The video for Amazonia, a single that preceded, and became part of, a new album by the French metal band Gojira, focuses on the tribes living in the forests along the mighty Amazon river—these have for long faced exploitation: forced labour, violence and land loss owing to deforestation. Directed by Charles De Meyer, the Belgian film-maker who has collaborated frequently with the band, the video—partly shot in Brazil—is part of the band’s Amazonia fund-raising initiative. Proceeds from sales of the single and other merchandise, including memorabilia, will go to the non-profit Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (AIPB).
Gojira, formed in 1996, are not your garden variety metal band. Originally from the French Basque region, the core of the band is two brothers, guitarist and vocalist Joe Duplantier, 44, and drummer Mario Duplantier, 39. And while their music incorporates a wide range of metal’s subgenres, their lyrical themes are often about issues such as climate change, ocean pollution and deforestation. At other times, their lyrics are deeply philosophical, themed on death and the celebration of life. The band often collaborates with Sea Shepherd, the marine conservation society, and is deeply committed to the protection of marine flora and fauna, particularly whales, dolphins and sharks. The word Gojira, as it happens, is a sort of Japanese portmanteau of gorira (gorilla) and kujira (whale)—it’s the original Japanese name for Godzilla.
Hard-core metal fans wait eagerly for their albums and the band’s rise, from a relatively obscure French underground band in 1996 to heavy metal stardom, has been phenomenal. Last week, Gojira released their seventh studio album, Fortitude, after a five-year gap. It is one of their most accessible albums. For a taste, play The Chant. The chorus and the lyrics are so un-metal-like that even the staunchest sceptics of the genre may find it appealing. It’s a lifter-upper of a song, rare for a band that dives into doom metal as a matter of habit, and the lyrics, cleanly sung, go: You were told to swallow, crawl, and hide/ Victims of fear and deception/ Get a hold of yourself, rise above/ A better part of you, immortal. And the lead guitar riff when it comes in is distinctively bluesy.
Make no mistake, though. It’s not that Gojira are wimpish proponents of metal. You will find every element of purebred metal genres in their music. Their music has it all: death metal’s extreme distortions; groove metal’s harsh screams; thrash metal’s aggressively defiant guitar shredding; and progressive metal’s open fusion with more classical hard rock sounds. But Gojira take all these subgenres and make their own tightly produced music. Mario Duplantier’s drumming has math-like precision while being highly innovative—the drums are a USP. Then there are Joe Duplantier’s lyrics and singing style, which varies from metal’s screams, growls and shrieks to surprisingly (for metal) cleanly sung vocals.
But what really sets Gojira apart is their strong commitment to the environment. Growing up in Ondres, on the south-west coast of France, the Duplantiers witnessed oil spills and marine degradation. In some early songs, such as Toxic Garbage Island (from 2008’s The Way Of All Flesh), they touch on the theme specifically: Take this pestilent destruction out of my way/ The great Pacific garbage patch is exhausted/ And the world is sliding away in a vortex of refuse/ With the sacred one you have lost. In another song, Global Warming (from 2005’s From Mars To Sirius), the lyrics go: A world is down, and none can rebuild it/ Disabled lands are evolving/ My eyes are shut, a vision is dying/ My head explodes, and I fall in disgrace.
Gojira have evolved over the years. On their fifth studio album, L’Enfant Sauvage (The Wild Child), the lyrics of the title track, inspired by a François Truffaut film of the same name, are about trying to be accepted by a society that appears absurd (So long I’ve been trying to match/ It doesn’t work, I’m trying, I don’t know/ The aberration of this world I tried to deal with/ It killed a part of me that was raging).
Gojira are often labelled an “avant-metal” band. But however you want to classify them, they are quite likely one of the most literate outfits in rock’s heaviest, noisiest and most anarchic genre. When they launched their campaign for Brazil’s indigenous tribes, Joe Duplantier said in a press release: “This is a call for Unity. The music community can be powerful when united towards something meaningful like this! So many friends, great artists, bands have joined the movement without hesitation by donating instruments. This is a collective effort from so many people around us!” Gojira are a metal band with a cause.
The Lounge List
Five tracks by Gojira to bookend your week
1. ‘The Chant’ from ‘Fortitude’
2. ‘Amazonia’ from ‘Fortitude’
3. ‘Stranded’ from ‘Magma’
4. ‘L’Enfant Sauvage’ from ‘L’Enfant Sauvage’
5. ‘Born For One Thing’ from ‘Fortitude’
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