If Gojira’s last effort L’Enfant Sauvage
presented a more streamlined sound, Magma
is the next step in stripping it down. Abandoning the technical death metal sound that got them popular in the metal world might seem like a betrayal to some, but I’ve always seen Gojira as more of a progressive metal band anyway. They’ve often eschewed the modern tech-death tag in favor of a sound that, while brutal, is heavily textured and dripping with atmosphere all the same. Gojira’s way of combining beautiful textures, chunky riffs, and impressive instrumental skills is simply infectious, especially in albums like The Way of All Flesh
and The Link
. But Magma
is a bit of a different beast, as it opts for an alarmingly simple approach to their signature sound. The groove metal element is still retained, but there’s almost a post-metal quality about the way the album is presented. We now have much more buildup and subtle dynamic shifts in many of the tunes, and this is clear right from the slow-burning opener “Shooting Star,” a song which immediately brings a sense of minimalism to the forefront. During the verses, a single guitar/bass note is repeatedly being played at the bottom while Joe Duplantier’s clear vocals take charge above it. While “Silvera” picks up the pace substantially with Mario Duplantier’s technical drumming and swifter guitar chugs, “Shooting Star” is a clear foreshadowing of the album’s tone. Speaking of vocals, Joe’s clean vocals are much more prominent. Harsh singing is still present, but it’s more thrash-based in nature instead of being gravelly; basically Joe’s shouted vocals are especially frequent. In any case, it’s not like Gojira’s technical side has been entirely erased here, as moments like the punchy-yet-melodic “Silvera” or the amazingly intricate polyrhythmic intro of “The Cell” demonstrate.
But strange moments do pop up more than once as a result of the band’s stylistic shift. The somber instrumental piece “Yellow Stone” is certainly in character for the band, given how their melancholic guitar-driven interlude “The Silver Cord” from The Way of All Flesh
sounded. But it still seems completely crazy that they would place an acoustic ambient/folk song at the very end of the album, especially one that lasts for as long as it does (almost 4 minutes, in this case). But “Liberation” does represent this album’s experimentation nicely, and the preceding track “Low Lands” is another odd song that emphasizes a doom-laden atmosphere and somber melodies over outright heaviness. If there are any songs here that represent Gojira’s more traditional sound from past albums, they would be “Silvera,” “Stranded,” and “Only Pain.” Here, you get to hear all the intense double-bass drumming, heavy guitar distortion from Duplantier and Christian Andreu, and bassist Jean-Michel Labadie’s monstrous grooves. This is most notably heard on the fantastic chorus of “Stranded” which subtly slides into a 6/4-time riff while Joe Duplantier belts out some of his most intense harsh vocals yet. But I feel as though the more adventurous songs are also the most exciting ones; they may seem simplistic at first, but despite (and partially because of) their minimalism, they command the listener’s full attention through their subtleties. It would also be sensible to mention the event that likely influenced much of this album’s tone and style: the tragic loss of Joe and Mario Duplantier’s mother, Patricia Rosa. So the somber and downbeat vibe of Magma
would certainly make sense because of this as well. While I don’t think this is Gojira’s best record, and it definitely seems like a transitional one, it’s an incredibly exciting one at the same time. It can be tonally inconsistent once in a while, but the unusual experiments and minimalist songwriting choices definitely stick out in a genre filled with technical wizardry and complexity. Magma
may be from a different Gojira than we’re used to, but it’s still an excellent piece of work.