LIVE: Gojira / Rolo Tomassi / Dead Label @ O2 Apollo, Manchester

By Gem Rogers

One of the biggest venues in town before you hit arena level, Manchester’s o2 Apollo is the perfect setting for a good, old-fashioned theatrical show – it is, after all, a former theatre, and its sloping floor offers perfect vantage points to all. It might be a million miles from the city centre (only a slight exaggeration), but there could be no better setting for a night of some of metal’s best and brightest – especially when they come equipped with a healthy dose of fire.

After Black Peaks were forced to pull out of the tour at the last minute for health reasons, Irish heavy metal group Dead Label have stepped in for both the Brixton Academy and Manchester shows – a huge opportunity for the four-piece, and one they are making the most of. They are loud and aggressive, and just the thing that’s needed to turn the Apollo into an instant sweat box; the band have the kind of stage presence and confidence that means absolutely everyone is paying attention, and the end result includes some fairly monstrous pits. There’s not a huge amount of variety on offer, and the guitars sometimes lack a little definition, but – helped by some outstandingly clean drums from Claire Percival – Dead Label are clearly extremely good at what they do, and it makes for a memorable set.

Rolo Tomassi, who hail from a certain Steel City just the other side of the Pennines, have been around for a while now – debut album ‘Hysterics’ was released in 2008 – but it feels like the world has finally started to sit up and give them the attention they deserve. Their music is something of an enigma, straddling so many genres that it’s hard to know what to expect from one moment to the next, and their live show is no different. From the apocalyptic, sinister opening of ‘Rituals’, the band hammer through eight tracks almost entirely taken from 2018’s ‘Time Will Die And Love Will Bury It’; sounding all at once visceral and ethereal, it’s an intense set by an incredibly experienced band. The Apollo is an expansive venue, but Rolo Tomassi have no trouble filling it with sound – though this crowd, desperate for a chance to open up a pit, seem a bit lost in some of the more extensive, dreamy sections. This is a special band, and though they may not be for everyone, this set is a more than ample demonstration of their power on any stage.

It takes something special to take a genre as niche as technical, progressive death metal to a level that can headline and sell out venues like o2 Academy Brixton – as Gojira did just two nights ago. It’s safe to say that this French foursome, whose debut album ‘Terra Incognita’ was released nearly twenty years ago, have that something special, and they’re about to spend 90 minutes proving it in this packed and already sweaty room.

Anticipation tremors around the room as the lights roll to life over an intro that explodes into 2008’s ‘Oroborus’; each riff and earth-shattering drum beat reaching out from the stage like grasping fingers until it finds its suffocating grip around the chest and heart of every person in attendance. Such is the overwhelming power of a Gojira performance, and it doesn’t let up for a moment – so mesmerising that it feels like a spell has been cast upon the room, this music winds its way into your soul and finds a home there, buried deep beneath the ribcage.

From that new home, second track ‘Backbone’ seems especially apt as it thunders up through the floor in bone-rattling form. Front man Joe Duplantier’s growling vocals are all at once threatening, foreboding, and yet enchantingly melodic and full of emotion; his unique tone plays a huge part in what makes this band stand apart from their peers, and it is all the more impressive in this live setting.

It’s the first track from latest album ‘Magma’ that really ramps up the energy in the room, as the chugging riffs of the anthemic ‘Stranded’ burst in with synchronised pyro – as if this sweltering space needed any more help in raising the temperature. The whole set is accompanied by not only flames, but impressive lighting and backdrops; the very essence of Gojira is connected to the environment and natural world, and this comes across in the imagery used. Cracks of lightning flash before ‘The Cell’ pummels its way through the air, while mountains glide by later in the set, forging a connection with the music and adding to an almost overwhelming atmosphere that feels like something bigger than us.

It’s not only the visual effects that provide the spectacle, though – drummer Mario Duplantier is nothing short of perfection, and it’s only right that a few minutes of the encore are given over to him alone. The glue that holds these incredibly technical tracks together, he plays with a style and strength that is irreplaceable, and while drum solos can sometimes feel like a tired excuse to drag out a show the same cannot be said for Duplantier’s three minutes in the spotlight. It doesn’t take a drummer to recognise that we are watching one of the best – and if drums weren’t quite such a loud instrument, it would have been possible at times to hear a penny drop in the awestruck 3,000-strong crowd.

With so many years of music now to their name, this is a set that deftly picks some of the best of Gojira to offer a varied and stunning evening to satisfy all fans. The trudging pace of ‘The Shooting Star’ hits like a sledgehammer, and alongside ‘The Cell’ and ‘Silvera’, it’s clear to see how 2016’s ‘Magma’ has played a key role in catapulting Gojira to the place they are now. There’s plenty of love for earlier material too, though, as the crowd sing loudly along with the opening riffs of ‘Flying Whales’, and bellow appreciation for ‘Clone’ and ‘Vacuity’.

The night finishes with Joe Duplantier leading gently into the sublime ‘The Gift Of Guilt’, a fitting end to a show demonstrating exquisite showmanship and skill from a band who are without doubt the leading light in modern metal. Anyone who has had the luck and pleasure to have known Gojira since the earlier days could tell you it’s no surprise they’ve ended up here – it was only a matter of when, not if, this band became festival and arena headliners. There are few more deserving of such success; this is not simply music, but a feeling that soaks into your veins and becomes your lifeblood. Twenty years in, it still feels like only the beginning for Gojira, and we can’t wait to see what comes next.