There’s a word that gets tossed around a lot when metal bands get a hair cut, add clean vocals, and layer the sound a lot; ‘mature’. This album has all the features of an album that critics would describe as ‘mature’. Whether or not Gojira have ‘matured’ (not that their previous efforts seemed immature), or are simply venting some emotions in a one-off experimental phase, it’s certainly something of a tonal shift for the critic-favourite French outfit.
‘Magma’ is pretty accessible and relatively straight-forward. It has catchy melodies and sing-along choruses, but it’s not really breaking any ground. On my first listen the album mostly passed me by, but once you get hold of some of the hooks you’ll find one or two tracks are definitely worth adding to playlists for future listens. The sad thing is, most aren’t.
Honestly, I never really got Gojira. They have some great songs, but I don’t think I ever understood what all the fuss was about. I don’t think this album is going to change my view on that, but I do like it. And I can’t get the goddamn chorus for ‘Stranded’ out of my head.
The album has a pretty dark undercurrent (the Duplantier brothers did lose their mother to an illness during the album’s recording, which might go some length to explaining the mood), but coupled with that is the sense that the album thinks it’s more intelligent and daring than it actually is. None of the songs are that interesting.
One of the biggest changes puts a notable chink in the armour of a band (rightly) hailed as exuding lot of talent: Joe’s melodic vocals are really nothing special, and if pushed, a bit crap. They lack any personality, and end up sounding pretty flat in most of the songs they appear in. Now, it’s arguable that that is sort of the point, but given that Mario stated in an interview that Joe’s lyrics were ‘very deep’, it seems a weird choice to opt for heartfelt lyrics if you have every intention of singing them in a very deadpan style. Perhaps if someone like Jonas Renkse had handled the melodic side, it would have pushed the songs into more interesting territory. As it stands, it feels more like a swing and a miss.
The use of melodic vocals also throws light on the lyrics. Caveat: I usually expect metal lyrics to be a bit crap. I can only really think of a handful of bands whose lyrics are actually worth taking the time to sit down and read; Cradle of Filth and Tool are two that immediately spring to mind. Tesseract’s ‘Altered State’ was a good example of lyrics that were punchy, didn’t read like a Russell Brand monologue, and exuded an intelligence without being pretentious (so, didn’t read like a Russell Brand monologue). Gojira’s lyrics are just, for the most part, tacky. Take
You are now, high
In the sun, burn
You’re away, alive
On the moon, round
—from ‘Magma’ , Gojira
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
—’Silvera’ , Gojira
Why pick on Gojira’s lyrics and not, say, Ingested’s? Well, because for a lot of heavier metal bands, the lyrics are primarily just a vehicle for the growls, grunts, and screams (case in point: who the fuck knows what Anaal Nathrakh sing about? Dave Hunt could be screaming about the benefits of paying attention to interior design for all anyone knows and it wouldn’t affect their sound a jot); Gojira always gave the impression of being a bit more high brow, and I always take that as a bit of a package. To explain, take Ingested’s (rather brilliant) ‘Surpassing the Boundaries of Human Suffering’. The artwork features a great carnivorous plant defiling dismembered female corpses, and features tracks such as ‘Intercranial Semen Injection‘ (which is probably my favourite death metal track title of all time) and ‘Pre-Released Foetal Mush‘. It would be silly to then expect the lyrics to be a nuanced examination of Germaine Greer’s ‘The Female Eunuch’, and I don’t think the band members would ever intend for them to be anything other than silly, horror movie style gore-fests (because otherwise, that would be pretty worrying…). Gojira, on the other hand, wrote an album inspired by a French 1970’s film of the same name, ‘L’Enfant Sauvage‘, featuring a thoughful, symbolic album cover. Magma’s album cover is similarly symbolic, and the move towards a more atmospheric sound suggests artistic experimentation over ‘This’ll sell a bunch of records’. Hence I don’t think it’s unreasonable to look a bit more at otherwise glossed-over features like the lyrics.
My other main problem with the album is that there are only a handful of tracks that stand out on their own. The opening track for example, ‘The Shooting Star‘, sort of works within the context of the album, but I doubt anyone is going to go out of their way to play it on a Spotify playlist; indeed, many of the songs feel like that. You don’t mind it coming on when you play through the album, it’s not bad, but it’s not great either. In this respect, the album is odd. The songs are tight, self-contained, and tend to stick pretty rigidly to one idea at a time, but if you take most of the songs out of the context of the album, they’re very ‘meh’. They don’t feel like they should need to be heard in context, but they do.
It’s an album that’s most certainly worth a listen, but I’d be surprised if more than one or two of the tracks end up as fan favourites, and after a while, when you do choose to listen to the album again, you’ll probably find you select those couple of tracks (like ‘Stranded’) and skip the rest without feeling like you’re missing out.