Although L’Enfant Sauvage is the fifth album by French metal band Gojira, it’s the first to be released in the U.S. with a French title. And not just any title, but one taken from François Truffaut’s 1970 film about a feral youth learning to become civilized—and just as importantly, learning to speak. The choice of title can’t be accidental. Not only is L’Enfant Sauvage relentlessly assured, it’s the group’s most articulate release to date, and that’s saying something. Up through Gojira’s last album, 2008’s The Way Of All Flesh, the quartet has been steadily honing its surgical yet never sterile implement—a style that bends death-metal technicality toward a more melodic, emotive purpose. L’Enfant Sauvage is even more severe. On opener “Explosia,” a shivering, hovering blur of blackened dread casts shadows over chiseled vocals; awash in drowned samples and choppy rhythms, singer-guitarist Joe Duplantier sounds like a man chewing up and spitting out the notion of his own mortality. There’s an industrial feel to the title track and “Planned Obsolescence,” both of which showcase the group’s increasingly mechanistic precision.
Greasing those wheels is Gojira’s taut songwriting and haunted atmosphere. Spacious without being delicate, songs such as the ambience-ventilated “Mouth Of Kala” and the hushed, creeping “Pain Is A Master” drip with a mixture of menace and sensitivity. Far from going soft, though, Gojira suffuses L’Enfant Sauvage with a refined, at times contemplative take on its signature catharsis and assault. And like its namesake, the album demonstrates that’s there’s still plenty of fuel left in the age-old conflict between the noble and the bestial—and between a whisper and a scream.