Remembering “Big” Steeve Hurdle

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One of my favorite blogs is called the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. Its author, John Koenig, invents and defines fictional words that describe highly specific emotions. My favorite Obscure Sorrow is moledro, which any music fan will recognize:

“Moledro, n: a feeling of resonant connection with an author or artist you’ll never meet, who may have lived centuries ago and thousands of miles away but can still get inside your head and leave behind morsels of their experience, like the little piles of stones left by hikers that mark a hidden path through unfamiliar territory.”

I never met Steeve Hurdle, the legendary Canadian guitarist who passed away from surgery complications a few weeks ago. But we were connected by mutual moledro.

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Negativa – “Chaos In Motion”

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Steeve was best known for his work on Obscura, the progressive death metal classic by the band Gorguts. Gorguts always leaned to the musical left, but Steeve’s contributions to Obscura pushed the band to otherworldly extremes that no metal group has matched since. After Steeve left Gorguts, he and guitarist Luc Lemay continued their outré experimentation in Negativa, which sadly released just one EP. Lemay would go on to resurrect Gorguts at Steeve’s suggestion in 2008.

Obscura is my favorite death metal album. It changed the way I listened to music of all sorts, and I consider it mandatory listening for anyone interested in experimental music. My band Pyrrhon draws heavily on it for influence; we’ve been called Gorguts worship. (I disagree, but that’s a topic for another day.)

Shortly after Pyrrhon self-released our first album in early 2011, Steeve reached out to tell us how much he enjoyed it and to encourage us to keep recording. His support lifted us up. Not only did it come from one of our heroes, but it came during a challenging time—when few others seemed to care about the music we’d put so much of ourselves into. Metal supposedly became an international brotherhood during its tape-trading days; my correspondence with Steeve marked one of the few times that I’ve felt truly connected to that brotherhood.

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Pyrrhon is not the only band that benefited from Steeve’s support. He enthusiastically promoted fellow musicians of all stripes. His tastes ranged from extreme metal to classic rock to modern jazz and classical, and he recommended each artist that struck his fancy with the same effusiveness.

Effusiveness was a hallmark of Steeve’s. You can see it in the above Negativa video. It opens with a night-vision clip of Steeve scampering down a hallway, wryly forbidding the cameraman to “make any noise.” (Steeve himself makes considerable noise immediately thereafter.) You could see it in his writing, which he splashed liberally with exclamation points. And you could hear it in his performances.

Steeve’s nickname was “Big” because of his large frame, but it also described his approach to music. His playing was too vast, too free, for conventional rules. Steeve developed a guitar vocabulary of shrieks, skronks, and uncanny melody that was entirely his own. His vocals—a sticking point for many newcomers to Obscura—were a warbling squawk, born of emotion too huge to fit properly through his vocal cords.

Like many metal musicians, Steeve struggled with psychological demons. But those demons never corrupted his positive worldview or his dedication to his art. He embodied the meditating figure on the Obscura cover: bathed in shadow, but lit from below.

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It saddens me that Steeve’s light has gone out of this world. I will never meet Steeve or get to know him better. I’ll never see him plumping for his new favorite band on Facebook again. I will never hear the long-awaited Negativa full-length, or any music by Steeve’s new band Chaos, Chaos Infinite-Wonder. But I feel privileged to have connected with him through his brilliant music, and it gives me solace that future generations will have the opportunity to do so as well.

“Big” Steeve Hurdle died on May 20, 2012. He was 41 years old.

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Gorguts – “Sweet Silence”

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— Doug Moore

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