before. Mixed feelings. Because certainly, some details pulls us back to Nothingface/Dimension Hatröss, some others picks up the thrash era feeling, with fast paces and harsh vocals, also some of them are drive us to Angel Rat/The Outer Limits and includes new elements. I agree with the statement that the album got heavier and faster in some spots. However, we still can twig that most of the composition points back to 91-97, and yes, you can include Negatron here.
The consistency and steadiness of the songs are remarkably higher. Listening closely, we're able to notice that the progressive properties of the songs individually flows easier and shows some homogeneity. The recording and production seems to be better than Katorz and Infini, maybe because those albums counted on phostumous works from the heretofore composition brain of the band, Denis Piggy (R.I.P. 2005). Even though this is the first Voivod play without Piggy's fingers, it sounds even better than I expected. In fact, maybe prematurely, I'd say that Target Earth is the best one of the last 3 past releases.
The bass guitar seems to be more audible, and the way that the higher pitched notes are brought up in this work is also something that helped the bass guitar to step up and stand out a bit more than the previous works. Its tone looks smooth, but it shows all the time that it can be agressive when the moment fits. Also, it is notably better performed than Infini. Old era thrash oriented double bass are spotted in some songs, those were the the references to the old era that I found more perceptible, along with a little bit higher pitched voices. By the way, on Target Earth, the other Denis - the Snake one - reminds me of Chuck Billy's tones several times during some songs, mainly in the choruses, as we can notice on Resistance or on the song that carries the album title. Yet sometimes its possible to notice some similaties with Jason McMaster's vocals. This is something new in Voivod, I don't remember relating Snake's vocals to any other singer before (Ok, well, on Infini we can perceive some similarities with Lemmy / Kurt Cobain style of singing, its not identical, but recalls them).
The stand out tracks are Mechanical Mind (if you listen closely, there are lots of parts that make reference to Close to the Edge - Yes) and Corps Étranger. A very complete and progressive song, endowed with the fastest paces in the album. Of course I can't fail to mention Empathy for the Enemy and Kluskap O'Kon, song that makes us wonder wether the title is so weird because of the intro or the other way around.
Overall, Target Earth has achieved what it has intended to: not failing without Piggy, and bringing a bunch of songs filled with essence and creativity. The spirit of Voivod remains alive and active, and probably will live on for some more years. It makes me happy that even with all those passed years and now with Piggy's efective absense, Voivod managed to release a trendless, non-comercial, devoid of modern influences and a creative full length album, yet sheltered from the umpteen new *-core stuff that we have been putting up with since the loathsome spawn of the new metal/metalcore/screamo trend.
- David Lago