Yella’hammer of the Gods: Gorguts ‘Colored Sand’: A Single Release with Two Faces

First, Carcass, now Gorguts. If nothing else, 2013 will be remembered as the year of metal legends finally releasing new material.
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Gorguts, the Quebecois tech-death band consisting of Luc Lemay and umpteen stand-ins, do not disappoint with the 2013 release Colored Sands (Season of Mist/EMI) There is indeed a little something here for those who want mathcore , as well as those who want technically-superb death metal. Therein lies the problem: This is functionally two albums. And, if taken as a split-EP, you’ll be very pleased…with half of it. However, if you are looking for a coherent musical thread, something bands like Godflesh or My Dying Bride do very well, you will be disappointed.

First, assessing the positives, the album is beautifully produced, and -as you would expect, the musicianship is nothing less than superb. The mix is perhaps one of the best you’ll hear this year. The drums are crisp, if not a bit on the tinny side. The guitars are synchronously layered upon one another with zero overlap; they are loud; and they are panned tastefully without drowning out other instruments. This is particularly important given the hypertechnical style of metal Gorguts plays (as well as the talent on impressive display elsewise). That said, I’d still have liked to hear more bottom to the guitars. Lemay’s vocals are clear, not overly-processed, and set center-rear in the mix, instead of front-and-center, providing an extra punch to the backbeat. But, far and away, the bass-work in this album is gorgeous. Colin Marston absolutely holds this album together. The walking lines bring groove to otherwise sterile riffs, and, indeed, the best tracks on this album, his thundering slaps shine.

Sadly, not everything on the release lives up to the impressive auditory quality of the mix, or the virtuosity of the members (and, unusual for a Gorguts album, guys other than Lemay take a prominent role in some song-writing). As noted previously, this album is thematically best thought of as two releases: The first “EP” includes the first four cuts (and the final track), and it is absolutely brilliant; the second “EP” is comprised of the back half of the album, and, while it has its flashes, leaves you feeling flat, and is mediocre at best.

The first half of the album, a bit more down-tempo, is far more atmospheric, and as expected, heavy as hell. What makes the first songs on the release so delicious are the subtle flavours to choose from, all woven with a compositional theme. Beginning with the vocal-laden “Le Toit du Monde,” through the riffy “Ocean of Wisdom”, and on to the hellishly eclectic “Colored Sands,” the musicianship and craftsmanship is superb. But, nowhere does the combination of groove, precision and lethality take form more than in the Marston-composed “Forgotten Arrows.” While the entire song is brilliant, the complete devastation really begins at the 3:36 mark.

Unfortunately, as amazing as the first half of Colored Sands is, the second half is just as average-to-bad. Lemay previously stated that he wanted to do more classical composition this time around, and much like Opeth, really emphasize longer run times to let the song direct itself as it will. While I appreciate that musicians mature, and songwriting evolves, in this case, the mistakes are palpable. The true downturn of the album comes at the approximate half-way point, with the wholly bland, neo-orchestral “Battle of Chambdo.” Orchestral pieces are not new to tech-death, or even metal in general. But, to be kind, this track is just a mistake. It is a milquetoast affair when set against other pieces which are compositionally simplistic, such as Morgoth’s “Darkness” (Odium 1991, Century Media).

Moving beyond that particular mistake, Colored Sands has so much sheer self-indulgence that it makes many songs tepid at best, and at worst, unpalatable. In some respects, although not musically, Gorguts’ vanity mirrors “djent” acts like TesseracT or Meshuggah. To call it musical masturbation is both unkind and apt. The latter half of Colored Sands is a guitarist’s wet dream, technically and compositionally solid, but ultimately tedious. The worst of the egoism probably comes in the light-jazz-meets-old school-Morbid Angel track “Absconders.” This meandering song includes so many open chord slides, jazz vamping and arpeggios that Al Di Meola had to hit the bunk. Alas, it starts ruthlessly, then everything goes to complete shit. If you cannot make it through the nine-plus minutes, that is forgivable, but, really, all you need to hear are the 90 seconds that begins at 3:40…

All in all, Lemay and crew are to be applauded for releasing new material that is sometimes fresh, occasionally brutal, and above all that retains the chops we expect from Gorguts. That said, for a 12-year layoff, the album feels rushed at times, as though quite a few songs were simply thrown in to add to the album’s length. Even worse, there are very few songs that “pop;” no one is going to say that any song on this album is the best in their discography. Is Colored Sands worth owning? That depends on if you’re a musician’s musician. But, for the casual listener, this is not going to do very much for you, or do it often enough, to justify the expense.

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