Put on any Voivod record since their 1984 debut album War And Pain and it’s immediately clear who you’re listening to. The band has carved out a very specific notch in metal that cuts deep into the pillars of thrash and progressive metal. Fourteen albums and 36 years later and you’d assume they’d be cranking out serviceable, if not surprisingly good material. Which isn’t a dig at the band – 36 years is a long time to be consistently great. Except Voivod, all this time and material deep into its career, has produced an absolute modern progressive metal masterpiece that is undeniably one of their best albums yet.
Drummer Michel “Away” Langevin recently told Prog Report that The Wake is “almost fusion metal in a way, but we still keep the thrash metal attack in the mix,” while bringing up that The Wake is more of a progressive metal record in multiple interviews with other outlets. If anything, Langevin could’ve just come out and said Voivod wrote one of the best progressive metal albums of the decade and he’d still be right. The Wake is the perfect metal concept album, seemingly about conspiracy theories and government secrets, whose progressive leanings meet perfectly at the thrash-heavy and semi-atonal stomping grounds you’d normally find Voivod traversing. It’s also one of the exceedingly rare times an artist has compared their brand of metal to jazz or jazz fusion and been dead on the mark.
The Wake will keep you as on the edge of your seat and completely enthralled as a gripping movie. Opener “Obsolete Beings” d-beats and thrashes its way across the Voivod‘s shimmering aural plains, only to stop on a dime and look around in slow confusion halfway through. “The End Of Dormancy” may well be the greatest sci-fi-sounding metal song ever written, and it all comes to a catchy head on “Orb Confusion.” The album even has complete and total space out moments like on the grindingly oscillating “Always Moving,” while closer “Sonic Mycelium” grabs all the most progressive portions of The Wake and throws them together for a jarring finale.
Voivod‘s experimentation on The Wake is utterly flawless. Some of the album’s jaw-dropping moments are its strangest – “Always Moving” employs a pulsing and attack-less bass under a slowly-churning clean guitar, the orchestral section closes “Sonic Mycelium” with more of a haunting question mark than a period and end credits, and the sound effects coupled with militaristic rhythms on “The End Of Dormancy” are the perfect blend of cinematic and musical. Though for every progressive moment, Voivod matches it with punky, thrashy, and downright crushing riffs. Compositionally, the songs on The Wake never seem to resolve to a key center. Each song floats, sprints, crawls or simply materializes between points, giving the whole album a sense of uneasy motion.
The Wake‘s music plays as if it were jumping from scene to scene, or between disjointed memories half-remembered and lost in a mental haze. One minute you’re being attacked and consumed on “The End Of Dormancy,” the next you’re plotting your escape after waking up with a device you can’t identify on your head on “Orb Confusion.” The Wake is possibly vocalist Denis “Snake” Bélanger’s pinnacle achievement in terms storytelling, as he weaves an intricate tale throughout the record that leaves it up to you to figure out what’s happening – and of course, how much of what the narrator is saying you can actually believe.
The Wake is perfect. It’s the right amount of experimental, the right amount of conceptual, and the right amount of heavy. Voivod doesn’t cheesily tailor the music to the lyrics and Bélanger doesn’t employ different voices and deliveries to beat you over the head with his concepts. The Wake tells its musical story as if it were really happening. As if it were true. Though even beyond Bélanger’s story, Voivod‘s music is a twisting, turning labyrinth of foggy nightmares that appear in the shadows and dissipate into nothing just as quickly as they came.
The Wake is apex Voivod. The chemistry between all four members is nothing short of magic, which shines so effortlessly through during every single second that calling The Wake anything less than a modern masterpiece is simply false.