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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.