Voivod - _Infini_
(Relapse, 2009)
by: Jeremy Ulrey (8 out of 10)
The rubber match. After splitting the verdict on the post-Eric Forrest comeback era with the flat, seemingly half hearted _Voivod_ from 2003 and the surprisingly vital _Katorz_, the latter lashed together in 2006 from recently deceased guitarist Piggy's home demos, the Canadian quartet begin their farewell tour this year with another demo-based collection, _Infini_. So the burning question going into this one is: was _Katorz_ a last gasp artistic fluke, feeding on the grief resulting from their long standing teammate's early, unexpected demise, or in fact was it _Voivod_ that represented an uncharacteristic lack of inspiration, a regrouping of individuals who had spent some time apart and found themselves once again trying to reestablish their sea legs? Having gone 1-1 on their previous two albums, and now in a position to neatly close the triptych and put a cap on a lengthy, storied career, Voivod come into _Infini_ with all the attention and trepidation bestowed upon a sympathetic pugilist looking to establish domination and closure over an opponent whom they've both beaten and been beaten at the hands of.

That may seem a false dichotomy, as the band have never really put out a truly unfortunate album -- even the Forrest records contain considerable highlights -- but there's little question that some albums have greater emotional and aesthetic resonance than others, and most seem to agree that the likes of _Phobos_ and _Voivod_ (or even the earlier _Rrroooaaarrr_) are not the best examples of that ethos. Ever craftsmen and professionals, the aforementioned albums revealed the potential for sterility and an excessive reliance on dry intellectualism. Since _Infini_ represents a continuation of the scrappy, invigorated charms of _Katorz_ while at the same time opening the possibility of a certain bottom scraping, since they are culled from the same demos that birthed that effort, the three year wait to find out if Voivod really do go out on top or leave questions on the table about their legacy has been an interesting, white knuckle ride.

Happily, _Infini_ retains the loose, "rock" feel from _Katorz_ for the most part, instead of retreating back into a retread of the ascetic cyber-metal the band have perfected and, subsequently, rehashed almost to death. The sound here is if anything more spacious and dynamic than Glen Robinson's mix on the last album, which is somewhat startling as the whole affair was apparently done in house by Jason Newsted, utilizing the raw guitar tracks from Piggy's hard drive without the sonic tweaking they were treated to on _Katorz_. One element that has been scaled back significantly is the almost light-hearted, playful nature represented last time out by the likes of "Mr. Clean" or "No Angel", a fact that may placate fans who disagree with my assessment of _Katorz_ on the very basis that tongue in cheek is not what they want out of their Voivod. A song like "KRAP Radio" may give the opposite impression from a superficial browsing of the lyrics, but one listen to the scathing, pissed off vocals of Denis "Snake" Belanger -- which devolve into an abrasive growl not too dissimilar from his erstwhile replacement, Eric Forrest -- will quickly wipe the smirk off anyone's face.

Perhaps because of this more serious, straight forward approach, highlights don't necessarily jump out upon first listen like they do on _Katorz_, or even older classics like _Nothingface_, _Dimension Hatross_ or (in parts) _Angel Rat_. This one is more like _The Outer Limits_ in that it is largely consistent, even brilliant at times, from front to back, but requires multiple listens to arrive at that conclusion. When the dust settles, unsurprisingly it's the more esoteric, alienated material emerging victorious. No one does sci-fi unease like Snake, evidenced on "Morpheus" with lines like "I'm in a new world, you're still in yours... You wish I'm still there, I wish you were here", underlined in bold by Piggy's dissonant, metallic shards of chords and Michel Langevin's propulsive yet clinical percussion. "God Phones" mixes a religious element into a Hitchcockian, men-in-black narrative, this time Piggy providing a bolder, more insistent (and, thus, menacing) counterpoint to the paranoid lyrics. He lays down an even more powerful groove for "Earthache", but here Snake's lyrical shortcomings catch up to him, the repetitive chorus "blah blah blah / is that all you can say?" seeming to casually dismiss the dire earth warnings of climate change scientists. Strangely, "Global Warning" immediately follows, and though it doesn't address climate change (that's "Global War-N-ing") it does paint a doomed scenario of man's selfishness being the ruin of us all.

Actually, if there is a common thread in _Infini_'s (admittedly modest) shortcomings it is when the band decide to "go punk" and regress back to their early roots. "KRAP Radio" is a fairly one dimensional mining of the anti-advertising screed; "Volcano" is a Motorhead cop that is -- seriously -- a first person narrative written from the standpoint of the titular volcano and how it can pretty much take your ass out anywhere, anytime it gets a... mind... to. In all fairness, yes, it does reintroduce the playfulness that made _Katorz_ an interesting, successful entry in the Voivod canon, but the sense of fun is insufficient to override the sheer juvenilia of it all.

And so, though a mixed bag, _Infini_ errs on the side of the band's strengths through the majority of its thirteen tracks, as such providing a fitting, more than respectable finale to the Voivod saga, not dissimilar -- when coupled with _Katorz_ -- to the heartrending career peak Chuck Schuldiner went out on with the one-two punch of _Symbolic_ and _The Sound of Perseverance_. That is, if the band truly stays dormant... there is always the chance that after a couple of go-rounds with touring guitarist Dan Mongrain they decide they have a good thing going and want to forge ahead with new material. I personally hope that's not the case, since Piggy was a unique songwriter and I'm skeptical that his genius can be successfully replicated, but if this is in fact the last we've seen -- or heard -- of Voivod it's quite the sendoff.

Contact: http://www.voivod.net

(article published 9/8/2009)


ALBUMS
8/12/2006 J Smit 8.5 Voivod - Katorz
9/1/1998 A Bromley 8 Voivod - Kronik
9/14/1997 A Gaudrault 9 Voivod - Phobos
11/8/1995 A Bromley 8 Voivod - Negatron
GIGS
11/18/1996 S Cannon Voivod / Crisis / Pro-Pain Vicious Violence Vented
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