Last Sunday, French death metallers Gojira kicked off their Magma Tour UK at the Kentish Town Forum in London. What did we think?
It’s always kind of a shame when a gig is on a school night, as you end up rationing your drinks and keeping half an eye on the clock so you can catch the last Northern line train home. But it certainly didn’t stop the crowd getting into the moshpit spirit on Sunday night when Gojira took over the Kentish Town Forum.
The show was opened by New York mathcore thugs Car Bomb with an immediate blast of aggression that made it clear it was not going to be one of those quiet Sunday nights. Their discordant and extremely heavy style with a progressive edge is reminiscent of the godfathers of extreme djent (is that a genre? It should be!), Meshuggah. In fact, whilst I was musing on how much they obviously wanted to be Meshuggah, I noticed their guitarist wearing one of the Swedish band’s t-shirts. Case closed.
The punchy start was followed up in style by Code Orange – a Pittsburgh-based hardcore/metalcore troupe who came with a mission to destroy the venue. I hadn’t heard them before, but I can say for sure they picked up a legion of new fans throughout their tightly-coiled performance. A vein of serious groove ran through their set, despite the very hard edges to their sound. Whilst punk is ostensibly at the root of their sound, and shows in the rawness of the vocals, there’s something more sinister lying underneath the in-your-face punch of their aggressively bass-fuelled music. The aural assault was backed up by astounding energy on-stage, as their charismatic bassist high-kicked his way through proceedings. If other bands are metal, these guys were adamantium. One to watch.
It’s around my 4th time seeing Bayonne metallers Gojira, but it seems that in the time I’ve been following them they’ve exploded from being one of those great niche bands that opens the smaller stage at Sonisphere, to being genuine heavy-hitters in their own right – and rarely has a band deserved that as much as these guys. Fresh from releasing their latest LP, Magma, they’ve subtly evolved their sound in a direction that’s lost a tiny amount of the aggression, but gained a razor-sharp edge that’s bumped them up into the big-league of technical metallers. Whilst ‘L’Enfant Sauvage’ was good, ‘Magma’ was truly great – a career-defining album that runs like a perfectly-oiled piece of machinery. Which is lucky really, as the band drew heavily on their new baby in their set, playing almost all of the 8 full-length tracks. ‘Only Pain’ kicked things off, but for me it was the arrival of the monumental ‘The Heaviest Matter of the Universe’ that really signaled the start of the evening. This aural juggernaut, one of my all-time favourites, is a guaranteed pit-starter, and the ensuing circle pit did not disappoint. Unless you were hoping to get out of there without having your feet stamped on and some guy’s elbow in your eye. In fact, there’s often a pit just a few rows back from the front, but here it expanded like an oil spill, engulfing the reticent along with the hardcore stompers. Which is quite a good explanation for how Gojira’s music works live – their maelstrom of rhythms pulls you in and turns the audience from a group of people into one unified organism.
The L’Enfant Sauvage and Magma hits-parade was popular, but for me it’s all about the classic behemoths from ‘From Mars to Sirius’ and the genre-defining ‘Way of All Flesh’. No Gojira show is complete without a hefty dose of space and whales, delivered with aplomb in the form of the musical leviathan, ‘Flying Whales’. Whilst other bands cling to the same old tired themes: love, death, drugs; Gojira have never shied away from writing a few songs about ocean-dwelling mammals. One of the many reasons I love them. ‘Backbone’ is always another guaranteed hit, with a riff that just calls for you to start throwing yourself into the nearest person. It’s these inherently moshable grooves that have allowed the band to carve their place as a festival legend, and the atmosphere carries over even in a smaller and stuffier indoor venue.
No evening would be complete, though, without a good ol’ drum solo. Sometimes bands throw these in as a bit of a filler, but in Gojira’s case, drummer Mario is approximately half of the band – his ear for unique syncopated rhythms is one of the undoubted cornerstones of their sound, and sometimes the ‘je ne sais quoi’ that elevates their best songs from great heavy metal to something almost stratospheric. No surprise then, that the crowd went wild to his playful 5 minutes of fame. It was also a clever way to segue into the tectonic ‘Toxic Garbage Island’, which opens with drums that speak for themselves. By the end, a whirlpool of sweaty humans was screaming together about the injustice of plastic bags in the sea. My kind of moment.
But all good things must come to an end. Although they’d saved some of the best for last, with a serious hard-hitter to close, in the form of ‘Vacuity’. They seem to play this live much less often than the other big tracks from ‘The Way of All Flesh’, although it’s a raw powerhouse of a song. Vacuity bottles the intensity of the human instinct to survive, and had me punching the air and screaming every word. Inspiring stuff.