Gorguts: Colored Sands Reviewed

I haven’t been posting lately because I’ve been cycling through the new NIN, The Safety Fire, Witherscape, and Into Infernus. They’re all pretty good, but I’m not overly excited about any of them. There also isn’t much to say about them that you can’t find elsewhere. Finally Gorguts came to my rescue. I held out listening to this for awhile because I kept seeing it being referred to as “death metal.” I was worried they had returned to their early years. The first track (and all subsequent ones) blew that notion out of the water.

I’ll grant that I can’t really say much new about this either, since this appears to be one of the most reviewed metal albums of the year. Go read some other reviews if you want to hear about how awesome the drumming is or something. Here’s a quick reminder of the band for all of you who have been living under a rock. They are from Quebec and are typically considered a pioneer of the tech death scene going all the way back to the late 80’s. They became more experimental, and eventually released a mind-bending genre defying album Obscura in 1998.

They broke up for awhile, and now have a few more members including the prolific avant-metal guitarist Colin Marsten. Maybe we should begin there. Even though Marsten is on bass guitar and not on either of the two main guitar parts, his influence is felt strongly. Maybe he had a part in the writing? Maybe this album just used some of Marsten’s work as influence? It doesn’t really matter, because large chunks of this album feel very much like Dysrhythmia. And that’s a good thing.

My brief description of this album is just Dysrhythmia with a little death metal thrown in plus a string quintet piece in the middle. Essentially every song is extraordinarily dense and complicated, but there is still a huge variety across the album. Some of the songs stick to this oversaturation of information involving well-made three voice counterpoint in which all three guitars are playing independent lines. Others open up into much sparser arrangements that become tonal and beautiful.

A good example of this is in the track “An Ocean of Wisdom.” At one point there is even a vocal drone in stacked perfect intervals and Tibetan meditation cymbals. This is where Gorguts really shines as a unique force in the avant scene. The whole album is just so well-thought out and coherent. The lyrics stick to this Tibetan theme. The band then goes in and out of styles with ease in order to imitate musically the lyrical content. It might be difficult and complicated music, but it is not arbitrary.

This is a trap younger musicians tend to fall into. Gorguts’ experience shows here. In the same way that you can’t just throw paint on a canvas and pretend like you’ve created a Pollock (people can tell!), you can’t just play whatever notes pop into your head and say you’ve created an atonal masterpiece. To do this well takes a lot of thought and effort. Gorguts has put this effort in, and it shows. Not that I would even call half this album atonal, but when it strays away from tonality, it does so purposefully and beautifully.

That is the main genius of the album. Everything seems to be there for a reason. When they slow down into a sludge sound and then build into a headbanging climax on “Colored Sands,” it is there to reflect the lyrical content of the song. The Mandala starts as nothing and then builds and builds into a large complicated work just like the underlying music. Then the song goes back to nothing because the Mandala gets wiped away.

I can’t get enough of this album. If any of this sounds interesting to you, then you must check it out. Colored Sands is for fans of both Dysrhythmia style avant-metal and standard tech death. It is one of those albums that will continue to reveal all sorts of interesting things you missed after countless listens. It is for this reason that I give it a 9.5/10.

Here’s a sample:

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4 thoughts on “Gorguts: Colored Sands Reviewed

  1. Excellent review and appreciation of this album!
    You seem more knowledgeable in music from academic point of view than most people trying to review metal albums. What is your background?

    • hilbertthm90 says:

      I was formally a music composition major for a few years and then switched to math. Right now I am six years into a math Ph.D. but I continue to compose and read up on compositional technique. I’ve also even taken some graduate music theory seminars while a grad student.

      • Well, I may not always agree with you, but it is definitely a pleasure to read your articles because of how you approach the albums and the general analysis of the music.
        You have a new regular reader.

  2. Btw, about Colored Sands, don’t you feel like the second half of the album is more repetitive and lacks content? The last track being an exception, though I am not too happy with it.
    What you described about the the music reflecting lyrical content is something that struck me true about the first half only after I had listened to the album a couple of times and had started to piece it together.

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