Colin Marston and Kevin Hufnagel on crafting the year’s most literate death metal album

Gorguts-2Gorguts have been at this death metal thing for a while now. They may not be as namechecked as some of their mega-reunion-tour peers, but over the course of the band’s 25-year existence—encompassing five albums, two tragedies, and one protracted hiatus—they have remained steadfast at the genre vanguard. Under the careful watch of mastermind Luc Lemay, Gorguts laid the blueprint for today’s crop of parameter-agnostic death metal acts (Pyrrhon, Artificial Brain, Wormed, et al.), became underground legends in their own right, and, in 2005, quietly receded into some sort of sunset.

Then came a new lineup, lynch pinned by NYC avant-metal alchemists, Kevin Hufnagel and Colin Marston; one of modern metal’s few true masterworks in Colored Sands; and, finally, what we’re all here to talk about in the first place: The band’s monolithic new EP, Pleiades’ Dust, which condenses two-and-a-half decades of death metal gene splicing into a single 33-minute composition as classical in its structure as it is experimental in execution. In order to gain a little more insight into such an ambitious work, This One Goes To Eleven sat down with Marston and Hufnagel to break down the process behind one of the year’s most challenging, addicting, and literate pieces of extreme music. Kick off those expectations at the door and join us, won’t you?

THIS ONE GOES TO ELEVEN: Let’s start at the start. Gorguts emerge from hibernation, recruit you guys, and drop one of 2013’s most-acclaimed pieces of extreme music in Colored Sands. How did you first meet Luc and how has the relationship evolved since over the years?

Kevin Hufnagel: Luc first contacted us online in 2008, for me it was through an old Myspace page. Since our first meeting, our musical and personal bonds have only grown. I’ve gotten to make music and go places with this band in the past three or four years that I never could’ve dreamed of.

Colin Marston: I met Luc in Montreal in 2006 at the first Negativa show. I had been in touch with Steeve Hurdle a little bit through email before that, but we met for the first time at that show. Luc is extremely easy to work with musically. He has a unique and developed style, but he’s always interested in pushing himself toward something new. He’s also very open to our ideas and loves the journey of creation. I respect these elements of his musicianship the most.

TOGTE: In addition to working with Gorguts, both of you continue to helm other bands and projects [Kevin plays in Dysrhythmia and Sabbath Assembly, while Colin splits time between his Queens-based recording studio—Menegroth, The Thousand Caves—and bands like Krallice and Behold…the Arctopus]. When it’s time to step into Gorguts mode, what does it take to prepare? Do you approach it differently than your other outlets?

KH: For me, playing and writing music is about emotional release, first and foremost. Gorguts music is diverse and dynamic enough for me to express many sides of myself, and that is one of the joys of working in this band. I wouldn’t say this is too much different than how I approach my other musical outlets, just maybe with some added extra brutality.

CM: Every band I play in requires its own mental and physical space, but I don’t intentionally treat them differently. At least I don’t think so. Who knows?

TOGTE: Alright, so Pleiades’ Dust is almost here (due May 13th) and is both hugely ambitious and truly addictive in its final form. Where did the writing process for this one begin and how did it work once it was underway, especially considering you guys are based here in NYC while Luc remains in Quebec?

KH: Luc had written the first 20 minutes on guitar, with some basic drum machine ideas and feels, and e-mailed it out to everyone. His only instructions to me were where he’d like the solos to be. Other than that, we had total creative freedom to write our own independent parts to his ideas. Once that was completed, it gave Luc a clearer idea on how to finish the piece. A few weeks later, we received the final 10 minutes to work on. Colin had a big hand in a bunch of the drum arrangements as well.

TOGTE: Luc said in a recent interview with Heathen Harvest, “When I hit send and a new idea goes out to the other guys and I get something back, they nail it every time. Not a note needs to change.” Are you guys that in-sync now or is he just being nice?

CM: That’s basically true! I can remember one short wacky atonal tapping part I wrote that Luc vetoed, and certain subtleties of our parts were changed once we actually played the song together a few times, but 99% of what’s on the album are our first ideas. The drums were a little more collaborative and developed the most in rehearsal of all instruments, but again, most of the basic ideas were demoed by Luc or me before getting together to practice.

