Ten Minute Review: Gojira – Magma

gojira magma

Another week, another huge album release.  This week, I present to you the French metal band, Gojira.  They’ve drifted between death metal, groove metal, a bit of thrash metal, and progressive metal in their lifetime, and this album firmly plants them at the top of the metalscape.  Ever riff-heavy, Gojira proves time and time again that they can deliver us a catchy riff and hook us for 44 minutes before we realize we listened to the whole album start to finish.  Seeing Gojira live for the first time two years ago was everything I had hoped it would be – they were heavy, masterful, and had a terrific stage presence.  This album may not be for the casual music listener, but for metal fans across the world, this album, Magma, is a triumph.  It may be the release the band needed to kick them to the next level.  L’Enfant Sauvage was a great album, but Magma is their finest album to date.  It’s heavy in all the right places, is never overwhelming with its intensity or excitement, and has a different feel to it.  It feels bigger, especially the final two tracks.  They have a quality that I can’t quite put my finger on.  Put simply, this album rocks.

The first of two tracks that I can share with you in this review, and the second of two singles the band released in anticipation of this album, Silvera brings the riff we’ve grown to love as Gojira fans.  Right off the bat, the guitar slams in and never really lets go.  The signature trill of Gojira is in full effect as well, and I’d like to point out an important of the song now.  Around 1 minute 50 seconds, everything falls away except for the drums.  They hit a kind of a breakdown and then the guitar brings in something that to me sounded like a reverse effect.  It’s a fascinating sound that goes on for about ten seconds, before transitioning into a trilling sort of guitar solo.  The background vocals are especially effective in this track, as they give the track a spiritual feel.  Never one to let a good riff go, they ride it all the way to the end of the track.

This next track, Stranded, is the first the band released to get everyone hyped for this album.  It’s one of the heavier tracks on the album without question, with borderline harsh vocals from Joe reminiscent of old Gojira.  Again, the riff dancing through this track is incredibly catchy, and I found myself going back to my headbanging days of old.  To me, this track’s riff was reminiscent of something that Pantera would bring to the table.  While the band may have their influences, throughout this album, they confidently have their own sound and are comfortable with it.  Here and there, they move around to try new things, which I will always appreciate.  The guitar has some distortive effect that bends the one riff back and forth in a very entertaining manner while still keeping it intact.  The band chose their singles well, because both Stranded and Silvera have definite hooks that would bring casual fans (read: not-yet Gojira fans) into the fold.

The other tracks all merit mentioning as well, and even though there is no particular album stream from a website that I can link you, I can tell you that this album is worth listening to cover to cover.  Luckily, while writing this review, Gojira posted another track, the album opener, The Shooting Star, so you can listen to it too!

The album opens with The Shooting Star, which immediately from the opening guitar lick gives us an atmospheric quality.  The guitar, tuned lower than in other tracks, has an almost haunting quality as the riff goes throughout the track.  They also have a distorted effect that gives way to drone, as the guitar plays one note until it breaks into another part suddenly.  The vocals have an echo effect that adds to the whole experience, and the background vocals layer upon those to create a very intriguing ambiance.  At times, Joe even harmonizes with himself which works very well.  The last 30 seconds of The Shooting Star fade off into nothingness, but then we immediately dive into Silvera which as I’ve mentioned starts hard and fast and doesn’t let up for three and a half minutes.

Following the exciting Silvera, The Cell picks up right where it left off and actually picks up the tempo a little.  The bass and guitar cycle back and forth like a musical double helix while the drum desperately tries to keep up for about 35 seconds, until it slows down into a very heavy and slower mix of crushing guitar and frantic cymbals along with Joe’s harsh vocals.  When I refer to harsh vocals, in regards to this album, it’s not screaming or growling, but it’s on the borderline of that.  I don’t know exactly how to describe his vocal style, because it’s fairly unique.  It’s a good blend of both that allows you to understand the vocals while still getting the full aggression intended.  The only vocalist I can compare Joe to off the top of my head is Burton C. Bell of Fear Factory, who has that blend of clean and harsh.  The intensity is fairly relenting for this part of the album, which is a whirlwind of three powerhouse tracks, and then we get Stranded immediately afterwards.  Following Stranded, which you can hear above, we get the 80 second reprieve of Yellow Stone, which is a nice and slow instrumental interlude with a heavily distorted guitar reminiscent of a funeral dirge.  Not much more to say about that, but it’s the perfect segue into Magma, which is a big one.

