No disrespect to any other band out there – 2021 has already heralded some terrific releases with plenty more to come but it cannot be ignored that a new album from Gojira has an extra buzz of excitement attached to it. And while no band is infallible or untouchable in the absolute, this French quartet does come close; raising the bar and exceeding expectations just seems to be embedded in the foursome’s DNA. It is not superlatives for the sake of it, either – Gojira has earned their place at metal’s top table, always capable of more and their journey from a death metal band to progressive experimenters proves that Gojira never fit into one single box. Maybe it took until third album, the still extraordinary 2005 album From Mars To Sirius for many to sit up and take notice but through a further three records, 2008’s The Way Of All Flesh – which saw the band hit the Billboard Top 200 for the first time – 2012’s L’Enfant Sauvage and 2016’s Magma, Gojira has continued to take it up a notch in their record work. Coupled with their depth of presence as to social and ecological issues, technical musical brilliance shares the same space as deep rooted beliefs and not just merely reflecting in lyrical content but direct action and solid support.
Gojira’s journey from death metal into more experimental pastures has, of course, given the band more sonic scope and highlighted genuine evolution. Removing the death metal may lessen the extreme angle but this has not diluted the heaviness, which is delivered in a more straight forward manner thus opening doors in Gojira’s sound; more emotional and connectable. Previous album Magma was indeed steeped in emotion, a record born under the shadow of the sad death of the mother of the Duplantier brothers. Whether this directly connected with other listeners that had experienced the same or not, it was a presence well and truly felt creating a relationship between a sad event, the music and the listener. A heavy subject, a heavy album and while some may have opined that Gojira were aping other bands in dumbing down their sound, Magma was one more step on a band’s evolutionary trajectory
Fortitude does therefore continue Gojira’s journey and on a similar road to Magma. It is a continuing forward momentum that does not look backwards to the band’s early material and keeps itself straight and true whilst still sounding very much like Gojira. If anything, Fortitude is an album that points more to anthems and driving down the claws for memorable hook lines and musical elements that manage to grab the attention. There is familiarity as well, whether it be the tell-take plectrum scrapes down the fretboard or song structures but it is on songs such as The Stom where Gojira are playing several hands at once, a five minute and quite breathless journey, manic drumming that only Mario Duplantier could turn out, Joe Duplantier howls “GO!” and then a hulking lump of guitar practically levels everything in its path; the move to a glorious rousing vocal line and a frantic mid section that is head spinning. While The Chant has a stoner vibe driven through it, The Trails has elements of Mastodon in the vocal delivery that has the power to haunt and hang in the air long after the song is done. This is not a band happy at repeating themselves.
Fortitude is littered with flashes of brilliance and complexity and in a lot of ways is an album that is much easier to love early on because of its more straight forward approach. This is still Gojira but an album such as The Way Of All Flesh was more Gojira of old where there is a lot more to dig through and unearth while revelling in its pummel; Fortitude is more of a rummage and with the room to breathe, there is less space for conceptual dalliances and complexities are short lived favouring a more anthemic song structure. There may be a more linear approach but it is effective and there is more than enough within the album to keep the interest through its 52 minute running time and Fortitude is an album that does grow with songs that are sure to become favourites in the live arena.
From a performance point of view, Fortitude is faultless and is a joy to behold. There is no muddy mix or dicey production, there is an intensity in the performance that is right at the fore. There is no doubt though that Fortitude does move further away from Gojira’s early sound and what was considered “extreme” but at the same time, Gojira is hardly into cringeworthy ballad territory either. Fortitude is an album that retains potency and still has heaviness at its core but deals it in a more diverse manner still delivering hefty lyrical content that adds its own heaviness that certainly packs a punch. While Fortitude is likely to attract a new fanbase for Gojira, others will stick with the old material but for anyone else that has remained on the journey with this talented band, Fortitude is one more step in Gojira’s evolution and worth every single minute.