Ulcerate – Cutting the Throat of God


Ulcerate are the kings of dissonant death metal, which brings little in the way of criticism because few people can understand their music. Scream Blast Repeat are one such publication that struggles to comprehend their art. We called 2020’s Stare into Death and Be Still ‘a lethargic misery that begs you to give up rather than reflect on the source of your melancholy. Which is all the more frustrating when you consider the glimpses of originality on display here.’ Put it this way: many people enjoy watching slasher films, but how many would like to be in the film at the mercy of a machete-wielding maniac?

Everybody needs to have an opinion on Ulcerate, and the talk for album number seven is one of incredulity. How can this New Zealand trio produce music that’s so unique and singular in purpose? All the metal press seems to love this band, just as every novel critic appeared to enjoy Finnegans Wake by James Joyce without reading it. Fifty-seven minutes of extreme wailing and dizzying rhythms is impossible to comprehend before you can even think about enjoyment levels. Many artists try to copy Ulcerate, and we should be thankful that so few can replicate their nauseating soundscapes. Opener, ‘To Flow Through Ashen Hearts’, creates a mystical setting for the intro with ghost-noting drums and semi-melodic arpeggios feeling their way into the mix. Then, the guitars step on the distortion, the drummer triggers his double-bass pedal, and the vocals roar into the microphone like a man trapped in a well. This is uncomfortable listening. Guitar intervals burn like the Notre-Dame. Drums replicate the force of fire extinguishers at full blast. One dreads to think how many rules of Western music theory this band break in their urge to create a feeling of nausea in the listener. An industrial meat slicer is more melodic than this affair, and that’s the point.

How does guitarist, Michael Hoggard, stay within the middle reaches of his fretboard and burrow into his strings with so much intricate power? It’s a question you must ask when sitting through ‘The Dawn Is Hollow’. This is a man who hates his instrument but likes its violent capabilities. The main beneficiary is Jamie Saint Merat, who uses the repetitive chaos of the guitars to indulge his love of improvisation from behind the drumkit. It’s the music equivalent of travel sickness – an unpleasant and anxious debilitation that nobody would want. Only when the guitars ease off the heavy amp gain can you grab a breather.

Ulcerate are quite sadistic in the way they tease with shades of melody only to dig their blades into your collar bone with greater intent. Death metal without power chords leaves you feeding on sawdust, but there’s no denying the imagination and originality of the musicianship in ‘Further Opening the Wounds’. Apart from Portal, no band pre-dates Ulcerate for this type of extreme dissonance, but you can make the case that Voivod and Gorguts laid the foundations. Imagine tweezers digging under the bottom corners of your thumbnails. Eating a plate of Carolina Reaper chillies is less painful than this music. Most guitar teachers would refuse to transcribe these guitar parts.

Sometimes, you can feel your stomach returning to normal health. ‘Transfiguration In and Out of Worlds’ boasts a fascinating opening of claustrophobic chord picking and steady drums in clean mode for the first two minutes before the technical arrangements feed into the same energy supply and ramp up the intensity. ‘To See Death Just Once’ reiterates what you already know from the first five minutes of this LP – Ulcerate are adept at creating a sense of place. But it’s one that will leave you disorientated and naked in front of mother nature’s most wicked plans. The finishing line of the marathon is ten miles away, and you wonder if you can make it beyond the next two.

This music hisses at you like a cobra roused from sleep by a mongoose. The prospect of eighteen more minutes spread across the last two tracks – ‘Undying as an Apparition’ and ‘Cutting the Throat of God’ – is disheartening. Does this album have repeat listening value? Only when you’re at your most masochistic. It’s a testament to the vivid nature of Ulcerate’s art that they never bore you, but the fact they that they led this reviewer to research poison dart frogs in Wikipedia while sitting through the last two tracks tells you everything you need to know. Do you want an hour of guitars that screech like the stress-testing experiments on a new design of car tyres? If the answer is yes, then, uh… each to their own (you fucking pervert!).


Verdict


Release Date: 14/06/2024

Record Label: Debemur Morti Productions

Standout tracks: To Flow Through Ashen Hearts; Transfiguration In and Out of Worlds

Suggested Further Listening: Portal – Ion (2018), Blindfolded and Led to the Woods – Nightmare Withdrawals (2021), Gaerea – Mirage (2022)