The earliest years of a band can easily be some of the most interesting in retrospect. They say you have your whole life to write your first album and only a few years, at best, to top it with it the second — this leads to some of the most revealing, raw and albeit less focused music you’ll hear in their entire career. With this in mind, I decided to take a look at some of the earliest work from bands that have carved out their own niche and tried to take a look at how these early sounds connect with their more recent work.
Gojira‘s meteoric rise to becoming one of the most important metal band’s in recent history has been well documented. As you know well, these days the band find themselves occupying prestigious spots at nearly every single important metal festival and Europe as well as joining metal’s forefathers on treks all around the globe. Yet back in 1996, when they first banded together under the more egregious banner of Godzilla, they were a band struggling to breakout of the, then far less respectable, French metal scene with a grooving take on the raw death metal that their idols produced.
The timeline of Gojira can surprisingly be started before their inception, instead leading off with well known track from one of death metal’s most important and respected (well, not so much lately) bands, Morbid Angel. It was around the early to mid 90’s that the band began to really capatalise on a style of riff that was markedly different from the foot-to-the-floor approach that the genre was built on — instead the sinister atmosphere needed was created by jarringly rhythmic and grooving riffs that sacrificed speed for sheer primal heaviness. Two tracks instantly spring to mind, both of which would become cornerstones of their back catalogue and live favourites, ‘God Of Emptiness‘ from 1993’s Covenant and ‘Where The Slime Live‘ from 1995’s Domination. It’s arguable about who exactly was the first to utilise this approach, but Morbid Angel’s hand in popularising it can’t be ignored.
On their debut 1996 demo, entitled Victim, the band’s influences shine through. Tracks like ‘Rigor Mortis‘ and the title track careen through a multitude of juddering and crushing riffs that invoke those glory days of Morbid Angel and the later, more progressive leaning, work of Death. The entire thing is cloaked in a slightly muddy but unmistakably raw production that pushes the guitar and drums to the forefront and, while it’s devoid of the pick scrapes and slides that the band have become infamous for, even here on these very early recordings it’s very obvious what the band were aiming for.
1997’s Possessed marks the last release the band would put out that wouldn’t include material that would later make up their debut as Gojira. Opening with the genre standard horror-movie sample (in this case The Exorcist), Possessed isn’t so much of a leap forward from Victim and more of a refinement of what was already there. The blasts become more precise and crushing and the grooves more angular and tight, bringing to mind at times even the primal breakdowns that Suffocation used on their earliest material — there’s even some interesting, albeit very hamfisted, clean singing/chant involved which would later be utilized to much greater effect on tracks such as ‘Liquid Fire’ from their latest album. Once again, while a lot of the features that define the Gojira of today aren’t present, such as the environmentally aware lyrics and the ultra-proficient musicianship, you can still the join the dots between Godzilla and Gojira.
From there on, the band released two more demos by the names of Saturate and Wisdom Comes which both consisted of material that would later go on to make up the bulk of the first two Gojira albums. Due to copyright reasons the band adjusted their name to the one we know and love today and have managed to keep a consistent core line-up throughout, minus a change of bass player alongside their name change.
With each release they moved further away from more traditional death metal blast-fests to more groove oriented territory and tweaked the sound just enough to keep things interesting while still capatalising on that base sound that made them so infectious to begin with. Their evolution has been slow and steady but the results are undeniable when it produces music like L’Enfant Sauvage.