Let’s start out with the basics: Voïvod ROCKS. If you’ve never heard of them, you need to look them up! They are a thrash metal band from Canada who incorporate vast classical music and avant-garde influences in their unique musical style. In particular, they sound a lot like Pink Floyd at times, but include Rush and King Crimson-inspired time changes and their opening riffs often remind me of 20th century experimental music.
Voïvod’s new album, The Wake, is their second full-length with Chewy Mongrain on guitar and their first featuring Rocky LaRoche on bass. I want to get it out of the way: I think this is their best album since The Outer Limits! This may be the mixing, but I enjoy Rocky’s basslines more than those of any previous Voïvod bassist, and while nobody replaces Piggy, Chewy does a great job drawing from him while adding his own style (which tends to be a bit heavier and more shreddy.) Longtime members Snake (vocals) and Away (drums) are also at their best. Snake is screaming a bit more than usual, which I enjoyed.
The opening track, “Obsolete Beings,” is a catchy, hard-rocking piece that gets the album off to a great start. It’s very melodic and has a mind-blowing riff, but the chords get really weird at times! Voïvod’s knowledge of music theory is on full display here. Next on the track list is a slower, strange-sounding piece, “The End Of Dormancy,” which reminds me a little bit of classic Led Zeppelin track “Kashmir,” but much heavier and harder. It has a wonderfully dark sound to it.
Next up is my favorite song on the record, “Orb Confusion!” Voïvod draws a lot of inspiration from hardcore punk and that influence is on full display here! Rocky’s epic, funky bassline makes the song. His bass tone is incredible, reminding me at times of two of my favorite bassists, Geddy Lee and Flea. The riff is complex, but hard-rocking and speedy. And the melody is the catchiest one on the album. I was already singing along on my second listen. For me, it ranks up there with “X-Ray Mirror” and “Clouds in My House” among my favorite Voïvod songs ever. Halfway through the next track, “Iconspiracy,” Voïvod surprises us by introducing a very warm, Mellotron-esque synthesizer to the song. It’s completely unexpected, but when you listen to these guys, you should expect the unexpected!
Up next is “Spherical Perspective,” the most musically complex cut from The Wake. Right from the get-go, the chord progression is completely insane, and it features a chorus that sounds like an extension of the pre-chorus. Chewy’s insane guitar playing is the star here. And the time changes get absolutely bonkers at times! “Event Horizon” has arguably the best riff on the album as well as some radical fills by Away. Snake’s Roger Waters influence is prevalent throughout the track. “Always Moving” starts out as a very atmospheric track with lots of funky-sounding synthesizer. Of course, that doesn’t last long before it shifts to a wonderful, full-on thrash-metal chorus. One more time and feel change leads into a beautiful guitar solo, the best on the album in my opinion.
The final track is also the longest, the 11-minute “Sonic Mycelium.” But don’t go into this one, as I did, expecting something like “Jack Luminous” or Rush’s “Xanadu,” because that’s not at all what this track is about. It’s more of a medley, combining melodies, riffs and motifs from all the other tracks into one musically bonkers magnum opus. “Sonic Mycelium” is exactly what the title says it is-a massive arrangement of organized, yet chaotic, sounds. It’s easily the most difficult track on this album to play, and Away does an exceptional job of guiding the band through all the bizarre changes. However, you unfortunately can’t really appreciate it on its own. It sounds great with the rest of the album, though!
My only real complaint was some of the “interludes.” On every track, there is a section at the end that is much slower and more atmospheric than the rest of the track, begins after the end of the real song, and is usually (but not always) instrumental: a “mini-song,” if you will. Some of them are great! “Obsolete Beings” includes a wonderful little exploration which sounds like it was ripped straight off The Outer Limits. “The End Of Dormancy” features Snake in full Waters mode in its mini-song. He gradually goes completely off the rails in a way that reminds me of The Wall. At the end of “Sonic Mycelium,” you hear a real string section play a brief piece, followed by a very Stravinsky-esque outro featuring Rocky. It closes out the album in a wonderfully unsettling way, so it sits with you kind of funny (not everyone will love that, but I do). However, the rest of the mini-songs are somewhat unnecessary and tamper with the flow of the album in my opinion.
If you’re an old friend of this bizarre collective from Québec, you will no doubt be familiar with Snake’s vocal style. On this album, he introduces more thrash and extreme influences to his style (I hear some James Hetfield at times), but he still has Roger Waters’ sarcastic tone. It’s certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, so if you’re new to Voïvod be prepared for some very distinctive singing!
All told, this is an incredible album. Longtime Voïvod fans like me will be obsessed with it, and if you’ve never listened to them, this is a fabulous introduction to the band! I’d say it’s absolutely worth your money, especially if you like any of the bands and styles I mentioned. Hopefully it finally gets these guys the recognition they deserve from the prog community!
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