Sunday, June 26, 2016

Gojira - Magma (2016)

Gojira has always been a band that flirted on the margins of the accessible in heavy music, basing a lot of their songwriting upon a foundation of simplistic, eager chugging rhythms and clear nods to once fashionable niches like the dreaded 'nu metal'. What clearly separated was their ability to elevate this sort of riffing component to a realm more transcendent, poetic and majestic, breathing new life with a combination of great studio production that really let them feel out those chords and mutes; and of course the almost hymnal nature of Joe Duplantier's grating yet melodic vocal tone, which is almost like the offspring of Pink Floyd's hypnotic, drugged, and harmonic quality with Neurosis harshness. But I think Magma, the Frenchmen's sixth full-length, is an example how regurgitating very basic riff cycles can only take you so far, and the record suffers slightly for this.

Don't get me wrong, there is more than enough material here for a solid, I daresay even 'great' EP, and much of that arrives in the first four tracks. In particular, "Stranded" is one I'd toss on any mix tape, which does wonders with those chugging patterns as it offsets them with the spikes of higher pitched guitar and a rousing, uplifting, if predictable chorus. I even enjoyed the soothing, cleaner vocal harmonies that came in the bridge. "The Cell" also has its moments with those churning palm mute harmony patterns and the faint melodies they plaster over them, although even this track relies on an extremely primitive groove riff that I didn't feel could contribute much to its overall composure after maybe 3-4 repetitions. But honestly, there is a very consistent opening 15-16 minutes with a lot of subtlety alongside the jackhammering grooves, a few twists and surprises that help augment that banal 'heaviness' forced by a lot of the palm mute focus, very much in the style that they mastered in 2005 with From Mars to Sirius, or its superb successor The Way of All Flesh. Granted, there is no "Oroborus" of "Toxic Garbage Island" among these, but I'd say that the quality does hit the standard of L'Enfant sauvage.

Where it does NOT hit that standard is in the two vapid instrumental tunes, "Yellow Stone" and "Liberation", which have nothing on the excellent "Wild Healer" from the prior album. The first is an oozing, circular, bluesy Sabbath piece with a little bit of ambient accompaniment, which goes just nowhere for me, and the last was a traditional acoustic guitar piece with some percussion that is a pretty boring afterthought to all that came before it. Hell, "Liberation" seems like such a mistake that I thought someone had mixed up the production of the CD. Otherwise, there were some cuts like "Magma" itself, "Pray", or the bass-swerving chug onslaught of "Only Pain" which basically rips its 'surprise' riff off the much catchier "Stranded" that did little to nothing interesting. When Joe is shouting "just wanted to be good" in the middle of that last tune, I was forced to agree with him. "Low Lands" would have been a solid closer for my imaginative EP version of this album, since I like how he works the vocals throughout, and it's constant climbing feel, but even that is just not enough to save this from sub-greatness.

Sonically, I don't have an issue here, since it sounds as crisp, pulverizing and rich as the couple albums before it, but much as the production emboldens the parts of Magma that I do like, it also accents the parts that I don't. The lyrics are alright, but tunes like "Silvera" rely on a lot of nu metal, groove or hardcore cliche like lines and images that don't do as much for the imagination as even the very basest riffing they perform. So, ultimately, was this worth a four year wait? Half of it is a worthwhile followup to L'Enfant sauvage, but the other half seems like the ideas in the Gojira camp have run dry, and the ironic elegant primacy that fuels their songwriting has petered out to a more neutral plane in which their upward creative trajectory has halted. I'll still slap a passing grade on it, because I get enough emotional resonance out of its stronger pieces, but I can guarantee that I won't often feel a compulsion to listen through in its entirety, skipping those instrumentals entirely and giving or taking 2-3 other tunes.

Verdict: Win [7.25/10] (leave the moment alone)

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