Magma feels different from the rest of the album.  It’s not heavy, but it’s not soft or slow either.  It starts out with a crunchy riff, but then relents into something unconventional by Gojira standards.  The guitar goes from riffy to shrill, and then back again.  It doesn’t stay as one particular sound for very long.  The drums are constant and innovative, and the bass follows the guitar well.  This is likely the most progressive metal-esque track, as it rarely stays in one place for long and instead ebbs and flows.  The vocals are melodic and monotone, feeling as if they were just another instrument.  It abandons traditional song structures almost completely, which makes it very intriguing.  I feel some Mastodon and Baroness flowing through this particular track, which is always a plus.  The track ends with a long held note, which transitions well into Pray.

Pray goes tribal with this one, bringing in a flute, some tapping drums, and the guitar meandering in the background.  It gradually gets louder until around a minute in when it punches in and starts hammering at full force.  The guitar lets up to the again-melodic vocals of Joe which feel spiritual all over again.  We lose that around 2 and a half minutes, relenting to the intensity yet again.  It comes in waves, and the calm parts are slammed with the heavy guitar sometimes quite suddenly.  Eventually, you can hear a pattern so you’ll know that the riffs will start hitting hard shortly, but it may be unexpected for the average listener.  The track ends with a cool back and forth with the drums and guitar, with the guitar riffing while the drums alternate with the cymbals, creating a cool effect.  After Pray, we go into Only Pain, which starts with some muted drums.

When hearing Only Pain, you should hear a reprise of Stranded in both the guitar and vocals.  The bass is featured heavily in this track, which is a welcome sound because the guitar tends to dominate most tracks throughout the album.  There are parts when the guitar disappears and lets the rest of the band shine, and shine they do.  At about the two minute mark, the guitar and Joe’s voice become intertwined to make for a cool tug-of-war.  The track, like many before it, have several sections of intensity followed by a brief respite, only to come back hitting harder.  This goes back and forth as the riff slows and the song ends.  The lull is short lived, for about 20 seconds between those tracks, until instruments start kicking in.

Low Lands fades in as a track, but as far as this album is concerned, the intensity from this album is mostly over.  Joe’s clean vocals take over and start to land this plane that is Magma.  We’re in for one final treat, though, as this track starts slow and gradually grows for the next four minutes, until the guitar greets us once again.  The riff has slowed, but it is ever present from four minutes on, as Joe’s vocals start to transform from clean to harsh as the intensity picks up one last time.  At five minutes, we hit the climax of the track, culminating in a big musical burst.  After that, silence.  Seconds later, a lone acoustic guitar chimes in to take us to the end of the album, which is Liberation.

As far as final songs on an album go, Liberation is very intriguing because it features only that same acoustic guitar from a minute ago along with some light percussion.  No more riffs, no more harsh vocals, just a soulful denouement after a long journey.  This album, clocking in at just under 44 minutes, seems much longer than that, which satisfies fans like me that prefer longer albums.  It represents some sort of a whole journey, and even though I’m not getting deep into the lyrics, I will touch on one thing briefly.  Lyrically, this album is very heavy, touching on death and loss, including the loss of faith.  It could be akin to someone losing their way.

This album fascinates me.  It’s less heavy than some of their other albums, especially with a final acoustic track wrapping the album up, and yet it feels thematically and emotionally heavier than anything they’ve ever done.  The guitar work is top notch, the bass and percussion are right on point, and Joe’s vocals and background vocals combined make for a fantastic sound.  The only ding I have on this album is that Only Pain felt like a rehash of Stranded without adding much more to it.  Otherwise, this album is flawless.  This is the kind of album that puts other bands on notice.  It’s going to be a tough battle to determine album of the year, but don’t be surprised if you see Magma atop many of those lists.  Watch out Haken, this album may give Affinity a run for its money.  I give this album 14 Ratings Units out of 15.  What an experience.

 

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One thought on “Ten Minute Review: Gojira – Magma

  1. Pingback: 2015 Top 15 Rewind: #1 – Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase. – audio orbital

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