So the story of metal has been since time immemorial. There’s always been a glut of bands and a dearth of innovation. Sure, metal has mass working class appeal, but it’s still ultimately a conservative-minded genre. Doing what’s expected and nothing greater is a perfectly acceptable way to ply the trade. And as soon as one band strikes an ore vein with a strong fresh idea, an endless amount of copycat bands almost instantly pop up.
It’s part of the reason why I love mid-career Voivod as much as I do. They started out as a fairly pedestrian thrash band, but their sci-fi obsessions and deep interest in progressive rock blended together to form a truly original hybrid of forward-thinking metal. It took them a while to find their stride (the first three albums are patchy) and losing key members late in their career saw a decline in quality (avoid the albums that don’t include Denis Bélanger), but when they were on, their music can stand the tests of time.
In the late 80s and early 90s the band released a quartet of amazing albums. This track comes from the second of the four, Nothingface (released in 1989). It’s my personal favorite both for being the height of their creativity and the height of their experimentalism. The album saw them incorporate more electronic drum triggers (handled by drummer Michel Langevin) and guitar effects as well as an increased ability to write memorable melodies. Voivod is probably the only band that could make a couplet like “bauxite double bind / forgetful retry” stick in your head.
This song is about, uh, sequences that are missing, I guess. It’s not the lyrics I care about here – it’s the song structure. Basically it's just two long verses, one of my favorite compositional devices in metal (“Excoriating Abdominal Emanation” by Carcass is another excellent example of this concept). This particular track is club-sandwiched between an intro, a coda and a killer middle break. The verse itself has four distinct segments before moving to the break that I love so much.
“I did, I didn’t know / I think I should go … GO!” The guitar solo is short and backed only by the bass – this was the album where Voivod decided to eschew rhythm guitar tracks and let bassist Jean-Yves Thériault handle holding the harmonic background down. The apex of the song is right smack in the middle: those four chords that follow the solo are amazing; go back and listen to them again. Then it jumps into the second verse. Going through the cycle again and on to the closing section, you can tell a lot has happened, but it's all easy to separate into bite-sized chunks.
Progressive metal that isn't navel-gazing nor a chore to listen to. What a novel idea, right? If only there had been more bands at the time willing to push themselves as hard as Voivod did. For those who don't already know, Voivod guitarist Denis D'Amour succumbed to cancer in 2005 and the rest of the band pieced together a farewell album from unused studio tracks that was released earlier this year. Thanks for the music, guys. What a long, strange trip it's been.