Review Summary: The wild, French, eco-friendly and imaginative child.
Death metal. To the untrained ear, it’s a genre that despite its touted ferocity, is easy to auralize and subsequently generalize what the many death metal bands are destined to sound like - invariably and inevitably, each other. However, to those who actively and regularly listen to more than three or four death metal bands it’s considered to be a place where the some of the most musically innovative and imaginative people express the noise coming from whatever emotions live beneath the sounds which are prone to causing what feel like metaphysical nosebleeds. After all, the most revered of bands of any genre are the bands whose music goes beyond a simple personal message to feel they were packaged, yet certainly not manufactured, as a mission. Gojira are one of these bands.
Prior to this latest and long-awaited release, Gojira sounded like a sporadic, unrefined take on everyone’s favorite Meshuggah. On L’enfant Sauvage, Gojira sound as sporadic and unrefined as they did on earlier albums such as The Way of All Flesh, but no longer should the be seen as Meshuggah’s understudies. While it doesn’t trump their arguable opus in From Mars to Sirius, their latest effort feels as poetically as it is brutally effortless.
Having two of modern metal’s two most inventive guitarists in lead vocalist Joe Duplantier and Christian Andreu, the pick scrapes and harmonics that were once simple compliments to the band’s wealth of riffs are now trademarks of their sound. The opening track ‘Explosia’ begins in standard metal fashion with standard metal riffery, and for a moment feels alarmingly stale. It’s not an opening riff that serves as something that encourages the listener to continue with the album, but because it’s Gojira, there’s always something more around the corner that never fails to deliver. A pick scrape or two? Yeah. Harmonics? Put to effective use. A riff that sounds inspired from a 60s Western overlaid by chugging rhythms and a bass and snare combination that create a musical plateau that’s unlike anything they’ve ever done? It’s evident that from the beginning, Gojira are content to combine convention with innovation in the album’s longest song, at six and a half minutes, without having it feel overlong.
And so continues L’enfant Sauvage. The title track, released months prior to the release, utilizes standard Gojiran fare - shudderingly heavy thanks to brother Mario Duplantier’s ever-present double-kicking and the aforementioned guitarist’s honed tremolo picking - while still tweaking and experimenting with their brand of evolutionary death metal to sound as fresh as they did at their inception. Songs such as ‘Pain is a Master’ would lull an inexperienced listener into believing that, from a subdued and placid intro, a more melodious progression would follow. Those who have listened to Gojira before would know that this is not the case, erupting into a blastbeat that would feel overused if not for how far Mario’s intricacies take their sound. As the album nears its end, ‘Born in Winter’ pushes the band’s boundaries so far that they could be considered conventionally listenable, clean vocals and cleaner-than-usual guitar tones give an expansion their already intelligent, contemplative sound. The track is well-placed to reminisce of ‘From Mars’ which led into ‘To Sirius’, from the eponymous album.
Signs of deterioration, though, are apparent in what once made Gojira feel so fresh. Having previously nailed closing tracks on previous albums, saving the title track for the end on The Way of All Flesh and it being one of the most memorable tracks, ‘The Fall’ falls ironically flat to be the track intended to hold all that came before it. Ultimately, it’s one of the most forgettable songs on the album, standard Gojiran fare not enough what with its pick scrapes and chugging not enough to overshadow how ill-constructed and uninspired it feels. It’s something that ‘Planned Obsolescence’ has elements of also; a series of seriously cool ideas not to be the best song on the album, but to be the best series of cool ideas. Also, ‘The Wild Healer’ is, on first listen, unlike any short interlude they’ve ever attempted before. It must be heard directly after the end of ‘Liquid Fire’ to be believed and personally judged.
Despite these necessary grievances, it remains an record with more than enough to satisfy. Releases from dubiously-dubbed progressive metal acts that have recently moved to Roadrunner such as Porcupine Tree, Opeth and Mastodon had prompted me not to extensively listen to the new releases, but to rediscover what I loved before whatever creative thresholds took over on these albums. With a sound like Gojira’s though, even the smallest attempts to create something more accessible are squandered by their conscious musical evolution and a darkened, yet enlivening tone. With the world of metal now rightfully at their disposal and L’enfant Sauvage set to be their first album to receive the widespread exposure it deserves, Gojira’s mission isn’t accomplished, but is just getting started.