An odd look will spread over the features of any heavy music fan the moment you mention the name Gojira. Their eyes will glaze over as they enter a trancelike state, foaming at the mouth and shaking as they mutter about how they saw them blow Slayer off the stage in ‘13, or fold Ghost like laundry back on the ‘Infestissumam’ tour, or bludgeon Mastodon to death at Bloodstock 2016.
There is a unanimous agreement across the brutalisphere that France’s premier metal band effectively ran the table on the 2010s, leapfrogging their rivals to become the most exciting, influential and groundbreaking act in heavy metal. Though they had been cult favourites since their inception as a death metal band at the turn of the millennium, it was only on their most recent two records (2012’s ‘L’Enfant Sauvage’ and 2016’s ‘Magma’) that they finally became first bona fide arena stars, then festival headliners thanks to their rising reputation as one of the most powerful live acts on planet earth.
Though the music they play has its roots in death metal, they have never shared much DNA with the cartoonish evil of Cannibal Corpse or Dying Fetus. Gojira’s music has always had a vitality their peers lacked: a beating human heart that underpins every beat and note and breakdown. This, twinned with a genuine desire to change the world through their music, chimed a chord with the vast majority of heavy music fans who are tired of the worn nihilism of the 90s and prefer their crushing riffs with a little more philosophical substance behind them.
Never before has this desire to leave a positive mark on the world been so front and centre on a Gojira release as it is on ‘Fortitude’ (not even on their concept album about whales leaving our contaminated oceans and flying to Mars). From the martial drumroll that opens ‘Born For One Thing’ to closer ‘Grind’s exhortation to “Surrender to the cry,”, every element of this album bends towards the theme of taking action, of changing ourselves to change the world.
This invitation to join hands and make a difference can feel a little drum-circle-y on occasion, especially on the hypnotic but overlong album centrepiece ‘Fortitude/The Chant’, which sounds like an impromptu jam at an Extinction Rebellion demo that no-one quite knows how to end. Placing this straight after ‘New Found’s epic outro makes the whole middle section feel unusually loose and saggy for a famously tight unit.
In the main, however, this looseness and willingness to push back the frontiers of Gojira’s sound is ‘Fortitude’s greatest strength. Tracks like ‘Hold On’ and ‘Into The Storm’ almost burst at the seams with passion, while the aforementioned ‘New Found’s chorus rises up into euphoric heights that the band have never even attempted to reach before.
Gojira’s enthusiasm and desire to affect change seems to have spilled out of the album’s creation process and into its wider release campaign. The groove-laden ‘Amazonia’ calls for the protection of the world’s largest forest and its inhabitants, and has also seen Gojira put their money where their mouths are by starting a fundraising initiative of the same name and raising over $250,000 in support of The Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (which also makes the potentially appropriative use of traditional Brazilian instrumentation feel a lot more considered and justified).
Despite its title, 2016’s ‘Magma’ was actually pretty cold and stark (totally appropriately for a meditation on grief inspired by the passing of the Duplantier brothers’ mother). ‘Fortitude’, on the other hand, has fire in its belly and lava coursing through its veins. Though it might overreach itself from time to time, this is a record with real purpose and drive to it. Only Gojira could make an album so suffused with positivity and faith in the human spirit, and then wrap it all up in the most earth-shattering package of heavy metal you’ll receive this year. Très bien!
Words: Josh Gray
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