Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Album of the Moment - Voivod's self-titled release

When key members of a band leave the fold, it often throws off the group dynamic.  Some bands pick right up and continue on as if nothing had happened.  Others take their art in a new direction or explorer other avenues.  If that key member returns, it's often easy for the band to fall right back into things the way they were prior to that member leaving, in part because there is an established base to cull from.  Voivod suffered a loss when original bassist Jean-Yves "Blacky" Th√©riault left, but it was the departure of original vocalist Denis "Snake" Belanger that changed things for them, seemingly forever.  They recruited bassist/vocalist Eric Forest and backtracked to a progressive and aggressive thrash sound, much like what they had pioneered on their 1st 3 releases.  After 2 albums and a couple compilations and live releases with Eric, the band regrouped with "Snake" and began writing new material again.  On bass came none other than former Metallica bassist Jason "Jasonic" Newstead.  With this eponymous release, the band reverts to their previously explored spacey prog-metal sound they were using prior to Belanger's original departure.

Musically and sonically, this has a lot in common with the last 3 Belanger titles: the incomparable "Nothingface" (arguably the band's high water mark, and my personal favorite), "Angel Rat" (a somewhat blatant attempt at mainstream acceptance, though on the band's own terms), and the highly sci-fi themed "The Outer Limits".  This release has a bit of the "earthy" production feel of "Angel Rat", but the sci-fi themes are reminiscent of "The Outer Limits" quite a bit, and songs like "The Multiverse" and "Divine Sun" reflect some of the more obtuse science fiction of "Nothingface" from a lyrical and musical perspective.  None of the material here is as immediately memorable or accessible as the 3 records it is seemingly inspired by, though repeated listens reveal a strong comeback effort on the part of the band.  All band members are in fine form here, though guitarist Denis "Piggy" D'Amour (RIP) relies a bit less on the jazz-inspired chords and winding riffs as he used to, making the record a bit more palatable to those less inclined to spin "Nothingface" or "Dimension Hatross" on a regular basis.  Drummer Michael "Away" Langevin" echoes his work on "Nothingface" quite a bit here with similar patterns and rolls, though not in an overtly self-plagiaristic way.  "Jasonic" is solid on bass, though he does nothing too complex, but then Piggy's riffs don't give him a whole lot to work with in terms of harmonic interplay.  "Snake" sounds great after his 10-year hiatus with the band, though I think a bit more melody in his vocal lines would have been welcome with this material.  When he was more a-melodic on earlier material, there was more fire and it was more interesting.  Anyone who listened to his last 3 albums with the band knows he has a good singing voice, especially evident on "The Outer Limits", so hearing him go back a bit is a minor disappointment.  Otherwise, he is solid here, if perhaps a bit to forward in the mix.

The thing that is frustrating about the album at first blush is that it starts out kind of boring - "Gasmask Revival" and "Facing Up" aren't exactly going to light the world on fire, and it's a bit of a mystery as to why they chose those to open the album, other than perhaps putting the more immediate material up-front.  "Blame Us" begins to pick up a bit more of the band's signature spacey sound, and by the time you get to "Rebel Robot" and "The Multiverse", Voivod fans should begin to feel right at home.  The album continues to progress from there and becomes more interesting with "Divine Sun" and "Reactor".  The album culminates in the final track, the album's single "We Carry On" which makes a partial return to the more muscular and straightforward sound of the first couple tracks, but retaining some of the more "Voivodian" personality of the rest of the material.  As some reviews I've read have mentioned, the album is perhaps a bit overlong.  I think if they had trimmed the 1st 2 tracks out and kept the rest it might have been a stronger album.

All things said and done, this is a solid outing from a band many had left for dead after Eric's departure, and a good return to form.  It's not their strongest release, and ultimately may not equal the quality of "Dimension Hatross" through "The Outer Limits" on every level, but there's enough to love  here that the Voivod faithful like myself should find sufficiently attractive.  I would consider this a workmanlike album from a group who payed their dues and never quite broke out the way that they were predicted to, and certainly not in the way they deserved to.  If you're a fan of Voivod's more progressive leanings, this is an album you'll want to at least hear, if not add to your collection.

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