Almost every band has that album: you know, the critically and/or commercially reviled dud in an otherwise passable-to-radical back catalogue. Occasionally, a Decibel staffer or special guest will take to the Decibel site to bitch and moan at length as to why everybody’s full of shit and said dud is, in fact, The Shit. This time around, Greg Pratt defends Voivod’s Angel Rat.
No one really saw it coming, but after Voivod’s incredible spree of mind-melting progressive albums, culminating in 1989’s world-changing Nothingface (look, the hyperbole ain’t going to slow down here, warning you now), the band took things to a decidedly more rockin’ direction with 1991’s Angel Rat, which we all kinda collectively shrugged our shoulders at when it came out, and which most of us started coming around to in the past decade or so. For good reason: it rules. If you haven’t clued in yet, now’s the time.
The album starts off with the absolutely killer “Panorama”; now, this is barely Voivod as we knew them: that’s not an odd time signature, and those are melodies old people can understand. But it’s still, you know, weird, the band delivering what could be called a straightforward rock song with a crooked smile and a wink and a nudge to the Voivodians out there. Rules.
Then, we have the one song you might actually remember from this album if you haven’t spun it in years, “Clouds In My House.” As close as the band ever came to a hit single that wasn’t a Pink Floyd cover, “Clouds” also takes a fairly normal song structure but adds in tons of sideways riffing and off-kilter vocal melodies. It’s normal-person music played by a bunch of guys that we love because they are not normal, and it’s amazing.
Anyone who has seen the band play “The Prow” in recent years knows that the song, which is easily one of the band’s more upbeat and feel-good tunes, absolutely is incredible and also fits in just fine amongst the heavier material in their set. It’s in the top three best choruses the band has ever written, and the slow part in the middle is pure Voivod atmosphere. Taken as a total, those first three songs could rival the first three songs on any Voivod album, and would easily surpass many of them.
“Best Regards” combines great weirdo lyrics with a sound that is like the band taking Nothingface and straightening out the kinks a bit, and features a great, memorable closing part; “Twin Dummy” drives the unsettling lyrical content home (reading the words “The circus left without me/and I’m alone with you now” while looking at that totally not-right cover art as a teenager traumatized me) and features a trippy interlude amongst the totally poppy parts, a wonderful dichotomy. An excellent duo of tunes to bring the album to its halfway point, at which point the title track comes in, a slower, simpler song that emphasizes atmosphere over anything else. Surprise: it works. Everything’s working so far. Why am I even justifying this album? It rules.
The cool thing about Angel Rat is that every song is completely memorable, even if you, uh, forgot about them. For example, “Golem.” This is what a radio hit should be. Unsettling, lyrically provoking (seriously, we need to be giving the lyrics on this album more props than we do), and totally catchy, “Golem” is a hit to us cave-dwelling, gnarled-finger Voivod fans, the bass line moving us all forward, backward, and sideways in our dance of the damned. “Why do I dream of kites?” indeed.
“The Outcast” had the harmonica, which was kinda misplaced (and, combined with Snake’s love of cowboy hats, had us all a bit nervous), but, damn, that chorus. The final three bring Angel Rat to an impressive, sturdy close: “Nuage Fractal” brings new guitar sounds to the mix and is one of the album’s more psychedelic songs; “Freedoom” gets even more mellow and trippy, a bold late-album move, and the song’s final moments are some of Voivod’s finest work in song structure; “None of the Above” ends off the album as it started, with a more upbeat rock sound, but it’s imbued with a slow trudge and a lyrical melancholy, a brilliant way to end this album, which is nowhere near as simple as it seems.
The great thing about Angel Rat is that even though it appears to be an upbeat pop album, the further you dig into these songs, the more the darkness and the band’s penchant for dissonant experimentation shines through. It’s there, but it’s hidden; it’s not the frantic thrash or sci-fi dystopian extreme prog of earlier Voivod journeys, and it’s not even as heavy as Nothingface, which, granted, had taken the heavy factor down a bit. But it’s unique, it’s Voivod, and as of today, consider it justified.