Gojira - “Magma”
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Change seems to be the overarching theme of 2016 for metal, more than even in previous years. It’s a well-beaten horse to talk about “change” this broadly, but as we pass the halfway mark in the year, it’s safe to say we’re seeing more and more established acts pushing against so many personal boundaries in their output that the finished product often doesn’t have more than a few incidental ties to the band’s previous work.
So I’ll be upfront about Gojira: I didn’t pay much attention to them before 2012’s L’Enfant Sauvage, and even the positive reaction I had to that album didn’t last more than a few months. There has always been something a little messy about Gojira that turned me off of their critically-acclaimed The Way of All Flesh and lauded-by-metal-fans From Mars to Sirius, preventing me from even bothering with their first two records, The Link and Terra Incognita. While I can appreciate the ambition and complexity of Flesh and Mars, they’re overlong and monochromatic listens for me. L’Enfant Sauvage rectifies a great deal of the problems I had up to that point by streamlining just about everything, but paradoxically, a good portion of the record winds up feeling hollow - after the refreshing streak from “Explosia” to “Liquid Fire,” L’Enfant gradually loses its way amid recycled songwriting patterns until it has no choice but to literally “fall” off seven songs later.
Magma goes a step further than merely streamlining Gojira’s sound: it rips out whole chunks and rearranges what’s left into something that, while still clearly Gojira, represents a new direction for this veteran act. The first thing long-time listeners are going to notice, and what’s really going to set off some alarms, is the lack of aggression on Magma. While there are plenty of harsh vocals, they’re matched (sometimes outmatched) in quantity by Joe Duplantier’s contemplative cleans, which have traded some of their Jon Davis-y inflection for a Steve Brooks (of Torche) cadence since Gojira’s last outing. In fact, quite a bit of Magma recalls a more somber, progressive Restarter. Riffs and time signatures don’t hop around quite as much as they once did. Instead, Gojira opt for patient chord progressions and focus on building smoky atmospheres and insistent grooves, peppered with bluesy licks and even some mild psychedelic passages. They waste no time introducing this new approach on “The Shooting Star,” which is as mid-paced and reflective an opener as “Explosia” is (forgive me) explosive.
It may sound as if Gojira have simplified their sound again, and while that’s true to some extent, there are plenty of challenging leads and instrumental interplay scattered across the album to please fans of that aspect of Gojira, and arguably more variety on display than ever before. But, as early as “Silvera” and “The Cell,” whose one-two punch is mirrored later on by “Pray” and “Only Pain,” their signature pummeling rhythms and whammied-out melodies cut through the mix like the Gojira of old. With all the usual fluff cut away, these hallmarks may not stand out quite as much as they once did amid the transitional experimentation on L’Enfant Sauvage, but they become crucial signposts as one gets swept up in the album’s forward pull.
More than any other Gojira album, Magma comes closest to feeling like a cohesive statement. It cuts the fat and puts their progressive metal colors on full display, while simultaneously finding a way to tap into the latent strains of doom metal that have always run underneath their past work. It may come to perhaps the most underdeveloped conclusion Gojira have yet recorded with “Low Lands” and “Liberation,” but Magma represents the efforts of yet another metal band unafraid to take a critical eye to their past work and retool their sound in all the right ways. Here’s to the start of a new chapter for Gojira.