Voivod - _Phobos_
by: Alain M. Gaudrault (
While I somewhat enjoyed their previous release, _Negatron_, I found it spotty and a bit too 'hard alternative' sounding, too simplified, too unidimensional, particularly for Voivod. I'm glad to report that _Phobos_ is clearly several steps beyond _Negatron_, compositionally. This is a dense album full of complex songs with plenty of odd time signatures and tempo changes. My first impression of _Phobos_ was admittedly not a very good one. I found the songs sort of samey, the overall sound not especially dynamic, but repeated listenings slowly revealed the true nature of this beast. This is Voivod recapturing the style of songwriting their long-time fans have been waiting to hear for almost ten years, while successfully incorporating a fresher sound and edgier attack which relies on mood and strangely memorable passages rather than outright speed, though that's not entirely surprising given their later releases with former frontman Snake. I'm also happy to hear newcomer Eric Forrest's vocals presence downplayed, taking on a more inhuman, mechanical style, yet distinctly analogue nevertheless. Lots of well thought out vocal effects give the right touches at the right times, conveying well the surrounding music's aura. And of the music, Piggy's chops (pardon the pun) are top notch; his undeniably unique way of stringing almost-grating chords together is compelling and always delivered with expert precision and timing. Drumming is excellent as always, if not a bit subdued by the muddy production. Actually, the production is quite decent in general, although I have a difficult time figuring out whether Away's riding the cymbals a bit too much throughout, or whether that's a knob-twiddling problem. From listening to the advance cassette sans lyrics, _Phobos_ seemed to be a concept album, mostly in the way the songs flow into one another; even though difficult to determine without a lyrics sheet, the mood and style of the album, as well as the song titles, sort of led me to believe there was a common thread amongst at least some of the songs, excluding the last two tracks, one co-written with Jason Newsted (Metallica, Flotsam & Jetsam), the other a cover of King Crimson's "21st Century Schizoid Man" (great cover, great song). According to Away, whom I subsequently bumped into at a gig of theirs in Toronto, it is in fact a concept album; while the lyrics don't seem to make much conventional, lucid sense, they do transmit a matching grimness to the accompanying music. All in all, _Phobos_ harkens back to older, heavier days of the band, without sounding dated nor trendy. A must for metal fans of all genres.
(article published 9/14/1997)
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