Album Review: VOIVOD Morgöth Tales

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On the recent occasion of the completion of a US leg of Voivod‘s celebratory 40th anniversary tour, myself and a group of fellow hockey pucks found ourselves engaged in conversation about everyone’s favourite band of Québécois space cadets.

The range of this particular Voivod fanboy/girl convention spanned from folks who remember first hearing the band when covers comprised the majority of their demos to those who recall the Nothingface tour when the band headlined a North American run with Faith No More and Soundgarden as openers to those more in tune with guitarist Daniel “Chewy” Mongrain than they are with original guitarist Denis “Piggy” D’Amour and some who even actually liked the Eric Forrest years. The unifying force amongst all is all of us recalling the days when you couldn’t escape MuchMusic — Canada’s MTV, which also stopped running videos ages ago — airing the video of their cover of Pink Floyd‘s “Astronomy Domine.”

Part of our discussion tackled how the band has managed to appeal to different generations of fans. If you’ve seen them live since the mid-’10s, there’s a definite divide in the room when the old, classic material is aired versus when the newer, Century Media stuff is played. Not that there isn’t some amount of appreciative crossover, but there are definitely folks with deeper connections to Target Earth, The Wake and Synchro Anarchy that are on the same level as us geezers who dig everything from War and Pain to The Outer Limits and all stops in between.

This sort of thing is to be expected when a band has been as consistent as Voivod. A lot of shit has gone down for them in 40 years, including the drafting in of Mongrain in 2008. Chewy is essentially the reason the band was able to continue following Piggy‘s passing in 2005. An accomplished musician with perfect pitch, prodigious talent and the scholastic credentials to prove it, Mongrain was/is a student of D’Amour to the point where he was not only able to replicate the old shit and author tab/musical notation books, but also write new material faithful to the Voivod name.

It’s arguable whether anyone else could have done this as well as he has; not just playing the hits, but keeping the band forging forward. Morgöth Tales is a small part of the band’s ongoing legacy, a “Best of” of sorts spanning the pre-Chewy era of the band — from one of the first songs they ever wrote through to the Eric Forrest and Jason Newsted (both of whom are featured contributors) years all the way to the title track/brand new song. All songs were re-recorded earlier this year in the interest of sonic consistency and as a celebration of both where the band is at and where they came from.

“Morgöth Tales,” the song, rounds out Morgöth Tales the album with robotic, herky-jerky metallic math rock juxtaposed against shuffling grind blasts and luxurious, Space Odyssey airiness. The middle section and final minute are decidedly “old-school” — old school being in quotes because even though the reference points are 1988’s Dimension Hatröss and 1989’s Nothingface, it still sounds like the 24th century —  before a return to the sounds of their Van Der Graaf Generator and Hawkwind influences coming to the fore. It’s almost like the band took a huge dollop of their history then sculpted and tailored it into one song. If all forthcoming new material is this good, whatever crossover divide exists between old and new fans will definitely shrink.

As for the older, re-recorded songs, more familiar goods like “Killing Technology” and “Macrosolutions to Megaproblems” share space with deeper cuts like The Outer Limits‘ “Fix My Heart” and Voivod‘s “Rebel Robot.” All demonstrate the staying power of the material, even after all these years and the performances being in the context of 20 to 40 years after the fact as opposed to the youthful hunger and fire of a bunch of 20-somethings. Your fat, bald and grey scribe would like to go on record and shine a big ol’ spotlight on the addition of “Condemned to the Gallows” in this collection.

The song goes way, way back, being literally the second original song the band ever wrote back in the early ’80s, and only ever appeared on the Metal Massacre V compilation. Still, it remains one of my personal favourites given its thrashing swagger, killer ’70s rock lead break screaming, counterpoint vocal lines and more hooks than a dress store at every turn of its four-and-a-half minutes. It’s also a prime example of a song with both ridiculous ear worm capacity and one of the most unheralded moments in the history of one of metal’s most unique and original bands, traits that solider on 40 years down the line. 

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