Review Summary: If you enjoy modern extreme metal or progressive metal, you owe it to yourself to experience From Mars to Sirius at least once.Part III: The Bigger Picture
"In some cultures, Mars symbolizes war and Sirius peace. I'm simplifying! It is a journey of a state of war, even if in France we are preserved, but it can be a war within us, in our flesh, in our mind, a war with ourselves"
-Joe Duplantier, 2005
I think we need to take a moment to appreciate just how appropriate the cover art for From Mars to Sirius
is to the music within. Gojira have never been ones to shy away from environmental themes, which they’d been exploring as early as 2001’s Terra Incognita
. But the illustration of a whale travelling to a more peaceful world takes us right to the heart of their beliefs and ideals. As such, it also represents the first proper concept album for Gojira - one that relates the issues we face on a planetary scale to the greater concept of mortality. This relationship between internal conflict and external repercussions is what elevates From Mars to Sirius
above the band’s previous outings; they already had the ingredients to make an era-defining album, yet they never could put them all together in such a stunning way until this record.
From Mars to Sirius
is the product of several influences - Meshuggah, Pantera, Morbid Angel, Converge, and several others come to mind - but it doesn’t feel derivative in the slightest. It’s a testament to how well Gojira can use their own building blocks to their advantage, as the personality and charm of the record compliment the crushing riffs and harsh vocals perfectly. And when I say crushing, I do mean crushing
. Despite most of the songs being in standard D tuning, they manage to crank out a thicker and weightier sound than most of the deathcore and djent bands playing in much lower tunings. This can largely be attributed to the presence of the underrated Jean-Michel Labadie, whose bass work provides a wonderfully heavy undertow to Joe Duplantier and Christian Andreu’s relentless guitar assaults. Combined with the technical and highly impressive drumming of Joe’s brother Mario, there’s always the sense that the band is just “locked in”, no matter how much the album threatens to go off the rails. The chemistry here is undeniable, and it’s pretty easy to guess why the group haven’t had a lineup change since their very first record.
But a lot of this can be said about the previous two records as well. What really puts From Mars to Sirius
in a higher echelon is the incredible focus that went into the songwriting. It is true that a few parts can meander once in a while - the 66-minute runtime could have been trimmed by about five minutes or so - but when the band are firing on all cylinders, the result is both brutally heavy and utterly entrancing. “Ocean Planet” immediately sets the scene, as faint whale calls are met with a grinding sludge-oriented riff; doomy, yet captivating and even melodic. This song tells us a lot about the album we’re about to hear: pounding riffs combined with a heavy dose of atmosphere, near-pristine production values, and the band’s most ambitious lyrics to date. That’s not to say their technical abilities have waned in the slightest though, as heard in more turbulent cuts such as absolute barnburners “The Heaviest Matter in the Universe” and “Backbone” or the epic, progressive stylings of album centerpiece “Flying Whales.” The latter is especially noteworthy as it really puts every facet of the band’s sound on display. The beginning sees us traversing a beautiful soundscape filled with the aforementioned whale calls, before plunging us into some of the heaviest grooves on the entire album; finally, the last section of the track throws in all the weird time signatures and varied rhythms to seal the deal. The whole song is like a summary of the band’s career, and it’s no wonder that it’s their most famous tune to this day.
While we’re talking about songwriting, it’s crucial to talk about just how well the lyrics and concept compliment the music itself. Not only does From Mars to Sirius
tackle the theme of moving to a more peaceful place, but it also concerns the resurrection of the world we currently live in. While the heavier songs obviously present the more turbulent and intense moments of this “interplanetary quest” as it’s been dubbed, there are also slower tracks that present a more contemplative side. “World to Come” is very true to its title, using doomy melodic riffs and beautiful lead guitar playing to illustrate what our planet might eventually become, depending on the way we treat it. “Global Warming” hits a lot of the same lyrical notes while presenting a more hopeful tone, as the repetition of the words “we will see our children growing” closes out the record as a whole. Add to that some nice (if a tad repetitive) guitar tapping from our Duplantier/Andreu duo, and it’s a nice way to resolve a lot of the tension and conflicts of the story. And quite a few of the songs, such as “In the Wilderness” and “From the Sky”, seem to paradoxically marry brutal music with contemplative lyrics effortlessly. The band’s ability to blend so many disparate elements without sounding sloppy is really impressive, especially considering the ambition of this project.
That’s really what makes From Mars to Sirius
one of the benchmarks for modern metal. It’s such a varied experience, yet it never strays too far from its core appeal. The riffs are brutal, the themes are thought-provoking, the songwriting is progressive and ambitious, the atmosphere is thick, the playing is super tight… and somehow all of this converges into one incredible experience. If you enjoy modern extreme metal or progressive metal, you owe it to yourself to listen to From Mars to Sirius
at least once. Then again, given Gojira’s rapidly-increasing stature in today’s metal scene, chances are that you've probably heard it already.