Album Title: Fortitude
Label: Roadrunner Records
Date of Release: 30 April 2021
The award for idiot of the decade has been won. No, it’s not any number of politicians, those that own online music streaming platforms, or the entirety of Arsenal football club. No, the award goes to me. And it isn’t even a close race. You see, I’ve never really been a fan of Gojira. Whilst others were lapping up their output, I just didn’t really listen that closely. For some reason, after hearing snippets of their death metal debut ‘Terra Incognita’ I just thought that their music wouldn’t be for me, that it might be too ‘this’ or ‘that’ for my tastes. As such, despite the occasional cursory listen, I have heard very little of their music since. In a CD collection of two thousand or so, I don’t own a single Gojira album. See, I told you that the idiot of the year race wasn’t close.
What it does mean though, is if you’re looking for a review that comes at ‘Fortitude’, the band’s seventh full-length release over a twenty-year period, with fresh eyes and ears, this is the one you want to read. I hope.
I don’t swear in my reviews, but I really want to, because ‘Fortitude’ is…errr…flipping marvellous. I’m sat here kicking myself, calling myself some pretty fruity names in the process. Whilst listening, I have immediately purchased the last three records and I can’t wait to dive in to see what I’ve been stupid enough to miss.
When listening to ‘Fortitude’ for the first time, I immediately realised my error, thinking ‘this isn’t what I remember hearing on Gojira’s early albums. And then I got to thinking about what this music could be described as. And on that, I have struggled. It feels like a cop out to say that the music on ‘Fortitude’ sounds like no other band I know, but honestly, that’s exactly the case; this is some of the most unique music that I think I’ve ever heard. Gojira simply spread out in all directions, with seemingly nothing off-limits. The result sees the French quartet encompassing everything from extreme metal, to ambient, progressive metal, to groove-led heaviness. And it is all done with a skill and dexterity that defies belief, leading to music that is varied but always engaging, thoroughly genuine, surprisingly melodic, and immediate.
I think the immediacy is the biggest surprise of all because just about every one of the eleven songs brings something to the table that, on a first listen, I felt I needed to come back to. And with repeated listens that I have devoured like a Tasmanian Devil, I hear new things, exciting things, mind-boggling things. Whether it is the insanely dextrous drumming of Mario Duplantier, the energetic, musical, and vital bass playing of Jean-Michel Labadie, the varied and beautiful guitar work of Christian Andreu and Joe Duplantier, or the latter’s unique and multi-faceted vocal deliveries, there is supreme talent oozing out of every pore.
I immediately have a couple of favourite tracks which is where I’ll start. ‘Hold On’ is a beautiful composition from start to finish, with pronounced melodies throughout. The multi-layered a capella vocals that welcome the song into existence offer a sense of the dramatic whilst a relatively simple rhythmic beat emerges, allowing a gorgeous melody to unravel thanks to the interplay between guitars and vocals. When the heaviness hits, the song changes to something much more technical, with polyrhythms doing serious damage to my neck muscles. The fact that lyrically, the song looks to speak directly to anyone suffering with stress, depression, or any myriad of personal struggles, reaching out to provide a message of strength, just makes the whole song so much stronger. It touches a nerve with me, and I thank the band for it.
‘Into The Storm’ delivers one of the most devastating choruses I’ve heard this year, or for many a year. It’s a glorious anthem of gigantic proportions but as appears to be the Gojira way, the song is not all simplicity and beauty, with some furious and complex musicality to juxtapose the jaw-dropping melodies that bless this monstrous composition.
I also really like the opening song, ‘Born For One Thing’, which demonstrates the incredible technicality that the Gallic quartet are able to unleash without seemingly breaking a sweat. The riffing is engaging, groovy, and catchy, the rhythmic spine is tight as a duck’s behind, and whilst the song delivers an ever more catchy, understated chorus of sorts, I can’t speak more highly of the progressive nature of the song. It’s a full-throttle metal track that will have a sea of heads nodding and fists punching when live events return. To hear this music at full volume in a live arena will be a special moment, to that I can attest.
Whilst I may not know much about the music of Gojira, I do know that they are held in very high regard for their environmental stance. It isn’t surprising to discover then, that ‘Fortitude’ is littered with songs and lyrics that tackle the band’s disgust at many of the ills being done to the planet by the human race. ‘Amazonia’ is one such song, a seething, dark, and intelligent musical two-finger salute to those that are responsible for the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. I doff my cap to the way in which Gojira manage to incorporate authentic instrumentation into the DNA of the track to allow it to hammer home its message in the strongest of ways. I’m led to believe that this is something new for Gojira but, if there’s any justice in the world, it’s an approach that the band will explore in future endeavours.
You’ll likely already have heard ‘Another World’, as it was the first song to be released ahead of the release of ‘Fortitude’. As such, you don’t need me to tell you what a fantastic track it is, a real grower that didn’t spike my interest at first but which, over time made it impossible for me to not delve into this album in some detail.
At the risk of turning this review into a blow-by-blow description of every song, a few more songs require a mention. Firstly, there’s the duet of the title track and ‘The Chant’. ‘Fortitude’ is only two minutes long, but it is something of a prelude to ‘The Chant’, in that it introduces the central melody that’s to follow within that song, albeit with more power and muscle. It isn’t too far off the mark to consider ‘The Chant’ to be something of a ballad thanks to the structure of the song and the heavy reliance on a strong hook rather than their usual complexity, and technical prowess. For Gojira, ‘The Chant’ is something of a relaxed jaunt into melodic heavy rock territory, where stoner vibes can be heard whilst I sway from side to side in appreciation of the relative simplicity of the music.
But those who may fear that Gojira have abandoned their heavy roots need only home in on the closing track, the aptly-named ‘Grind’ to enable them to relax. It’s a ferocious slab of technically-adept extreme metal that ends the album on a breathless and intense high.
Others may conclude a review like this in a more eloquent nature, but all I can say right now is ‘wow’. I cannot believe that I have allowed my musical education to have such a gaping chasm within it. On the evidence of ‘Fortitude’, Gojira are one of those bands that are truly deserving of adjectives such as ‘genius’, ‘magical’ and ‘special’. Most of you reading this will already know that ‘Fortitude’ is a no-brainer of an album if you truly enjoy heavy music that’s intelligent, deep, complex, and multi-faceted. Gojira and I will no longer be strangers, I can assure you of that. Magnifique!
The Score of Much Metal: 96%
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: