Gojira – Fortitude


Artist

Album

Fortitude

Label

Roadrunner/Warner

Year

2021

For Fans Of

Metallica, Mastodon, Opeth.

Summary

Mostly formidable.

Rating

70 / 100

Gojira’sFortitude‘ is the French metal band doing them and not doing themselves simultaneously. Starting at conception, ‘Born For One Thing‘ is an existential lamenting of how life must end; that what’s given must be returned. Sliding back and forth harmonic rings birth it, dropping into a hardened and groovy prog-chug verse that’s pure Gojira, before the ghostly melodic atmosphere of its sublime chorus cracks through. Gojira employs many riff and rhythmic tropes, but they always pull it off well: It just hits differently when it comes from them. That’s this song in a nutshell. The bruising metal instrumentals, repeating melodic motif, and Joe’s Duplantier wet vocal mixing all create a powerful contrast. And my god, the late-song breakdown with hair-raising pinches is one hell of a double-down prior to further panicked riffs ushering in an even more obnoxious, monstrous final breakdown.

The skin-slicing pick scrapes that wake up ‘New Found‘ could decapitate heads, they’re that razor-sharp. With some of the brightest hooks of the record atop, meaty syncopated rhythm sections hitting forcefully down below, ‘New Found‘ isn’t a revolutionary mixture of their heaviness and melodicism coalescing, but it’s a nonetheless a solid example of that methodology. It’s a tune all about discovering meaning in life – family, profession, art, etc. – and even if it drags a little in length, it gets there: the bridge is littered with duelling-harmonies that lead you to a concise head-banging passage. And who can forget that huge, saturated-as-shit breakdown touching down to announce the closing movement? Not me!

The Egyptian-themed ‘Sphinx‘ is a go-to heavy moment for ‘Fortitude.’ It has their trademark laser pick scrapes that could make the shortlist in a YouTube video called “the sickest Gojira scrapes.” ‘Sphinx‘ sees a return to Joe’s lower register barks, matching the slow methodical groovy heaviness of the song and the theme of man’s eventual erosion; the music’s impact feeling as ever-lasting as the actual Sphinx itself dating back past known civilisation. I love the gated-reverb hits on the snare during the solo, and how those cracking snare slaps are layered with a big tambourine. For there’s nothing more metal than tambourines. You’ll never know if I’m having you on or being genuine.

Into The Storm‘ is dominated by Mario Duplantier’s punchiest drumming of the whole album. A drum pattern so mental and so identifiable that he recently had to break it down for everyone. With high-pulse BPMs, down-stroking riffs and lane-shifting tempo jumps, it’s the kind of rebellious, civil-disobedient metal anthem the album called for. Elsewhere, ‘The Trails‘ a nice example of Gojira’s use of dynamic restraint and harmonic tension. Although, it really is just the obligatory moody song that they use as their albums’ penultimate songs, like ‘Low Lands‘ or ‘Born In Winter‘ before it.

Grind‘ sees Gojira finish up with a flourish of exactly how the record started: crushing riffs, double-kick lashings, burly blasts, and pew-pew scrapes. As well as a yearning guitar solo that takes the track on home as a quiet acoustic guitar figure dims the lights, having one of the rare tolerable fade-outs in recent memory. A musing on the freedom found within a repeated routine, and how the song itself grinds along with equal riffy and percussive precision, don’t expect Gojira to suddenly go full grindcore on our asses. Joe’s guttural “GO!” halfway through was also one of the rare instances in modern heavy music where I can let such a corny cliche slide. (Cool when At The Gates did it, not so cool now, metalcore bands.)

Gojira could’ve come back from the highly successful ‘Magma‘ with a mere repeat. ‘Fortitude‘ is not that, and while some experimentation is hit and miss, it’s great to hear them trying something new at the very least. With that established position, let’s look at the different aspects of ‘Fortitude.’

