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This is the first tentative step on an incrementally improving spiral staircase of a career that has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years into one of the most important in the metal realm. Indeed, most of the defining elements of future groundbreaking Gojira releases like From Mars to Sirius and The Way of All Flesh are here in embryonic form, and though Terra Incognita is far from perfect, or even overly compelling or memorable, it contains enough inherent value to be worth a look from both fans of these innovative Frenchmen, and those who by nature enjoy crawling through the darker, heavier depths of groove-laden death metal.
There is a resounding mechanical darkness here, expressed through the pounding, cyclical slabs of notation, that even back in 2000 proved a strong counterpoint to the natural, philosophical slant of Gojira’s blazing spirit. Some moments, like the oceanic tapping in 04, the plunking, bouncy, almost Primus-like funk of Satan Is a Lawyer, and the earthy, lumbering midsection of Deliverance are clear roots from which the distinguished, more avant-garde elements of their present releases have grown. Much of the record, however, is content to chug along in a variety of rhythmic patterning, some sections stronger than others, but with pretty consistent quality overall. I especially enjoy the dark, luminous riffing in Space Time, a nice contrast to the carving, pinch-harmonic sprinkled grooves, a dichotomy they would eventually perfect. A number of songs also provide clean, distinct, simmering choruses that are unmistakably evident as Gojira, even as we know them now, a true compliment.
Truly, there are a number of good ideas and techniques that pepper this release, but they are not to a level of fruition that makes Terra Incognita a great record. Beyond a pretty fair handful of sections, it is not incredibly memorable, though to be fair, neither is it ever in any way bad, or even really average, as it certainly bears its own unique stamp. Certainly, if you desire this kind of plodding, mechanistic darkness in your metal, there is not a lot of quality material to choose from, and this is definitely far more interesting and talented than anything you’ll find from a Fear Factory release around this period. Its mathematical, muscular pounding has more in common than Meshuggah than anyone else, another potential indicator of your enjoyment.
In the end, I don’t think I will listen to Terra Incognita very often, as it’s just so completely eclipsed and out-paced by its successors, but for a debut album of groove-laced death, it is both interesting and long on potential, the grooving tendrils that have encased my life of late already budding, if not lengthy enough to grab a firm hold. This will be of special worth and curiosity for huge Gojira fanatics though, like me, as it’s an interesting history lesson in the evolution and basic biology of a band that’s become so dynamic and important. If you fit into either one of these aforementioned categories, you should certainly hunt this down, though I’d warn you not to be overly expectant, but if you’ve already heard the bands newer, more popular releases, and count yourself unimpressed, there is no reason for you to visit this. For anyone new to this project, though, I’d point you to the stunning The Way of All Flesh first and foremost, followed by From Mars to Sirius and L’enfant Sauvage, all of them artful expressions of pure passion. Terra Incognita is a good effort, but it’s so completely blown away by its siblings that at this point it’s more interesting as a historical footnote than an endlessly listenable album.
-Left Hand of Dog
With its rather unassuming cover art (I like to refer to it as 'The Nose'...look closely), the debut of French Gojira might give the impression that it was any of a million typical alt rock or alt metal albums released by countless forgettable bands in the 90s. But the music contained within Terra Incognita, 14 tracks, half of which are culled from the band's Saturate and Wisdom Comes demos (1999-2000), is often not a great distance from their more recent material ala The Way of All Flesh. Combining accessible, mechanical grooves into the field of more intense death metal is not a trait often welcomed within the genre, and to be sure, Gojira have their lovers and haters like any other band that sticks their neck out and begs to be just a little different.
Terra Incognita might be the band's first and worst effort, but that's saying a lot for the French band. Even on this formative release, which occasionally lacks the distinctness of its younger siblings, there are still a few good songs and ideas. With a sound culled from influences like Meshuggah, Sepultura, Carcass, Kong, Machine Head, and perhaps a little Prong, the band has a lot of modern, arguably nu-metal mosh to them that can often distract from their heightened sense of riffing, but occasionally even these LCD grooves can stun the listener straight into submission with their effortless precision. Although the band's musical skills were already well honed by this point, I am not a major fan of Joe Duplantier's vocals on many of the tracks, which feel like a rather ho-hum mesh of grunts and snarling, like a modern Carcass with little visceral splash.
