“Thank you very much for having us tonight,” vocalist and guitarist Joe Duplantier tells Leeds’s O2 Academy, humble and self-effacing. “I guess that we’re OK?” The response is an overwhelming roar of satisfaction.
Two decades on from their formation, Gojira’s elevation to metal’s high table is a richly deserved accolade for the French outfit who broke the UK charts for the first time with sixth effort Magma last summer. Amid their biggest international headline tour to date, they have the chance in Yorkshire to assert their position at the top – an opportunity they seize with both hands, delivering a visceral, menacing masterclass.
They bring the equally alarming Pittsburgh outfit Code Orange in support, whose guttural blend of metalcore and punk is equal parts thuggish and raucous. Opening with the hostile, gauche Forever, they pummel their way through a confrontational thirty-five-minute set ratcheted by their triumvirate of live guitarists and the swaggering bass of Joe Goldman, creating a cacophony of noise on tracks such as the crushing Kill the Creator. But underneath the wall of hardcore sound lies some strong tunes; the foreboding, relatively clean Bleeding in the Blur showcases keen melodic chops that hint at a skill with more refined material.
Over twenty years, Gojira have shaped their low-slung brand of technical riffs and groove metal into a taut, polished live experience; an experience that is as thrillingly stirring as it is aggressively violent. Against a backdrop of volcanic eruptions that echo their fiery cocktail of prog and thrash, they deploy a searing set that leans heavily on Magma. Their latest record is undoubtedly the group’s most accessible to date, levied with a pop sensibility; but they fare no worse regardless, from the fiery opener Only Pain, to the blinding Silvera. When guitarist Christian Andreu coaxes out the staccato scream intro of Stranded, it is undoubtedly harrowing and bruising in equal measure.
Their older material is just as superbly rendered too. The ominous drama of Flying Whales, the speeding power of The Heaviest Matter of the Universe, the howled anguish of L’Enfant Sauvage; they all sound outrageously good in a pinpoint-perfect sound mix, played with precision and guts. By the time they close with the swinging Oroborus and a punchy Vacuity, their reputations as a virtuoso unit is well-founded. Gojira may have only just got to the top of the heavy metal tree – but on these credentials, it’s justifiably warranted.