We went on the road with Gojira for their biggest French show ever, and it was mindblowingly good

Gojira live on stage in Paris
(Image credit: Future)


That’s the melody 16,000 people are yelling in unison inside Paris’s Accor Arena. It’s as enthusiastic and awe-inspiring as the mass chanting at a football game, yet it’s the sound of a death metal crowd. Gojira have just finished their biggest-ever indoor show, on their first-ever headline arena tour, and they’re standing onstage as a home crowd serenade them with the wordless hook of meditative song The Chant. They are speechless. Frontman Joe Duplantier is near tears.

Tonight is both well earned and long anticipated. The band have been working their way up metal’s ranks since 1996, and announced this arena run in 2021, off the back of that year’s beloved Fortitude album. Then Covid restrictions got in the way, meaning they had to push it back a year. Some bands would have been pissed-off about a situation like this. Not Gojira. When we chat to Joe and his little brother, drummer Mario, backstage before the show, they claim they were unfazed.

“Covid was a worldwide situation,” Mario says, “so I can’t really complain about it. You have to observe what’s going on and not be an egotistical, selfish person saying, ‘I want to play my fucking show!’ We were super-chill during this moment.”

We believe him. After all, Joe and Mario are hours away from the biggest gig of their lives, and they’re chill as fuck. If there are any nerves or giddiness, they’re buried deep.

“Our attitude, from the very beginning, has been: ‘OK, we’re a death metal band from a little town, but technically a show this big is possible’,” Joe explains calmly. “We were always conscious of the fact that a mental attitude can either stop you from something or push you towards what you really want. When you project what you want out there into the world, you make it possible.”

Gojira chatting on stage before the show

(Image credit: Future)

It’s 1pm on show day – February 25, 2023 – when Hammer arrives at Paris’s Accor Arena. The venue has hosted some of the biggest stars on the planet – Madonna’s played here 21 times, Rammstein recorded their Rammstein: Paris live album/film here in 2012, and Snoop Dogg and Robbie Williams will appear later this year. It’s also an eyesore. Outlining the top of the venue, which stands on the northern bank of the Seine, are big, blue, metal beams that resemble scaffolding. Underneath, the sloping walls are covered in grass. It all gives the impression that the Earth is midway through swallowing a construction site.

What we see inside is far cooler: Gojira are doing their soundcheck. Joe might be casually dressed in baggy black trackies and a baseball cap, but the band sound slick, professional and monumental while tearing through Stranded, Our Time Is Now, The Chant and Born For One Thing.

It’s good that Gojira are on top form, because this place is fucking huge. The Accor Arena will host the basketball at next year’s Summer Olympics: the floor’s big enough for a full-size court, and will be surrounded by 15,000 seats that stretch into the heavens. The configuration’s slightly different today, as the stage cuts off the seats right behind it, but there will still be a 16,000-strong crowd.

After soundcheck, Hammer is guided to our own personal dressing room. Seriously. After walking through two storeys’ worth of bright, endless corridors backstage, we arrive at a door with a sign above it, emblazoned with the words ‘METAL HAMMER ROOM’. Down the hallway, the members of Gojira each have a dressing room of their own.

Inside ours, there’s a sofa, a table laden with free drinks, and a wall-mounted widescreen TV with a live feed of the venue. Joe and Mario soon come in, and we talk about how the tour’s been going. Three days ago, Gojira played to 10,000 rapt fans at London’s Alexandra Palace. Last night’s show was even more special, though, because it was in Bordeaux – the city nearest to their hometown of Ondres, in southwestern France. More than 60 of the Duplantier brothers’ relatives showed up, including Mario’s daughter. Tonight, his wife will be watching.

“There are millions of Duplantiers!” Mario laughs. “My dad [French sketch artist Dominique Duplantier] has eight brothers and sisters.” “Our grandmother got a medal from the French government after the war for having so many children,” Joe adds. “No joke!”

The pair agree that their family prepared them for serious success. Their mum, Patricia Rosa, was an American yoga teacher who brought them up with the outlook that anything is possible, while Dominique favoured sheer effort over blind faith and worked 12-hour days. That mix of influences led the brothers to aim high, but grind in order to get there.

Gojira – or Godzilla, as they were known until 2001 – played their first show in the summer of 1996 at a village fête in Tartas, France. Thirty of the Duplantiers’ metalhead friends showed up and moshed the evening away. “Half the set was Sepultura covers,” Joe says. “But we felt like we were Metallica!”

Three years later, they embarked on their first tour, in France, supporting Norwegian black metallers Immortal, during their At The Heart Of Winter shows. “We slept in the van with a baseball bat to protect the gear while Immortal were sharing the one hotel room,” Joe recalls, surprisingly fondly. Gojira’s first Paris headliner wouldn’t be until 2006, when they played the 1,380-capacity Élysée Montmartre.

The band are well beyond sleeping in vans nowadays, but not even this tour’s been faultless. Two weeks ago, a disgruntled concert-goer in Belfast tweeted a photo of Gojira’s merch prices, which include £40 for a t-shirt and £80 for a hoodie, causing a shitstorm online.

Joe reveals he didn’t find out how much the band were charging until he saw the fallout. “It’s out of our hands,” he says. “We signed a deal with Warner [Music, which owns Gojira’s label, Roadrunner Records] 13 years ago when we were still in France trying to make it and we were super- excited. It was a 360 deal, so it covers everything: the fan club, the YouTube channel, the tour.”

