Credit: Gabrielle Duplantier
by Ayeen Forootan Foreign Correspondent Music

Gojira | Fortitude

May 17, 2021

Gojira’s latest record is their least brutal, but also arguably their most cohesive, mature effort to date.

Five years after they released 2016’s Magma, French extreme metalheads Gojira are back again with their seventh studio album, Fortitude. And for anyone who has not been following the progressive death/groove metal that this quartet has been producing over these last 20 years, Gojira is one of those acts with a prominent cult following but who still push boundaries and challenge themselves (and their listeners) with each new album. That said, this latest effort from the group may still come as a surprise even for their most diehard fans: More so than on Magma, Fortitude finds Gojira stripping down and scaling back their aggressive energy, while trending toward a more prog-centric and experimental form, a more ruminative kind of approach. The first two tracks here (“Born for One Thing” and “Amazonia”) pay obvious homage to Brazilian metal veterans Sepultura (especially the Max Cavalera era), with heavy riffs and an underlying sense of groove. But the sludge-metal vocals with which those tracks’ instrumentals are paired simultaneously bring to mind Pantera — and that friction proves to be an accurate measure of just how diverse and eclectic Fortitude will get even before the band perplexes their listeners further with some Tool-inspired sonic complexities on songs like “Hold On” and “New Found.”

The combined emphasis on riffs and on the more melodic rhythms makes Fortitude a dynamic album filled with free, metamorphosing structures. Joe Duplantier’s vocals frequently alternate between dense, hoarse growls or an uplifting croon, and even delve into some spiritual intonations (the latter being most evident in the two-parter of “Fortitude” and “The Chant”). Christian Andreu’s guitar can evolve from palm-muted technique to multi-layered, sprinting riffs, or to repetitive, slow-building harmonics. And Jean-Michel Labadie’s basslines, in tandem with Mario Duplantier’s thundering drums, bring depth and intensity to every one of the compositions here. Together, this ensemble can unleash explosive, fulminating sounds that invigorate tracks like the straight-forward, sing-along-friendly anthem “Another World,” or the mid-tempo grooves of “Sphinx” and “Into the Storm.” Meanwhile, a song like “The Trails” resonates with a more introverted mood — an emotional calm that flirts with easy-listening at times. Finally, all of these disparate approaches are brought together, masterfully, on Fortitude’s closer, “Grind”: refined, technical metal, with bouts of extreme heaviness, that’s galvanized by (bitter)sweet melodies.

Magma was almost overwhelmed by grief and sadness, no doubt due to the death of the Duplantiers’s mother. Fortitude, though, finds a Gojira willing to embrace a broader emotional spectrum, one reflective of a sense of hope and inner strength, or even the regaining of power — as reflected in the lyrics for both “In the Storm” (“Gather your strength, raise your eyes / Fear not the demons you’re up against”) and “The Chant” (“Leave the mud behind and climb up to the sky”). Conceptually, this also allows Gojira to connect their modern extreme music with more heady concerns (as has been a tact that they’ve deployed in the past), as is best represented here by the environmentalist preoccupations of “Amazonia.” Perhaps most impressive, though, is this band’s ability to hold down all its ambitions while still preserving their eccentricity and noticeably moving into a more mainstream domain (comparisons to Mastodon and Meshuggah in recent years aren’t unwarranted). Which is to say that Fortitude is, in sum, the least brutal and harsh Gojira album, a point that’s sure-to-be-divisive for fans, but also their most coherent and mature and still heavy work to date — we’ll stop just short of calling it their best, though.

Published as part of Album Roundup — April 2021 | Part 2.