It wasn’t just the ecological themes that set Gojira apart from the rest of death metal’s heathen hordes on their previous album, From Mars to Sirius. Just as important was the fact that they could write a song called “The Heaviest Matter of the Universe” with no irony or exaggeration. The Bayonne, France-based quartet matched the weight of its lyrics, about our spiritual connection with the environment, with an equally weighty guitar tone and ten-ton riffs that bored straight into the earth’s core.
Instead of attempting to outdo or rewrite From Mars to Sirius, Gojira opt to refocus on follow-up The Way of All Flesh, shifting their thematic sites on to the inevitability of death and tightening the vice-grip tension of their instrumental attack. “Focus” and “tighten” might be strange words to use to describe a 75-minute death-metal album — sure, The Way of All Flesh’s second half is saddled with a few unnecessarily long intros and outros. But Gojira channel brutality in very different ways than most death-metal bands, engaging mind and body simultaneously. The Way of All Flesh consistently meets its portentous mark and never gets tiring.
The bread and butter of Gojira’s sound remains its flexible rhythmic pummel. Spacious, gravitational heaviness (“Yama’s Messengers”) cedes to tightly wound, palm muted thrash riffs-cum-Morbid Angel tremolo picking (“Adoration For None”). Groove is ever-present and ever-changing, whether it’s the Neanderthal stomp of first single “Vacuity” or the volcanic spoutings of “Toxic Garbage Island” (the Gorguts-inspired opening racket of the latter gets my vote for riff of the year). Gojira repeat their catchiest guitar motifs often, forcing drummer Mario Duplantier to hammer home the repetition while keeping things fresh. It’s a feat he achieves with astonishing invention on “All The Tears,” a bizarre death waltz that seems to stall and move forward at the same time.
Major props to Gojira frontman Joe Duplantier for screaming “Plastic bag in the sea!” with the straight-faced rage of a radical eco-terrorist. Duplantier’s a first-rate (and intelligible) death-metal growler, but as with its predecessor, The Way of All Flesh finds tuneful marrow within the rattling bones of its best songs. Duplantier metes out harshly barked melodies over the jittery opener “Oroborus”; later, on “The Art of Dying,” a stacked chorus of Duplantiers wails over plumes of double-kick and sun-flare guitars. “I won’t bring no material in the afterlife/ Take no possessions/ I would rather travel light” he sings. That’s bullshit. The riff that follows is heavy as fuck.
Gojira aren’t the first metal band to offer thoughtful meditations on the nature of death. Hell, they’re not even the first metal band to release an album called The Way of All Flesh in 2008. Nobody sounds quite like them, though, and few metal bands balance spiritual and metallic consciousness so well. With the exception of a couple of standout tracks (including the curious synth-metal experiment “A Sight to Behold,” which stands out in a bad way), The Way of All Flesh is more about the towering, accreting power of the whole than great songs that stand on their own. That’s OK. Gojira’s got big things on their minds, and if they occasionally miss the trees for the forest, this album’s significance comes through loud and clear.