Consistency in Music: The LONG Hiatus


Detective McNulty is back with some thoughts on the comeback album. This time around let’s dissect four major-league players in the metal arena who have experienced a 10+ year hiatus in their respective careers, and how it has affected their much welcomed return to the scene: At the Gates, Atheist, Carcass, and finally Gorguts.

You want a movie analogy, don’t you? Nerds, raise your hand if you’ve seen Tron. Great, now how many of you have seen Tron: Legacy? There is an 18-year gap between films but that gap allowed the filmmakers (all that were involved in said sequel) to craft a near-impeccable masterpiece of cinema that was criminally underrated! It took an antiquated but good film, and improved upon it in almost every aspect: the story evolved from living beings represented in a computer program to a philosophical examination of what this computer simulation world thingy could mean to the real world, meanwhile giving us one of the best audio/visual experiences that I’ve ever experienced. The amount of time between films was used to amazing advantage, as the technology was scores beyond what the original filmmakers could have envisioned. Sometimes bands use this planned or unplanned hiatus to their advantage. Let’s begin:

Exhibit A:  At the Gates  (Slaughter of the Soul [1995] -> At War with Reality [2014])

I really like older At the Gates material, and I’d be willing to bet that you do too. When the band announced that they would be making a new album, who wasn’t foaming at the mouth? Who exclaimed internally or externally, “I want Slaughter of the Soul Part 2“? We waited months and months for the new album and when it finally dropped, most of the metal community responded with a collective “okay”. I totally respect that some of you loved it, and that’s understandable! Aside from one or two people, I only know flushers who could take or leave At War with Reality. The anticipation of the album COMPLETELY eclipsed the final product. Did we actually receive a SotS pt. 2? To this detective, yes. Comfort zone, meet modern At the Gates.

Exhibit B:  Carcass (Swansong [1996] -> Surgical Steel [2013])

Here is a band that has an even more impressive back-catalog and an absolutely respectable comeback album in Surgical Steel. I won’t beat around the bush here: Necroticism and Heartwork are fucking masterpieces in metal history, so it’s no surprise that Carcass‘ attempt at new material was intended to be a spiritual stop-gap between those albums. It succeeds partly. Surgical Steel has a lot of riffage in common with Heartwork, some of the grind elements of Necroticism sprinkled about, and a heaping helping of NWOBHM galloping drums and riff work added. Don’t misunderstand me: Surgical Steel is a solid death metal album that has good intentions written all over it, but I could never place it in my top 10 of 2013 releases. Carcass introduced enough new elements into their songwriting, but it simply met all of my expectations and didn’t surpass a single one.

Exhibit C:  Gorguts (From Wisdom to Hate [2001] -> Colored Sands [2013])

Let’s get into the real meat and potatoes of our discussion with Gorguts. Their triumphant return to metal with Colored Sands was easily my favorite record of 2013, as it was with tons of other metal fans. Their back catalog? Wonderful, of course… sure it started out with more traditional death metal, but they ventured into the subgenre of metal that makes many a flusher excited: SKRONK! Listening to Obscura, you hear a band without limits, bursting to explore whatever is possible with traditional instruments. Find a riff that you enjoy? Savor it while it lasts, for new ones are waiting in the queue to annihilate your earholes. So when Colored Sands finally dropped after a 12 year stretch, we all collectively said to ourselves, “ZOMG!” And here’s the kicker: it delivered on EVERY ACCOUNT. An album which many consider unflushable, it took the Gorguts sound that we had come to know and love and introduced some steady elements, as reflected by the personnel changes from everyone but the main creative giant Luc Lemay. You have insane, jazz-infused experience brought to the table by bassist (and genius) Colin Marston, incomprehensible drum skills by John Longstreth, and — here I’ll go ahead and claim it — meticulously crafted discipline by guitarist Kevin Hufnagel. Colored Sands displays a band with a chaotic, no-holds-barred attitude and wraps around it a family of new(ish) musicians who know how to craft modern, metal cacophonies to create an instant gem.

Exhibit D:  Atheist (Elements [1993] -> Jupiter [2010])

Colored Sands sure is amazing, but Jupiter is a jaw-dropping classic. Atheist came back after 17 years and crafted the comeback album that sets the standard for comeback albums. The band’s previous efforts were always walking a balance beam of death metal and jazz (alongside peers Cynic and Death), but this 2010 release proved that their formula could survive in the modern metal scene. Take Atheist‘s musical modus operandi and combine it with aesthetics from modern metal mathematicians like Dillinger Escape Plan and Stargazer (a band which whom Kelly Shaefer is an admitted fan) to form an album that stands the test of time five years later, and you have Jupiter. “Technical death metal?” you inquire? Yes, technique is ever-present in every composition, but songwriting always takes front seat to the weediles and deediles. Each of the eight songs has its own personality and fits in naturally with the flow of the album (itself lasting a comfortable 32:47). The tempo changes, of which there are many, occur naturally yet at head-scratchily “oh yeah!” moments. This album fucking slays.

From lowest to highest quality comeback album: At the Gates, Carcass, Gorguts, Atheist.

This little ranking experiment of mine has a purpose: in my opinion, a veteran band that takes an incredibly long hiatus needs to bring some new elements to the table to produce an exceptional comeback album. Ask yourself this: does Heavy Metal Fan #8 REALLY want Album X, Part 2? Think about it. How many Part 2’s have let us down, whereas the slight re-workings of the norm have exceeded our expectations?

Previously, I dissected consistency in music and came to this conclusion: it’s a fun metric with which to discuss heavy metal, but it doesn’t really matter. If the artist isn’t putting his/her own blood, sweat, and tears into the project the listeners will be well know and judge accordingly. Now I’m asking if consistency hurts a band after a considerable hiatus.

While we’re at it, let me know what you think of Tron: Legacy, did the decades-long wait between movies exceed or flush your expectations?  Diqus it friends, that’s what we’re all here for…

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