Thursday, 24 March 2016

Gorguts - Colored Sands (Review on Hindsight)

Fantastic cover art

I haven't had a chance to do a review on this album, even though it has been in my rotation for the last three years (around there). Also, I thought it might be better to review, or rather, discuss an album I was familiar with and to see how much better it fared over time.

The answer is that it's an amazing album, and might go down as one of my favourite albums of all time.

To start off, Gorguts is a legendary death metal band from Canada, fronted by none other than Luc Lemay, who has overseen the artistic direction of this band since its inception. The band disbanded in twice, once after the release of "Erosion Of Sanity" (when they got dropped by Roadrunner after experimenting with their sound) and again in the early noughties when their then drummer Steve MacDonald tragically committed suicide. After many years, Lemay regrouped with Colin Marston (who he initially wanted as guitarist), Kevin Hufnagel (who is Marston's bandmate in Dysrhythmia) and John motherfucking Longstreth.

The reason behind Marston is obvious to someone like me, but for the better half of you who have no idea, Marston is a multi-instrumentalist and producer and writes for tons of bands. Marston plays with technicalities at a level far beyond most technical death metal bands, and is one of the few metal producers who masters the albums at a range of DR7-9, which is still compressed, but gives the music a lot of reverb, warmth, and most importantly, space. Marston plays bass on this album, and plays the instrument with a lot of treble. Here is Marston's solo project with his 14 string Warr guitar.

Kevin Hufnagel, on the other hand, is a guitarist with a math-rock background, so he while he is capable of playing both physically and musically complex stuff, he has never really played with aggression, especially for a band like Gorguts. For the part, he listened to a lot of Morbid Angel, citing Trey Azagthoth's atonality as a huge influence on his guitar parts for Colored Sands. Here's an instrumental piece from Dysrhythmia with Hufnagel on guitar and Marston on bass.

The last piece of the puzzle is John Longstreth. Most people understand he's a good drummer, one of the best, in fact. Lemay chose him because of his performance on Dim Mak (not Origin!). Here's two songs, one from Dim Mark and one from Origin.

You might be wondering why I am bothering with each member's individual playing. but that is precisely the point I have on this album; never before have I seen a band, with all their distinct styles, gel so seamlessly on one album. It's not just one or two songs, it's the whole goddamn album! You hear Marston's bassline snaking its way to the front, then respectfully weave itself out whilst Lemay's riffage comes in, you hear Longstreth's drums tastefully accenting every little note off the interplay from all the stringed instrumentalists, you hear moments of quiet reflection with each instrument before the chaos comes in again. What is amazing is that each member is still doing his own thing, but it sounds so tight and synergistic. It's bloody intricate.

The other thing the album it's is all rounded complexity. Complex is a subjective word, some bands see it as being about polyrhythms (Meshuggah), some see it as being about moving parts within the song (Opeth), others think it's just about showing off with your instrument on your album (looking at you guys at Dream Theater). Gorguts has ALL of these in the same album. Ridiculous, tight angular sections collapse into acoustic interludes, all while under Marston's masterful sludgy atmospheric production. There's even an orchestral piece Lemay wrote in the middle of the album, that goes well with the flow of the album. It's a real orchestra too, not some half-assed midi file other bands love to use.

Another thing that amazes me is the lyrical content of the songs, and how it fits the music. The first four songs are about the peace and grandeur of Tibet, and while they are brutal, there is some otherworldly sense of serenity even amidst all the blastbeats. However, right after the orchestral interlude, the songs start to talk about everything wrong with this illusion of peace. There are liner notes for each song, with a quote either by scholars or Tibetians themselves. What's interesting to note is that Lemay makes it clear that he is pretty neutral with regards to Tibet. As the lyrical themes change to topics on immolation, Here's one quote that I liked:

"Take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. I am setting myself on fire as an offering of light with hope that his Holiness the Dalai Lama will return to Tibet, that peace will prevail on earth and that Tibet will be ruled by Tibetans."
[...These were the last words of Tamding Thar on 16 June 2012] - notes for Ember's Voice

Lemay empathizes with the Tibetians for the torture they underwent during the Chinese occupation, but also says that the non-violence among them did nothing much to help their cause ('Reduced To Silence'). It's also very refreshing for someone in the metal business to focus on a non-Christian part of the world and offer a balanced view on it. Have I also mentioned that Lemay sounds fanatastic on this record?

The final thing I would like to praise is the production on this thing. It's a resounding DR9 on CD, and DR11 on vinyl. Marston does the impossible of giving the music both heaviness and speed. Despite the brutal nature of the instrumentation, the album is still pleasant on the ears. The drums, in particular, are recorded with so much reverb that it shows in the middle of 'Forgotten Arrows', when Longstreth just blasts to Lemay's extended growls. It's one of my favorite moments on this album.

In conclusion, this album has only gotten better with age. It's a stellar return to form, with an older band coming back from the dead and making an impressive mark, remaining relevant to the modern metal world. Not a lot of bands can claim the same. I am truly excited for the next Gorguts EP.

No comments:

Post a Comment