What makes us human? I mean, what human attributes distinguish us from animals, or artificial lifeforms, something other than our ability to select each image containing traffic lights? This subject was of particular interest to naturalists and philosophers during the Enlightenment era and the peculiar case of the French ”feral child,” Victor of Aveyron, was one of those catalysts that prompted the subject of human nature to be redefined and looked at from a completely different angle at the time. In 1970, the French cinema auteur, Francis Truffaut, directed a movie titled The Wild Child (L’Enfant Sauvage), based on the story of Victor, a 9-year-old boy who was found alone in the woods with behaviors closer to a wild animal than a civilized human being. The movie, in part, served as an inspiration for the fifth studio album, their major-label debut, by the French progressive tech-metal outfit, GOJIRA. “L’Enfant Sauvage” was released on June 26th, 2012, via Roadrunner Records and it took the metal world by storm. Just like the historic, real-life version of the popular jungle-boy myth, this metal outing invokes questions about the human condition, the soul, and the mystery of life in general. The album essentially asks us: what makes us human? The tone of voice resonates with a somewhat demanding air, what with the sublime growls of the vocalist, Joe Duplantier, being ferocious to the point of sounding almost as though they are coming from a wild animal backed into a corner. While the vocals on this album sound far more melodic in comparison with the band’s previous efforts, you needn’t fear that they would lack in that tried-and-true, unadulterated GOJIRA-fury. They most certainly do not and neither does the music.
The album kicks off with the band’s trademark: a solid tech-metal groove, right off the bat on the opening track, “Explosia.” The song unfolds like a triptych, where the first couple of minutes sound like a vehement tech-metal riff punch-up, the mid-section gears up on the atmospheric side of rage, and the song’s coda takes a reckless nose-dive into the somewhat Ennio Morricone -like realm of spaghetti western soundtracks. That’s pure frigging awesomeness! If truth be said, I wasn’t that familiar with the band when this album came out 10 years ago, but these French metal rascals had me already at the introduction!
If the album opener was the song that gave me the butterflies – that fluttery feeling of first falling for someone – the title track was, in turn, that very song that represented the assimilation stage of falling in love; two songs into the album, it became crystal clear that this band was the one. These metal-ruffians certainly had what it takes to go the distance. The main riff of “L’Enfant Sauvage” stands out by being nothing short of a memorable, hard-chugging monster. Still, as heavy, aggressive, and furious as the band sounds in this prime moment, they somehow incorporate a cathartic, soulful feel too. Like some critics said at the time, “This is metal taken to a higher plane of brilliance.” Enough said. Just like a genuine feral kid, raised by a pack of wolves, the title track takes us closer to the essence of “real.”
The next couple of songs, “The Axe” and “Liquid Fire,” serve as a slightly strange and beautiful mix of brutal and melodic. Despite the machine-gun riffs, rapid-fire guitar tremolos, and double-kick drum-rolls, these metal alchemists retain a distinct sense of melancholy in their music on top of the tight and brutal crunch. A Finn like me should, obviously, have a penchant for this sort of audio witchcraft, like a magpie for shiny little trinkets and at this point, I was already like, “Shut up and take my money!” So, it was rather convenient to find out that the album had so much more ear candy to offer.
After the brief guitar-etude of an instrumental, “The Wild Healer,” the brutal is turned up a notch. “Planned Obsolescence” throws in a real curveball of chugging riffs and hard-hitting drumwork. Halfway into the song, however, the riffs take on a new tangent and slow down to an almost grunge-like gait – I mean, the grunge of the more metal-tinted variety, like SOUNDGARDEN and ALICE IN CHAINS, rather than those Seattle punk-rock outfits with a thing for THE BEATLES. As it happens, GOJIRA‘s fellow countrymen, KLONE, have explored a bit further into how the vintage, Fab-Four-like, melodic approach works in the somewhat grunge-tinted modern metal framework. GOJIRA takes a few cautious steps in that direction on “Pain Is A Master,” while maintaining the brutal tech-metal edge too.
Along with the killer of a title track, three more album tracks stand out by being genuine jaw-dropping eargasms. First, “The Gift of Guilt” prowls around the theme of guilt passed down from generation to another; the song does it by being a haunting, 6-minute sledgehammer of sorrow, where the emotion is conveyed by the band’s signature blend of brutal and beautiful. Secondly, “Born in Winter” traverses the moody, almost depressive terrain of sludge, not that far from the slow-crushing melancholy of CULT OF LUNA. The iconic, two-handed-tapping riff in the song’s intro sure got me pegged properly right from the go – and the push-and-pull dynamics took care of the rest. Lyrically, the song is about the pains of growing older, “learning the painful breath of time.” Especially heart-warming, for a Finn, is the part in the lyrics going, “And in the winter cold, with opened eyes, you’ll find the strength to fight and stand upright.” Hell, yes! Thirdly, “The Mouth of Kala” introduces such a steamrolling riff-whirlwind that it almost makes you wonder whether getting punched in the face has ever sounded this good. The lyrical theme of the song is the overwhelming power of change, the ever-churning flame of it, burning the distance between the past and the now in the river of time – Heraclitus stuff, you know, the meme stuff of never being able to step in the same river twice.
Since I have already taken a closer look at each album track, I might as well go all the way; The album brings the exciting sonic journey to a close with the closer, “The Fall.” Once again, I detect some sort of kindred spirit to KLONE, what with the song’s strong grunge vibes, especially when the vocal harmonies take the center stage, resonating with the air of ALICE IN CHAINS. What a devious, yet delicious way to bring closure to this amazing trip!
This album was my point of entry to GOJIRA‘s music 10 years ago. Needless to say, I converted on the spot. How could I not have? “L’Enfant Sauvage” is an impressive selection of eleven raw, uncompromising, and technically flawless moments of musical excellence. The fact that the music is layered with a good pinch of brutal tech-metal crunch is an undisputed bonus. Somebody once asked online, why GOJIRA is so good. The Internet vox populi answered: because they are such an incredible band! Oh, yes! They are… and their landmark, fifth studio album is solid proof of that. Regarding the issue of what makes us human, one categorical, indispensable attribute of humanity is our ability to appreciate great art, like this 2012 effort of these awesome Frenchmen.
Written by Jani Lehtinen
- L’Enfant Sauvage
- The Axe
- Liquid Fire
- The Wild Healer (instrumental)
- Planned Obsolescence
- Mouth of Kala
- The Gift of Guilt
- Pain Is A Master
- Born in Winter
- The Fall
Joe Duplantier – vocals, rhythm guitars
Christian Andreu – lead guitars
Jean-Michel Labadie – bass
Mario Duplantier – drums