If there's any band that defies easy description, it has to be French progressive metal band Gojira. Featuring influences and techniques from a variety of complex metal genres, incredibly technically talented band members, and an environmental fixation only a few degrees short of an actual whale fetish, these guys are anything but your standard death metallers. Add on a quartet of increasingly strong and diverse albums and you'll get an idea of how extremely hard it was to predict what they would pull out for their fifth release. Enter the band's newest album, 2012's L'Enfant Sauvage, named after the old French art film.
In terms of overall sound, L'Enfant Sauvage definitely continues the musical development hinted at on their last album, 2009's The Way of All Flesh. Gojira have all but abandoned the proto-djent sound of Terra Incognita and The Link in favour of a more thoughtful approach to rhythmic abuse, featuring artfully drawn-out polyrhythmic messes instead of short, concentrated bursts of technicality. The way the band pair rhythm-heavy, repetitive streams of notes with almost esoteric and liberal syncopations must be heard to be believed, especially when performed with the level of machine-like precision that their music demands. In addition, the amount of variety they get simply by playing at tempos ranging from "doom metal" to "machine gun" is nothing short of flooring—Gojira can create a whole lot of diversity with just a little bit of starting material.
Of course, Gojira also continue what is likely their defining practice of generating noises with their guitars that most people cannot replicate without laborious grinding of heavy industrial equipment. Augmenting the experience is lead vocalist Joe Duplantier, who manages yet again to produce sounds from his throat alone that couldn't be replicated by another human being without torture by expensive-sounding and highly invasive medical procedure, performed, of course, without anaesthetic. Gojira have never sounded like any other band, that's for certain, and if nothing else, L'Enfant Sauvage certainly keeps that part of their reputation safely intact.
The band also has scaled back the runtimes of their songs as part of a desire not to write another "epic" album—the band cram the same amount of songs into an album that clocks in at just over 50 minutes instead of the 66-70 minute range for their previous two albums. Fans of From Mars to Sirius or The Way of All Flesh who were drawn by the band's expansiveness might feel a bit let down in that regard, especially since almost all of the songs are over before you can blow your nose. As another side effect, the band's post-metal influences have been muted to the point of being almost entirely non-existent. The notable exception is the opener "Explosia", a distinctly two-parted, down-tempo piece and one of the best tracks on the album.
Here's the catch: while all of the compositions are undoubtedly good (as we would expect from a band of their calibre), very few of them are actually memorable. You can easily forget what's going on for a good half of the album without missing much. What's more, the few memorable tracks tend to congregate at either end of the album; this bookending effect, rather than raising your impressions of the album, merely makes the entire middle section something of a slog to get through. In fact, I've found that listening to the album on shuffle actually makes it better, seeing as the good tracks tend to get more evenly spread out and a bit more patience and attention can be given to the songs that aren't quite as engaging. If an album gets better when listened to out of its proper order, then the band isn't paying enough attention to album composition.
That all being said, what tracks are good on this album are really. damn. good. The title track is one of the most explosive pieces the band has ever released, if not the best individual song of their entire career, and unlike most Gojira pieces, you'll probably wind up singing along to it, drawn up in the inexorable grip of its anthemic chorus. "Liquid Fire" is another great track, having the best individual riff on the entire album and the return of the band's Cynic-influenced autotuned and robotic vocals. And as I mentioned before, the opener "Explosia" is another solid song that will appeal to fans of the longer songs off of From Mars to Sirius; the way it takes one simple rhythmic pattern and expresses it in two vastly different manners is quite impressive and moving to listen to. One of the best tracks on the album is more of a sleeper, however, and that is the short "Born in Winter", hidden at the very back of the album. It somehow has the biggest dynamic movement of any Gojira song ever packed into less than four minutes, providing one of the most stunning and satisfying moments on the album.
If you didn't get the special edition, you're not missing out on much. The two bonus tracks are of average quality for the band, and not particularly impressive in the context of the album as a whole, so I don't recommend taking pains to hear them. However, if you are an incessant completionist who absolutely must have it all (as I am) or would simply prefer that the album run just a little bit longer (as I do), the tracks "This Emptiness" and "My Last Creation" are available on iTunes to individually buy for a pittance, should you have missed them.
Though there is undeniably some growth to the band's sound, L'Enfant Sauvage is just another solid Gojira album through and through. If you liked 'em before, this album will surely not disappoint, and if you still weren't sold on them, this album is unlikely to be the one that changes your mind. While I still give it a full recommendation to fans of metal in general, if you can only listen to one album from these guys, you're better off hearing 2005's From Mars to Sirius instead.
8.0 / 10
Posted Oct. 23, 2013, 5:30 p.m.
Slayer will be touring North America this fall with support from France's Gojira and Australia's 4arm. Slayer lost guitarist Jeff Hanneman to liver failure earlier this year.
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