Review Summary: For better or worse, Terra Incognita's variety and eccentricities are what make it such a unique and compelling part of Gojira's discography.Chapter I: Arriving Somewhere but Not Sirius
As I’ve stated previously, Gojira’s pre-From Mars to Sirius
work was largely a case of throwing shit at the wall and seeing what sticks. While both The Link
and the Godzilla demos demonstrated this approach, there can’t be a better example than Terra Incognita
. To be fair, this happens with a lot of debut albums; when an artist doesn’t quite know where to go yet artistically, many strange things can happen in the songwriting process. As such, Terra Incognita
cycles through several genres and sounds, many of which would never rear their heads again on future Gojira releases. Elements of death metal, metalcore, groove metal, progressive metal, thrash, and even hints of nu-metal make their way into the record in one way or another. And while this variety tends to make Terra Incognita
the most inconsistent and unbalanced album they’ve released, I can’t deny how compelling the material is.
But let’s be real here: barring the demos, this happens to be the most brutal piece of work the band have ever crafted. It may not be as sludgy as From Mars to Sirius
or as lyrically dark as The Way of All Flesh
, but it’s definitely the most relentlessly bludgeoning one. Mario Duplantier’s machine gun double bass often leads the charge, especially on the more intense cuts like “Clone” and “Love”; meanwhile, Joe Duplantier’s vocals are much lower and more growl-oriented than on future albums. Still, you can definitely hear hints at what his vocal style would evolve into, such as the clean vocals used on tracks like “Satan is a Lawyer” and “On the B.O.T.A.” or the half-screamed half-sung vocals on “Space Time” and “In the Forest”. What makes Terra Incognita
so fun to listen to is that you get to hear so many variations on the band’s signature sound; this may not lead to a very cohesive record, but I don’t think that was what Gojira had in mind when they recorded it.
As you’d imagine, this leads to some pretty weird moments from time to time, and they do indeed appear. The aforementioned “Satan is a Lawyer” tries to reconcile rap metal with death metal to some pretty dodgy results, while the entirety of “On the B.O.T.A.” is based around a dissonant guitar line that produces an eerie atmosphere. Some of the stranger moments are quite amazing, such as the frantic bridge of “Blow Me Away You(niverse)”, in which tremolo-picked guitars are met with one of Joe’s most intense vocal performances to date. There’s also one of the best interludes Gojira have ever put on an album, “04”. Here, we can hear a birthday message the Duplantiers recorded for their now-late mother before Christian Andreu provides an amazing melodic guitar part to cap things off. It’s really atmospheric, just as all good Gojira interludes should be.
Unfortunately, all of this variation does lead to the biggest problem with Terra Incognita
: lack of focus and consistency. This is an album best heard in chunks rather than as a full experience, as many of the songs simply don’t fit very well and hinder the record’s flow. “1990 Quatrillions de Tonnes” is probably the worst offender, an incredibly annoying instrumental track that’s sandwiched between two of the best songs on the album. Even if you find the wailing voices interesting, it’s not worth getting through four minutes of them. And simply put, some of the more “standard” Gojira songs are just not very interesting. “Lizard Skin” suffers from a lot of generic chug riffs, while “Fire is Everything” just seems to go from riff to riff without solid transitions gluing them together. If the album as a whole was trimmed down to about 10 of the strongest tracks, it would probably be much better off.
Really though, the variety and eccentricities are what make Terra Incognita
so unique in the Gojira discography. The adventurousness found here is really fascinating, especially since we now know the band would drastically tone down their sound in the future. It may not be perfect, and obviously the songwriting polish of the group’s heyday wasn’t entirely there yet, but the record is still incredibly fun to spin once in a while because of its quirks. Well, that and also to speculate on what it would have been like if Gojira kept getting more brutal in an alternate universe.