Sound — 7
One of the best ways to tell if a metal band has hit it big is by seeing if people recognise their guitar tone. To be distinguished from thousands of sounds and thousands of riffs by thousands of people is a testament to both creativity and brand power, and a lot can be drawn from the fact that premier French exports Gojira had this long before their first release on a major league label. It wouldn't be wrong to attribute much of it to their electrifying live performance but we shouldn't forget that this is the band's fifth LP, and with album lengths averaging over an hour, the band have a lot of faith in their music's recorded power.
"L'Enfant Sauvage" begins quite plainly as a celebration of the traits that the band have worked hard to single out as their own over the last decade exaggerated harmonics, dynamic pick scrapes, nuanced drumming behind sledgehammer riffs. The guitars are crisp but swing low when required, often distinguished more by their pick attack or palm muting than melody or rhythm. It can make for repetitive listening, but once in the right frame of mind the small changes from song to song, from one kind of groovy riff to another, are easier to appreciate. The bouncing title track and aptly-titled "Explosia" may be similar in some regards but will take on different character when they inevitably take their place on Gojira's live setlist.
Lyrics — 7
Joe Duplantier had this to say about his lyrics in an interview with Gojira's official website:
"With freedom comes responsibility [as a musician], so I'm asking myself, 'What is freedom? What does it mean to me?' 'L'Enfant Sauvage' reflects on that. There's no answer though. There's just life and questions."
Despite being pigeon-holed as a one-topic band dedicated to the environment and man's effect on the Earth, "L'Enfant Sauvage" makes much use the first person to explore more personal themes, freedom being one of them. However, the all-important pulse of Gojira's music means he has limited wriggle-room for poetic rhythm and remains more effective in instruction than reflection; urging the world to change seems to come more naturally to Joe than pondering his own life as an artist. Perhaps sensing this, the band have decided to close their album with the two most effective eco-friendly tracks and overall album highlights "Born In Winter" and "The Fall", which offer potential for change and then a grave warning of the consequences of failing to address the problems facing our planet.
Where his lyrics are hit-and-miss, his vocals are much the same. The majority of vocals are now pitched or 'clean' the groovier songs benefit from this added dimension but the already melodic "Mouth Of Kala", for example, becomes rather dreary for Duplantier's reliance on the same one or two melodic shapes and cries out for a harsher approach.
Overall Impression — 6
So, what to make of "L'Enfant Sauvage" on the balance of things? It's big, it's heavy and you can bang your head to it with a conscience clear as crystal, but is there much more to it than that? The squeals and slides may still have some artistic shelf-life but they're not as audacious as they once were. This album is a little too 'safe' for a band who ought to be pushing boundaries and asking big questions what it's lacking is that bit of ingenuity. Gojira have made over 5 hours of effective music from a relatively small pool of ideas but this is the first time in their career that they seem to be repeating themselves. Listenable, at times enjoyable, but ultimately underwhelming.