Now, here’s a weird one. As with the last post, this concerns a band that has, in various forms, been around me for a long time. Unlike the artists of the previous missive however, this is a group that doesn’t bring on warm, fuzzy angry feelings of youthfulness: ooh no, this is a band that appeals to the scientific curiosity in me, growing and expanding independently and more often than not in ways counter to what anyone else is doing. I have been meaning to do a “From The Past” post on them pretty much since I began this blog, but have been confounded at every attempt as not only do I still not know which one of their previous albums to do, but also it’s a bizarre notion to be “looking back” at Voivod for any reason, as their forward creative momentum makes such retrospection largely irrelevant.
There’s something almost reassuring about opening a Voivod review with the phrase “Now, here’s a weird one…”, because frankly if Voivod ever did an album that wasn’t intrinsically odd then that’d be the day that they may as well pack up and go home. Thankfully, that time is some way off yet, because this new one (I’ve lost count where we’re up to – 16th?) continues in their fine tradition of being both familiar and completely new all over again. I dunno, maybe it’s that constant newness with these guys that is the familiar feeling that I get from them…
As a measure of the general strangeness that surrounds Voivod, it’s worth opening with the gambit that although this is their first album without sadly missed guitarist Denis “Piggy” D’Amour, it’s the third album that they’ve made since his death, thanks to his bequeathing of a laptop containing a bunch of works in progress that his bandmates turned into Katorz and Infini (the former especially being one of Voivod’s finest records). Here on Target Earth, his place is taken by Daniel “Chewy” Mongrain, with original bassist Jean-Yves “Blacky” Thériault (whose last known whereabouts as far as 6dft is aware was when he was parking David Lynch samples aplenty on the Doughboys’ Happy Accidents album) rejoining the fold alongside previously-prodigal vocalist Denis “Snake” Bélanger and drummer, artist and general visionary Michel “Away” Langevin (the only member who has appeared on all of Voivod’s albums, and who also appeared on Happy Accidents, as guest accordionist no less).
Piggy is certainly here in spirit, and frankly it would be a weirdness too far if he wasn’t as, with the exception of Chewy’s solos which have a more ‘metal’ sound to them (albeit still in an otherworldly manner), the overall sound is very much as is. If anything, Chewy’s arrival (and Blacky’s return, as he brings a personality all its own) has pushed Voivod further out into their own private cosmos, as this is one of their most beautifully chaotic albums to date. It’s hard to pick out any particular favourite as the whole is one huge (hour-long) sprawler, but at a pinch I’d pick Mechanical Mind‘s robotic, dreamlike Nothingface reminiscence and the tribal Kluskap O’Kom‘s throat-singing culture shift and Cockroaches-evoking rhythm section.
The previous two albums have also had a profound influence on their songwriting and arrangement skills. Having stitched together much of Katorz and Infini from the work that was left to them, Voivod seem now to have adopted this as part of their character, with moods and tempos changing midstream. Their sci-fi leanings and aggressive performance may have had much of the prog community looking somewhat down their nose at them and the more ‘spacey’ aficionados running for cover, but this is a band right on the edge of their own creativity and ability, constantly pushing what they do. There’s more ingenuity and excitement going on here than from projects half these guys’ age, and the best bit is that this new lineup suggests that there is a lot more to come from this vibrant and genuinely inimitable force. Neither return nor resurrection, this is a band doing what they do best, and it’s rare that they have done better than with Target Earth.