Look up French band Gojira at Metal Archives and you'll see that they play progressive/groove/death metal. Now, each of those genres conjures up a particular sound in my brain and this album isn't close to any of them. To me, their seventh studio album sounds more like post-rock with a strong influence from what I often see listed as "modern metal", which mostly translates to the rhythm guitar being a truly rhythm instrument, more like the drums than the lead guitar, and the vocals having something of a hardcore shout in them.
Born for One Thing defines all this as it opens up the album. It feels as much post-rock as post-metal, mixing influences as diverse as Metallica and Radiohead. The songwriting is deep, best experienced once and then explored on further listens. Joe Duplantier's vocals are fascinating, as they come from a host of different styles, from pop chants to death growls. The bass is an audible, prowling creature. There are overtones here too, somewhat like the high melody in Tuvan throat singing but done with guitars. It's a really interesting sound.
And it only gets more interesting as the album runs on. Amazonia is particularly fascinating. Much of it is played in a monotone, as if the strings on the guitars were all tuned to the same note, but melody creeps in through what sounds like world music. It's bookended by Jew's harp but there's often a sort of group chant going on that veers into full drone at points. This is ritual music, sometimes hypnotic, but that's only one approach that Gojira take here.
Hold On starts like a mediaeval folk song in choral polyphony, perhaps translated into dance music and then into whatever Gojira play. The vocals are usually my least favourite aspect in any genre touching on groove metal, but Duplantier's here are as constantly inventive as anything else that the band is doing, this song featuring perhaps the wildest departure from the expected. Well, it's either that or the title track, which finds an Enigma vibe with bass, an antiqued voice and the sort of instruments I remember from music class in school: tambourine and woodblocks. I was almost surprised to not hear a recorder. It's an intro, really, to The Chant, which continues, well, the chant, with rock instruments.
As if we wondered if we'd drifted a long way away from metal, Sphinx brings us right back in with what is easily the heaviest song on the album, above raucous early tracks like Another World. It has overtly harsh vocals, though they're still easily intelligible and they don't remain harsh throughout. It's also the most obviously riff driven track on the album. My favourite riff may be on Amazonia, but it's only one riff. This one moves constantly from one simple but effective riff to another.
In short, there's a lot here. I can't say I was knocked out by my first listen, though I did like the album immediately. However, with each further run through it, I find myself more and more impressed and I have to go with an 8/10. I tend to dread the words "modern metal" because the shifts taken by albums with that label tend to be ones I don't particularly like, finding them unimaginative and limiting. This, on the other hand, is certainly modern metal but it's thoroughly imaginative and free of limits.
The diversity is joyous, Amazonia being very different from The Chant and both being very different from Into the Storm, but all three being obvious highlights. And the same goes for Hold On. And The Trails. And... This really is a fantastic example of what the modern metal genre can be and so rarely is, unafraid to trawl in its sounds from gothic metal, post-punk, electronica, mediaeval chant, krautrock, whatever seems appropriate at the time. That's a sign of adventurous songwriting and, when paired with the talent these musicians obviously have, it makes for a great album.