Most bands have some sort of progression in their particular established sound (be it good or bad), and it seems perfectly understandable to mix things up once in a while. Even with a band like Metallica, who obviously received a large amount of backlash for simplifying their music and following more unfavorable trends during the 90s, at least took a gamble and tried something different. Gojira, the progressive death metal darlings of Bayonne, France, definitely took a slower and more subtle approach to evolution; whereas some bands are completely abrupt in their musical shift(s), Gojira always retain their death metal brutality while mixing a few new tricks with each passing album. Most notably, each album has gotten more melodic and featured more vocal variety. Proof of that? Terra Incognita, the band's first record (after numerous demos, of course) is primarily rooted in straightforward death metal, during the early days before they starting branching out their sound at bit more.
While containing many hints of the group's future and still being both technical and progressive to an extent, Terra Incognita is also a lot more raw and rough around the edges. Songs like "Love" and "Clone" are extremely pummeling numbers and showcase Mario Duplantier's double-bass pedal work quite extensively during the heaviest sections. Of course, even early Gojira material isn't complete without certain soft interludes to balance out the intensity, with sparse bass-driven "04" and the two "De Tonnes" songs fitting the bill. None of this stuff is really what makes the record as unique as it is, however; what really makes it stand out is just how bizarre and dark the whole vibe is. Perhaps some of this comes from how isolated and slightly murky the production sounds, but it's also from the weird experiments that are attempted. For instance, while "Love" is primarily a very heavy death metal song, the intro is this weird chromatic clean guitar segment that sets a different tone for the song entirely. "Blow Me Away You(niverse)" is another good example; while most of the song is your average midtempo song (albeit with a large emphasis toward high screams), a complete instrumental freakout comes out of nowhere with atonal guitar playing rushing forth and odd clear vocal harmonies combining with intimidating growls. It's a frantic change of pace, but one that's refreshingly in its unpredictability. Moments like these are what really make the album work.
Sadly, it comes at a price: inconsistency. While this album isn't completely disjointed-sounding, some songs should have been left out of the final product altogether. "Satan is a Lawyer," aside from having possibly the most ridiculous Gojira song title ever, has Joe Duplantier attempting this weird rapping during the verses. That's awkward enough, but the song never really catches fire; the riffs are tired, the drumming is a little dull, etc. Other songs suffer from bad musical concepts as well, such as the plodding "Lizard Skin" and the (quite frankly boring) clean "eerie" interlude "On the B.O.T.A." No song on here is terrible, but bad track placement and half-baked ideas take away from what works so well. This also extends to the other problem, being that the album is a little too straightforward sometimes. While it's already ahead of the game since many death metal debuts are more generic than this, the complaint I'm mentioning is more from a retrospective standpoint. After listening to the band's other efforts and hearing how much they've progressed, some of the music on here starts to sound a bit "cookie-cutter" after a while. Regardless, Terra Incognita was still a very solid first step for the band. While many bands struggle to find their footing with their first efforts, Gojira already found a sound they could expand upon with each successive release. Even if this only provides a glimpse of what the band would become, it's still a great standalone effort and deserves more attention.
(Originally published on Sputnikmusic)