Live Review : Gojira + Rolo Tomassi + Dead Label @ O2 Apollo, Manchester on July 1st 2019

I fell in love with Gojira back at Bloodstock 2010 and from the moment that I first clapped eyes on them I knew that they were doing something really rather special and that they should be huge, stadium huge. Nearly a decade later it feels that my premonition is finally becoming a reality. Tonight feels like the moment that they transcended into the big league and show that they are the ordained successor to Metallica’s crown. There was something so confident and so masterful about this evening’s performance, very much the hallmarks of a band completely in control of their own destiny. The Apollo is heaving, absolutely heaving and even though they were part of the same touring cycle, there is a clear difference between tonight and their 2017 Manchester Academy show. I had been worried that at the Academy that they were stalling, that the fevered audience reaction that I had expected for a band that had created one of the greatest Metal albums ever (“Magma”) was not materialising. I needn’t have worried, two year later and there is such a buzz of expectation around this cavernous theatre. “Magma” has had 36 months to seep into people’s conscience and as a result this is a frenzied wide-eyed crowd that have embraced Gojira as their new favourite band. That transition I mentioned earlier suddenly now seems to be very much in process.

They had been meant to be supported by ROCKFLESH favourites Black Peaks, but illness means that Dead Label are brought in as a lastminute.com super-sub and they are really rather good. Heavy, gnarly and full of spikey riffs, they connect effortlessly with an audience waiting for exactly that. Rolo Tomassi however elicit a much more bemused reaction. I need to say, I love Rolo Tomassi and have been a fan for over a decade, but I am also highly aware there juxtaposing mathcore is an acquired taste. Eva Spence looks her usual petite elegant self, but then she opens her mouth and that’s when the question mark appears over a shocked audience. Eva produces guttural death growls and evil goblinesque shrieks that sound like they have no right to emit from her slender frame. Long-term fans such as myself take for granted the sheer primal guttural power she can create, tonight’s uninitiated throng look both perplexed and positively scared shitless. Rolo Tomassi’s stuff is as ever a sonic shower of angular riff, bleeps and unfathomable breakdowns. They soar from shimmering, slow and sensual sections to utter cacophony’s of pure white noise. Rolo Tomassi are all about contrast and Eva’s switches from harsh screams to voluptuous vocals are at the heart of that. In the end they are as wonderful as ever but I do wonder whether they won any new friends tonight.

The place is now bursting at the seams and the sense of anticipation is both palpable and over-whelming. From the off, this is much more strident and confident Gojira than the one I saw a couple of years back. It feels like the final jigsaw piece has slotted into place. They were always musically intense and overwhelming but performances tending to be focused on that and that alone. However now they have finally evolved into a majestic and professional act capable of holding your attention for hours on end. The music is still colossal and all-consuming, but it now feels that they have worked out how they present it in a way that works in enorma-domes. The staging tonight is simply staggering; fire, smoke with the most amazing and absorbing visuals. Gojira have found that elusive sweet spot where the effects and lighting enhance the music rather than overshadows it. Sounds simple but there are many many case where I end up more enamoured by the light show than the band.

The set list is also perfectly balanced. There is the minimalist savagery of material from their 2001 debut “Terra Incognita”, the sparse pounding heaviness of “From Mars to Sirus’s” ‘Backbone' and 'Flying Wales' and the pulsating coarse darkness of opener 'Oroborus' and 'Vacuity' (both from 2008’s bleak “Way of All Flesh”). However the four tracks from “Magma” just tower over everything else. It may now be over three years old, but it still shocks me in both its simplicity and its magnitude. Tracks like 'Strandedand 'The Cell' manage to use the barest of riffs to create the most monumentally heavy sound.

It is all about the space and silence between the noise, each pulsating riff is allowed the breathing room to have maximum impact. I’ve seen Gojira dozens of times but they still take my breath away with the how they do so much with so little. There is no shredding, no self-indulgent soloing (aside from a unnecessary drum one but the less said about that the better) and no filling. Every single note they produce has a critical and precise role to play. Everything is stripped back to what is functionally necessary and the result is some of the most powerful music I have heard the honour to experience.

They finish with “L’Enfant Sauvage”’s 'The Gift of Guilt’, an almost low-key and introspective ending to what has been an evening of primordial power. But even here, there is a simplicity to the complexity. It might be their most Proggy material but still it is a tale of very little going a long way. We then get a very Metallica long drawn out goodbye with heartfelt waves and bows going on for a good ten minutes after the music has stopped. In light of this, I will make the comparison to the thrash giants again, as tonight felt like the moment for me where Gojira joined them in the very small club of those who have swapped the underground for the mainstream without compromising their integrity. Arena’s and festival headlines are an inevitability, the question is now when not if.

Words by Stewart Lucas
Photography by Johann Wierzbicki