F*ckin’ Eh: Colored Sands and the Mighty Return of Gorguts

  • Sammy O'Hagar

The first Gorguts riff was written in 1896 by Sergei Rachmaninoff. (Though I do have a theory that Luc Lemay has access to a time machine, this is unrelated to that.) While metal’s roots in classical are hardly subtle—the bassy asskicking of Wagner and Mahler fuddled around a G# below E before Meshuggah were remotely close to being sperm in their dads’ dads’ ballsacks—Gorgut’s particular brand of city-razing grooves is particularly beholden to it. And there’s no reason not to be: it’s big and epic and evocative. It has the potential to tap into an ageless evil that shudders through everything. The plodding chords that close out Rachmaninoff’s First Symphony are pure late-period Gorguts in that regard; the most offputting thing may be the complete lack of blastbeats or growling around it. For all the bands looking to summon something Lovecraftian in their outsized, god-like horror, Gorguts are one of the few who can convincingly pull it off.

It’s great to refer to Gorguts in the present tense again instead of assuming they were swallowed up by the abyss they’ve so often evoked. Most bands who drop off the face of the Earth twelve years prior don’t inspire the kind of excitement in something new that arguably Canada’s best death metal band have. And there’s a reason for that: Gorguts inspire the sort of confidence needed in pulling off a comeback like this. And Colored Sands is exactly the kind of Gorguts record we need to hear: very familiar, very Gorguts, but very different from anything else you’ve heard by them. Dark, toxic, and still big and memorable, it at the very least rattles the reputation of Obscura. They pick up exactly where they left off: a little death metal, a lot of abstraction, and even more delving into the world-devouring hell with which the band have familiarized us.

It’s hard to find a point of comparison for Colored Sands, though. It’s not as thoroughly entrenched in the modern classical and free jazz quicksand of Obscura, nor does it have noticeable tethers back to their tech death origins like on From Wisdom to Hate. There are plenty of recognizable moments throughout: Lemay’s growl is pretty distinct, and the swarm-of-locust riffing is thoroughly Gorguts. But it sounds different overall no matter how familiar it gets. The band’s grandiosity is present, but there’s a tangibility beneath it that hasn’t been as present in the band’s lauded material. The density of Colored Sands makes it hard to decipher what’s keeping you there, but something is. It could be a generation or two of thoroughly Gorgutsian bands normalizing what the original dudes dropped into our laps back in ’98, or it could be the genius of the band at work. After all, a record that’s gestated this long is bound to have some well-developed parts.

Most of the songs have a similar makeup: sinewy path fogged by bleach-and-ammonia death metal noxiousness leading to a Big Riff. You know the kind I’m referring to: you heard it in “Forgotten Arrows,” it pops up on the band’s first-round material… It sucks the air out of the room and concentrates it into a speck of organized heaviness, then explodes outward in waves. It works alone as a stand-alone heavy riff, but like the rest of Colored Sands, there’s plenty to deconstruct. The little moving parts within the riff itself beg for a closer look. And Sands isn’t wanting for big, epic, ugly moments: “Enemies of Compassion” starts off uneasy then works its way into a seemingly endless loop of a tense discordance as the bands churns away from it polyrhythmically. “Compassion” is a particularly brutal 7 minutes, as it follows up the strings-only piece “The Battle of Chamdo.” Predictably, it’s a great example of bare-bones Gorguts: all dissonance, no distraction by way of of distortion. But the band are what ultimately tie everything together: turn-of-the-century dark classical music may be in their DNA, but they’ve done a ton of evolving beyond that.

It’s hard to get past the guts of Dysrhythmia being a part of the backing band (particularly in squigglier moments like the opening of “Ember’s Voice”) at first. But there really isn’t a more appropriate band to gut to serve the need of a band like Gorguts. There’s more humanity, in all its lumps and bruises, in the band’s churning awfulness than in most other death metal. So of course they’d need a band who could plumb the moist and moldy depths of the soul limber enough to work around corners but strong enough to shove whatever necessary out of the way. This is appropriate, as Gorguts sound more alive than ever. Dysrhythmia’s obsession with classical hypertechnicality and the fringes of jazz makes them a good fit for Lemay’s brand of heaviness. The darkness on Colored Sands is sinewy, recognizable, and spry. It’s also deep and dense enough to send smelly longhairs back indoors to pore over every cancerous minute of it. There are a lot of bands we want back, but not a whole lot we need. Colored Sands is a hell of a death metal record, and it couldn’t have been spat out by anyone other than Gorguts.

Gorguts’ Colored Sands comes out September 3 on Season of Mist. Listen to the track “An Ocean of Wisdom” here and pre-order the album here.

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