Review Summary: A great return to form.
Few metal bands have inspired as much intrigue as Voivod; the progressive thrash outfit were responsible for some of the most unusual records of the 80's and 90's. Combining the ferocity of speed metal, the eclectic and technical nature of progressive rock, and fascinating lyrics about science fiction and war, Voivod seemed poised to revolutionize the metal scene. While they didn't exactly connect well with the mainstream crowd during their "heyday" (their most successful record, Nothingface, reached only 114 on the Billboard 200 chart), they certainly gained a bevy of loyal hardcore fans nonetheless. Even with a few weak experiments here and there (the band's industrial years come to mind), fans of progressive rock and thrash alike were starting to notice Voivod's efforts one-by-one. Perhaps that's why the death of the group's legendary guitarist Piggy in 2005 resonated with so many of those fans. Piggy was practically the sound of Voivod, giving that atonal, angular sound that made the band so notable in the first place. So what was next? Would Voivod be gone forever? Would they create a record that would completely alter their sound altogether and alienate their fanbase?
Thankfully, neither of these scenarios are the case here. Recruiting new guitarist Daniel Mongrain (a.k.a. Chewy), Voivod decided to press on and released a record of all-new material, Target Earth. Thankfully, Chewy has a style very similar to Piggy, so his work feels warmly familiar when trying to fit in with the other members. Musically, Target Earth strikes a balance between the aggression of 1987's Killing Technology and the dark, atmospheric side of 1989's Nothingface; as such, the whole experience sounds like a reboot of the band's old discography, as if the industrial 90's records never existed. The band also return to the sci-fi lyricism and eerie guitar dissonance as well, along with irregular drum patterns an unorthodox bass lines. With all of this in mind, Target Earth is something of a rehash, but that's not necessarily a bad thing; in this case, it's welcome for the most part. Songs like the opening title track, "Warchaic", and "Kaleidos" exhibit these familiar strengths in full form, with all of Voivod's expected quality present. While the instrumentation is more of the same, Snake's vocal attack is, well, just that. An attack. The vocalist hasn't sounded this confident and energetic in years, and he displays a great deal of the thrash style he utilized on old Voivod records such as War and Pain and Rrroooaaarrr. Along with this, he also brings out the progressive years of the band, with his spacey droning mixing in with the aforementioned thrash barks. This results in a great deal of vocal contrast and diversity. "Empathy For the Enemy" sees both Snake and the instrumentalists going for a creepy atmosphere, with drawn out clean guitar lines and unpredictable drumming patterns mixing with Snake's Pink Floyd-esque spacey vocal work. Then there's "Kluskap O'Kom," which opts for a direct speed metal assault; the aggressive vocal style is mixed in with 80's thrash with hints of progressive rock and punk music, and the song moves at a wonderful pace.
Unfortunately, the album has its flaws. The biggest one is the fact that so much of the record sounds so familiar to the band's heyday. It shouldn't be a big problem, but it gets frustrating; there were numerous instances where I was able to pinpoint what would happen next in the music because it's, well, same ol' Voivod. There are definitely differences, such as a bigger emphasis on jazz fusion with this record, but they're still overshadowed by familiarity in the end. Also, while Chewy is a great guitarist, Piggy's absence is definitely felt. Only Piggy himself was capable of utilizing his trademark guitar work to full effect, and even Chewy fills his spot effectively, it just simply doesn't sound the same.
Even with that said, Target Earth does manage to be a great return to form for the boys in Voivod. They've come a long way, and it's remarkable to hear such a good record from a band who lost their most important member. Even with Piggy's death, the band were still able to churn out an excellent record out with their trademark style and lyricism. With all the members turning in solid performances and the compositions being familiar-yet-fresh, this is one of the first great albums of 2013. Voivod, I applaud you for continuing to press on and release such high-quality material.
P.S. This review was also written for The Alternative Review; URL: www.thealtreview.net
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