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Leave it to Voivod to come up with the gimmick to include 3D glasses with a CD, but that is indeed what happened for the limited edition of the 7th full-length album, the last for MCA records and the first without longtime bassist Blacky. To be honest though, I'd risk being mauled by Martians to get a glimpse of Michael Langevin's artwork, and was not disappointed with the great concept behind the booklet, and lucky to buy that version day one. Like Angel Rat, the songs here each have their own, individual sci-fi concept, many with a more nostalgic tendency than previous albums. So the various 3D graphic panels and the comic book kitsch match up well with their themes, and with the possible exception of deciphering Nothingface, I doubt I've had so much fun with the superficial aspects of a Voivod album.
Of course, they'd be pretty hollow without some damn good music, and The Outer Limits provides plenty of it. God, I remember these days, when I could head out to the store on a release date and pretty much count on my favorite bands to release quality albums, evolution or none. For the Canadians, this would be the last of these, for not only was this Snake's intended swan song with the band, but they'd also lose their major label status. Most people in the 90s were far too busy with alternative rock, hip hop, grunge and hardcore music to really give a fuck about the creative side of the metal spectrum, and Voivod were clearly a casualty of this trend, especially when you consider the buzz they had been generating through the latter half of the prior decade. At the very least, though, The Outer Limits sounds like a lot more push was put behind it than Angel Rat, at least in terms of studio work. This sounds like the last album's more muscular brother, with brighter, mightier guitar tones, and a less psychedelic mix fit for the Saturday Night at the Drive In aesthetic that permeates much of the songwriting.
Similar to "Panorama" or "The Prow", you've got some uplifting, energetic tracks here with a few of the most catchy and accessible choruses the band has ever written, namely the opener "Fix My Heart" and closer "We Are Not Alone", such proud exclamations of joy for the band's lyrical niche that I practically had to restrain myself from crying out in happiness. Piggy's got a lot of flare on this record, almost like he's at long last taking his place as an 80s guitar god, so expect some craziness in both the rhythms and blaring leads, often with a bluesy hue. The Outer Limits is indeed more 'metal' than the two previous albums, but that qualification takes the place of a lot of driving, positive melodies and not so much the murk and groove of a Dimension Hatröss. That said, there are still plenty of creepy moments, or vivid atmospheric tweaks to his performance that it feels like a Voivod, just a Voivod that was cheery to head out the studio and lay these tracks down.
Though he was only a session musician, Pierre St. Jean keeps the bass busy enough that we can forget and forgive the lack of Blacky. The tones are cleaner all around, with less distortion but plenty of low end presence thanks to the higher pitch of the guitars. Drums are very polished here, but more powerfully driven than on Angel Rat, and Snake brings some of that due aggression back from, say, Nothingface. The best moments on this album are admittedly the atmospheric guitar passages reigning cuts like "Moonbeam Rider" and "Jack Luminous", but for 54 minutes, there are few moments worth complaining about. Voivod return to the Pink Floyd cover well with a brazen rendition of "The Nile Song", and while it lacks that hypnotic splendor of "Astronomy Domine", it's nonetheless quite excellent.
The crowning gem, for myself, was the 17 minute epic "Jack Luminous", the tale of a TV-faced invader from beyond the stars who is coming for Earth, and the disenfranchised alien who comes to warn us. First time the band ever attempting such a swollen concept within just one track, and it truly pays off without ever growing dull. Otherwise, you've got plenty of cuts about kitschy, out of this world themes like rocket ships, time travel and, perhaps more ominously, a near abandoned space hulk soaring through the void. This might just stand as one of the band's most professional sounding records, but it's brighter, carefree aspects and looser concepts haven't stood the ages with me like some of its predecessors. That said, it's a Voivod album. A great one. Not much else there sounds like it, and well worth owning, 3D glasses or not.
The Outer Limits is somewhat of a compromise between the complex post-speed metal progressive sound of Nothingface and the pop-styled melodic direction of Angel Rat. It's a fairly even exchange, with about half of the album's material an expansion on the accessible space-rock of Angel Rat and the other half pure progressive metal, including a 17-minute space odyssey in "Jack Luminous", one of Voivod's compositional masterpieces. While The Outer Limits doesn't present any substantial developments in the way of stylistic invention or concept, with all of its experimentation occurring within their previously defined framework, it is thoroughly enjoyable on its own terms due to the brilliant songwriting, spectacular execution, and the band's unique character of expression.
