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There aren’t many heavy bands that don’t soften with age. Some that transitioned to a less energetic, more radio-friendly sound found it worked wonders for their pockets and their exposure (I won’t name names, but one of them rhymes with “Betallica”) and that was reason enough. Others added new dynamics and experimentations to their work in an attempt to change things up – not for the accessibility, but because they knew it would sound good. Fortitude, the seventh album from French death-metallers Gojira, falls squarely into that camp. And while it may be more accessible than most of their previous efforts bar 2016’s Magma, they haven’t lost a thing in the transition – only improved what they already had.
The band aren’t known for anything to do with the word quiet, whether it’s the often growling and guttural vocals of lead vocalist and producer of the album Joe Duplantier, or their outspoken ethos on using their music to bring attention to real-world issues. While there’s certainly less growling on display here, there are no fewer efforts made to highlight injustices and atrocities. “Amazonia”, a crushingly heavy love letter to Sepultura that didn’t even need to be explained as being a tribute because it’s so obvious, decries deforestation in the Amazon rainforest and a campaign based around the song raised $300,000 for tribes in the Amazon affected by it.
There’s also the opener “Born For One Thing”, a two-punch combo about rampant consumerism and mortality rolled into some of the most proficient and satisfying slow build-up that the band have ever put out. “Hold On” takes home the “Riffs of the Record Award” (which doesn’t exist and sounds like a terrible award now that I’ve typed it out) but it’s the best song for guitar work for me; the shifts between heavy, then melodic, then tapping and the main riff itself, then back into the heavy stuff is a great change-up and is the best signpost on the record that points to how the band’s sound has evolved.
If it’s the Gojira that you fell in love with on albums like The Way of All Flesh, that’s here too – “Sphinx” is growled out over four minutes of pure, no-nonsense heaviness, while the outro “Grind” smashes you into the ground over and over in the sort of way that makes you ask for more. The really heavy stuff – “New Found” should be mentioned here too – is spread out through the eleven tracks in such a way that the balance never leans too far in one direction; it’s fantastically organised, another hallmark of a band that has their shit together technically.
Andy Wallace (Rage Against the Machine, System of a Down and many more) has fingerprints all over this one in that regard – the mix is superb throughout, with very few issues to speak of, save a touch of blurring here and there. But here’s the thing – I think some of it is intentional. The vocals in places seem a touch quiet where you wouldn’t expect them to be (Grind springs to mind immediately), but where I would usually make a joke about Joe Duplantier sounding like he was shouting up from the bottom of a well, what it does is blend the whole thing, instruments and vocals, into one equally balanced sound. While it sounds jarring on the first listen, makes the vocals work almost like an instrument of their own on subsequent visits. Maybe I’m reading, or listening, a little too much into it, but I think more often than not you might agree with me.
Oh, special mention to the transition from the title track “Fortitude” into “The Chant”. Come on, Gojira, save some magnificence for the rest of us. People are going to lose their minds over this one live, and I will be one of those people. The video for “The Chant” is below, but I seriously recommend listening to the two together to do them their full justice.
Summary time: “Complete” is the word that comes to mind when I think about “Fortitude”. It’s a big, rich, thick stew of an album that you can just sink into. Everything that has gone into it has been weighed out and balanced against the other elements and while the subtle spices of the band’s death metal roots are there, it’s to enhance the taste rather than overpower it. “Fortitude” has set the bar for any heavy music that comes after it very high and while Gojira may have softened with age, they have traversed the perilous cliffs of evolution in their music and haven’t put a foot wrong.
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