posted on 6/2012 By:
Artistic freedom is a background feature of most extreme metal. Bands are typically free to do whatever they want because the stakes are comparatively low—not much money has been invested, and rarely does a label exec lose his meal ticket because some death metal album tanked.
But even in cash-strapped 2012, some extreme metal bands make a living off their music. Gojira is one of them. These guys depend on their albums and rigorous touring schedule to pay the bills. They are professionals in the literal sense. (They’ve even toured with Metallica—no small feat for a progressive death metal band.)
When you’re in a professional band, your artistic decisions have very real consequences. Your livelihood depends on selling merch and filling venues. Under such conditions, I imagine that it becomes difficult not to think strategically, rather than artistically, about your band’s output.
Gojira’s previous record, The Way of All Flesh, struck me as the product of such strategic thinking. It also struck me as a mistake. The band’s breakout moment came with the preceding From Mars to Sirius, which has become a modern classic. In comparison, The Way of All Flesh is unfocused and underweight. I imagine that the in-band thought process went something like:
“Uh, guys, we released our masterpiece a couple of years ago. If we want to keep getting on big tours, we have to put out another album like right now. But we can’t sound like we’re resting on our laurels! Let’s push the prog angle even more this time!”
Instead of releasing FMTS 2.0, Gojira ditched much of that album’s titanic heft and focused on structural and melodic experimentation. Their ambition was laudable. The cluttered, awkward songwriting that their ambition produced was less so.
L’Enfant Sauvage also strikes me as the product of strategic calculus, but with far better results. L’Enfant is the least adventurous of their five records—it feature few new tricks, instead recombining new tricks in surprising ways. “The Gift of Guilt,” for instance, opens with a melodic tapping riff that usually presages a restrained Gojira tune. Instead of Cynic vocals, we’re (fortunately) treated to a vicious, squealing verse.
This album may be relatively conservative, but it’s also Gojira’s most efficiently constructed effort to date. You can tell that Gojira has done lots of touring with big sellers like Lamb of God; these songs are concise and tailor-made to induce headbanging in large clubs and small arenas. Frontman Joe Duplantier continues to develop his melodic inclinations here—his excellent semi-clean singing drives many of these tunes. But L’Enfant Sauvage balances beauty with cruelty. Gone are the meandering structures of The Way of All Flesh. In their place is lots of Gojira’s bread and butter: towering, robotic slam riffs.
L’Enfant Sauvage may disappoint on the innovation front, but it succeeds in every other sense. Gojira has achieved mastery of their considerable talents. They’ve done what every band in their position aims to do: perfectly balancing strategic fan service with artistic expression. If only all professional bands could do the same.
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The Way Of All Flesh
From Mars To Sirius