The story of Canada’s Voïvod has long been a convoluted tale of personnel changes and, more recently, personal tragedy. Here’s an abridged version to help place “Target Earth” in context. The death of guitarist and main composer, Piggy (Denis D’Amour), during the recording of the band’s 2005 album “Katorz”, was surely the end of the tech-thrash pioneers. 2009’s posthumous “Infini” assembled Piggy’s final demos into a bittersweet epitaph. In 2008, during the making of “Infini”, Jason Newsted parted company, leaving drummer and spiritual leader Away (Michel Langevin) and singer Snake (Denis Bélanger) as custodians of the legacy. Regrouping with original bassist Blacky (Jean-Yves Thériault) they recruited fellow Québécois, Daniel Mongrain, from Martyr and coalesced into a functioning unit once again. Setlists began to include more of their seminal 1987-93 era, featuring songs from progressive-thinking albums like “Dimension Hatröss”,” Nothingface” and” The Outer Limits”. It is this classic and unmistakable Voïvod period that informs “Target Earth”.
The title track deploys the familiar sci-fi sound effect intro, placing us back in “Nothingface”/”Angel Rat” territory, before Blacky’s thunderous bass launches the song proper. Mongrain’s angular guitar, the sneering Snake vocal, the barrage of Away’s dextrous drumming….the decades melt away. This could equally be the follow-up to “Nothingface” or sent back in time from a future civilisation since the best of this band’s music has always been timeless, evoking distant locations and epochs.
This is the heaviest Voïvod have sounded in aeons. Away’s double-kick pedal is pounded with tribal conviction. Their progressive thrash origins are betrayed by the bizarrely titled ‘Kluskap O’Kom’ and ‘Corps Étranger’ (which sees Snake singing in his native tongue). To counterpoint this, there are quieter moments; ‘Empathy for the Enemy’ begins with an atypical acoustic guitar duet. Throughout the song clean guitar trades with a monster chugging metal riff and spacier Echoplex interludes.
The 2012 single, ‘Mechanical Mind’, is stylistically a good representation of the album. If you salivated, as I did, over the insanely inventive opening riff then you won’t be disappointed when you hear “Target Earth”. For we fans, it’s impossible not to make comparisons with earlier albums but this one is no rehash of past glories. Sure, ‘Artefact’ has a similar bassline to “Angel Rat”’s ‘Best Regards’ and the trilled high-end guitar riff harks back to “The Outer Limits”’ ‘Time Warp’ but those are trademark Voïvod sounds which have influenced countless prog and metal bands since.
Replacing Piggy must surely be one of the most daunting tasks a metal band has ever had to face. His style was innovative and utterly unique, marrying dissonant chord voicings to thrash metal riffing. Daniel Mongrain has not only mastered the legacy he has inherited, he has taken it a step further – there is barely a single consonant power chord on the whole album; every voicing has been immaculately conceived to add suspense and tension, to sound alien, other-wordly, Voïvodian.
Aside from the new blood it’s so good to have Blacky back in the band. His bass rumbles along seemingly oblivious to the guitar and drums, almost jazz-like, and pleasingly prominent in the mix. With three-quarters of the original band in place and a new release that is worthy to be placed among their very best albums, surely it’s time that Voïvod are finally recognised by the music-buying public in sales figures, and not just by other musicians. Emerging UK acts The Fierce and the Dead and Knifeworld are vocal in their love of Voïvod and I was lucky enough to see their 2012 London Garage gig with Matt and Kev from TFATD. “Killing Technology” and “Dimension Hatröss” are still influencing new artists like these today, 25 years after their release.
“Target Earth” will only enhance their reputation as one of the most innovative and important metal bands of all time. The sonic experiment continues.