When the single ‘Stranded’ dropped earlier this year, fans of death metal visionaries Gojira were left somewhat surprised by the new sound. As it turns out, this song was perfectly indicative of the direction the band were taking with their latest record, Magma. Whilst still holding a firm grip on their death metal roots, the band have certainly taken steps to innovate and somewhat reinvent themselves. Magma may leave long term fans initially scratching their heads but once this record envelops you it’s hard to not feel completely amazed as to how truly magnificent it is.
Opening track The Shooting Star is surprising to say the least, kicking the album off with a song exclusively containing clean vocals, as opposed to the ferocious roar of Joe Duplantier we’re used to. The track’s lumbering main riff slowly draws you in as you begin to find yourself becoming completely entranced by its hypnotic rhythm. Upon first listen to this track without prior knowledge, it would be difficult to recognise what band you were actually listening to. This shows just how wiling the band are to push themselves in other directions. It would be easy for Gojira at this point to turn in a relatively safe record, but from the word go you can hear how even a band who are this long in the tooth, are still choosing to experiment and try new things. Usual service is resumed when Silvera comes blasting from the speakers; monolithically huge riffs are accompanied by a relentless head-banging rhythm, making this song a shoe-in for a place in the bands live shows. The Cell similarly features an equally decimating riff- the bass sound on this track, and the rest of the album for that matter, is exceptional, adding a huge level of bounce to the record’s more groove-centric songs. For those seeking some serious chug, Magma doesn’t disappoint. One of the records latter tracks, entitled Pray, opens with a riff that’s sure to leave you wanting to break the objects closest to you.
As previously mentioned, there is a certain sense of Gojira wanting to divert away from their usual tried and tested formula. This isn’t to say that Magma isn’t on par with Gojira’s previous recards in terms of its ambition- it’s just the band has seemingly condensed their sound after taking it as far as it could go. Most tracks on Magma clock in around 3-5 minutes but still manage to include all the key elements of any other typical Gojira song. The angular abrasive riffs remain, along with a virtuosic degree of technicality, only this time these riffs are accompanied by a whole load more groove and stomp.
Comparisons with the changes in their sound on this release, can be drawn with the releasing of Sepultura’s Chaos AD. The Brazilian metallers took the more accessible parts of their sound and put more emphasis on what made them popular, whilst maintaining the same level of heaviness and aggression. Similarly you could also point to Metallica and The Black Album as an example; the band in much the same way condensed their core sound into something more digestible and appealing to a larger audience. However, despite its sheer heaviness, aggression isn’t really a word you would attribute to Magma. This record has more of an understated level of elegance and beauty to it; the music is incredibly layered and masterfully crafted, but also contains the ability to just rip your head off in a split second without warning. This elegant beauty is also reflected in the bands bigger focus on melodies and clean vocals. Joe Duplantier has always sporadically showcased his vocal ability on past records, but on Magma he really lets his talent shine across the entire album. This new dynamic adds a whole new level of catchiness to Gojira that was rarely heard before. Songs like Stranded become a completely different beast when Joe’s emotionally charged vocals soar over the music, leaving you wondering why they had been previously so underused.
Magma is a huge record for Gojira and it appears their experiment has paid off- it’s hard to argue against this album being up there alongside the band’s other and now classic records. In 2016 it’s essential for bands to sound contemporary along with staying relevant and Gojira have managed to do this with ease. Magma sounds modern, forward thinking and undeniably unique for a band who have always been keen to redefine what metal is and what metal can be. Death metal purists may be put off by the band’s newer sound but anyone doubting the brilliance of Magma should simply listen to the closing passages of Pray, bang their head and be happy we have a band this good. Ultimately this album may divide opinion but it’s going to bring death metal and experimental music to a more mainstream audience. For metal this can only be considered a good thing- and if a seriously heavy band is going to break through that glass ceiling then no one deserves it more than Gojira.