Friday, November 30, 2018

Voivod - The Wake (2018)

That a band could experience a career Renaissance almost four decades into their career is a rare enough phenomena, but I'm not sure I've experienced one quite to the extent that Voivod has been taking it. Even further, this newfound era of excellence came at the emotional nadir for the band, having lost long-time guitar anomaly Piggy. As it turned out, Mr. D'Amour had chosen the absolute best individual on earth to replace him in Daniel 'Chewy' Mongrain. The subsequent release of Target Earth in 2013 proved that there would be no stopping the Canadians, implementing a style very loyal to the band's legacy, but unafraid to throw a few new ingredients into the mix. After that, 2016's Post Society EP improved upon the writing even further, and now we have arrived at 2018, the proper sophomore for this full new lineup (Rocky taking over for Blacky on bass)...

...and the first perfect score I'm giving to a metal album since 2010. The first perfect score I'm giving to a Voivod album since the 1987-89 trifecta that I consider a hallmark of music, period. The Wake is such a polished, seasoned, inspired record that it seems as if these four have been playing together since that early 80s period in which the group formed. Now, when I said 'Renaissance' earlier, I did not mean to imply that the band had been experiencing much of a slump. In fact, I wouldn't say they ever had...Negatron might have been the low point for me, when they were transitioning to a three piece with Eric on vocals, but that was far from a 'bad' album, and even then they rebounded quite nicely with the interesting followup Phobos. Some fans despised the 'Rock-vod' years which started with Jason Newsted's tenure in the band, and ended with Piggy's failing health, but I happen to enjoy all three of the records of that era as fun, catchy driving tunes. No, when I say 'Renaissance', I mean these last five years have been an escalation from that phase back to their late 80s greatness and perhaps even beyond if they stay this course.

Stylistically, The Wake hearkens back to the 1988-1993 stretch, fusing the high science fictional concepts of Hatröss and Nothingface with the accessible, cleaner, prog-friendly presentations of Angel Rat and The Outer Limits. That's not to claim that these eight tunes are radio-ready singles, in fact they each possess quite a lot of depth, but that is achieved directly through the writing and musicianship, not through some obscure, raw approach to the production like the unnerving cover artwork might imply. The guitars are as clear, punchy and potent as ever, whether jamming along speedier little thrash licks, somber, bluesier moments or crystalline lead harmonies. The bass lines are entirely flush with Blacky's style, groovy and thick with just the right level of distortion on them so as not to give the listener a headache. If anything, Rocky handles the instrument with even more agility and progression than his able predecessor. Snake's vocals are among the best I've ever heard, with a lot of variation between his drugged out, psychedelic cleans and then an array of grainier growls or snarls that help diversify the stories being conveyed through the lyrics. Away's drums range from a patient, tribal bliss to the more hectic techniques the band launches into once they get heavier.

Even the occasional synthesized bits here sound fantastic, lending ambiance and mood to the busier instrumentation. Reverb and other effects are tactfully applied to vocal lines or guitars so that the listener feels as if he's floating through some derelict asteroid field or abandoned spacecraft, and the 'alien' aesthetics that Voivod first introduced through earlier efforts like Rrröööaaarrr, Killing Tech and Hatröss feel as fresh and innovative to me now as they did when I was a teenager. What's more, the band is clearly trying new ideas here...such as the soaring, memorable leads in the belly of "Sonic Mycelium", to which the backing rhythm guitars are splayed out in staccato patterns that almost feel like the band was using them as orchestration. Or the cybernetic psychedelics of the vocal patterns in "Always Moving" before they switch off to those guitars. Creating an album which is 100% loyal to their own history and yet still surging forward, somewhere, is no mean feat in this day and age, and the genius here is that The Wake is an album I think might thrill stubborn hold-outs who adhere only to the group's 80s discography, while still reaping in newer, younger admirers from many other realms of the progosphere.

The lyrics are quite good, nothing too impenetrable perhaps, like the story of Nothingface, but possessive of a similar scope of a personal perspective set against some cataclysmic singularity which forces humanity to awaken itself to the greater universal society around them. I'd also like to add that the double disc Digipak I'm covering also includes the entire Post Society EP, which I've covered elsewhere but is almost equally stunning as the newest material. So that's a pretty good bonus if you missed that release, although this obviously lacks the great packaging that had. The artwork in this version is good and freaky, although there isn't a lot of it, instead the lyrics and photos are presented simply and clearly, almost as if they wanted a minimal aesthetic to defy the spiraling chaos and creepiness of the front cover. There are a half dozen live cuts also added after the EP, but these all sound pretty grainy. Hardly a critical component of the release, but since they're just dressing on the bonus CD, their presence doesn't detract.

The Wake is an album with no real, discernable highlights, because EVERY SECOND is a highlight. There is not a single note or syllable I would want differently. I would not sift through this for any one individual song, as they are all equally compelling. A 56 minute trip I'm willing to take at almost any moment. I feel a profound joy that I get to be a living, breathing organism in a time of human history when I get to hear something like this. The first few times I was listening, as I was sorting through Magic the Gathering cards at one of my day jobs, hypnosis was immediately induced. Certainly the frenetic, fragmented picking and clever, swerving bass grooves of "Orb Confusion", or the roiling anger and aggression of "Iconspiracy" might 'pop' from the framework of The Wake more than some of their neighbors, but really this is a Court of the Crimson King or Tales from Topograhic Oceans for me. I didn't come here for a quick burst of exhilaration, but for a profound experience, an escape to a place I can't touch with my fingers, only my brain.

This is the best album I've heard this year in any genre.
Voivod is the best band on Earth.
Fuck off nowadays jock metal.
The nerds win.
We were always going to.

Verdict: Epic Win [10/10] (recycle yourself)

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