Fortitude (2021) is Gojira’s 7th studio album, and sees the French metal quartet maintain patterns from 2016’s Magma, namely a far more melodic and pop-y feel that seems to stem from industry confidence as well a warm reception to their current trend. Gojira has seen a lot of change since Terra Incognita (2001), from beginning at well-crafted but traditional death metal then slowly moving towards a completely unique and self-contained genre, which I have dubbed “métal passionné” (as opposed to my prviously coined, “earth metal” (chemistry innuendo intended), which applies more broadly to the band’s discography). Yet there are countless things to laud about Gojira besides their passion and “earthiness”: the musical journey the band has undertaken, the message they preach, the talent, the songwriting, the range, the musical competence, and many, many other things; needless to say, Gojira is one of my favorite bands of all time, and the band that got me into metal to begin with. Perhaps they shall do the same for you with the impressive and accessible Fortitude.
A rising snare march and lazer sharp guitar playing introduce the album on Born For One Thing; then, suddenly… the snare drops out… and a FURIOUS verse begins and demands attention. And attention will be given, drawn out by either the powerful but nuanced drum groove, or the classic Gojira riff reminding all that they still know their roots. Regardless, once attention is relinquished, it will not be given back; so listen closely, because in this song drummer Mario Duplantier introduces a core characteristic of Fortitude: restraint. In this album Gojira explores the negative side of music (that is to say, the art of empty space) and Mario’s sparse but well-placed kicks on certain sections display that well. In fact, this song is very drum-centric, with syncopated accents being a big part of Born For One Thing and making an appearance in almost every single groove: the initial march, the verse, the breakdown, and the chorus, all reinforced by a mimicking guitar functioning as a sort of melodic sheath.
Amazonia isn’t led by the drums however, and actually shines in its instrumental diversity: weird, jungl-y percussion, choral vocals (a trend in Fortitude), and what sounds like a mouth harp. This is all to cement the song’s identity and message as a sadly typical but delightfully well-executed “save the forests” anthem, focused specifically on the titular location, the Amazon rainforest. Any long-time Gojira fan will tell you that environmental appreciation and awareness has been the core artistic theme for their lyricism and songwriting ever since their inception, and I personally think it’s a criminally oversaturated message astonishingly redeemed, and in fact elevated, by the band’s incredible musicianship. Musically, this tune is one of the strongest on Fortitude, bringing to the table a rich atmosphere, an undeniable air of confidence and defiance, and further proof that Gojira still remembers they are a metal band who is expected to deliver hardcore bangers.
Speaking of “hardcore bangers,” Another World is one of the grooviest yet heaviest songs on the album, despite Mario taking a bit of a water break in the name of musical emphasis. Emphasis on what, you might ask? Well, the magnificent string playing, of course! Another World shines brightly as a strings piece, with a driving riff establishing tone and a subsequent chug riff creating much-welcomed harmonic diversity. Yet as much as tone establishment and harmonic diversity are core aspects of any complex composition, and as much as we definitely appreciate the verse and chorus providing those to us, it is the breakdown that shines above the rest of the song, simply because it’s so damn groovy. About two minutes into the song, the strings drop out for 8 bars (presumably to undergo intense mental and physical preparation for the upcoming riff) and leaves the drums to, well, hype up the return of the strings. And the hype is well deserved, as the most nose-wrinkling, disgustingly good riff just waltzes in for about 16 beats, tears the house down, and leaves like nothing happened. Seriously, I don’t know how they managed to get a sound like that, but I suppose understanding it would just take away from its majesty.
