September 2, 2013

Gorguts - Colored Sands

Written by Justin C.

Artwork by Martin Lacroix

It's been a good year for comebacks. Byzantine and Misery Signals, just to name two, returned after 5-year hiatuses to deliver solid, crowd-funded new albums. But 5 years is really a drop in the bucket compared to Gorguts, who hasn't released a studio album since 2001's From Wisdom to Hate. With 12 years gone and only one original member, mastermind and vocalist Luc Lemay, what kind of beast do we get with Colored Sands?

From Maryland Deathfest VIII. Photo by Distortionplus.

First, check out the new line up, none of whom are musical slouches: Colin Marston (Krallice and Dysrhythmia) handles the bass, Kevin Hufnagel (Dysrhythmia, Vaura) plays guitar, and John Longstreth (Origin, Dim Mak, and many others) is on drums. One could reasonably wonder if this new album would just be Dysrhythmia with vocals added, but there's no denying the sonic similarities between From Wisdom to Hate and Colored Sands, in spite of the 12-year gap. I think that's a testament both to Luc Lemay's vision and his new bandmates' respect for what's already been achieved. That core Gorguttian sound is here in spades: The musicians are comfortable with dissonance in the same way most musicians are comfortable with a C major scale, the rhythms are complex and ever-shifting, and song structures are anything but run of the mill.

From Maryland Deathfest VIII. Photo by Metal Chris.

Those elements were fully present in their past albums, but that's not to say there's been no evolution. This album sounds lush in a way that I don't hear in their previous work. That's probably in part to the excellent production, but I think it's also a function of the song writing. Check out the chiming, eerie guitar lines in the album opener "Le toit du monde" ("Top of the World"). It's a sound they return to throughout the album, and it's one layer among many that makes this album sound so rich. The guitar and bass twist around each other, sometimes trading roles of melody and rhythm between each other. The drums shift easily between delicate minimalism and full-on blasts. And then there's the sheer beauty. The title track, which is one of my personal favorites, starts with a haunting and complex melody before opening up into a full roar, with grinding riffs made up of chords so harsh that just writing them down would have gotten you burned at the stake during the Middle Ages. Do you want even more strangeness in your death metal? Well, "The Battle of Chamdo" is a chamber music piece played by a string quartet, and perhaps the weirdest thing about it is that it doesn't sound at all out of place on this album. (In a recent interview, Luc Lemay mentions that he's written a violin sonata he'd like to see recorded.)

From Maryland Deathfest VIII. Photo by Carmelo Española.

You often see Gorguts described as technical death metal, but to be honest, that's far too reductive. This isn't an album full of blazing displays of technicality, even though the musicians are more than capable of it. Even calling it avant garde doesn't make a lot of sense, because to me, that phrase has taken on the connotation of "weird for the sake of being weird." Colored Sands has a sound that's easy to get close to, in spite of the wild sounds coming out of it. It's not simplistic by any means, but the complexity of it goes far beyond how many notes or polyrhythms somebody can stuff into one track. I often find that technical death metal or avant garde music in general requires a lot of effort. With the best of music, the effort is worth it, but it can also be tiring. But with Colored Sands, all I know is that as soon as I finish listening to it, I want to hear it again immediately.

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  1. "One could reasonably wonder if this new album would just be Dysrhythmia with vocals added"

    Indeed, that's been my thought so far. All those chiming harmonics sound like they were lifted from any of the last three Dysrhythmia records.

    1. It's interesting--I actually did an A/B comparison before I wrote this, listening to Gorguts and then the last Dysrhythmia immediately afterwards. My gut impression was (and remains) that they're different beasts. You certainly know that Marston and Hufnagel are there and adding their own take to it, but in the end, the essential Gorguttiness shines through.

      To be fair, though, coming up with a more thought-out and articulate constrast-and-compare beyond my "gut" would probably take more time and effort than I'm likely to commit to. :)