Review: Gojira—Magma

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. gojira_magma_artwork

‘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

or

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

for example.

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.

7/10

Toothgrinder Stomp Some Molars

I actually stumbled across this band by a fortuitous mistake; there’s another band called Teethgrinder, with an excellent album called ‘Misanthropy‘, and when I saw Toothgrinder’s album on the rack for HMV and didn’t recognise the cover (and as it had been a while since I listened to ‘Misanthropy’ and the band name was a bit hazy), I mistook it for a new Teethgrinder album. Instead, I’d gotten Toothgrinder’s first full-length effort ‘Nocturnal Masquerade‘. It’s rare to be so glad about a mistake (which isn’t to say I don’t want another Teethgrinder album, mind), but god damn.

Toothgrinder-Nocturnal_Masquerade
‘Yeah so our music sounds like the honking of a moth-elephant, think you can capture that in your artwork?’

Toothgrinder are a real breath of fresh air. Catchy-as-hell, fist-pumping mayhem. In a very good way, it reminds me of the first Slipknot album; it’s aggressive and furious, yet the songs are easily distinguishable, melodic, and great to sing along to. They’re nominally a ‘progressive metal’ band, but it’s a bit of a useless term here; they’re progressive in the same way that Periphery are on songs like ‘Alpha‘ (i.e. they play around with song structure a bit more than Disturbed do—but don’t expect any tracks hitting the 10 minute mark). Interestingly, Periphery’s vocalist does actually provide vocals on one of the tracks. Opening like a bull out of a gate, ‘The House (That Fear Built)‘ charges around leaving no china vase unsmashed, provoking the immediate feeling of ‘Isn’t this amazing? Why aren’t more metal bands making songs like this?’. What’s great is that they don’t take long to move on to softer songs, what usually takes about 8 tracks on a metal abum that features melodic vocals (that, or it’s the last track), four tracks in and ‘I Lie In Rain‘ has slowed the pace to almost what would be the ‘apparently we have to have one’ acoustic track (although it’s softer in the same way that ‘Would You Still Be There‘ was in the context of ‘Restoring Force’ by Of Mice and Men), except Toothgrinder give the impression that acoustic guitars are only good for pummeling into splinters for a make-shift supply of plectrums. The album feels like everything was done on their terms, and I am very OK with that, because it’s what makes the album so fucking excellent. The dynamics are all over the place, but not in a frenetic way, and in that respect they earn the ‘progressive’ label; the album frequently changes tone, but you never feel lost. It’s not a iwrestledabearonce conondrum where you’re suddenly wondering how you went from ear-splitting frenzy to choral electronica. Another trend they buck is that the melodic vocals aren’t sung by someone who can reach notes higher than a prepubescent choir boy; more Corey Taylor (of Slipknot and Stone Sour) than Ashe O’Hara (of the best Tesseract album, ‘Altered State’).

There are very few bands that I will unquestionably go out and buy their new album without first listening to; Swallow The Sun, Akercocke, Tool, Anathema, A Perfect Circle, Karnivool, ISIS. I will definitely be snapping up whatever they release next, so, please Toothgrinder:

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Just Like Slim Shady

I’m back.

After a very long absence which precisely nobody missed, I’ve decided to resurrect the blog and start it back up again. However, there will be less of a focus on the ‘here and now’, and more of a shift to covering what interests me at the time.

Honestly, it’s too tiring trying to keep pace with the relentless release of new music that listening to music became a chore, and writing about it more so. That’s not to say I won’t be writing about new bands, or recently released albums, it’s just that I might write about albums I’d ignored years ago and given another shot only to realise ‘Why the hell did I pass this up for so long?’.

I will also be discussing films, primarily horror. Writing about albums at the best of times is fairly limiting (‘It sounds good / It sounds bad’); there are more issues to explore with films, which gives me a bit more breathing space to discuss the finer points of something I enjoyed or disliked.

tl;dr. There’ll probably be about 5 new posts and then the blog will die a death again.