What is there left to say about Gojira that hasn’t already been said? Amongst metal fans the French band are revered as indisputable titans; a living, breathing reminder of the breathtaking capabilities of top-drawer heavy music. From their origins as death metal prodigies to mid-career progressive experimentations to a gradual shift towards stadium-ready majesty, the band are seemingly capable of pulling off just about everything they turn their hands to. This prodigious technical skill is further complimented by a recurring thematic fascination with ecology and progessive social causes, giving the band depths of substance to bolster the immaculate style.
Fortitude sees Gojira leaning further into the sonic aesthetics that defined 2016’s Magma, namely a focus on more straightforward, linear and often anthemic tracks, the kind that once would have been referred to as ‘groove metal’. This tag, applied to acts such as Lamb Of God and Pantera, never made much sense (do those two bands actually sound that much alike?) but has been used as a catch all term for heavy music that lacks the unpalatable aspects of extreme music, though is nonetheless still rich in technically-astute, headbanging glory. The closest comparisons for Magma’s move towards this more agreeable and undeniably softer approach would be Metallica’s Black Album, or Mastodon’s The Hunter. It alienated a minority of fans, yet simultaneously opened Gojira up to a whole new world of musical possibilities.
So does this make Fortitude Gojira’s Load or Once More ‘Round The Sun? Not exactly. It does go some way to further ironing out much of the head-spinning brutality that defined the band’s pre-Magma career. There’s no room for any of the audacious, space whale conceptual madness, nor is there anything present that comes close to matching the raw, feral intensity of their first two albums. Fortitude is Gojira at their most anthemic and easy to like, rich in familiar song structures and sing-a-long vocal melodies. Most recent single ‘The Chant’ is the best example of this shift; a bluesy, stoner rock-indebted anthem of self-resilience whose sheer simplicity is initially quite disarming. While we know Gojira have the ability to let rip with far greater levels of ferocity, ‘The Chant’s gentle melodies are immensely likeable, successfully swatting away the initial cynicism that will surely greet this radio-friendly cut.
The defining trait of Gojira’s music since Magma seems to be its determination to stay at a disciplined mid tempo bludgeon, rather than warping and shifting its compositional insanity. ‘New Found’ bounces and broils, utilising a squelchy main guitar riff that’s caveman-like in its simple, irresistible fun. Its last ninety seconds are unnecessary and kill a bit of the momentum, but it’s an enjoyable track nonetheless. ‘Into The Storm’ speeds things up, opening like a Mad Max chase through a dystopian desert, but again settles for more sedate choruses and linear verse sections. Most tracks are built around this sort of neck-snapping groove (check out ‘Sphinx’s pumpelling pick-scraped lead riff), but each contains enough little variations to make them memorable and often striking.
Fortitude is all but guaranteed to further alienate a certain subset of extreme metal fans. Gojira’s willingness to flirt with simplicity and grand anthems will be a turn off to those that pine for the rawer and heavier sound that defined their early work. However, what makes the album work is that it never feels toothless. The riffs are still heavy despite their accessibility, and the ecological/socio-political subject matter is still weighty enough to land with poignancy and force. Unlike Load and Once More ‘Round The Sun, Fortitude never makes you wish that you were listening to the band’s earlier work, and instead simply feels like the natural evolution of this insanely talented band.