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Cyber-conversion has begun - 89%

Abominatrix, October 4th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2004, CD, Noise Records (Reissue)

A low, pervasive hum accompanied by the sound of a heart monitor, suggesting some sort of futuristic medical laboratory. No sound of breathing. Where is the patient, then? Behind impermeable glass, perhaps, completely isolated, surrounded by automatic machines. For a paralysing moment, the steady beep of the monitor ceases. Has there been a mistake? An accident? But no, life begins anew, the rhythm steady, confident -- one might almost say, implacable. Suddenly, a grating, electronic voice fills the air: "We are connected."

Thus begins Voivod's third opus in the realm of apocalyptic heaviness. As everyone seems to know, the band's musical skill was advancing at an alarming rate. I can't begin to imagine how much they must have been practising their instruments between the early and late-80s, but at this point it's starting to be a little disconcerting, just how much development is occurring from album to album.

Make no mistake, though: this is still a wild and somewhat frenetic Voivod experience. They got a more balanced production this time around, with drums and guitars at a reasonably congruent level, and the bass very dominant, just the way we like it. Some real obscurity has crept into the riffing, along with a reletneless, mechanical feel that sometimes calls heavy industrial bands to mind. I've no doubt at all that Piggy and company were listening to a lot of different music and figuring out ingenious ways to slip otherwise unheard of things into their still-very-much-metal formula. This is also the last Voivod album where you can hear a lot of extended lead sections; not that they disappear entirely on future albums (the new guitarist being a stand-out soloist in particular), but Piggy adopted a "less is more" kind of approach after this, making any leads a tantalising experience rather than a display of eminent chops or showmanship.

So, what about the songs? They're fast, almost universally, with thrashing and "d-beats" prevalent, but almost all slow down for juddery machine-rhythm sections or weird guitar breaks. Lots of chords I can't identify that use higher frets are making themselves known, which would become a kind of trademark of the Voivod sound. It might be my imagination, but it seems as though the themes of the lyrics are reflected in the composition. "Forgotten in Space" has a tumbling, free-fall sound to it, calling to mind some desperate character spinning end-over-end while his brain starts to misfire and his oxygen runs out. What's becoming apparent, though, is that some order is starting to cohere in the Voivod world, and inevitably after the mad destruction of the previous works, the order that's been established is a cold and dystopic one. Vocals also reflect this, adopting a semi-robotic low buzzing that replaces the hysterical yelling some of the time, though as yet it's not totally established.

I already mentioned 'Forgotten in Space", and I do think it's a highlight of the album. Such immensely cool soloing, too. The title track is a mechanical monster with an intense, sinister feeling of dread, especially at the end when we are taken into one of those clangy mechanistic rhythm/riff sequences, and we hear that ominous voice repeating "We are connected. We are connected. We are connected." "Tornado" is what passes for "fun" on this album, with an infectious thrash chorus and real head-banging frenzy. It's really no wonder that it's still a live staple. "Order of the Blackguards" calls to mind some of the "road warrior" feeling of previous works, but there's something new and portentous on the horizon. The weapons now include cybernetic drones, and the machines could be their own masters already. What's responsible? nano-tech? Who can say. I have to mention "Ravenous medicine", which throws itself back and forth between a steady rock-ish riff and more intense sequences, with some really nice cymbal-work from Away seeming to lead the charge. And I really dig the buzzing, insectoid riffs of "Cockroaches", another fine example of content being designed to fit form; composition reflecting theme.

This is a very weird album that not everyone is going to like. While it's thrash metal of a sort, the prominence of the riff that usually marks this style is not so much a centre-piece here. That's not to say that riffs are unimportant, or of poor quality, but rather that they seem created to serve the work of art as a whole. It's almost as if the concepts were generated first, with riffs being constructed to fit that framework, rather than the other way round (as I think is the case with the majority of metal). It's long been a premise of mine, though, that the most interesting bands in metal are the really idiosyncratic ones. It seems that a lot of metal fans don't really come to grasp what the band is doing, and a lot of people who don't normally listen to metal might find something interesting to take away from their music. I want to be careful here and state emphatically that I'm not trying to say "Voivod are metal for thinking people" or any of that "we're above this noise" garbage bandied about by certain pompous musicians. All I'm saying is that Voivod is music for weird people, and that's at the core of their appeal. Even a pop Voivod album has got something attractively off-centre about it. But that's something for another day. Give this one a try. You may find it incomprehensible, noisy and unappealing, yet somehow keep coming back until it all fits into an alien symmetry in your head. It helps that at this point the musicians are undeniably on a high level, being able to cope with the unusual rhythms and changes in a precise and seamless way. Props especially to Away, a really underrated drummer in the whole field of music, who is able to combine an excellent sense of style, heaviness and a relentless and almost intimidating zeal for the very act of percussion, which does after all literally translate to "hitting things". Really, though, every unit in the Voivod collective is essential, right down to Snake's odd charisma with the singing, which seems to be one of those eccentric things about this band: not to ride too hard on the old cliché, but you either get it, or you don't. If you can "get" Voivod as a whole, I promise you that in the end it will prove one of the most rewarding musical experiences of your life. If not, don't worry; you might still have years to come to the truth. It certainly took me a while, but I have no regrets about becoming one of the converted.

We are connected.