Skronk pioneers Gorguts have just released an EP called Pleiades’ Dust, consisting entirely of one long song. So how does it fare? Quite well dear reader, but I recommend hitting the bong first for maximum listening pleasure. Join me in this quest.
Though I won’t claim to be a huge Gorguts fan (I have little to no experience prior to this decade) I did greatly enjoy Colored Sands, the band’s comeback album back in 2013. Aside from that, the most experience I had was spinning fan-favorite Obscura no more than a handful of times. So when the metal world collectively rejoiced at the prospect of 33 more minutes of Colored Sands-esque material, I simply thought, “more of a great thing might just bore me, I’d rather hear them pushing the envelope a little more” and chose not to investigate. A few weeks later, Toilet sage Christian Molenaar corrected my way of thinking by explaining that: “33 more minutes of Colored Sands-esque material is exactly what [he] wanted… and they delivered!”
The first step to remedy my mistake was to pick up a physical copy of the album because I’m familiar with band leader Luc Lemay’s great obsession to detail, whether it’s in the song compositions or the sound quality of the final product itself. A digital copy of Pleiades’ Dust wouldn’t be sufficient for maximum enjoyment of this particularly tricky sub-genre of metal: SKRONK. In fact, when I was at the local FYE in line to purchase my copy of the album, the Cute Young Sales Girl (CYSG) inquired about the genre of music that I was about to enjoy, and asked for a definition of this skronk; to which I replied:
“It’s dissonant death metal, the riffs are composed of notes that do not strive to be ‘pretty’ sounding. A riff may contain some notes that flow very well together, then the guitarist will surprise the listener by switching to a note that does not sound natural. It makes the ‘SKRONK’ sound when shifting from one note to the next unexpected one.” [Then I made a goofy, contorted facial expression when I switched to that crazy note.]
It got me thinking, “I essentially told CYSG that it’s a terrific death metal band playing music that doesn’t sound ‘good’. How preposterous.” But it holds true, there’s an intrinsic beauty about dissonant death metal that’s not “pretty,” but definitely requires a greater attention to detail in order to enjoy. Skronk is most certainly an “acquired taste” in the world of music; a casual listener might pass it by simply because of its lack of generally-accepted beauty. But that also propels this particular trend into enthusiast territory: somebody who enjoys this style of music is REALLY going to enjoy it, and do his/her best to seek out other bands that sound similar. [Editor’s Note: Skronk and dissonance are not interchangeable terms. There can be dissonance in conventional riffs and song structure, but skronk traditionally implies a lengthy technique that defies conventional structure and style.]
Absorbing new material from a band like Gorguts will be greatly enhanced with a dank state of mind; so I chose to rip a bong and head out on a long-ish car ride to listen with the volume way up and the windows way down. Make sure your car ride is approximately 30 minutes, because you are going to want to enjoy the entire thing in one sitting, taking in the dynamic shifts in volume from whisper quiet tom tapping to earth-shaking double bass that requires sub-woofers. [Editor’s Note: don’t drive impaired, dummies.]
This album is definitely what a person wants to hear in satisfying the promise of 33 minutes of new material in the form of one long song. Every element is delivered on point in creating a product fitting of said description; but my feelings about this shifted from disappointment to absolute pleasure over the course of this journey. Gorguts weren’t just checking the boxes on a metaphorical recipe to their style: slower, calculated, even ugly guitar riffs; jazzy and spastic tempo changes from the rhythm section; harsh, barked vocals; and spaced-out guitar solos that sound as intentionally unattractive as most of the riffs. The band has included a magnum opus in scope, turning this journey — that might have initially seemed too arduous a task — into a memorable experience that should be enjoyable to newcomers and enthusiasts alike.
If you have any preconceived notion about what a 33-minute song might entail, you should immediately stop and discard it. Chances are you’ll be sweating at the thought of something so unnecessary, like a more lengthy Between the Buried and Me or Dream Theater song written for the sake of writing a long song. This is a finely crafted story told with the greatest skill and patience, by a talented artist with a terrific reputation and a backing band of professional musicians. Though all of the necessary ingredients for greatness are here, I am still thrilled every minute of this deftly-crafted take on modern skronk. One might exclaim that this EP is “better than the sum of its parts” and he would be on. flushing. point.
Here is what you CAN expect to hear from a single composition this long: a central idea exists, wrapped in specific melodies and guitar riffs, that lasts a couple of minutes; but is repeated enough times to be considered a “hook” (it is first heard at about the two minute mark). Let’s call this section the hook because it will be this EP’s version of a chorus as heard in common rock/pop songs. The musicians may be engaged in a well-calculated jam session with each other, but every few minutes they return to this main hook to let you know that this still is one composition overall. They do it so effortlessly and so creatively that the mind never wanders outside of the scope of the album; each minute is as engaging as the one which preceded it. The listener may be lost in the spastic, instrumental interlude of the moment and forget about that hook, but then it creeps its way back in (for instance, the 14:40 mark) and reminds you how well the band has mastered that death metal groove.
More so than ever before, the band experiments with the quiet side, the ambient side, the moments of respite between the articulate passages of crushing death metal. Distortion-lite guitar strings being plucked alongside a subdued bass and a gentle tapping of the drums creates the most vivid interpretation of lounge music ever heard from these boys at about 11 minutes into the EP, then again at about 17:20. It’s a fantastic move by the band; as bold, but also as fitting, as the orchestral “Battle of Chamdo” from Colored Sands. And just like last time, that catchy hook comes right back in to keep the listener grounded. Brilliantly played, Gorguts, brilliantly played. The final arc of this song is slowed down to a doom-like crawl, perfectly appropriate for a band just having given the world a crazy, technical, dizzying experience as this. Fitting indeed.
Pleiades’ Dust is a perfect EP. Not only is the music entertaining, thrilling, unexpected, yet catchy; it also sounds incredible. This is what I would call perfect audio quality. Everything is organic enough, nothing sounds too processed, and the dynamic elements are mastered so well that this could be considered the opposite of an album that’s been “brick-walled”, like Fallujah‘s The Flesh Prevails. But the album is only going to be as perfect as you find Gorguts to be in the first place. For example: if Gorguts is in your top 20 bands (out of 100), we will attach a score of 80% to the band for you. Therefore one would naturally ask, “is this album a 4 out of 5… or a 5 out of 5?” And to that I would respond, it’s definitely a “5 out of 5 for a band that you would rank an 80%.” There you go, clear as mud 🙂
If you like Gorguts, go buy the thing on Bandcamp. Don’t delay, that was the mistake I made. If you find yourself in the same boat at CYSG (new to the skronk phenomenon, but also curious and open-minded), give it a listen and there’s a very good chance you’ll find something to appreciate here. This is definitely a thinking person’s death metal
album song work of art. But also save up a dank nug or two and set your clock to 4:20 before pressing play.