17th June 2016 – Roadrunner Records
01. The Shooting Star
03. The Cell
05. Yellow Stone
08. Only Pain
09. Low Lands
The Way of All Flesh is one of the greatest albums of all time. It stands as a testament to what Gojira are capable of at their most meditative, cerebral, precise, melodic, and indignant. The follow up, L’Enfant Sauvage, came four years later and unfortunately it suffered a fate similar to that of Mastodon’s The Hunter, being perceived as a simplified and less monumental affair that consequently is judged overly harshly in the shadow of its groundbreaking predecessor.
Despite the solid quality of L’Enfant Sauvage, it has the reputation of being a pockmark on an otherwise beloved, unblemished discography. With another four years in between albums, it appears that Gojira is at a moment of crisis; the point at which the outcome is undecided and things can turn out for better or for worse with their 6th album, Magma.
Magma makes a discouraging first impression. It is alarmingly brief, restrained, plaintive, and fatigued. Magma sounds like a band that is trying to unburden themselves from lofty expectations through the conscious evasion of creating an album that is directly comparable to what has come before. It is difficult to imagine long time fans of the band taking the time to understand or appreciate what Gojira are attempting here and it seems as though Magma could be a place that many listeners will decide they no longer want to follow the band in the direction they are going.
The guitar work on display is business as usual for the band (minus a conspicuous absence of pick scrapes), while the inimitable Joe Duplantier is as forceful and in control of his monstrous vocals as ever. Similarly, Mario Duplantier’s talent behind the drum kit is as plainly evident, but it is not used to as great effect as in the past. The question here is certainly not in the band’s ability; rather what they have chosen to do with it. It is a far cry from the Gojira that people know and love. Honestly, it sounds like a man struggling to cope with depression.
Gojira typically put their best foot forward: the opening numbers from each of their last three albums – “Ocean Planet”, “Oroborus”, and “Explosia” – are each among the most potent tracks they have ever recorded, and each set the stage for the remainder of the album to come. Magma’s opener “The Shooting Star” is not in the same vein, instead featuring pleasant, hypnotic vocal harmonies over a simplistic, repetitive riff. This is far from what anybody would call a bad song – but undoubtedly it is a reserved affair that is at best perplexing, and at worst a failure to put wind in the sails at the start of this voyage.
Thankfully, the remainder of the first half of the album is classic Gojira; fierce, memorable, and groovy, but technical at the same time. Lead singles “Silvera” and “Stranded” are two of the finest songs offered on Magma. Lyrically, Gojira often convey surprisingly uplifting and plainly stated messages relating to spirituality, care for nature/humankind, and self-improvement. This is seen early on in the catchy half-sung/half-growled chorus “Silvera”: “time to open your eyes to this genocide // when you clear your mind you see it all // you’re receiving the gold of a better life // when you change yourself, you change the world.” While “Stranded” is much simpler – and perhaps simpler than any other song Gojira has ever written – it is a thundering success and represents their ability to write a powerful song that will appeal to just about anyone. In particular, “Stranded” will draw in those fans who find “Vacuity” to be a career highpoint for the band or who miss how Korn sounded 20 years ago.
Unfortunately, in the transition from the relatively strong first half of their shortest album ever, an “Iron Man”-aping throwaway track leads into the titular “Magma”, which meanders for nearly seven minutes without ever going anywhere. It manages to sag the middle of the album and squelch the momentum that was building rather effectively from the power trio of “Silvera”, “The Cell”, and “Stranded.” Magma never fully recovers in its second half, mostly limping to the end with few bright flashes along the way.
Where past albums closed with epics like “The Way of All Flesh” and “Global Warming”, final track “Liberation” makes a clean break from the norm with a…soft acoustic guitar piece. It’s the kind that one might be mildly impressed by around 11:00 on a Wednesday night outside a dormitory at a small liberal arts college. “Liberation” is a quizzical finale to a puzzling album.
Growth and experimentation are to be expected, if not embraced, from a band as progressive as Gojira. If Magma is the album they wanted to make, then it should go without saying that their vision ought to be respected. No artist should feel constrained by their past output nor should fans feel as though they are entitled to clip the wings and demand more of the same. Perhaps Gojira do not care what people will think, which is their absolute right as authentic creators, but it is difficult to imagine Magma satisfying long-time listeners or those paying attention for the first time. In this instance, it seems the Magma has cooled.