Old Slayer and Fresh Fruit: Gojira Frontman Joe Duplantier’s Metal Musts

Joe Duplantier of Gojira

Joe Duplantier of Gojira

On October 25 in Las Vegas, French metal beasts Gojira kicked off a North American tour they’ll spend tenderizing audiences as the opening act for their heroes, Slayer. “It’s amazing to be on this tour,” says the band’s elated frontman, Joe Duplantier. “It’s Slayer!”

At this point, Duplantier shouldn’t be surprised to find his band opening for the thrash legends. Gojira’s 2012 release, L’Enfant Sauvage, was both sublimely technical and utterly brutal. Filled with unrelenting beats, neck-snapping speed, and throat-shredding growls, the effort made SPIN’s 20 Best Metal Albums of 2012 list.

The Frenchmen will be on the road until November 30, but on his day off, Duplantier chatted with us about some of his favorite things.

Slayer’s South of Heaven
It’s the first [Slayer album] I listened to. I was in high school at the time and I had to take the damn bus every morning. Listening to this album, it’s so evil and dark, punk and thrash at the same time. It was very helpful for me to face the day. Going to school was torture for me, and listening to Slayer at this moment was very helpful.

Slayer Bassist-Vocalist Tom Araya
I learned a lot from Tom. I’m very impressed by his charisma and how he communicates — he doesn’t care, he is just himself onstage. He doesn’t need to play hard to be metal. He doesn’t need to try. He can just be himself. He’s not scared to talk about love — for example, several times already during the shows, he talks about a Slayer show being all about love.

I think [Death guitarist-vocalist] Chuck Schuldiner was a genius. The way he put words together was very mystical and interesting. The way he cut a sentence, a line is just one half of the sentence, and the second line is the second half of the sentence. That signature I really love, the images that he is using and the way that he is talking about modern society. Death was always a one-man band, it was all him. The way I work, the way I compose riffs and put my voice on it and stuff, is heavily influenced by Chuck Schuldiner.

Lowlands Music Festival
We played Lowlands in Holland this summer. When I saw, the bill I didn’t know half of the bands: I was like, “What is this — it’s going to be a shitty festival.” And I was blown away by the vibe. Nick Cave was headlining, Bonobo, Slayer, it was huge and very interesting, very eclectic. Sometimes [eclectic] doesn’t work — the crowd is not really open-minded because the bands playing are too mainstream, so we’re not really welcome. We feel like the crowd is watching us like strange animals or something. But this festival, it was very artistic and good quality; people were open-minded, and we had a blast.

I’m pretty fascinated with Metropolis by Fritz Lang. It’s a very old movie, but it’s a masterpiece. It’s about modern society, and it is very ahead of its time. The music is incredible, and it was actually an inspiration when I was writing the lyrics for L’Enfant Sauvage. There is something really magical and beautiful about old art in general, paintings and drawings. This movie is very symbolic of the older times, with a lot of magic. I like to be inspired by older art.

It’s so difficult to eat on the road. We eat so much shit, you know? We stop somewhere, and that’s our only opportunity to eat on travel days. We have a very hard time to digest, and we’re always a little sick with food on the road for some reason. We don’t really choose when and what we eat, so each time I eat an apple or banana, I feel great.

The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying
It’s my bible! It’s about reincarnation and the process of dying. It’s something that is not morbid for me. The last step of our life in this body is when we leave this world. It’s something very sacred. Almost everyone is scared of dying. It’s taboo to talk about death; when someone is going to die, we don’t know how to react, what to say to this person — we kind of try to avoid the subject. In reality, it is something really beautiful, like a birth, but it’s just the other way around. I’m not saying we should all die right now and it’s going to be a great party, but the most common thing on this planet is dying. This book, it’s mostly about life at the end of it. It’s a beautiful book — I love it.

Slayer and Gojira at Madison Square Garden Theater

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[I]t was good to witness such a deserving act[Gojira] delivering a fine performance to a huge and enthusiastic crowd.

“Slayer” and Gojira. Not Slayer and Gojira. “Slayer” and Gojira.

Thus have many observers dubbed the bill for this tour, thanks to the absence of Dave Lombardo and Jeff Hanneman. Paul Bostaph is back on the drum throne, where he spent most of the ’90s. Exodus guitarist Gary Holt retains the live guitar spot he’s held for the past two years and looks poised to keep it.

These folks consider this version of Slayer illegitimate — a shameless exploitation of a legacy, especially in the immediate wake of Hanneman’s death. The financial nature of the band’s dispute with Lombardo deepens the impression, as does their decision to populate their set entirely with material from their classic first five albums. (You can see the setlist here; it nods to Holt with an Exodus cover.) Despite Bostaph’s presence, the set included only Lombardo-era material — an irony and arguably a mercy.

Perhaps the current version of Slayer really is fake or exploitative in some way. Lombardo would likely say so, though the limited information available to fans makes it hard to say which party is in the right. And ultimately, I’m not sure that I care. At the least, I have a hard time holding Tom Araya and Kerry King’s choice to carry the torch against them. Slayer has been a professional venture as much as an artistic one for well over a decade; their newer albums exist mostly to justify their tour schedule. Three of the band’s four current members are 49, while Araya is 52. They have all been living as pro musicians for thirty years, and they now operate in a market that is more hostile than it has been since the dawn of mass-market music. These guys have no alternative résumés behind them to fall back on; their pensions will come out of their own wallets. Bostaph and Holt are basically working stiffs. Araya and King are reputedly quite wealthy, but they also have children to consider.

