Voivod - Target Earth
2013 Century Media
Ray Van Horn, Jr.
Everyone keeping their eyes on the Voivod camp knew what was at stake the minute Dan Mongrain stepped into shoes almost no one else would dare to. The writing was on the wall, though, considering Mongrain's previous unit Martyr morphed cyberpunk overtures of Voivod into their extreme death-prog modes. Martyr's superb, one-click-quicker cover of "Brain Scan" showed Mongrain had the chops to replicate the late Denis "Piggy" D'Amour, a feat which he achieved to the surprise of everyone coming to Voivod's recent performances, captured on their Tatsumaki DVD and Warriors of Ice live album. Even better Jean-Yves "Blacky" Theriault hooked back up with the band to legitimize its proper return.
The real test of "Chewy" Mongrain has arrived now that Voivod has committed to him as permanent guitarist. While the spotlight is decidedly thrust upon him, it's the band as a collective that stakes one hell of an improbable comeback with their first post-Piggy album, Target Earth.
It's highly recommended you give Target Earth more than one spin before making your full analysis. Upon the first go-through, there's so much to absorb as Voivod breaks Chewy in, it becomes a mondo outpouring of information overload. Their reputation for expressionistic prog-thrash that seems so distant from the period of Rrroooaaarrr through Angel Rat is meticulously reconfirmed on Target Earth. It's as if Voivod adopted not only a back-to-basics ideology to begin writing new material without Piggy's multifaceted impressions, but they serve up a precognitive set of in-house experiences to give Dan Mongrain all the palettes he needs to make an impact. Following suit, Blacky brings back his sorely-missed bass vibratum and all the glorious guttural feedback he's historically expunged with inky grandeur. Theriault's reclamation of his pivotal place on Target Earth once again establishes he is one of the greatest metal bassists alive.
Whereas Piggy and Blacky had the inhuman propensity to follow one another note-for-note at hyperspeed on Voivod's most acclaimed works Killing Technology, Dimension Hatross and Nothingface, Blacky and Chewy bounce reverb off of one another in a tributizing attempt to conjure the spirit of Piggy between their massive metal ballistics. Piggy is no doubt flicking ethereal horns, because Mongrain tastefully heralds D'Amour's spellbinding distortion echoes on nearly every final note strike and all throughout the album. Mongrain and Blacky fill their spaces with as much wonderment as they can conjure amongst themselves in workmanlike manner. Thus Target Earth carries a vintage feel about it with precisely the right throwback nuances Voivod freaks cautiously hoped for.
Happier news, Denis "Snake" Belanger turns in his best vocal performance since The Outer Limits, even if the titanic booms of his supporting cast smother him in the mix at times. Nonetheless, he is to be applauded for digging deeper than he has in years on "Warchaic," "Kaleidos," "Mechanical Mind," "Resistance" and "Empathy for the Enemy," while he obtusely secretes the pummeling thrash of "Kluskap O'Kom" with gravelly mysticism. On the title cut, he's nearly as shamanistic as he was on Nothingface even if the song manifests itself more from Dimension Hatross.
Michel "Away" Langevin, the only Voivod member to have appeared on every album, might be the most re-energized player in the studio. He's given the opportunity to step back into red times and he drops more clattery rolls and punishing double hammers than he's executed prior to the death of his comrade. If anything feels like Killing Technology on "Kluskap O'Kom," "Artefact" and the even faster "Corps Etranger," it's Away's frantic free-thrashing.
Target Earth may sound rough around the edges in a couple of spots, but the overall homogenization of the new lineup unleashes plenty of the extracurricular cyber-psychedelic oddities, progressive tailspins and echo-happy fusion tunnels that characterize a Voivod classic. The slightly brackish production is a punt backwards to the Noise Records era and that alone should comfort Voivod purists. On the other hand, "Mechanical Mind" contains more signature swaps than a Hall of Fame induction party and it's far more than any of us could've expected from Voivod in 2013. The fact Away, Snake, Blacky and Chewy can write this damned well without their fallen leader is more than just a sigh of relief. Their prankster's hearts couldn't be filled with better intent by cutting off Target Earth in the midst of what goes down as a moshing outro, "Defiance." Then the rabid mongrel huffing at the beginning of "Kluskap O'Kom" is hilarious but addictive, much as Chewy and Blacky's top-flight shredding is once the track zips forward.
Katorz and Infini appeared to signal the final hurrah of Voivod with Piggy's posthumous blueprints left behind as components for a bittersweet farewell that still felt unfinished despite the band's best efforts to piece them together through their own interpretations. However, like Killing Joke has achieved something genuinely special in the wake of Paul Raven's passing by reuniting their best-known lineup, Voivod recalibrates themselves through the anguish and determination of their survivors. They're aided by an acolyte who's achieved the impossible by summoning the delicate characteristics of his predecessor and still Dan Mongrain leaves his own imprint as he enters the blaring psychic vacuum that is Voivod perpetua.
Iron Gang forever.