Gojira

Fortitude

Written by: AP on 22/11/2021 19:46:37

Gojira chose a path of activism early on in their career, and now, as the world burns around them and societies across the world become inundated by one déluge after the other, the French band and their message could hardly be more relevant. Yes, the climate emergency is receiving long-due attention at last, and these four musicians from Bayonne are at the forefront of quite literally making noise about it — and to an ever-increasing audience. As such, another choice the group has been forced to make is catering to a more wide-ranging fanbase on each successive effort since 2008’s “The Way of All Flesh” brought them into the mainstream. It is hard to blame the Frenchmen for accepting the torch since it gives them an enormous platform from which to preach their gospel, but inevitably, this has created a kind of feedback loop where more success leads to more accessible material leads to more success leads to… you get the point. Needless to say, their more long-standing fans have not been unanimously pleased by the evolution of their sound away from their death metal roots, resulting in both 2012’s “L’Enfant Sauvage” and its successor, 2016’s “Magma” dividing the waters, to say the least. I have to admit that I, too, had my reservations about the change of direction — yet both of those records have grown on me, and the former even now ranks as my penultimate Gojira favourite after “The Way of All Flesh”.

I had thus not been anticipating this seventh and latest offering of theirs, “Fortitude”, with the same kind of dread as I would imagine many others might have, and indeed as a teaser of sorts to lead into the rest of this review, it should be mentioned that “Fortitude” actually takes a step back toward the heaviest matter of the universe found on Gojira’s earlier records, and finds the balance between the old and the new that “Magma” did not. It is thus the perfect album to mark the band’s 20th anniversary this year, packing all of the elements that long-standing fans have come to adore and expect: the shifting rhythms, the groovy, hard-hitting riffs, the esoteric atmosphere, and a tone that sounds like a sledgehammer meeting an anvil. All of these staples are present on the opening track “Born for One Thing”, which leads in a potent trio of cuts that should suffice to leave even the most skeptical listeners licking their lips at what else might be in store. My personal favourite in this initial salvo has to be “Amazonia”, which stomps along to the tune of a single guitar note that twists and bends itself into a primitive melody, and a droning, mechanical beat which seems purposefully designed for hammering the track’s message — the consequences of deforesting the lungs of the Earth — into our skulls. “Burn the land! Learn the end!”, roars frontman Joe Duplantier with indignation, leaving no one in doubt about his and his compatriots’ despair about the environmental destruction unfolding in that rainforest, while the infusion of indigenous flutes and chants reminds us that the Amazon is not ours to claim, let alone desecrate. This is further underpinned by the pair “Fortitude” and “The Chant”, which pay tribute to the Amazonian peoples with chiming tambourines and melancholy, yet simultaneously reassuring chain gang cantillations.

That Joe Duplantier is renowned as an optimist is plain for all to hear, not only on those tracks, but also when he is painting a vision of the apocalypse on the lead single “Another World”, which, after having ridden the airwaves for some 11 months thus far, has certainly stood the test of time. It may be that on this song and indeed throughout the entire album, Joe’s brother Mario has taken a back seat and toned down his polyrhythmic style somewhat “in order to serve the riff”, as he puts it, but neither “Another World” nor any of the other material packed into “Fortitude” suffers from it — on the contrary, Gojira have seldom felt more approachable. And this is despite the myriad classic Gojira touches like the brutal, “Backbone”-sque chug riffs in “New Found”, the signature usage of harmonic notes and pick slides in the crushing highlight “Sphinx”, or the Meshuggah-ish rhythm deployed by Mario in “Into the Storm”. One impression of Joe’s powerful and strained roars in the soaring chorus of that song should suffice to convince anyone that this French outfit has mastered the art of writing extreme music for massive audiences, and that, as if it was not obvious already, Gojira are ready to take the torch from the veteran headliners and become the festival bill-topping band they were always destined to be. The closing piece “Grind” further emphasises the fact, first lashing at the listener with more of those squealing harmonic notes and dissonant percussion, and then gradually easing into an elegiac second half that plays like the soundtrack for humanity’s ultimate demise.

It has taken me a long time to gather my thoughts about “Fortitude” and come up with this verdict. I did not want to be deceived by first impressions like I was, to an extent, by “L’Enfant Sauvage”, and having allowed “Fortitude” to breathe and evolve for several months, it has felt more fulfilling and sounded more complete on every listen. And if that is not the hallmark of a truly lasting record, then I don’t know what is. Indeed, the marriage of Gojira’s past brutalism with the arena spanning power of their later output, and not least the reactionary urgency of Joe Duplantier’s lyricism, render this album one of the band’s finest yet, albeit not exactly on par with their two masterpieces from 2008 and 2012. “The Way of All Flesh” and “L’Enfant Sauvage” may never be topped, however, so there is no use focusing on their relative strengths too much — “Fortitude” is well worth your while and its message deserves… no, demands to be heard by millions.

8

Download: Born for One Thing, Amazonia, New Found, Sphinx, Into the Storm
For the fans of: Deadnate, Decapitated, Fit for an Autopsy, Meshuggah
Listen: Facebook

Release date 30.04.2021
Roadrunner Records

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