Gojira - From Mars to Sirius (2005)Release ID: 814
From Destruction To Hope
In retrospect, Gojira's notoriety within the fickle, turn of the century Metal scene makes perfect sense, but their overall success remains somewhat surprising considering their overall style. In the early 2000's the Death and Black Metal craze of the 1990's slowed to a mainstream crawl and left a perfect vacancy for bands like Gojira, Mastodon, and Meshuggah to capitalize on a more progressive, accessible, and slightly more modern style propelled by Death Metal influences. Given their popularity I stumbled across them around the release of their 2016 album Magma, which was an obvious turning point for the band that I still enjoy to this day despite its differences and flaws compared to their earlier material. My first introduction was L'Enfant Sauvage but it didn't take me long to land on From Mars to Sirius as my personal opus of theirs. At this point, it's withstood the test of time and, in my personal ranking, is one of the more important Progressive Metal albums of the transitional era of the turn of the century.
To any seasoned Death or other Extreme Metal fan Gojira may be a bit contentious due to their overall middling sound. They're heavy, but not too heavy. They're chaotic, but not too chaotic. They're melodic, but not too melodic. From Mars to Sirius is able to meld these overall average traits and combine them into an experience that sounds not only engaging and inspired but also confident and complete. Gojira's riffs and chugs have always been top notch with all manner of pinch harmonics and various squeals able to create satisfying grooves that build and release tension, but they're definitely at their best on this particular album on tracks like "Heaviest Matter In The Universe" and the opening "Ocean Planet". Although some of the riff structures can feel a bit too similar when looking at each song individually, the album has an incredible sense of momentum that never lets any of these riffs feel stale thanks to Gojira's adept songwriting when it comes to interludes and transitions. The deep and resonating chug resolutions within "Where Dragons Dwell" and "Backbone" are shining examples of how to have incredible and constant musical payoffs while maintaining compelling grooves, plus they're aided by a clean and satisfying production job that offers a ton of space for the guitars and kick drum to breathe. From Mars To Sirius is also able to flex its more melodic side on the sweeping "World To Come" and the unique closer "Global Warming", giving the album just enough variety and spice without detracting from what Gojira does best.
While Gojira's instrumental section could be considered pretty heavy to the uninitiated listener, their vocals are where they were able to separate themselves from the brutal back alleys of Death Metal and round out their signature sound in a way that was more accessible but still uncompromising. Frontman Joe Duplantier's vocals are the very definition of a Metal middle ground, even going past the vocalists who have a clean versus harsh separation. He gives his performance just enough vocal fry for it to be considered harsh, but is able to bend and augment his delivery to put emphasis and differentiation on his lines, allowing for a more varied and comprehensible output. His range and expressiveness shines on "Where Dragons Dwell" and especially "Ocean Planet", which helps to set the tone for the rest of the album. Although tracks like "To Sirius" allows Duplantier to go deeper into Death Metal growl territory, "World To Come" and "Global Warming" pump the breaks with clean and backup vocal sections that I can't say are particularly strong. I still appreciate the variety and don't necessarily think their inclusion is unwarranted given both songs have a very different feel to them, but I'm definitely left wanting a bit more despite the gradual, well-written timbre transitions in "World To Come". The middling vocal style is very effective throughout From Mars to Sirius since Gojira have quite a bit to say through their lyrics without it becoming overly preachy for the most part. The laments and warnings of a dying world serves as a fitting subject matter to accompany the album's overall atmosphere without being annoyingly blatant nor frustratingly ambiguous.
Overall though, the most succinct and comprehensive look at Gojira is "Flying Whales", which is far and beyond the strongest song they've written. The patient and gripping progression of the atmospheric opening groove allows one of my favorite riffs of all time to explode with incredible intensity. Every single aspect of the way this song progresses is in a satisfying way; even the second repetition of the breakdown riff adds consistent double bass leading into the extended chorus section before an especially satisfying reprise to the original motif. It then proceeds to perfectly transition into one of the heaviest and most complex chug-fests in the entire album, eventually giving way to yet another massive breakdown that showcases some seriously chilling sliding harmonics before transitioning back into the main chorus riff. Duplantier uses his entire range and then some, getting scarily close to full-on growling for one of the few times in the album. It's a massive showcase of everything that Gojira succeeds at with their style and it remains as my favorite song I've seen performed live. Despite "Flying Whales" being the highlight, none of the other tracks are too far behind in quality, leaving the overall floor of From Mars To Sirius sitting incredibly high.
Gojira have sadly gone off the deep end for me with their recent release of "Fortitude", but that doesn't change the fact that I'm still a massive fan given how often I find myself coming back to From Mars To Sirius as one of my gold standards of Progressive Metal. It embodies how Metal began to move forward into the 2000's with a slightly more accessible but still uncompromising sound that still has a ton of bite and doesn't feel pandering. Gojira's musicianship is crisp and imposing with almost none of the tracks having any sort of mundane filler, but I can admit that the final few tracks tend to drag a bit here and there. The album can be a bit long-winded at times given how repetitive Gojira's chug formula can get at times, but there's still some strong attempts at variety with the more erratic duo of "From Mars" and "To Sirius" as well as the slightly useless "Unicorn" interlude. Although they're less memorable, "Where Dragons Dwell" and "In The Wilderness" are surprising cornerstones to the album's runtime given their overall length. Mainstream Metal has seen extreme ups and downs since its inception and I'm glad that bands like Gojira are still able to showcase the best parts of this genre in their own, unique way without necessarily catering to anyone in particular. From Mars To Sirius has continued to fascinate me with its incredible pacing, production, and attention to detail within their grooves that almost no other modern Progressive Death Metal band has been able to accomplish. There may be bands that are heavier, more complex, or more dissonant and chaotic, but Gojira's streak through the early 2000's shows that Metal, just like any other genre, can be just as compelling through the sum of its parts.
I first encountered Gojira via 2008's "The Way Of All Flesh" (3/5) but it wasn't until 2012's "L'enfant sauvage" (4.5/5) that they really grabbed my attention. "L'enfant sauvage" showed a more progressive & highly professional outfit with plenty of intensity & a load of fresh ideas. I later checked them out live & saw a band that was totally in control of their instruments & sound so it was only a matter of time 'til I got 'round to checking out their most popular album.
"From Mars To Sirius" is a solid & highly focused album that sits somewhere between the sludgy death metal of mid-90's Morbid Angel & the melody & progression of early Devin Townsend. I find there's also a less distinct groove metal influence to some of the riffs. It's a heavy sound alright. One that's heavy enough to interest the death metal crowd but also has a strong sense of melody & an accessibility that you don't generally find in extreme metal. From memory it's a little less progressive than the bands later material but there's still plenty of variety.
The production is of a very high standard with an extraordinarily powerful bass guitar sound that the rest of the metal scene should really take note of as it's very rare that I encounter anything of that quality. In fact I'd say the bass guitar is the highlight of the album for me. The vocals are not your average unintelligible grunting either. They're closer to Devin's heavier moments & should appeal to a fairly wide audience.
I spent a fair amount of time deliberating over my score here. "From Mars To Sirius" is certainly a quality release & even though I don't think the more accessible moments appeal to me as much as the more brutal ones (or Gojira's more progressive ones from "L'enfant sauvage" for that matter) I can't help but be sucked in by the professionalism of the performances & production. It's 66 minute duration is certainly a little ambitious & the quality does fade just a little during the last few tracks but any fan of well-produced progressive death metal will find plenty to enjoy about "From Mars To Sirius" & it comes highly recommended.
Progressive Metal (conventional)
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