Review Summary: The band’s style is still progressing and changing and showing us that Gorguts is not a band that does the same thing twice.
Gorguts is a band that I like to think of as the epitome of good death metal. The band is remarkably consistent and they have always been a shifting entity, never sticking to the same tired sounds and constantly pushing the boundaries of death metal. It all really started with Considered Dead: the debut Gorguts album. Considered Dead was the album that solidified Gorguts as the band you needed to keep an eye on. No, they didn’t really do anything new with the album--which would come later--but the album was some of the best straight-forward death metal you could find at that time. They played hard hitting riffs, featured a monstrously awesome vocal performance by Luc Lemay, and had already mastered the genre (albeit they’d only been a part of it for a short time). A couple of years later, they stepped up their game massively with the release of The Erosion of Sanity. In a short two years, the band had become much more ferocious and aggressively technical. Their sound was a more full, more concentrated sequel to Considered Dead and it was hard to believe that the band had made such a massive natural progression. But 1998 was when the band really made a defining statement and a piece of art in death metal.
Obscura was everything that other death metal bands weren’t doing. It was an orchestrated piece of sheer insanity. Lemay sacrificed his more “standard” death metal gutturals, and on this album his vocals sounded more like dry, tortured wails. His voice would bend and stretch unlike a voice should and it went along well with the music. From the opening riff, you knew this album was going to be incredibly divisive: it was atonal, dissonant and completely lacking in harmony or traditional style. The drums were technical and wacky, and totally out of this world as Patrick Robert shifted his playing around seemingly at random to suit whatever the *** the guitars appeared to be doing. Yes, it was safe to say Obscura was an album that needed a little digestion to fully comprehend with its deep, earthy atmospheres and sounds. It became a classic of the genre and re-defined the avant-garde death metal style with its abuse of different timbres, pitches and progression. Gorguts’ final album, From Wisdom to Hate, was less of a sequel to Obscura and was more of a refinement. It toned down the massively orchestrated styles and didn’t leave the listener with as much to digest on a first listen. From Wisdom to Hate saw Lemay take his vocals back to his original gutturals and, while the riffing was still very avant-garde and “different” in certain areas (most notably the opening track), it was approached with a much more straight-forward style with bits of melody.
Then, that was the end of Gorguts. The band left behind four albums that summed up the totality of death metal: from humble beginnings to genre-challenging artistic endeavours. Many of which made people question what death metal could be after the band pushed it to its illogical extremes. It was then safe to say that Gorguts would not be forgotten. In 2006, a side project with Lemay and Steeve Hurdle began to progress the sound found on Obscura, but nothing much came of it, save for a three-song EP that weren’t completely satisfying. But finally, in 2008, Lemay resurrected Gorguts with the help of Colin Marston, Kevin Hufnagel (both of Dysrhythmia and several others bands) and drummer John Longstreth. Concerns were expressed by some (myself included) over whether Gorguts would suffer from this. Would Gorguts adopt a style similar to Dysrhythmia? Would John Longstreth produce a mediocre performance, considering his past with bands like Origin and Dim Mak? It was a fear that Gorguts could possibly sacrifice their technical death metal uniqueness and fall into a rut of the generic. After years of waiting, fans are now blessed with Colored Sands, the 2013 Gorguts come-back that has death metal fans everywhere ***ting their pants with excitement. Hell, it rules. It completely throws away all past doubts!
Colored Sands is the best logical step anyone expected from Gorguts. It’s the natural progression from From Wisdom to Hate and ups the ante to act as the anti-Obscura. That’s right, this album more-or-less acts as the perfect counterpart for Obscura that From Wisdom to Hate just didn’t turn out to be. Both albums (Obscura and Colored Sands) incorporated heavily orchestrated styles, but while the former was a practice in intense dissonance and the weird and the wonderful, the latter begged a much more melodic (but not too melodic) and tight sound. It’s all held together, everything has its place and it all just fits. It’s also refreshing to know that even though Lemay already wrote most of the album beforehand, that he let each of the members (more or less) compose their own parts, giving the record a more solid identity, while still retaining the Gorguts aural aesthetic.
First off, Longstreth is a beast of a drummer. Now, I was the one doubting Lengstreth the most, as I expected him to just default to his blast beating ways. But he pleasantly surprised me here and I believe that this is the best performance of the man’s career. His dexterity behind the kit is wonderful and he creates some of the best drumming I’ve heard on a death metal album in years. He composes himself wonderfully and his dynamics and range in styles are well fit for the Gorguts sound. He’s often playing very loveable and groovy beats, then blasts his way into aggression and technicality to build some really top-notch tension. Every stroke is hit the right way and it’s really quite fascinating to sit down and listen to what this man can do. Which leads me to another point: every instrument on this album needs its own personal album. I would pay for a copy of Colored Sands that was entirely just the drum tracks, or the guitar tracks, or the bass tracks, or the vocal tracks. You can sit and listen to this album, while focusing on a new element each time, and find new things and make the most of enjoying each performance individually.
