By August Billy
We discover what the seventh LP of the French metal group has in store for us.
French progressive metal band Gojira recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of their debut album, Unknown land. Influenced by Hindu mythology and written by a lonely, tech-savvy death metal fan, you probably wouldn’t have guessed it Unknown land would mark the start of one of modern metal’s greatest achievements.
But Gojira’s popularity grew with each successive album release, even as they moved away from their death metal origins to incorporate more dynamic arrangements and melodious vocals. The group’s seventh album is a testament to Gojira’s continued artistic evolution and bears the appropriate title, Courage.
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The new album comes nearly five years after the band’s sixth LP, Magma, which was not only Gojira’s most accessible album to date, but also had the strongest commercial impact, reaching No. 11 on the ARIA charts and No. 24 in the UK and US.
The gap between Magma and Courage was longer than the one between all of Gojira’s previous albums. Meanwhile, guitarist and singer Joe Duplantier (the former technophobe) and his brother, drummer Mario Duplantier, spent a year and a half writing new tracks and a year recording. Courage.
“The stature of the group is bigger and we wanted to make sure we were doing the right thing,” says Mario. “So it took us a long time to build the songs and make sure every note on this album was crucial and important.”
In the past, the Duplantiers tended to write only ten or eleven songs, which would then constitute Gojira’s next album. For Courage however, they wanted to generate as many ideas as possible before narrowing them down to the ten songs that appear on the album.
“We made so many riffs and so many songs that weren’t on the album,” says Mario. “We were more picky, I would say. “
Gojira has certainly released a number of much heavier records than Courage, but the new album is the most detailed and textured release in their catalog. Joe produced the record, which was recorded at the group’s New York studios, Silver Cord Studio.
Recording began in 2019, with Mario’s drum parts being handled with relative efficiency. The guitars, vocals and other more decorative overdubs took a little longer.
“There was a lot of time spent in the studio hanging out, doing backing vocals, doing arrangements,” says Mario. “When you have your home studio it can be a bit tricky because you spend a lot of time there. “
Bassist Jean-Michael Labadie and guitarist Christian Andreu have been with the band since the 90s, but the Duplantiers have always been Gojira’s creative link.
Joe has produced the majority of their albums and writes all of the band’s lyrics, often loaded with politics. Mario helps with everything else: the melodies, the riffs, the dynamics, the song structures and, of course, the drums.
“I’m not a guitarist, but I sing a lot of ideas,” says Mario. “I always record [a riff or melody] and sing it to my brother.
Since the debut of the major in 2014, The Wild Child, Gojira’s sound focused less on aggressiveness and meeting the needs of a particular metal sub-genre and more on melodic undertones and dynamic push-and-pulls. Double bass drum pedal continues to practice Courage, but Mario’s attitude towards drums has changed dramatically in recent years.
“The main objective is to make sure that the drums have a purpose for the song,” he says. “I like playing technically, but the reality of the group is that we try to find harmony between us.
“We are trying to find a balance. We are no longer 20 years old. We started the band 25 years ago, so we have new desires: we want to improve the melodies, we want to be able to play a simple idea and find the power in the simplicity too.
The group goes back to its early years on Courage‘s the heavier tracks, such as “Into The Storm” and “Grind”, both of which feature incredibly technical drum parts. These songs contrast with the two-song sequence of “Fortitude” and “The Chant,” which is the most melodic and harmonically layered stretch of sound recorded in the Gojira catalog.
“A song like ‘The Chant’, I kept it simple because it’s all about vocals, it’s all about guitar solos,” says Mario. “I like to play simple if the songs can be better.”
Even when kept simple, there is a measure of immensity in the drum sounds on Courage. The quintessential rock and metal engineer Andy Wallace mixed the album. In addition to mixing Nirvana no matter and the production of Jeff Buckley Grace, Wallace has mixed records for everyone from Linkin Park and Coldplay to System of a Down, Slipknot and Sepultura.
“Andy Wallace was offering something amazing and we didn’t have much to say,” says Mario. “He understood that Gojira needed a catchy sound, but with a very organic bass and a real snare. So there was not as much back and forth.
“It was an incredible collaboration. Andy Wallace is the most humble person I have ever met. He has no ego, he is very easy to manage, so it was a real pleasure.
Mario sent Wallace a few notes regarding the kick and snare sounds, which were mostly taken from Wallace’s career portfolio.
“I just said, ‘I would love to have the snare sound of ANNOUNCEMENT of chaos, Sepultura, because he mixed this album and it’s my favorite snare sound. It’s not exactly the same sound [on Fortitude], but I just gave him that as an example.
“Deftones” White pony is one of my other favorites. Slipknot’s debut album is a good example of another catchy organic sound. Korn also has a huge sound. Lots of things Andy Wallace mixed up!
Courage was released via Roadrunner Records on Friday, April 30.