"Clone" showcases the band's love for tapping rhythms, something they continue to this day (on a number of Way of All Flesh tracks), and this is sadly the most interesting riff of the song. The rest of the track consists of big, mid-period Sepultura-like mosh/thrash, rolling double bass and not much in the way of a hook, not even the Prong-like riff at 2:00 with the squeal is enticing. They lead off "Lizard Skin" with a decent droning guitar rhythm, then break for a more mathematical chug-off akin to Meshuggah. "Satan is a Lawyer" introduces goofy, clean vocals over lightly distorted, almost funk-rock guitar rhythms, all of which are rather garbage until the band busts out the speed-picked neo-thrash rhythm at around 2:40. "04" is an interlude piece with more tapping mayhem, while "Blow Me Away You (niverse)" lurches with some sagging groove rhythms but finally picks up a little near the end.
I'm not a huge fan of that entire chunk of album, but after comes fascinating second interlude, " 5988 Trillions De Tonnes" formed of ambient swells and raggedy tribal percussion, which precedes "Deliverance", which opens with some thrash-u-puncture and grating and groove-laden death. "Space Time" is one of the strongest tracks on the album, with strong and curious drumming courtesy of Mario Duplantier, and Joe using his more identifiable, hoarse, angsty vocals. "On the B.O.T.A." emits some nutty tapping and a fusion-funk atmosphere, while "Rise" has an incredibly dense and sick verse rhythm, among some less interesting, chug chunks and then transforms back into the natural 'rain forest' percussive interlude of "5988 Trillions...".
The final stretch of Terra Incognito begins with the thunderous, low-end churn of "Fire is Everything", which devolves into a dull, minimal chug-a-long before taking the high road with a nice vocal/groove segment, only then to fall once more into another, sluggish, not very interesting riff that crashes into the closing patter of electronic rain. "Love" builds a rolling artillery in the verse, then crashing around your mind with some atmosphere before it erupts into a very Meshuggah breakdown interspersed with great percussive strikes. "1990 Quatrillions de Tonnes" uses somber, cleaner guitars and samples of vocal torment along a steady rock beat, like a river winding into Pandemonium and picking up echoes of the insanity beyond. The 'closer' to the album, "In the Forest" is another of its best tracks, building a feel reminiscent of the Dutch band Kong before the vocals, and then some very forceful palm muted rhythms that chug into the silence beyond...until a hidden instrumental track pops up for a brief spell.
I was not a huge fan of this album at the time, and even listening back to it today, it feels dated and more than a little sterile. They were merely a curiosity in 2000, another band that dared walk the ground of a Prong or Meshuggah but with less interesting songs than the former and little of the machine-like hostility of the latter (i.e. an album like Chaosphere). Since the band have taken off, being booked on huge tours and profiting from a large degree of buzz, they've matured considerably. For that reason, I'd suggest any of their later full-length offerings above this, and delegate Terra Incognita to those fans who want to listen to the band's 'demo' phase, where the soil was fertile with a crop of dynamic intentions, but the early harvest was simply not the best of eats.
Highlights: Space Time, In the Forest
I've always sort of been a fan of groove metal, not necessarily the genre, but merely a few bands within it. Pantera, Lamb of God, Mastodon, etc. You know, those really popular dudes with all of their MTV fandom and such. It wasn't until I listened to Gojira and this album specifically that I actually began to make an effort towards collecting groove metal albums. I've since gotten all of Gojira's albums, but this is by far my favorite.
It starts off with Clone which has some sort of ambient intro (how the fuck else do you describe that?) before just ripping your face off in something that couldn't be called anything but death metal. The song continues on with some groovy guitar noodling before continuing forward in extreme brutality. And get this, about half way through, there's a breakdown! "Oh, how have you forsaken metal, Gojira, you've added a breakdown! ...wait a second, this breakdown kicks ass!" Seriously, I can't even continue reviewing this song because it changes so much, but the whole time, it retains it's amazingly tight, groovy, death metal nature. This is music you fuck to. No, actually, don't. You'd probably hurt someone.
Lizard Skin is very similar to the first song in nature, but otherwise entirely discernable and decently memorable. Then comes Satan is a Lawyer. Don't let the silly name fool you; this song will kick your ass. It starts off with a clean guitar interlude with some spoken lyrics before crushing you with another groovy, breakdown-esque riff, and then back to the clean. The song picks up pace about 2:30-3:00 minutes in.
I think I'm just going to quit while I'm behind. The songs are so amazingly diverse and so intricate, it's impossible to really review them all. Or any, for that matter. Words cannot do them justice. That's not to say that Gojira is made up of some sort of musical geniuses or anything whose work can only be ascribed to divine intervention. It's nothing of the sort. It's just tons of different shit slapped together in such a way that it works. Most of the songs have a general feeling to them: slow and crushing or fast and furious, always groovy. Many, however, have both. It's just the brilliance that is this album, I guess.
