Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Gojira - The Link (2003)

French musical phenomenon Gojira’s second effort shows a slight upward momentum from their debut, Terra Incognita, and though it’s still not nearly as compelling as the groundbreaking efforts they’d be creating as early as their next release, The Link continues to establish the unique tendencies that Gojira would utilize to literally explode in pretty short order. Indeed, The Link is a good, if not great, listen that at this point serves more as a curiosity than a chunk of memorable tunes you’ll want to repeat again and again. It feels tighter and more organized than its older brother, though, and is measurably more enjoyable.

The punishing, cyclical grooves are still the focus here, but there are some more expressive sections as well, some tremolo-picked, some atmospheric open chord, some almost tribal in essence, and these are where the record truly feels artistic. This variety of abstract weirdness counterbalances the reliance on the pounding of muted, Meshuggah-inspired rhythms, and this sort of warm, primal atmosphere, working in interesting conjunction with the cold, mechanistic gnashing that dominates these soundscapes, is what makes The Link interesting. I feel some latent Sepultura influence here, and this being the result of a hypothetical hybrid between them and Meshuggah, perhaps with a light suffusion of Tool, is not so far fetched, at least for this release. Joe Duplantier’s vocals also feel like an admixture of Max Cavalera’s gruff shouts and Jens Kidman’s wilder, more gibbering style circa Contraddictions Collapse.

‘The Link’ displays these pervasive qualities right as it steps out of the portal, with an eerie cultish dissonance that immediately adds a strange, surreal nature to the rolling rhythms. ‘Death of Me’ lurches oddly in its choppy, lock-step grooves, which build from a bouncy Neanderthal stomp to a sheering wave of bright, strumming chords, and back again. Connected is a short sequence of light percussive notes that either originates from a Xylophone, or some kind of hollowed out wood, a calm before the storm of Remembrance, one of the best tracks here, channeling Sepultura aggression before breaking down into palm mutes and an odd sequence of boinging sounds. It’s flanked by another short intermission, Torii, a calm oceanic guitar progression, leading into Indians, which feels oddly anemic, but is a touch more accessible than the rest.

Embrace the World is a lot of fun, exuding a very earthy, tribal feeling, like grim-faced, bare-footed shamans doing an enrapturing dance around a roaring fire, high on Ayahuaska, as the chanting voice that rises above the rhythms comes forth like a fire god, central to the stoned, mesmerizing proceedings, then disappearing into the smoke from whence it came. Inward Movement is an interesting journey with some really strong, dense riffs and a good progression of energy, flowing with both grim power and a feeling of melancholy. Over the Flows reprises the funky, Primus-like oddity that manifested as Satan Is a Lawyer last time around, and will in the future be sculpted into much more powerful aesthetics in songs like A Sight to Behold. Wisdom Comes is short and angry, with some hurried, vibrant notation to supplant the usual atonal chugging. The closing song, Dawn, is a lengthy, lightly progressive instrumental that saunters off into the sunset with a meandering grace, a fitting, if not entirely epic, conclusion.

The Link feels more cohesive than Terra Incognita, more skillful, intelligent, and purposeful. The grooves are a bit more complex, the riffing more soulful, and the general slant of the songwriting more mature. Though the majority of its time is spent carving out grooves in the forest floor, it also takes time to breathe, dancing under the stars or staring philosophically into the fire. Drummer Mario Duplantier especially shows a dynamic growth from his last performance, as he seems to do with every release, striking with mechanistic precision, while retaining a very human sense of creativity. The lyrics can be quite poetic and insightful at times (sometimes not so much), with lots of stark, simple statements that belie their innate wisdom, and this aspect continues to strengthen release by release. Spiritual outrage and personal development are strong themes here, though, a common thread for all Gojira material. The production is also improved slightly. In fact, everything is improved slightly, laying and strengthening the foundations for upcoming greatness.

Despite the measure of growth and inherent memorability this exerts over its predecessor, however, I would not call The Link a great album. It is certainly more than acceptable, and conjures some very good ideas, but these ideas are simply not utilized to an extent as to entice me into repeating the performance very often. As I stated in my Terra Incognita review, the value here will be more intrinsic to the die-hard Gojira fan, who wants to inspect the building blocks for the towering spire of spiritual awesome they have become. Certainly, the spirit of Gojira, that special element of feeling persists here, alive and well, and I happen to know a lot of their fans like this album a great deal. I can certainly respect that, and I definitely would not want to dissuade you from checking it out, but for anyone not already familiar with these Frenchman, I’d strongly recommend starting with one of the later albums, because at length, there is simply no reason to listen to this over its successors. The Link is good, but From Mars to Sirius, The Way of All Flesh, and L’enfant Sauvage are amazing, so it sits in a very towering shadow.

7.5 / 10 - Cover the Distance, Find My World