Gorguts wasn’t what you’d call “cutting edge” when they first appeared. They came out in the middle of the Tampa Bay death metal explosion (albeit via Canada), recorded some great demos, signed with R/C Records, released their first two albums of excellent but comparatively traditional early-90’s death metal (complete with Dan Seagrave cover art), toured all over, got dropped and went on hiatus. Gorguts sputtered and collapsed while others took the glory,
But after some quiet time, Gorguts returned with a new lineup, a new label and a new album that rewrote what death metal could be. The legendary Obscura was a shocking stylistic departure, not just different from what they’d been doing before, but different from what almost everyone had been doing. It’s a jagged, uncompromising work that’s incredibly difficult to digest on first listen, but has over time become a towering landmark in extreme music.
After Obscura, three years passed and Gorguts returned with a new album, From Wisdom to Hate. True to form, half the lineup had changed in the meantime, with drummer Patrick Robert and guitarist Steeve Hurdle replaced by drummer Steve MacDonald and guitarist Daniel Mongrain, respectively. Would this be Obscura, Part II, a retreat to more traditional pasture or another 90° turn into weirdness?
Perhaps as a result of the lineup change or a conscious decision to step back from the abyss, the music on From Wisdom to Hate is decidedly less dissonant than the Obscura material. But make no mistake—this is a devastatingly heavy album, written and performed by a band firing on all cylinders. Just because they backed off the insanity pedal a bit doesn’t mean we’re suddenly in easy listening territory. The music is less intentionally uncomfortable and the hooks and themes are a bit easier to latch onto, but Lemay and co. still inject enough dissonance and instrumental complexity to cripple most bands. The difference this time out is that they’ve matured into something more than radicalism.
Gorguts are mining some deep lyrical shafts as well, touching on philosophy, religion and ancient civilizations. It’s cerebral stuff and well worth a read while listening because those terrific lyrics are complemented brilliantly by the music. Rather than relying on cheap samples or an electric sitar to get their ancient world groove on, they create a crumbling wall of rage that feels truly foreign and strange. When Lemay roars:
Blinding is my crown
Fearless is my throne
Your land… I will make my own
…you can practically feel the sands shifting beneath your soles.
From Wisdom to Hate is a monster of an album and cemented Gorguts position in the uppermost echelon of death metal after enduring years of second-rung obscurity. It will always exist in the shadow of its more radical older sibling, but by being ever so slightly easier to grasp, it’s by far the more enjoyable album.
Sadly, a year after its release, drummer Steve Macdonald committed suicide and Gorguts once again fell apart. Lemay and guitarist Steeve Hurdle pursued Obscura-like sounds in Negativa for a while before Lemay reassembled Gorguts yet again in 2008. Steeve Hurdle passed away in 2012 due to complications from surgery just before Gorguts finally capitalized on their ingenuity and persistence with the rapturously received Colored Sands (2013). As of this writing, Pleiade’s Dust (2016) has just been released and appears to be another winner.
The copy reviewed here is War on Music’s 2011 reissue. This is a fairly barebones release, but it’s well put together and sounds great. A lyric sheet is included and while the text is very, very small, it’s a welcome addition due to the quality of the words. Each song is even prefaced with a short bit of explanatory copy; another nice touch. Overall, a nice edition of an often overlooked album.