Album of the Week 03-2013: Voivod – Target Earth

While the late Denis ‘Piggy’ d’Amour – who was the heart and soul of Voivod’s music, together with drummer Michel ‘Away’ Langevin – was deemed irreplacable, Martyr’s Dan Mongrain (nicknamed ‘Chewy’ for this occasion) did a fantastic job filling his shoes on the tours following Piggy’s death. When I saw them at the 2009 Wâldrock festival, I was amazed at how well Mongrain covered Piggy’s unique dissonant chords and psychedelic take on Thrash riffing. Now, there’s ‘Target Earth’, Voivod’s first album with Mongrain and all surviving original members. And it’s easily the band’s best album since the incomparable ‘Nothingface’ (1989).

Ever since ‘Mechanical Mind’ first surfaced online about three months ago, my anticipation for ‘Target Earth’ was immeasurable. ‘Mechanical Mind’ showed a Voivod reminiscent of their late eighties heyday of ‘Dimension Hatröss’ and ‘Nothingface’; the guitar riffs are dissonant and intense, Away’s rhythms are an odd mixture of Punky intensity and Jazzy twists, the trademark rumbling sound of returning bassist Jean-Yves ‘Blacky’ Thériault is back where it belongs and the vocals of Denis ‘Snake’ Bélanger are as weird as ever, although he has obviously come a long way since debut album ‘War And Pain’. The expectations caused by ‘Mechanical Mind’ were sky-high, but the promise was fulfilled or possibly even exceeded on ‘Target Earth’.

There isn’t one song on ‘Target Earth’ that is a letdown. That in itself is an impressive achievement by a band that just lost a key songwriter. Once the opening title track starts playing, one never has to check if this is actually Voivod we are listening to. And while there are a few hints to the slightly mellower, but still oddball Hardrock of the last few records (‘Kaleidos’ and parts of ‘Resistance’), most of the record is a very welcome return to the Sci-Fi obsessed, psychedelic and progressive Thrash Metal of the late eighties.

Besides the aforementioned ‘Mechanical Mind’, the highlight of ‘Target Earth’ is the first song these Québécois did in French. It’s called ‘Corps Étranger’ and after a short slower intro, it boasts THE riff of the album; the first fast riff is one of pure pulsating Thrashing rage (pun intended) with all the weirdness inherent to a Voivod riff and as such, a total throwback to the awesome ‘Killing Technology’. And it’s not just that riff: the entire song is filled with great riffs, unexpected twists in both rhythm and atmosphere and it’s just extremely well-written. Other highlights include the scorching Thrasher ‘Kluskap O’Kom’ (don’t ask, I don’t know either), the epic, progressive and atmospheric ‘Warchaic’, the powerful title track and ‘Artefact’, especially the passage where the guitar delay, rumbling bass and tom violence on the drums battle for supremacy.

In the end, the only criticism a fan could have on ‘Target Earth’ is wondering why the killer outro ‘Defiance’ wasn’t developed into a full song; it sounds like there was much more interesting stuff after the fadeout. When it comes to everything else, ‘Target Earth’ is the perfect album Voivod could have made at this point. Right down to the eighties drum sound. Mongrain is more than suitable as a replacement for Piggy – Martyr’s cover of ‘Brain Scan’ already made that perfectly clear – and the compositions are nothing short of spectacular. This is not for the conservative Thrasher – let’s not forget that we’re dealing with one of the very few bands who recorded a decent Pink Floyd cover here – but everyone with an open mind should find something enjoyable here. ‘Target Earth’ is an album more than worthy of the Voivod nomiker. Piggy would have been proud.

Recommended tracks: ‘Corps Étranger’, ‘Mechanical Mind’, ‘Kluskap O’Kom’

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