French bands are weird. There’s just no getting around that. However, sometimes they just hit the nail on the head and create something truly wonderful, like Gojira’s L’Enfant Sauvage, Daft Punk’s Discovery, and today’s subject, Magoa’s Topsy Turvydom.
There’s no denying that metal is paradoxically the most varied genre in music, but all those sub-genres rarely, if ever, branch out from their clearly defined borders. Magoa are bucking that trend. Coming from out of nowhere off the back of 2012’s Animal EP, they’ve constructed a wildly varied yet cohesive debut album that runs the gauntlet from thrash, djent, rap, hard rock and power metal, all of which is nicely wrapped up in a neat little package grounded in the firm foundation of metalcore, and even that’s been given a surprisingly welcome nu-metal bounce and occasional electronic and symphonic elements.
Opener “Ailleurs” is a six-minute behemoth that opens with the mandatory dramatic intro that quickly builds to a sudden bass drop before kicking into one of the best breakdowns in years. The track continues to ebb and flow from ‘gang’ vocals (that term doesn’t do it justice, but neither does choir) shouting the title track to crushing heaviness intertwined brilliantly with entrancing melody. It’s just exquisite song structure, and this continues into the next two songs, “Wall of the Damned” and “Max Bet”, which showcase both frontman Cyd Chassagne’s unbelievable vocal range and the band’s ability to seamlessly transition between tech metal and straight-up hard rock.
Then “Betraying Grace” starts and it’s clear why they chose this as the lead single. It’s easily the most accessible song on the record, with sing-alongs, tasty riffs and breakdowns and that building snare drum intro is enough to send shivers down even the most cynical metal fan. The rest of the record continues this high standard, with huge riffs, dubstep, clean singing and rapping featuring prominently on “Broken Record”, tech metal breakdowns intertwined brilliantly with melodic riffs adding extra weight to the venomous hatred of “Estamos Locos”, and the biggest surprise on the album, the irresistibly pop-rock song “Party Time”. Well, okay, it’s not pop-rock, but if you tuned the guitars a bit higher and gave Chassagne a girl’s voice, it’d be a mega hit.
There is genuinely no weak song on this album. Every song has a genuine strength in its own right. The band has obviously crafted this thing with the same attention to detail that Michelangelo paid to David or the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. If Topsy Turvydom has a weakness, it’s that its cover art doesn’t do it any favours. It’s a man with a lion’s head posed in cruciform with blood leaking from each hand, while a bunch of ravens fly past in the background, most of which is occupied by a pyramid covered in Illuminati iconography. Essentially, the people who will buy this album are the insane black metal fans who only like a band if there’s at least three sacrifices per drum solo, and they won’t like it because it’s not that at all. The people who would like this album will see the cover art and go “Hah, no. I’d rather step hard on a piece of Lego.”
So basically, if you like metal with a huge amount of variety and aren’t afraid to be surprised, I implore you, listen to Magoa’s Topsy Turvydom. It’s a brilliant hidden jewel that deserves to have its name shouted from every rooftop. It’s a crime that bands like Capture the Crown and Blood on the Dance Floor can achieve the kind of success that they have and Magoa not be afforded the same dignity. Don’t worry, though. I have a feeling we’ll all be hearing a lot more from these guys very, very soon.