Gorguts - The Erosion of Sanity
Technical death metal
1993 RoadRunner Records
I fucking love death metal. If you were to ask me, what is my absolute favourite death metal album, there's a very strong chance that I'd pick this. Its up against some pretty stiff competition (Death's Human and Individual Thought Patterns, Suffocation's Breeding The Spawn, to name a few) but when all is said and done I think The Erosion of Sanity comes out on top and for me, has done for about the last 8 years. In my opinion this album, released at the tail end of death metal's initial explosion of popularity in the early 90s, represents that "old school" formula taken to its upper limit. In a few ways its also quite a progressive album, released at a time when that style death metal was really coming into its own and a bunch of more advanced, forward looking albums came out (1993 in particular was full of them). Though The Erosion of Sanity is not as "out there" as say, Thresholds or Elements, it is still definitely something of a left field choice for favourite death metal album over the likes of Tomb of the Mutilated and Leprosy. What really makes this album stand out to me is the quality of songwriting and the riffs, many of which are among my very favourites in all of music, period. The progressive tendencies of this album serve to embellish the music and give it additional intrigue, rather than being the sole focus.
Gorguts' first album, 1991's Considered Dead, was an enjoyable if somewhat derivative (recorded at Morrisound, produced by Scott Burns, guest appearances from James Murphy and Chris Barnes, etc) slice of solid traditional death metal. It had a bunch of great riffs that made it stand out as being better than average, but on the whole it wore its influences on its sleeve for all to see. For The Erosion of Sanity, the band seemed to make a gigantic stride forward into a sound that was entirely their own. Apparently this album was inspired a fair bit by two albums in particular: Suffocation's Breeding the Spawn and Atrocity's incredible Todessehnsucht (another big favourite of mine), two albums that are considerably abstract compared to most "standard" death metal. This influence can be detected in some of the riffs and choice of harmonies (Breeding's jerking, unusual rhythms and Todessehnsucht's almost neoclassical compositional values), but Gorguts have still managed to create a unique piece that is quite rightfully hailed by many as one of the genre's greatest achievements. After "With Their Flesh, He'll create" flays the skin from your proverbial limbs with its barrage of intense riffs and addictive tempo changes, the metal attack stops for a moment and the startling piano intro of "Condemned to Obscurity" emerges from a sinister low keyboard drone. This is hands down, one of the most profoundly beautiful and haunting things I've ever heard. What's even better is that it, in the best compositional way, subtly mirrors the equally bewildering pinch harmonic driven opening riff which then lurches into a series of equally irresistible riffing. The intelligence of the arrangement behind these songs is something that has never ceased to impress me, displaying a level of compositional awareness that lesser bands wish they could get near. Everything just flows so well, and there is a definite sense of subtle and bewitching melody behind many of these brutally punishing themes. The production this time is handled by someone called Steve Harris and is mixed by the well known Colin Richardson. To be honest, the move away from Burns and Morrisound did this album a huge favour. I don't dislike the classic Floridian death metal sound, in fact I love it, but this album wouldn't be as good if it sounded like another Morrisound job. The production is clear while retaining the right amount of grit, it has qualities that I'd describe at both warm and bright and it sounds unlike any other death metal album I can think of (the guitar tone in particular is just great). The mix, while heavy on the guitars and vocals, allows everything to be heard well enough. Attentive listening may be required to pick out the more subtle nuances in the drumming and bass playing.
Which brings us to the performances. As I have mentioned, the guitar riffs are just impeccable. I cannot praise them enough. Luc Lemay and Sylvain Marcoux achieved a fantastic quality of riffing on this album. Lemay has always been one of my favourite extreme vocalists and here he gives a thoroughly caustic performance, his agonized sounding vocals lend the album a character that it just wouldn't have if the vocals were merely your standard "low as possible" growls. Up there with the likes of Martin Van Drunen on Consuming Impulse for sure. The bass work by Eric Guigere is precise to the rhythm guitars, which considering the complexity of some of the riffs is admirable in its own right, yet the playing is also highly imaginative elsewhere, not afraid to offer an additional melody to create a sound that is harmonically quite rich in places. He also uses an overdriven bass tone for the most part (and a chorus/flange at a few points!), something I would normally not be very fond of in death metal, but it seems to fit the feel of this album quite nicely. Stephan Provencher's drumming is also to be commended, keeping a solid beat with plenty of propulsive double kick, great fills and very interesting use of the cymbals and hihats. I also have to point out that he only uses one blast beat on the whole album, allowing more creative beats to be used. All this is complimented by a brilliant set of lyrics concerning such subjects as insanity, nightmares and the subconscious among others, taking it yet further beyond the worn out cliches of years past. And then, the cover art. Just...wow. Dan Seagrave never drew a better picture in my opinion, and that must be saying something as he drew a lot of undeniably classic album covers. The image is very strange, full of fantastic details and rich colours (sadly the album cover only represents around a quarter of the whole painting, which can be viewed here: http://www.danseagrave.com/detail/the-erosion-of-sanity/) and to me it illustrates the "feel" of this music perfectly, and really completes the whole thing.
So, can you tell that I really, really like this album? In an ideal world, this album and others like it should have given the genre the shot in the arm required to not go through its period of creative limbo during the mid 1990s (which saw some pretty mediocre albums such as Morbid Angel's Domination somehow sell truckloads of copies...go figure). Around this time Roadrunner began to drop many promising artists (Suffocation, Immolation, and others) from their roster in favour of...I'm not sure what, but it probably sucked. Gorguts were also dropped, and dissapeared for a few years before finally reemerging (with a new label and lineup) to turn everyone's idea of death metal on its head with 1998's Obscura, an album that baffles new listeners to this day. Though that is a wicked album for sure, it doesn't quite have the instant charm of The Erosion of Sanity, which is accessible enough to any extreme metal fan on the surface, and which reveals its captivating intricacies over time.