Hold On is the clean up batter for Fortitude, and evidently the band has been “grinding and grinding,” because those are the first words of the intro chant; an intro chant that actually has a lot of charm and sets up a mysterious first riff which has a interesting, almost Meshuggah-like “4/4 but not quite 4/4” feel to it. Then the drums come in with a more typical Gojira feel (owed to the kicks supporting strong notes in the riff), but still maintaining that aura of restraint and emptiness that is so unlike any album they’ve put out before. Despite the unconventionality of the drumming, the song (and the album) has a lot of callbacks to previous compositions through certain riffs that are reminiscent of certain albums; the breakdown has an airy, atmospheric tone very similar to Silvera from Magma, while the solo section is something completely new. We will see many more callbacks as the album progresses, mostly referencing their 4 most recent albums: From Mars to Sirius (2005), The Way of all Flesh (2008), L’Enfant Sauvage (2012), and Magma (2016). Their first two albums, Terra Incognita (2001) and The Link (2003), do not get as much recognition, however, and this makes apparent their departure from blast beat heavy, rhythmically intense death metal in favor of a much pop-ier, much more accessible type of metal.
New Found begins like it’s a track right off of The Way of all Flesh, with a low, chugging verse riff preceded by a choppy and off beat intro riff using screeching distortion the likes of which actually seem to be identical to their 2016 album’s hit single Stranded. Already reminiscent of two different albums, this song takes the mantle from Hold On and solidifies another main theme in Fortitude: callbacks. And they’ll callback to another two two albums before the song is over, with the 3-minute mark cleverly concealing a ¾ polyrhythm kick drum pattern identical to Blow Me Away You (Niverse) from Terra Incognita, and an interlude-to-closing-riff section similar to Flying Whales on From Mars to Sirius. Yet with all these callbacks it is incredible that the song has such a new feel, especially in the chorus. The chorus section really is like nothing they’ve ever made before, and is very characteristic of their new sound, bringing choral vocals, held notes, airy cymbals, and a hopeful tone that is a huge deviation from their typical vibe.
What is not a huge deviation from their typical vibe, however, is the title track, Fortitude. Upon listening, you might be inclined to say, “Metalbum that makes no sense, this sounds like a huge deviation from the rest of the tracks on the album!” and to that I say, “Yes, but the rest of the tracks on this album are not Gojira’s typical vibe.” Well then what is their typical vibe? In this case, one completely acoustic, toned-down, low energy song per album. Fortitude takes the exact spot that Torii, Liberation, Unicorn, The Silver Cord, and 04 did on The Link, Magma, From Mars to Sirius, The Way of all Flesh, and Terra Incognita respectively. This iteration, however, places an emphasis on choral vocals and percussion rather than string playing, once again portraying core themes of the new album. Fortitude also does something the previous incarnations did not, which is lead directly into another song.
And the song the Fortitude chant leads into is… The Chant? Indeed, and what a surprise it is to see a chant in a Gojira album; a happy surprise, considering they execute it well, and with all of Fortitude’s signature flair. The song begins at the chorus, which makes sense considering it follows Fortitude and since it’s the main theme of the song, accompanied by a strong ride cymbal and the titular chant. This is followed by the verse, in which the sound of the vocals strongly resemble the effects used on Mario’s voice in Low Lands 5 years earlier; besides that, the verse also serves to ground the song as a metal piece, albeit a very alternative one. Part of the aforementioned Fortitude flair includes choral vocals and exotic percussion, both of which make an appearance throughout the song. What else makes an appearance, more notably, is some really impressive guitar soloing, pushing the envelope wide open for rhythm guitarist Joe Duplantier and lead guitarist Christian Andreu to pursue an almost bluesy tone that is completely new for the band.
Longtime Gojira fans will be happy with Sphinx, as it combines a lot of techniques and songwriting from previous albums, most prominently a very L’Enfant Sauvage feel with some The Way of all Flesh guitar licks here and there. In the verse, the vocals see a return to Joe’s familiar growl, and in the chorus, his passionate cries that can douse any riff in hot fire. Also, this song is stuffed with callbacks, so let’s get through them rapid-fire: at about 2:39, the voice from Satan is a Lawyer; at about 3:20, the distortion from the beginning of Magma’s title track; and the verse’s vocals, rhythmic pattern, and pitch all highly resemble the verse from The Gift of Guilt. For the shortest full-length song on the album, Sphinx crams in a surprising amount of Gojira’s best ideas.
