Like many of the best bands, Canadian Progressive Thrash legends VOIVOD have been known to reinvent their sound with each album. From their beginnings as a more run-of-the mill Metal band, VOIVOD took leaps and bounds into Progressive territory with “Nothingface”, a schizoid Rockfest which has since become a Thrash landmark and one of my favourite albums ever. For the next handful of albums after that, VOIVOD would continue to change up their sound, and this streak of changes would culminate with “The Outer Limits”, an album which takes the band's science fiction themes to new conceptual heights. Although I cannot say that VOIVOD's seventh outing has the same unique vibe and charm as their crowning work “Nothingface”, “The Outer Limits” is an incredible album that tales some time to grow on the listener, and results as an exciting masterpiece from one of the best Progressive Metal acts ever.
Quite contrary to the proggy, frenetic and unconventional Metal riffing I have heard from VOIVOD in the past, “The Outer Limits” opens with a deceptively straightforward number, “Fix My Heart” is the sort of track you would expect to hear from a Hard Rock band like DEEP PURPLE; a driving rock with bluesy licks and fills. An instantly likable track for those who don't need their Metal to be particularly brutal or heavy, the song did not originally hit me as being excellent, but a few listens in convinced me otherwise. Instantly memorable melodies and some excellent straightforward riffage from Denis L'Amour opens “The Outer Limits” on an exciting note. Things get somewhat more complex and atmospheric from here on in, however.
“Le Pont Noir” was among the first VOIVOD songs I ever heard years ago that really struck my notice, and in the context of the album, it is even better. Trailing two fairly upbeat-oriented songs, the track is hypnotic, mysterious and eerie. Reminding me often of a Metal-oriented sound of THE DOORS, vocalist Snake's vocals really shine here. He has never been among the more technically accomplished singers, but his voice really works for the sound here, along with much of the music on “The Outer Limits”.
Perhaps the most notable aspect of “The Outer Limits” is the 17 minute epic “Jack Luminous”, which has received otherworldly amounts of praise in the past as being one of the most excellent pieces of Progressive Metal. Although its quality is evident right from the start, I must say that “Jack Luminous” is a piece of music that takes several listens to appreciate fully, and is the biggest reason bar none as to why “The Outer Limits” is a grower piece. Taking a tongue-in-cheek science fiction concept with a keen social commentary and setting it to music, there are plenty of sections to this song, but the melodies are kept strong. One thing that potentially harms the impact of “Jack Luminous” is that it does not have the same cohesion as a more well-known Prog Metal epic like “2112” or “A Change Of Seasons”, instead going more down the route of being a musical journey of ideas, with an implied beginning, middle and end. As it stands though, the musical ideas work so well together on the track that it certainly takes its rightful place as being one of VOIVOD's greatest achievements.
The songwriting on the album is consistently strong, and it may come as a surprise to some that the only potential flop on the album is the PINK FLOYD cover of “The Nile Song”, a relatively obscure track from FLOYD's “More”. Although the song does little to deter the rest of the album, it simply does not have the same charm as the earlier PINK FLOYD cover of “Astronomy Domine” that VOIVOD played on “Nothingface”.
“The Outer Limits” is arguably VOIVOD's most mature record, as well as being remarkably consistent throughout. Quite a bit more streamlined and to-the-point as much of the earlier work, this album is a natural development from “Angel Rat”, but really takes VOIVOD’s staple themes of science fiction to greater depths. The album takes a while to warm up, and doesn't have quite the same jaw-dropping effect as “Nothingface”, but while less immediate, “The Outer Limits” is one of the best Prog Metal albums to be released in the early '90s.
(Online February 5, 2012)