By far and away one of the most thrilling bills in heavy music to trawl its way through the UK this year, the holy triumvirate of Gojira, Code Orange and Car Bomb is an incredibly vivid representation of the state of modern metal. Most eras would be lucky to have just one of these bands pushing buttons and testing limits; the fact that we get all three on the same show is nothing short of mind-boggling.
New York’s Car Bomb are no spring chickens by any stretch of the imagination, having formed as far back as 2000. Whilst it may have taken a mere 17 years for the media at large to wake up to their off-kilter but extremely dense slice of metal-mathcore brutality, their addition to this bill is unsurprising considering Gojira frontman Joe Duplantier has a production credit on their most recent album, last year’s criminally under-rated Meta.
They are a most welcome addition however, especially considering this tour only marks their second appearance in the UK after a one-off date supporting Meshuggah back in 2014. The New Yorker’s djent rhythms and crushing riffs undeniably owe a debt of gratitude to the Swedish tech-metal grandmasters, but if Meshuggah are the sound of a well-oiled machine, Car Bomb are the sound of that same machine breaking down and bursting into flame. Their music is fluid, constantly shifting with a delirious absurdity that re-calls the sadly defunct avant-garde, mathcore mob The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza and in vocalist Michael Dafferner, they have a dynamic frontman who’s able to switch between Randy Blythe’s bark and Chino Moreno’s croons in the blink of an eye.
Car Bomb’s deviations into mind-boggling mathcore technical dexterity easily match the headliners at their most baffling, and guitarist Greg Kubacki is an astonishing player, one minute peeling out devastating tectonic-plate shifting riffs and the next utilising a whammy pedal and gradual tempo shifts to almost nauseating effect. They may be a tiny, independent operation (Car Bomb, unfathomably, are an unsigned band) but they show a fantastic grasp of DIY ethics, having concocted their own synchronised lighting rig which only adds to the stomach-churning effect. That description obviously won’t appeal to everyone, but Car Bomb are looking to push the boundaries within an extreme form of music already considerably difficult to digest and should be applauded for doing so magnificently.
Code Orange are the most obnoxious band on the bill by far and are here in support of potential album of the year contender Forever. The members of the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvanian quartet (rounded out to a five-piece as a live band) throw themselves about the stage in a way that asserts their roots in hardcore. They still retain the spit, vile and seething fury of those at the peak of the genre but imbibe it with shades of dark industrial spite and blackened horror. Opening with the one-two gutter punch of their new album’s title track and Kill The Creator, Code Orange employ malice in eerily savage frenzied chimerical bursts, the power of which are impossible to deny.
There’s no meat-headedness to their approach however; these are intelligently crafted songs that run a dynamic gamut of disquieting emotions and thoughts with no mind played to rules or boundaries. There’s a ton of room for experimentation, with dark, grimy samples that bring a sense of apoplectic terror to their apocalyptic sound. On the likes of album highlight Bleeding in the Blur, they’re even able to display an uncanny, undeniable knack for hooks which mark them out as a band not content to play by the usual extreme metal rulebook. Ugly evokes a dark, brooding Alice in Chains menace, albeit played with the spite and vitriol of a grotty, gnarly DC hardcore band. They play with the spirit of one too; bassist Joe Goldman comes across as the world’s scariest hype man, launching his fist in the air, screaming at the crowd and landing brain-cell-damaging blows to his own head. Code Orange are an unconventional band, coming across like the bastard child of Converge and Nine Inch Nails, and with each successive album and performance, it looks increasingly likely they’ll be considered one of the early 21st century’s leading innovators in heavy music.
Unlike Code Orange and Car Bomb, Gojira have just released an album that undoubtedly has one beady eye set on some form of commercial success. In 2016’s Magma, the French tech-death-metallers somehow managed to marry their uncompromising raw brutal energy into digestible chunks of captivating, gut-wrenchingly emotive metal. Just like Metallica’s The Black Album and Mastodon’s The Hunter before it, Magma achieves a very rare thing; it retains the core elements that make the band unique and presents them in a way that can appeal outside the genre. It’s a record fans can proudly hold up to the outside world as a shining example of how vital, intoxicating and progressive modern 21st century heavy metal can be.
With that in mind, it’s safe to say that anticipation to see the band play a headline run in support of one of the most important albums of their career is immense and as the lights dim on their biggest headline show in the UK to date, the venue-shaking Gojira chants erupt. The band open with Only Pain and immediately one of the tightest yet most complex units in metal history have a captive audience in the palm of their hands. Any bystanders stood agog in sheer wonder are then pulverised by the devastating 3 minutes and 58 seconds that is The Heaviest Matter in the Universe, probably the closest approximation of sound and title in the history of music. The double-whammy of Silvera and Stranded, two of the juiciest cuts from last year’s Magma, is as exhilarating a combination as you can envisage whilst set-highlight L’Enfant Savage is a transcendent splendour of machine-gun riffs spiralling through a kaleidoscope of syncopated beats. The opening riff of Toxic Garbage Island bamboozles its way into your brain and wraps itself around your cortex like a python killing its prey. It’s mind-boggling, but gloriously so; this is metal taken to a higher plane of existence and deserves to be shared amongst as many people as is humanely possible.
Gojira show promising signs with the progression of their stage-show as well as their music, even if there is a way to go. Synchronised lights and stock video footage of volcanoes erupting and atomic bombs exploding is a step in the right direction and it would be excellent to see the band pursue this avenue and take it to the heady heights of Tool’s all-encompassing, multimedia extravaganza. The potential for Gojira to match the might of their punishing music to an all-out multimedia feast for the senses is beyond tantalising. But for now, the sheer power of the material and the chemistry they’ve been harnessing since the mid-90s is enough of a spectacle to dazzle and mark them out as one of the defining heavy bands of the decade.