Joe Duplantier is as equally apologetic as I am when I call him from an unoccupied massage room in a yoga studio in Toronto. He and the members of Gojira – including his drummer brother Mario Duplantier, lead guitarist Christian Andreu, and bassist Jean-Michel Labadie – were on tour. Our backdrop was calm and silent while his was loud and chaotic. Often, we struggled to translate due to a combination of this sound and differing mother tongues.
Regardless of the bedlam, when Duplantier speaks there is a poetry and fluidity to his words that is congruent with the precise and technical – groovy and utterly beautiful – sounds created by Gojira. Yes, they make death metal, but this is a different breed in the often gore-obsessed genre. On their fifth full-length – the June release, L’Enfant Sauvage – the band fixated on how the self struggles in a flailing, oppressive, postmodern society.
“L’Enfant Sauvage would be a wild child, it would be a child that grew up in the completely natural environment, like in the forest for example. Raised by wolves. There is a myth of the l’enfant child, the feral child… and this title is really about us, how we are, how we feel in our society,” explains Duplantier. “As musicians, as individuals, and also as a band… it is kind of a description of what we are. We feel like we don’t match with institutions and codes and religions and all that you know? It’s something I think that all metalheads have.”
Lyrics aside, the record features several Gojira standards: guttural yet decipherable vocals with well-timed and chilling robotic effects, frequent fret slides, crunchy riffs, jazzy cymbal laden percussion, segueing instrumental tracks, and pristine production. Though some fans decry the lack of evolution in the band after the release of 2005’s From Mars to Sirius, others prop them up as a model for consistency.
“We have one way to imagine our sound,” says Duplantier. “We always try to get the cleanest sound that is possible, to understand the guitars, to understand the bass, and we try to get all of these elements separated but really together.”
Gojira has endured criticism in the past for this pristine production, which renders every track crystal clear. Some critics interpreted the music as unreachable and over processed and, certainly, if you favour metal that sounds recorded through your younger sibling’s Tuff Stuff, you’ll probably equally screech fowl. Others celebrate the band’s propensity for skillful genre hybridization and consistency. With the benefit of hindsight – and 16 years together as a band – the only thing that all can agree on is the band appears content with their “extreme” sound and is branching into quieter territory. Track 10 from L’Enfant Sauvage is one such example: “Born in Winter” opens with a slow tempo, clean vocals and atmospheric guitar layering that is deceptively gentle. The instrumentation and vocals eventually burst into howling action.
“I used a voice that I really like,” says Duplantier of the track. “I like to sing, I really like that, and sometimes I try to sing in the music, but it never really works: after five minutes I find myself screaming like a pig. It seems like I still have a lot of screaming to get rid of.”
Inspiring said screaming are themes surrounding ecological destruction and self-reflection. From Mars to Sirius (2005), The Way of All Flesh (2008) and their most recent are fixated on these.
“It’s not really a concept, it’s what we are. We care, we are anxious about things, we care about what humanity is going to become, where we are going and what we are doing as humanity,” explains Duplantier. “As I get older, I get more distance and try to be more relaxed and not so pissed off about things, and accept humans as they are and accept myself. So, it’s interesting. This reflection revolves in the music of course because we try to be ourselves when we make songs; we try to be as honest as possible.”
I sense an opportunity and jump at the chance to ask about a lyric that might help tie all this together: the new-age notions, the introspection, the green positive slant, the battering anger juxtaposed against lush atmospheric tones. The lyric in question: “We are all born from the burst of a star.”
Is this a song about evolution?
“Yes, yeah, yeah. There are several ways to understand the song, and some of the things are very, very personal, but I always try to make it as open as possible in the lyrics so everybody can find his own meaning. But, definitely, it’s a song about evolution and hope that even if you’re born in the heart of winter, there will be better times and there will be summer,” concurs Duplantier.
If metal identifies with any religious identification, it’s atheism (or Satanism, but that connection is dubious at best). I ask if Gojira identifies with the first camp.
“I am not sure how to understand. Without any religion?”
I confirm his interpretation.
“Yeah, yeah, it’s safe to say that, absolutely. But we see magic everywhere and, personally, as a person, I see a deeper meaning in everything and I consider myself in touch with the spiritual aspects of things. I believe in love. I believe in respect. I think there are good things, good energies, and destructive energies, and both are necessary, so what’s good, what’s bad, I am not sure.”
Duplantier’s candid manner of speaking seems fitting, as this is the same man whose fronted a band whose lineup has remained unchanged for 16 years, who made perhaps the best non-cheesy metal song involving a dragon (“Where Dragons Dwell”) and whose music is among the tiny percentile of metal to feature whale sounds other than that of Grand Magus. Simultaneously, the music is also crushing, ball-stompingly heavy metal that we’ve witnessed turn a room into an unrelenting bloody mosh pit, And that duality works just fine for Duplantier.
“L’Enfant Sauvage [is,] of course, all that, trying to be in peace with the world, but, at the same time, trying to protect the flame, the flame inside that’s made of anger, but also love, and being amazed by beauty in general. Something pure, something untouched. And the message in the album is also this for our listeners. Keep that intact, and never loose the child inside.”
Go rock the hell out with Gojira, Devin Townsend and the Atlas Moth when they perform at the MacEwan Hall Ballroom on Thursday, January 17. They will also perform on January 19 in Vancouver at the Vogue Theatre.
By Sarah KitteringhamAB, Alberta