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VOIVOD - The Wake

Ok, after kicking it off with the review of the E-Force show on Friday, Voivodmania continues with their new full-length album "The Wake".

And this album shouldn't even exist.

Wait, hold your hate! I'm not giving a slating here. It's just that in the world of metal I don't have any real preference for this.

VOIVOD - The Wake (white vinyl 2LP / side D etched) (plus Deluxe Edition download) (2018)

Of course it has happened before that long-running bands released respectable, even very good records 35+ years into their careers. But the way how Voivod are checking every single box here is astounding:

They are building upon their classic sound without just retrospectively reprising it. Instead they are still expanding and driving forward. "The Wake" is overflowing with fresh ideas and love to detail. Every song has those wow, what is that? moments we all know from some of our favorite records which the respective artists recorded at the creative peak of their career.

Everything about this album is so ridiculously good, it screams the question: How is this possible?

But instead I'm asking: How - after "Target Earth" and even more so after the "Post Society" are we, am I even surprised now?

After my enthusiastic reaction to "The Wake" I revisited those releases, half expecting to discover major flaws now which I hadn't been aware of before. But no, these are still killer works that leave most of the world of metal far behind.

But there are indeed a few key differences.

"Target Earth" was a very heterogenic record which drew inspiration from every of the many phases in Voivod's history and thus also functioned as a showcase for Piggy's successor Chewy, proving his versatility as well as his deep connection and truthfulness to the unique original Voivod guitar style.

Yet there were two things which in my opinion held "Target Earth" back from stirring more attention outside established Voivod fan circles than it did:
The production wasn't there yet. It's hard to find a consistent guitar sound that works for the diversity of the song material and somehow in conjuction to the bass it got a tad too muffled and just a bit demanding to listen to.

It also was a long album with a lot of stand-alone stories, whereas "The Wake" marks the return to the concept album formula, which ties the songs together tighter and makes it an easier, more coherent listening experience despite being a stylistically even wider and more progressive ride than "Target Earth".

Voivod live 2017
With "Post Society" all sound issues were resolved and the new bass player Rocky was successfully integrated into the band. It's still a perfect release for me, but of course it's just an EP with four original songs and one cover version.
"The Wake" now doubled the content, took this quality and even elevated it within the framework of an overarching story.

Or in other words: "Post Society" found Voivod on such a high level, it just didn't seem plausible that there was still uncharted space left above it. Yet appearantly there was.

So how did they reach it? I assume it has a lot to do with the uncommon constellation that the two musical main contributors are still identifying as much as fans of the band as they are members. Chewy and Rocky both experienced the very same Voivod show as their first concert when they were kids. So here we have two immensly talented musicians, who have still maintained the perspective of being fans who fantasize about how the dream album of their favorite band would sound. And they have the opportunity to co-craft this very album.

And even though the long-time original members of the band rightfully say that "The Wake" is Chewy's masterpiece, Voivod are and have always been a team operation.

All of Chewy's stunning input to this album works in favour of the story which singer Snake has laid out.
And as always Away doesn't only tie everything together with his relentless and remarkably effortless drumming, but of course also with the visuals that play such a big part in painting the whole picture.

Funnily the chaotic qualities of the cover artwork and how it jumps right into your face of all the things reminds me of the fascinatingly repulsive apocalyptic gore on Autopsy's latest release "Puncturing The Grotesque".

But just take a look at this artwork (vinyl available in several colours; I'm a sucker for white records, even though it makes the edging on side CD almost invisible):

Ok, you may have noticed that I've already hinted at my full approval for the album here and there. So let me at last get a little bit into what awaits you on "The Wake" without losing myself in every track or recapping the story, because that would be a little too extensive.
"The Wake" just like the last two releases draws its inspiration mainly from the classic late 80s to early 90s period of Voivod. And it does it in a way that results in a new flavour. A mixture of "Dimension Hatröss" and "The Outer Limits" is a description I've read a couple of times, but I would add with the production philosophy of "Nothingface" to it.

The album sees Voivod at their most progressive, which means technical thrash metal as much as actual prog rock. There's a rock opera feel which heavily calls back to "Jack Luminous" and  includes some very storytelling-oriented arrangements including space sounds or that string quartet which pops up in the middle of "Iconspiracy" and feels like the theme of some sci-fi tv show.
On the other hand the band still maintains the urgency of their punk roots, which is absolutely no contradiction to their prog side. Just listen to the wild demeanor in which they throw you from one time signature to the next. It's all connected.
The primal connector of everythings that's going on here is probably Snake's vocal performance. Fuck, he really gives his best on this album. Whether he screams or croons, he's presents himself in top shape and works in some of his best melodies to date. I haven't heard verses reminding me that much of "Angel Rat" from Voivod since... well, since "Angel Rat".