However, he admits, “The one thing we insisted on was sustainability. Our shirts are made in a slightly better manner than your average shirt and that has a price to it. That’s on us.”

We share a friendly goodbye, before the brothers dash off to prepare for their set. On our camera feed, we can see the doors have already opened, with thousands pouring into the Accor Arena.

When we catch up with Gojira’s opening act, British metalcore ragers Employed To Serve, they are revelling in the size of the venue. Standing in the corner of the band’s huge, bright dressing room, guitarist Sammy Urwin notes the entranceway alone is bigger than some of the backstage areas of other places they’ve played.

“Playing this many big shows in a row has helped me get over myself,” admits singer Justine Jones. “I used to be so awkward talking in between songs. Now, I’m getting used to talking to so many people. I’m learning, if you make a mistake, the chances are that most people won’t notice. Just move on.”

In the room next door, we meet the other support band, New Zealand groove metallers Alien Weaponry. Drummer Henry de Jong says the tour has also been a learning experience for his band.

“Gojira have this level of professionalism onstage where everything flows so smoothly,” he explains. “I feel like we’ve been picking up some of that, but not directly copying it: ‘Oh! That’s a way to transition from song to song!’”

Although Alien Weaponry are in their early 20s, they’ve long looked up to Gojira. “It was 2012 and a drummer from another band showed me [Gojira’s fifth album] L’Enfant Sauvage”, remembersHenry,who has a calf tattoof eaturing the artwork from 2008’s The Way Of All Flesh. “I was like, ‘Holy fuck! This just blew my mind!’”

Like Gojira, Alien Weaponry are a family affair: Henry co-founded the band with his younger brother, singer/guitarist Lewis. The bands also share common ideological ground. The New Zealanders often sing about their Māori heritage and historical or ongoing injustices. Similarly, on Fortitude, Gojira raised awareness about the problems affecting indigenous communities in Brazil. 

Gojira’s activism is one of their biggest draws. We head back into the arena and get talking to a fan called Damien, from Paris. “Gojira aren’t just brutal; they want to give
a clear message to new generations,” he reasons, wearing a t-shirt featuring the artwork of 2005’s From Mars To Sirius, an album about the rebirth of a dead planet. “There is no violence in their message. They’re important because they’re sending kindness through heavy metal.”

Gojira drinking champagne

(Image credit: Future)

Before the show, Hammer’s taken to the best spot in the house – a platform behind the sound desk. Employed To Serve command Paris to “Wake the fuck up!”, and heads bang to the downtuned riff of Sun Up To Sun Down. Alien Weaponry inspire even more movement, especially when Lewis demands to see the first crowdsurfers of the night. However, the response the headliners enjoy is something else.

Ahead of Gojira’s arrival, a 180-second countdown is projected onto two large screens, eliciting a cheer when it reaches ‘69’. Then the band rock up to a stage divided into three levels and break into Born For One Thing, the capacity crowd singing its clean chorus. During Stranded, there’s a burst of confetti, and euphoric audience members grab handfuls and toss it around – something they’ll do for the rest of the show.

At the onset of Flying Whales, bassist Jean-Michel Labadie leaps off the stage’s middle platform, the crowd matching his level of enthusiasm as they bounce. Guitarist Christian Andreu maintains the energy by leading a bout of fist-pumping during Grind. And then comes The Chant. Bloody hell. Its folk-pop melody is picked up by 16,000 people and maintained for the duration of every chorus, to the point that it overpowers Joe’s vocals. It’s an experience so powerful that the singer can’t help but bow at the song’s end.

After closer The Gift Of Guilt inspires five simultaneous crowdsurfers and Paris bids Gojira adieu with an unprompted reprise of The Chant, there’s an atmosphere of victory backstage. The bandmembers head to one of their dressing rooms, but their cheers of elation are so loud that we can hear them from our own. We see Mario again, one last time, in a guest room where champagne’s freely flowing, surrounded by dozens of friends and colleagues. Even the ex-manager who got Godzilla onto that Immortal tour is here.

Gojira reached new heights this evening. However, the drive instilled into the Duplantiers as children is demanding they keep pushing. Mario’s already planning album number eight. “My ideas are sounding a bit more busy than Fortitude,” he revealed to us earlier. “I’m really into dynamic tempos right now. That’s my thing.”

Meanwhile, Joe still doesn’t feel like their metal band from a little town in rural France has ‘made it’ yet and, true to his upbringing, he’s focused on the future. What is the band’s end goal? When will they reach it? What will happen after that? He doesn’t know.

“We have a crew so big that I don’t know some of the people’s names,” he says. “In that sense, we’ve made it. But I remember saying that 20 years ago, when we first headlined a proper venue in Paris. It’s up to us to define when we’ve made it – so all we will do is keep going.”

Originally published in Metal Hammer #373

Matt Mills
Contributing Editor, Metal Hammer

Louder’s resident Gojira obsessive was still at uni when he joined the team in 2017. Since then, Matt’s become a regular in Prog and Metal Hammer, at his happiest when interviewing the most forward-thinking artists heavy music can muster. He’s got bylines in The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Guitar and many others, too. When he’s not writing, you’ll probably find him skydiving, scuba diving or coasteering.