Thu, Sep 12, 2013 - Page 11 News List

CD reviews

NY Times News Service

Season of Mist

Even beyond the baseline unfriendliness, death metal can, from a distance, seem restricted and uniform, and can want it that way; it pushes a listener back. But Gorguts, from Quebec, a cult band in a cult field, needs you to come in close.

Colored Sands is Gorguts’ first record in 12 years and will, rightly if unfairly, be compared to Obscura, from 1998, because there are few records that broke out of any aesthetic framework so aggressively as that one did. Go back and listen to it, and feel no shame if you never heard of it. The strong rhythm section erased its tracks all the time, sorting among shifts in tempo and feel, routing through grooves and far less comfortable patterns; it used strong consonant riffs and bizarrely raw (though never haphazard) atonal harmonies.

What held this music together? It didn’t have the consistent thrashing swing of the band’s previous albums. It hadn’t quite settled into its own style, but even under the death-metal roar, it communicated a joy and risk and eagerness in all its weird features that can’t really be explained by all its admirable composition and before-the-fact elements. It remains a bumpy thrill and a minor miracle. It shouldn’t have worked, but it did.

Colored Sands, a concept record about sand mandalas in Tibetan Buddhist culture, doesn’t have quite the same life force, and couldn’t. From the Obscura lineup, only the singer and guitarist Luc Lemay remains. (The highly original guitarist Steeve Hurdle died last year, but not before forming another band with Lemay, Negativa, whose one EP, from 2006, is worth your time.)

The new members are all excellent players known to listeners of this kind of hyper-detailed music: The drummer is John Longstreth, from Dim Mak; the bassist is Colin Marston, from Krallice and Dysrhythmia; the guitarist is Kevin Hufnagel, also from Dysrhythmia and his own undefinable solo-guitar projects. And it’s a strong record, well played, with lots of varied ideas, ordered into a logical flow. Except for one nearly five-minute piece written for and played by string quartet, The Battle of Chamdo — this is that kind of band — the album has stability, consistency.

But too much of it. If Obscura supplied nearly constant surprise, this music is frustratingly consistent in its overall dark, dense, misty color and atmosphere, even though its frequent changes in energy and tempo, its rhythmic breakdowns and dissonant harmonies between the two guitarists. It goes all over the place according to the dictates of Gorguts’ own style, but remains rooted to the spot.

— Ben, Ratliff, NY Times News Service

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