Heavy Sounds, Heady Philosophy
~ French prog-metal outfit Gojira transcribes
the Tibetan Book of the Dead ~
The well-worn Old Testament phrase “All flesh is grass” is a terrifyingly factual statement about the transitory nature of human existence. French prog-rock musician Joe Duplantier echoes the adage in the title of his band Gojira’s latest album, The Way of All Flesh, tapping into the universal themes of death and rebirth to develop his unique brand of highly technical yet deeply spiritual heavy metal. Together with his brother, percussionist Mario Duplantier, Joe (vocals and guitar) formed the band that would eventually become Gojira in 1996 in Bayonne, France. Assisted by the combined talents of bassist Jean-Michel Labadie and guitarist Christian Andeu, the Duplantier brothers conceived of the next logical stage in the evolution of heavy music.
“As time goes on, we definitely write music that is more personal to us,” Joe says. “I believe that the more honest you are in your intention, the more original the final product will [be]. The process of recording The Way of All Flesh was a bit of a departure for us, because it was solely composed by Mario and myself…. We shared the same strange mood. We held onto the energy from playing live and were still in that state of mind when we entered the studio. It’s true — once we started to express ourselves musically we didn’t need to talk.”
Intuitively integrating the aggressive rhythms of traditional heavy metal, the prosthetic magnitude of industrial metal and the fantastical reverie of the progressive rock genre, Gojira reaps the full benefit of the boundless horizons they’ve created. Traversing moods and time signatures with an uncanny facility, the energetic quartet alternates between grooving and thrashing until the two become indistinguishable. Duplantier’s vocals range from hellish growls to clean-cut hardcore shouts as he verbally navigates our mortal coil.
Though they’re accustomed to comparisons to tourmates such as Cannibal Corpse, Children of Bodom, Amon Amarth, Sanctity, Trivium, Behemoth, Machine Head and Lamb of God, Joe and company still manage to distinguish themselves from the rising tide of heavy hitters. Tapping into the wisdom of ancient religions, Buddhism in particular, Gojira draw the inspiration for their music and artwork from hallowed tomes like the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Weaving together the wisdom of the ancients with their own personal mythologies, these avant-garde headbangers effectively put the New Age into new metal.
“I’m very interested in all kinds of myths and religions,” Joe explains. “I have a very strong attraction to Tibetan culture, because they are naturally so spiritual. I don’t practise Buddhism, but I feel from my experiences that we hold certain truths in common. I think that death is the last societal taboo because we fear what might happen, probably because we don’t know. I don’t consider discussing the topic of death to be morbid, sad or scary — it’s just something we have to experience. I’m mainly concerned with the immortality of the soul. The Tibetan people talk about this all the time, it was a concept that was understood by the Mayans and the Egyptians, yet modern cultures seem to have lost this knowledge.”
Understanding our connection to nature is also important to Gojira. Exploring such heady topics might seem like career suicide in a genre defined by its intensity, but for Joe, it’s all part of the performance.
“Our music is a mix between increased consciousness and following your instincts,” he says. “It cannot be just one or the other. You cannot separate the human and the animal. Still, we all have some divine spark within us. I like to see what’s sacred; the deeper meaning that exists on several levels at once. When we perform for an audience, our goal is to really re-create that energy and communicate another dimension of experience.”
- In Flames performs with All That Remains, Gojira & 36 Crazyfists on November 14th.
Originally published November 13, 2008 in FastForward Magazine.