Voivod | The Wake
It takes time, but genius always comes out on top.
Since the death of much loved guitarist Piggy (all members of the band have traditional French-Canadian names, but they will never be invoked by you or I) in 2005, Voivod have been a little lost in the studio.
While the live shows never suffered (thanks to a sterling job by Chewy on guitar), the studio albums were solid but not spectacular.
Of course, they bore riffs that had been left behind by Piggy but it always seemed more of an obligation than a genuine sense that these riffs were astonishing.
2013’s ‘Target Earth’ (the first album with no input from Piggy) certainly had it’s moments, but it wasn’t classic Voivod.
The potential was certainly there in certain songs, but it never took off.
However, 2016’s ‘Post Society’ EP was a much more welcome release.
This was classic Voivod. Mayhem, precision, impenetrability. You had to keep returning to it in order to fully grasp it.
And the timely cover of ‘Silver Machine’ was a fitting tribute to Lemmy.
It was also the first with new bassist Rocky, who gave proceedings an extra boost of enthusiasm, thanks to his bass throb.
So, two years on, we get ‘The Wake.’
Firstly, let’s discuss the artwork.
Away’s artwork has always polarised opinion.
From the 2000AD/ Skynet style hunter killer unit on the cover for ‘Rrröööaaarrr’, to the computer generated robo bugs on 1995’s ‘Negatron’, he has a unique style that is psychedelic, menacing, amusing and utterly memorable.
He really should collaborate with the likes of Neil Gaiman or Alan Moore on a graphic novel, or a “Future Shock” for 2000AD. Alternatively, some have dismissed his artwork as primary school material.
His work on ‘The Wake’ is no exception.
Featuring his take on the four horsemen of the apocalypse as they open up an abyss (or is it ghosts from another dimension offering you sanctuary in their world from the onslaught of 21st century living), it plays tricks on the eye at first (because of the overpowering use of red and black) but, once adjusted, tell a story.
But it’s one that fits in with the Voivod lineage of post apocalyptic landscapes. And, with it offering a possible escape, it’s the first one with a twist.
Now, The Music
The first minute of opener ‘Obsolete Beings’ are enough to tell the listener that this is going to be a classic album.
Listen to how the sample morphs right into Chewy’s climbing, staccato riff. Then how Away and Rocky join in with crashing drums and rumbling bass before taking themselves out again. This is proper tension building. What is it building to?
When the three come in again, Chewy immediately goes into a riff that suggests take off, like we’re entering no man’s land.
This is glorious.
Finally, Snake comes in and his voice manages to combine yearning and sneering as he tells of a society spending its time “Scrolling down in paradise / Absorbed by the next device…A wonder world that isn’t yours.”
The chorus sees him adopt a more hectoring tone as Chewy and Away make his proclamations even more apocalyptic sounding due to how the music is both intimate and overpowering.
Of course, once you’ve got the hang of how it goes, the band then throw a curveball at you by delving into a kind of post punk/almost flamenco style ending with crooning aplenty.
This is classic Voivod.
Combining lyrics which seem to reference Terry Gilliam’s classic film ‘Brazil’ and some riffing which bring to mind Killing Joke, ‘The End of Dormancy’ shifts in tone from moody verse to triumphant chorus through to tense middle eight, ambient faux ending and then a mix of all for the very end.
Exhilarating is the best way to describe it.
‘Iconspriacy’ is full on metal from it’s tale of “Magnified field blasting tower / Psychotronic weapons are being used…by the lords of terror…”, through to Chewy’s frantic guitar solos and the (dare I say it) operatic metal style keyboards in the middle eight, sounding like something that came from an Epica record but suiting the mood perfectly. Best individual track on here.
Closing with ‘Sonic Mycelium’, the listener is subjected to a slow blues tempo and spacey riff, suggesting the feeling of floating in space before the main riff kicks in and sees the tempo speed up dramatically.
It manages to alternate between a variety of moods in its twelve minute run without once sounding forced or annoying the listener. Ending with a string section is utter genius.
Is this one of the albums of the year?
Voivod have drawn further inspiration from that cesspool of thrash, hardcore, prog and post punk that is at the heart of their music and made an album that is on a par with ‘Nothingface’ in the sense that it can cross over to any fan of music, while retaining the eccentricities that we all know and love from these French-Canadians.
Still crazy gods and ferocious dogs, Voivod remain infectious.
4.5 / 5 –Christopher Owens ::: 30/09/18