Review ‘em All: Gojira, Magma

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Not entirely sold on the Moonface artwork.

Although I am no longer convinced that Gojira are the second coming of metal (Metallica = the first), I still went out of my way to buy a copy of their sixth album Magma the day it came out. I did have criticisms of Gojira’s last album L’Enfant Sauvage, mainly that it felt linear and closer in scope to 2001’s Terra Incognita than a progression from 2008’s The Art of Dying. With time I’ve tempered that opinion in realising that L’Enfant is still a decent record – in particular, Mouth of Kala sounds like a cave in – but not the revelation that From Mars to Sirius and The Art of Dying were. So, perhaps to an unreasonable extent, I’m stacking a lot of chips on Magma.

Opening track The Shooting Star enters with one of Gojira’s mid–paced, churning riffs, but the first real point of note is that the opening vocals on Magma are clean. Starting the album like this is a symbolic declaration of Gojira continuing to evolve, away from death metal – although there are still elements of this multi–tentacled beast – into whatever they are now. This progression, which I suspect time will prove to be ongoing, is matched by the opening line

on the first light of the day you march on
departure has arrived
don’t look back.

I was unsure about the clean vocals at first, but with repeat listens they’ve grown on me. Silvera starts with a left–turning, bouncing riff that I found myself thinking of as ‘semi–thrash’, and Joseph Duplantier mixes his shouting with clean singing. It also contains not one but two squiggly tapping riffs, and fourth track Stranded incorporates another calling card of Gojira, unexpected noises (whale calls, wooden percussion, wind chimes) this time through the flanged, jangly chorus, which had me thinking, ‘Well, this certainly isn’t metal’, but then Joe Duplantier goes and roars his guts up everywhere and then sings clean as a whistle (no whistling though) in the interlude.

My pitch for this review, as you have probably figured out, is that Gojira are changing and have reached a tipping point. So it’s nice, amongst all the heavy thinking about vocal approaches, song structures and plectrum thickness, to hear what could only be Jean–Michel Labadie’s crunching bass tone on the obligatory instrumental (track number #5 this time round), Yellow Stone. It moves at a stately place, and, of all bands, actually reminded me of Mogwai. It was then even better to hear the next track, my notes for which were: ‘Magma. I have just heard the guitar make new noises.’ Following reverberating riffs and chanted vocals, at the song’s midpoint there is a Ride The Lightning riff that Metallica never got around to writing.

With time, I came to feel that The Art of Dying and L’Enfant Sauvage could have both done with trimming (From Mars to Sirius is fucking perfect). Magma feels concise in comparison, with only ten tracks to the twelve or thirteen on each of their preceding albums and the average song length standing at four minutes and 40 seconds. The longest song, Magma, is relatively short at 6.42. This album is more mid–paced, in addition to the song structures being a little more conventional. This is definitely Gojira’s most accessible album to date, a large part of which is due to the clean vocals. That said, there were also several points on this album that started a one man moshpit in front of my stereo.

This album prompted me to go back to Terra Incognita and listen through their discography to really understand how Gojira have progressed. Listening to each of these six albums, I hear the same band…but different. I apologise for making the comparison once again, but like Metallica, they’ve changed on each album. After several weeks of listening, my impression of Magma is that songs stand out (my favourite being Magma) rather than it being a stand–out album, but in saying this almost feel spoilt for choice; Magma is not Gojira’s best, but it’s still an album I’d be proud to have created and it’s still causing one man pits in front of the stereo.

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