Now that I’ve gotten my biggest priority for this album’s praise out of the way, let me move on. Vocally, Lemay is at the top of his game. His vocals sound just as intense as ever as his guttural growls are stretched and howled over long periods of time. Listening to ‘Absconders’, just past mid-way, he performs a series of drawn-out growls that range from five – eight seconds each. It stands out as one of the best moments on the album, sending shivers down the listener’s spine, as the band plays a thick and progressing line of harmonic guitars and Longstreth’s ever-changing drumming, all these elements building to a slow and cavernous conclusion to the song, showing off the dynamic quality of the band’s ability to ease in and out of dark atmospherics and crushingly heavy sections of abrasive death metal fury.
Lemay’s biggest inspiration for this album was progression and dynamics. Taking influence from progressive rock and metal bands like Porcupine Tree and Opeth, his desire wasn’t to re-tread his footsteps, but to write songs that were longer than average. And he accomplished just that: rather than keeping the four – six minute run-times from previous albums, each track on Colored Sands runs roughly from six-nine minutes, the shortest being a five-minute interlude: ‘The Battle of Chamdo’. Now, ‘The Battle of Chamdo’ isn’t completely unexpected, as Gorguts has done this kind of stuff before, but just not to this extent. Lemay’s style of approaching music writing has always very orchestrated, as he stated with being in Negativa. He didn’t like the improvisational aspects that Hurdle had the members doing. Lemay’s style is sit-down and write and compose music, as he says, the way a person would write a book, or something to that effect. ‘The Battle of Chamdo’ is a completely classical piece, and as I said, while Gorguts had featured small things like this before, they’ve all mainly been song intros or very small interludes in a couple of songs. ‘The Battle of Chamdo’ is a five-minute piece that is classical performed with a string section to orchestrate the dynamics of the Gorguts sound. It encompasses all the ideals and objectives of the album seemingly in this one piece. Being very progressively oriented, all the songs here present juxtapositions of light and dark dynamics, heaviness and softness, to blow the listener away with a bang of sound and let things grow tense and morbid with the atmospheric, softer sections.
The production here is simply fantastic. There’s a balance between all the music that’s rare to find in modern metal. The music isn’t pumped up to be as loud as possible, and the uncanny range and distinction between all the instruments leaves every aspect of the music open, rather than hidden away or bogged down. The sound is crisp, but it’s not shiny. The drums aren’t too loud (-cough- Immolation –cough-) or too quiet, and they resonate full tones to complement the rest of the music. The guitars are often deep and distorted, bouncing their tones around the body of the music, and when they produce more pinch-harmonic sounds, they don’t go overboard in polishing it all.
Depending on who you are, this album could get pretty exhausting. It sits at one hour in length and is, for the most part, a lot of death metal to take in. Personally, I’m a believer that a death metal album over forty minutes really needs to justify its length, and Colored Sands delivers. Each song presents its own identity and darkness with how it plays out, and each track can be listened to as its own individual piece of music, though they also fit together nicely to make the album a neat whole. It’s hard to find an album like that, an album so neatly created that you can take each piece of the puzzle and present it as its own being. And as tiring as it must get to read all this praise for the album, I must say it’s hard to find flaws to pick at in this beast. Colored Sands, twelve years since the last album, lives up to the impossible hype expected of it. Lemay hasn’t missed a beat as a songwriter in all that time, and his technical prowess and vocal talent is just as good as it’s ever been.
The Gorguts sound here fully embraces diversity and absurdity at times, but never to the extent of Obscura. And just as well, since another Obscura wouldn’t be in favour for anyone be it the band or the fans. Colored Sands is a testament to the creative will of Luc Lemay and the skill and talent found in his counterparts on the record. The two Dysrhythmia members make an excellent team on guitar and bass, and don’t dilute the album by adding looming Dysrhythmia-esque overtones. The opening track ‘Le Toit du Monde’ breaks in with a bang, a thud of the floor tom and then a brandishing of speed and heaviness for twenty seconds as it stops and then breaks down into harmonic atmosphere, with a very distant-sounding spoken-word passage, and then a breakout into blistering heaviness again. The title track features an opening of a solemn guitar being plucked gently as another slowly joins in with some melodic embrace of quiet riffs. And the song builds quite fantastically; the band really takes their time getting to the point where they kick your ass with an earth-crushing sound of heavy, mid-paced death metal sweetness.
While one could almost talk about Gorguts all day, it’s time to wrap up the drool-fest jabbering. It’s safe to say that Colored Sands is an album that should please any Gorguts fan, new or old. It breaks out a great balance in the sound and, now that we’ve heard it, seems like it was missing from their back catalogue. Gorguts really do epitomise death metal in the sense that they’ve just about done all that any death metal fan could want from the genre. If a fan doesn’t enjoy the more complex technical death metal era, there’s always the Gorguts originals, but here and now, the band’s style is still progressing and changing and showing us that Gorguts is not a band that does the same thing twice.