The songs in French progressive death metal band Gojira’s third studio album From Mars to Sirius tell the story of an astral traveller, who travels to Sirius C in order to save a dying planet, or the “sinking ship of men” as vocalist Joseph Duplantier puts it. The songs represent a whimsical out of body experience and is rooted in the cause of preserving planet Earth. The abundance of water imagery in the lyrics is noteworthy. It suggests the flooding of the planet owing to rising water levels as a result of global warming. In the song In the Wilderness, Duplantier sings:
I can see the end of a time
Living respectful, low your axe
And learn from the trees
Gojira’s pro-environmental approach to life is clearly depicted in these lines. The album ends with the song Global Warming, where Duplantier plants the seeds of hope in the listeners – “We will see our children growing.”
The album can be analysed from an eco-critical point of view, moreover from a bioregional and posthuman eco-critical perspective.
Bioregionalism and Life Places
It is clear that the traveller feels a close affinity with the natural world, in fact he equates himself with the planet. He says “My skin is broken” while hinting at the collapsing condition of the earth, clearly seeing himself as a part of the bioregion he inhabits. This idea is carried out in the song Global Warming where the speaker says:
I feel glaciers are my eyes
And mountains are my head
My heart is ocean
He follows up with “My eyes are shut, a vision is dying”, possibly hinting at depleting glaciers. The lyrics talk about how aliens from Sirius gave life to an ocean planet. It concurs with the lithopanspermia theory which says that life on earth is from an extra-terrestrial source which was brought to earth with objects that crashed on Earth. This idea is also echoed in the song From the Sky, where the speaker reflects:
Forced to look to the sky and wonder why
We cannot face the fact that we’re all scared now of mysteries of life
The speaker finds places that are abundant and resplendent in their natural form on his journey to Sirius. The images described provide a contrast to the state of planet Earth which is gloomy and destroyed. In the song To Sirius, the speaker reflects on how mankind has completely obliterated the natural order on Earth:
Our force sickening, killing all the time
Human laws already slain many lives
This is my way I’ve found my home
My state of real
This brings one to the concept of conservation and home. In her book Ecocriticism: Big Ideas and Practical Strategies, Swarnalatha Rangarajan illustrates Heidegger’s concept of the “dwelling”. Heidegger maintains that there is a difference between a residence and dwelling. He asserts that dwelling is a character of “being-in-the-world”. It requires human beings, nature and the divine to be interlinked in order for a dwelling to be intact. Rangarajan says:
Heidegger believed that human creativity, whether expressed in the art of building or writing poetry, can help people dwell truly and heal their fractured relationship with the earth.
Joe Duplantier, has exposed the threat to the earth through his song lyrics. Using Heidegger’s theory, one can assume that it has enabled Duplantier to dwell on the broken planet. Rangarajan talks about Thomas Berry who coined the term “ecozoic era” to refer to a “renewal of life in some creative context” which requires a new biological period. Berry maintains that in this period humans will work together to (quoting Rangarajan):
(….) form an integral Earth community whose mindful actions will serve as an antidote for the massive extinction of living forms in the Cenozoic period.
Hinduism posits that one must revere and respect nature and all living beings in order for one to live a positive and healthy life. Sushama Londhe writes:
Ayurveda, the science of life, which is a complete health and medicine system based on nature and its regenerating forces. Then we have Vastu Shastra, upon which the now well-known Feng Shui is based. Vastu, teaches us how to place and build dwellings, according to the environment it is situated in. It is done in such a way that the surroundings are not damaged by the building’s presence, and so that all the natural energies are flowing uninterrupted and freely, providing comfort, peace and prosperity for the dwellers.
The concept of dwelling is essential in the passage, since it resonates with Heidegger’s theory that there must be a relationship between nature, humans and the divine. In other words, the idea of a dwelling is not novel in the context of the Indian Subcontinent and in almost every civilisation excepting a few.
Hints of a flourishing environment is reflected in the vision of the astral traveller in the lyrics of World to Come:
The water is so clear
And the birds are alive
A mirror for the sky
Not only does one observe the recurring motif of water, but also a stark contrast to the murky dead planet. It offers a new lease of life and hope. The traveller seeks help from the flying whales who are given a god-like status, to guide the former toward his quest. Gojira has created a bioregion of their own through the album. Rangarajan points out that “human imagination and stories create bioregions…” The ocean planet with the flying whales is one such product of imagination.
While elaborating on life-places, Rangarajan talks about how place is “integral to community, identity, purpose and a sense of nature.” She further notes that a lack of place leads to feelings of alienation and detachment from land. In view of the postmodern condition of man, who lives in complete detachment from the natural world, it can be said that humans for the most part have alienated themselves from nature. E.O Wilson talks about ‘biophilia’, a feeling of oneness with all life forms. Yi-Fu Tuan brings in the concept of ‘topophilia’ which he defines as an “affective bond between people and place or setting.” In the song Global Warming, as mentioned earlier, Duplantier equates his eyes with glaciers and mountains with his head. He also says that his heart is an ocean. One can apply the idea of topophilia into the lyrics and justify that the lyrics are topophilic in nature.
Katherine N. Hayles argues that posthumanism is not anti-human, but an end to the conception that humans are autonomous beings who possess freedom of choice. Posthumanism says that humans were never in control of the environment. They only lived in the illusion that they were powerful. The school of ecocriticism “…blurs the boundaries between human and other-than-human agencies…” according to Rangarajan. It also disassembles the species barrier. In other words, everything is one and interlinked. In From Mars to Sirius there are hardly any visible divisions on the ocean planet which is one large heap of oceanic surplus. The ideas in the song lyrics resonate with the posthuman idea that humans are not and never were in charge of the ways of the natural world. On the contrary, the humans seem to have been brought down to earth by natural elements. In the song Backbone, Duplantier pedestalises the natural element of fire:
The strength of fire is running through me
Spine-like beam of light
What mortal could ever break this force?
It is a clear suggestion of the frivolity and weakness of living beings in the face of natural elements. Duplantier’s representation of the natural world and the absence of an anthropocentric structure in his lyrics brings the work into the realm of ecocriticism. An article written by D.X. Ferris in Metalsucks observes that “In modern metal, water is the new fire.” referring to bands such as Mastodon, Isis and Gojira.
Metal music has seen various waves of music themes and styles. The contemporary scenario seems to be geared around an eco-conscious theme with musicians turning vegan and singing about protecting the environment. The focus is on natural forces rather than the individual. To conclude, Gojira’s attempts to awaken the idea of conservation and sustainability brings the songs into an environmental realm.
- Ecocriticism: Big Ideas and Practical Strategies by Swarnalatha Rangarajan