Gojira – Terra Incognita (2009 reissue)

3 out of 5

Produced by: Gojira

Label: Listenable Records

Gojira’s metal-tastic debut is impressive, and rocks hard, but it’s also something of a mess. Clearly inspired by Pantera grooves and Fear Factory-style drilling thrash, Terra Incognita very much lurches between the two sounds, inter-song, without rhyme or reason, interluded with some shorter, experimental instrument doodling and odd soundscapes. It’s not as discordant as that may come across, as, firstly, the group was blessed with apparent production know-how that finds the right balance between a raw, organic scrape to the guitars and vocals and a cold and crisp clarity that works well when things drop into pummeling thrash / doom metal; secondly – more importantly – whether it’s a sudden harmonious chorus, or the way the tracks aren’t just full-steam-ahead gloom or thrash, lingering for four or five minutes to find a particular groove – you get indications of a band in growth mode.  More succinctly: the debut is technically already stunning production- and performance-wise, but it abandons any given tactic in search of a new one after a few bars, preventing songs from landing on a lasting impression. It’s the kind of disc you’d think to yourself, ‘this is really good,’ but then find that you have no inclination to put it on again.

Of course, years later, we know that this was just promise as-yet unfulfilled, as Gojira would shed their more overt influences for defining their own unique blend of death metal.  Listened to as an addendum to that career, it’s sort of fun, but again: it’s not the kind of thing to make fans say “I wish they’d go back to their old sound…!”  No; this was just a stepping stone.  Listened to as an isolated experience, it certainly kicks the pants off of most metal from the same era (and if you hadn’t heard anything outside of mainstream stuff at that point, you’d likely be earned as a new fan just for all the styles Gojira throws into the mix and executes perfectly), but it’s still choppy.

The live tracks on the reissue (recorded in 2006, about five years after the disc’s initial release) are good for what they are, proving that the thrash bits still sound effectively punishing, that the metal bits still rock pretty hard, and that the group can throw down live just as good as in-studio.  But there’s nothing really extra to them if you already owned this.  I haven’t heard the original recording, so possibly there’s value in whatever re-mastering of the album may have taken place.

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