For all the acclaim it's garnered, it's tough to immediately pin down exactly what's great about GOJIRA's long-awaited new album. For that matter, it's hard at first to even tell what they're trying to do – the first spin of "A Sight to Behold", with its bouncy groove, electronic bass line and robotized vocals, is downright baffling. The pacing of the entire record is weird, too, very lurching and first-gear, with rare, late and tantalizing glimpses of dynamic tempos (it's not until "Yama's Messengers" that we get a blast beat, by which point the record has plodded along at a brooding, inexorable grind for quite some time). This is the followup to the universally acclaimed "From Mars to Sirius"?
After a few listens, and once you get into the dark heart of "The Way of All Flesh", it really hits you. GOJIRA has reacted to their rising international profile by, if anything, turning their back on everyone and becoming an even bleaker, more feral and red-eyed beast, melding the precision steel equations of MESHUGGAH and the cold kineticism of prime FEAR FACTORY with an organic, shambling, teeth-grinding intensity usually reserved for GODFLESH albums and thirty-six hour espresso-and-pill binges. It's not really difficult or inaccessible in the usual ways — though the band has technical chops to spare, their penchant for groove usually wins out. No, it's more opaque than anything — oppressive and suffocating in its world-enveloping tone, massive and clanking in rhythm, giving up its dynamic secrets only after hard, painful slogs through the frozen mire of its glowering groan.
But once you've broken through, it's quite a new landscape these madmen have blasted out of the tundra for the rest of us. Weird, angular, possessed of a hulking gravity even when they're fast, and oddly expressive even at their most singularly deathly, GOJIRA give off twisted and charred melodies even in the damaged tunefulness of their vocals and their most staccato riffing. It's a singular sound, and not one designed for mass appeal (though they do, amazingly, seem to have caught on — score one for following your own whacked-out Muse at all costs). And man, it sprawls — even once you're fully immersed in the GOJIRA experience, the whole album drags a bit here and there, a victim of its own overdriven sound and glacial pacing. It's not a record for casual here-and-there tasting, and it'll probably kill your buzz completely in a random shuffle of songs, but it rewards full attention and the time devoted to a start-to-finish perusal. It's that rarity in the post-Internet age — an unrepentant, start-to-finish album, a chunk of art that doesn't lend itself to quick bites or immediacy.
"The Way of All Flesh" is a crawl through a murky swamp of sound, one littered with bits and pieces that will mightily please fans of anyone from VOIVOD to MASTODON to MESHUGGAH to NEUROSIS. But ultimately, GOJIRA are their own weird beast, shedding (or utterly mutating) their formative influences as they progress down a difficult and uncompromising path. Fortunately, the odder and more discordant they get, the more compelling they become — GOJIRA has evolved into one of the most innovative, interesting, and important bands in metal, and "The Way of All Flesh" is a wretched excess of their tar-bomb vibe.