No matter how you put it, expectations are high for a new album from one of the bigger names in metal. It’s been some five years since Magma, and basically everyone was already feeling that new material was long overdue. Now, Gojira bring Fortitude to the table, just for us. Upon giving it one single listen, I feel like all the criticism aimed at Magma is misguided and disproportionate – not that I felt otherwise before, it’s just that now I can back that with something.
For the more keen observers, this qualitative downward slope in their music probably became apparent around the time of L’Enfant Sauvage, but right then, it felt more like unfounded skepticism rather than legitimate concern. Magma only further fueled these feelings, and now Fortitude comes along and nails them firmly into place with huge neon signs around for good measure. To be perfectly honest, I very much enjoyed exactly half of Magma; it was solid Gojira, albeit at half the song lengths. There’s nothing to say about that other half which wasn’t already spun into at least a thousand ways.
I’m honestly at something of a loss here – I don’t even know where to begin, since there’s literally that much to unpack, rather ironically, given how little there actually is on the album. Ok, first of all, let me say this – if you think Magma was watered-down and made with only half a heart, you can just close this tab and skip on this album altogether. There’s almost nothing redeeming about it as a bona fide Gojira album.
Listening to this from top to bottom was cumbersome. When I was somewhere through the fifth track, in my head I thought that I’m probably near the end by now. As I realized that I have another six tracks to go, I honestly felt daunted. Powering through several spins wasn’t rewarding in any particular way either. Moving on, I think a systematic approach would be the best way to tackle this beast. Let’s take our opener, “Born For One Thing”, which feels like an unreleased song from Magma. I mean that as a compliment; it makes me think that it’s like a variation on “Silvera” to an extent. It features all the classic Gojira hallmarks and the established stylistic approach of late with a more digestible packaging.
I actually had to listen to “Amazonia” several times to make sure that I’m hearing it right. The riffing and the rhythm guitars just don’t overlap right with the world/ethnic instrumentation that’s present, which makes it feel like a haphazard way of dealing with this type of blend, musically speaking. The song comes across like a ragged pickup truck that’s stuck in a mudbank: it wants to power up and show it still has some kick left under the hood, but it just can’t pull through.
“Another World” was the first single that was released from this album. After going through it at the time, I was thinking that while it may have this radio friendly demeanor and structure, there may be some hope left for the rest of the album. I was hopelessly optimistic, as I’m sure many of you were as well, and really, we can’t be blamed for this – hope dies last. There’s also a nice riff/phrase that’s quite catchy and heavy going on in “Hold On”, but that’s about it around here.
If you think the Magma comparisons are over, you’re dead wrong. “New Found” holds a similar aesthetic to “Born For One Thing”, albeit with a much more atmospheric delivery than before. I’m not particularly fond of how this song is put together, but it does feel a bit more solid than some of the rest. Bridging it and “The Chant”, title track “Fortitude” acts as an idle interlude. There’s nothing to write home about this part – it is what it is.
Taking its motif and using it as something vaguely resembling a chorus, “The Chant” simply meanders without any significant developments. It borders more on AOR or old school rock than anything you would associate with Gojira. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t mind the band shifting their sound in a fashion that hearkens back to Opeth‘s shift, although you would have to commit entirely to a shift for it to count in any way. Sitting with a whole foot in the past and with the other indecisively in the future will ultimately amount to nothing.
Aggressive pick slides, intense chugs, and dissonant chords approaching; what could it possibly be? Well, it’s “Sphinx”, and while it definitely feels more refreshing than its predecessors, it just lacks a certain something. It just feels like a rehashed/recycled idea placed in a different package. I’d say it’s fairly derivative, all things considered. With this, though, we finally arrive to the best part of the record. While “Into The Storm” recycles (effectively might I add) the main riff from “Pray”, it has a nigh-on fresh attitude and feels legitimately energizing/revitalizing. If there’s a takeaway from this album, it’s this song right here.
I’m not exactly sure what’s up with “The Trails”. It feels like it wants to go somewhere, but ends up going nowhere, really. Since I’m here, I also want to underline that for most of the record (here as well), the guitar tones feel like they’re lacking a certain kind of weight and/or grit. I can’t really put my finger on it to be honest. Anyway, our closer shares some qualities with the aforementioned “Into The Storm”, sort of continuing the vibe, both in delivery and in atmosphere. I would also like to point out that the intro to “Grind” feels a lot like a spin on the break from (around the one minute mark into) “Pain Is A Master”.
To anyone who was eagerly expecting this – make sure to curb your enthusiasm before Fortitude does it for you the hard way. There’s no sugarcoating this or putting it mildly: Fortitude should’ve been at least on the same quality level as Magma, and somehow it ended far below. I really wanted to end up liking whatever this album became and having only praise to shower on its path, but it just wasn’t meant to be. To everyone who echoes my feelings – we still have the first four records to listen to, ad nauseam even.