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The spirit of perseverance - 75%

TheNotrap, May 5th, 2021

“ The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide. ” *

There are few bands in recent decades that have flown the flag for environmental awareness as the French Gojira. Ecological consciousness coupled with spiritual themes surrounding life and death has been the conceptual core through which all their music orbits. This narrative, portraying the symbiotic link between ecosystem and man, besides mirroring the band's environmental values also expresses a growing worldwide interest in sustainability and social responsibility. I'm not a fundamentalist, at least not to the point of wearing a Greta Thunberg t-shirt or blaming capitalism as the source of all evil, however, I do realize that we, as a species, have been overstepping too many red lines that may jeopardize future generations. In this sense, Gojira's message has a contemporary relevance like few others.

The most important aspect to highlight of the band's twenty-five-year career (first five of which as Godzilla), besides their stylistic evolution, is the fact that the French eco-squad never changed its line-up, something increasingly rare in the rock business. So, it is important to look at Gojira as a genuine band and not as an occasional collective. The Duplantier brothers, Jean-Michel Labadie and Christian Andreu are thus one of today's most solid metal quartets and proof that a common goal can last a quarter of a century.

Gojira's creative journey, as one might expect, has undergone stylistic mutations over the years, the most relevant being its gradual detachment from classic death metal signatures reminiscent of bands like Morbid Angel. Truth be told, Gojira has never been monochromatic, assuming a hybrid personality from the start, yet the deep gutturals and Azagthoth-ish riffs progressively faded in favor of a more mainstream approach with special focus on the groove. Despite these mutations, the ‘90s have always been present in the band's music, either through Sepultura influences or via the subtle nu metal layer that has invariably enveloped them. In a way, Gojira never left the nineties, they just shaped it to their own will.

This connection to the nineties not only resurfaces in Fortitude but is also one of its main creative sources, even if it goes almost unnoticed amidst the band's trademark sound. The unintentional tribute to Sepultura in 'Amazonia' or the nu metal textures on 'New Found’ and 'Grind' are all examples of this ‘90s flavor. The former, besides the Sepultura-esque berimbau, also has a chorus orbiting a riff that could have been featured on Rage Against the Machine's self-titled debut album. It seems clear that the band wanted to renew their sound by looking back to the past, namely to some of their more mainstream references. The gothic-ish verse of 'The Trails' or the super catchy chorus of 'Into the Storm' are both nuances that lend Fortitude a more accessible and commercial look and feel. Make no mistake, this is the band's most mainstream album to date. Whereas Magma carried a denser aura, related to the death of Duplantier brothers' mother, Gojira's seventh release emanates a more positive and joyful vibe, almost like a cry of hope. The unexpected choruses of 'Hold On' and 'New Found', the former reminiscent of classic heavy metal, the latter recalling '80s Genesis, both epitomize this lighter, more encompassing feeling.

The easy listening approach surrounding Fortitude may not thrill hardcore fans eager for a new space trip to Sirius or L'enfant sauvage 2.0, but it should be seen as yet another cycle for the band at a stage in their career where they would have nothing to lose by playing it safe. Granted, the album is not without its generic chunks and surely has its weak links such as 'Sphinx' or 'Grind', which sounds like a forced frenzy at times, however, its highlights do not put the band's legacy to shame, on the contrary, they enrich it. 'Amazonia', 'Another World', 'Hold On' and 'Into the Storm' will certainly be among my favorite tracks of the year, with the former being Fortitude’s most emblematic moment along with the title track and 'The Chant'. These two interlinked songs, which explore tribal chanting, emphasize the concept surrounding the resilience of nature and its indigenous people, thus giving voice to the album's key message.

After a quarter of a century, eco-squad Gojira keeps fighting for a world more in touch with its natural roots. And even though their journey has now taken them into more mainstream territories, the message remains as relevant and unsettling as ever. Fortitude may not have the charisma and power of previous releases, nor does it have the ability to take us to Sirius, yet its joyful, all-encompassing spirit unveils a new creative cycle that deserves our full attention.

* Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

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