If you ask almost any St. Louis area metal fan what their top pick for the best metal show of 2021 was, there’s a good chance that their answer would be France’s Gojira’s Saturday show at the Factory would top their list. The aforementioned delivered a pulverizing 17-song set, featuring blazing lights, booming sound, and precise and powerful live renditions of their seven-album deep repertoire. Gojira set the bar for what a metal show should and can be—sweaty, cathartic, jarring, mesmerizing, stabbing, soothing, and revelatory.
The rebirth of live music, especially metal shows, has been a welcome gift of this first year of “normal” after the pandemic. Gojira fans were hungry for that connection and the healthy release that can only come from a live setting, and they weren’t disappointed.
The enthusiastic and amped-up Factory crowd was treated to new material from the French quartet’s seventh full-length, the ambitious, complex, and more commercial “Fortitude,” as well as material from their other six stellar releases.
But, before Gojira hit the stage to thunderous applause, the metal army was already primed for the evening’s first two openers. New Zealand’s Maori-influenced metal trio of young upstarts, Alien Weaponry, and Kentucky’s ass-kicking, spastic, and tortured metal quintet, Knocked Loose, got things started. Both were enthusiastically embraced, and both served as a living, breathing examples of metal’s bright future and the enduring underground popularity of the metal, doom, and thrash genres. Despite little or no airplay, doom and thrash metal continue to entertain millions.
To the strains of Maori chants and tribal music, Alien Weaponry’s drummer, Henry Te Reiwhati de Jongstood behind his drumkit and engaged in Maori warrior moves and exaggerated facial expressions. The band established an aggressive and exotic vibe before the other two members—guitarist Lewis Raharuhi de Jong (Henry’s brother) and bassist Turanga Morgan-Edmonds, joined him and crashed into “Hataupatu.” The pumped crowd was already primed for the show to start, and they immediately launched into headbanging, fist-waving, and moshing. You could feel over a year of pent-up fury and joy unleashed in a controlled burn. Their five-song set may have been brief, but they packed a wallop and made a strong impression on the Gojira crowd.
Next up was Kentucky’s Knocked Loose. Vocalist and frontman Bryan Garris was in constant motion—a whirling dervish unleashing guttural growls, howls, and screams as the band (guitarists Issac Hale and Cole Crutchfield laid down the heavy riffs, while bassist Kevin Otten and drummer Kevin Kaine). While their set was short—just four songs, it was utterly engaging and impossible to ignore the fury and the fire. The band opened with “Counting Worms” and ended their 30 minutes set to the strains of “Oblivion’s Peak.” I think thrash metal fans will be seeing and hearing a lot more from this quintet and quite possibly headlining their own tour.
And, finally, it was time for what everyone was waiting for—Gojira. The most famous French export since Perrier, Renoir, or Renault, Gojira has built a legion of loyal, fanatical fans, and their lives shows are legendary. As with Lamb of God or Mastodon or Brazil’s Sepultura, Gojira is thinking-man’s metal band that tackles complex subjects, creates epic works, and delves into deep emotional territory. The stage was lit with runes and symbols that meshed well with the latest album artwork for their seventh studio album, “Fortitude.” The primitive and tribal artwork was created by drummer and talented graphic artist Joe Duplantier. There was a definite air of mystery, darkness, and a “primitive” mystical vibe. The anticipation was thick and palatable. The fans knew they were only minutes away from the concert experience of the year.
Taking the stage as they tore into “Born For One Thing,” blazes of light temporarily blinded the audience, fog poured into the rafters, and the sound was stomach-rumbling good. If you’ve ever seen Gojira play in the greater St. Louis area, you know that they always put on an old-fashioned, stadium-size show even when playing smaller venues like Sauget’s Pop’s. Many long-time fans realized that they were witnessing the real-time coronation and passing of the crown to the heirs apparent to the heavy metal throne. Gojira has raised their game to a new level, and the audience responded in kind. The headbanging, moshing, flashing devil’s horns and waves of fans showed just how powerful the cathartic-releasing post-COVID energy is. It was glorious. It was ethereal. It was a communal high that everyone felt and fed off.
During their two-hour show, fans were treated to cuts spanning their long career. There was the demonic, skull crusher “Flying Whales,” the high-octane onslaught of “Grind,” the nightmarish gallop of “L’Enfant Sauvage,” and much more. But, all was not gloom and doom. Guitarist Joe Duplantier addressed the elephant in the room—the over a year’s absence of music due to the pandemic. He also addressed our human fragility, the fragility of the planet, and his absolute joy to be playing music for a live audience again. And, there were a few points of levity. He asked if anyone had ever seen him at some club on the Mississippi River years ago. He couldn’t remember the name of the club, and the audience shouted “Pop’s.” Duplantier replied, “Yes, that’s it, right next to the strip joint.” Gauging from the crowd’s thunderous response and laughs, it was easy to deduce that most concertgoers were long-time fans.
The band left the stage briefly after delivering nearly two hours of music. Then, it returned for a much-deserved and extended encore that included the new track “Amazonia” from their new album “Fortitude” and “Toxic Garbage Island.” Crowd-favorite, “The Chant,” and left ears ringing, hearts full, and demons exorcised as the strains of the final song, “Vacuity,” decayed into the ceiling. The assembled faithful got their money’s worth and then some.
If the future of metal rests in bands like Gojira’s hands, the future is bright. So if Gojira is coming to your town, get your tickets now. This is a band that can only go higher and higher and onto bigger things. If we learned anything in the last two years, it’s not to take anything for granted, and that includes the magical experience of witnessing a live concert. So be one of those people that can say they saw Gojira back in 2021.