A logical step forward, an uneventful step backwards
France’s Gojira has been one of the more engaging heavy bands to impactfully maneuver their way into at least some fawn of the mainstream. From Mars to Sirius (2005) and 2008s, The Way of All Flesh seriously stood their ground in the time where alternative and nu-metal were the dominating forms of heavy music. Additionally, despite usurping some influence from progressive metal epics and death metal’s misanthropy, Gojira carved out a very distinct and widely popular path of their own.
In the release Magma (2016), fans saw the band taking what was a mere idea on L’enfant Sauvage (2012) and running with it full on. What made Magma stand out was the transition from unpredictable, youthful anger and even extended song structures to a more focused, conducted, and in some ways, sterile approach to aesthetics and sound. Much of this and more trickled down to their newest long-play, Fortitude (2021).
Holding no punches (we’ll get back to this), right from the get-go, Gojira gives way to their signature bright guitar harmonics and intricate, racy polyrhythmic dynamics from brothers Mario (guitar and vocals) & Joe Duplantier. The album opener and first single, “Born for One Thing,” also reel people in with one of the better-ending breakdowns in Gojira’s entire career. The technicality and even the peeking sporadic nature should hint at more to come.
The second track and single, “Amazonia,” finds itself acting as a vehicle for the band’s lyricism (and music video) for environmental activism, and albeit one of the least interesting tracks, suffices as a good debaser into “Another World.” The ostinato riff on “Another World” sounds a bit like “Oroborus” from The Way of All Flesh (2008). As the riff builds around and up, it comes to a climaxing peek.
Tracks “Hold On” and “New Found” start to lose focus and fail to have much-staying power, if any. Honing in on less and less rippled into a push-pull structure, one can’t help but feel as if the songs never really go anywhere at all. Found even later on “The Trails,” with what usually is Gojira’s trademark intros and extended sections like no other, are now just lifeless, plateaued and overall long-winded. Even more, traction seems lost with an odd, unnecessary interlude title track.
“The Chant” confirms Gojira’s move into the world of slightly proggy alt-metal, and again, fails to deliver and offer any real grit and punch that is known to define Gojira. Akin to album closer “Grind,” the songwriting comes off as stitched together and lazy, rather than a coherent, mature and innovative masterwork that made Gojira so epic.
Tracks eight and nine, “Sphinx” and “Into the Storm,” are by far the most interesting songs from the record’s second half, highlighted by extremely strong choruses (something else the band has fully embraced), esoteric drumming and vocal layering, in addition to a genuine, believable atmosphere.
One of the biggest qualms to be had is, of course, the tired bashing on Duplantier’s vocals, a signature of many fans of heavy music once the harsh vocals go away. However, the issue is rather their squashed nature that seems to fight the other instruments and parts in the mix, rather than being the right-in-your-damn-face vocals that they deserve to be. One can blame the audio production, someone else can blame Joe Duplantier for opting for softer and melodic vocals, but admittedly, the songs definitely could have benefitted with a stronger vocal presence in some capacity or another. Much of this could be said for the instrument production, too.
While Gojira certainly holds no punches on Fortitude, there is a lack of punchiness, and just energy, despite being a heavy metal album. There is a lack of atmosphere and liveliness, despite being a Gojira release. Full support could and should be given to any band that decides to experiment and evolve as an entity, but if Gojira are fully committed, it’s going to need a little bit more work.