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Target Earth Jessica Crowe , January 30th, 2013 09:53

Happy Anniversary, Voivod! The veteran heavy metallers, formed in Canada in 1983, unleashed their debut album War and Pain in 1984 to a divided audience. Nestled cosily between thrash and prog, they continued through the next three decades releasing eleven tightly-honed studio albums. Fleshing out their thrash sensibilities with hardcore punk, stoner rock and prog, they developed a distinctive niche, if little commercial success. For three decades, band members moved in and out, through drug addictions, injuries and death and today Voivod sit comfortably in every metal fan's record collection, those disparate early albums cherished like relics. With latest album Target Earth due to be released this month, it appears that even in the latest promo photo the band look softer than their taught denim and leather of the 80s - rounder faces, rounder bellies  - but is the latest release from these metal stalwarts as much of an acerbic, energetic venture through prog thrash metal, or are has their age caught up with them?

Voivod have always been a technically interesting metal proposition  - undulating, agitated bass from Jean-Yves Theriault , drumming that shifts tempo just as you latch onto the rhythm, and interesting lyrical conceits - futurism in literature and politics. With the death of founding guitarist Denis 'Piggy' D'Amour, often seen as one of the most imaginative guitarists within the genre, fans were not sure what to expect and anticipation lingered until the release of 2006 album Katorz and the impressive Infini which garnered plaudits from fans and press alike. Most worries are put to rest with replacement guitarist Dan 'Chewy' Mongrain (of Martyr fame) who had idolised D'Amour from a young age and who has inherited his innovative technique.

Opening track 'Target Earth' starts off well - insistent, distorted bass with Voivod pillar Denis Belanger delivering his distinctive, classic metal vocal . At six minutes, this starts to feel bloated - padded out with progressive meanderings that seem superfluous. Perhaps just a bad choice of opener, as second track 'Kluskap O'com' picks up the pace with uptempo, Reagan-era D-Beat and off-kilter guitar riffs. Changing pace about four times, it's energising, and thankfully sets the pace for the next few tracks. 'Empathy For The Enemy' is a defiant highlight, hulking riffs, merciless drumming and guttural vocal strains. The multi part epic 'Mechanical Mind' - the first single to be released from the album - is a brutal discordant assault with swagger. Dealing with common themes within Voivod's lyrics (post apocalyptic and science fiction aesthetic) this feels like the beating heart of the album. Following on the doomy 'Warchiac' and the steady, stoic rock of 'Resistance' wear down the listener. 'Corps Etranger' and 'Artefact' are typically intricate, with odd time signatures and distorted, foreboding riffs. Peculiar album closer 'Defiance' is a minute and a half of tribal percussion and sludgy, swampy riffs. It's a sharp little ending to an avaricious album.

The trouble is, it just doesn't connect, and fans of War And Pain and Killing Technology may find Target Earth laborious, even alienating in its prog meanderings and long running time. It seems quite fitting though that a band preoccupied with science fiction would head into realms that feel unfocused in comparison to their 80s releases. It would be surprising if this were to garner them new fans - Voivod have a hardcore following and for most, this much anticipated album will be received with adoration. For the rest of us, it's to be hoped that with relatively new bandmate in Mongrain, this is a transient moment before they head off to fight new battles.