There’s a legion of makeweight prog metal bands who believe a Blade Runner-y concept album with a 25-minute title track and some widdly bits in 9/8 makes them interesting by default. And then there’s Voivod, who operate on an altogether higher plane. The veteran Canadian band reminded their audience what they can do with 2018’s superb, Juno Award-winning The Wake, and they’ve turned up the dials for their mind-boggling new one.
Their 15th studio album, Synchro Anarchy is a blast of properly progressive metal. Once again, Voivod explore prog’s thematic scope and questing spirit, using the tones and tropes of metal. Opener Paranormalium is typical, with its clangorous, dark and doomy guitars, a bouncing metallic groove with rhythmic twists, a thrashy chorus, and Denis ‘Snake’ Bélanger at his garrulous best on the breakdown: ‘Some contradictions storm inside my head/Doubt’s alteration blurs my common sense/False information becomes conviction.’
Bélanger’s voice is a crucial thread in Voivod’s psychedelic, psychological fabric. He can shred the larynx as required, but is laconically, weirdly tuneful where others would get histrionic. On sci-fi high point Planet Eaters he narrates a galactic trip with an accelerating climax that convincingly conveys that, given the chance, mankind would screw up the off-world colonies as surely as it has Earth.
When Voivod grandstand, they do it together. If a lesser band tried to speed up the way they do on Mind Clock, the wheels would surely come off. The title track’s tricky snare shifts, and the double kick drum-powered Memory Failure are just two markers of drummer Michel ‘Away’ Langevin’s remarkable control. Holographic Thinking’s frequent melodic and rhythmic handbrake turns are typical of the record as
a whole, and whether at the low or dusty end, bassist Dominic ‘Rocky’ LaRoche is right there with him, as on the urgent Sleeves Off, and Planet Eaters’ sludgy kick-off.
Daniel ‘Chewy’ Mongrain’s bone-crunching guitars and blistering, almost Holdsworthian solos power and stud the music. He speaks Voivod’s idiosyncratic melodic language, which draws on atonality, dissonance, heavy metal’s love for that evil, Sabbathy ‘devil’s chord’ and the ominous scales that underpin it. And all this is delivered with guts. Again, on the punky, catchy The World Today Voivod are totally connected and locked in, the whole greater than the parts.
Even more intense, challenging and nuanced than The Wake, Synchro Anarchy is a lot. Forty years in, Voivod continue to push out into their own space, leaving those prog metal pretenders in their dust, gawping up.