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On Pleiades’ Dust, Gorguts Deliver a Total Fucking Masterpiece

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I love Colored Sands, and I was so happy to see fans and the media respond so well to a band like Gorguts, that really does work hard at, above all else, the actual fucking music they’re playing. It’s truly rare to see such inaccessible music, from a band that’s been out of the public spotlight for so long, find an audience so quickly.

Yet from the start, I knew Colin, Kevin, and Luc were capable of taking this set of musical ideas and really develop them far beyond the (considerable) achievements of that album. And that’s exactly what they’ve done with Pleiades’ Dust, one of the finest metal albums I’ve ever heard, and maybe even one of the very greatest of all time. Here’s why.

Pretty much every band, regardless of genre, has that one role player who calls the musical shots. Whether it’s writing most of the riffs, laying out song structures, or even writing other members’ parts, almost every band ever has had that one person who acts as the “director.” In Gorguts, that person is obviously longtime bandleader Luc Lemay, the creative visionary behind the band and its sole remaining original member through several lineup changes.

The difference between every band ever and this modern version of Gorguts is that Luc isn’t a Stanley Kubrick-type director, who literally oversees every single aspect of each “frame” of music. In this Gorguts, he’s more like a Martin Scorsese or (The Master and Inherent Vice-era) Paul Thomas Anderson: he lays down a structure, which he then passes on to Colin Marston, Kevin Hufnagel, and Patrice Hamelin (his collaborative “actors”) to do anything they want with it.

This is important, because we’re not talking about “standard” metal, and we’re also not talking about excessively overwritten prog-metal, where you don’t really have options when the time signature or riff pattern is so tightly constrictive that you simply have to do certain things. The underlying compositional structure and musical themes of Pleiades’ Dust are actually quite loose, and all essentially broken down into compound 4/4 time. This is part of the reason Colin and Kevin’s independence of parts works so well: not because the music is “complicated” or “progressive,” but because it’s actually pretty simple. When it comes to Gorguts, most critics tend to confuse “progressive” with “good musical ideas.”

Colin and Kevin’s background in Dysrhythmia makes them literally the two most ideal musicians on the planet to play with this pretty novel idea (for metal at least – it’s much more of a small-ensemble jazz idea). If you break it down, this incarnation of Gorguts operates like a classical piano solo, with each instrument filling the role of multiple (or single) chordal and melodic voicings. Colin and Kevin are able to do things like make certain phrases “odd,” while others are even; they can fill out the colors of each chord to be either neat or dissonant; and, of course, they can go as “out” as they want to, making their instrument’s “voice” or “voices” in the chord as separate or as connected to the other two voices as they want. Most notably, Luc doesn’t micromanage them whatsoever: what they want to play, they play.

Kevin Hufnagel in particular shines here. Not just in his back-and-forth with Lemay (whose 7-string guitar parts play nicely against the texture of Hufnagel’s 6-string), but as a full-fledged lead player. I realized while speaking with him about Eddie Van Halen, Richie Blackmore, Steve Vai, and the influence 80’s hair metal guitar solos in general had on him as a musician and (don’t laugh) on the new Gorguts album, that I don’t think I’ve ever heard him properly “take a solo” before Gorguts. Which he did on Colored Sands, but that isn’t exactly what he’s up to on this album. Instead, both he (and Colin with his bass parts) do something way more exciting and interesting: they use their “lead” melody lines more in an almost Bach-esque way, to literally lead riffs around sections of the piece, into a climactic chord, or like a conductor cueing the ensemble on where to land together. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything quite like it in metal before.

Colin Marston’s role here is multifaceted, and alongside Dysrythmia’s Test of Submission, this is my favorite performance of his in any of his bands (which also include Krallice and Behold the Arctopus) by far. He’s really found a way to freely express himself, without obsessing over every single tiny detail in the recording. There are little snubs and raw “mistakes” littered throughout the piece, which contribute to an almost “rock band” type feeling in the music. This, as I’ve spoken with him about many times both privately and publicly, is exactly what music should be, even when it’s crazily technical, dissonant, and atonal: it should sound played. That goes hand-in-hand with his recording/mixing/mastering work on the album, which is rich, chaotic, and most importantly natural. Gorguts sound powerful on this album because they’re just that fucking good and Colin is experienced enough to know where and when to lay on/off as a recordist.

Of course, drummer Patrice Hamelin is also at a creative peak. This isn’t easy music to write to, and it would have been so easy for him to have pursued a very busy, active style of drumming to complement some of these riffs. Instead he eases back a bit, leaving space for the tones and textures of the music to breathe. Yet because he does have the chops to really dig in, he’s able to use his technique to color each chordal climax in subtle ways, similar to how Nick Yacyshyn and Brann Dailor conceive of the drummer’s role in a band. Through all of this, he manages to anchor a severely unwieldy set of instrumental parts that the rest of the band are playing.

Let’s zoom back out, to Luc Lemay’s director’s chair. Pleiades’ Dust was inspired by the House of Wisdom, a library and educational hub in Baghdad that from the 8th century through to the Mongolians’ pillage of the city in 1258, made pioneering discoveries in numerous fields: astronomy, algebra, physics, philosophy, and more. Along with several Middle Eastern and East Asian libraries that were ravaged by war and colonialism in this period, the House of Wisdom was a testament to the intellectual achievements of the non-Western world: a forgotten center of innovation and discovery.

Lemay’s compositional voice on this album plays like an exploration of this institution. I don’t want to sound corny, but each section of music, vastly different in tone and direction, literally makes you feel as though you’re exploring different rooms in the library, with all of its quarks, surprises, and historical underbellies unravelling before you. Lemay has taken all of his influences – which span death metal, thrash, avant-garde, minimalism, classical, and prog rock – and made them his compositional bitch. “Concept albums” are nothing new, but conceptual music, written to evoke feelings through sound as opposed to letting lyrics do the talking? That’s using the medium of sound itself as an expressive tool. Now that’s not something you see every day, in any genre of music.

The end result? Pleiades’ Dust is an exercise in a true rarity for metal: free expression. Gorguts have found a special formula, one that they can play with, that is completely uninhibited by trends that so many bands (particularly in their general subgenre sphere) both consciously and unconsciously are stuck in: style, image, “the sound we are going for,” etc. This is an actually enjoyable, challenging piece of art. I’m proud of these guys and am excited to hear what comes next.

Gorguts’ Pleiades’ Dust comes out May 13 on Season of Mist. You can stream the entire EP here and pre-order it here.

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