By Kate Ng
Heavy metal has always been an isolated tribe, proudly immune to influence and complaints from the mainstream. Yet, within this tribe of musical outsiders are mad scientists; welcome to progressive metal. Led by bands like Dream Theater and Opeth, prog-metal is a subgenre that subverts many traditional rules of heavy metal and even music itself.
Quebec’s Voivod is among the most respected metal bands to hail from Canada, influencing the growth of thrash and progressive metal. Following the creation of prog rock by bands like Led Zeppelin, King Crimson and Rush during the 70s, progressive metal was formed in the early 80s when bands like Queensryche and Voivod added faster guitars and double bass drums into the prog rock formula. The influence of Voivod is continued today by bands like Dream Theater and Aryeon, known for their conceptual albums and instrumental prowess.
Avoiding the overtly violent lyrics of their peers like Annihilator and Anvil, Voivod opts for a more insidious approach, singing about the apocalypse brought on by humanity’s abuse of technology or the horrors of space.
Their latest offering, an 8 track LP called The Wake, continues this trend. By using fast instruments, psychedelic-tinged riffs and keyboards they are able to create an unusual atmosphere. Shying away from the usual doom and gloom of their peers, Voivod aims to bury the listener with confusion and trippiness with odd-time signatures, something that has become their musical trademark. Compared to earlier albums like their 1987 release of “Killing Technology,” fast tempos have been traded for more thoughtful passages, making it easier to digest for newcomers of the genre.
The album opens with “Obsolete Beings,” a song made up of aggressive riffs, tempos above 200 BPM and shouted vocals showing naysayers that they remain a relevant band in Canada’s metal scene. Songs like “Always Moving” demonstrate a changed style by slowing tempos for a change in atmosphere, a far cry from their roots in thrash metal. The finale, “Sonic Mycelium” clocks in at just under 12 and a half minutes and follows a narrative approach to the songwriting. The only repetition in the track is seen in riffs within a section of the song, with sections having different themes or totally different time signatures.
The Wake reassures that Voivod has not lost its edge. The technical prowess on display would make most guitarists blush and like Voivod’s other albums, requires multiple listens to truly appreciate. Production is clean but leaves enough grit in the guitar and vocals to keep their crunch. The drums are particularly impressive, punctuating the song and punching the listener as a metal album should. However, fans of their earlier work are unlikely to be surprised as the album is firmly within progressive metal territory. Some fans may even consider The Wake a slow album compared to today’s metal albums. Its atmosphere is subtle and echoes the scores of movies like Alien. A far cry from most metal bands which approach atmosphere with the subtlety of a thrown sledgehammer.
While some of you may be shocked by this album appearing on CanCulture at all, I highly recommend listening to a song or two, especially to those already familiar with experimental music and rock. Who knows, maybe you’ll grow to love their oddly immersive sound. Rest assured Metalheads, you can expect an album with a unique atmosphere, inoffensive lyrics and modern production methods–not too clean, but hardly muddy. Required listening for anyone claiming to keep up with the Canadian metal scene.
Author’s picks: Obsolete Beings, Event Horizon, Always Moving.