One of the bigger shocks of metal’s last few years, Gojira’s sudden rise to prominence was remarkable for several reasons. Firstly, they are a French band that virtually no one with a modicum of sense has decried as a load of cack-handed bollocks.
Secondly, despite the occasional nod towards one or two arcane influences, they have a sound that we haven’t heard a thousand times before. Finally, in stark contrast to the vast majority of bands currently vying for our attention, they actually have something intelligent to say. Add all that up and the result is a combination that has steadily become irresistible over the last two years, during which Gojira have risen from their obscure origins to their current status as one of the hottest metal bands on the planet.
What’s even more satisfying is that the UK got the message first, embracing the band as they made their first steps beyond home borders and beating the rest of the world to it. As a result, Gojira love the UK and they’re about to return, bringing their full, mind-shattering headlining show with them for an extensive tour.
After two years of travelling the globe, causing jaws to hit the floor from here to Los Angeles and beyond, France’s greatest ever metal band are stepping up a gear and we’re going to be the first to see and hear them at full throttle. Given the French metal scene’s almost total lack of success over preceding decades, it’s a phenomenon and a thrill quite without precedent…
“It’d sound very cool to say that we were surprised and that everything that’s happened is blowing our minds,” mild-mannered frontman Joe tells Hammer.
“But I think we knew that something would happen one day because we were so dedicated from the beginning. We had a strong feeling that it was possible that we would cross borders. We weren’t expecting anything. It was just a feeling. It’s logical to us now, but it’s still exciting and very challenging. We feel that this should be happening, you know?”
Speak to any Gojira fan or any of the bands that have had the pleasure of touring with them over the last two intense years, and there’s a good chance that some reference will be made to the self-evident truth that there is simply something different about this band. Listen to any of their albums, from the brutish left-field baby steps of 2001’s Terra Incognita to the ingenious, genre-shattering sprawl of last year’s _The _Way Of All Flesh, and it’s hard to ignore the feeling that Gojira’s music comes from another dimension entirely. A far cry from the adolescent rage and party-hard spirit that have driven metal throughout its 40-year history, the Frenchmen’s sound resonates on some unearthly level that really seems to move people.
“That’s so cool that people think that,” says Joe. “That’s what I feel too, even though I’m part of the band. When we compose the songs we’re excited because we don’t know where this sound comes from. I like to talk about that in the songs themselves. In From The Sky, for example, I talk about a trance or some mythical force that comes from the essence of things and from the universe. It’s a feeling that everyone can have. You and I can feel that, you know? The mysteries of life are very inspiring and interesting and strong, and that’s what we like to put into our music, things that we can’t explain.”
A lot of Gojira’s inherent otherness must surely stem from the fact that they hail from the quiet coastal city Of Bayonne in southern France; a small whirlpool of human activity dwarfed and humbled by surrounding forest and ocean. It’s from there that the band gained their well-documented fascination and respect for the great outdoors and the planet’s robust but threatened eco-structure; matters that dominate their lyrics, artwork and overall outlook.
Unlike most of the people they’ve toured with, Gojira seem to exude maturity and calm, both as individuals and as musicians, rather than the frantic urgency that typifies most young band’s behaviour when they first start hitting the road in earnest. In that sense, are Joe and his bandmates better equipped to deal with the trials and temptations of the touring life than many of their contemporaries?
“I do know what you mean,” he says. “I guess we needed more concentration and strength to cope with being on tour because we come from the countryside. Maybe it makes us stronger because we had to create our own ideas to get there at all. I have always liked the notion of survival, when you’re in nature. My parents’ house is in the middle of a forest, so when I was a child I’d play in the forest a lot and pretend I was an Indian, a Native American, living in nature and living off the land. So I had this idea of surviving on my own and that if you want to achieve something, you can do it yourself. You do what you have to do. I think we all have that in common in the band.”
The survival instinct: essential for a life spent travelling the world, surrounded by drunken idiots. Another unusual thing about Gojira is that they’re fairly clean-living guys. It’s not something they make a big song and dance about – they don’t claim to be straight edge and you’ll never catch them criticising anyone else for dipping a toe into self-destruction’s murky pond – but it clearly marks them out as something of a clear-headed anomaly in the metal world. Although old and wise enough not be unprepared for what awaited them on the road, is it safe to say that the prospect of being trapped on a bus for months at a time amid a constant booze-fuelled party was a somewhat daunting prospect?
“We were more excited than afraid!” laughs Joe. “It was a big change for us, coming from this quiet area in France, but it was very exciting to be confronted with the world and big, famous bands and scary people and noise and drugs and everything else. It’s fun! We don’t do drugs, but it’s good to be confronted with these things, and all the different people and cities and ways of life. Everyone is different and has different stories. Being on tour is a lot more than just going on tour. It’s about people. We feel enriched because of that, because of all the different encounters.”
Having seen so much more of the world than he ever thought possible when he began to write riffs with his brother in a dingy rehearsal space in Bayonne a few years ago, Joe Duplantier could be forgiven for having lost some of his love for his fellow man. Impending environmental catastrophe, the global financial crash and ongoing conflicts in many parts of the world all seem to point towards a gloomy future for mankind and the planet, and yet even though The Way Of All Flesh was an album that dwelled heavily on notions of death and destruction, its author refuses to join the chorus of doom.
“We’re going through a very dark age and there’s a lot of destruction and death in the world right now, but at the same time there’s a lot of hope and people doing good things,” he states. “It’s hard to see the good things in the middle of the chaos, but I try to see the good things in myself and I try to feel the good aspirations and inspirations and the creative part of my soul, which is really alive. Human beings are very powerful and they have good things in their souls. I choose to be an optimist. It’s the only choice I can make.”
Even if it’s nothing else, heavy metal is entertainment. It’s designed to put a smile on people’s faces and to make the world a better place for those of us who buy into its liberating noise and inspirational intensity. For Gojira, and hopefully for many other bands and fans too, it’s worth daring to dream that there’s a little more to it than that.
And in a year like 2009, when the shit seems likely to hit the fan over and over again until we’re all battered and bruised by life and its challenges, the music that brightens the darkest of days takes on an almost spiritual significance and if any band can harness its life-affirming power, it’s these modest, unassuming men from across the Channel. You can catch Gojira when they hit the UK for their first proper headlining tour next month. Whatever happens, it’s going to be a bit special.
“All I can see is that we play with our hearts and from the gut,” says Joe. “I know that every band can say that, but we feel we always give 100 per cent on stage and we dedicate our lives to this and we give all our care and attention to it. Somehow we gain something extra from that, and people can feel it too and they show their interest and give us a lot of respect. There is something weird going on, I know. I don’t know what it is, but we love being part of it.”
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For more on the forthcoming Gojira album that the band hinted at in the Metal Magazine Show interview then click the link below.