The production philosophy of "Nothingface" - what I mean when I say this phrase actually is the approach which Robert Fripp found for the 1970s and 80s King Crimson records "Red" and "Discipline": At a certain amount of technical playing the best choice to keep your sound clear but also hard-hitting is to keep it dry.
So during riffs and most licks the guitar on "The Wake" doesn't go overboard with effects and has a rather tame distortion by today's standards. But it's the precision which evokes the heaviness here.
All in all this is pretty close to what the band did on "Nothingface". Just listen to that punchy snare drum which accompanies the guitar so perfectly. And when the guitar is supposed to sound ethereal and spacy like the psychedelic patterns under the verses of "Always Moving" the contrast is all the more effective.

That also goes for the beautiful solos, which are the one element definitely more Daniel Mongrain than Chewy channeling Piggy. His solo style is very much that of a jazz fusion player with a metal background, so automatically Cynic's Paul Masvidal comes to mind.

Further novelties specifically of this record are the additional orchestral percussions. The timbals mostly provide atmospheric interludes, which have a similar function to the soundscapes between the songs on "Phobos". But they also sneak into some of the actual compositions, like the dramatic finale of the second song (and closest to title track) "The End Of Dormancy".

And there is of course the whole last song "Sonic Mycelium". The over twelve minutes long conclusion of the album is something quite familiar in the realm of concept albums, a final synopsis which reprises themes and lines from the whole album and kind of works like the closing credits of a movie.

Voivod however have never done this thing before - and they are adding a special twist here, as they are pulling direct musical and lyrical quotes from the seven previous tracks, but they combine them in a new way. So you get all the central motifs stamped into your subconscious, but it doesn't happen with the sledgehammer, because you are also in a different place now.

The groove of "Sonic Mycelium" has a strong "Jack Luminous" vibe to it - and yes, I know I have mentioned the legendary longtrack from "The Outer Limits" before.
When I listened to "The Wake" for the first time, I actually thought after not even ten minutes, that this whole effort felt like Voivod were applying on "Jack Luminous" what Dream Theater did, when they resumed the song "Metroplis Pt.1" with the whole "Scenes From A Memory" album.

And what happens in "Sonic Mycelium"? Between all the other quotes from "The Wake" Snake suddenly goes: "You will never switch him off, when you're hypnotized..."
Damn, I'm so good, haha!

So let's come to the end! And the end is of course the reappearance of the string quartet for a beautiful final crescendo, before not so beautifully falling apart. Wow, what a great way to close this masterpiece!

You can put "The Wake" next to anything this band has ever done, it will never look weak in comparison. Of course it's different and it has the disadvantage of not being associated with your personal nostalgia yet, but make no mistake: this is peak performance Voivod.

It's the best thrash metal sci-fi opera since Vektor's "Terminal Redux" and the best Voivod album since... "The Outer Limits"? "Nothingface"? Hell, do I need to decide?

And yes, guys: After six months you mercilessly kicked Anna von Hausswolff's "Dead Magic" from the top of my album of the year list. I hope you're happy now, you bastards.

I have to go into heaviest nitpicking mode to find anything on the negative side. I wouldn't mind if "Sonic Mycelium" was two minutes shorter. But also don't really mind that it isn't, so fuck that. Nope, the band has done everything right.

The vinyl quality is good, there are only a few noises on the end of side B of my copy. But those are easily within my tolerance range.

No, the only thing really bothering me is that no digital copy is included, especially since other Century Media releases like the new Lucifer record which I purchased alongside "The Wake" provide an additional CD.
So I was left with the choice of digitalizing the album myself or buying another copy.

The options at choice are the regular CD or a special 2-CD version, which also includes the whole "Post Society" EP plus six live tracks from their last 70.000 Tons Of Metal concert. So I opted for the pure digital download of this Deluxe Edition, which misses the "Post Society" tracks (don't care, I already have those), but comes with the live recordings.

"Inner Combustion", "Order Of The Blackguards", "Psychic Vacuum", "Lost Machine", "Fall" and "Voivod" are a good representative mixture of what the band was up to live during the last couple of years. The recordings are good bootleg quality, so they wouldn't be suitable for a standalone release, but work just fine as bonus material.

Highlights: The End Of Dormancy, Event Horizon, Spherical Perspective, Iconspiracy ... well, basically the whole thing, because this album only has a-list material on it.

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