Almost no other death metal band in today’s landscape has carved out such an important and impenetrable sound as Gorguts, the Canadian masterminds that have been warping brains and defying musical conventions for over two decades. You could easily lump them in with greats like Death and Morbid Angel for their sheer level of innovation within the genre, mostly due to 1998’s apocalyptic and terrifyingly avant-garde album Obscura. Oh, and it’s also worth mentioning that the band rose from the ashes a few years back after over a decade of silence and dropped Colored Sands, arguably the finest metal comeback album in history. It’s still an almost-unrivaled masterpiece of modern metal, borrowing from the lush atmospherics of bands like Porcupine Tree and Opeth while seamlessly synthesizing it with their trademark wall of dissonant aggression and even a full-on string quartet piece. The band sounded unquestionably inspired, completely focused and ended up becoming one of the more influential figures in the style as of late. Thankfully, Gorguts fans won’t have to wait for over another decade for the next batch of compositions from Luc Lemay & Co., and Pleiades’ Dust completely fucking delivers.
Intrigue and hype have certainly surrounded this new piece from the group ever since it was revealed that they decided to record one continuous track, surely a nod to all the classical composers Lemay (who writes the majority of the band’s material) is inspired by. And much like a lot of modern classical pieces, Pleiades’ Dust is a continuous barrage of new ideas that almost never gives the listener time to fully contextualize what’s going on after just one listen. In a lot of ways, this piece takes the grandiose nature of Colored Sands and compresses it into 33 minutes, while still certainly exploring musical territories that the band hasn’t touched on before. This particular composition probably has more in common with Igor Stravinsky than it does, say, Crimson by Edge of Sanity. Make no mistake; Pleiades’ Dust still spends the bulk of its time pummeling the speakers with some the band’s most intricately-layered riffsmanship to date. Few other bands in death metal have the musical know-how to combine such seemingly-separate ideas into something exponentially more terrifying, but then again, we’re dealing with one of the genre’s absolute best here. The guitar interplay between Lemay and Kevin Hufnagel is air-tight, almost completely independent for a bulk of the EP, and (most importantly) heavy as all get out.
If you possibly needed any more proof that Gorguts are some of the tightest musicians in the game right now, bear in mind that both the drums and bass for Pleiades’ Dust are all live takes. Not only is this a testament to the band’s chops and dedication, it gives the album a much-needed sense of cohesion and movement. The natural ebb-and-flow of drum fills and tempos throughout the composition feels exactly like how the band would be (and has been) performing it on stage. And though Colin Marston’s bass performance is insanely technical and one of the most exciting parts of the piece, it sadly suffers from a slightly underwhelming tone. Though Marston revealed in an interview that he deliberately left the tones as they were done live, it probably could have used a little more EQ work in post-production to eliminate some of the fuzziness that feels out of place at times.
The first half of Pleiades’ Dust feels more in line with the ethereal, prog/death combo that was Colored Sands, with its combination of trademark dissonance and its lengthy and gloomy clean guitar passages. And while Gorguts during the first half are still generally light years beyond most of their contemporaries, the band doesn’t completely open up until about eighteen minutes in and introduces the band’s first full-on venture into unadulterated dark ambience ala Lustmord. It’s subtle, captivating as hell, and actually ends up being of the heaviest and most horrifying parts of the entire recording. Just when serotonin levels are at an all-time high, the band kicks back in with a full-on doom metal assault before going completely off the rails into what sounds like Hufnagel’s most demanding Dysrhythmia riffs ever. Thankfully, the piece does contain a bit of closure when the band brings back the first heavy riff at the very end (albeit with a different drum beat), but without fully immersing oneself in the music, it can easily slip by. While most bands would fail miserably at piecing such seemingly-dissimilar ideas together, the masterful arrangements of Lemay and his bandmates help this become such an enjoyable piece, not to mention the band’s most forward-thinking material since Obscura.
Pleiades’ Dust is not for passive listening, and it will probably take a good four or five spins before its merit and importance can truly be contextualized. But it’s also the single best piece of death metal in 2016 as of right now. Few other bands in modern heavy music are exploring as much musical territory as post-reformation Gorguts, and no other “comeback” band has even come close to maintaining this level of innovation and fearlessness. This is an absolute must-have for fans of all things dense, murky, dissonant and (actually) progressive.