Joe Duplantier, co-founding guitarist, lead vocalist, and principal songwriter for French avant-metallers Gojira has some harsh words for the human race: “A few years ago, I began to become pessimistic about the future of humanity,” the frontman explains in an interview with Kerrang. “Even though there is an awakening, and many people are trying to better themselves, I feel like we’re going backwards…. So, when the pandemic happened, I was like, ‘Fine. Let it burn. Maybe it’s just the end for us—the parasite that humanity is.’”
Looking back on the events of this millennium—particularly last year’s response to a worldwide shutdown and global pandemic (one that’s still very much ongoing)—it’s easy to see where Joe’s coming from. We’re gleefully destroying the only planet we have to live on, pushing numerous other species into extinction, and turning a blind eye to perpetuated falsehoods, senseless death, and social injustice on a daily basis. And yet, from this same well of self-involved decadence springs our desire to foster the arts, science, and human creativity. We build machines that fly on other worlds. We stare upwards at the sky, daring to uncover riddles that stretch back through the eons. We endlessly dream of alternatives—not just what is, but what ought to be.
This fraught sense of existential duality, in many ways, has been the most consistent feature of Gojira’s twenty-year career. From the sludgy progressive explorations of their ‘00s output to the pneumatic hammering and melodic sensibilities of their cross-over success with Roadrunner Records, the Grammy-nominated quartet have always maintained a careful balance between expansive compositions, technical precision, and lyrical substance.
On Fortitude, their seventh full-length album, Gojira—Duplantier and his brother Mario (drums), Christian Andreu (guitar), and Jean-Michel Labadie (bass)—find themselves at the limits of sonic extremity and emotional resonance, pushing through the turmoil of our time to imagine a better world with heavy and frequently harrowing results.
Thunderous opener “Born For One Thing” faces the primal fear of death head-on, squaring our denial of thanatotic reality with notions of Buddhist impermanence. Bright harmonics and rhythmic illusions from Joe and Andreu give way to power chord verses and crunchy descending licks, as Mario and Labadie’s syncopated polyrhythms hint at the monstrous breakdown to come.
Lead single “Another World” doubles down on ‘There’s No Plan(et) B’ notions of escapism through palm-muted repetitions and push-pull rhythms, with Joe’s swelling vocals in the chorus making the most of the warmth present in engineer demi-god Andy Wallace’s (Nirvana, Rage Against The Machine) roomy mix. “Hold On” simmers with a swirling intro refrain that dances at the edge of consciousness, lulling the listener into a deep hypnotic state which makes the inevitable sledgehammer rhythm drop land like a tonne of bricks.
“Amazonia” is Gojira at their most Cavalera: charged, galloping riffage paired with atavistic grooves and the distinct ‘boing boing’ percussion of a Brazilian berimbau. The track continues Gojira’s career-long tradition of harnessing their music as a vehicle for environmental activism, raising awareness of a fundraising initiative in support of the Amazon and its indigenous Guarani and Kaiowa communities.
Throughout the record’s back-half, melody creeps in against the heaviness in both familiar and surprising ways. Where Magma was a personal exploration of grief and depression in the wake of their mother’s death, Fortitude allows the Duplantier brothers to make their heady message much more universal.
“The Trails” acts as the album’s penultimate slow-burn, while “The Chant” is a sombre healing ritual that reflects its namesake, daring humanity to “leave the mud behind and climb up the sky,” listening to the sounds of our own inevitable demise. “Sphinx” and “New Found” aim for mid-tempo pummelling by bringing back Joe’s harsh vocal yell and the band’s iconic pick scrape accents. The dizzying heights of “Into The Storm” are quintessential Gojira, peppering an ostensible protest song in furious down-stroke riffage, soaring stratospheric melodies, and head-scratching tempo shifts.
Album closer “Grind” brings the notion of contrast full circle, pairing instrumental discord with thematic harmony. As Joe states: “We have this incredible power that we totally ignore, and though it sucks to wake up in the morning and be caught up in the grind of life, there are all these moments where we can make a difference by our attitude… by how we envision our own future and the future of humanity. It’s easy to despair and to lose faith. But at some point, you’ve got to figure out where you stand.”
Taking Fortitude at its word then, Gojira have crafted another dynamic, multi-faceted record that speaks to determination over division, courage over competition, and hope over hatred. “Fortitude is what we need to display,” declares the frontman. “It’s what we need to embrace. It’s what we need to be in a world where everything is uncertain–even the near future.
Purchase and stream Fortitude here.