I’m familiar with the next album, but have only listened to it in bits and pieces. On mixes and whatnot. This album is like Dark Side of the Moon or Graceland. You have to swallow it whole. That’s exactly what I’ve been doing for days, trying to make up my mind about what I want to say about it. It shouldn’t be hard because I enjoy it, but its also taken me down a little bit of a rabbit hole. I’m going to try not to refer to songs, but review the album as a whole.
This album is CLEARLY inspired by the power of nature. So am I. I dig the natural world hardcore. I’ve been drawn to other such music. In metal, I’m thinking primarily of TNBM. Corpse painted leather-and-nail, bullet-belt-bound weirdos raised in the boreal forests of Scandinavia have a very different view of the natural world than I do. For them nature is bleak, cold, and hungry. Their music (when performed expertly) reflects this narrow view.
Here’s a rabbit hole. Discordance is a part of all metal…think of the first three notes on the first metal song ever recorded*— tonic, octave, tritone. The use of tritone on its own isn’t always so off-putting. The opening sequence of The Simpsons theme song or West Side Story’s “Maria” use the tritone between the tonic and the fifth, and it provides tension with immediate resolution. However, ending on the tritone, and letting that fucker squeal and ring, creates a sense of foreboding. Its malignant. That’s largely how melody works in metal.
TNBM bands, as much as any, include engineered discordance to create an atmosphere of darkness (or maybe grimness is what I’m after). Getting back to my point, though, their narrow view of the natural world results in really narrow intervals; tight little chords with tons of discordance packed within the space of an octave. And I contrast this with “From Mars to Sirus” because quantitatively, Gojira is using all of the discordance that TNBM bands use, but arranging it over very large intervals (first to ninth is a predominant theme on this album), and this reflects an expansive interpretation of the natural world. The world of Gojira isn’t “The Mist by the Hills” but the oceans of the world, the entire sky, and event horizons. More than most extreme metal albums, the low end is super-present in the mix, and provides a stillness—like that of the deep ocean or the vast sky—, that serves as the backdrop of the tempest of the high end. For sure this album has lots of tempest: thunderous guitar chuggery with diving pinch-harmonic lightning, heaving riffs, and some really busy kickwork. In the end, it’s the use of expansive discordant intervals that really sells this album, for me anyway. Though I haven’t been through the entire list, I think Rolling Stone has well under-ranked this album. I would put it in my top 20. Maybe higher. I probably need to listen to it 6-12 more times before my mind is made up.
Also, there are whale songs. Also, the band is French.
* “Black Sabbath” on Black Sabbath by Black Sabbath.
Album cover image by Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4540471