Tuesday 16 January 2024

Voivod - Morgöth Tales (2023)

Country: Canada
Style: Progressive Thrash Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 21 Jul 2023
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Voivod have been around for four decades now, though my maths suggests that Synchro Anarchy was their fortieth anniversary album last year. However, it's here where they're celebrating, with an unusual project that works rather well. Only two of the eleven songs on offer are new, the title track and a cover version of Public Image Limited's Home, which sounds like a weird choice until it plays and suddenly it seems entirely natural. The rest are re-recordings of old songs, mostly with the current band but twice featuring a guest former member.

Re-recordings are always a dubious concept, but I like the results here because the track selection follows some interesting rules. For a start, there's nothing here newer than 2014, because the two albums in that timeframe featured the current line-up anyway, so there's no point to redux. There is also nothing newer than 2008, when Chewy joined on guitar to replace the late Piggy. There's no more than one track from any prior album, so this is a carefully curated sampler of older material, and it delves as far back as the band's contribution to the Metal Massacre V compilation.

That's Condemned to the Gallows and it's first, because these tracks are presented in chronological order, so allowing us to join them on a journey through their history as it happened, with consistent 21st century production values. It's also a real highlight that I'm not sure I've ever heard before. Metal Massacre V came out the same year as the band's debut, War and Pain, but this wasn't on it. I remember that album being a muddy mess of fascinatingly raw tracks, so I'm sure this is much cleaner than the original, but it still has a real bite to it. It chugs along quickly too, highlighting that punk attitude that they wore overtly during the early days. I like it a lot, but it doesn't sound a lot like what we tend to think of as Voivod.

There's nothing here from War and Pain but Thrashing Rage was on their follow-up, Rrröööaaarrr. It feels like a progression from Condemned to the Gallows, but it's still only partway to what they would become. It's another up tempo song, in your face but a little more controlled. However, it's only starting to adopt that unusual Voivod tone. It's Killing Technology, the title track of the third Voivod album, where that fully arrives, complete with robot voice and patented jagged guitar, all done in a neatly perky fashion. Snake's voice loses some rawness and melody is bulked up, even if it contrasts with that jagged guitar. It's much more science fiction.

For a while it continues in much the same vein. Macrosolutions to Megaproblems, from Dimension Hatröss, is Killing Technology but more so, with weird rhythms. Pre-Ignition is the closest song on this album to its predecessor, which is interesting to me, because I've always felt that Nothingface was a real shift for Voivod. That doesn't show here, at least on this one. It clearly shows on Nuage Fractal, from Angel Rat. Snake's voice gets cleaner than ever and the jagged guitar is polished in an odd way that makes this sound like Voivod are covering U2 and making the song their own.

Fix My Heart is where these songs become new to me. This one's from The Outer Limits in 1993 and it's a bouncy one with an interesting mix of sounds. There's certainly some Voivod in there, but it's not in the pure form. There's some grunge, some alt rock and some stoner rock in there too. It's an understandable shift for the time but I wasn't expecting it and I wasn't expecting it to go away on the very next song, Rise, which is much more old school, even if it's from 1997's Phobos. After that, I wasn't expecting it to come back for the one after, Rebel Robot, but there's definitely grunge in Snake's vocal here.

I should mention that he doesn't sing Rise, because this is where the guests come in. The vocalist on Rise is Eric Forrest, who sang it originally, because bassist Blacky had left in 1991 and original vocalist Snake followed suit in 1994, leaving E-Force to replace them both. He's older school, much rawer even than Snake revisiting the really early material. By 2003's self-titled album, Snake had returned and Jason Newsted had joined on bass, taking the nom de plume of Jasonic. He returns for this version of Rebel Robot too.

And then there are the new songs. Morgöth Tales is clearly a song about the band and its history and raison d être, dropping quite a few nods to earlier track titles. I like this one a lot because it covers a vast amount of territory. I like the serious ramp up in tempo, with a fast buzzsaw guitar. I like the drift into spacy prog rock. I like the back and forth between those two styles. And I like its prominent guitar solo. It looks back a lot but neatly patches everything Voivod into one new track.

Finally, there's Home, that PiL song, which I hadn't heard before but should, given the line-up the original boasted: John Lydon on vocals, the always interesting Steve Vai on guitar and Bill Laswell on bass, plus jazz musician Tony Williams on drums. I can hear some Lydon in the vocals, especially late on, but the song is an unusual trip and it's a stellar choice for a Voivod cover.

And that's it, unfolding in ruthless chronological order. The die hard Voivod fan will know all these songs, but they sound good with a 21st century production job. I must go back to that debut again to see how awful the production really was on it. I'm a Voivod fan but not that hardcore, so I knew half of this, meaning that the other half is new to me. Both halves are fascinating and it's great to hear this journey through their back catalogue in such consistent fashion. I learned a lot. What I'd have to end up with is that my favourite songs here are a couple of the earliest, Condemned to the Gallows and Killing Technology, and the newest pair. That bodes well for the next studio album.

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