Voivod – The Wake

One of the challenges for any band is the creation of a signature sound; that all-important, defining quality which will make them instantly recognizable above all others. The fact that Canadian proggers Voivod have changed their style so many times over the years (they have been labeled Thrash, Speed, Industrial, Sci-fi, and even Nuclear Metal) yet have always managed to retain their unique identity, is a laudable achievement.

With a new, and hopefully stable, line-up, Voivod have returned to the familiar waters of the concept story for their fantastic new album The Wake (Century Media). As you would expect, it’s an easy to follow tale – a disaster caused by an incredible scientific discovery forces humanity to understand the new reality of not being alone in the universe. Creating a story which features plots, conflicts, conspiracies, planetary chaos, and the fall and creation of religions while humanity tries to attain a new level of consciousness might be a bit of a stretch for most, but it’s just another day at the office for the cosmic Canucks.

Opener ‘Obsolete Beings’ features swirling melodies and angular, aggressive riffs, the song coming to a complete stop around the four-minute mark to transform into something slower and darker, where vocalist Snake (sounding better than he has done for years) asks ominously, “Is there some use for mankind?” The slow, militaristic chug of ‘The End of Dormancy’ is almost cinematic; the seven and a half-minute song swathed in tension, anger, and fear. ‘Orb Confusion’ showcases all aspects of the band’s style, most notably the barbed and jagged sci-fi riffing of guitarist/main composer Daniel “Chewy” Mongrain, and some serious drumming from Michel “Away” Langevin. And just in case you thought you’d heard everything inside the Voivod box of tricks, ‘Inconspiracy’ smiles mockingly and goes and adds a string quartet.

Dominique “Rocky” Laroche is the star of the show during ‘Spherical Perspective’, his throbbing bass threading and weaving its way through a maze of intertwining riffs and progressions. One of the least immediate tracks, ‘Event Horizon’ uses different tempos and time signatures to jab and stab itself into your head, while the fast-paced ‘Always Moving’ is offset by slow, moody sections as Snake’s voice slides portentously over the top of short, staccato pulses of energy, the song like many others, shifting its mood on more than one occasion. Reworking riffs and melodies found elsewhere on the record, the twelve and a half-minute closer ‘Sonic Mycelium’ sounds like the finale to some kind of epic celestial musical, acting as a grand reprise of the entire album.

While clearly drawing heavily from the style of Nothingface (Mechanic/MCA) and Dimension Hatröss (Noise), The Wake also playfully hints at 1993’s painfully underrated Angel Rat (Mechanic/MCA) and if you listen closely enough, even Rrröööaaarrr and Killing Technology (both Noise): all this while still moving forward with complex structures, and the use of strings and classical guitar. An exhilarating amalgamation of old ideas and new, this is Voivod once again launching themselves into the future and beyond.