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Moldy Oldies: Voivod – Angel Rat

Voivod – Angel Rat, 1991 MCA/Mechanic Records

Since the release of Killing Technology, Voivod have worn their Die Kreuzen influence very conspicuously on their sleeves — namely, within the angular diminished chord riffing and bizarre handle on narrative — but with Angel Rat the influence swallowed the band entirely, and they came to follow the same alternative rock melodrama that the once-vital Die Kreuzen were hopelessly degenerating into (Century Days, in particular, appears to be the exact prototype for this album. A fabulously gay song about cloud formations? Check. A carnival song about a possibly paedophilic clown? Check. And the list goes on!). Of course, Voivod put their own progressive spin on the formula, incorporating choice bits of King Crimson, Yes, and especially Rush circa Moving Pictures, but it’s all condensed into radio-length candy rock form– certainly a jarring transition after the scientifically engineered, sleek-as-chrome brilliance of Nothingface!

To make it explicit: this is not at all a Metal album. Save for a few headbanger riffs thrown around for good measure, this is pop-prog that seems to wallow in its own nostalgia more than anything else. The “post-apocalyptic space vampire” concept that was so central to Voivod’s ’80s speed metal discography is also scrapped completely, never to be revisited until Phobos, released five years later. Instead, lyrics are fashioned around some sort of interdimensional fairy tale that was no doubt hatched after a few odd electric acid kool aid tests. (For more evidence, just watch the video for “Clouds In My House” with the guy’s face that pops out of the bass drums every time Away hits the kick– goddamn, that’s creepy!)

However, Angel Rat doesn’t receive a total failing grade because — if you have even the slightest soft-spot for prog — the attractiveness of its craft is really difficult to resist. Like an old-fashioned boxful of chocolates, this album tempts you with brightly wrapped, sweet and tasty riffage that you’ll scarf down by the handful even though you know it will make you fat, lethargic, and diabetic. Denis “Piggy” D’Amour — who was climbing into his thirties and had probably grown weary of composing complex and daring starscapes — had cast aside purposeful songwriting and embraced the role of a proper guitar hero in the lineage of Lifeson/Gilmour/Page/et al., focusing on whipping out the perfect solos with all the classic embellishments. And as always, he just smokes the fretboard like a ten dollar blunt. But to what end? The songs sound “nice” — after all, the album received state-of-the-art production from Rush technician Terry Brown (though you could blame him for totally neutering Blacky’s bass tone; no wonder he quit the band and still refers to this album as “Angel Fart“) — but their ultimate effect is that of a carousel ride: you’ll climb onto that dinky unicorn and go for a spin, and for a glorious fleeting moment you’re a kid again without a care in the whole wide world. But then when it ends, you’ve gone nowhere and you’re right back where you started. Well, how’s that for a total waste of time?

So, yes, there’s a few good reasons why Angel Rat has gone down in the books as “The Voivod Sell-out Album”, although for the most part it failed to actually “sell” despite the era’s overwhelming demand for alternative crap. For your sake, just stick to the ’80s catalogue, or jump on over to the surprisingly vicious, surprisingly astute Eric Forrest-fronted Negatron for an all too rare example of quality ’90s speed metal.

Voivod – “Panorama”

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