This past decade has seen French heavyweights Gojira release two equally stunning and career-defining albums. The first of these was 2012’s L’Enfant Sauvage, an album which touched upon huge existential themes and delivered with their incredible technical ability and flawless production. It contains many of the best songs the band have written, including the visceral title-track, thundering epic ‘Explosia’ (worth it for that stunning outro alone) and the relatively meditative ‘Born In Winter’. However, it was with 2016’s Magma that the band began to truly diversify their sound, intertwining ever increasing amounts of progressive, atmospheric elements, reverb-drenched clean vocals and acoustic phrases to their already rich tapestry of groove-, prog- and death-infused sound.
Whilst previously Gojira had looked outward for inspiration, with much of their subject matter covering existential and political themes, Magma saw the band take a much more inward looking approach. Midway through the recording of the album, brothers Joe and Mario Duplantier (vocals/guitar and drums respectively) had to come to terms with the death of their mother. This sense of grief and loss is strewn throughout almost every aspect of Magma, none more so than on the stunning opener ‘Shooting Star’ which features multi-layered clean vocals (something in rich supply on this album) and some of the most touchingly personal lyrics Joe Duplantier has ever penned – “When you get to the other side, please send a sign / It’ll fly through the atmosphere in time” he mourns, reaching out for the recently deceased. It’s an impressive feat that despite the song sounding as wide as time itself, such personal lyrics are able to cut through the grandeur and leave the track with a stirring intimacy. And whilst some of the band’s aggression may have been dialled down somewhat for this album, there are still moments of brutal riffage (‘Stranded’), pummelling intensity (Mario Duplantier is as commanding as ever behind the kit, particularly on ‘The Cell’) and visceral anger (“only pain, all in vain” screams Joe Duplantier on ‘Only Pain’).
At the time of Magma’s release much was made of Gojira’s decision to take a “softer” and more accessible route. Indeed, while it would be true to say Magma is the most approachable release in the band’s discography, much of the criticism levelled at the album’s apparent simplicity was also lazy oversimplification used by a certain type of metal journalist who tend to get all too upset when a band decides to incorporate clean vocals. Heaviness takes many forms; it’s more than a vocal style and with Magma Gojira created an album of great emotional weight filled with some of the best songs of their career so far.
Words: Adam Pegg