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Probably Voivod's Best Album - 95%

Ribos, April 10th, 2009

Voivod is a hard band to place. "Progressive/Thrash metal" is probably the most accurate description of this album's genres, but also among the most misleading. This is not an album that will pummel you into submission with 130 riffs at 200+ beats per minute, nor is it a technical wankfest with 120 key and time signature changes in six minutes. Yet it is progressive, and it does contain some vital elements of the early thrash formula.

What this album is, is progressive metal in the vein of a heavier, more concept-driven Rush. The bass plays a prominent role in driving the song along with the unconventional guitar riffs. Piggy was always best known for his bizarre choice of chords and shapes, providing for some dissonances rarely heard in metal. Actually, some comparisons can be drawn to Czral Eide's guitar work on Virus's The Black Flux album, but in a different flavor. Also like Rush, the drums tend not to be intrusively technical, but do contain a surprising amount of subtle variations and fills that fit the music while being far from easy to play.

A lot of people complain about Snake's vocals, and I agree that he is not exactly the "best" singer in that he does not pretend to imitate a tenor opera vocalist. However, I cannot think of a more appropriate vocal style for what Voivod is doing. You know the old Sci-fi trope of the cyborg/android who wishes to become human and puts on a good act but can never truly understand human emotion? That is what Snake is doing. He is the robot trying to impersonate a human, or perhaps even the human that has lost his humanity, the titular Nothingface. The jaggedly-constructed lyrics and insertion of sterile vocabulary enforce the lack of understanding of human aesthetics. Sure, Dio's a better singer, because singing is a human art and Dio is a human. Snake here is not a human, and thus may fail as a singer, but excels as a vocalist for this music.

But of course, even the best musical concepts can be executed poorly. Fortunately, Voivod does not simply use the cyber/future imagery as a gimmick. It is backed by songs that are truly unique and worth the while. "The Unknown Knows" and "Nothingface" are without a doubt the best songs here, opening the album with both the bold statement of the band's intentions and infectious catchiness. Basically, the two qualities that define album openers. "Into My Hypercube" also runs in a similar vein (and is thus another highlight), but by that point in the album, the bold point has been made. After the first two tracks comes the well-known cover of Astronomy Domine, which is certainly different from what you'll get from the other tracks... but it doesn't sound entirely out of place. My only complaint with the track is that it can be a bit overlong for the ideas involved, but seeing as how I have that complaint with most of Pink Floyd's material, it may vary based on listeners' tastes. From there out, though (with the sole aforementioned exception of "Into My Hypercube"), Voivod sails out into proggier waters. Mekong Delta uses a very similar prog/thrash style to what you'll find here, albeit with more conventional riffing and vocals (when applicable).

The songs in the second half tend to blend together a bit, but not in a bad way. It's more of a natural flow from one track to the next, as the lines between tracks were never meant to be all that clearly defined. Within each track, one can find a wealth of musical ideas strutting around, transforming from one riff into another, and the occasional solo thrown in for good measure. Piggy was never a flashy showman, so do not mistake his lack of OMG SHREDFEST solos as a lack of skill. The fact that it takes one as skilled as Daniel Mongraine to imitate Piggy should speak volumes about the subtle difficulties in playing some of these guitar parts. Besides, frankly, a chaotic solo would just sound absolutely out of place in the album's world of machinated precision and structure.

Overall, this album certainly is a bit different than your usual thrash piece, and I can definitely see how it would rub some people the wrong way. However, if you want something a bit unconventional without being ludicrously gimmicky, Nothingface is a classic album and should be a part of your library.