Evolution: the process by which different kinds of living organisms are believed to have developed from earlier forms during the history of the earth. This definition can most definitely be applied to Gojira. My first encounter with the French band came way back in 2007 when they were the opening act on a three-band bill which had Annihilator and headliners Trivium.
Gojira – Cardiff International Arena
17 February 2023
Words: Paul Hutchings
Photography: Georgia Brittain
I’ve seen them countless times, from mid-afternoon slots to headline shows at Bloodstock, playing to a couple of hundred Welsh Metalheads in Cardiff Student’s Union and second fiddle to Ghost in 2013. Tonight saw the full evolution of a band who are surely destined to stand alongside the likes of Alter Bridge as the next Download headline collective.
They’re a funny outfit in lots of ways. Few bands can bring such combined power that shakes the very foundations of the venues they play, move internal organs with their intensity, and yet still have the broad appeal that moves them outside of the usual niche Technical Death Metal appeal. Their music is crushingly heavy, jarring angular rhythms combine with a punishing low end and the relentless battery of Mario Duplantier’s drumming and percussion.
What Gojira have done over the past 27 years has slowly manoeuvred into arena headliners. They aren’t spring chickens, with frontman Joe Duplantier now in his mid-40s. It’s taken time, effort, blood, sweat and no doubt tears to get to this stage. But they now look as comfortably at home in the cavernous CIA as they did in those smaller venues a decade ago.
The togs are asked to stand back for the first song. That allows time for the huge curtain that covers the stage to be collected after it drops to the ground, following a 170-second countdown projected onto it. This allows the togs three full songs to shoot, something that Anthrax could learn from.
The anticipation builds as the seconds descend, the final ten being accompanied by the crowd chanting along. The lights hit, and the band emerge and explode into one of the most unrelenting opening collections of songs I have ever witnessed. Born For One Thing, one of six from 2021’s Fortitude, begins matters, but the following trio of The Heaviest Matter Of The Universe, a crushing Backbone, and the sheer avalanche of Stranded make the fillings rattle.
It’s oppressive, an aural blitzkrieg in such surroundings, and sounds slightly muddied, which detracts from some of the intricate work that Joe and fellow guitarist Christian Andreu extract from their guitar. Thankfully, the notorious CIA sound improves as the set expands.
The pit is in a frenzy, and security deals with wave after wave of crowd surfers with aplomb. A brief opportunity to catch one’s breath during the intro to Flying Whales, which sees the Cardiff crowd chanting “Wales, Wales, Wales” with gusto. I hope it was ironic and not a demonstration of the state of UK education!
The Cell caves skulls, its sheer brutality inviting even more chaos in the pit, and more surfers fly over the barrier. One is stretchered out. Joe pauses to check that they are okay. “Can someone confirm that he’s alright?” He asks. Confirmation received the best bit of irony of the evening as Gojira launched into The Art Of Dying. Whoever scripted this has a sick sense of humour, but you can’t help but smile at it.
Is there an easing in tempo? Hardly. Joe’s back on the microphone. “Hey guys, let’s hurt ourselves responsibly,” he says, “preferably away from the stage, so we don’t need to stop the show again”. It’s said with tongue in cheek. Gojira always have an eye on their fans.
Accompanying the whole show is a breathtaking selection of visuals. The stage is enveloped in the dry ice mist, the lights are incredible, and the backdrops are constantly changing. From cross sections of the human spine (Backbone), the huge Blue Whales that gracefully cross the screen (Flying Whales) and the animated video from Another World, this is a hugely sophisticated show that enhances rather than detracts from the band’s formidable force.
Fortitude didn’t meet with universal approval, but the band pick the choicest cuts from it, and they work incredibly well when threaded alongside the older staples. But it’s the older material that resonates best.
L’enfant Sauvage absolutely slays, and it’s a challenge what to watch on stage. The octopus work of Mario, the shredding ability of Christian or the pulverising low-end pummelling of Jean-Michel Labadie, who should be arrested for abuse to the bass guitar, such is the beating he dishes out.
Suddenly we’re at the end of the set, with some audience participation on The Chant. But despite a lengthy break, Gojira isn’t finished yet. Three more songs are foisted upon us, and there’s no let-up in the intensity as The Way Of All Flesh reminds you that this band are a truly phenomenal Heavy Metal band.
Closing with Amazonia, it’s time to reflect on a stunning show, which is underpinned by the cleverest setlist I’ve heard for aeons. Gojira have earned their stripes, and despite the controversy about their pricey merchandise (I didn’t even look, to be honest), it’s going to take something catastrophic for them not to fly even higher after this tour.
The evening also featured Alien Weaponry and Employed To Serve. You can read that report here.