Discerning metalheads may be inclined to agree that GOJIRA are one of the best things to happen to heavy music over the last 20 years. Even ignoring the French band's humility, humanity and inspirational devotion to noble causes, the metal world has thralled to nearly everything they have done since breaking into the broader consciousness with 2005's "From Mars to Sirius" and then going genuinely stratospheric with 2012 big-label debut "L'Enfant Sauvage". A consistently astonishing live band, GOJIRA have conquered the metal mainstream by pursuing a singular course and dragging everyone along with it. There probably are people out there who think that they suck, but those people are wrong and a bit weird.
As a result of all this pioneering brilliance, much more is expected of GOJIRA than perhaps any other mainstream metal band. "Fortitude" arrives amid a flurry of entirely justifiable hype, much of it elicited by the huge success of the band's previous album, "Magma". That record was arguably a little less adventurous than some of the band's earlier efforts, but via the irresistibly catchy likes of "Stranded" and "Silvera", GOJIRA confirmed that they could deliver anthems and crowd-pleasers while maintaining the individuality and creative integrity that has always been a hallmark of their work. Five years on, the Frenchmen have a much bigger audience to serve, and while "Fortitude" will undoubtedly delight those for whom "Magma" was a first taste of the band, this is not quite the unequivocal triumph that diehard fans have been anticipating.
On the plus side, "Fortitude" offers plenty of those joyous, none-more-GOJIRA moments that no other band could hope to emulate. Both "Born For One Thing" and "Another World" delivered the goods in advance of the full album, and while neither leapt out as an instant classic, both are full of nimble but cudgeling rhythms and those unmistakable churning riffs and bursts of harmonic scree. As ever, Joe Duplantier's voice spirals through the melee, shrouded in reverb but grimly authoritative nonetheless, and both songs' central hooks soar, underpinned by yet more dexterous, percussive genius from Mario Duplantier.
"Amazonia" is GOJIRA in languorous groove mode, evoking KILLING JOKE's scorched earth power in the verses before serving up a lurching, descending riff that feels destined, in the not-so-distant future, to have huge crowds banging their heads in unison. "New Found" is another gem, with an opening riff to kill for and a mid-song drop in tempo that facilitates a genuinely gorgeous and epic climactic fade. Even better, "Sphinx" sounds like classic GOJIRA, but upgraded and somehow even gnarlier than previous highpoints.
It is, however, not all good news. GOJIRA have always been driven by a desire to experiment and expand their sound. "Fortitude" is no different in that regard, but this album's supposed curveballs fall short of delivering startling revelations. In particular, "The Chant" is a breezy but lightweight affair, with stoner rock shades and a sweet but unremarkable vocal refrain, while both "The Trails" and "Hold On" seem to occupy territory that GOJIRA have previously mastered and moved away from, albeit with the vocal melody thrust to the fore in a way that previous albums had only hinted at.
Admittedly, any reservations you might have while listening to "Fortitude" will vanish as soon as closer "Grind" erupts, administering at least two more magnificent riffs and enough bullish energy to slap back a tsunami. It's an exhilarating end to an album that has no shortage of highs, but that is also burdened with several lulls and a couple of evolutionary sidesteps that are only partially successful. Either way, "Fortitude" is another great GOJIRA album and still the hottest and most distinctive mainstream metal ticket in town. Unfortunately, if you can remember how fast and hard your jaw hit the floor the first time you heard "Ocean Planet", "Explosia" or even "Stranded", "Fortitude" doesn't quite hit the bullseye with the same mercurial ferocity.