The album’s first taste of change is ‘Amazonia‘. With a blatant but strong ‘Roots Bloody Roots‘-era Sepultura vibe, Gojira’s brutal environmentalism stands tall. Backed by traditional South American music, with a repeating percussive motif from a berimbau along with distinct Indigenous folk singing, it’s a mid-tempo and straight-forward groove track with a dire warning about the state of the Amazon rain-forest. That Brazillian theme making the Sepultura inspiration even more appropriate. Ever the social activists (politics do belong in metal), Gojira are donating track proceeds to the indigenous Guarani and Kaiowa communities, auctioning their own collector’s items and that from their famous peers’ shelves to aid with burnings and deforestation. Gojira has always showcased strong environmental preservation themes, ‘Amazonia‘ becoming one of my favourite ‘Jira tracks due to how it blends the old and the new, with those new elements feeding directly into the song’s tone and message; “The greatest miracle is burning to the ground.” I wish more bands would take that extra step with how their lyricism and songwriting become connected.

Another World‘ falls into a weird mid-spot. It’s one of their simplest songs, resting upon a refrain-heavy foundation that can be a little repetitive. While not super heavy, not that techy, and far from the grooviest piece they’ve produced, it still retains their usual instrumental chunkiness, Joe’s echoing vocals, and some mighty riffs to ensure it has one foot in each space. ‘Another World‘ will cop a shoulder-shrug by many older Gojira fans when compared with their greatest hits, but I’d argue it works in favour of the band and album. It’d be boring for these guys to replicate the same song palette infinitely: they’ve done that more than enough in their 25 years. This track fits the pacing and sound of the larger album well and is a stark reminder that there’s no other planet for us to escape to. Billionaire wankers like Elon Musk may wish to colonize Mars, but it won’t be for the good of you, me, or Gojira, but for the good of their own ego; a new age of serfdom on a new fucking planet no less.

The airy prog-vocal intro to ‘Hold On‘ is a system shock, a new leaf for the band before bending guitars and a 4/4 kick drum sweep under it. From there, things slowly but surely build until the band get down with their bad selves to some typical Gojira riffage. Whilst taking a little while to get to the point, kinda like me, this is an anxious and stressful song about holding tight when riding an ocean of pressure and expectation. A metaphor for one’s mental health, the band following up their lauded previous effort, humanity’s overall survival, or all of the above? You be the judge! That “HOLD ON! FIGHT!” hook is going to be a shoe-horned win when played live, though it does feel a little lazy. Like the cheap metal version of a Millenium-whoop. So I’m pretty half-half on ‘Hold On.’ But I can’t be too mad at it; the bright tapping section in the bridge under Joe’s modulated vocals is a sweet moment.

Fortitude‘ won’t be the song that many expect with a name like that, and a cover like the one above (which might remind some of a certain 2017 Mastadon album.) Perhaps that’s the point; subterfuge. Either way, it’s something lighter for Gojira: exclusively clean guitar licks, laidback bass strums, lo-fi vocalisations and hand-percussion. It’s a short interlude that makes sense once you reach the next song, ‘The Chant,’ but on repeat listens I skip this title song as I knew where it’s heading and found no more value in it. ‘The Chant‘ utilises the same vocal melody and tempo feel of the preceding eponymous jam, feeling like a rockier Metallica track, and tries so damned hard to be emotionally resonant. The pro-human-rights message of the cultural genocide in Tibet that accompanies the track’s video is one I support wholeheartedly, but I can’t abide by the phoned-in, plodding prog-rock. Mantra or not.

Conclusion

Gojira’s seventh LP is them as a band having the literal fortitude to grow as musicians, while thematically asking humanity to muster their own fortitude to help break the death spiral of our species. ‘Fortitude’ could be a divisive album – some prog and rock parts might turn noses up, other familiar and creative moments could be embraced fully – but it will likely still go down as one of their biggest albums. If not as one of 2021’s biggest metal releases. Mostly comprised of the French metal legends’ robust groovy-tech-metal songwriting abilities, ‘Fortitude’ dons new faces with hit-and-miss experimentation: ‘Amazonia’ hits but ‘The Chant’ misses for me. Given their long-reaching platform, this change is commendable and could very well be a sign of fresher things to come. It’s definitely no career highlight, but nor is it a forgettable, bargain bin release either. It’ll confuse some – the weird Andy Wallace mix that’s drained some of their sonic punch won’t help – but it will inspire and ignite the passions of countless followers. Which is the intent: to offer hope and strength against the soul-crushing, endlessly depressing sights of our world today. Gojira’s latest at least provides that resilience in musical form.

Tracklisting

Born For One Thing

Amazonia

Another World

Hold On

New Found

Fortitude

The Chant

Sphinx

Into The Storm

The Trails

Grind

‘Fortitude’ is out now:

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