It’s been 5 years since Voivod last targeted earth, not that they haven’t been busy with smaller releases and extensive touring over that time. An album from the Canadian troops is pretty much a main event and they work steadfastly and with determination, never particularly rushing things. I have not always had the smoothest ride along the way and there have been curveballs but one has to occasionally be critical. After all their early stuff is unquestionably innovative and has caused many a group to follow the leaders and be influenced by the band who have been going now for a remarkable 37 years! Personally I absolutely loved the period that they took us to ‘The Outer Limits’ and then had Eric Forrest join for the excellent full bodied thrashers that were ‘Negatron’ and ‘Phobos’ but after that when Snake rejoined the band went through a period that I found it tough to be enamoured by. Target Earth was probably the album I was really looking for and it re-invigorated my interest, certainly helped by the active live front and catching the band a few times as they kindly seemed to pop over to England with regularity. ‘The Wake’ was going to always be an interesting follow up to that and on pressing play the first time I really wasn’t sure what to expect.
To be honest after it had finished I found myself scratching my head a little in confusion. Sure it is unmistakably Voivod but on 1st impression they really did seem to have been diddling in the court of the crimson king. I guess it is fair to say that they have upped the progressive side of things here a fair bit, nothing wrong with that in the slightest and when married with the sci-fi twists and turns we are accustomed to it is not something that should particularly surprise but let’s put it this way, ‘The Wake’ is not an immediate album; work is going to be cut out getting to grips with it.
Perhaps I was expecting opener ‘Obsolete Beings’ to slam in furiously and go right for the throat which it does to a large extent, but there’s a certain world weariness about some of Snake’s vocals and it gives the music a bit of a deadbeat feeling at times. I have noted this in the past and it’s a completely different way from how he projects things on stage. Still the song has its hooks and a melody that gets in your head gradually after repeated plays. There’s a definite flamboyance from Chewy’s guitar solos and the song gallops to a quick conclusion but then comes back in slowly. There are a couple of instances on the album when less could be more but the band seem to have gone and added bits and carried things on unnecessarily (to my ears). It’s kind of a meandering way of doing things rather than getting to the root of things and bringing them to a formidable conclusion and a song like ‘The End of Dormancy’ is hardly as suggested but a slow limbering ponderous number, unwieldy and even plodding when you really want the band to thrash. The powerful croons and chorus does worm its way into your head and the juddering grooves and mid-section tribal strangeness make this a number that is clearly the work of a band doing thing in their own way but at first it is a bit difficult to take in as they go off in very weird tangents. Still it grows and it’s very difficult to dismiss what they are doing here after all ‘Angel Rat’ was misconceived when it came out to a large extent and now after re-evaluation could be looked upon as a bit of a classic. The real message here is you should probably go into the album with an open mind, live it could be one of those cases where you are happy to be spun dizzy by numbers like the all over the place riff-stew of ‘Orb Confusion’ with all its noodling indulgencies but you really just want the classics to bang along to.
Luckily you can do just that to a certain extent as far as ‘Iconspiracy’ is concerned and this is the real rager of the album, still it’s not without indulgencies and riffs are ever inventive as is the sudden inclusion of some unexpected symphonic elements.
For some reason I always think of a Voivod album in vinyl form and so you should to get the most out the fantastic Away artwork on display. Don’t go expecting anything to get easier on the B) side. ‘Spherical Perspective’ has a compulsive guitar line and great melody to it, the chorus near poppy in tone and again it’s probably far from expected. See how long it takes you to join in and sing along though despite the progressive madness that sits at the heart of the track. Space sickness definitely sets in with the choppy grooves and lurches of ‘Event Horizon’ a space chase through a black hole akin to being dragged through a hedge backwards near paralytic in execution. At times you really get the sound of some of the bands that have followed in their own way, the out their blackened thrash of the Norwegian bands taking things in odd directions such as Aura Noir and Virus can be heard amidst the hyper-kinetic fretwork of ‘Always Moving’ and that is something that Voivod have certainly done over their career, never standing still in the slightest. We are definitely “lost in the unknown” at times here. The album leads eventually to conclusion with the monster that is ‘Sonic Mycelium’ lasting almost 13 mind-bending minutes and sounding like a fever dream doing all sorts of odd things to the senses.
Like the album as a whole I am somewhat at odds to even sum it up. ‘The Wake’ could well be regarded as a work of genius as much as it could be a convoluted folly with far too many ideas for its own good. I can definitely say that it is never going to find itself proclaimed as my favourite Voivod album, I knew that straight away but it has grown on me considerably and if you are looking for them at their most experimental you certainly won’t walk away from this disappointed.
(7.5/10 Pete Woods)