Luc Lemay is dismayed.
At least, one can assume so. The Gorguts leader possesses one of the greatest minds in heavy metal’s storied history, but much of what he sees around him — both within metal and throughout the world — is underuse of the mind. It’s pretty easy to assume that when Lemay looks around at the state of society on our Blue Dot — anti-intellectualism, crumbling educational systems, TRUMP 2016 — he is well and understandably dismayed.
Whether or not current events directly impacted the lyrical subject of the Pleiades’ Dust EP is something you’d have to ask Lemay himself (someone did, he said no). But to these ears, Lemay’s work has never seemed so timely, and listeners tend to interpret music as they see fit.
The EP tells of the rise and fall of Baghdad’s House of Wisdom, which was one of the world’s largest libraries and intellectual centers during the Islamic Golden Age. While Europe stagnated through the Dark Ages, the House of Wisdom helped to preserve and advance many of the discoveries and achievements of the Roman Empire. Scholars from throughout the world gathered there to copy and translate texts, to practice the sciences, and to advance the whole of human knowledge. The House of Wisdom dwindled under a rigid and orthodox caliph before being destroyed during the Siege of Baghdad by the Mongols in 1258, but by then, much of what was achieved there had been copied and spread throughout the world.
It is a cycle both tragic and fortunate, and one that has been repeated countless times throughout human history.
Luc Lemay is inspired.
With such grandiose subject matter, one would hope that Pleiades’ Dust consists of equally grandiose music. Well, it does. Big time. Gorguts was always destined to take the “single long song” path, and it’s honestly a bit surprising that Lemay and co. took this long to do so. At a solid (and loaded) 33 minutes, “Pleiades Dust” is a whirlwind of ideas and maniacal instrumental work, as organic in execution is it sometimes feels mechanical in results. Like Colored Sands, that dichotomy is often the result of the personnel, but make no mistake that this was an obsessively designed and composed piece of music long before anything was recorded.
Pleiades’ Dust retains 75 percent of the monster Colored Sands lineup, which should be a disappointment to just about no one. Returning are unparalleled virtuosos Kevin Hufnagel and Colin Marston on guitar and ludicrously cool bass, respectively. The new guy is far-more-than-capable drummer Patrice Hamelin, whose most Gorguts-relevant work includes pummelling for Martyr.
Together with Lemay, this elite collection of talent helps to create a sound that on the surface is very much Colored Sands, but upon several listens begins to reveal itself as a new, unique beast. To start, this is probably least brutal release in the Gorguts catalog as a whole, but it’s still plenty menacing for much of its run time (and Lemay’s growl is still a major highlight), it’s just that this gives as much time to other moods as it does to the pure death metal of the band’s roots. Sometimes the track sounds downright sorrowful, and at other times the music itself seems to be pondering… something. Point being: this contains all of the twists and turns — stylistically, compositionally, and emotionally — that you would both desire and expect from such a gargantuan song.
The compositional twists and turns see the song rise to a full barrage of brutality, drop into several off-kilter but oddly beautiful passages of clean guitar, do plenty of prog freakout, embrace hints of psychedelia, and even go full doom/death at one point. The latter starts with a riff after the 21 minute mark that could show up on a My Dying Bride album; that is if MDB suddenly got a serious hankerin’ for dissonance. It sounds particularly exhausting because the listener was supposed to have just recharged during a soft ambient passage, but the intent here is less relaxed melancholy than a renewed show of dominance by the music, gripping the listener for the song’s final third. That some of the song’s most prog- and tech-tastic material follows only hammers home how much the EP is building to a monster finish.
Which brings us to possibly the most impressive aspect of this constantly impressive piece of music. Like just about every song on Colored Sands, “Pleiades’ Dust” is a bounty of surprises throughout. The improvisational feel of the performances means that there might not be two identical seconds on this entire EP. Really. A riff might repeat, but its accompaniment shifts. A main motif may reappear, but is flipped inside out by one or more of the performers. Beyond that is the totally confident, only-we-can-have-this-much-fun-without-detracting-from-the-song stuff that appears throughout. There is one particularly wonky moment when a solo briefly hints at going all happy and major key, but it’s so fast that you might miss it, and with the music surrounding it being so unsettling, it’s as if it’s designed to trick the listener. Maybe it is designed to trick the listener. Regardless, it rules, and is one of countless such moments that are as wildly entertaining on their own as they are hugely beneficial to the whole.
It pretty much goes without saying that this song is the single most ambitious piece of music that Gorguts has ever tackled. That’s single most ambitious piece of music; I’m not going to sit here and tell you that this is a greater achievement than the entireties of either Obscura or Colored Sands, because I don’t need too. All are such monumental, unique works of music that they stand strongly on their own. Pleiades’ Dust is simultaneously Lemay’s “Crimson” and his “Echoes,” and yet it is neither of those things, coming from a source that is as singularly inspired as any artist can realistically be. As a result, it is a staggering accomplishment for Lemay, for Gorguts, and for music.
In a time when authorities seek to tighten grips on art, knowledge, and rational thought, such achievements should be celebrated and shared, so that they can be preserved when the foundations of knowledge and art are again reduced to dust.