Gojira’s Fortitude solidifies their prominence in modern metal.
In the life cycle of a band or artist, the constant thrust is to find that sound that’s quintessentially yours. Some concoction of words, sounds, and rhythm that unites your fans in solidarity. The achievement of being able to flick on a radio or a playlist and identify the artist within a second because their sound is so iconic. It’s branding essentially. This is not unique to pop artists trying to hit #1 worldwide with mass appeal to the layperson. Punks, indie outcasts, and extreme metal bands are all trying to accomplish the same thing. At a certain point, if you’re lucky, you can hit the pinnacle and plant the flag on your defining sound.
Once you’ve achieved that, what you do from there is a whole new game. It’s a tightrope act trying to please as many of the fans you’ve collected along the way as you can while still trying to innovate. It can be a tough line to walk. “Once it’s #1, it’s old hat”. Mastodon carved their way from obscurity to riff-metal overlords by honing their sound, becoming increasingly in tune with melody. From the full chaos of their early shanty swing psych-outs to the prog masterpiece Crack The Skye. With that album, they had locked down their signature sound treading the perfect line between untethered thrashers and seasoned melodicists. After that, the balancing act begins. To stay Mastodon but continue to innovate. The albums that follow have garnered the band its highest sales with legions now following the band. However, for their undeniable skill and flawless execution, they don’t have the same punch that Crack The Skye and Blood Mountain have.
French groove metal-smiths Gojira seem to be arriving at that same precipice. They have specialized in death metal from their inception in 1996 (as Godzilla), making the jump to a more melody-conscious writing style for L’Enfant Sauvage (2012) and Magma (2016) coinciding with their move to Roadrunner Records. In the five years since Magma, as the world waited for the next release, the fanbase exploded. The name was now mentioned in league with all the heavy-hitters of heavy music. Their shows were incendiary and their style had found its brand; grinding low grooves spliced with wild high pitched squeals thanks to the use of a Whammy pitch-shifting pedal.
Fortitude arrived on April 30th of this year and it satisfies every itch. Pulverizing grooves, voracious squeals and Joe Duplantier bellowing to the gods about the destruction of our planet. With this record, Gojira have stepped up their game yet again. The grooves are more sophisticated while not necessarily being more complicated. The band’s rhythm is so deeply in sync that they can take you to a space that hovers over their machinations to a meditative trance. They’re hitting that hallowed ground that Meshuggah found when they forged the juggernaut groove of Obzen’s ‘Bleed’. In addition, they’re finding melodic opportunities that hadn’t yet presented themselves in their sound. There are anthems that feel carried over through generations dating back to Vikings roaring on a hell-bound barge.
Rising harmonics and a rolling snare wind up the tension to kick-off ‘Born For One Thing’. It breaks into a blistering early 90s-inspired thrash to satisfy any Pantera fan but the chorus finds that reverb-soaked cosmic ejection that Mastodon’s Hinds and Saunders use to such great effect. ‘Amazonia’ finds a twangy-tribal hook to tie the chugging guitars to. Duplantier decries the devastation of the South American rainforests “There’s fire in the sky/You’re in the Amazon/The greatest miracle/Is burning to the ground” The band channels the fury of the planet to transmit another grave warning about its impending calamity.
The album’s undeniable classic is the first single ‘Another World’. A brilliantly rolling riff that’s as infectious as any metal lick to come out in the last 10 years. The genius comes in the juxtaposing of the guitar and bass’s fluidly fluttering parts with brother Duplantier’s deceptively simple drums, locking down the headbanging pace of the rhythm. This is the track that puts Gojira in league with the mighty Meshuggah, it’s both hypnotic and fucking powerhouse. Duplantier’s vocals are 10 miles wide blanketing the harmonious ratcheting mantra of the band.
The chorale of ‘Hold On’ tells the tale of a warrior facing the deluge of an angry sea. The breakdown reveals the Gojira secret weapon: the wailing pitch pedal playing the part of the crashing waves. The screeching pedal’s presence remains through ‘New Found’ with its ‘Jump Around’ energy. A cage-rattling metallic percussion drives the half-time chorus groove. ‘Fortitude’ serves as an intro for ‘The Chant’, both driven by a bone-rattling and beer-swilling swing. The band is embracing melody over grind to deliver a conjuration of power. ‘Into the Storm’ brings another huge arena anthem whipped into a frenzy by a machine gun groove and a literal “Put your fists in the air” chorus. The penultimate track ‘The Trails’ embraces the post-metal Isis aesthetic for an icy cool-down. ‘Grind’ is the firework finale that sets off every endorphin with searing guitar divebombs and rampant harmonics. The band heave their way up the steep cliffs and make it to the mountaintop with the reward of a glorious refrain at the summit as they survey their wake.
Gojira have created a record that demonstrates a pinnacle of their sound. All their signatures remain to satisfy the die-hards but the tracks that risk to tread on new ground reap the most reward. Gojira have arrived, now comes the tricky part… how do you follow up this record with another blend of innovation and merciless grind?