Still tempted to believe in 2013 that all metalheads are anti-intellectual lunks built only to destroy? Well, forget the decades of anecdotal evidence. You'd do well to remember, instead, that one of modern heavy metal's biggest and best bands is comprised of four eco-conscious artistes from a small village in the south of France. (Thanks, Obama.)
Gojira, perhaps the mightiest metal monster to emerge from the murky depths of the underground in the past five years, has slowly but surely built a large and loyal worldwide following with its expressively refined blasting. Comfortably (and credibly) weaving brutal death metal and syncopated power grooves into melodic passages that drip with a uniquely French appreciation for anguished beauty, the group is carving out a niche by delivering the most successful marriage yet of metal's most delicate and destructive elements.
It's powerful stuff in every sense of that word, and it packs a wallop fearsome enough to score Gojira coveted support slots on some of the world's biggest metal tours in the last few years. After all, not just any band can open for Slayer and survive. Gojira warms up the crowd for the thrash legends tonight at Bayou Music Center.
For drummer Mario Duplantier and his kaiju brethren in the band, touring with the diabolical Slayer is something of a sublimely surreal experience. Unsurprisingly, the L.A. titans were a primary influence in Gojira's musical development. Now they're performing together in the same circus.
"Of course it's an amazing feeling for us," says Duplantier in his charmingly thick accent. "Since we were children, we have had bands that were so magical for us. These bands were our biggest influence, like Sepultura, Metallica, Machine Head.
"We get lucky," he continues. "We tour with Metallica, we tour with Machine Head, we did a couple of shows with Sepultura, and now, doing this tour with Slayer, we feel like, 'OK, we did it! Finally!' When I was a child, it was my dream, so I'm living a dream right now."
It's a dream a long time in the making. While Gojira has quite a ways to go before they can hope to match the legacy of their heroes, they seem to know a thing or two about longevity already. Through 17 years in the ego-driven world of heavy metal, Gojira has managed to keep the same lineup intact since their very first album.
After so much time together, the band appears to be peaking creatively, and audiences are responding. Last year's L'Enfant Sauvage debuted in Top 40 on the Billboard album chart. It was the band's first for Roadrunner Records, and the label made it a priority.
"The fact that Roadrunner put us on the front of the communications and media, I'm sure this was very important for us, to sign on a big label," Duplantier says. "Now we have a very strong support of the band. L'Enfant Sauvage, this album is also part of our new success. But I'm sure the fact we signed with Roadrunner Records was also the biggest step for us."
While L'Enfant Sauvage has been a breakthrough for the band, Gojira continues to build its fanbase the old-fashioned way, with relentless touring. The group's dramatic, high-energy live show has been honed by playing to unfamiliar crowds near and far, and Duplantier considers it the backbone of the band's success.
"We grew up playing live," the drummer says. "We had all this opportunity to tour, first as opener. Our key is just to leave everything onstage and try to catch the attention of people. It's made our success.
"You have to be attractive to people, so I try to hit very hard and make a lot of movement with my head and my arms," he added. "I want to catch people!"
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To keep fans caught up year after year, of course, requires new material. That's why work is already underway to come up with a worthy successor to L'Enfant Sauvage. Expectations are high, from the fans, from the label and from the band members themselves. Duplantier says they try not to think about that.
"We don't feel the pressure because we are, like, in the bubble," he says. "We are just in the bus composing without thinking about anything else, only what we want to express right now. Pressure is sometimes dangerous because you block the inspiration; you think too much. You just have to let emotions and temptations to go out of you.
"So, we try just to have fun doing music without thinking for a moment," he adds.
If Gojira can top themselves once again, they may get a real shot at the kind of longevity and influence that only a handful of extreme metal bands -- like, say, Slayer -- can claim. If given the chance, can Duplantier see himself up on stage still bashing away at age 52 like Tom Araya?
"Yeah, why not?" Duplantier says, guffawing. "We don't know if we're going to make this music in 20 years. Actually as a drummer, I'm wondering in 20 years, will I be able to play the world tour anymore? I don't know. But now I feel powerful, so I do it!"
Gojira and 4-ARM open for Slayer tonight at Bayou Music Center, 520 Texas. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.
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