New Zealand's Ulcerate revitalized technical death-metal
with Of Fracture and Failure (2007).
Songs such as Praise and Negation are crushing, intricate, hysterical
and labyrinthine. Ben Read's vocals are malleable enough to adapt to anything
that guitarist Michael Hoggard and drummer Jamie Saint-Merat come up with,
and what they come up with is a kaleidoscope of tactics.
One of the most terrifying accelerations takes place in Ad Nauseam,
but the principle is not just "faster and faster"; and
some of the most sensational shrieks surface in The Coming of Genocide,
but the goal is not mere mayhem.
The shredding guitar and the twitching drums of
The Mask of the Satyr create a disordered cacophony
with multidimensional detours.
The seven-minute Martyr of the Soil is a musical calvary, because of the
nerve-wracking instrumental overture, of the chronically unstable rhythm,
of the "pandemic" riffs, and so forth, except to land on an anthemic melody
just when the guitar finds the most dissonant of poses.
The nine-minute closer, Defaeco, is less manic but even more horrific,
with a minute of insistent staccato guitar in the middle and a
second part in which the guitar is almost bluesy and melodic.
The album boasts some of the most creative drumming in death-metal ever.
Compared with other "technical" metal bands of the era, Ulcerate's sound,
far more sterile, is pretty visceral.
Everything Is Fire (2009) switched bassist Paul Kelland to vocals,
and his darker lower guttural tone becomes the limitation of the album.
However, the general picture remains the same:
songs that are fractals because contain innumerable variations and detours,
songs within songs within songs,
each song drowning into a tidal wave of guitar techniques and drumming
irregularities, each song
meticulously sculpted to feel like the opposite of a sculpture.
The seven-minute Drown Within, that opens with an epic
gallop, is emblematic thanks to
its frequent releases of tension
that counterbalance the overwhelming storm of guitar moves.
Caecus basically stages a crescendo of crescendoes.
At the same time, a sense of structure is beginning to emerge.
The pathos of We Are Nil peaks with
melody and panzer rhythm as opposed to chaotic fury.
The Earth at Its Knees is even more streamlined,
and the guitar gets as close as possible to a romantic solo.
Soulessness Embraced relies on a hiccupping dynamic that never derails
but instead focuses the dramatic tension towards the stoical finale.
The eight-minute Everything Is Fire begins in that "structured" mode
with a relatively straightforward song but then ventures into a jungle of
clashing sounds and tempos. Nonetheless even this tormented composition finds
a narrative coherence and ends with a sort of apotheosis (albeit a negative
one, a dirty drone).
The songs of The Destroyers of All (Willowtip, 2011) are longer than ever.
More importantly, the songs have become vanity shows of the guitar.
There is little left in the guitarwork that one can reconcile with
death-metal, or heavy metal in general.
Michael Hoggard's instrument is neither a melodic lead
nor a melodic counterpoint, and doesn't even have a sense of rhythm.
It is mostly a torrent of free-form sound, an abstract tapestry that,
at best, avoids colliding with the vocals and the drums.
The word "soundscape", that was usually reserved for spartan scores,
can now be used for brutal, fast and discordant music too.
It is still the drumming, though, that inflates Burning Skies to
epic proportions: the blastbeats and the syncopation seem capable of
levitating a song that is a simple litany. Towards the end the chaotic
drumming fights a cosmic battle with the hypnotic guitar anti-riffs.
Surprisingly, out of all the contrasts and oppositions the trio pulls
together a narrative. For example,
the glorious finale of Dead Oceans is the mathematical consequence
of the musical paralysis of mid section.
The most solemn, heaviest and slowest pieces, namely
Beneath and Cold Becoming,
are catastrophes of harmony and consonance.
A mountain of guitar drones undoes The Hollow Idols, slowly but
The eight-minute Omens is a free-form
cacophonous concerto of guitar forms disguised as a death-metal piece
(only because of the blastbeats and the growling vocals); and
the ten-minute The Destroyers of All accumulates dramatic overtones
by letting guitar drones and riffs climb to superhuman proportions above
epileptic drumming until it almost feels like a wall of noise; and then
it gently fades into two minutes of oneiric languor.
To reinforce the idea that Ulcerate's sound has become a pure abstraction,
Vermis (2013) opens with just
atmosphere, Odium; but then it delivers one of Ulcerate's most
conventional and melodic songs, Vermis.
The slower section of Clutching Revulsion seems to target a broader
audience too (their version of a "power ballad"?)
And later Weight Of Emptiness invest so much in its
grandeur that it almost sounds like King Crimson with a weird singer (nonetheless the effect is mesmerizing).
The tough pieces, on the other hand, seem to go simply for
maximum confusion and loudness, namely Confronting Entropy and
The Imperious Weak.
Also disappointing is the finale, which is rather uneventful and faceless,
There is no juggernaut in this album but there are five songs over seven
Ulcerate did not let down on Shrines of Paralysis (2016).
Abrogation (5:50) is a summary of what they do best: a beastly growl as bass as it can get, guitar riffs like death tolls, a dense abrasive ugly wall of noise, and pause with the gothic atmosphere of sludgy doom-metal.
The obsessive miasma of Chasm Of Fire (8:07) finds an effective compromise between gothic march and thundering noise (until it slows down too much three
minutes from the end).
They are obviously trying to expand their horizons, but some things they just don't do as well as death-metal.
Yield To Naught (7:44) matches a disjointed rhythm, evoking a clumsy robot, with melodic mid-tempo guitar loops.
There Are No Saviours (8:04) opens with surreal drones and the guitar intones magniloquent riffs worthy of early King Crimson leading the piece into melodramatic prog-rock territory.
The tempo is even slower in the longest piece, Shrines Of Paralysis (9:25), and the instrumental chaos here is so intricate and flexible to be more reminiscent of jazz music than of heavy metal.
There's nothing wrong with these ideas, but the implementation is still a
The ritual gets darker and darker, gloomier and gloomier, as we approach
the martial Extinguished Light (8:43) and the funereal
End The Hope (7:52), where doom-metal and death-metal collide.
The latter is positively melodic despite all the clangor, and much closer to
King Crimson's pathos than to death-metal's
What is impressive, even when it fails, is their long-term project to coin
a new language of space out of one of the narrowest, most claustrophobic of
all musical genres, death-metal.
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