[20 July 2012]
Gojira are currently considered the alpha and omega of Gallic metal—a French phoenix that arose from their home shores to spread their socially aware lyrical message and menacing musicianship worldwide. If you were to believe popular mainstream metal publications and fans you would be led to think that Gojira were, and are, the only French metal band in the history of the world to ever exist. In fact, the French metal scene is a veritable breeding ground for all genres of extreme metal spanning inverted, occult black metal (Deathspell Omega, Arkhon Infaustus), jack-hammering, progressive death metal (Gorod, Hacride) and beyond to the idealistic world created by Neige and his Alcest project.
For those who have more than scratched the surface of the French underground, it is clear that there is some straight-up misinformation found in championing Gojira as the sole-trader of metal in France, and this high level of hype surrounding Gojira has undoubtedly assisted their career and in many respects, has been deservedly placed upon them. In no way can Gojira be accused of being “flavour of the month”, nor have they been elevated to esteemed levels of adoration inconsistent with their output. This band has summoned media attention on the back of the years of refining their musical and lyrical stand-point, subsequently gaining many fans along the way.
The bond that exists between this tight knit group, consisting of two brothers—Joe Duplantier (guitars/vocal) and Mario Duplantier (drums), and their long time friends Christian Andreu (guitars) and Jean Michel Labadie (bass)—seems almost spiritual in nature. Their career so far has been on a steady incline, and through hard work, strength of mind and an innate understanding of each other’s limitations, Gojira now have their name ushered alongside genre giants Morbid Angel, Fear Factory and Meshuggah. The mention of these three particular bands is no coincidence, as Gojira’s overall sound can bring to mind each of these pioneering bands, sometimes all in the space of one overflowing movement.
Gojira’s career began as a whisper before turning into the whirlwind they have now become. Forming in Bayonne, France in 1996, Gojira, then named Godzilla (the band had to change their name under threat of legal proceedings), released a number of demos before full-length debut Terra Incognita came out to little or no response outside their homeland. The same could be said for second album The Link. However, the core basis of Gojira’s sound was forged on these two releases, with the latter gaining more attention due to a refinement in the song-writing. It was only when third album, From Mars to Sirius, landed with the impact of a pod of flying whales, that the worldwide audience took notice of the progressive sounds emanating from the Basque region of France. Highly regarded upon its release, From Mars to Sirius melded together the progressive flair of Devin Townsend and the juddering syncopations of a death metal-minded Meshuggah, on top of which Joe Duplianter screamed himself hoarse without crossing the line into preaching the band’s holistic, eco-conservational lyrical slant, which was totally at odds with the aggression of the music. Consequentially, Gojira was coined the future of metal and The Way of All Flesh (the album that followed) gave critics and fans alike the opportunity to wax lyrical about how Gojira have the ability to stretch perceptions and define what a progressive metal band should be in the 21st Century. Such hyperbolic statements were, in turn, given significant weight once the band signed to legendary metal label Roadrunner and were chosen to support Metallica.
L’Enfant Sauvant or The Wild Child for the non-French speakers, is Gojira’s debut album on Roadrunner—who have recently been acquired and emasculated by the parasitic Warner Music Group—and provides Joe Duplantier the opportunity to gaze inwards and explore rhetorical lyrical themes such as the true meaning of freedom, an obvious change from the past social commentary on how the world is collapsing around us because of our own hands. Ironically, the aptly titled “Explosia” could rip a greater hole in the O-Zone layer. Its unusual pick scraping intro-riff turns into a surging tempo-shift that links each instrument to one rhythmic spine, before revealing an ascending blanket of tremolo-picked guitars and ending on a cold, repetitive industrial groove. Meanwhile “L’Enfant Sauvage” and “The Mouth of Kala” show Gojira at the height of their powers, intensely violating the listener with mind-bending, polyrhythmic grooves that never outstay their welcome and enough riff variations during the verses to allow the songs the chance to breathe.
Drummer Mario Duplantier is Gojira’s secret weapon and his fluid transitions between frightening blasts—best heard on “Planned Obsolescence”—complex double bass pattern and tasty accented grooves makes each twist and turn twice as lethal. “The Axe” and “Liquid Fire” work in this manner, with some interesting approaches taken to riff construction, rotating between Behemoth-like heaviosity, curious guitar harmonics and the expansive passages of post metal. “Liquid Fire” also noteably contains a breathtaking section of descending riffs that continue to free fall before suddenly turning skyward, and this track sees Joe Duplantier re-introducing vocoded vocals during the verses and making it work to greater effect than it did on The Way of All Flesh. The vocals overall are probably the least exhilarating aspect of Gojira’s sound. Even though Joe Duplantier’s passion clearly comes from somewhere tangible and his scream holds definite power, it can be quite monochromatic in parts, with little vocal variation found throughout the majority of tracks. Duplantier seems to be aware of his vocal limitations and during the meditative sections of “Born in Winter” he explores the use of hushed, clean tones, something that may creep into Gojira’s sound in the future.
L’Enfant Sauvant as a whole does nothing to push Gojira’s highly evolved sound any further, and their heroic ascent may have reached a plateau. However, progression is clearly not the band’s objective here and this album should not be prejudiced because of this. Gojira’s next release may require the band to take some extra risks to remain relevant, but for now, this album presents a commanding collection of songs which solidify everything Gojira achieved on The Way of All Flesh; resulting in another thunderstorm of oppressive technicality from one of progressive metal’s leading lights. C’est Incroyable!