Technical death metal luminary Gorguts recently released their first album in 12 years and we discuss its concept and creation with band leader and Canadian metal legend Luc Lemay.
Twelve long years have passed since technical death metal legend Gorguts released its last album, From Wisdom to Hate. In that time, scientists have mapped the human genome; social media has consumed the world; we’ve lived through the backlash following the 9/11 atrocities; seen China become a world superpower; and witnessed devastating natural disasters take lives around the globe. It could be said, that over the past twelve years, humankind has flitted between wisdom and hate with larger apocalyptic strides than ever before - although, if our history tells us anything, as a species, we’re known to favour hate at the expense of virtues like wisdom.
That lack of humanity, particularly the tragic and oppressive occupation of Tibet by the Chinese in the 1950s, is a part of our history that Luc Lemay - leader of technical death metal giant Gorguts - found himself drawn to. Lemay started with an interest in the intricate process of how Tibetan monks draw mandalas (symbols of the universe) using colored sand, and his inquisitiveness led him to research Tibetan culture to try comprehend the complexities of its history. “As I was reading and educating myself on the culture, values and philosophy of the Tibetan people, it brought a lot of questions to my mind, and just by asking myself those questions I felt totally exhausted. I don’t understand human nature… I don’t understand why any man on earth would have the tiniest bit of anger toward the Tibetan people. They’ve been pacific people for centuries; owning an army did not seem to be a priority in their values since they’re not interested in the concepts of jealousy, domination, megalomania… On the other hand, did their non-violent philosophy serve and help their cause? I don’t think so...”
Painful tales of passivism in the face of oppression form the conceptual basis of Gorguts’ first full-length album since 2001, Colored Sands. But this is only part of the story, and the fact that we actually have a new Gorguts album takes precedent over its fascinating thematic base.
In 2005, three years after the suicide of band drummer Steve MacDonald, Lemay thought it wise to put Gorguts to rest. The band lay dormant until Lemay’s Negativa band-mate and former Gorguts member Steeve Hurdle (who sadly passed away in 2012) suggested that Lemay revive the beast to celebrate the band’s 20th anniversary. That was a thought far from Lemay’s mind at the time: “When Steeve brought the idea to me to make a new record to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the band, I’d never thought about it before. I was very happy with everything the band had accomplished in the past and I had no intention of making a new record. Then, when I started to write, I had no apprehensions either… I just went with the flow and wrote the music I wanted to hear.”
A demo of instrumental music that Lemay had been working on leaked online in late 2008, and he had no alternative but to announce his plans to resurrect Gorguts to the wider metal world. Anticipation grew year after year, till finally, in 2013, it was announced that Gorguts would return with a new album, one set to scramble the minds of those of willing to surrender to the band’s brand of technical death metal.
The sub-genre that Gorguts had helped pioneer with their stone-cold 1998 classic Obscura had continued to thrive in the band’s absence. Countless musicians took direct inspiration from Gorguts, as well as many of the sub-genre’s other godheads, such as Necrophagist, Death, Cynic, and Pestilence. Bands like Ulcerate, Origin, Brain Drill, Spawn of Possession, Beyond Creation, and Obscura rushed to the forefront, with those exciting bands dedicating their energies to taking technical death metal to unfathomable heights, and charging off in complex, brain-mangling directions. Hell, Obscura is even named after Gorguts’ landmark album – if you needed any further proof as to the esteemed standing of the band.
The warped sounds of Obscura have probed their way into every nook of extreme metal, and can be heard in the music of bands ranging from The Dillinger Escape Plan to Brisbane’s surrealists, Portal. Because of its influence, Obscura will always be a benchmark to which dissonant, technical death metal will be measured; and it’s a release that time and circumstance has turned into an unbreakable marble altar.
Obscura is also the benchmark by which all subsequent Gorguts music has been and will be measured; an ailment that the monstrous From Wisdom to Hate unfairly suffered from. Therefore, the question of whether Gorguts’ first album in over a decade matches up to the band’s past glories has to be on the tongues of those familiar with Gorguts’ past work. It’s totally unavoidable, but that question is mute by the time “Reduced to Silence”, the final song off Colored Sands, draws to an exhausted end.
You see, Lemay has been extremely cunning in his comeback at the helm of Gorguts. He’s opted to remain, primarily, the sole song-writer, and he’s chosen not to ask past members back to the band. Instead, he’s shrewdly assembled a who’s who of young marvels from extreme metal to provide support. “When Steeve told me about the idea he asked to be part of the band, but since we were doing Negativa together I wanted a new creative experience, with new people.” Joining him aboard good ship Gorguts circa 2013 is extreme-drummer-for-hire John Longstreth (Origin, Dim Mak, Angelcorpse), virtuoso guitarist Kevin Hufnagel (of Dysrhythmia fame), and Hufnagel’s partnering bassist Colin Marston – a dazzling multi-instrumentalist who also plays in Krallice, Behold... the Arctopus, and Byla.
Each of those hand-picked musicians are not only massive fans of Gorguts music but also acclaimed musicians who have the required technical ability to perform/write Gorguts-worthy death metal at the high level expected and demanded from both Lemay and the fans. According to Lemay, he had these musicians in mind from day one, as he had been inspired by their individual work. “I’m a strong believer that you have to have total admiration towards the artists you share the creative process with. Otherwise I could have made the whole record by myself with modern technology. Also, it was important for me to give creative freedom to my band mates so they could show their own voices as composers within the Gorguts aesthetic... I feel very lucky that they all accepted to join.”