We’re each of us the sum of our experiences, aren’t we? And because most of us are human beings with both a sense of shame and an intense desire to connect with other people (somehow), we strive to make what bores us about our own experiences more interesting to those others. We invent. We embellish. We lie. Hoping to somehow feign a sparkle in a sea of gray mediocrity. We all do it. Some people do it with hurricane force and blatant disregard for the impact of their bluster on those around them. World champion good-guy comedian Brian Regan calls these inflamed anal polyps “Me Monsters.” He shares a wonderful little hypothetical in which he imagines being one of the Apollo astronauts at a cocktail party who obliterates a Me Monster’s bigger better anecdote with a blithe recollection of having walked on the moon. We laugh because it’s a great story and we can relate. But most of us relate to Regan’s imagined scenario, being the person who wishes they were the hypothetical person. Thing is, there are real people who have actually walked on the fucking moon. People who have lived amazing lives and done singular things, the stories of which the brashest Me Monsters don’t even bother trying to top. Making music is not in the same class of “things done” as slipping the surly bonds but, in the heavy metal world, Voivod is about as close as it gets to being the dudes who cruised an ATV through the Sea of Tranquility at Earthrise.
The Wake is Voivod’s fourteenth studio album and it is absolutely the sum of the band’s experiences. Heavy driving riffs interlocked with punk percussion recalling a long ago epiphany, “Like Motörhead, but with roböts!” Complex song structure reflecting a historical inflection point at which that clever idea alone could no longer contain the band’s creative energy. Rhythmic and melodic flexibility born from the desire to tell stories that get at not only the terror of technological tyranny, but also the purely human emotional vicissitudes that pave the way to that inevitable calamity and then also fuel the spiritual return from it. And the omnipresent sensation of space, inner and outer, that invigorates and liberates as often as it suffocates.
That cognitive to cosmic connection has become a Voivod calling card, and it defines The Wake, a concept album that tells the story of Us, so blissfully ignorant of the just-about-everything-in-the-universe that exists outside our little blue dot, if not each individual concept of self. And we discover to our horror that not only are we not alone, but that The Discovered Other seriously wonders, “Is there some use for mankind?” That can’t be good. Chaos ensues. And then resolve and redemption. The songwriting is progressive, constantly shifting time and tempo, tone and tenor in order to keep that storyline compelling both within and between songs. And somehow everything remains connected to those early roots even as it reaches to remember all the branches and blossoms of the band’s experience since, so that the feel of The Wake is at once fresh and familiar; the Voivod you’ve always known doing the thing you know so well even better than you could have hoped.
One of the most (but certainly not the only) critical aspects of the story is how each of the players has geared his instrument to just plain sound cool, but in a very specific way to illustrate the adventure. Denis “Snake” Bélanger waxes sharp and impassioned in narrating the tale, but also both soft and dispassionate in the role of subjugator, which ends up being some of his best melodic work ever. Daniel “Chewy” Mongrain’s leads and solos paint pictures of wide-eyed victims on the float, untethered in the lightless void or hovering in a zero-g lab surrounded by collected extraterrestrial specimens, or wilting in the shadow of some alien behemoth. In “Spherical Perspective”, Chewy shades a delicate beauty, serenity even, or is that cerebral hypoxia? And all the while, Michel “Away” Langevin and Dominique “Rocky” Laroche fuel a relentless drive; just lay back in your crash couch and feel the burn of Rocky’s pulse engine in “Always Moving.” And, as maybe the best meta-song-title ever, “Sonic Mycelium” permeates the songs, and even the albums, before it, reaching, breaking down and absorbing pieces, then reconstituting them as a wholly assimilated and functionally new entity.
More than anything else at all—and isn’t this the ultimate goal?—this new record from Voivod is so much fun. For most it will be instantly enjoyable and infinitely replayable, begging only the question of where among the best of Voivod’s albums it will rank. You’ve heard a lot already and are going to hear a lot more to come about how unique and game-changing other heavy metal albums are this year, and a lot of that will be blown extra hard by the bands themselves. Yet, despite The Wake being no less than elite among them, you aren’t likely to hear anything like that from the members of Voivod, because there really is no need to project a glossy image of yourself walking on the moon when you’ve actually been there.