We find out about what's in store from the French metal outfit's seventh LP.
French progressive metal outfit Gojira recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of their debut album, Terra Incognita. Influenced by Hindu mythology and written by a reclusive, technology-averse death metal fan, you probably wouldn’t have guessed Terra Incognita would mark the beginning of one of modern metal’s most compelling success stories.
But Gojira’s popularity has grown with each successive album release, even as they’ve departed from their death metal origins to incorporate more dynamic arrangements and melodious vocals. The band’s seventh album is a testament to Gojira’s ongoing artistic evolution and bears the fitting title, Fortitude.
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The new album arrives close to five years after the band’s sixth LP, Magma, which was not only Gojira’s most accessible album to date, but also made the strongest commercial impact, reaching #11 in the ARIA charts and hitting #24 in both the UK and US.
The gap between Magma and Fortitude was longer than that between any previous Gojira albums. During this time, guitarist and vocalist Joe Duplantier (the erstwhile technophobe) and his brother, drummer Mario Duplantier, devoted a year and a half to writing new material and one year to recording Fortitude.
“The stature of the band is bigger and we wanted to make sure we were doing the right thing,” says Mario. “So it took us a long time to just build the songs and make sure every note on this album was crucial and important.”
In the past, the Duplantiers have tended to write just ten or 11 songs, which would then comprise Gojira’s next album. For Fortitude however, they wanted to generate as many ideas as possible before whittling it down to the ten songs that appear on the album.
“We created so many riffs and so many songs that are not on the album,” says Mario. “We were more picky, I would say.”
Gojira have certainly released a number of much heavier records than Fortitude, but the new album is the most detailed and textured release in their catalogue. Joe produced the record, which was recorded in the band’s New York studio space, Silver Cord Studio.
Recording began in 2019, with Mario’s drum parts being taken care of with relative efficiency. The guitars, vocals and other more decorative overdubs took a bit longer.
“There was a lot of time in the studio hanging out, doing backing vocals, doing arrangements,” says Mario. “When you have your home studio it can be a bit tricky because you spend so much time on it.”
Bass player Jean-Michael Labadie and guitarist Christian Andreu have been with the band since the ‘90s, but the Duplantiers have always been Gojira’s creative nexus.
Joe has produced the majority of their albums and writes all of the band’s often politically-charged lyrics. Mario helps out with everything else: the melodies, riffs, dynamics, song structures, and, of course, the drums.
“I’m not a guitar player, but I do sing a lot of ideas,” Mario says. “I’m always recording [a riff or melody] and singing it to my brother.”
Beginning with 2014’s major label debut, L’Enfant Sauvage, Gojira’s sound has focused less on aggression and satisfying the needs of a particular metal sub-genre and more on melodic nuance and dynamic push-and-pull. The double bass drum pedal still gets a work-out on Fortitude, but Mario’s attitude to drumming has shifted significantly in recent years.
“The goal is mainly to make sure the drumming has a purpose for the song,” he says. “I love to play technical, but the reality of the band is we try to find a harmony between us.
“We try to find balance. We are not 20 years old anymore. We started the band 25 years ago, so we have new desires: we want to improve the melodies, we want to be able to play a simple idea and find the power in the simplicity as well.”
The band harks back to its early years on Fortitude’s heaviest tracks, such as ‘Into The Storm’ and ‘Grind’, both of which feature some impressively technical drum parts. These songs are a contrast to the two-song sequence of ‘Fortitude’ and ’The Chant’, which is the most melodic and harmonically-layered stretch of recorded sound in the Gojira catalogue.
“A song like ‘The Chant’, I kept it simple because it’s all about the vocals, it’s all about the guitar solos,” says Mario. “I love to play simple if the songs can be better.”
Even when he’s keeping it simple, there’s a measure of immensity to the drum sounds on Fortitude. Rock and metal engineer par excellence Andy Wallace mixed the album. Along with mixing Nirvana’s Nevermind and producing Jeff Buckley’s Grace, Wallace has mixed records for everyone from Linkin Park and Coldplay to System of a Down, Slipknot and Sepultura.
“Andy Wallace was offering something incredible and we didn’t have a lot of things to say,” says Mario. “He got that Gojira needed a catchy sound, but with a very organic bass and a real snare. So there weren’t so many back and forths.
“It was an amazing collaboration. Andy Wallace is the most humble person I’ve ever met. He has no ego, he’s very easy to deal with, so it was a real pleasure.”
Mario did send Wallace a few notes regarding the kick and snare sounds, which were mainly drawn from Wallace’s career portfolio.
“I just said, ‘I would love to have the snare sound of Chaos AD, Sepultura, because he did mix that album and it’s my favourite snare sound ever. It’s not exactly the same sound [on Fortitude], but I just gave him that as an example.
“Deftones’ White Pony is one of my other favourite ones. The first Slipknot album is a good example of another catchy, organic sound. Also Korn has a huge sound. A lot that Andy Wallace mixed!”
Fortitude is out via Roadrunner Records on Friday April 30.