Voivod – ‘The Wake’ (Album Review)

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Very few bands make it through three and a half decades – but over the course of multiple lineup adjustments, creative direction changes, tragedies and triumphs, Voivod have kept the dream alive since the early 80s. Whether laying down 17-minute songs or covering the Batman theme, Voivod keep pushing their boundaries and stretching their abilities to the limit, while having as much fun as possible. This band stands as proof that there’s always a new space to explore, another grand ambition lurking just around the corner.

A handful of past attempts at trend-chasing aside, Voivod have rarely seemed concerned with what they’re “supposed” to do at any given time. The Wake is defiantly uncool, at least given the current state of progressive metal; there’s no djent present on here at all, no vocals trying to clone Spencer Sotelo or Tesseract’s Dan Tompkins, no basslines desperately trying to rip off the latter band’s Amos Williams. Instead, legendary guitar virtuoso Steve Vai is one of this album’s most prominent influences, not only in terms of axe work, but also composition, chords, and harmonic structures.

Personally, I think more bands should take a leaf or two from Vai’s vast catalogue of unique musical approaches. Australian instrumental guitarist Plini – and now Voivod – aside, most people who attempt that particular feat end up sounding like half-masted wannabes. Voivod do not; instead, they succeed in spicing up an already flavoursome melting pot while sounding predominantly like themselves.

My main issue with The Wake is Voivod’s continued reliance on thrash sections that, at this point, feel dated and generic. Of course this band is synonymous with thrash, and were there at the beginning, so they can obviously lay claim to that territory with more authority than most. But large portions of this album look set to appeal mainly to Voivod superfans and die-hard prog-thrash obsessives.

There’s nothing wrong with that in itself, but The Wake sounds a little too much like Voivod preaching to the choir. Ignoring the zeitgeist is fine, and this is certainly one of Voivod’s better albums – and again, there’s that perfectly blended Vai spice referred to earlier – but for all its twists and turns, The Wake often becomes a serious slog. There is a concept behind it all, but there isn’t enough connection between the musical events in question and this plot outline:

“In the wake of an incredible discovery that created a monstrous disaster, the whole world will live through a series of events that will force humanity to understand the new reality and the concept of not being alone in the universe. Not without a fight, not without chaos and conflicts, not without plots and conspiracy. Some will accept and some will deny the truth. Religions will fall to create new ones. But eventually, the world will reach a new level of consciousness, a new spirit, a new way to look at the sky.”

Sounds like a sick start, right? Long-time Voivod aficionados will most likely enjoy The Wake regardless, but this album would be infinitely better off with a set of stronger bridges linking narrative intent with on-record execution, and the lyrics aren’t enough. Those missing details could have made the difference between sections that gradually turn tedious and disengaging, and fascinating, thrilling rides through an epically imaginative story.

For all their good ideas, and there are a great many scattered across The Wake, Voivod never quite seal the deal. This album is incredibly grandiose, even going so far as to incorporate a string quartet and orchestral percussion, and comes extremely close to becoming an all-conquering total package. But ultimately, it’s a puzzle with too many missing pieces.


Pre-order The Wake (out September 21) on iTunes.

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Posted on 20 September 2018

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