For over three decades now, Canadian legends Voivod have been making a name for themselves as one of the most forward-thinking metal bands to ever pick up instruments. Their sci-fi-damaged punk-thrash has never been copied (though some have tried); they are one of those bands that is truly unique in every sense of the word, thanks to the singular musical alchemy created when its individual members come together. That alchemy seemingly came to a tragic end in 2005 when founding guitarist Denis “Piggy” D’Amour passed from this plane of existence due to a bout with thyroid cancer. The band went on to release two albums welded together using riffs D’Amour had recorded prior to his untimely death (2006’s Katorz and 2009’s Infini), but it appeared for all intents and purposes that the warriors of ice were no more in the wake of the loss of their beloved guitarist.
Enter Daniel “Chewy” Mongrain, known for founding respected tech-death band Martyr as well as playing on Gorguts’ final album From Wisdom to Hate. The surviving members of Voivod asked Mongrain to step into the six-string spot for a series of one-off/D’Amour tribute shows, and the success of that collaboration bore fruit far beyond what anyone expected, leading to a fully reactivated band. The end result is Target Earth, Voivod’s first collection of new material since 2009, and to say that it’s a scorcher would be a gross understatement.
Many longtime fans will be pleased to hear that Target Earth is the most metal-sounding thing Voivod have done since 1997’s Phobos. While the last few albums were enjoyable slabs of hard rock littered with the band’s trademark spaced-out weirdness, Target Earth is a heavier, more aggressive undertaking. This may be the result of Mongrain’s influence, or perhaps due to the return of original bassist Jean-Yves “Blacky” Thériault. Mongrain’s playing recalls Piggy’s off-kilter axe-work, but brings a ferocity and forcefulness to the table that wasn’t always present on latter-day Voivod recordings. Blacky’s patented “blower bass” tone was an intergral part of early Voivod, and nothing against Jason Newsted (or Eric Forrest for that matter), but it’s nice hearing that trademark low-end gnarliness back in the mix.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Target Earth is the most cohesive and well-written batch of songs the group has penned since re-convening with original vocalist Denis “Snake” Belanger (who sounds great here, BTW) back in 2002. Granted, it might be unfair to judge this album against Katorz and Infini due to their patchwork nature, but the band does sound legitimately re-energized and rejuvenated on tracks like the epic “Mechanical Mind,” the punk-fueled “Kluskap O’Kom,” or the spacey yet rocking “Kaleidos.” Each and every track here has it’s own unique character, but each track is also unquestionably Voivod. It’s as if the band cherry-picked the best aspects of their various sonic eras and combined them into one album.
Ultimately, Target Earth is many things; a testament to the surviving members’ resolve, a tribute to their fallen friend, and the first great metal album of 2013. But most of all it’s a new beginning, full of possibilities as vast as the multiverse, and a chance for metal’s original post-apocalyptic warlords to once again evolve, grow and conquer. Voivod lives.