Release Date: 30th April 2021
Label: Roadrunner Records
FFO: Conjurer, Architects, Sepultura
No band captures the hearts and minds of metal fans quite like French titans Gojira. Over the course of six albums they’ve showcased a love of progressive metal as well as environmental causes, tar-thick grooves and a nigh-unassailable back catalogue of riff-based excellence. In a departure from their earlier works, previous record Magma was often deeply personal, rooted in the Duplantier brothers’ loss of their mother, including a stylistic shift to a more expansive and atmospheric brand of metal. On their seventh album Fortitude, Gojira take the lessons learned and refocus on subjects they’ve always cared deeply about – the environment and how humans have been treating the planet.
After such a deeply personal experience along with the physical and emotional drain touring took on them, Gojira stepped back and asked themselves what could come next. The answer was to simply have fun and to write something that embodied strength in the face of adversity. It was prophetic for them, then, that the writing and recording of Fortitude coincided with a global pandemic; the songs are considerably more positive in some ways than previously, rather than decrying the state of the world, it’s a call to arms to do something about it.
Opener ‘Born For One Thing’ is an anti-consumerist anthem, confrontational but as always, from a place of compassion. Raging straight out of the gates with a trademark Gojira riff, shifting constantly with dissonant chords with a chorus tailor-made for arena singalongs. Immediately following it is ‘Amazonia’, tackling the destruction of the Amazon rainforest and its effects on the indigenous peoples that live there. It’s rife with indigenous instruments and grooves that more than nod to Brazilian legends Sepultura all backdropped by Gojira’s iconic polyrhythmic riffs and Joe Duplantier’s melodic scream.
It’s interesting to note that the three singles released initially have also been the first three songs on the album. It gives something of an indication of where Fortitude is going sonically but also hides some of the best material and the biggest left-turns of the album. That’s not to downplay these singles; ‘Another World’ is still classic Gojira, with its serpentine riff and leviathan chorus. It’s something they’ve done to great effect since the days of ‘Global Warming’, a repeating melodic riff that acts as an anchor for their own peculiar take on progressive metal. ‘Hold On’ stomps and grooves as if its life depends on it and also drops in a near-acoustic solo amidst the fury before ‘New Found’ barrels in, thrashing and dropping in the dissonant chords they’re known and loved for along with a thundering groove. To call it a strong opening would be an understatement; the first half of Fortitude is wall-to-wall excellence without respite.
The first major curveball is thrown in the form of the title track. ‘Fortitude’ is only a hair over two minutes and is in fact an acoustic interlude with melodious chanting, wordless and following the guitars themselves, building gently over its duration and acting as a calming influence. It’s followed immediately by ‘The Chant’ which, as the name suggests, takes the chants of the title track and weaves them in as a central aspect. It’s perhaps the closest thing to a straightforward rock song on the album but never loses that trademark Gojira sound that nobody else does.
Not content with defying expectations once, ‘Sphinx’ sees them shapeshift once more into something that could’ve come straight from the sessions for The Way Of All Flesh while ‘Into The Storm’ is exactly as its name suggests. The chugging riff sounds like the grinding of tectonic plates and it features a mammoth chorus. At the midpoint, Mario Duplantier comes to the fore with a brief but spell-binding, eight-armed assault on his kit that’s truly mind-bending and showcases exactly why he’s one of the greatest metal drummers around.
Closing duo ‘The Trails’ and ‘Grind’ are a tale of opposites; the former opens with a sedate, meandering riff and sung vocals echoing Magma’s quieter moments. Brooding and expansive, it’s exactly the kind of song they might not have dared write prior to undergoing their metamorphosis for Magma but one that is now undeniably them. ‘Grind’ follows in the footsteps of ‘The Chant’ in that its name encapsulates exactly what happens here; just over five and a half minutes featuring an opener that would make ‘Toxic Garbage Island’ proud with a frenetic pace which again harkens back to their earlier sound without losing any of the progress they’ve made since then.
Fortitude continues Gojira’s exploration of the newer, more atmospheric sound they moved towards with Magma. They’re still more than capable of bringing the heavy (‘Sphinx’, ‘Grind’) but the atmospheric tendencies have been fleshed out and are more expansive than ever (The Trails, ‘The Chant’). The band openly admitted to wanting to write simpler songs for Magma – despite songs like ‘Low Lands’ having polyrhythms and weird time signatures up to the hilt – and while that’s still the case in some songs here (‘The Chant’) Gojira are still unafraid to get weird and throw expectations and caution to the wind.
It’s difficult to encapsulate everything that makes Gojira so great. Their sound is so particular that it could only come from them; the grooves sound like the movement of entire continents; the clear thread of compassion for the environment and a desire to better the world and much, much more. Their constant evolution as well as being unafraid to stand up for their convictions are truly admirable. They’re known for putting their money where their mouth is too, as evidenced by their partnership with Sea Shepherd and launching foundations to benefit the Amazon’s indigenous tribes alongside ‘Amazonia’. A Gojira album is always going to be a huge event. Fortitude more than lives up to the lofty expectations both fans have and the band have of themselves; it’s a Herculean effort that only continues to underscore why Gojira are the best band in the world.
Recommended Tracks: Another World, The Chant, Amazonia, Into The Storm