Review Summary: Voivod set their controls for the dark side of Mars’s disfigured moon, and deliver an album that rivals their late-80s classic period in terms of quality and innovation.
Early ‘90s was a difficult period for metal bands that had just begun building or already established a credible body of work during the late ‘80s. French-Canadian avant-garde metal act Voivod was more than a notable case in point, as a huge breakthrough had been achieved with the album triplet Killing Technology
. The two “early ‘90s” albums that followed did a pretty good job at escaping the progressive rock scrutiny of Nothingface
, yet they received minimal-to-moderate commercial and verbal acclaim at the time of their release. This situation brought internal friction between band members and embarked Voivod on a different state of transition. The departure of longtime members Blacky (bass) and Snake (vocals) breached Voivod’s as yet unchanged lineup, and raised some serious questions about their future.
If anything, the band’s style would have to be reviewed and the initial/sparse jams of remaining Voivod members Away (drums/artwork) and Piggy (guitars), took place in that light. Eventually, the missing band slots were filled with formerly unknown Eric Forrest and Voivod issued Negatron
in 1995. The album was a great but under-developed effort in introducing the different leanings of ‘90s extreme music (doom/death metal, groove metal, hardcore, industrial etc.) into the band’s aggressive, ante-Nothingface
affairs. Fans discarded it and accused Voivod of selling out (!!?!!?), but the band didn’t pay much attention, as per usual. Having a handful of interesting but hardly explored ideas in their portfolio, Voivod started working on new material and issued Phobos
in 1997, an album that easily rivals their classic late-80s period in terms of quality and innovation.
constitutes a giant leap forward with respect to its direct predecessor and an unexpected left turn with regard to previous Voivod albums. First of all, the album’s sound production is the heaviest, noisiest and clearest (!!) this band had ever had. Forrest’s bass sounds gigantic, whereas he is more emphatic regarding his vocals. Away’s drum sound is thick, whereas the cymbals’ levels are clearly defined and suitably balanced with the snare and the double kick drums. Piggy’s rhythm guitars on the other hand, are as heavy and noisy as they can get, whereas the exact opposite applies for the guitar leads, whose sound clarity is imperial at times.
Upon the occurrence of a “synchrotron” based intro, signifying the commencement of Voivod’s journey beyond the outer limits, the album really kicks off with “Rise” and “Mercury”. In the first track, Voivod are transcribing the infamous Sabbath-based heavy rock to their own assembly language, while in “Mercury”, they deliver a master class of noise incorporation into ‘60s rock n’ roll. The above being said, both songs appear as a loose liaison to Negatron
, thus they grant little insight as to what will follow, but is that really true? Their common denominator revolves around their enhanced industrial decoration, which is further promoted by the album’s sound work. Moreover, the main guitar lead in “Rise” calls for a different kind of speculation. It feels like a loan from European doom/death metal outfits such as Paradise Lost or My Dying Bride and their corresponding work. Where did Voivod get themselves into this time?
The short answer to that question is that Voivod’s ability in seamlessly shifting between metal sub-genres, has reached an unbelievable level in Phobos
. The easiest way to start deciphering the ordered chaos of this album, is to assess the role of the industrial factor, a factor that’s been suffocating in the background ever since the band’s arrival into existence. Compared to its direct predecessor and previous Voivod albums, the industrial elements in Phobos
are excellently pronounced, first of all due to their even distribution throughout the album. On the other hand, the album’s industrial character is amplified by the instrumental performance of all band members. Although the complexity of the songs is fluctuating, all of them are comprised of much smaller and monotonously repeated phrases, performed passionately by each band member, but with a “cold” and mechanistic kind of way.
In the light of the above, when Voivod are not revealing their tribal convictions in the eponymous song (with the unbelievable lead guitar theme), they are painting doom metal abysses, influenced from the European doom/death metal scene (check the main Paradise Lost guitar lead in “Bacteria”) or from industrial (“Neutrino”). When they are not terra-forming groove/industrial metal with sonic earthquakes such as “The Tower”, “Forlorn” and “M-Body”, they catch up on their progressive rock legacy and cover King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man” or conceive Rush-driven, mind bending sonic trips such as “Quantum”. Lastly, when they are not deliberately trapping themselves in temporally restrained, dismal ambient/drone black holes here and there, they endorse their material with some really sinister six-string driven psychedelia. Some vague reminders of the band’s past come in the form of few guitar leads from the late-‘80s, tech-thrash past, and some vocals from Forrest, that are filed under the “Snake influence”.
All is said and done; with Phobos
, Voivod have re-invented themselves at a time where few (if not none) expected them to do so. As per usual, that is.