After 40 years of forging ahead as the flag bearers of Canadian thrash, you’d be forgiven for finally phoning it in. However, few bands have been as consistently creative as VOIVOD, so the sucker-punch slog Synchro Anarchy throws feels out of the blue.
Opener Paranormalium serves up slices of deep-dish thrash and stoner rock stuffed crust, whilst The World Today makes a meal out of meat-and-potatoes prog-rock. Whatever track you chew on, you’ll find yourself feasting on fat and feeling bloated by a band who’ve stuck to their guns and played it safe for the first time since 2006’s Katorz.
Funnily enough, VOIVOD have been anything but a safe bet since the arrival of guitarist Daniel ‘Chewy’ Mongrain. Their most recent efforts, 2018’s The Wake and 2020’s mostly-live The End Of Dormancy EP, can easily be described as jazz-metal. For a band who’ve melded prog-rock and thrash metal together for decades, this brave new world was theirs for the taking, yet it seems to have fell off a cliff in favour of playing to their previous strengths.
It’s not all doom and gloom for VOIVOD though, as Synchro Anarchy offers up some slabs of redemption. Planet Eaters is a polyrhythmic rollercoaster ride, throwing jazz-infused improv into waves of well-organised prog-rock chaos, whilst Sleeves Off’s feverishly frenetic riffing and machine-gun drumming serves as the mid-album wake-up call you need.
Elsewhere, there are elements of exploration that beg to make sense, yet seem to fall short of the mark. The title track often feels like they’re playing Frogger on a fretboard, before breaking down into what can only be described as THE DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN does prog, as fusion and math-rock mingle with each other. It’s a valiant effort, yet it feels a little too try-hard.
Dig a little deeper under the hood and you’ll find that Synchro Anarchy is more a series of social commentaries than short stories, as VOIVOD’s technological dystopias feel closer to reality than ever before. Whether it’s Mind Clock’s disorientingly gentle strumming and hauntingly soft whispers, or Paranormalium’s paranoia-inducing lyrics – “This unknown personality/Constantly affecting me/Unable to interfere/Since I’m locked up in this sphere” – everything feels heightened by a politically-drained, post-pandemic world.
Forty years and 15 albums is an achievement all of its own. So few bands can stand the test of time like VOIVOD have, and it’s testament to their ability to go against the grain. However, Synchro Anarchy is the sound of a band beginning to wind down and play it safe, and that just doesn’t sit right.
Syncho Anarchy is set for release on February 11th via Century Media Records.
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