“When you change yourself, you’ll change the world,” roars Joe Duplantier on “Silvera,” the second track from Gojira’s sixth and latest album – and “change” definitely seems to be the operative word these days for the French progressive metal giants. The highly anticipated Magma finds Joe, his drummer brother Mario, guitarist Christian Andreu and bassist Jean-Michel Labadie veering abruptly away from the technical death-metal that has largely defined their discography, while exploring new ground (for them, at least) in the realms of atmospheric, groove-oriented hard rock. Largely absent are the epic song arrangements and neck-snapping displays of instrumental wizardry that marked their recordings up through 2012’s L’Enfant Sauvage. Instead, new tracks like “The Shooting Star,” “Stranded” and “Pray” are more about finding a fearsome groove or riff and squeezing it for every last drop of darkness and catharsis. As Magma was largely inspired by the recent illness and death of the Duplantiers’ mother, there was apparently no shortage of darkness to exorcize.
Gojira’s new direction has been likened to the transition Metallica made from 1988’s …And Justice For All to their 1991 self-titled blockbuster, though Magma is a far more personal (not to mention far less commercially-oriented) affair. A more apt comparison would be to Mastodon’s 2011 album The Hunter, which saw that acclaimed progressive metal band dialing back its technical excesses in deference to the almighty riff. The change in musical course – and the fact that Joe is singing more and screaming less these days – will probably disappoint (or even anger) a certain percentage of the band’s devoted fans. But for those who can appreciate a tightly focused hard rock album infused with emotions that are often just as heavy as its riffs, Magma offers a listening experience that is as rewarding as it is therapeutic.