When was the last time it felt like the release of an album really mattered? Certainly the early 00s saw a number of records (rightly or wrongly) generating a huge amount of buzz prior to arriving in your CD player but, somewhere along the way, that sense of anticipation seems to have faded away. As albums stream and lyric videos appear far in advance of a given album, the actual feeling of a physical release being an event feels ever more remote. Perhaps the never-ending connection to social media has left us cynical and less-easily impressed, but I miss that feeling as you head to the record store to buy an album for which you’ve been waiting for months…
…Which is perhaps why the release of ‘Magma’ feels so special. Oh sure, there’s been streaming and lyric videos as per usual, but somehow Gojira have built an aura around their material that makes waiting for the day of release somehow special. Even the release itself, largely free of the special edition stickers and bonus enticements that seem to be built into every new album, seems geared around the fact that it’s the music, stupid, and not some die-cut, limited edition, spot-varnished fripperies that should be holding your attention. That’s not to say that special packaging is not welcome, but sometimes it’s nice just to be excited for the music itself and not have the many distractions that seem to surround so many high profile releases.
Certainly ‘Magma’ has been building quite a buzz. The metal community at large seems to have caught on to the fact that Gojira are progressive in the genuine sense of the word – leaders in a world that seems increasingly packed with followers – and the sense of anticipation that has built around this new album (the first since 2012’s L’Enfant Savage – a further rejection of the fast pace of modernity) is the stuff of a PR officer’s dreams. Hype can, of course, be a killer (just ask Axl), but in this case it is quite easy to argue that the hype has been entirely justified and that ‘Magma’ is every bit the album its many outspoken proponents claim it to be.
The album opens with the drawn out heat-haze of ‘The shooting star’ and immediately it is clear that this is a more concise Gojira than last seen on ‘L’enfant Savage’. With clean vocals set over a churning guitar riff, the mix of carefully focused harmonies and huge riffs hint at what Soundgarden might have sounded like had they been joined by Devin Townsend. Tonally it’s classic gojira, but tempered with a greater emphasis on the ebb and flow of progressive rock with the result that the listener is drawn effectively into the album at the expense of all else happening around. With the opening track drawing the listener into an intense reverie, the searing riff of ‘Silvera’ hits home with phenomenal force as the band move into heavier territory. The production is simply perfect, offering great depth and clarity whilst the brutal riffing will have fans of Gojira’s darker side in the throes of ecstasy. Equally powerful is the brief, vital blast of ‘The cell’, which sees Mario Duplantier unleashing hell upon his kit. A masterpiece of precision musicianship and melodic heft, ‘the cell’ would be a highlight if only the rest of the album wasn’t so damn good. Heading off into that weird, prog-infused hinterland that only Gojira can inhabit, ‘Stranded’ welds a bizarre intro to a multi-faceted track that moves from blazing groove to searing metallic blast with graceful ease. The first half of the album concludes with the short, dark stoner groove of ‘Yellow stone’, an instrumental which slows the pace to a treacly crawl and introduces yet more possibilities into Gojira’s already crowded sonic tapestry.
The second half of the record kicks off with title track ‘Magma’, and whilst it emerges with the sort of relentless, churning riff that is Gojira’s stock in trade, it soon shifts focus, the band once again heading off into the sort of challenging territory that Soundgarden used to readily explore. Yet even here Gojira are not willing to make the path that easy to follow, and as the track progresses so the riffs become ever more agitated, resulting in some of the album’s heaviest passages wedged between the solos. An epic track, ‘Magma’ roves across huge swathes of sonic territy before segueing into the industrial-tinged ‘Pray’ which seems like a potent sister track to ‘Magma’. With Mario’s filtered drums announcing the arrival of ‘Only pain’, we’re into more familiar Gojira territory, although the emotional undercurrent that tugs at the vocals and the stripped down verse are nothing short of awesome. With a hazy, almost ambient opening, ‘Low lands’ slowly builds into a lush, progressive dreamscape which, although still packing a sizeable punch, details a band unwilling to remain chained to any one genre. The vocals here are just gorgeous and the way the track ebbs and flows provides an emotionally charged conclusion to the record. The album closes with the beautiful ‘Liberation’ which is as intimate a recording as I have ever heard on a metal album.
Gojira have long impressed, but on ‘Magma’ they have excelled themselves. Whilst there may be some who argue that the album lacks the ferocity of previous releases, the progression here is remarkable. Gojira have done heavy (and done it better than most), but the more thoughtful approach taken here suits a band intent on evolving, and there’s a clear-eyed focus to the music here that recalls the similar evolutionary step Mastadon took with ‘Crack the skye’. Still heavy, yet open to myriad musical possibilities, ‘Magma’ is a tour de force from a band who deserve to scale ever greater heights. Easily a, if not the album of the year, ‘Magma’ is a progressive milestone.