3 July 2016

Gojira - Magma

Change - is it for the best or is it something that we should strive to avoid and repeat the same formula forever more?  In metal circles, it is both revered and feared in equal measure; ask any Slayer fan what they want, they will probably say they want can whilst secretly wanting 'Reign of Blood' part 2. if AC/DC tried to release an album which had a synth in it, I am sure the air would turn blue with a million old men crying bloody murder.  If Machine Head went to release 'Supercharger 2', Jerm would have an aneurysm and Robb Flynn would bitch about him again in Metal Hammer.  But then you have bands like Boris, Dream Theatre, Sunn 0)))) - all of whom are just changing constantly and rarely resting on their laurels.  You could say the same with Gojira, they have come a long way since their first album 'Terra Incognita' which was released in 2001.  The French metal act have been on a journey from all out assault metal outfit to something else and it has been a natural progression on each album to match their environmental status.  My first experience with them was when Luke from the team introduced me to their album 'From Mars to Sirus', it is one of those albums which holds a special place in my heart and the opening of "Ocean Planet" is one of the strongest opening tracks to any album.  However, I have never had that same connect with any of their other albums, they have always been works I have appreciated rather than enjoyed.  But I have always admired the change that they are willing to change.  But will the rest of the world?  Here is the reason I mentioned change at the beginning of this review, this album has been compared to both Mastodon's 'The Hunter' and Metallica 'Metallica'.  It is being compared to those records as it is being seen in the metal press as a game changer, which is a huge expectation on any album; also for a few people I know, those albums are not held in high regards and it could turn out that those few words are made into millstones that crush the band's metaphorical necks.  But people cannot deny their impact on the metal scene, will this album be a similar release?

Starting the album is "The Shooting Star" which seems to be a strange mixture of their earlier sound and I would have to say the Mastodon comparison is making a lot of sense as well.  It is not an explosive number by some of their own standards, you cannot accuse it of being a wilting flower either; it is just a grinding number that brings to mind some of the darker periods of 'The Great Southern Tread Kill' by Pantera.  It has that ongoing conflict between nature and humanity that is an ever present, but it is an intriguing number that you cannot settle on within a few listens as it just keeps on going with each listen.  "Silvera" (the second song & also the second track to be released as a single from this record) brings out that standard Gojira tone which could be used to level down trees, that pitching harmonic that sends shivers down your back and a bass drop that smashes into you sideways and does not stop until you have been smashing into small, tiny pieces. It is the nearest that this album gets to being a song that is by the numbers for Gojira, which is a good thing. Now I am not saying that this song is a mundane and predictable number, as ever it is a clever song that showcases the progressive nature of the band; but it is the one on the album which closets to their basic and standard sound, it is an easy number by their own high standards and one which is (for this band) just a decent number.  "The Cell" is a number that sounds as if it is going to fall apart from the beginning and just keeps on the very edge of a chasm that they seem to steer that fine line between all out noise and precision playing.  The dynamic of the sound is incredibly intense and aggressive, two forces of nature smashing against each other which the lyrical battle for the mind is raging on at the same time.  It is the fact that it sounds as if it could collapse at any point that makes this song such a great number, one of my favourite of the album as it walks the line with such confidence that comes from within the core of the band.

"Stranded" was released as a single in April 2016, which a crunching riff that has some crazy harmonic rises and falls thrown into the mix just to make things interesting.  It is another song which deals with internal trauma and the conflict that be played out inside a person which is not apparent on the outside.  This song is a mixture of the traditional and progressive elements of Gojira, they mesh well together and create one of the most interesting songs on the album, especially during the chorus.  I can see why it was a picked as a single, it is an obvious choice for a metal single these days and it carries enough of all elements of the band to gain the interest of a lot of new listeners.  "Yellow Stone" sounds like a re-working of on the dynamic sound of "Iron Man" by Black Sabbath; it has subtle changes that makes it different enough to pass a court of law, but it is incredibly close to that classic Sabbath riff to be honest which is something that the inspiration for this album (Pantera) were also doing at times during their recording career.  It has some nice touches in there as well, the drumming is fantastic and the synths mixed in the background as interesting; ultimately though, it is over before it really has begun and the impression it leaves is one of Ozzy and Co in my mind.  The sixth song on the album is the title track, "Magma" and once it starts you quickly forget about "Yellow Stone".  This song showcases the progressive side of Gojira, with a strong piece of music that moves with the slow steady pace of its namesake and contains as much musical malevolence as well.  There is a dual nature to the lyrics, you can read into it that it is a song about lose and also one about one of the most destructive acts of nature when a volcano explodes.  I think both points of view are right on this song, but it is definitely one of the strongest songs on the album as it does not rely on the massive riffs that the band usual have.  It is quiet understated in comparison to other songs on the album and it is for this fact that it is one of the best songs of the record.

"Pray" however manages to complete a drive-by robbery on "Magma" for song of the album, the guitar/drumming combo at the beginning of the song is one of the finest openings to a metal song I have heard in year.  It reminds me of Sepultra when Max Cavalera was still part of the band.  However, the rest of the song does not continue on that tribal opening, not....one...bit......  It goes for the jugular with an epic verse and devastating chorus combo that moves the sound of the band beyond the groove metal they were aiming for, beyond the thrash that they have done before and into new territory without a map and only armed with a new sense of purpose.  A brilliant moment which stood out for me on the first list, got better with the second and keeps on delivering.  "Only Pain" starts off with the drums muffled in the background, fading in and the riff kicks you in the chest like a sledgehammer smashing through a wall.  The song itself is full of the quiet/loud dynamic that has been going through this album (quiet-ish verse, louder bridge/chorus), it has some subtle moments but it is mostly all about the noise.  The lyrics about all-consuming pain and self-sacrifice are very interesting, not as immediately obvious as other songs which gives it a sense of intrigue - a grower if ever I heard one.  "Low Lands" is another song that has the slow fade, but this is where the comparison to other songs on the album stops; this is a slow burner of a song and one that is dealing with loss (physical and spiritual), it is easy to read more into this or possibly get the song right on the button.  It is a harsh number to hear at time, but one that will become part of their set for years to come.  It is slow, intense and absolutely devastating in a way that other songs could never achieve with all the power in the world.  It is definitely one of the best moments of this album, together with the quiet coda at the end of the song as well.  Ending the album is "Liberation" which is an acoustic instrumental, which sounds very sombre and delicate in places.  It is a strange ending, but it is a strange album if the truth be told.

Yes, it is a strange album and it is one that has been in flux in my mind since I first put it on.  Musically the band have made subtle changes to their sound and it works, I cannot say that I do not like this album or I would not recommend it to someone else; but here is the rub about it as well - I am still not 100% sure how much I like it and if it is just good or brilliant.  Ever since I first put it on, it has been going from - that is alright - to - oh my deity, I love this - and even - why am I bothering - on a few occasions when I thought about handing it to one of the other writers.  It might be that I identify with this album a little bit too much for my own comfort in places, it might be that the millstone of being compared to some legendary albums is making it hard to get a firm idea about the record.  Any way I look at it, it is a grower that I will probably be able to mark in about eighteen months’ time - for now, you will have to listen to it to make your own mind up about it. 

8 out of ten - Oh, now you have my attention and maybe my money, time & heart (but this album is still unsettled in my mind if I am honest)

Top track - Pray

You can purchase Magma on Amazon here

You can visit the Gojira website here (there is a link to the Gojira Roadrunner store on there as well)

You can follow the activities of Gojira on Facebook here

You can stream Magma on Spotify here

You can stream Magma on Deezer here

You can stream Magma on Tidal here

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