Gojira: Death Metal From the Soul

© Strych9 Productions / Alex Morgan

© Strych9 Productions / Alex Morgan

By Jay H. Gorania

Back in the day, the pounding, clanging and grinding sounds of Birmingham, England’s ubiquitous industrial work provided a great wealth of inspiration for the thunderous sounds of metal’s forefathers in Black Sabbath and Judas Priest. Similarly, having grown up in the southwest of France in Bayonne, the members of Gojira are very familiar with the undeniable power of the Atlantic Ocean’s waves, and they’ve sought to emulate that power in a musical format. And with success, their dynamic and grooving, Morbid Angel-esque pummeling rises like a climbing wave before climatically crashing down.

“I know it sounds very cheesy, but its true,” says vocalist/guitarist Joe Duplantier. “We feel very close to the ocean. We grew up diving under big waves. I was in the ocean yesterday actually, and I really need it, and we all do in the band. When we get too far from the ocean, we don’t feel very good. We like the power of the sound itself.”

Growing up by the Pyrenees, the mountainous range serving as a natural border between France and Spain, jagged terrain and deep woods were also common surroundings in the Basque countryside where Joe spent his formative years playing metal—influenced in many ways by, again, Morbid Angel—with his brother Mario, the band’s drummer (they’re joined by guitarist Christian Andreu and bassist Jean Michel Labadie). With such natural wonders at their doorstep, it’s little surprise then that Gojira’s members are openly pro-environment.

“But we don’t want to focus only on that because first it’s music,” says Dupantier. “We play, like, death metal. It’s pretty industrial music and we mostly focus on …the soul, you know? That’s the main subject, the main topic, of our band. And most of the time people think that we’re like eco warriors just because we feel concerned, but to me it’s just being a regular human being to feel concerned about environmental issues.”

Though a few songs reflect Joe’s disgust with what he sees as humanity’s tendency for destruction and selfishness, the focal point of their most recent release, The Way of All Flesh, is the soul and the path it takes before and after death. With that, his lyrics inevitably tackle what everyone, regardless of creed or kind, will one day face. Death.

Death metal’s gruesome lyrical trappings are regularly dismissed as being comical, shallow or one dimensional, and with a sense of self-deprecation, Joe (who played bass on Cavalera Conspiracy’s debut) notes that his lyrics have progressed from the prototypical death metal format of Gojira’s early days. At the same time, he also believes there is value in the subgenre’s morbid obsession.

“I would say that when we were recording our first demos in like 1996, the atmosphere was of a regular death metal band, talking about bleeding and pain and torture – suffering. I think the death metal scene used these words because people in general suffer a lot, and there is a lot of pain and questions about life and death. I think the death metal people talk about this because it’s kind of taboo in our society.”

As time has passed, Joe’s lyrics have continued to carry forward similar concerns, yet he has freed himself from convention, spewing them forth now more as questions than declarations. “Why is there so much suffering on this planet, and why (do) we have wars and misunderstanding? The songs became more like, not so dark, but more like asking questions in a philosophical way. And then it turned into something more poetic. I like to put a lot of imagination in my lyrics, so it became more interesting to me, with a lot of strange images about journeys across the universe and stuff like that. I like to talk about things that are not certain, things that we don’t see or understand. I like to imagine what the universe is like on the other planets and stuff like that.”

But what about death, Joe? We are all gonna die!

“I don’t know if there’s a way to escape death, to avoid death, but it seems like we have to go through this,” he laughs. “So I’m asking the question: ‘What’s left after death, and what’s the after life like?’ I don’t think I’m only a body made of flesh and bones and blood. I feel like I’m a little bit more than that. And I believe that the soul is immortal,” Joe offers before pondering with a more agnostically inclined perspective. “I’m pretty sure that the soul is immortal. I don’t know why…that’s a strong belief that I have. I really believe that the soul is not dying.”

Walking to a hotel in Bordeaux—where the wine of the same name is from—following a rehearsal in preparation for their European and American tours, Joe continues to figuratively scratch his head and probe the subject philosophically. “For example, if I get hit by a car right now crossing the street, I cannot imagine that me is gone. Like, maybe my body doesn’t work any more…I’m not 100 percent sure, but it’s something that I feel. I’m talking mostly about how to get prepared to lose your body and go on to the next life or to the next whatever. In (“The Art of Dying”) I’m saying that I won’t bring anything material with me in the after life, in the next life, so I better get used to letting go and not trying to keep things with me. Just be by myself and not depend on anyone or anything or any kind of material thing.”

Even though Joe authors his own lyrics, does he really make the ultimate call as to what they mean? Let’s say, hypothetically, R. Kelly wrote a song called “My Little Buttercup.” Someone might think it is about candy, even though he might presumably be referring to…something else entirely. Once a song has left an artist’s hands, it takes on a life of its own. Almost like a conversation, once Joe’s lyrics are read and understood by others, does he subsequently take into account how they perceive them? And from his own perspective, has a new or modified meaning been negotiated as he sees his own words in a new light?

“That’s exactly what happens, and I’m learning about myself because it is true. The vision that the people have of a certain meaning of a certain song is true. It’s a certain reality, so it is very interesting to see that things are not that simple, that there are several levels. If you compose and record an album, then it’s not yours any more and people just adopt it and they understand it their own ways. I can remember listening to Metallica when I was in high school and other bands and (I’d) have certain images for a song or…I was part of the music. I was almost part of…the band, you know? So that’s what I like. Sharing different points of view with people that are into our music, because I consider they are a part of Gojira. The fans are part of the band in some way.”

http://www.myspace.com/gojira

Gorjira’s latest album The Way Of All Flesh is out now on Prosthetic Records. It was also announced yesterday that the band will be opening a number of shows on Metallica’s US tour this fall. Please check the band’s myspace for all confirmed dates.

Sean Palmerston

Sean is the founder/publisher of Hellbound.ca; he has also written about metal for Exclaim!, Metal Maniacs, Roadburn, Unrestrained! and Vice.