When did metal develop so many niches? At some point, it seems every band decided heavy metal wasn’t accurate enough to describe their oh-so unique and special characteristics. Surely the rise of more specific genre labels should allow bands a greater chance of asserting their originality, right? Wrong. If anything, this kind of excessive, needless labelling has actually restricted musicians’ ability to flourish; in a world full of mathcore, blackgaze and noisegrind, how on earth is anyone expected to carve out a name, let alone a sound, for themselves? It’s a real shame that the heavy metal scene seems to have fostered the idea that bands should prioritise sounding different over creating the best music they can. After all, different does not necessarily mean good – just look at Limp Bizkit. Then again, there will always be bands that trust their instincts, and Gojira are one of the finest examples.
For the past fifteen years, Gojira have been combining various obscure forms of heavy metal whilst offering atypically profound and eclectic lyrical content. But this time they’ve attempted a significant reinvention. Magma puts forward a myriad of new ideas, the most prominent of which may be Joe Duplantier’s use of clean vocals. Though these have always been peppered throughout their material, they are far superior here – both in delivery and in terms of their relationship with their cohabiting musical elements. Gojira have never needed a conventional singer – Duplantier’s growls have always been second to none, and his signature scream-singing hybrid always did the trick for the more emotive moments. Nevertheless, they intertwine beautifully with the style opted for here.
More importantly, the marriage of the sung vocals and the lyrical introspection reveals a whole new side to Gojira. This is possibly the most important stylistic departure of Magma – never before have their lyrics been so personal and revealing. That’s not to say they’ve shied away from important topics before; they’ve explored the passage of life and death and have attempted an analysis of the essence of freedom and human nature. From Mars To Sirius is possibly the only (and therefore the best) environmentalist metal album you’ll ever hear. None of this detracts from Magma’s lyrics. For a band that have avoided personal themes for so long, you might think that their ultimate conformance would signify their readiness to say something especially meaningful. Conversely, you may expect a metric tonne of unfortunate lyrical clichés. Fortunately, the lyrics lean towards the former. This isn’t surprising, when you consider that Magma is essentially an outpouring of grief from the Duplantier brothers over the sickness and ultimate death of their mother.
“Everlasting love is ever-growing Hang on to what you have and let it grow Everlasting love is ever-dying It’s in the past, you have to let it go”
With that said, any fears that Gojira have sold out or ditched any of their integral features should be quickly allayed. Magma is markedly less heavy than any of their prior studio outputs, but occasionally some viscera pipes up. The lyrics may be fraught with emotional pain, but the message of the harsher riffs bursting through seems to be a warning, lest the listener dare forget what Gojira are capable of. Their prog tendencies remain intact as well. The jagged polyrhythms of The Cell add to its inward-facing claustrophobia, courtesy of Mario Duplantier’s superb rhythmic sensibilities, whilst the sublime Low Lands segues excellently between its two halves via a well-considered triplet-quintuplet shift, and is terminated with a glimpse of the chilling atmospherics Gojira have always had a knack for.
Metal musicians walk a very fine line indeed. Aim for something artsy, and you’re derided as pretentious and boring. Aim to reach a wider audience or decrease your auditory weight, and you’re accused of selling out. With Magma, Gojira have created something which offers an abundance of sophistication and a great deal of mainstream appeal. It’s the best of both worlds. Without compromising on their creative vision, they’ve formed an LP which would merit their inclusion in a select few modern bands – those who could enact a change in the public perception and appreciation of heavy metal. On the other hand, they may well be met with some outcry from their most elitist fans. Any agents of change within the genre usually are. Not that it matters.
Magma challenges every negative metal stereotype whilst retaining its best and most quintessential features. It’s high art for the masses. It’s a paroxysm of defeatist grief. It’s music to cry to, and sometimes to headbang your way through a brick wall to. But most of all, it’s an exceptional record, and a true step forward for one of the most innovative, distinctive and important bands of the 21st century.