Gojira – Magma
Release Date: June 17, 2016
I have a long-running theory which holds that most bands perform at the apex of their creative ability over the span of no more than 3 consecutive albums. Without getting into the various reasons why I think this happens, I will admit that the theory is generally tough to quantify especially given the subjective nature of what constitutes a band’s creative peak. Still, it’s an interesting concept to ponder and it makes sense when you think about the career trajectory of just about any band who has released more than 5 albums, with one classic—and obvious—example being Metallica.
As important as Metallica’s Kill ‘Em All was, few would argue that it belongs in the conversation with their next 3 releases which included Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets, and …And Justice for All. And regardless of your feelings about the direction they took after that time period (beginning with the “Black Album”), or what you think of their studio output from that point forward, there is no argument to be made that Metallica has ever come close to recapturing the magic of those 3 genre-defining albums. And while I don’t think it is fair to compare Gojira to Metallica—particularly because the circumstances that allowed for Metallica’s meteoric rise aren’t likely to be duplicated—it is in the context of Metallica’s career arc that I’ve been thinking about Gojira’s 6th release entitled Magma.
Gojira has been around for 20 years now, but it wasn’t until the 2005 release of From Mars to Sirius that the band started to make serious in-roads with metal fans outside of their native France. Over the course of their next two releases, 2008’s The Way of All Flesh and 2012’s L’Enfant Sauvage, Gojira continued to build a reputation as a band capable of combining the mechanical heaviness of bands like Meshuggah with enough melodical and technical proficiency to generate a sound all their own. It would probably be a gross exaggeration to call Magma a “departure” from the style they established on those 3 albums, but it’s hard to listen to the album without sensing that the band is at a bit of a crossroads here.
The thing that really stands out to me on Magma is the way the album is paced. It opens with “The Shooting Star” which, compared to the typical Gojira track, almost has a ballad-like quality to it. The song’s slow, plodding riff is augmented by robotic vocals that are both clean and distant which isn’t something we’re used to from these guys, but as the album’s opening statement it does a fine job of setting the emotional tone. Magma was written around the time of the death of brothers Joe (guitar, vocals) and Mario (drums) Duplantier’s mother, and it’s fair to say her passing colored the record. This is particularly evident on the album’s proper closing track, “Low Lands”, which evokes memories of the vibe achieved by Tool on 10,000 Days—an album which itself dealt with the loss of a loved one. Then there’s the case of the title track which appears at the center of the album and, in addition to being the album’s most awe-inspiring song, serves as the strongest indicator that Gojira is keen to explore new territory. Outside of those 3 tracks though, and save for two songs that really only serve to take up space (“Yellow Stone” and “Liberation”—the latter of which almost sounds like someone trying to tune a guitar) the album is peppered with vintage Gojira, albeit more direct and polished than their past offerings. Songs like lead single “Stranded”—with its stuttering riffage and straight-to-the-point chorus—and the excellent “Silvera” are bound to be live favorites as they’ll sit comfortably aside everything the band has done to this point. And therein lies the only real issue I have with Magma. There is no denying that the album is both strongly written and well executed, but it sometimes feels like it’s trying to pull you in two very different directions. On the one hand, Gojira seems eager to explore more atmospheric and proggy territory yet, on the other, they seem almost over wary of losing touch with their past.
Maybe that’s OK though. History is littered with bands who’ve turned the corner too quickly only to lose their sense of direction. On Magma, Gojira seem keenly aware that the road that lies ahead is different from the one they’ve traversed to this point. Here’s hoping they fully embrace the journey in the future and, if they do, Magma will likely be remembered as an album that served as an intriguing glimpse into the future of a band whose best work was just around the bend.