With two and a half decades under their belt and a generation of bands aping their sound, one wouldn’t be surprised to see Gorguts rest on their laurels for a while. But Gorguts‘ time of rest is over, and Luc Lemay has made it abundantly clear that his pioneering death metal vision didn’t stop with From Wisdom to Hate. The resurrected Gorguts lineup – an all-star cast including master producer Colin Marston (Krallice, Dysrhythmia) on bass and Kevin Hufnagel (Dysrhythmia, Sabbath Assembly1) on guitar – delivered one of 2013’s finest records in Colored Sands, and their newest work is more ambitious still.
Pleiades’ Dust consists of a single, 33-minute song, composed by Luc Lemay and set to a lyrical concept chronicling the rise and fall of one of the greatest libraries mankind has ever known – the House of Wisdom in Baghdad. Any other death metal band tackling this sort of historical content would be an almost guaranteed farce, but Lemay proved with Colored Sands that he can handle complex historical and social content with an intelligence that an outsider certainly wouldn’t expect from a band called Gorguts. That being said, cleverness can only get you so far, and whether it’s about fractious nationalism or sodomizing corpses, I expect death metal to deliver the musical goods.
It’s difficult to describe this EP and all of its pensive hazes and riotous climaxes, but perhaps the best way to attack it is to ask whether one song can really do the job of half a dozen or more – and whether it’s of high enough quality to justify its length. In the former sphere, Pleiades’ Dust can indeed live up to expectations, as it’s diverse enough to keep your attention for the entirety of its half-hour run. In the beginning, tremulous sound effects zip back and forth, and when the guitars hit, the Gorguts sound is everywhere. From the characteristically rumbling, metallic bass tone to Lemay’s growls and howls, the trademark sound is all there, and it does wonders in keeping the EP interesting by affording the band a colorful palette from which to paint.
And paint they do, often with the pointillist, reverb-laden clean tones you might remember from the end of “Le Toit Du Monde” or the Rothko-like drones of blue feedback on a blue background. The work is, as you would expect, sprawling and expansive, and therein lies its appeal. Pleiades’ Dust is excellently paced, and never does it feel that the music is drawn out just for the sake of length. At the same time, motifs, both lyrical and melodic, recur with enough regularity to unify the song and justify its single-piece construction. You’ll hear Lemay Roar “scornful dogma” more then once, and short melodic figures that develop within the song’s first half are recapitulated even at the very end of the EP.
Pleiades’ Dust is very much greater than the sum of its parts, but therein lies its great flaw. It pleases as a whole but not so much from moment-to-moment. The performances are all there, especially Marston’s basswork, but not one part of this EP is a standout, heart-stopping, head-turning event. The melodies and riffs aren’t poorly constructed, but they pale in comparison to what Colored Sands had to offer in terms of memorability, and while I like every part of the song, it does at times feel very safely played.
In my anticipation of this album, I truly believed that it would be a schismatic and bizarre masterpiece on the same level as Meshuggah‘s I EP. But I was groundbreaking because of its content, because of its techniques, and because of its extremity – not because of its length. Pleiades’ Dust is without doubt more thoughtfully composed and thematically unified than I, but there’s no danger in its music – at least, not for those familiar with Gorguts already. It’s for this reason that releasing Pleiades’ Dust as an EP finally makes sense to me; though it’s enough material for a full album, it’s not the right material to make a Gorguts album; an interesting if not terribly inventive offshoot from the discography of one of metal’s most forward-thinking bands. Despite the EP’s ambitions, it really is a snapshot of a band in stasis, and hopefully between – and not beyond – innovations.