"Fate lights me from within, to the stars I'm fleeing
Earth heeds not my warning, forever sleepwalking... dreaming"
Even in the more complex tracks, infectiously melodic hooks abound. The melodic construction of the songs results in great fluidity of motion and thematic consistency, no matter how divergent they become. This more directly engaging version of Voivod, which essentially results from a more conventional structural leaning, does nothing to minimize their trademark eccentricity, which is an intrinsic quality of this band's creative character.
We see! We're not worried!
We're not going home
They are green and ugly
Or maybe not...but,
They are green and ugly
Who wants to go home?
God! We are so lucky!
We're not alone"
Snake's alien robot voice continuous to grow more expressively dramatic and diverse in more and more melodic arrangements, while Piggy shines throughout with a wealth of spacey guitar textures, clever atmospheric effects, galactic voyage solos, and his distinct use of dissonant melody, sadly missing Blacky's lurking electric bass accompaniment, but not the excellent rhythmic invention and masterfully precise drumming of Away. The album is terrifically produced, sporting a clear and natural sound, relying on the strength of fundamental elements without too much electronic manipulation or elaboration. Though this does not match the thematic gravity of earlier albums, nor is the band striving for the same demonstration of chaos with this comparatively streamlined style, they are still outsiders playing imaginative and captivating music.
Like many of the best bands, Canadian progressive thrash legends Voivod have been known to reinvent their sound with each album. From their beginnings as a more run-of-the mill metal band, Voivod took leaps and bounds into progressive territory with 'Nothingface', a schizoid rockfest which has since become a thrash landmark and one of my favourite albums ever. For the next handful of albums after that, Voivod would continue to change up their sound, and this streak of changes would culminate with 'The Outer Limits', an album which takes the band's science fiction themes to new conceptual heights. Although I cannot say that Voivod's seventh outing has the same unique vibe and charm as their crowning work 'Nothingface', 'The Outer Limits' is an incredible album that tales some time to grow on the listener, and results as an exciting masterpiece from one of the best progressive metal acts ever.
Quite contrary to the proggy, frenetic and unconventional metal riffing I have heard from Voivod in the past, 'The Outer Limits' opens with a deceptively straightforward number, 'Fix My Heart' is the sort of track you would expect to hear from a hard rock band like Deep Purple; a driving rock with bluesy licks and fills. An instantly likable track for those who don't need their metal to be particularly brutal or heavy, the song did not originally hit me as being excellent, but a few listens in convinced me otherwise. Instantly memorable melodies and some excellent straightforward riffage from Denis L'Amour opens 'The Outer Limits' on an exciting note. Things get somewhat more complex and atmospheric from here on in, however.
'Le Pont Noir' was among the first Voivod songs I ever heard years ago that really struck my notice, and in the context of the album, it is even better. Trailing two fairly upbeat-oriented songs, the track is hypnotic, mysterious and eerie. Reminding me often of a metal-oriented sound of The Doors, vocalist Snake's vocals really shine here. He has never been among the more technically accomplished singers, but his voice really works for the sound here, along with much of the music on 'The Outer Limits'.
Perhaps the most notable aspect of 'The Outer Limits' is the seventeen minute epic 'Jack Luminous', which has received otherworldly amounts of praise in the past as being one of the most excellent pieces of progressive metal. Although its quality is evident right from the start, I must say that 'Jack Luminous' is a piece of music that takes several listens to appreciate fully, and is the biggest reason bar none as to why 'The Outer Limits' is a grower piece. Taking a tongue-in-cheek science fiction concept with a keen social commentary and setting it to music, there are plenty of sections to this song, but the melodies are kept strong. One thing that potentially harms the impact of 'Jack Luminous' is that it does not have the same cohesion as a more well-known prog metal epic like '2112' or 'A Change Of Seasons', instead going more down the route of being a musical journey of ideas, with an implied beginning, middle and end. As it stands though, the musical ideas work so well together on the track that it certainly takes its rightful place as being one of Voivod's greatest achievements.
The songwriting on the album is consistently strong, and it may come as a surprise to some that the only potential flop on the album is the Pink Floyd cover of 'The Nile Song', a relatively obscure track from Floyd's 'More'. Although the song does little to deter the rest of the album, it simply does not have the same charm as the earlier Pink Floyd cover of 'Astronomy Domine' that Voivod played on 'Nothingface'.
