Gojira never seemed like a band built for the mainstream. A cult act, yes, but in this century at least perhaps only Mastodon before them have taken a strand of metal so obviously built for the underground and dragged it kicking and screaming into the sunlight. It’s a long while since Gojira could legitimately be called a death metal band, but they’ve retained an uncompromising sense of self that has not always been the most accessible. Dense, complex and oblique, they’ve nevertheless hammered their way to the forefront of modern metal relying on quality and sheer bloody-mindedness.
Fortitude sounds like the album that could propel them the rest of the way to the top. They’re no strangers to melodies and hooks, but they’ve never crafted anything quite like this before. Combining the comparatively direct approach of The Way Of All Flesh with the more expansive atmospherics of last album Magma then throwing in a few complete curveballs, this is the most immediate yet surprising full-length they’ve produced to date.
It’s still built around a solid steel core, with opener Born For One Thing arriving on a slow build of taut dynamics. It also has that stretched, echoing melody thing they do so well, but when the riffs catch fire they’re truly vicious. Only two songs in the first departure hits, as Amazonia addresses the devastation of deforestation via a crunching groove peppered with indigenous instrumentation that’s straight out of Sepultura’s Roots-era playbook. “It’s very clearly a tribute, nothing more!” frontman Joe told Kerrang!, but it’s an excellent homage painted with a stripe of Duplantier DNA.
Follow-up Another World is more classic Gojira, with that drilling technicality slicing through the middle, but it also has big sing-along hooks that you could picture levelling an arena. Into The Storm is even more anthemic, but it’s the set-piece double-act of Fortitude and The Chant that head into new roof-raising territory. The title-track has a campfire groove and the loosest vibe they’ve ever allowed themselves while The Chant is a huge bluesy hymnal that the band describes as a ‘healing ritual’. It proves you don’t have to unleash the heaviest matter of the universe to have power and this is set to be a very special moment when live shows and especially festivals are a thing again.
Lyrically they’ve emerged from the introspection and meditations on mortality that characterised Magma, turning back out to the world around them. Gojira have always addressed environmental themes and they return to them here. Despite the fact that mankind appears to be lurching towards disaster, though, the overall feeling is not despondency, or even rage. Instead there’s a sense of hope and positivity – an invocation of the power that still resides in both the individual and the collective as the planet faces an existential crisis.
This is an important album, not only because it extends Gojira’s palette and cements their place as one of metal’s most skilled and uncompromising bands. They’re also one of the most inspiring as they call for strength, for action and above all for fortitude. Hang in there, and Gojira will be right beside you.