On its 13th album, Canada's groundbreaking metal veterans Voivod have undergone a renaissance of sorts. With vocalist Denis "Snake" Belanger returning to the fold, three quarters of the original band is reunited with a unified purpose. Adding former Metallica bassist -- and longtime friend -- Jason Newsted to the fold adds new energy and vision. No longer a thrash metal act, Voivod has simply become one of the best hard rock bands on the planet. They write songs with complex melodies and bone-splintering riffs, yet they stick to the roots of their trademark sound. In many ways they feel more like some crazy combination of the 1977-era Saints and Queens of the Stone Age with better lyrics and no stoner quotient. Newsted is nothing less than phenomenal in this new context; check out "Rebel Robot," with its four-to-the-floor running riff, propelling the drums and pushing guitarist Piggy into overdrive. Stripping the songs to the essentials of shattering guitars, pumped-up muddy bass throb, and heavy-bottom drumming was a plus in the production department. On the opener "Gasmask Revival," a rebel call to open protest in the streets and the refusal to be "good citizens," four chords and three riffs crank themselves into a frenzy of jarring, cacophonous, metal garage rock. Things slow down on "Facing Up," but become heavier in the process with Michel Langevin's double-bass drumming, triple-timing the super-slow 4/4 grid of the tune led by Piggy's blues-out crunchy and Newsted plowing through the middle. The centerpiece of the album is "The Multiverse," a complex, multi-faceted opus with its lyrics inspired by writer Michael Moorcock's Eternal Champion series of novels. Time signatures shift, blur, change, reverse, and reinvent themselves. Newsted's bass work here becomes a wall of pure propulsive, sludgy writhe and Piggy's guitar is knife-edge yet weighs a ton. Langevin's lightning double-kick drums provide a flawless directional force as Snake soars above the mix telling dark truth after dark truth with intelligence, sensitivity, and a willingness to let the words hold him accountable.
Voivod has always been among the most intelligent bands in any genre of music; they have evolved into an entity that gives up nothing when it comes to pure rock mania, yet offer something more as well: thoughtful songs that provocatively and critically examine the world we live in. "I Don't Wanna Wake Up," a mid-tempo cruncher, sums up the state of the masses without condescending to or about them. "Divine Sun," with its off-kilter bass and guitar lines -- they are played in opposition to one another -- leaves a huge hole for Snake to deliver his lyrics surrounded by a restrained sonic intensity that busts loose on the refrain courtesy of Langevin's thunderous propelling tom-tom work. "Reactor" features some of the old Voivod thrash and burn, but with drums that fall just behind the beat, everything is de-centered and tumbling, almost chaotic. The album's closer, "We Carry On," like the opening track throws out its garage rock leanings more than it does metal riffing. It's an anthem for cultural warfare that Belanger snarls his way through, asking hard questions and pointing out the irony in seemingly insignificant contradictions. Piggy's guitars are buzz saw, cutting through the entire lyrics and into a fractured sonic void. In sum, Voivod is back with a vengeance. This is among the finest records of their storied career, and will be one of the hard rock and metal records (or any sub-genre thereof) to beat in 2003.