'The Outer Limits' is arguably Voivod's most mature record, as well as being remarkably consistent throughout. Quite a bit more streamlined and to-the-point as much of the earlier work, this album is a natural development from 'Angel Rat', but really takes Voivod's staple themes of science fiction to greater depths. The album takes a while to warm up, and doesn't have quite the same jaw-dropping effect as 'Nothingface', but while less immediate, 'The Outer Limits' is one of the best prog metal albums to be released in the early '90s.
The first album after the departure of bass guitar player "Blacky" and the last album before the departure of singer "Piggy" has nothing of a lack of inspiration, motivation or energy that many other metal albums had at this time. The band is still in development on this album, still tries out some new things and is very creative. This album is a true highlight in the metal world in a time which became more and more dominated by grunge and alternative rock.
Let us just talk about the style of the album. The album title is inspired by the pioneer series of science-fiction from the early sixties, the album cover looks like one of those weekly book series printed on a cheesy yellow press, the band delivers the paintings of strange creatures in the booklet which you can observe with some 3D glasses which are delivered with the album. The album style takes an interesting and intense look at the past of science fiction and the future in the same time. So do the songs on this album.
The opener "Fix my heart" has nothing of an old song, it sounds fresh, straight and creative. It is dreamy, hypnotic and has several interesting breaks and changes of style. While the last effort of the band has been a very atmospheric and hypnotic progressive rock album which stayed always in the same atmosphere, this album defines the notion of progressive metal as it should be. You don't need a symphonical thirt minute suite with keyboard solos, you need a diversified opener with a length of five minutes that is more significant than any pseudo-epic progressive tune at that time.
On the other hand, the bands honours their heroes and show the other side of the medal by delivering the epic, weird and unique "Jack Luminous", their seventeen minutes lasting epic masterpiece. Even in this great song, there are some lengths, but the band doesn'ty do the mistake to include more songs of thatr kind of this or later releases. And as an experimental exception and little honour to their progressive rock heroes from the seventies, this works very well.
This album shows old school and modern progressive sound, the band sounds diversified without being faceless or in search of a concret structure, the album stays always logical and there are a lot of weird sounds to discover. The songs grow more and more on you and request multiple listening tries. A few songs like "Moonbeam rider" do not reach the high level of perfection as "Fix my heart" or "Jack Luminous" and are just average songs. An exception is the throughout brilliantly done guitar playing by Piggy who does maybe the best job of his career on this album and gives this album a very unqiue style.
This album finishes a progressive trilogy which really began with "Nothingface", reached its top with "Angel rat" and its closure with "The outer limits". On every of those records, the band sounded different and every album has its own special approach to the genre. This is a trilogy to get for every progressive metal or rock fan even though it might be difficult to listen to for a fan of the band's earlier and later works. But Voivod has always changed its style and improved, they have always been different. And that's why they were always able to surprise, never made the big breakthrough, but are one of the most perfect and heavily underrated bands in the world for everyone who knows them a little bit better.
This album was a quantum leap in the proper direction for this band when it came out back in 93. With the exception of Killing Technology, this is definately Voivod's "tour de force" album of their career. Througout their lengthy catalogue, Voivod's albums have followed one another almost like the ups and downs on a roller coaster ride. Some worked and some didn't. Their musical experimentation was not not as well recieved as the band probably hoped for, especially on some of their mid through late nineties releases.
The Outer Limits was the perferct mix of past formulas mixed with new and innovative ideas that melded together perfectly as a unit of greatness. Much of the experimental aspects of this album were still done with your everyday run of the mill instruments, such as guitars, bass, keyboards and drums. There wasn't an overkill worth of electronic samples or monotonous processed sounding noise on this album.
This album also has one particular area of interest for me, that being the catchiness of each and every song. There is not one song on this album that doesn't have a hook, melody or catchy structure that doesn't flow like a river of blood. All listeners beware, if you aquire this album, you may infact neglect the rest of your metal collection for quite some time! Its that fuckin' good!
As musicians, this band is nothing short of genius. Every performance of every song is simply awesome, and the production is exceptionally well done. I've never been the biggest fan of Snake's perfomance as a vocalist, but on this album he definately gives his most memorable performance and much of what he does in terms of his singing actually embelishes the songs rather than take away from them.
Overall a great album with an underatted status that truly needs to be heard to be appreciated.