This late career masterpiece oozes with passion, meaning and tension
While it is often true that one can find the best bands floating around the periphery of a given genre, it isn’t often that these groups achieve much recognition.
Canadian thrash metal legends Voivod are the exception (as they often are), having produced some of the best and most original music in metal while simultaneously growing a large fanbase. At this point in their career, a new album is a major event.
It must be said that though that when it comes to popularity, this wasn’t always the case. They were never a part of thrash’s big four (Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, or Slayer) and they wouldn’t fit in if they were included. They produced four great but underrated albums before their first real break came in the form of their cover of Pink Floyd’s “Astronomy Domine”, the video of which received substantial airplay on MTV in 1989. This song appeared on Nothingface, possibly the band’s pinnacle record, and for a while, it seemed their last true thrash album.
Album: Synchro Anarchy
Label: Century Media
★★★★1/2 (4.5/5 stars)
Nothingface further refined the Venom-like metal attack of their early material while they further incorporated their progressive influences, particularly Pink Floyd and fellow Canadians Rush. Their abilities as musicians were catching up with their ambitions and they possessed a style unlike any other. After Nothingface, the band turned much more toward progressive and melodic material with their next album Angel Rat. From here, Voivod explored various combinations of progressive rock and metal over a series of unique and powerful albums. Weathering several lineup changes and the death of founding guitarist Dennis D’Amour aka Piggy, the band worked their way back to the sound of Dimension Hatröss and Nothingface. This process began with 2013’s Target Earth and has continued since. Their newest album, Synchro Anarchy not only finds the band continuing in this direction but it might just be their best album since those early classics.
Synchro Anarchy follows on the heels of 2018’s The Wake, which felt like a triumphant late career victory lap. Only in hindsight does it seem the material may have lacked a bit of urgency. Such is not the case for Synchro Anarchy. Written throughout the pandemic, it is the darkest material Voivod has produced in years and all the emotions triggered by our challenging times bubble to the surface throughout the record.
Starting with opener “Paranormalium” it becomes evident that this might be Voivod’s most technically demanding set of songs as well. The opening notes are unmistakably Voivodian, but what follows is an enthralling journey of hairpin turns and labyrinthine riffs. After their first couple albums, they certainly began to produce challenging material, but with this current record, they have leaned into the most complex aspects of their sound. This is particularly true in terms of time signatures and the performance rhythm section overall.
While “Paranormalium” is a maze of riffs and tempo shifts, Synchro Anarchy and “Mind Clock” takes the trickery even further, the former with a call-and-response between the bass and guitars that evoke Rush’s “YYZ” and the latter with a passage where the riff speeds up and slows down from one measure to the next. One can imagine this approach to time as a reflection of our lived experience during the pandemic. Anxiety compresses and accelerates the flow of time while lockdowns would seem to slow it down. These simultaneous conditions have been a universal condition over humanity.
These kinds of time-stretching techniques dominate the album. Instrumentally, everything here is impressive in every way. The guitar riffs are off-kilter and unpredictable yet retain the signature tonality the band has established. Guitarist Daniel “Chewy” Mongrain is a worthy successor to D’Amour, blazing a path that is both original yet true to the band’s original vision. The bass work of Dominic “Rocky” Laroche also charts its own course through the material, never imitating the guitar but rather complementing it with complex lines. It often leaps out of the mix to mark transitions between sections and generally demands it be given its fair share of the listener’s attention. Drummer Michel “Away” Langevin holds the band together through all the twists and turns, utilizing a vast repertoire of thrash, post-punk and prog beats to bring the songs to life.
The lyrics also possess an immediacy, retaining the sci-fi feel the group is known for but reflecting present-day anxieties. The title track reflects on the randomness of events in life, perhaps the black swan-type events that dictate the course of our shared history. Meanwhile, “Planet Eaters” reveals an exasperation with current conditions, if not downright disgust.
“We all need to spend some time away- from Earth We all feel its time to wash away- the dirt”
And later in the song, the line “We are all planet eaters” is repeated, like a condemnation, an understanding that we are all complicit in our predicaments. These themes, this line of questioning fill the album. There are no answers, only questions with unthinkable answers.
Voivod is nearly 40 years old and even with lineup changes and stylistic shifts they have always retained their core identity. Not only that, but many bands that do survive for decades inevitably spend their later years releasing inconsequential material and rehashing the same golden oldies in concerts.
Synchro Anarchy obliterates these concerns. This is vital material, these songs ooze with passion, meaning, and tension. This album and Voivod as a whole are as relevant as ever.