The Way Of All Flesh
1/23/2009 - Review by: Etiam
The Way Of All Flesh
Company: Prosthetic Records
A prodigious vision and an equal wealth of talent
For much of its existence, Prosthetic Records seemed like the stepping stone label from which tomorrow's stars would graduate just as they entered the public awareness (see: Lamb of God). In the past couple years, however, Prosthetic has been landing some impressive catches--or at least the US distribution deals--that are already ripe for the Heatseekers Chart. Perhaps the biggest fish in their net today is Gojira, the French quartet that in a scant handful of months catapulted from an underground buzz-word to one of 2008's trendiest picks.
This success is not surprising, as the Gojira camp has been bustling non-stop since 2005's breakthrough LP 'From Mars to Sirius'. In recent months especially, Prosthetic has given Gojira priority promotion as they tour from Montreal to Melbourne with top acts and receive endorsements from eminent frontmen like Randall Blythe (of Lamb of God, once again, who guests on the track 'Adoration for None'). Just as this media stir reached its peak, the band released its fourth album overall and first in the limelight--'The Way Of All Flesh'--a provocative, nearly 80-minute opus more ambitious than any of their previous outings.
That is not to say that Gojira have reinvented themselves; to the contrary, 'The Way...' could not be mistaken for any other band, just as no other band could be mistaken for Gojira. Rather, this album has advanced to their logical conclusions all of the band's idiosyncratic qualities: slippery harmonics, jackhammer riffs, multifaceted, almost Wildoerian percussion, and throaty harsh vocals. 'The Way...' is an endless mill of quirky, single or two-phrase riffs that feed back into each other like an Escher sketch and break the strict metrical patterns of this heavily rhythmic genre. One such example is 'Vacuity', where one guitar pounds out quarter-note chords while another complements with a sluggish legato, as well as the added triplets that extend phrases into odd meters (a la Meshuggah, used throughout the album). Perhaps their favorite trick is the hypnotic tapping of disjunct intervals (frequently sixths or more) that make up almost the entirety of opener 'Oroborus'. Guitarists Joe Duplantier and Christian Andreu frequently use fuller chord voicings than most sludge-related bands employ (i.e. not pure power chords front to back), which helps the compositions stay interesting over the album's duration. And, like all Gojira albums, 'The Way...' is rife with technical stutter-steps that we might call 'breakdowns' if it weren't such an incendiary term.
'The Way...' also explores and enhances the band's percussive side (drummer Mario Duplantier co-writes every track), which is a necessary countermeasure to their head-spinning riffs. As a few other bands have done recently--Akercocke's 'Antichrist' and Opeth's 'Watershed'--Gojira incorporates blast drum patterns into open and clean arrangements so that the drums are thrust into the extreme forefront of the mix. These trade-offs of instrumentation are at times rather blatant--the firearm snare spat at the end of 'Yama's Messengers'--and at others are rather more indirect--the guitars thud along like an earth-quaking click track at 'Yama's opening. At all times, however, 'The Way...' retains a spacious and desolate tonality to the mix. This is entirely appropriate, given the lyrical theme of environmental decay as a metaphor for human mortality, and even though the album does feature a song called 'Toxic Garbage Island', Gojira aren't a Greenpeace mouthpiece. While their lyrics do much to inform the album's layout and clarion call tone, the music itself is still the primary focus.
Unfortunately, one thudding staccato riff with interspersed pinch slides sounds rather like the next after a while, and this combination makes up the lion's share of the album. Too, the continuity is less strong here than on 'From Mars To Serious', and though almost every song opens with a full head of steam and a few clever riffs in the wings, they frequently lose direction or simply peter out without conviction. Despite having plenty of good (and sometimes even original) ideas, the combined effect of longer track lengths and slowed momentum makes 'The Way...' more ponderous than it deserves to be. As such, Gojira's aim for 'The Way of All Flesh' overestimates their reach by a finger's length, but the band still possess a prodigious vision and an equal wealth of talent that will only continue to appreciate.