More so than most years, 2013 has witnessed an unheralded amount of hugely anticipated albums. There’s BLACK SABBATH’s “13,” SATAN’s “Life Sentence,” BROKEN HOPE’s “Omen of Disease,” VISTA CHINO’s (KYUSS) “Peace,” WORMED’s “Exodromos,” CARCASS’s “Surgical Steel,” and to other varying degrees, the fifth LP from EXTOL and BL’AST!’s “Blood” -- among many others this reviewer is coolly forgetting. Fans of seemingly every genre have had something to look forward to this year, but for many, topping this list may very well be “Colored Sands,” the return album from Canadian Tech-Death pioneers GORGUTS.
Shortly after releasing their fourth full-length album, 2001’s “From Wisdom to Hate,” drummer Steve MacDonald succumbed to his personal demons and the band was put on permanent hold. Members went their own ways. Vocalist/guitarist Luc Lemay joined NEGATIVA with former axeman Steeve Hurdle, and Daniel Mongrain continued playing with MARTYR and is currently a part of VOIVOD. Now, 12 years later, GORGUTS and front man Lemay have returned with an entirely new line-up and a brand new record that hears the band tackling the weird and the heavy, a template they damn near perfected on 1998’s landmark “Obscura,” but this time with a much tighter, far more mysterious result.
“Colored Sands,” a concept album initially inspired by the Mandala drawing process, but which ultimately evolved into much more of an overarching history of Tibetan beauty and hardship, may present a quandary for the listeners who so utterly adored “Obscura.” GORGUTS have always had that label of ‘thinking man’s Metal,’ but with “Colored Sands,” the band have thrown on their glasses and are in full-on lecture mode. “Obscura,” on the other hand, seemed much more unpredictable, as if the band recorded mid-experiment, unsure if what they were playing would end up destroying the entire lab. This idea of ‘looseness’ seems to be a dividing point amongst critics, but, in the end, for those smitten by Lemay and his ambition, as I am, “Colored Sands” with all its thunder and calculation, feels, likewise, so much more imposing.
While Lemay wrote the lion’s share of songs on the album (the exceptions being “Forgotten Arrows” and “Absconders”), and, assuredly, he deserves much praise, the cast of musicians he brought with him are some of the best in the business. DYSRHYTHMIA’s Kevin Hufnagel (lead guitar) and Colin Marston (bass) have joined the band, as has drummer John Longstreth, whose cephalopodian dexterity, heard previously within acts like DIM MAK and ORIGIN, is on stunning display. These three bring to the table not simply unsurpassed power and technicality, but also a great deal of odd character and impossible urgency. Marston (BEHOLD…THE ARCTOPUS, KRALLICE), most notably, adds a wondrous amount of multi-hued weight with his bass playing, a quality reminiscent of OBSCURA’s Jeroen Paul Thesseling.
Still, though, there’s no doubt that “Colored Sands” is a look into the mind of Lemay. From the album’s lyrical content to its affinity for percussive madness and bouts of unnerving tranquility, Lemay’s patented GORGUTS sound, beating like an armored dragon heart, is alive and well, comprised of a host of contemporary influence that were no doubt initially influenced by Lemay and company so many moons ago. The emphasis on contrast, on technicality, on suffocating atmosphere and precise, demented riffs, they all point to bands like DEATHSPELL OMEGA or ULCERATE, groups so adept at intoxicating their audience with such genius, such wickedness, that losing yourself is a guaranteed aural occurrence. “Vermis,” the latest from the aforementioned New Zealand group, looms as a brilliant companion piece to “Colored Sands,” although, admittedly, considerably darker and more frantic in its execution.
A month or so back, when the album was finally released, a friend of mind inquired as to which song I enjoyed most. I told him, rather quickly, “Forgotten Arrows” and “Enemies of Compassion.” Now, and more than several spins later, if said friend asked the same question, I’m not sure I’d able to give him an answer without milling about, explaining how opener “Le Toit du Monde” (“Roof of the World”) kills with its incredible patterns and gaps of loud and quiet, or to how much I enjoy the leveling drums of “Ember’s Voice” and how it bleeds into this nightmarish guitar tango. There’s a lot to uncover with “Colored Sands,” and much of it is impossible to put into words. As most Metal is, especially Metal of such a delirious and multidimensional sort, believing and then trusting how the music you makes you feel, deep in your gut or far behind the lids of your eyes, that’s what makes an album a success, that’s what makes you come back for more, even if you can’t explain why.
(Online October 6, 2013)