Gorguts is one of the many metal bands that have experienced a long period of inactivity and dissolution, only to reform and begin recording anew. Such hiatuses create a mythos for the faithful, a legend that can either be renewed or tarnished if further exploits are recorded. The problem with being legendary (and living) is the pressure to maintain the aura upon which admirers and detractors place upon you. It is much harder malign the dead, whom are usually forgiven of their missteps in favor of their larger journey and narrative. But what of the lauded Gorguts? A juggernaut of death metal in limbo and now once again active?
‘Colored Sands,’ the long awaited follow up to 2001’s awesome ‘From Wisdom to Hate,’ was released on August 30 of last year, and has been subject to a number of varying opinions. What is clear from the start is that the work is more measured and subdued than some past records (not just ‘Obscura’). One will notice that album opener ‘Le Toit du Monde’ spends some time in a subdued and atmospheric place not far removed from a great deal of 2000’s post metal. Therefore, the production is an effort of detail and care, but feels somewhat removed and quiet with the surprising lack of clutter. The record moves forward without many surprises but does not feel lifeless either. ‘Sands’ is a strange album in this respect. As for the performances, each player soldiers along (unlike ‘Obscura’) for the greater good of the recording. That isn’t the most exciting choice, but it works well enough.
There is a lot that has happened since March 6th 2001, the date of the last full length from the band. The metal world has experienced changes, as has the world beyond. Those once at the head of a genre are now relics of the past while other groups have taken their place. For example, Luc Lemay can be seen sporting a Deathspell Omega t-shirt in recent Gorguts photo shoots. That says a lot, because the characteristic caustic reverberating guitar chiming of Omega (in particular newer material) is similar to the more conventional chiming used on ‘Sands.’ Which is strange, because that same caustic melody was probably somewhat inspired by Gorguts’ own use of the technique. However, Omega’s recent works are of an absolutely stunning and shocking power, which isn’t always the case here. One thing that can be said is that both groups work best at higher levels of aggression and/or despair, but this incarnation of Gorguts seems more anxious and perplexed (which works pretty well actually).
‘Sands’ still remains quite impressive. The title track contains one of the most grave and serious main riffs that this listener has heard in a long time. It makes a case for death metal remaining relevant due to the weight and power emanating from it. Like several other cuts, the running time is somewhat extended to allow for space and passages to flow naturally. In this way, the track commands attention as the centerpiece of the record. Other notable songs include Llead single “Forgotten Arrows.” As the most direct of the bunch, ‘Arrows’ shoots some very, very catchy opening vocal phases our way (HATE. FILLED. MIND!!! Try to get it out of your head!) which shows that Lemay’s pipes are in proper working order. They are probably worth the price of admission alone. ‘The Battle of Chamdo’ seems a bit unnecessary and listens a bit like an overlong intro to the next track ‘Enemies of Compassion,’ which is one of the better works on the record due to its sense of urgency. This sense of purpose seems to be missing in some other parts of the record, like ‘An Ocean of Wisdom,’ which ebbs and flows at a somewhat deliberate pace despite excellent vocal phrasing. The more unusual aspects of songs are the ones that seem to hit the hardest as well. The off kilter crunch of ‘Absconders’ central framework slams quite hard upon the skull, and perhaps should have figured into more songs.
The title of the album is an obvious reference to Tibetan Buddhist sand mandalas and the mystique that surround them to many western audiences. As a result, spirituality and mysticism are prevalent themes lyrically, and it appears that the concept behind the album in general is Tibetan Buddhism. ‘Le Toit du Monde ‘ describes the Himalayas as a place apart from the world in both geography and spiritual essence. A place where the famed monks can focus on their paths to enlightenment. ‘A Ocean of Wisdom’ reads like the search for the reincarnated Dalai Lama. The cover art is explained by Lemay’s statements concerning his own critique of Buddhist non-violence (particularly on the concluding song ‘Reduced to Silence’) towards their oppressors. One set of hands prays with beads, while the same beads act as bindings to the second pair of hands. Such a reading and critique might be a bit nearsighted to the actual doctrine itself, but the intentions remain pure. Orientalism might also be a factor in the writing, but perhaps that isn’t a fair objection to make.
In comparison to ‘Obscura,’ this record does play it safe and thus will be underwhelming for the listener looking for something totally adventurous and groundbreaking. However, there is an astute attention to detail that cannot be denied and the sense of care to the craft is also present. Therefore, it is impossible to downplay the album’s merits as accidental, as the choices were made with purpose. It also would have been really great if Gorguts didn’t have to take a break (due to tragedies and setbacks) and had been around when metal needed them. But we should appreciate the fact that artists do their best to enrich our lives with their creations. Respect due to Gorguts, the now resurrected living legends.
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