KH: It’s true. We hardly changed a thing.

TOGTE: The most immediately obvious thing about the new record—and by far the consensus talking point—is that this isn’t an EP/LP in the traditional sense, but instead a single continuous composition. Was this the intention from the start or something that evolved organically throughout the writing process?

KH: That was Luc’s intention from the beginning. He’s had this idea for a long time. I’m pleased it came out as well as it did. I was a little skeptical at first, but certainly up for the challenge.

CM: Right, it’s the epalbumsong! All things at once.

TOGTE: After a few listens, it becomes clear that Pleiades’ Dust—though a single piece—unfolds over the course of several different movements. Can you guys offer a little insight on those passages? What are they, how are they organized, and what are your personal favorites to play?

KH: That’s more of a question for Luc. One thing Luc wanted from the beginning before anything was even written yet, was the ambient bass section that appears more than halfway through the track. Conceptually, that was drawn from something Colin would do live in between songs to give Luc and I a breather, during the tours for Colored Sands. I enjoy playing the piece as a whole. I don’t have a particular favorite section.

CM: There are certainly movements lyrically, but Luc would have to comment on that. To me the song exists in 4 big chunks: 0:00 – 9:28, 9:28 – 17:57, 17:57 – 21:13, and 21:13 – end. Those four pieces always feel like “songs” to me when we play them. I really enjoy the flow of playing the entire record. My parts hardly ever repeat, so I’m able to leave my conscious/analytical brain behind more easily than when playing the riffier, more repetitive older Gorguts music. The third section that I mentioned (the ambient duo that Luc and I do) is particularly enjoyable to play live since it’s such a different sound from the normal guitar/bass/drums mush of live rock music.

TOGTE: Thematically, Luc has talked a bit about this record—an anthropological look at the birth, death, and rebirth of knowledge as it moved eastward in the 5th and 6th centuries. Did you guys have these thematic arcs in mind while working on your parts or did they come later? If you were aware of them, did they inform the music you were writing?

CM: I just want to say that I’m so happy that someone decided to talk about something positive and intelligent that happened in the Middle East. In my lifetime, many of the images of that area of the world we’ve been presented with include religious fanaticism, war, terrorism, the oil industry, and racism. It’s nice to be reminded that great intellectual peaks of human civilization have occurred outside western/white culture. It’s horrible how modern politics and media can color peoples’ perception of what a particular other culture is like in all its multi-dimensionality.

KH: Honestly, the majority of the music was written first while Luc was searching for a subject to write about. Music, and how a record comes together, can be mysterious things. I try not to analyze it too much.

TOGTE: After weeks of stitching this thing together over the wire, at some point all of you found yourselves in the same room, ready to rehearse the record together, live, for the first time. How far into the record were you guys when that finally happened and what was the experience like?

KH: Everyone was so well rehearsed that when we finally got together in person, after the song was pretty much demo’d out, it was fairly effortless. I think we had three or four full band rehearsals before we tracked it? The first couple were when we only had the first 20 minutes, then the others, months later, were when the whole song was completed.

TOGTE: On a more macro level, you guys have both made careers pushing genre boundaries, and Pleiades’ Dust is certainly no exception. Is it still accurate to characterize Pleiades’ Dust as “death metal”, or has it become something else entirely?

KH: I believe the band will always have its roots in the death metal style, but just continue to add to and manipulate its foundations. If people want to say it’s something else, that’s fine.

CM: It’s never “accurate” to characterize any music as any genre. That implies that genres describe some scientific or absolute truth. Genres are, at best, a nebulous convenience for making generalizations about music history, not at all a guiding force for anyone who wants to be creative.

TOGTE: Finally, the record drops next week. I know you guys have already played it live in its entirety a few times overseas, but are there plans to tour around the record domestically, and, if so, are we going to get lucky enough for an NYC date?

KH: For sure. A full US tour will happen, and we will play the album in its entirety.

Pleiade’s Dust is out May 13th via Season of Mist.


  1. Gustav says:

    Thanks. Nice literate interview.

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