Sunday, September 29, 2013

Gorguts - Colored Sands

After flirting with a continuation of their chaotic sound in Negativa, Luc Lemay decided to part ways with Steeve Hurdle (RIP) and work under the Gorguts name again. I remember listening to that Negativa EP when I was maybe 17 or 18 and being so excited at the prospect of a full length album from Lemay and Hurdle at some point in the future. Unfortunately this never really came to pass, and Negativa became Steeve's project exclusively whereas Luc returned to Gorguts. It has been five years since Luc decided to leave Negativa, six years since the Negativa EP, twelve years since the last Gorguts album, and fifteen years since what most consider their crowning achievement in "Obscura". I'm going to get this out of the way right now - in terms of extreme metal 'comeback albums' which have become strangely popular in the last five years, from Autopsy's twisted and suitable raunchy "Macabre Eternal", to Pestilence's bland and underwhelming "Resurrection Macabre", to Carcass's latest "Surgical Steel", "Colored Sands" is by far the greatest of these kind of albums. Not only does it do the best job of pleasing the band's older fans, but it also sounds like the band has actually evolved in a logical and appropriate direction. Rather than sounding like a homage to the past, a bland cashgrab or an awful -core or groove metal inflected "experiment", "Colored Sands" stands on its own and it stands well above almost everything else in the genre in 2013.

For the historically erudite readers, the easiest way to describe what "Colored Sands" is as an album in terms of Gorguts is to say it is a fusion between the best aspects of "From Wisdom to Hate" and "Obscura" with a much better production job than either of those albums got. There's no denying the absence of Steeve Hurdle is apparent - many of the strange guitar noises and completely atonal melodies that characterized "Obscura" just aren't present on "Colored Sands", for better or worse. "Colored Sands" is not the revolutionary genre-redefining landmark that "Obscura" was, but it is a more polished (don't confuse this adjective with "compromising") album in terms of songwriting and production than any of the band's previous efforts.

So what does Gorguts really sound like? Good question, even a really experienced reviewer would have a difficult time building a description of their sound from scratch. Imagine aliens playing death metal underwater. Yeah, that's kind of what it sounds like. The music and production has an explosive and resonant quality that really highlights the album's dynamic qualities in a flattering way. As far as what "aliens" implies, I simply mean the instrumentation on this album is far, far outside of the death metal norm though it's not purely experimental in the same sense Negativa was, or Obscura was for its time. Gorguts is one of those many metal bands with a name that doesn't really reflect their music at all (apart from their first two albums). "Colored Sands" certainly doesn't sound "sick" or "gory" or "evil" in the traditional way death metal often aspires to sound. Instead it sounds foreboding, monolithic, chaotic, apocalyptic, agonizing and alien.

Each song on "Colored Sands" does a good job of sounding relatively unique without being disjointed. There are slower songs like "Ocean of Wisdom" and "Absconders" that hearken back to tracks like "Clouded" (while being more enjoyable to listen to), there are faster, more chaotic numbers like "Enemies of Compassion" and "Forgotten Arrows", and there are songs that rely primarily on percussive force and a certain rhythmic pulse to drive forward, such as "Le Toit du Monde" and "Reduced to Silence". For an album that is over an hour in length (I tend to think the ideal length for a typical death metal record is about a half hour), "Colored Sands" offers enough variation that it is never monotonous, boring or pedantic, but all of the songs have a readily identifiable genetic identity suggesting they stem from the same source, that they are all pieces of the same puzzle, that they are all different facets of the same overarching and unifying idea. This album-wide synergy between the songs is something I've always placed a lot of importance on and "Colored Sands" does a great job of being a huge, epic and otherworldly experience as a whole. "The Battle of Chamdo" deserves praise not just for its careful placement in the very middle of the album, effectively separating the album into two acts, but also for its production value. Gorguts' earlier orchestral pieces were held back by their recordings - probably done with VSTs, MIDIs or keyboards of some sort - whereas on "Colored Sands", Lemay was able to hire and properly record a string quintet, and bring just enough of his classical influence into the album to give it a great sense of separation and serve as a beautiful counterpoint to the music surrounding each side of the track.

I have a very difficult time finding anything wrong with or poor about this album. Perhaps it is not as daring or revolutionary as "Obscura" was, and it certainly doesn't follow the path of instrumental experimentation that Steeve Hurdle was pursuing with Negativa, but it succeeds in every aspect that could have reasonably been expected from the efforts of Lemay and co. In fact, if we take off the rose-colored glasses through which we often revere "Obscura" and look at it from the perspective of someone who isn't a death metal historian or particularly enthralled by the bouncy, atonal and sometimes unintentionally silly-sounding guitarwork on the album, we might even conclude something more blasphemous than all of Incantation's albums combined: That "Colored Sands" is actually the best all-around album Gorguts has done in their entire career. I can see the keyboard inquisitors foaming at their mouths right now, formulating the logistics of my crucifixion at the stake of death metal doctrine - for how can something released in 2013 actually be better than an album fifteen years its senior with an untouchable reputation in the subculture? And yet that's exactly what I think Gorguts has done here, not on the same terms of course, but in terms of pure listenability; if we accept that the time for genre-redefining, earth-shattering experiments has largely passed and that our current age in death metal is largely characterized by the pursuit of some nebulous concept of musical perfection, then "Colored Sands" is the best album Gorguts has done.

Grade: A+

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