Voivod // Target Earth
Rating: 4.5/5.0 — “To the death”…and beyond, apparently.
Label: Century Media
Websites: voivod.com  |  Facebook
Release Dates: EU: 2013.01.21 | NA: 01.22.2013

The prospect of a new Voivod record is something I approached with a fair amount of dread, mostly due to the minor detail that guitarist/bandleader Denis “Piggy” D’Amour passed away back in 2005. A lot of ’80s/’90s bands have buried their dead and moved on, occasionally with decent results (see: Alice In Chains). But Piggy seemed irreplaceable. He was the band’s main songwriter by most accounts, and more importantly, he possessed one of the weirdest, most eccentric guitar styles in all of metal. It seemed that no one could possibly take his place.

When Voivod began touring again a few years ago, my perspective changed somewhat. Original bassist Blacky had returned from obscurity, and new guitarist Dan “Chewy” Mongrain (Martyr) did an incredible job playing Piggy’s parts. They kicked ass on that tour, but my doubts about their future lingered. Playing music without Piggy is doable, but writing new music without him? That’s inconceivable.

So when I hit “play” on Voivod‘s new album Target Earth, I’m was surprised at how quickly my fears are put to rest. The opening title track begins with Blacky’s unmistakable distorted bass (I always thought the term “blower bass” lost something in translation). Within the first 60 seconds, it somehow captures all the progressive weirdness of Nothingface/Dimension Hatross era Voivod. Next up is “Kluskap O’com,” an up-tempo thrasher that’s equally convincing. My clenched teeth relax. I feel relief. I begin to do a half-nodding/half-headbanging thing at my desk. This shit is good.

By track four, the multi-part epic “Mechanical Mind,” I am completely fucking sold. Despite Piggy’s absence, Target Earth sounds and feels like the real deal. It feels right. And more importantly, it’s damn good. With 3/4 of the founding members present, there is a sense that these guys are making up for lost time and getting back to what they do best. I mean, seriously. Listen to this shit.

Highlights? There are many, including the slow, brooding “Empathy For the Enemy”, and the more rock-based “Resistance.” The amount of dissonant, angular riffage crammed into Target Earth is almost overwhelming, frankly. The album does start to drag just slightly during the 2nd half, but never wears out its welcome. The closing track “Defiance” is promisingly furious, but oddly fades out after only about 90 seconds. If the intention was to leave me wanting more, then mission fucking accomplished.

If anything, this record proves how important the other 3 members are to the Voivod sound. Vocalist Snake still brings a Reagan-era punk rock influence, putting a much-needed human face on what has always been complex, unfriendly music. Blacky’s bass tone and his way of playing counterpoint against the guitar are a huge part of the effect too, an element that was sorely missed during the Jason Newsted/Eric Forrest eras. And drummer Away has always been an integral part both musically and visually since day one, providing much of the band’s sci-fi theme and the accompanying artwork. The cover of Target Earth is admittedly pretty bad, but the drum performance itself is among his very best.

But most impressive is how Mongrain has integrated himself into the band’s sound. He’s obviously done his homework on Piggy’s style, as evidenced by both the Warriors Of Ice live album and the Mongrain-transcribed Hatross and Killing Technology sheet music books. If anyone is a rightful heir to that throne, it is him. He certainly puts his own stamp on things too — he’s a more technical player than Piggy was, with a much more fluid style of soloing. But it’s obvious that Mongrain approached this album with great respect and a lot of hard work.

Target Earth is somehow, against all odds, the best Voivod album since probably The Outer Limits. It’s super-prog, plenty heavy, and pretty damn weird. And it has something to offer fans of any era of Voivod‘s past, while also having its own identity and direction. Welcome back, guys.