Friday, June 22, 2012

HEAVY FRIENDS: Gojira - L'Enfant Sauvage

by Robby Beck

If you're not familiar with the band Gojira, they're really becoming one of the biggest metal bands to come from France. I discovered them with their 2005 album From Mars to Sirius, where the band had a unique blend of death metal, technical metal, progressive metal, and groove metal. I'm not saying Gojira are the most original and distinct band to ever exist, but at the same time they've worked out a nice sound for them that they can call their own. One of the things I loved about From Mars to Sirius was the production. High-quality production in metal is a tricky tightrope for me, especially when it comes to death metal. Nothing bugs me more than when a metal record has such clean and tidy production that it makes the band sound robotic and unnatural, like the band is hiding behind the production. That was not the case with that album in question. It had high production values, but it used it to accentuate the heaviness of the band, their impeccable guitar tone, and their melodies, which never got too clean or cheesy for me to handle. It was also a plus that the band was technical, but not flashy or "wanky".

The band's production on their 2008 follow-up The Way of All Flesh however, started to get in the way and the instruments started to sound too triggered and robotic for my taste. It wasn't a horrible record, there were definitely good qualities about it, and I had confidence that the band would come back and impress me once again.

Well, I'll say right here that the record starts out phenomenally. The opener "Explosia" has the kind of strange groove you might find in a Meshuggah track, midway through it goes into an interlude that reminds me of an interlude on some kind black metal track, and the way the track closes sounds like the death metal soundtrack to an old spaghetti western. It then moves into the title track, which is one of the biggest headbangers on here. The way that track moves is so infectious and addictive, I can't get enough of it. And "The Axe" brings a much darker, more somber approach, almost funeral-esque. It seems like a metal song you'd mourn to.

With three fantastic songs in the beginning, you might be expecting a killer album to follow, yes? Unfortunately after a great start, the album starts to go a little downhill for me, and then plateau. Not extremely far downhill, but enough that it's a significant slump in quality. The problem is too many of these tracks in the middle of the album are just so nondescript to me, where they sound like Gojira songs, but just middle of the road Gojira songs. They rarely bring anything new to the table, and when they do it's kind of embarrassing. The fourth track "Liquid Fire" has clean background vocals laden in a god awful vocal effect that I'm sure is supposed to make them sound supernatural, but just make them sound silly; "Liquid Fire" is an instrumental that goes nowhere fast; and "Planned Obsolescence" decides to end on an outro with some of the most terribly sequenced electronics I've heard in a good while. The biggest problem about these tracks in the middle of the LP is that I feel like if I were to skip them, I wouldn't be missing anything important.

The album starts to redeem itself with "The Gift of Guilt", which is one of the more melodic, but heavy, tracks on the album, and has an excellent hook. In the context of the full album, it's the first time in a good while I've felt excited or intrigued by what's going on (although the ending goes on for way too long, but whatever). "Pain is a Master" starts off with a beautifully played somber guitar passage, but then the usual Gojira heaviness just bursts in and crashes the party, and it becomes yet another nondescript track for me. The band gets back on track after that though, with "Born in Winter" being one of the most unique tracks here, despite it being ever so conveniently one of the shortest; and the closer "The Fall" is nothing short of crushing. But while these songs close out the record as well as it started out, does it really save it?

Even though I harp on the production of The Way of All Flesh and do think the sound is better here, that's not to say it doesn't sound perfect. I still find the drums to be too triggered, and it honestly makes a good deal of the chugging riffs sound tiresome after 15 seconds. And even if their previous album was overproduced, that's not to say the material on it was bad; I find it to be more ambitious than this record, I find that it attacks more angles than this record does, and I find more layers within that record. I think that finesse of the composition and the ambition just isn't on L'Enfant Sauvage, and that's because it just plays through many of the same sounds with little venturing outside of them. When the band gets melodic at many points of this album, it tends to sound the same each time, and I feel the band constantly draws out parts it doesn't need to, even on some tracks I like. Not to mention that the band's technical ability isn't quite shining through on this release, to me anyway.

Like I said, I feel like at way too many points, Gojira is just playing it safe on this release. A good handful of these tracks can be fun, introspective, hell maybe even inspiring, like Gojira's work used to be; the rest of the album, however, is just forgettable to me.

score: light 6

FAV TRACKS: Explosia, L'Enfant Sauvage, The Axe, Born in Winter
LEAST FAV TRACK: The Wild Healer

(If you're a Gojira fan and you liked this album more than Robby did, hit him up on twitter @ClydeNut to discuss it further)

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