Label: Roadrunner Records
When a long-running band has worked hard to carve out its own niche in a genre, and when it is also able to create an instantly identifiable, unique sound, that band is in rare company. Gojira has done just that. Wild left turns have alienated many a fanbase and complicated (not to mention shortened) many careers, which is exactly why some acts never try to mix it up. With Magma, Gojira boldly leaps into some uncharted waters.
Album opener “The Shooting Star” is all build-up and clean vocals which might be a little too meandering for its own good. This does lead into second single “Silvera” nicely though, which is probably the album’s finest melding of the band’s classic sound and more accessible new direction. The guitars are dizzying in their inventiveness and the track is everything you could possibly want from the band.
Continuing the heavy aspect of their sound, “The Cell” is an absolute clinic. Drummer Mario Duplantier, crushes this song and his complex stick work is a running theme throughout the record. In many ways, he is the album’s MVP. Later on, he almost single-handedly propels “Pray” into another stratosphere.
Hearing “Stranded”—which was the first music video and song released for the album—out of context might leave a bad taste in your mouth. If you are the type to listen to this sequentially, the song fits seamlessly, somehow feeling less repetitive in its structure and more impactful than hearing it alone. This early sample touched on a lot of elements of the album as a whole.
“Yellow Stone” is a decent little interlude and a place for bassist Jean-Michel Lebadie, to show off some impressive playing. Ultimately, it feels a little extraneous, though. The same can be said of finale “Liberation.” It is an instrumental acoustic guitar and bongo number that seems out of place with the rest of the album. Penultimate track “Low Lands” veers dangerously close to drifting aimlessly along until a late surge brings it to life. It would have made a little more sense for these two songs to have switched place. In fact, re-sequencing the whole album may have made it a little stronger overall.
The passing of the Duplantier brothers’ mother during the creation of Magma caused guitarist/vocalist Joe Duplantier to look inward for lyrical inspiration. The past overt pleas for environmental compassion (remember “Global Warming,” “Toxic Garbage Island,” and “Wolf Down The Earth” among others) are still here, but their presence is de-emphasized. In their stead, we have songs of sadness, abandonment and other, more relatable human emotions.
Let’s also clarify a point about these “clean” vocals: They are more like a droning monotone. They aren’t a jarring inclusion and nothing gets anywhere close to saccharine pop territory. They aren’t even a new dynamic to the band, but they are done here more confidently and much more frequently than in the past.
Another change, and it’s a welcome one, is that the band has embraced brevity. At just under 44 minutes, it is ten minutes shorter than the previous album L’Enfant Sauvage, which itself was about 20 minutes shorter than The Way of All Flesh.
Undoubtedly, on first listen, despite (or perhaps due to) the universal acclaim and hype, Magma may disappoint many of Gojira’s longtime fans. It is also likely to bring in some new followers and open some doors for them. At the very least, this will make the live show more varied.
Time is probably necessary to truly get perspective on where Magma belongs in their discography. Maybe it’s the start of a brilliant new chapter or perhaps it is a one-off experiment. The one thing we do know is that Gojira’s future direction has gotten a lot more interesting and a lot less predictable.
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