Canada’s Voivod has always been an interesting prospect. Initially focused on speed metal, they eventually came to incorporate styles like punk, thrash, and progressive into the mix (which makes sense since their influences include Stravinsky, Pink Floyd, Yes, Dead Kennedys, Neurosis, Sex Pistols, and Rush). As a result, their highly fascinating and characteristic compositions ooze animalistic intricacy, with brains and brawn that intrigue in equal measure. The quartet’s 14th studio album, The Wake, is a great testament to that. At once jovially savage and artistically sophisticated, the record is far more original, catchy, and smart than it has any right to be (considering that the gang started nearly 40 years ago).
Currently comprised of original drummer Michel “Away” Langevin and vocalist Denis “Snake” Bélanger—as well as guitarist Daniel “Chewy” Mongrain and bassist Dominique “Rocky” Laroche (who makes his Voivod LP debut here)—the quartet describes The Wake as a concept album with “a tangled, tantalizing storyline, woven into the most maze-like, edge-of-your-seat musical experience the band have embarked upon since those heady days of the late ’80s”. Specifically, the tale revolves around how “an incredible discovery… [creates] a monstrous disaster” that leads people to question their place in the universe. Bélanger adds, “Some will accept and some will deny the truth. Religions will fall to create new ones. But eventually, the world will reach a new level of consciousness, a new spirit, [and] a new way to look at the sky”. Clearly, there’s a lot of quirky intellectualism to The Wake both musically and narratively, making it an engrossing ride from start to finish.
Kicking off with the panicked waves of what sounds like a helicopter ascending, “Obsolete Beings” sets the tone for The Wake well. Soon, classic thrash instrumentation encourages Bélanger as he oscillates between clean realizations and guttural warnings about impending conflict. It’s quite engrossing and dynamic, with tight rhythmic changes and a mystifying guitar solo adding to the inventive hypnosis. It’s a great starting point for sure, and the subsequent arrangements maintain such impressive balances.
For instance, “The End of Dormancy” switches up its militaristic core with complex switches and some voice-over directions and chants, leading to a palpable preparation for battle. Afterward, “Orb Confusion” mixes that same heaviness with a sort of breezy punk attitude, whereas “Spherical Perspective” is unexpectedly progressive in its winding yet unified detours. Likewise, the penultimate “Always Moving“—which includes measures in 15/4—is a fairly accessible slice of a surreal psychedelic fever dream. Every piece of the puzzle is novel yet suitable.
Beyond that core variety, there are two more aspects of The Wake that make it imaginatively resourceful. Primarily, closer “Sonic Mycelium” is a tour-de-force that ties together sections from most, if not all, of the previous songs into a whirlwind of ingenious conceptual continuity. Naturally, it uses engaging segues in-between those parts to make it as fresh as it is familiar (including a string outro written by Mongrain that adds to Voivod’s ambitious stylistic straddling). On that note, several earlier entries end with unexpected epilogues (both musical and atmospheric) that blur the lines between selections. It’s a clever way to make The Wake flow with extra seamless weight as an impactful experience.
The Wake is a striking album in many ways. Its scope is astoundingly large in terms of both narrative and genre-melding cohesion, yielding a very determined and dense effort that demands multiple investigations to internalize fully. In that way, it’s deceptively elaborate and surprising throughout, making it a laudable effort by in and of itself. Of course, the fact that it’s the 14th outing by a group that began in 1982 makes it that much more remarkable. Voivod may be veterans at this point, but they’re still providing one-of-a-kind vivaciousness.