Sound — 8
It's hard to top a visionary like Piggy, let alone attempt his material. Voivod had a sound that was all their own, and in light of his tragic death in 2005, it seemed like the band was done for good. These unfortunate circumstances led to Blacky, Voivod's original bassist and last seen on 1991's "Angel Rat", reestablishing a relationship with his former bandmates. Enter Dan Mongrain, a name well known to fans of metal for his work in Gorguts ("From Wisdom To Hate") and his own death metal band, Quebec's Martyr. A fellow Quebecois and lifelong fan of Voivod, he is the perfect, and perhaps only, guy to take Piggy's reins. Initially joining the band to play some shows as a tribute, he jived with the band and sparked an interest in continuing with new material. No one understands Piggy's vocabulary of sci-fi thrash better, and that's none more evident than in "Target Earth", perhaps Voivod's most anticipated album in 20 years. The music is more than a little reminiscent of Voivod's glory days, particularly "Dimension Hatross" and "Nothingface". This is evident in songs like the title track and "Kluskap O'Kom", which kick the album off in full force. There's echoes of "Nuclear War" ("War And Pain") in "Target", and "Kluskap" brings back Away's thunderous d-beat, something which may not have been heard since "Nothingface". There's no question: the swirling diminished chords, blower bass and anus tight drumming that Voivod were known for are back. While the album sets things up nicely as a tribute to Piggy, "Enemy For The Empathy" opens with an acoustic intro that reminds me of a Turkish wedding in space, and something completely new for Voivod. Similarly, "Warchaic" is 100% Voivod in scope and dynamics, but it sounds truly fresh while still being the logical followup to "Nothingface". Dan has done his homework, having released two tablature books for Dimension Haross and "Killing Technology", but he has a different soloing style than Piggy. Whereas the former master mixed cyclic blues shredding with diminished licks, Dan has a more fluid fusion approach that is similar to Marty Friedman on LSD. He chooses his moments to solo very carefully however, choosing to play brutally weird riffs that cascade into ethereal bliss. Blacky's bass sound is as grimy and pounding as ever, and he rounds out the sound while playing some of his most driving lines to date. He is what holds the band together when Piggy/Dan venture into the higher register of the guitar. Away holds things down as tight as he always has, and doesn't skimp on the double bass or punk beats. The production doesn't seem to be suffering from being overtly loud and distorted, something that plagues most modern metal recordings, but I could do without Away's triggered snare drum sound and with a little more focus on his cymbal work. Similarly, the bass could be brought down in the mix and the vocals a lot higher. However, the overall sound fits the concept of the band, i.e mechanical, 'robotic' thrash of a progressive nature.
Lyrics — 8
Snake has always been an anomaly of a singer in the metal world. For one, he sounds like a bratty punk, and his vocal inflections are unlike any other. The thick Quebecois accent leaves for a front man with so much personality and charisma that no matter far how out there he gets, you're listening in anticipation for the next line. He definitely comes from the personality school of singing, with a nasally voice and odd phrasing. Snake is another one of Voivod's calling cards, and his schizophrenic touch fits the sound perfectly. In the 80s, Voivod focused on a sci-fi concept that was also a parable about the potential dangers of technology, and a future driven by constant nuclear escalation and mankind's gradual mechanization through computers. Target Earth similarly deals with a world constantly on the verge of chaos, corruption and all out destruction. However, what Voivod once sang about as science fiction is now reality. The Killing Technology the band warned us about, is here, now. The more free and connected we become as individuals, as a society we move further away from our liberties, and corporations rule the game. We've become alienated from ourselves, and the people around us, turning to a digital reality. These concepts, as well as the ever looming world financial meltdown are the lyrical fodder for the title track and "Resistance" with lines such as: "Cannot save, cannot trade Be afraid, you could die! Cannot search, cannot trace File erased, you will die!" from the title track. It deals with the concept of the world's finances being 0s and 1s in a computer, and the modern day apocalypse that could end our world. Likewise, Resistance echoes the Occupy Wall Street movement and the growing gap between the wealthy and the poor. "Behind the curtains, watch from above Inside the towers, laughing out loud And then the gargoyles, sitting on top Drinking champagne, making out loud We may just crush them, like little ants That's how they look like, thinking out loud" "Corps Tranger" features Snake singing completely in French, a first for the group, while "Kaleidos" (possibly the song that captures 80s Voivod the most) is about secret government conspiracies. It would have been nice to have Snake's vocals higher in the mix, as they hide in the background at times due to what can be an overwhelming bass presence. It's a shame, because he's using his complete vocal range on "Target Earth", including his punk sneer, old school metal snarl, as well as the cleaner, more surreal voice he used on his 90s contributions (best of all on "The Outer Limits"). As mentioned before, it would have been nice to have heard Snake's vocals a bit more, as he's in top form on this album.
Overall Impression — 9
Personally, it means a lot to me to have a new Voivod record in 2013. To add to that, it feels even better to have my favourite metal band recapture their magic without it sounding contrived. Piggy was a one of a kind guitarist, and Voivod defined what it meant to be a progressive band post 1970s. They took elements from prog like King Crimson and Van Der Graaf Generator, metal like Motorhead, Venom and Mercyful, and the hardcore violence of Discharge and early Die Kreuzen and mixed them together in a way that had never been done before. To this day, you don't have bands doing anything with the diminished scale like Piggy did, resorting to wanky riffs and needless time changes to sound interesting. They underestimate the importance of having a real soundtrack to their concept. It's good to know that Voivod are in great hands with Dan Mongrain leading the way, because he encapsulates the sound of the band and also leaves a future for real progression in the band. While there were some issues with the levels of the bass and vocals, I thought the production was ultimately really good. Snake's singing may not be for everyone, though, but it's important to note that his delivery truly fits the lyrics and concepts, which is difficult to do. I can't imagine what's to come from the Milky Way, far away, but I know that "Target Earth" is the best Voivod album since "Nothingface", and that Voivod may just finally snatch the success that's eluded them.