Nothing can ever quite sound like Voivod. Bands will try to hack into the vibe, the peculiar discordant swing and SF inspired progressive metal meets punk hybrid that is the band’s signature sound, but will ultimately fail. You can never imitate Voivod; you can only try to follow in their wake. And speaking of terrible puns and following their own Wake, here we are with Synchro Anarchy and – surprising no one – the band have once again created a metal classic that stands tall with their back catalog while pushing their twisted progressive meanderings into stranger and stranger territories.
Few bands have sprung into being as fully formed as Voivod. As early as “Voivod” off 1984’s debut War and Pain you could hear the ominous, rumbling bass attack, the way the guitars never quite seem to go the way you think they would (and always choosing the more interesting path). The thrash, punk cadence of the drums. And of course that singular voice. It seems like a recipe that could never be tampered with for fear of losing that special sauce, but over time the band moved through personnel changes (vocalist Denis Bélanger left for a spell in the 90s only to return 2002; bassist Jean-Yves Thériault left in ’91, briefly rejoining for 2013’s comeback Target Earth) and tragic death of guitarist Denis D’Amour before locking into gold with new guitarist Daniel “Chewy” Mongrain and bassist Dominique “Rocky” Laroche and finding that unique signature was far from gone.
So where does album #15 fit into all of this? Synchro Anarchy feels like the band moving forward with the more progressive elements that took precedence on 2018’s Juno Award winning The Wake while simultaneously bringing back some of the rougher, more thrashy edges to the songs. Opening track and lead single “Paranormalium” exemplifies how both extremes comes together, as tempos shifts and jolt the listener underneath the extended repeated riffing. All the while those distinct diminished chords and arpeggios pierce your skull and lend an air of disquiet even as things reach critical head banging mass. The title track brings back some of the vocal harmonies that tried (and failed) to make Angel Rat more “Accessible” while the guitars and bass signal a much more progressive path through the musical wilderness. A lot has been said about lead single “Planet Eaters” but with its pronounced bass attack and syncopated timing I feel like I’m traveling all the back to Dimension Hatröss, my introduction to the band.
If the beginning of Synchro Anarchy carves into the concrete the band’s mission statement, the rest of the album opens up to explore a little bit. There’s a menace to the way “Mind Clock” slowly unfurls, only to go through a furious staccato burst of palm muted riffing. Over the years the vocals of Denis “Snake” Bélanger have lowered in registered but in turn have gained a gravity and snarl that makes every track just a little threatening, and it’s fantastic. “Sleeves Off” verges into speed punk, and to make sure everyone gets their due, shows just how versatile and adept drummer (and cover artist) Michel “Away” Langevin is at handling any curveball tossed at him, often within the same song.
The production is altogether fantastic: it helps to have a band as locked into each other as Voivod are, but the mix by Francis Perron keeps everything ridiculously clear and distinct – incredibly helpful to really dig into the serpentine guitar work by Mongrain and the complex rhythms held down by Langevin and Laroche. The second half of Synchro Anarchy vacillates between the short, punchy thrash attacks (“The World Today”) and longer, progressive numbers in the vein of The Wake (“Holographic Thinking”, the closer “Memory Failure” which just rips).
What else is there to say? Voivod are back to soundtrack the future imperfect, and Synchro Anarchy is the name the future will find buried in the detritus of our demise.