If you had asked me five years ago what I thought the chances of a new Voivod studio album ever happening would be I probably would have laughed in your face. Not because I didn’t want it to happen, but because the probability of it happening at that point and time was pretty much null and void. As of 2008, Voivod was a band that for all intents and purposes seemed over. The group’s founding guitarist, Denis “Piggy” D’Amour, had died three years previous from cancer and it seemed Voivod was very much a memory. Then that summer they surprised most by coming out of retirement to play the first Heavy MTL festival with a new/old line up: original bassist Blacky was back behind his blower bass and Martyr guitarist Dan Mongrain was playing guitar.
At first what was assumed would only be a one-off soon grew to become a return to live action for the band. The next summer saw the band play almost every European metal fest and support Down on a cross-Canada tour and things just kept building from there. The metal world soon discovered that if there was one guitarist who could replace Piggy properly it was Mongrain, who proved show after show that he was up for the job. That was still a long way away from the band writing and recording new material, but as time went on more and more rumours started to float that the band was working on new material and then, at last year’s Roadburn fest, the band broke out some new songs. New! Voivod! songs! In! 2012!
So, here we are in 2013 and lo and behold, Target Earth is about to drop. The album that many of us never thought would happen is here and, I am very proud to say, it’s a hell of a record. Recorded and self-produced by the band in Quebec and mixed by Sanford Parker in his Chicago studio, the album features ten new tracks that debuts Mongrain as a full member of the band with creative input. It has been written elsewhere already that this is the album the band should have made after their landmark Nothingface album. This is not a viewpoint I agree with, as that would exclude Angel Rat and Phobos as being as equally important to the overall history of the band, but I will say that if this album had been made after Nothingface I don’t think any discerning Voivod fan would have been disappointed.
The most important factor to this writer that makes Target Earth an important, vital Voivod album is the return of Blacky on bass. Blacky’s blower bass sound was an absolutely integral part of the original Voivod sound. It’s filthy, it’s heavy and no other bass player that has spent time in this band has had a sound anywhere near what Blacky has. Listen to his opening riff in “Artefact” to know what I mean, for Blacky doesn’t play bass as much as he manhandles it (and I mean that in the best way possible, for his bass playing is and always will be fucking awesome). And, of course, the other major factor that makes this album so different is Mongrain’s guitar playing.
While the songwriting is clearly in the Voivodian tradition, by no means has Mongrain set out to merely mock Piggy’s style. This is Mongrain’s own style and feel integrated into an updated Voivod sound. Yes, he does play the diminished fifths and carries on with the Voivodian style of obtuse riffs, but he also has put his own stamp into the guitar riffs and solos. There are definite parts in the songs, like the solo in opening track “Target Earth“ and the acoustic guitar intro to “Empathy for the Enemy” that are miles away from anything that Piggy ever played.
Vocally speaking, Target Earth is Snake’s best vocal performance on a Voivod album since The Outer Limits. This will come as little surprise to longtime fans of the band, especially considering that the last two albums were basically pieced together and much rougher sounding than anything else in the Voivod catalogue, but his performance here feels more natural than it did on 2003’s self-titled album (remember, the one with Jason Newsted? Yeah, that one). There are studio treatments on some of the songs, but Snake seems to exude a confidence that has been missing on everything since he originally left the band way back when.
Target Earth is one of those albums that many reviewers will spend more time talking about what is wrong with it than what is right. Since it is the first album to feature Mongrain and it is essentially the start of a new era, you can expect it to be compared over and over to the band’s legacy. This is unnecessary in my opinion, for as Snake sings in “Warchaic”, the band is out “to find a brand new world”, and it is something they manage to do just fine. Join them, won’t you?
Target Earth will be released in North America on January 22nd