While France may not be traditionally associated with forward-thinking, heavy music, Gojira have been pushing their unique take on metal since 1996 to massive praise from both fans and critics. Theirs is a unique take on the death metal genre, blending crushing stop/start riffs akin to Meshuggah, yet with eerie melodies and layers of subtlety giving it a human edge, creating a tightly focussed and powerful monster. With four years having passed since 2012’s L’Enfant Sauvage, expectations are high for Magma, their sixth full-length. This is a more stripped back and fluid affair than their previous material, one where the juddering shifts in pace are replaced with a more mercurial sound, making better use of space than before. Much like the substance it takes its name from, Magma ebbs and flows between lighter and heavier moments, solidifying into both monolithic, neck-snapping grooves and quiet, contemplative moments.
Beginning in an unusual fashion with ‘The Shooting Star’, this mid-paced and quite moody number sets the tone for what’s to follow. Here the focus is less on head spinning intricacy and more on tight, memorable riffing and mesmerising, earth shaking groove, similar to the shift made by Northlane with last year’s Node. While ‘The Shooting Star’ is reminiscent of latter-day Mastodon, Pantera’s influence is one that makes itself well known here too. ‘Stranded’ shows off the punchy side of this album, with its deceptively simple opening riff and pinch harmonics giving way to a thunderous groove-metal stomp. The opening of ‘The Cell’ features some almost Lamb Of God style guitar before unleashing another monstrous wave upon us. ‘Liberation’ closes the album on a quieter note, an acoustic guitar lead instrumental both sombre and oddly hopeful.
Yet this is still very much a Gojira record. The sprawling, progressive, almost transcendent songs they are known for are still present here, with ‘Low Lands’ building upon haunting clean vocals and hypnotic riffing into a truly destructive climax. Joe Duplantier’s guttural roars are still as stirring as ever, his brother Marco still delivers some of the most dexterous drumming in modern metal. While the loss of the Duplantier’s mother is one that weighs heavily on this album, there is a defiant current flowing through the album, both in the strident guitar work and their use of more unorthodox techniques throughout it. The hooks may be simpler this time around but the strengthened songwriting makes their deployment utterly devastating. These are not heavy parts deployed for instant gratification and easy mosh fodder; instead they are woven into the emotional tapestry of this album.
Magma is a record of contradictions, both their most immediate and their most meditative album to date. This blend of the quiet and loud creates both Gojira’s heaviest moments on record and some of their most interesting turns too. The harrowing claustrophobia that previously characterised their work has been stripped back, leaving a mean, tight and furiously vital piece of music. Gojira are one of this millennium’s best loved metal bands for a reason, this is an intensely satisfying release for both long term fans and newcomers. For those who see metal as mindless, uninventive and lacking in any genuine emotion, this album will prove them wrong.