Colored Sands, the first Gorguts album in more than a decade, takes its inspiration from the geography, history and culture of Tibet, combining long, peaceful passages with moments of startling brutality.
“The first four songs are talking about the beauty of Tibet, with the mountains and the philosophy and some of the ritual[s] they do,” said frontman Luc Lemay on the road from New York in an early December phone interview. “The second half [of the record] it's a different story, for sure.”
So while Side A echoes the majesty and breathtaking scale of the Himalayas — “Even with all our technology man has never won over this place,” Lemay said — the flip side ventures into far darker territory. On “Ember’s Voice” the frontman growls about monks self-immolating themselves in protest of the ongoing Chinese occupation (“Flames lit by repression/Burning silence, one cannot ignore”), while “Absconders” finds the singer screaming about escaping misery as the band members rumble along like a marauding army, cutting a wide swath of devastation.
Despite the savagery of the music, the genial Lemay can be downright professorial in conversation — a trait that carried over into the months he spent researching both Tibet and its long, complicated history before beginning work on Colored Sands. “I had to do a lot of reading … to educate myself in the topic,” he said matter-of-factly.
These studies were further fueled by a natural sense of curiosity the frontman said he developed growing up in Quebec, Canada, with a restaurateur mother and a father who worked construction.
“I like poetry and painting, and as soon as I'm touched by a work of art I'm interested in having books on that topic I can read,” he said. “I've always been a very curious individual.”
Lemay’s earliest musical forays were far removed from the world of heavy metal. In second grade he’d sit alongside his father and strum acoustic covers of country artists like Johnny Cash, and as a teenager his fondness for classical music led him to pick up the violin. Indeed, it wasn’t until Lemay discovered avant-garde composers like Elliott Carter that he started to appreciate qualities like dissonance and atonality, both hallmarks of Gorguts’ orchestral approach.
Of course, for the better part of the last decade Lemay has distanced himself from music, and there was a time the frontman doubted he’d ever return to the band, which went on indefinite hiatus following the 2002 suicide of drummer Steve MacDonald.
“I love [music], but it's always you are in your head and you're playing with ideas, and I was missing and looking forward to doing something with my hands,” he said. “So I decided to start myself a little workshop, and I started carving. From there I started locally to have demand and commissions, and before I knew it I had 10 years I was full-time woodworking.”
Lemay was drawn back to Gorguts in the late aughts when former member Steeve Hurdle, who died in 2012, suggested he revive the band for its 20th anniversary. Rather than getting the old gang back together, however, the frontman surrounded himself with new players, including John Longstreth (Dim Mak), Kevin Hufnagel (Dysrhythmia) and Colin Marston (Krallice), who will join Lemay for a concert at Alrosa Villa on Saturday, Dec. 14.
The band’s lineup is not the only thing that’s changed in recent times. According to Lemay, Gorguts’ music is now being celebrated and embraced in a way he wouldn’t have thought possible even a decade ago.
“Back then, from an industry point of view, nobody wanted us,” he said. “Either people were not writing back after we sent the demo, or people said, ‘This is shit.’ But now it's a totally different story with what we hear about this record. Now it's a style that doesn't scare anybody. Now people want to be challenged.”