REVIEW: GOJIRA – “Fortitude”
Gojira have for a while now been at the forefront of the more extreme end of technical and progressive metal. They remain one of France’s best non-culinary exports, so like many fans, I was excited to learn that their new album ‘Fortitude’ will be released at the end of April. Like so many releases it was delayed for months by lockdowns. And like most other albums, has been subtlety influenced by the isolation and reflective time that was given.
As a follow-up to the much-lauded ‘Magma,’ the band is personally in a better place than when they recorded that album. It was much influenced by the death of Joe and Mario Duplantier’s mother, and the emotional toll it took to tour and talk about that album was exhausting. ‘Fortitude’ is by comparison a more cheerful album, and far more in the listener’s face, and considerably heavier than the last. It is a rousing call to arms in the face of worldwide pandemic and chaos, and it takes no prisoners.
The album roars into life with “Born For One Thing,” headbanging, and likely fist-pumping, an introduction if ever there was one. Anchored by the powerful and technical drumming of Mario and the bass of Jean-Michel Labadie, the song weighs as much as their famous flying whales, while Joe and Christian Andreu riff over the top of it. It is also admittedly pretty darn catchy with a chorus of ‘We were born for one thing/ Tame the greatest fear of all/ We were born for one thing/
Born to face the greatest fear of all.’ It is a cry of defiance to the fear of modern times, and to think about what we consume ourselves with, and is certain to be a crowd-pleaser once shows are back.
It is immediately followed by the environmentally charged “Amazonia.” The band is of course known for their environmental consciousness, and it is the frequent subject of their songs. Being about the destruction of the Amazon, it is unsurprisingly an angrier song, but one strong in South American rhythms, and indigenous instruments. I can’t think of another song in their catalog quite like it, which I take as a good sign for a band on its seventh album release; never stop exploring, experimenting, and trying new things.
It would be too easy to go song by song through this album, as there really isn’t a weak track, but that is tedious. But there are of course those that deserve to be mentioned. The fourth track “Hold On” begins with acapella vocalizations for the first two verses, before the jagged polyrhythmic riffs and drums begin. Keeping with the themes of taking action, the song is an uplifting statement to hold on to and to fight; for all who are struggling with stress, depression, addiction, and feeling like you’re drowning in darkness.
Jumping ahead we have the title track which is a slow, mostly instrumental piece (there are wordless vocals), the main instrument of choice seeming to be a rattled chain, and sparse hand drums. It serves as a lead-in for “The Chant” which is easily the most melodic, and largely clean sung song, of the band’s career. It continues the theme of “Hold On,” but done in a more “earthy” way for the lack of a better term. The band describes it as a “healing ritual” with its two-word chorus of ‘Get strong’ and while the song gets progressively heavier, it settles into more of a hard rock groove that your non-metal friends would enjoy rather than their typical heaviness.
They end the album with pummeling “Grind” which is everything one wants from a Gojira song. Heavy, pounding, highly technical, nuanced, and powerful vocals delivering a message. In this case, the song is saying the opposite of what the lyrics say. ‘Go!/Surrender to the grind/ Obey!/ Surrender to the grind,’ Gojira of course have no intention of surrendering anything, and certainly not to the fear and grind of the world.
After a gap of five years, Gojira is back, and they have released an album of immense power, intelligence, and feeling. ‘Fortitude’ is an album of its time, and a needed one at that. It shines a defiant light into the darkness, it uplifts without ignoring the struggles, and ultimately is an album that many in the world very much need to hear, and in a way that only they can deliver.