I, Dr. Fisting, am back—but much more importantly, so is Voivod. After suffering a near-fatal blow with the death of founding guitarist Denis “Piggy” D’Amour in 2005, these Canadian legends are experiencing an unlikely renaissance with new axeman Dan Mongrain (ex-Martyr). 2013’s Target Earth was the best thing the band had done in decades, and the follow-up EP Post Society took the band’s music in an even more progressive direction. With this momentum established, The Wake seems positioned to expand Voivod‘s musical world once more.
Leadoff track/first single “Obsolete Beings” is simultaneously thrashy, psychedelic, and weird—in other words, all things a Voivod song should be. However, things get considerably more intriguing on the “The End of Dormancy.” The track begins innocently enough, with a Phobos-era death march of a riff eventually giving way to some absurdly technical soloing. From there, a section appears straight out of Holst’s The Planets, including a goddamn orchestra and timpani players. Frontman Denis “Snake” Belanger rises to the occasion, augmenting his usual bellow with some choral arrangements and even a somewhat theatrical spoken-word bit towards the end. This song may well be Voivod‘s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and is in many ways the most ambitious thing they have ever done.
“Orb Confusion” is the flip side of that coin, with the band dishing out hyper-dissonant tech-thrash and Snake belting it out like it’s a Ramones song—the “na na na” bits in the chorus are fucking ridiculous, and yet they work perfectly. While Mongrain may well be the musical architect of The Wake, Snake is easily its most valuable player. This record is his most energetic vocal performance in forever, and he’s taking chances with his technique that few of his peers would even attempt at this point.
The string section reappears on several other tracks, and its inclusion is perhaps the most notable aspect of Voivod‘s latest evolution. The band has always had an orchestral element to its sound, blatantly homaging Stravinsky and Shostakovich in their early years, so incorporating the real thing is, if anything, long overdue. It’s a testament to Voivod‘s talent that they were able to do so convincingly and seamlessly, while so many of their contemporaries could not. Founding drummer Michel “Away” Langevin also delivers a command performance here, navigating the many twists and turns of “Event Horizon” and dishing out pseudo-blast beats on “Iconspiracy” like a man half his age. Away is also responsible for all of Voivod’s album artwork, and the cover for The Wake is a huge improvement from his art on the previous two records. New bassist Dominic “Rocky” LaRoche (who replaced founding member Blacky on Post Society) makes his presence known as well, whether he’s playing higher melodies on “Spherical Perspectives” or grinding out the counterpoint to Chewy’s space madness riffage on “Always Moving.”
The album concludes with “Sonic Mycelium,” a 12-minute medley that revisits several musical themes that occurred earlier on the album, as well as a verse from 1993’s “Jack Luminous” for good measure. Yes, it’s gratuitous, but it reinforces the album as being a single work, rather than a collection of songs. While The Wake may lack a standout track such as “We Are Connected” (the very best song of the Mongrain era thus far, for my money), it’s also more cohesive and consistently engaging as a whole than Target Earth was.
Thirty-five years in, Voivod is riding a wave of creativity that would have seemed all but impossible a decade ago. Mongrain and Laroche are meticulous in preserving the band’s classic sound but are unafraid of exploring new musical territory. Not to be outdone by the new guys, Belanger and Langevin have stepped up their game considerably as well. Having carried on without both Piggy and Blacky, Voivod might be less a collection of specific people now, and more of an idea of how music should sound. And to paraphrase V For Vendetta, ideas are bulletproof.