Gojira’s new release Magma is not an album to shake off, nor is it a weak sister to the previous Gojira albums before it. It is alone in the discography, like a snapshot of a journey that falls into the wrong photo album. A truthful darkness imbues the silence between notes and tracks, as sadness becomes present and not just a heavy metal conceit.
Death metal makes few excuses for its disingenuous preoccupation, but when reality replaces show-time, when a comic panel sharpens into a real photograph and loss becomes everlastingly real, death ceases to be a remote abstract and becomes an ugly coat of paint on the hallways of the soul.
Gojira’s Joe and Mario Duplantier’s mother, Patricia Rosa, passed away halfway through the tracking of Magma. Everything “Gorjira” stopped while the brothers went to be with her. Patricia Rosa said of the pair, “I was lucky to be their mom.” She passed few days later, after making that observation. Magma and the shows had to go on after her death. Humanity and humility suddenly became heavier for the Duplantiers in the months ahead.
The first track, “Shooting Star,” is not a slight song, though most seem to underrate it. It has a martial propulsion; it marches as toy soldiers move like puppets down a cartoon boulevard. The flash of a shooting star as a way to describe life’s brief span is an ancient simile, yet it regains meaning given the circumstances. “Everlasting love is ever-ending/It’s in the past, It must be left behind” are the song’s ending lyrics, but Gojira make the words sound as fact trying to reason away sadness. It’s a gut-wrenching opening.
There is conceit heaped upon one another in Magma. The song titles are bespoke structures that belie the stages of grief. “The Shooting Star,” Stranded,” “The Cell,”” Only Pain.” Perhaps soft stuff for a mainstream death metal album, but Gojira are not trying to shock you with gross-out titles. Magma is an obvious start of a new progression for Gojira. “Stranded” is the central track on Magma, with its “More Than a Feeling” chord wrangling and the yank-on-a-mad-cat’s-tail guitar squeal puncturing the chugging riff breakdowns. It’s classic Gojira, even with extra weight behind the lyrics, and certain to be one of the two tracks that will spin on the streaming and satellite services of choice.
“Magma” is the other main contender. Gojira as Gojira, again. Suspenseful thrash jugging prefaces each verse. The arrangement builds in a superior display of songwriting. Anchored by a super-sustain guitar sample keyboard line that appears between the major modules of the song, “Magma” is befitting the best of anything that Gojira have done before. “Pray” is a duo-tempo thump-buster that collapses into droney chant before the chorus erupts into a direct declaration whose lyrics denigrate ‘your’ world and vows to create their own. “Only Pain” has enough of the elements to tuck nicely in between the latter tracks on 2008’s The Way of All Flesh.
Even after a half a dozen listens, Magma has a strong-arm draw. In that draw, there might be a nagging need to determine if the album is a completed work. It’s not. It’s an unfinished album for many reasons, not least of which the Duplantiers’ passage through tears may never be finished. The lovely ending track “Liberation” is an acoustic guitar and Indian-music influenced meditation into release and expulsion, similar in the way the ejection of Magma does the same in its much more way.
(released June 17, 2016 on Roadrunner Records)