Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Review: Gojira - L'Enfant Sauvage

There's a certain aura that radiates from Gojira that is at once both staggering and esoteric. The niche the Frenchmen have carved for themselves has the tell tale signs of workmanship from a truly groundbreaking act; often imitated, never duplicated. Their growth from underground darlings to groove metal superheroes has been an exercise in understanding what it is that the heavy music world wants from its torchbearers.  But therein lies the enigmatic position which Gojira currently hold; where do vanguards turn next when their contemporaries have adopted the now auspicious template that they themselves have woven? The answer is modestly self evident; back to the wild where they found their ingenuity in the first place. And that's precisely what Joe and Mario Duplantier and company have done with L'Enfant Sauvage, which shows that even veteran pathfinders find themselves toiling to find their footing in the infantile stages of a new sojourn.

Read the rest after the jumpy.

This isn't to say that the hallmarks of Gojira's sound have been left at the doorstep. The backbone (ahem… pun unintended for the fanboys out there) of 16th note phrasing, harmonic pick scraping and bare yet bludgeoning rhythms will always be part of Gojira's sound, and if there was doubt in anyone's mind, …Sauvage erases it. It's the deliberately tweaked approach and refocused songwriting on …Sauvage that makes it a new chapter in their history rather than a rehashed operation in complacency, but this works both to it's advantage and disadvantage. The opener "Explosia" is fittingly the best example of this, as it displays a more pensive and guileless Gojira, where brothers Duplantier use their trademark brute force in a much more calculated manner, allowing the softer rhythmic stylings to speak more than they have on past efforts. This accentuates a newfound symphonic texture to their sound, while leaving out the consistent Howitzer-like riffage that made songs like "Toxic Garbage Island" so darn catchy.

This is the theme throughout …Sauvage; the heaviness Gojira is so well known for has been chained down and administered just the right amount of sedatives to bring out a sadness and oddly frail ferocity that induces both reflection and disturbance. Joe Duplantier's lyrics accentuate this fact to an even greater degree, making it clear that the goal with …Sauvage was not only to blaze a new trail but make it one that requires some serious cerebral workouts. Humility, depressive acceptance, destruction and rebirth are the lyrical motifs found throughout the record, and they become more and more apt upon multiple listens. The ideas at play here are obvious, especially in the context of Gojira's environmental activism; the world is in danger, and at this point there's little that those worried can do but sit and hope that the spirits of good strap on their boots and prevail. The acute sonic tension throughout the album complements these themes beautifully, and is probably the great triumph of …Sauvage, and one that hints at Gojira becoming comfortable with the notion of throwing open the doors to the spectrum of emotion.

On other successful fronts, Mario Duplantier's legend will only grow greater with this, Gojira's fifth full length record. Already regarded as one of the most downright filthy skinsman in the world, Mario uses …Sauvage as a forum to explore his style, using unorthodox and sometimes minimalistic fills and employing his cymbals more than ever before, and unsurprisingly, it's astonishing. It won't matter where Gojira goes from this point; the younger of the two Gojira brothers has cemented his legacy as one of the best heavy music drummers of the last decade with his performance on …Sauvage, in the case that he hadn't already done so. Also of note are the subtleties of the quieter sections of …Sauvage, where Joe, guitarist Christian Andreu and bassist Jean-Michel Labadie display a confidence in their ability to create an atmosphere instead of taking the noodly, over-the-top route that others would be tempted to use during such affecting interludes.

On another note, however, it's these interludes that are often the largest shortcomings on …Sauvage. While it is a decidedly emotional and clairvoyant exercise, the structuring of the album gets redundant and plodding at times, hinting that Gojira themselves may not be fully comfortable yet with this slightly altered approach. Joe uses clean(er) vocals more than ever before on this effort, but it's glossed over by the fact that these mostly unharsh musings are used in the same way (during the softer and more subdued passages) more often than they probably should be. In addition, unlike past Gojira efforts, …Sauvage flows quite evenly, and while this helps it's tone, the stand out moments are less memorable than those found on records like the classic From Mars To Sirius. But perhaps most intriguing, the shortcomings on …Sauvage are in many ways the most interesting part about the record. As mentioned previously, the ideas of Gojira bursting threw a new threshold are there for all to see, but they are not as fully fleshed out as they may be in the near future.

This is the pervading impression of L'Enfant Sauvage. If foresight is allowed to settle in,  this brazen yet uneasy swing into the dark could be the war horn sounding for the impending attack that Gojira are preparing to unleash. Not to stretch here, but there's a very cheeky and apt comparison to be made… A method among wine enthusiasts, especially if the nectar in question is of French origin, is to stockpile several bottles of the same reserve. This way, if a bottle is opened too early, the others can be allowed to age further and grow to their full potential. L'Enfant Sauvage is a delicious bottle of Bordeaux that has simply been opened just a little too early. There is brilliance laced throughout it, but given a few more years to develop, it will give birth to something truly astounding. And while this is the lasting impression about L'Enfant Sauvage, this is by no means a record in Gojira's catalog to pass over, just one that indicates the potential for a memorable transition.

- Jack

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