Gojira’s Magma was a pretty major release this year, and while it didn’t get any Angry Metal Guy love it got plenty of Huck N Roll love. So much so, in fact, that it landed in my comprehensive, well thought out, Best of 2016 list. Yeah, that’s sarcasm; my list is as meaningless as any others. But nonetheless, my decade-old love-hate relationship with the French masters of heavy precision coalesced into purely the former on Magma. The fact that the Duplantier brothers’ mother passed away during recording sessions is a major contributing factor to all facets of the album, and while undeniably tragic for them it was a creative boon for us, as Magma is a departure from their comfort zone in a number of ways.

The album begins with the ponderous groans of “The Shooting Star,” which polarized fans immediately due to Joe Duplantier’s clean vocals. But you know what, these fit in well with the music, both on this track and a number of others where cleans reside. I’m a fan of bands that push their own boundaries, and combining clean and harsh singing on Magma gives the music an added dimension Gojira sorely needed. More depth is added with some atmospheric touches throughout, including the opener and the closer, “Low Lands,” as well as the title track. These tweaks to the band’s standard sound are all the more effective because of the song lengths. A conscious attempt was made to get right to the point on Magma, and most songs clock in under four minutes. Aside from the odd “Iron Man”- inspired “Yellow Stone,” there is no chaff to speak of on Magma.

Don’t hold the clean vocals, the spacious sounds, and the shortened song structures against them; the band still kills it with their trademark percussive staccato attacks. “Silvera” and “The Cell” both blast out of the speakers with the clinical precision we’ve come to expect from Gojira, and the intro to “Pray” evokes memories of “The Art of Dying.” Mario Duplantier continues to show us he’s a monster on the kit, and with Joe howling in his unique way, those songs, along with “Only Pain,” show that the guys aren’t planning on straying too far off course all the time. Also present are plenty of “you stepped on my cat’s tail” riffs, featured on “Stranded,” “Magma,” and “Only Pain.” In short, there is still a ton of raging heaviness throughout, although Joe’s lyrics are at times tender and wistful. On “Low Lands” he wonders, “Tell me what you see, in the afterlife … when you’re everywhere,” and on “Silvera” he howls “When you change yourself you change the world.”

Produced by Joe at the band’s newly constructed New York studio, the sounds are impeccable. Glistening percussion hammers home, Jean-Michel Labadie’s bass growls and prowls as it underpins Christian Andreu’s and Duplantier’s guitars, and the mix of harsh and clean vocals when they are overlayed is perfect. The brothers’ vision (and tribute to their mother) is beautifully realized on Magma. Their tender acoustic duet, “Liberation,” that brings Magma to a close leaves us feeling rather pensive – and hitting the repeat button shortly thereafter.

Tracks to Check Out: “Magma,” “Pray,” and “Low Lands”