At a time where a pandemic has pushed an entire planet of people outside of their comfort zones, politicians are outlawing protests, and social and environmental change are gaining significant momentum, it's essential to do your bit.
"We're in a position now where music is not enough for us, we really want to be active, and the way we want to exist in this world is to raise our fists and act," enthuses Mario Duplantier, drummer and principal songwriter of technical death metal deities Gojira. Coming live from the cosy confines of his car, the Frenchman pulls no punches in calling for change at a time when our climate and our culture are in crisis.
"We love music, you know, we are musicians, but we are also citizens of the world. We want to have a place in this world, and if you're not part of the solution, you are part of the problem," he continues, both bewildered and inspired by the trials and tribulations of our times.
It's these trials and tribulations that we humans face that Gojira - completed by vocalist and guitarist Joe Duplantier, guitarist Christian Andreu and bassist Jean-Michel Labadie - paint a picture of positivity for on 'Fortitude', the follow-up to 2016's breakthrough tour-de-force 'Magma'. Whereas 'Magma' spent time in solitary confinement, pulling apart the fabric of their skin to peer inside their minds following the death of Mario and Joe's mothers, 'Fortitude' forages away in a forest of optimism, spreading the newfound hope they've found a home in to their listeners.
"When we were writing 'Fortitude' we felt great, way better than the year we made 'Magma'. There's been a real maturity for the four of us. We are not twenty years old anymore, we're not struggling with the same problems anymore, and we feel way more balanced than before. We almost feel like normal people."
Seeing life through the lens of the modern man, Mario and co. spent time away from the rose-coloured glasses that the life of a Grammy-nominated artist gravitates you too like a vice grip. Not only did they find themselves grounded once more, but empowered, too.
"It was something we wanted to hear for ourselves, as a mantra. If you think 'I will be okay, I will be okay, I will be okay', you will be okay, you know?" Mario muses, moved by their emotional epiphanies, adding: "'Fortitude' for me is encouragement of strength. We want to encourage people to not give up, to stay alive and express themselves. To act if they want the world to change. Most of all, it's an album to say stay strong, because there is a lot to despair in this world, but still, we think there is hope."
Hope, in all its guises, is the driving force behind 'Fortitude'. Whether it's in the pop-structured post-metal odyssey of 'Grind', the sing-along stadium-metal of 'Hold On' or the tribal attack of 'Amazonia', Gojira's hope for a better future seeps through into their soundscapes. Having built a career on crafting critically-acclaimed technical death metal, since 'Magma', they've been melting melody and clean vocals into solid gold and dripping it over their penchant for beautiful brutality. It's a decision that their hope drives, and is key to their continued survival.
"It's not about the people listening to the music; it's about us, because it's our lives. Gojira has become our life - we do tours, we write music, we do tours, we write music," Mario asserts at any mention of their adventures in melodic waters. "Gojira is more than a metal band; it's a way of life. We don't have side-projects, any of us, so all our energy is in this band, and we are more mature now, so we need to push the boundaries and explore different things."
In a scene as safeguarded by gatekeepers as heavy metal, Gojira aren't afraid of embracing exploration in sound. They're bleeding their personalities out onto the tracks tenfold.
"We want Gojira to stay as this huge monster, this brute force, but we also have this feminine aspect, and as people, we have very strong feminine parts. We are sensitive, but we have a lot of anger; it's about balance. We're not like Cannibal Corpse, and don't get me wrong, we love Cannibal Corpse because it's always 100% brutality, but for Gojira, that's not the case; we need to express both parts of our personality, it's super important for us."
'Fortitude' is full of magical moments that take the gravity of Gojira to new heights. The highlight at the heart of the album is the enlightening and euphoric 'The Chant'. Built around the enchantment of the chant-based chorus, the track takes a trip around your eardrums. It's as experimental as they've ever been and the furthest they've ventured into melodic territory, and for Mario, it's more than just a song.
"I remember the day my brother played to me just a track of only his vocals with nothing else, and I was amazed because it was just this chant, where he'd recorded five or six voices together doing this melody, and I told my brother that it was beautiful. It's not cheesy at all, and it's very emotional, and you can feel something deep inside because of it." That sentiment of hope and its warmth rears its head once again, as Mario adds: "It's uplifting and relaxing and beautiful, so I told him we need to do a song with that chant, no matter what, and we started to jam and build everything around it."
Building around the things they believe in, whether sonically or thematically, is something Gojira sticks to their guns with. Since they were young, they've had a deeply invested interest in the spiritualism of Buddhism. As they've grown older and wearier of the world around them, they've developed an anti-consumerist approach to their thinking, which is drip-fed throughout the album.
"If you read a lot of books about it, they tell you that you don't have to have all the things in your life, that you don't have to buy so many things. We need to simplify our life, and we need to have less possessions. We are always talking about it as a band, about how we have too many things in our lives. I'm trying to have less things, and for me, it's a better way to prepare your own death. That's something spiritual but also on the concrete side of it, if you have too many things, when the day you will leave comes, it's a fucking mess for the people still living with you."
There's a laughter that lingers in the air of our call for a moment, subdued somewhere in the seriousness of his spiritualistic suggestion. They may be artists at the top of their game about to take the spoils of their efforts, but they're far more attached to their beliefs than lesser artists would be.
This emboldened sense of confidence that comes with wearing their belief like a badge of honour lends itself to their continued efforts to envisage environmental change. On 'Amazonia', they channel the heartache that hit them after finding the Amazon rainforest on fire into a call to arms to create their own vehicles for the change the world so desperately needs.
"It was at the same time that we saw the images of the Amazon burning, and we just felt so much despair. We were so upset about the situation. We knew it was because of climate change and because of something political going on in Brazil, and although we didn't know exactly what was happening, we wanted to write a song about the forest, so we tried to reproduce something we imagined would be the sound of a forest and Amazonia came to life. It was something primitive - it was a cry of despair of seeing the forest burning."
Writing a song is simply one end of the spectrum for the quartet. Unconvinced that their songwriting could summon up the change alone, they're partnering with a number of key charities that work with the indigenous Guarani and Kaiowa tribes of Brazil to ensure proceeds from the track benefit them. For Mario, it all comes down to bringing about little moments of change in your everyday life that paints it into a bigger picture.
"It's a complex situation, and I'm just a musician, you know? But I try my best in my everyday life to act. I would say that if you do something little, like something here and something there, that individual action will still be so important. For example, if you know that Brazil needs to burn the forest to have a huge field to feed the animals where they're growing soya, if you then choose to eat less meat or you become pickier on the meat you're buying, you're already doing an action for the Amazon that'll have an impact somewhere down the line."
That's what separates Gojira from the media-centric music industry they inhabit. They may be Grammy-nominated festival headliners, but they've not lost a single ounce of the humbleness and humility they've held themselves up on. If 'Magma' was their emotional epiphany, 'Fortitude' is their salute to strength.
Taken from the May issue of Upset. Gojira's album 'Fortitude' is out 30th April.
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