There's enough breakdowns and slow, "br00tal" riffing here to appease even the most casual of Hot Topic, deathcore kiddies and enough straight up metal and coherent songwriting to appeal to the strictest and purist of death metal fans. If you don't believe me, then get this and prove yourself wrong. This album has become one of my all-time favorites. Seriously, this is the best thing to come out of France since French Fries, and those came from Belgium.
For the many metal fans like myself that are fed up with the same old cliches that find themselves being copied over and over agian in the world of death metal, 'Terra Incognita' is a reassuring breath of fresh air.
When you first experience Gojira, it is very hard to analyze what you are hearing. The brutal style of death metal that they play, mixed with the atmospheric instrumentals and eco-conscious lyrics make for a very new sound. That is not to say that their music is completely new. Many of their riffs resemble that of bands like Sepultura and Entombed, and Joe Duplantier's vocal style is similar to Max Cavelera's, but the way that they play the music is very different. Their is a very enlightening aura that haunts the whole recording, and ties it together very well. This is very impressive, because the songs themselves are very unique to each other- that is, they don't all sound the same. 'Satan is a Lawyer' is by far the most different, but, when listened in context to the rest of the album, it works.
Individualy, the band is brilliant. Mario Duplantier is one of the best drummers I have listened to in a while, bringing a unique, almost funky, style to the genre. Christian Andreu and Joe Duplantier are both great guitarist, who instead of using overdone harmonies or flamboyant solos, mesh together with insane riffs and blasting grooves. Also, the evident connection between bass player Jean-Michel Labadie and Mario makes for a great, aggressive rythm section.
To try to analyze the CD would be very hard, though. It is the type of thing that you must liisten to and experience to understand. To try and and critique it is very hard, because it is so flawless. One thing that could have changed is the sound clip at the beginning of 'Blow Me Away You (niverse)'. It takes away from the abstract and original feel of the song. Also, some of the breakdowns are similar. However, they do a great job of making their break-downs sound good, unlike many of the grindcore bands that completley overuse and ruin them.
The only thing I can say is that you should definitely give Gojira a chance. If you are into the standard stock bands of today, you won't like them. However, if you really want to open your mind and experience something fresh, buy 'Terra'.
Best Songs: Love, Satan is a Lawyer, Clone, Fire is Everything
Worst Songs: If I had to pick one, it would be Blow me Away You (niverse)
Heavy yet crystal clear production creating “experimental” catchy death metal. Now I use the word “experimental” lightly because they aren’t overtly experimenting around, but to just simply classify them as death metal would be wrong too. But lets just say this is some unique death metal that doesn’t suck.
This is the kind of metal that you just want to be high when you listen to. The riffs are constantly changing, not in a jazz-metal like manner where it just happens suddenly, but they just fuse it together so two completely different riffs flow smoothly. That style in itself is unique since one moment you’re listening to some heavy chugging then all the sudden it goes into some atmospheric acoustic melody then suddenly changes into this fast thrashing riffage. No its nothing like that fagass band Opeth, this is different. Its much simpler but the structure is solid making them kickass.
The musicianship is tight, although they have almost no solos. The guitarist rely mostly on chugging and powerchord melody, which isn’t bad at all. When he starts chugging, I mean he fucking start chugging. He fucking tears his guitar apart, using weird rhythms and creative noises from his guitar that are uncommon in metal. The bassist’s style is also different since he follows mostly the drums but does it in a way where it almost resembles funk. The drummer also is unique. Its been a while since I’ve been impressed by a metal drummer but he managed to do just that. Its not overtly fast or anything like that, its just that he uses a style mostly found in trip hop or even rap. Shit, did I just say rap? I hope I didn’t scare any hardcore death metal kids away, but don’t worry this isn’t some gayass rapcore. It is death metal, with a weird bass structure and different drumming style.
Another highlight of the album is the weird and atmospheric instrumentals. Its so atmospheric to the point its almost haunting. The album as a whole conveys a very haunting mood but the instrumentals really ice that up. The vocals too are impressive, its nothing special but there’s just something about his vocals that’s captivating.
The album as a whole is mid-paced but there are some fast songs. But even me, being an avid speed metal freak, liked some of the slower songs in this album. The unique chugging from the guitarist really makes up for all the lack of speed (but still the slower songs gets boring though). Like I said before, this is an album you would want to listen to when you’re high. Just a very unique and haunting death metal album overall. Its not for everyone, listen with an open-mind, you may like what you hear.
RECOMMENDED SONG: Clone, Fire is everything, Love
THE GAY SONG: Lizard Skin
LYRICS: I don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about: ie. “Satan is a Lawyer”
PRODUCTION: Heavy, yet really clear
PACKAGING: A guy giving himself a blowjob is on the cover
OVERALL: Not a bad album at all, very unique and different