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The Dangers of Complacency - 68%

Necro44, May 9th, 2021

The most immediate problem with Fortitude is that it really lacks a unique identifying “feature” compared to previous Gojira records. Terra Incognita had the raw death metal aggression, The Link had an experimental tribal feel, From Mars to Sirius had an ambitious conceptual feel, and so on. Somehow, Fortitude manages to sound like a synthesis of all of the band’s previous albums while lacking the sense of both wonder and impact they all had. Sure, the chugs and technical drumming still come out from time to time, but they’re buried beneath Gojira’s insistence on playing dull one-note riffs that linger for a little too long. It’s not like I’m resistant to the prospect of the band experimenting - again, The Link is a nice example of that - but it’s gotta be over a more interesting foundation than this.

For instance, the main riff of “Another World” is pretty cool; Christian Andreu’s lead guitar and Jean-Michel Labadie’s bass coil around each other to give off a strangely futuristic atmosphere. But then it all falls apart in the verses, which just consist of a boring chugging riff that doesn’t go anywhere interesting. It’s nice to hear Joe Duplantier still bringing the energy with his screams and growls, but they don’t matter much when the material itself is so lacking in heft and intensity. Meanwhile, some songs don’t even sound like they came from Gojira at all. When the a cappella harmonies of “Hold On” started, I had to look at my phone to make sure I was still listening to the same band. Indeed, Joe does perform a lot more clean vocals on Fortitude - these are most prominently heard on “Hold On”, “The Chant”, and “The Trails”. And, truth be told, Duplantier has really proven himself to be a capable clean vocalist over the last five years or so. The harmonies in “Hold On” are actually quite beautiful, despite the fact that the song eventually switches to a more typical groovy Gojira track halfway through.

What really drags this album down more than everything else, however, is the production. It’s quite strange that Duplantier is the same person who produced Way of All Flesh, as Fortitude has none of the same weight, atmosphere, or clarity in its mix. The guitars sound both muddy and unappealing in the chugging bits (the verses of “Amazonia” for instance), and really flavorless during the melodic sections (“The Trails” in particular). It also does no favors for Mario Duplantier, especially during the more technical tracks like “Grind” and “Into the Storm”. He performs some pretty amazing parts during these songs, but all I can think of is how much better they’d sound with a From Mars to Sirius-esque production job. Speaking of “Into the Storm”, that very song represents what kind of record Fortitude could have been; the track is a perfect mix of the band’s more heavy/technical traits and their melodic tendencies. Sure, the main drum part was lifted from “The Cell” off of Magma to an extent, but the riff played over it is one of the most beautifully melancholic parts I’ve ever heard from this group.

Fortitude is a strange affair, as its oddities tend to come from Gojira’s push toward a more simplistic and mainstream sound. On one hand, I suppose that makes it a logical step after the stripped-down music of Magma; on the other hand, it just doesn’t feel natural for some reason. The band’s willingness to step outside of their comfort zone is commendable, but if they’re keen on committing to this new sound of theirs, they need to give it a little more polish and focus. As it stands, Fortitude is a decent metal record. However, it doesn’t really offer anything that Gojira’s prior albums haven’t done better.