Release Date: Jun 17, 2016
Record label: Roadrunner
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Heavy Metal
Twenty years after forming in their hometown of Bayonne in France, Gojira’s slow but steady rise shows no signs of fizzling out. Magma strikes another ferocious blow for originality and intelligence in heavy music, as its creators embrace a greater sense of sonic space than ever, not least on the thunderous undulations of opening sprawl The Shooting Star. There are succinct, groove-driven anthems here too – the surging Silvera, the angular, fidgeting Stranded – but Gojira continue to sound unique; as mesmerising on the pummelling, tribal polyrhythms of The Cell and Pray as they are on the hulking, cosmos-hugging grandeur of the title track.
Nearly every band extant wants you to believe that their latest album is their best to date, an upwardly mobile trajectory of musical aspiration endlessly surpassing itself in achievement, but very few bands pull it off as consistently and as comprehensively as French progressive metal ensemble Gojira. Hell, they don’t even need to brag on themselves to do it, an “action speaks louder” ethos that many of their brethren could stand to take to heart. Magma comes a good four years removed from Gojira’s previous effort, L’Enfant Sauvage, but audibly picks up right about where that album left off: string-bending grooves, squawling cliffhanger riffs and a snappy sense of melodic economy.
This sixth album by the French extreme metallers is a bold step forward into new territory. Having already cemented their place as one of the best technical death metal bands in history, here they broaden their horizons considerably, experimenting with melody, groove, shorter songs, more straightforward structures, and actual singing. This shift from complexity toward accessibility has seen Magma draw comparisons with Metallica's black album, which Gojira have welcomed.
In 1988, Canadian band Voivod pulled off one of the most stunning musical transformations in heavy-metal history. After three albums that pushed the boundaries of extreme metal further than anyone else at the time, the Québecois foursome shifted gears entirely: Anarcho-punk, industrial, and krautrock had crept into the band’s sound to the point where they felt the need to create more space in the music to allow those sounds to bleed through. The speedsters in the metal scene didn’t know it at the time, but what they really wanted was Voivod’s eternal slowdown, and they got it in the form of their 1988 masterpiece, Dimension: Hatröss.
They say change is healthy. In the case of Gojira, they’re right. The brothers Joe and Mario Duplantier moved from France to New York City before working on Magma, the band’s sixth studio album. Working for the months by hand, the Duplantiers built their own studio with the advance money they received for Magma, intent on tracking the album before opening the studio to the public for recording.
Gojira’s Joe Duplantier didn’t ask to be a heavy metal auteur. Before taking up arms as the singer, vocalist, and principal songwriter of the acclaimed French avant-metal outfit, the Frenchman had dreams of becoming a fireman–a career path that shifted drastically following his childhood exposure to Metallica and Voivod, which inspired him to pick up an axe and start composing his own music. “I don’t decide to do this,” he recently told Rolling Stone, “It’s bigger than me; I can’t help it.
Gojira's sixth studio record, Magma, comes after a four-year period that brought about significant change in the French metal band's camp. Brothers Joe and Mario Duplantier moved to Queens, New York and built a recording studio, making the United States their new home. Both brothers are now also fathers, and lost their mother to illness while the songwriting stage of the record was half finished.The range of emotions that came with these events informed the writing of Magma in a "no bullshit" fashion, as they told Rolling Stone earlier this year.
"When you change yourself, you'll change the world," roars Joe Duplantier on "Silvera," the second track from Gojira's sixth and latest album – and "change" definitely seems to be the operative word these days for the French progressive metal giants. The highly anticipated Magma finds Joe, his drummer brother Mario, guitarist Christian Andreu and bassist Jean-Michel Labadie veering abruptly away from the technical death-metal that has largely defined their discography, while exploring new ground (for them, at least) in the realms of atmospheric, groove-oriented hard rock. Largely absent are the epic song arrangements and neck-snapping displays of instrumental wizardry that marked their recordings up through 2012's L'Enfant Sauvage.
Gojira’s music has never been easily classifiable into a subgenre, something that we simpleton heavy metal hacks deplore because it makes our job harder. The French quartet are a bit death metal, a little groove-metal and a touch prog, a tendency which manifests itself fully on their sixth album, which happens to share its name with another, even more progressive band. It’s pretty gripping at times, mind, with opener The Shooting Star an atmospheric piece reminiscent of Triptykon, late- Celtic Frost or your preferred gothic metal band of choice.
For more than a decade, Gojira have been poised on the periphery of metal’s upper echelons. One of the genre’s most aggressive, yet erudite and challenging bands, there’s always been a mystical quality to the Frenchmen’s sound. Perhaps that’s due to their 2005 breakthrough From Mars to Sirius, an album that considered flying whales and dragons – and which sounded just as heavy.
Ever since Metallica went from the world's heaviest cult band to its biggest rock group, most major metal acts have wondered if they, too, could balance integrity and mainstream success. French prog-death masters Gojira take their shot on sixth LP Magma. Doubling down on the egalitarian edge of 2012 breakthrough L'Enfant Sauvage, vox populi Joe Duplantier nevertheless leaves extremity in the closet.