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Gorguts - Colored Sands CD (album) cover

COLORED SANDS

Gorguts

 

Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

4.11 | 108 ratings

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FragileKings
Prog Reviewer
4 stars "Wikipedia is your friend," my friend always says when we are not sure about some fact. I often consult Wikipedia as a starting point to search for band history and album information. In the case of "Colored Sands", the Wikipedia article was surprisingly indepth and very informative.

Gorguts released four studio albums between the years of 1991 and 2001. During this time the band went on a five- year hiatus between their second and third album, and only founding member Luc Lemay has remained with the band, effectively making Gorguts his band similarly to how Opeth is Mikael Åkerfeldt's baby. With the suicide of a band member in 2003, Gorguts was finally dissolved in 2005. However, Luc Lemay received encouragement to reform the band in 2008. Initially (I'm getting this from Wiki) he did not intend to write any new material because he was satisfied with what the band had achieved; however, he started writing anyway and found it came very naturally.

The theme for the new album was Tibet. It was inspired by a video Lemay saw of colored sand art where images are created using colored sand and then ritualistically destroyed. At first he meant to write only the one song about Tibetan sand art, but his research into Tibet, its culture, history, and religion, inspired him to devote the whole album to Tibet. The album is divided into two parts: the historical, cultural, and geographical side of Tibet and the Chinese occupation. There are four tracks to each part with track five, "The Battle of Chamdo" separating the two parts and being a musical representation of the Chinese invasion in 1950. Impressively, this piece is performed by a five-piece string ensemble including two violins, a viola, a cello and a string bass. The music was composed by Lemay. The concept of the album was to "create a storytelling mood within the music; sort of like a motion picture" (quote by Luc Lemay and quoted from Wikipedia).

Lemay's concept is nothing to scoff at. Colin Marston (bass) and Kevin Hufnagel (guitar) are both classically trained musicians and contributed a lot to the album, writing their own parts together with Lemay. All three members cite classical influences, particularly composer Elliot Carter, and were able to write ideas on paper because they could use "an academic vocabulary". Lemay wanted to avoid writing anything like their second album "Erosion of Sanity", which was more of a typical death metal album, and develop their own musical language. This language was first introduced with 1998's "Obscura", though it is regarded by Lemay as rather simplistic. "Colored Sands" is a "more sophisticated expression" of that language.

All this makes the album sound terribly interesting. With music so intelligent and lyric writing to match, what does the album sound like?

BOM BOM RATATATATAT WHALLOP BOWM! ROOAARR BOM BOM (ting) BOWM!

Gorguts is not only death metal but they approach extreme like few can. Dissonance, double bass blast beats, booming guitars, ferocious roaring vocals, and occasional bass note crashes that sound like BOWM! If my parents, who were fans of 50's jazz, had a hard time making sense of my musical preferences in the mid-eighties, I can almost sympathize with them listening to this album. My first listen through, however, was a blissful ride because it was exactly the kind of music I was up for (having spent the previous week listening to Sarah McLachlan and Supertramp!). The Wikipedia article tuned me into the fact that there was more to this album than just explosive sounds of a heavy metal band in rapid combustion. I listened again with an ear for the complexities of the music and discerned that a score did indeed exist, one that was often difficult to follow for long and subject to violent and brutish upheaval. By the third listen I was struck by two notions: first that there was sometimes little disparity between some songs during the explosive and thunderous BOM BOM BOWM!! moments. The other was that I began to realize that this was not too far away from a Voivod album that I quite like, "Phobos", which I likened to the sonic equivalent of being wacked by a giant tennis racket! As the album wrapped up for the third time in my ear buds (with some songs having been played a fourth time) the similarities between "Dimension Hatröss" and "Phobos" and this album here made the music suddenly become even more accessible to me, or if not exactly accessible at least not so alien. And speaking of alien, perhaps some of Strapping Young Lad's "Alien" had also prepared me for this.

Armed now with a new understanding toward the album, I think I can more easily digest what I'm hearing. Surprisingly, the production is remarkably clear. One might expect the dynamic range to be shattered or a lo-fi production but it strikes me as being very clean and clear. Yes, we are still talking about kilotons of pounding and building-toppling shock waves of guitar distortion and dissonance, but still very well captured in the mix. When the music drops down for a bit of acoustic guitar, the string ensemble, or a chorus of low and ominous "aahhh"s like a note meant to conjure up an ungodly presence, it's all very clear. What a remarkable feat to have recorded an album that often comes across as the musical equivalent to the moon colliding with the earth while maintaining good sound quality.

If there is anything to say that is more critical it would be that in spite of the philosophical concepts presented in the lyrics, such as how did the Tibetans' devotion to peace help them in the end, and the history and culture and all that, the words are not so easy to distinguish from the roaring vocals and crushing sound of the music. It's also an album that won't be easy for a lot of metal fans to sink their teeth into. After listening to this album twice, I went ahead and listened to some classic Slayer and Megadeth and it was like going to pick daisies after having tried to pluck rare flowers from the sheer wind-blasted granite cliffs of some torturously rugged mountain. For more information about the album, please read the Wikipedia article!

FragileKings | 4/5 |

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