(In this review Andy Synn lavishes great (and well-deserved) praise on the new album by New Zealand’s Ulcerate, which will be released by Debemur Morti Productions on April 24th.)
Let me ask you a question… what does it take to earn a place in the Death Metal hall of fame?
Obviously seminal acts like Death, Dismember, Morbid Angel and their ilk (to name but a few) all belong there, as without them we wouldn’t even have a Death Metal genre… at least, not in the same way we know it now.
But as things have evolved, as new styles have come into being and splintered off to form their own distinct sub-species, it’s become harder and harder to form a consensus about what bands are big enough, bold enough, bombastic and badass enough, to be considered true hall-of-famers.
But if there was ever any doubt about Ulcerate’s worthiness, the release of Stare Into Death and Be Still should finally, and firmly, put that to rest.
Let me be clear, the New Zealand three-piece already have at least one legendary album to their name – 2011’s stunning Destroyers of All – and this pretty much qualifies them for a place among the pantheon of the immortals all on its own, at least in my opinion anyway.
But while arguments could be made that 2009’s Everything Is Fire and/or 2016’s Shrines of Paralysis are just as equally deserving of praise, it’s this record, above all the others, which will go down in history as the moment when the band finally attained true immortality.
What really makes this album stand out, not just from the band’s peers but from the rest of their own immensely impressive (and impressively immense) back-catalogue, is the way in which it takes the group’s instantly recognisable brand of dark, discordant extremity and melds it with a newfound (or, at least, newly-invigorated) sense of atmosphere and, dare I say, melody.
That doesn’t mean that the terrible trio have gone soft by any means. Paul Kelland’s vocals are still as colossal and commanding as ever, Michael Hoggard is still a unique, fret-warping wizard, and drummer Jamie Saint Merat is, as always, a one-man percussive whirlwind. It’s more that they’ve found new ways to expand their sound without sacrificing their core, unquenchable, heaviness.
Take opener “The Lifeless Advance”, whose deluge of dissonance-drenched atmospherics and tumultuous technicality is laced with slivers of razor-keen melody which cut through all the sound and fury with devastating clarity, or the bleak, blackened beauty and blistering brutality of “Exhale the Ash”, both of which epitomise what makes this album so great – namely its near-perfect balance of calculated chaos, dizzying complexity, and intense, immersive atmosphere.
One thing which definitely helps Stare Into Death… pull off this almost-impossible balancing act is the production, which gives the band what is easily the richest, most well-rounded, sound they’ve ever had.
Whereas previously the group’s insistence on pushing everything up past 11 would have resulted in an oppressive, ear-crushingly compressed album (2013’s Vermis being particularly guilty in this regard) here there’s an openness and expansiveness to the record which allows moments like the desolate, doom-laden second half of “Stare Into Death and Be Still”, or the sombre, slow-burn intro and moody, ambient mid-section of “There Is No Horizon”, to breathe to their fullest.
Not only does the more expansive production enhance the ominous, post-apocalyptic atmosphere of the music, it also makes the trio sound even bigger and more imposing than ever, and when you combine this with their increasingly dynamic songwriting – showcasing a willingness to embrace both the calm and the storm (“Visceral Ends”) as well as a frankly awe-inspiring ability to craft cunningly cerebral hooks out of swirling dissonance (“Drawn Into the Next Void”) – you’re left with a recipe for stunning success which makes Stare Into Death and Be Still a true classic in the making and a(nother) watershed moment in the band’s career.
Can’t wait to surrender to this monstrosity !
By the way, Andy, have you watched that live performance uploaded by Obscure Sphinx on YouTube (by the name “Thaumaturgy I”) ? It is one of the best live performances I have ever seen. The setlist is amazing too. Please post its review here so that more people will be aware of this underrated gem.
Hmm so that first wave of dm bands that are mentioned, they pretty much defined and solidified what we have come to know and love about death metal. More importantly, however, these bands played metal in a way that all death metal fans that the bands mentioned created could recognize as death metal, then and now.
Moving on to subgenres. Theyve made it harder to see what bands are ‘big’ enough to warrant legandary status–Im paraphrasing the review, to some extent.
Yet, Ulcerate have reached ‘hall of fame’ status, according to this review; a status this album has proven worthy of for all to see.
And this is where the review lost me. This reasoning seems to imply Ulcerate have out death metalled subgenres only to reach death metal universality–because to me, that is what truly great dm bands are supposed to be: death metal for all who love death metal, regardless of subgenres.
Ulcerate, however, despite being a force to be reckoned with, seem stuck in a subgenre of dm that is quite particular. It doesnt ad to what is universally/globally understood to be awesome death metal. Ulcerate dont groove that way. Theyre overwhelming, theyre too difficult, theyre not accessible.
While these are awesome qualities, they don’t sound like constituting universal dm to me. In fact, with all their skills and intensity they fit into the brutal dm subgenre, or the not-too-linear-dm subgenre. And theyre okay in doing that. But Ulcerate did not attain universally-adored status. Thats what the review wants us to think.
Well, these were my two cents….
I couldn’t dissagree more. It is the sub-genres that fully flesh out what a genre is capable of. Universal acceptance and recognition is only half the picture, and arguably why ‘the genre seems to be dying’ because one can only be so creative without deviating too far from that familiar frame
Oh I didnt say subgenres are not the nooks and crannies where meat and potatoes come to die…because they are. Im also not saying whatever crawls from the subgenres cannot become ‘mainstream’.
I was merely stating I dont agree too much with Ulcerate being some sort of new standard of any kind, or universally regarded as such.
Perhaps. I just feel like the ‘sub genres’ are where all the real fun happen. Mainstream gets to samey after a while. Too much or a mold they can’t go outside of without falling out of favor with that area I suppose. Can’t really elevate. Perhaps that’s where they were trying to get at. I certainly feel so lol
Usually, I can’t get myself into their dissonant/discordant stylings. But, like you said, these songs feel opened up and I fell in and really enjoyed them. I can’t wait to hear the full album.
I’m in the same space – despite being a New Zealander and keen to support local talent, I’ve always struggled to connect with their sound. But these preview tracks are enthralling.
I understand your point of view. However, some “genres” or styles often become “universally” accepted years later.
I didn’t really follow Ulcerate much in the last years. I think I only bought the first album. I really dig the new preview songs and I’m looking forward to hearing the album.
I quite often see their name mentioned in the reviews, talks, etc. of the bands and albums I listened to. So, I think they have/had quite some impact. But then again, my music taste is probably not the most “universal”.
Debemur morti gives the opportunity to revolver mag to stream the album in its entirety
Finally got the opportunity to give the album a proper listen, and it’s a huge killer for me! I might be inclined to agree with a rather popular opinion which I’ve seen across several platforms – that this album might as well be their best effort to date.