“Why do they call me there
How can I fly…”
Champions of bone-crushing riffs and powerful growled vocal preformances, Gojira’s unrelenting focus on grooving, heavy guitars and precision drumming will have me tuned in for years to come. From Mars to Sirius is the result of Gojira’s sound developing into their own unique brand of metal after their first two efforts. Where Terra Incognita (2001) and The Link (2003) borrowed from death and groove metal, Gojira would establish their own sound on this album, demonstrating their new chops in full form.
As much as From Mars to Sirius was a departure from Gojira’s roots in their previous music, it was more so a milestone for their particular style of metal. While Gojira is no stranger to songs on the lengthy side of five minutes, ‘From Mars to Sirius’ is one of their longer-running releases to date, featuring most of the band’s extended pieces of music. Most of the material on the latter half of the album charts into the seven minute mark, yet the manner that they move through the intricate sections of each song leaves little time for rest. Even the slower pieces here, like the instrumental bridge Unicorn or the intro to Flying Whales are still given a sense of movement by Mario’s drum technique; often playing more around the beat than to it.
Even though there is not a great degree of diversity to the sounds of the instruments and vocals on this record, I feel that metal is a genre that can often use its limitations in creative ways. Gojira know their strengths – and they play to them. The guitar tones aren’t too rich or laden with effects to muddy the rest of the mix, often being just crunchy enough to hold up the riffs, while still maintaining clarity. The drums on a Gojira record are always a highlight, often allowed free reign to accent the guitar and vocal parts, or vice-versa. It never feels like Mario Duplantier is just holding a beat for his band-mates, sometimes it feels like he’s leading the charge and everyone else is playing catch-up. The bass is the real supporting act in Gojira, occasionally showing through the mix when a rare guitar or vocal melody grabs the spotlight from the guitars, otherwise maintaining the all-important rhythm for a band of Gojira’s nature. There’s a good mix of screamed and growled vocals here too. Many metal groups seem to fall completely into one style, however on From Mars to Sirius there are clean vocal sections which suit their respective songs well; such as the low whisper on From Mars or the melody on World to Come which follow the guitar. All of these elements combine very deliberately to complete Gojira’s unique sound, and I would expect all of these elements were considered for each song, with the correct approach applied to both the whole and individual pieces.
The album begins with some of the shorter cuts from the record, the chant of whalesong leading into a monstrously heavy riff that ends with a pinched harmonic and turns on itself to grant a moment of reprieve – before thrusting the listener back into the midst of the humongous guitar part. The drums here compliment the guitars strikingly well, thundering along on the toms during the first part of the riff, then rounding out the segment with crashing cymbals and playing around the beat. Ocean Planet finishes on a high note (not literally), after chugging forward through the bridge the song quickly drops the listener into one of the heaviest, stomp-iest riffs on the album – complete with a powerful yet still discernible vocal preformance.
Backbone and From the Sky are a bit more standard fare for Gojira, displaying their ability and speed here well, also notably demonstrating Mario’s stop-and-start drumming technique, though not as well as on The Heaviest Matter of the Universe. Unicorn separates these tracks from the rest of the album, granting a (short) breather before launching into another heavy riff-driven track in Where Dragons Dwell. The song has an interesting mix of a driving, slow moving riff that chugs along into tremolo picked sections that eventually fade out with drum fills and double bass, accented with rhythmic vocals that evoke feelings of personal empowerment.
The next song we come across, The Heaviest Matter of the Universe, divides some listeners concerning how brazen the title and track are. As an individual piece, I consider this song to be a great introduction to Gojira, incorporating their unmatched use of sporadic guitar and drum patterns, as well as with a tapping section that adds some melody to the song with an interesting vocal accompaniment. Though I feel Gojira conveys their individual strengths better on other songs, The Heaviest Matter of the Universe stands on its own as a great sample of their different sounds.
Now the album takes its turn towards the longer cuts, and it’s here where I think Gojira truly shine, allowing the songs more room to develop and stray from traditional song structure. Some of the intro sections may be protracted here, though I’m of the opinion they do well to build up tension for the eventual payoff when the song hits its main groove. The way Flying Whales builds from its chord arpeggios and grooving drum and bass into its driving main riff get me pumped for the latter half of this album every listen. The bridge brings the song back to some simple guitar chords before resolving once more with a sickeningly heavy riff including a pick scrape and growled vocals.
In the Wilderness sustains the the hefty riffing from the previous track, abundant with triplets, tremolo fills and growls before evolving into a grooving riff with screamed vocals. The song changes course midway through with a heavy one-two guitar, followed by a mirrored drum part, all the while supported by more tremolo picking from the lead guitar. One final, powerful chant is delivered, then repeated as we fade out over guitars that trade the spotlight from a low, palm-muted riff to a melody line that slides over the neck of the guitar.
While being one of the simpler songs on the album, I appreciate how straightforward World to Come is. Beginning with a single guitar that predominantly plays a single chord, the song quickly comes to life with layers of guitars and a drum track which once again plays neatly around the beat, instead of stringently adhering to it. When the song changes riffs we get some degree of closure from whoever’s perspective we were given in the vocals, along with some tasteful drum fills to close out the song. Albeit one of the more plain songs on From Mars to Sirius, I feel the album is much more diverse for including it, being one of the less-heavy songs on the album.
One of the outliers on the album, From Mars combines with To Sirius to form what would be the longest track on the album if they were not separate. A simple guitar and bass pattern is joined by an ominous, low, near-whispered vocal preformance, with drums not present until halfway through the song. The vocals take us on a story of self-discovery, and later on a physical journey through space to discover the truth of an older and wiser race. Complimented by the diverse riffs in To Sirius, the vocals also shift from clean to growled in the latter song, adding to the weight of the delivery of the guitar and vocals.
The final track, Global Warming has a unique take on its guitar leads, using a harmonized tapping lick throughout the songs verses with clean vocals that are content to ride the wave of the guitars rather than soar over them. It wouldn’t be a Gojira song unless one of the riffs tries to trample you, and they bring out the big guns one last time, accompanied by a scorching message growled through the vocals. One last power chord brings the track back to its tapping lick, and a hopeful message plays until the end of the album.
While Gojira may have trimmed off the excess on their later efforts, From Mars to Sirius will remain a favourite of mine due to its brilliant blend of heavy, groovy riffs, machine-like drumming, and powerful vocal preformances. Much of the material on this album stands on its own, but together the tracks are enhanced to display Gojira’s full potential. For myself, the album is diverse enough to make repeat listens enjoyable, while remaining familiar to anticipate all of my favourite moments. Where on later albums production seems to have developed into a more orderly sound, the unadulterated blend of thrash and death metal Gojira offered on From Mars to Sirius will forever be one of my choice metal albums.
9.5 / 10
PS. -A note on ratings
Since much of the material I review here will be artists or albums I am already familiar with, I am like to examine music I have strong feelings towards. This being my favourite Gojira album, and one that I believe marked a turning point in their career, I chose to start here to give myself and others an idea of what I consider a near-perfect album. I don’t want to dispute what a “perfect” or “flawless” album means to others, however for albums that I do review so highly know that I am often taking circumstances and their other material into consideration.