(Andy Synn attended the performances of Ulcerate, Bell Witch, and Ageless Oblivion in Nottingham, England, on October 11 and turns in this report, with his own videos of the show.)
Though my erstwhile compatriots may have been attending the sun and shenanigans of California Deathfest without me last weekend (seriously, where was my invite? I thought we were friends!?!) that doesn’t mean that yours truly was without suitably metallic diversions of my own, as I was lucky enough to bear witness to the titanic Death Metal maelstrom known as Ulcerate rolling through my town, leaving a trail of shattered lives and lacerated ear-drums in its wake.
The story gets even better though, as the New Zealend three-piece were accompanied on their pilgrimage of pain by gloom-heavy doomsters (and perennial NCS darlings) Bell Witch and uber-riff-mongers Ageless Oblivion (whose album Penthos I picked as one of my absolute favourite releases of last year).
Not only that but the venue they played, The Chameleon, is the sort of intimate, DIY place that packs a lot of character, and a frankly massive soundsystem, into a very small space, meaning there’s nowhere to hide from the overwhelming onslaught of sonic punishment unleashed by the bands.
You know how an explosion that occurs in an enclosed space is ten times more devastating than one that occurs out in the open? Well that sums up the night quite nicely.
Hard-to-classify openers Ageless Oblivion (Technical Death Metal? Progressive Death Metal? Dissonant Death Metal? Pick your poison!) were a pitch-perfect start to the evening, as their particular sound bears more than a few genetic markers in common with the headliners, yet simultaneously offers a strong stylistic contrast, unleashing a crushing array of nerve-jangling, dissonant riffs and darkly progressive melodies, complex dynamic shifts, and monstrous, roaring vocals that demonstrated just why the band are (in my opinion at least) one of the most vital and important acts operating in the British Metal scene today.
Clearly very aware that they only had a short set-time, the quintet absolutely threw themselves into every song, delivering tracks like the iron-clad “Glacial Blood” and the utterly savage “The Midas Throat” like their lives depended on it, concluding with a humongous rendition of the two-part title-track from their most recent album Penthos (which you can see below).
Slotted smoothly into the middle of the running order, like the Doomy filling in this dissonantly aggressive Death Metal sandwich of a show (just go with it…), Seattle’s own enigmatic drum-and-bass Doom duo Bell Witch proceeded to drop the tempo to the speed of congealing tar, sucking in an ever-increasing audience as their set progressed with their unusual and unconventional melding of crashing, minimalist percussion and multi-toned, virtuoso bass-work.
With vocals shared between the two members – new drummer Jesse Shreibman bellowing his lungs out as counterpoint to Dylan Desmond’s sombre, prog-tinged croon – the band’s set was based around a fluid transition between light and dark, quiet and loud, absence and presence, with a funereal procession of massive chords and echoing cymbals trailing off into nothingness before surging back to the fore in waves of massive, bowel-shaking noise, punctuated here and there by touches of captivating proggy melody courtesy of Desmond’s complex thick-stringed fretwork.
If you’re familiar with the group you’ll be aware of just how vast many of their songs are, so you won’t be surprised to know that their actual set-list was quite short… though far from brief. If you’re less familiar with them, well, let’s just say that these guys don’t tend to subscribe to the 3-minute pop song structure!
Either way, if you look below you’ll find that I managed to capture a full run-through of “Suffocation, a Burial: I – Awoken (Breathing Teeth)” for your delectation and enjoyment!
Of course, as good as both the preceding bands were (and they were) they were both just appetisers designed to prepare us for the absolute onslaught that Ulcerate were set to deliver.
Not through lack of trying of course, but more because I can’t really think of anything that could fully prepare you for the inhuman levels of sonic heaviness unleashed by the New Zealand natives.
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a three-piece band kick out the level of power that Ulcerate do – it’s not just about volume (of which there was more than enough), it’s also the sheer physical density and maniacal electric energy they put out, that hits you like a solid wave of force whilst simultaneously melding through, and into, the fabric of your body.
Jamie St. Merat is, as you should all know by now, one of the greatest (yet most underappreciated) drummers operating in the sphere of extreme metal today, whilst guitarist Michael Hoggard seems possessed of the sort of warped genius that allows him to wring an endless stream of writhing, dissonant, unsettling sounds from his instrument in a manner that should be impossible (or, at least, implausible). To top it off, vocalist/bassist Paul Kelland brings to the table a voice that seems designed to level buildings and a bass-tone that hits you in the gut like a low-frequency hammerblow, and together these three individuals combine into something more desolate and devastating than the mere sum of their fragile human parts.
With a set comprised mainly of material from 2013’s panic-inducing Vermis – though both “Dead Oceans” and “Cold Becoming” from the untouchable The Destroyers of All also got an airing, as did “Soullessness Embraced” from Everything Is Fire, which you can see below – the band performed almost entirely in darkness, resulting in a bleak and truly oppressive performance of uncompromising, weaponised savagery, culminating (if memory serves) with a soul-crushing rendition of “Await Rescission”.
Utterly unparalleled stuff.