Into the Storm might be the single most interesting song on Fortitude, fusing two decades of mostly traditional Gojira with an entirely new feel so indicative of their current direction. Beginning with a frequency-muted double bass drum track reminiscent of Only Pain and The Cell (and a general Magma feel), this song wastes no time getting into the thick of things; soon, a terse snare roll signals an entry into a classic and heavy Gojira verse riff. Classic and heavy for about 8 bars, before the first of many contrasts in this song makes its appearance in the form of, you guessed it, choral vocals; this is mimicked briefly in the chorus before returning to the verse riff again. This verse riff and especially the intro drum groove are very polyrhythmic, so much so that the initial groove deserves a little more attention and analysis to appreciate it fully (note that the following will be incomprehensible jargon to most readers unacquainted with music theory). The piece is in a typical 4/4 time signature; the bass drum provides a 16th note subdivision; the snare drum plays quarter notes in 4/4; the ride bell plays dotted eighth notes (one hit every three 1/16 notes); all over a 6 bar chord progression; it may seem deceptively simple on paper, but actually listening to the groove is a bit more chaotic and nuanced. With the drums out of the way, we can now focus on the unprecedented harmonic and vocal contrast of this song by Gojira’s standards; the reader must understand that for a band tempered by the flames of underground death metal, choral vocals and bright harmonics are NOT an easily executed idea when paired with a desire to maintain even a vestige of the band’s heritage. Despite this, Into the Storm really knocks it out of the park with Gojira’s frankly astonishing risk-taking shift to accessibility through a combination of harmonics and vocals the likes of which have never been seen before; the only thing linking the sounds of the chorus to anything even remotely Gojira is the passion that reliably permeates Joe’s cries and some chords from past compositions.
Oh boy, The Trails has a lot of good stuff going on: Mario on the mic, some powerful lyricism, the best chorus on Fortitude, and not to mention the whole song being a callback to Low Lands from their last album. In fact, Low Lands is just a bit faster and that’s it; an acoustic feel, Mario on the mic, a great chorus, it’s all there. Callbacks aside, this song still stands on its own merits, and by “its own merits” I really mean the chorus section. Holy cow Mario, I thought agonizing passion was really Joe’s signature aura, but it seems the two share more than just parents; the opening line, “How can we be so blind,” is so sincere and so full of ardor that I can’t help but place it among my favorite Gojira moments ever (and it’s not even super metal-y!).
I hope you enjoyed your half-second of rest, because as soon as The Trails is over, Grind takes control. Grind is the most heavy-handed and traditional Gojira song on the album, with an intro riff very clearly inspired by Adoration for None off of The Way of all Flesh. The verse riff then swoops in to solidify the “traditional Gojira” diagnosis with a brutal chugging lick accompanied by a screeching climb of the guitar. Another groovy and thrashy riff precedes a chorus similar to that of Into the Storm but much more familiar and atmospheric due to the melody and vocals that give off a vague Ocean Planet vibe. A terse snare roll interlude (#3 on the album) and a guitar riff not unlike the first on Amazonia set up a very heavy section that warms (or rather conflagrates) any old Gojira fan’s heart. And that conflagration is stoked by the chorus, yet soon fades away into cinders with the outro into a natural and soothing nothingness that envelops the listener with a palpable feel of longing only tameable by the adage, “don’t be sad because it’s over; be happy because it happened.”
And I am quite happy that Fortitude happened, because it tamed the beast that Magma released: change. These last few albums have seen big changes for Gojira, and it had many fans worried that the band was stepping into terra incognita (pun absolutely intended) that would not be kind to them. But all along we should have been worried that the band wouldn’t be kind to the unknown, because they were certainly not, navigating and disrupting the field of modern metal with the purposeful recklessness and vivacity of their eponymous monster. Fortitude represents the beautiful debris of that recklessness, the negative, the art of empty space; Fortitude represents creation born from destruction.