Put aside the unknowable nature of the Lombardo split for a moment and suppose that Araya and King’s decision to continue as Slayer is purely financial. Do you blame them? If you were in their position, would you set aside the creative business that you’d built up for your entire adult life in favor of the nebulous cause of artistic integrity? Or would you do as they’ve done, and keep reigning?

Perhaps many of you would have King and Araya fold the band, and I can sympathize with that perspective too. Monetary disputes among aging musicians are ugly, and metal fans (myself included) dislike both the idea of art-as-commerce and reminders of the practical pressures their heroes face.

But the attendees of this packed NYC show (myself included again) were clearly glad that Slayer still exists in some form. This band continues to inspire the kind of borderline-pathological enthusiasm that is normally reserved for acts like Phish and Jimmy Buffett. Metal’s unspoken law against sporting the logo of the band you’re seeing has no force at Slayer shows. We saw Slayer shirts without number; Slayer hats; Slayer hoodies; Slayer jackets; Slayer tattoos; even multiple pairs of sexy Slayer/American flag leggings. (The trendy Slayer Christmas sweater was notably absent). I planned to keep track of how many times I heard people spontaneously scream “SLAYER!” between bands, but I lost count before I got past the beer line.

We missed virtually all of 4Arm, whom I was unfamiliar with before the show. The song and a half I did catch sounded quite a bit like mid-period Slayer. Do unoriginal bands feel uncomfortable when they open for the groups whose style they bite? Is there awkwardness backstage? This is one of metal’s many mysteries to me.

Fortunately, I did see all of Gojira, who held their own against some extremely stiff competition. Their reverby, chugged-out grooves have always struck me as crafted with big venues in mind, and they projected an epic sense of scope in the MSG Theater’s cavernous, 7,000-cap confines. I’m often disappointed or baffled by which modern metal bands get popular and which fail to find traction; it was good to witness such a deserving act delivering a fine performance to a huge and enthusiastic crowd.

But this was a Slayer show, and even the best opener ever at a Slayer show will always be a temporal obstacle between you and Slayer. And unsurprisingly, Slayer were exactly what I expected. They were not “Slayer.” they were SLAYER.

They didn’t entirely look like Slayer. Kerry King is slowly transforming into a bearded pierogi covered in tribal tats. Tom Araya looks and talks more like The Dude with each passing year, especially when he chides bouncers and audience members for boorish behavior. Gary Holt has a totally un-metal way of standing with his knees pointed inwards, like he really needs to pee and is trying to hold it in until the end of the set. He nailed all of his parts into the ground, but Hanneman’s presence was missed nonetheless.

But they sounded right, and nothing else mattered. Slayer have inevitably lost a step with age, but their fury remains potent. I’ve only seen them once before, when I was in high school and the original unit had gotten back together relatively recently. Roughly a decade and many, many metal gigs later, I received the exact same berserker charge from this set.

It’s amazing the way that great songs, played nearly perfectly, can strip away cynicism. When the band segued from “Raining Blood” into “Black Magic” just before the brief encore break, I was more interested in punching the entire universe in the face than in dissecting King and Araya’s motives. When they deployed a huge banner of Hanneman’s familiar ersatz-Heineken logo just afterwards, I got a little verklempt. Neither typical metal shows nor half-assed nostalgia acts can elicit such emotion.

And that’s good enough for me. Slayer in 2013 are not who or what they used to be. Their live show is aging, but mostly superficially. They’re either cynically exploiting their fans or just giving those fans what they want. It’s tough to tell the difference, but the audience at this gig wasn’t trying to — they were more interested in enjoying Slayer’s twilight years while they last.

Photos by Caroline Harrison, Dough Moore


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Following a summer of storming through Europe, South America and Mexico while topping the bills at solo shows and major festivals, Slayer will headline its first North American tour in two years. The tour will include the band’s previously announced return to New York’s Theatre at Madison Square Garden and the Hollywood Palladium, venues the band hasn’t performed at in 25 years.

Gojira and 4ARM support on all dates.

Tickets for all dates on Slayer’s U.S. tour, go on sale beginning this Friday, September 6. Log onto http://www.slayer.net for complete on-sale dates and ticketing information.

With more dates to be announced, confirmed dates for Slayer’s 2013 Fall North American tour are as follows:

25 The Joint at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas, NV
28 Hollywood Palladium, Hollywood, CA
30 Events Center @ San Jose State, San Jose, CA

08 Myth, Minneapolis, MN
10 FunFunFun Fest, Austin, TX
12 Bayou Music Center, Houston, TX
13 South Side Ballroom, Dallas, TX
15 Aragon Ballroom, Chicago, IL
16 The Fillmore, Detroit, MI
17 LC Pavilion, Columbus, OH
19 The Fillmore, Washington, D.C.
20 Stage AE, Pittsburgh, PA
26 Oakdale Theatre, Wallingford, CT
27 Theatre @ Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
29 Susquehanna Bank Center, Camden, NJ
30 Tsongas Arena, Boston, MA

Tickets for these newly-added dates go on sale beginning this Friday, September 13. Log onto www.slayer.net for complete on-sale dates and ticketing information.

Newly-added dates for November:

Tickets for these newly-added dates go on sale beginning this Friday, September 13. Log onto www.slayer.net for complete on-sale dates and ticketing information.

01 WAMU Center, Seattle, WA
03 Stampede Corrall, Calgary, AB
04 Shaw Center, Edmonton, AB
05 Praireland Park Center, Saskatoon, SK
07 MTS Center, Winnipeg, MB
21 Ricoh Colibsum, Toronto, ON
23 CEPSUM/University of Montreal, Montreal, QC
24 Pavilion de la Jeunesse, Quebec, QC